Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bridge As an Olympic Sport?

Back in the 1990s and into 2001 and early 2002, bridge players tried hard to make their card game an Olympic sport.  Essentially the same effort was made by chess players.  They failed. 

A simple question, “Who was right?” gets into a snake pit of philosophical and moral arguments that rise all the way to the level of whether reductionism can be relied upon as an absolute.  Is it true that all worth knowing and worth using for making decisions can be expressed as written language in the form of rules?  The argument to exclude bridge and chess seems to take that position.

Arguments in Favor of Including Bridge and Chess

Through 1948, military guard duty was included as an Olympic sport (!).  There is an intensive connection between war and bridge and chess.  Not only are the games analogs of military issues and protocols, but key personnel in World War II were bridge players or chess players, especially in the intelligence community. Ely Culbertson himself said that the proposed United Nations would be useless without a military branch that involved enforcement.  Spy-planner Ian Fleming and his fictional agent James Bond were both bridge players (read the book Moonraker). 

Most sports involve strategic planning and teamwork.  These are essential for bridge playing teams.

A sport should have an analog with life in general.  Life is something like a footrace.  A white collar career is something like a tennis match.  Life, overall, is about making decisions on incomplete information, the central element of bridge.  In life, there is always something important that is still worth learning.  In bridge, every dedicated player is still learning something new.

Here’s the 2002 Wall Street Journal article dealing with the failure of bridge to become an Olympic sport:

Monday, March 30, 2015

Probabilistic Risk Assessmenrt

Probabilistic risk assessment (PRA) is a systematic and comprehensive methodology to evaluate risks associated with a complex engineered technological entity (such as an airliner or nuclear power plant).

Risk in a PRA is defined as a feasible detrimental outcome of an activity or action. In a PRA, risk is characterized by two quantities:

  1. the magnitude (severity) of the possible adverse consequence(s), and
  2. the likelihood (probability) of occurrence of each consequence.

Consequences are expressed numerically (e.g., the number of people potentially hurt or killed) and their likelihoods of occurrence are expressed as probabilities or frequencies (i.e., the number of occurrences or the probability of occurrence per unit time). The total risk is the expected loss: the sum of the products of the consequences multiplied by their probabilities.

The spectrum of risks across classes of events are also of concern, and are usually controlled in licensing processes – it would be of concern if rare but high consequence events were found to dominate the overall risk, particularly as these risk assessments are very sensitive to assumptions (how rare is a high consequence event?).

Probabilistic Risk Assessment usually answers three basic questions:

  1. What can go wrong with the studied technological entity, or what are the initiators or initiating events (undesirable starting events) that lead to adverse consequence(s)?
  2. What and how severe are the potential detriments, or the adverse consequences that the technological entity may be eventually subjected to as a result of the occurrence of the initiator?
  3. How likely to occur are these undesirable consequences, or what are their probabilities or frequencies?

Two common methods of answering this last question are Event Tree Analysis and Fault Tree Analysis - for explanations of these, see safety engineering.

In addition to the above methods, PRA studies require special but often very important analysis tools like human reliability analysis (HRA) and common-cause-failure analysis (CCF). HRA deals with methods for modeling human error while CCF deals with methods for evaluating the effect of inter-system and intra-system dependencies which tend to cause simultaneous failures and thus significant increases in overall risk.

In 2007 France was criticised for failing to use a PRA approach to evaluate the seismic risks of French nuclear power plants.


Theoretically, the probabilistic risk assessment method suffers from several problems:

Nancy Leveson of MIT and her collaborators have argued that the chain-of-event conception of accidents typically used for such risk assessments cannot account for the indirect, non-linear, and feedback relationships that characterize many accidents in complex systems. These risk assessments do a poor job of modeling human actions and their impact on known, let alone unknown, failure modes. Also, as a 1978 Risk Assessment Review Group Report to the NRC pointed out, it is "conceptually impossible to be complete in a mathematical sense in the construction of event-trees and fault-trees … This inherent limitation means that any calculation using this methodology is always subject to revision and to doubt as to its completeness."

In the case of many accidents, probabilistic risk assessment models do not account for unexpected failure modes:

At Japan's Kashiwazaki Kariwa reactors, for example, after the 2007 Chuetsu earthquake some radioactive materials escaped into the sea when ground subsidence pulled underground electric cables downward and created an opening in the reactor's basement wall. As a Tokyo Electric Power Company official remarked then, "It was beyond our imagination that a space could be made in the hole on the outer wall for the electric cables."

When it comes to future safety, nuclear designers and operators often assume that they know what is likely to happen, which is what allows them to assert that they have planned for all possible contingencies. Yet there is one weakness of the probabilistic risk assessment method that has been emphatically demonstrated with the Fukushima I nuclear accidents -- the difficulty of modeling common-cause or common-mode failures:

From most reports it seems clear that a single event, the tsunami, resulted in a number of failures that set the stage for the accidents. These failures included the loss of offsite electrical power to the reactor complex, the loss of oil tanks and replacement fuel for diesel generators, the flooding of the electrical switchyard, and perhaps damage to the inlets that brought in cooling water from the ocean. As a result, even though there were multiple ways of removing heat from the core, all of them failed.

However, a PRA analysis that assumed an initiating event of a beyond design basis tsunami of the magnitude that occurred would have identified most, if not all, of the above consequences. In this case, the challenge is not with the PRA method but with the selection of initiating events. For any given design, a low probability high magnitude initiating event can be assumed for which the design will fail. However, selecting an unrealistically severe initiator defeats the purpose of the analysis, as potential vulnerabilities to realistic scenarios will be masked.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Jerry Goldsmith's Soundtracks

Jerrald King "Jerry" Goldsmith (February 10, 1929 – July 21, 2004) was an American composer and conductor most known for his work in film and television scoring.

He composed scores for such noteworthy films as The Sand Pebbles, Logan’s Run, Planet of the Apes, Patton, Chinatown, The Wind and the Lion, The Omen, The Boys from Brazil, Night Crossing, Alien, Poltergeist, The Secret of NIMH, Gremlins, Hoosiers, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Rudy, Air Force One, L.A. Confidential, Mulan, The Mummy, three Rambo films and five Star Trek films.  He was nominated for six Grammy Awards, nine Golden Globe Awardsm four British Acadent Film Awards, and eighteen Academy Awards.  In 1976, he was awarded an Oscar for The Omen.

He collaborated with some of film history's most prolific directors, including Robert Wise (The Sand Pebbles, Star Trek: The Motion Picture), Howard Hawks (Rio Lobo), Otto Preminger (In Harms Way), Joe Dante (the Gremlins films, The ‘Burbs, Small Soldiers), Roman Polanski (Chinatown), Ridley Scott (Alien, Legend), Steven Spielberg (Twilight Zone: The Movie), and Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Hollow Man). However, his most notable collaboration was arguably that of with Franklin J. Schaffner, for whom Goldsmith scored such films as Planet of the Apes, Patton, Papillon, and The Boys from Brazil.

Style and Influences

Goldsmith was greatly influenced by movements of early 20th century classical music, notably Modernism, Americana, Impressionism, Dodecaphonism, and early film scores. He has cited Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Miklos Rozsa, Bernard Herrmann, Bela Bartok and Alban Berg, among others, as some of the main influences to his style of composition.

His composition style has been noted for its unique instrumentation, utilizing a vast array of ethnic instruments, recorded sounds, synthetic textures, and the traditional orchestra, often concurrently

When asked about his inclination for embracing new techniques and constantly shifting his musical palette throughout his career, Goldsmith said, “It seems like it’s me, and that’s that! Certain composers are doing the same thing over and over again, which I feel is sort of uninteresting. I don’t find that you grow very much in that way. I like to keep changing, trying to do new things. Basically, I’m saying the same thing with a little different twist on it. Once you get caught up in the creative process, something inside takes over, and your subconscious just does it for you.”

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Comment by the Blog Author

The theme for The Man from Uncle, the soundtrack for Chinatown and the soundtrack for The Russia House may be Goldsmith’s very best works.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

ISIL Ideology and Beliefs

 ISIL is a Salafi group.  It follows an extreme interpretation of Islam, promotes religious violence, and regards those who do not agree with its interpretations as infidels or apostates.  ISIL has demonstrated that ideology and adherence to Islamic beliefs and laws are secondary to its criminal financial enterprises supporting the group's activities.  According to Hayder al Khoei, ISIL's philosophy is represented by the symbolism in the Black Standard variant of the legendary battle flag of Muhammad that it has adopted: the flag shows the Seal of Muhmmad within a white circle, with the phrase above it, "There is no God but Allah".Such symbolism has been said to point to ISIL's belief that it represents the restoration of the caliphate of early Islam, with all the political, religious and eschatological ramifications that this would imply.  Saudi Arabia was criticised by Noam Chomsky in October 2014 of having "long been the major source of funding for ISIS as well as providing its ideological roots" (i.e. Salafism or Wahhabism).  According to Owen Jones at The Guardian, "Salafists across the Middle East receive ideological and material backing from within the kingdom" of Saudi Arabia, and America knows this, with Hillary Clinton having called Saudi donors "the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide".  Some people in Saudi Arabia applaud ISIL for fighting Iranian Shi’ite "fire" with Sunni "fire".

According to some observers, ISIL emerged from the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, the first post-Ottoman Islamist group dating back to the late 1920s in Egypt.  It adheres to global jihadist principles and follows the hard-line ideology of al-Qaeda and many other modern-day jihadist groups.

However, other sources trace the group's roots not to the Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood and the more mainstream jihadism of al-Qaeda, but to Wahhabism. The New York Times wrote:

For their guiding principles, the leaders of the Islamic State ... are open and clear about their almost exclusive commitment to the Wahhabi movement of Sunni Islam. The group circulates images of Wahhabi religious textbooks from Saudi Arabia in the schools it controls. Videos from the group’s territory have shown Wahhabi texts plastered on the sides of an official missionary van.

ISIL aims to return to the early days of Islam, rejecting all innovations in the religion, which it believes corrupts its original spirit. It condemns later caliphates and the Ottoman Empire for deviating from what it calls pure Islam, and seeks to revive the original Wahhabi project of the restoration of the caliphate governed by strict Salafist doctrine. Following Salafi-Wahhabi tradition, ISIL condemns the followers of secular law as disbelievers, putting the current Saudi government in that category.

Salafists such as ISIL believe that only a legitimate authority can undertake the leadership of jihad, and that the first priority over other areas of combat, such as fighting non-Muslim countries, is the purification of Islamic society. For example, ISIL regards the Palestinian Sunni group Hamas as apostates who have no legitimate authority to lead jihad and it regards fighting Hamas as the first step toward confrontation with Israel.


One difference between ISIL and other Islamist and jihadist movements is its emphasis on eschatology and apocalypticism, and its belief that the arrival of the Mahdi is imminent. ISIL believes it will defeat the army of "Rome" at the town of Dabiq in fulfilment of prophecy.

Theological objections

According to The New York Times, "All of the most influential jihadist theorists are criticizing the Islamic State as deviant, calling its self-proclaimed caliphate null and void" and have denounced it for its beheading of journalists and aid workers.  ISIL is widely denounced by a broad range of Islamic clerics, including al-Qaeda-oriented and Saudi clerics.

Sunni critics, including Salafi and jihadist muftis such as Adnan al-Aroor and Abu Basir al-Tartusi, say that ISIL and related terrorist groups are not Sunnis, but modern-day Khawarij—Muslims who have stepped outside the mainstream of Islam—serving an imperial anti-Islamic agenda.  Other critics of ISIL's brand of Sunni Islam include Salafists who previously publicly supported jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda, for example the Saudi government official Saleh Al-Fawzan, known for his extremist views, who claims that ISIL is a creation of "Zionists, Crusaders and Safavids", and the Jordanian-Palestinian writer Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the former spiritual mentor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was released from prison in Jordan in June 2014 and accuses ISIL of driving a wedge between Muslims.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Bogeyman Legend

Bogeyman (also spelled bogieman, boogeyman, or boogie man) is a common allusion to a mythical creature in many cultures used by adults or older children to frighten bad children into good behavior. This monster has no specific appearance, and conceptions about it can vary drastically from household to household within the same community; in many cases, he has no set appearance in the mind of an adult or child, but is simply a non-specific embodiment of terror. Parents may tell their children that if they misbehave, the bogeyman will get them. Bogeymen may target a specific mischief—for instance, a bogeyman that punishes children who suck their thumbs—or general misbehaviour, depending on what purpose needs serving. In some cases, the bogeyman is a nickname for the Devil.

Bogeyman tales vary by region. The bogeyman is usually a masculine entity but can be any gender or simply androgynous.

The Bogeyman in the United States

  • The Jersey Devil, which originated in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, is believed by many to be an old time Bogeyman created by residents to scare off travelers from coming into the area. Bloody Bones, also known as Rawhead or Tommy Rawhead, is a boogeyman of the U.S. South. Bloody Bones tales originated in Britain.  Bogeyman may be called "Boogerman" or "Boogermonster" in rural areas of the American South, and was most often used to keep young children from playing outside past dark, or wandering off in the forest. During the Corn Festival, young Cherokee males wearing caricature masks would make fun of politicians, frighten children into being good, and moreover shake their masks at young women and chase them around. Male participants in this Booger Dance were referred to as the Booger Man.  In some Midwestern states of the United States, the bogeyman scratches at the window. In the Pacific Northwest, he may manifest in "green fog". In other places, he hides or appears from under the bed or in the closet and tickles children when they go to sleep at night, while in others, he is a tall figure in a black hooded cloak who puts children in a sack. It is said that a wart can be transmitted to someone by the bogeyman.
    • The Nalusa Falaya (long black being) of Choctaw mythology.
    • Cipelahq (or Chebelakw) is a dangerous bird spirit of Wabanaki folklore, used in stories told to scare children into obeying their parents. Chebelakw has an unearthly cry and resembles a large diving owl, with only its head and talons visible. Similar monsters called Stinkini and Big Owl, were found in Seminole and Apache mythologies respectively.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Contract Bridge Humor (!)

The Lighter Side Of Bridge – Get a
Giggle From Your Bridge Game
Posted 29 April 2009

The Umpire Strikes Back
A scream for the Director frequently disrupts the game for the other players. On one occasion when the stillness of the game was shattered by a raucous shout of 'Di-rek-tor', the Director went to the microphone and softly, oh so softly, said :
   'Who called? Please raise your paw.'

In major events, it is common to use 'silent bidding'. Instead of the bids being called out, they are written on a special bidding pad. This has many advantages. It cuts down the noise level, it reduces the chances of overhearing another table, it cuts out the need for a review of the bidding and it eliminates the arguments about the final contract.

Before silent bidding came into vogue, this incident took place at a club in New Zealand:
    North : No bid.
    East : Double.
The Director was called and East explained that he did not hear North's pass, but heard a bid at the next table. Thinking that was what North bid, East doubled.
    North : May I ask East what he thought I bid?
    Director : No, you can't.
    North : Well, may I go over to the other table and ask for a review of their auction?

You know things may not go well for your side when there's a dispute at the table and you suggest that the Director be called and your sweet young opponent raises her hand and calls out :

Actually, Directors tend to be tough on their spouses and friends so that there can be no possibility of a charge of bias. Also, many Directors bend over backwards to try to keep everybody happy, an impossible task.
When the Director was called to a table to resolve a dispute, everyone was talking at once, so the Director hollered 'Quiet!' When the fracas abated, he continued :
   'Now, let me hear the details from each side in turn.'
North then proceeded to tell his version of what had happened. At the end, the Director said :
   'You're right.'
East then gave his version of what had taken place and this was radically different from North's account. At the end of East's tale, the Director said,
   'You're right.'
South then remonstrated : 'But that can't be so. First you said North was right. Then you said East was right. They can't both be right.'
   'You're right, too,' replied the Director. 

The call was loud and clear :
The Director hurried over to the table :
   'My opponent,' said the declarer, 'has made a premature gloat.'

A glove was found on the tournament floor and handed in to the Director who stepped up to the microphone and announced :
   'Have I got a hand for you!' 

The Director had just completed the scoring and mentioned to the players huddled around the scoring table that it was curious that there had been no slams that evening.
    'Oh yes, there was,' piped up one of the players. 'On Board 7.'
The Director flipped over to Board 7, noticed that 12 of the scores were +680 and said,
   'Yes, but no one bid it.'
   'We did,' said the player. 'See that minus-100?'

In top class tournaments the organisers provide bidding boxes rather than use written bidding. These boxes which often hang from the table contain a card for every possible bid, together with special cards that read Tournament Director and Alert.
In the final of such an event, a player discovered that someone had spilled water over his bidding box. He called for the Director to ask for the box to be replaced.
When the Director arrived, the player's partner explained the position :
   'Yeah, his bids are all wet . . . as usual.'

In a game where bidding boxes were in use, the auction had gone : 1 Diamond . . .
2 Spades . . . 2 Diamonds . . .
   'Insufficient card,' said one of the opponents.
'Director,' shouted the North player.
When the Director scurried over, North complained :'East bid before I had a chance to call'.
'Just as well,' said the Director, looking down. 'East is the dealer on this board.'

Sometimes a Director spots a score that is patently wrong. To discover what has happened, the Director can ask the players involved, but if they are in the middle of a hand, the Director does not like to disturb them and instead will often take a look at their personal score card, which may reveal what the correct entry on the travelling scoresheet should be.
On one such occasion, the Director approached a table and seeing that the players were busy playing, spoke softly to the dummy.
'Are you keeping a private score card?'
'Yes, I am.'
'Could I see it, please?'
'Certainly.' (Hands the card to the Director.)
'But it's blank?'
'I don't keep the scores, just the score card.'

A player who had vowed never to lead from an ace died. When he  awoke he found himself in a bridge game holding :
A 4 2       
A 8 7 4           
A 7 5 4        
K 3
As he was on lead against 3 he did not need the Director to tell him where he was.

When there is a large tournament and there are many sections, it is not uncommon for a pair to wander to the wrong table and frequently into a wrong section. At the excellent Gold Coast Congress, held each February in Surfers Paradise by the Queensland Bridge Association, two pairs were both trying to sit in the East-West seats at the one table. Obviously one of the pairs was at the wrong table. The Director was called and, to sort out the problem, tried to ascertain the table the players had just left.
Director : Where have you come from?
Player, helpfully : Sydney.

During large tournaments, the Directors are assisted by 'caddies', young players or non-players who move the boards, put out the bidding pads, pick up the leftover supplies after a session, and so on. At one tournament, the Director sent out a new caddy near the end of the session to retrieve the excess supplies. Finally she came back, looking pale and exhausted and close to tears, with just seven pencils and a few table numbers.
'They just wouldn't hand over their cards and their system cards,' she explained.

Overheard at a major tournament :
One caddy to another : 'I'm going outside for a couple of minutes. You stay here in case the Directors need someone to yell at.'

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Motive [in Law]

 A motive, in law, especially criminal law, is the cause that moves people to induce a certain action.  Motive, in itself, is not an element of any given crime; however, the legal system typically allows motive to be proven in order to make plausible the accused's reasons for committing a crime, at least when those motives may be obscure or hard to identify with. However, a motive is not required to reach a verdict. Motives are also used in other aspects of a specific case, for instance, when police are initially investigating.

The law technically distinguishes between motive and intent. "Intent" in criminal law is synonymous with mens rea, which means no more than the specific mental purpose to perform a deed that is forbidden by a criminal statute, or the reckless disregard of whether the law will be violated.  "Motive" describes instead the reasons in the accused's background and station in life that are supposed to have induced the crime. Motives are oftentimes broken down into three categories; biological, social and personal.

Motive is particularly important in prosecutions for homicide.  First, murder is so drastic a crime that most people recoil from the thought of its commission; proof of motive explains why the accused did so desperate an act. Even though jurors are required to be non bias, their own motives unconsciously effect their decisions.  Jurors also don't decide the sentence, they only have a say in if the defendant is guilty or not.

Moreover, most common law jurisdictions (laws developed by judges) have statutes that provide for degrees of homicide, based in part on the accused's mental state. The lesser offence of voluntary manslaughter, for example, traditionally required that the accused knowingly and voluntarily kill the victim (as in murder); in addition, it must be shown that the killing took place in the "sudden heat of passion," an excess of rage or anger coming from a contemporary provocation, which clouded the accused's judgment. Homicides motivated by such factors are a lesser offense than murder "in cold blood."


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Means, Motive and Opportunity

In US Criminal law, means, motive, and opportunity is a popular cultural summation of the three aspects of a crime that must be established before guilt can be determined in a criminal proceeding.  Respectively, they refer to: the ability of the defendant to commit the crime (means), the reason the defendant felt the need to commit the crime (motive), and whether or not the defendant had the chance to commit the crime (opportunity). Opportunity is most often disproved by use of an alibi, which can prove the accused was not able to commit the crime as he or she did not have the correct set of circumstances to commit the crime as it occurred. Motive is not an element of many crimes, but proving motive can often make it easier to convince a jury of the elements that must be proved for a conviction.

Establishing the presence of these three elements is not, in and of itself, sufficient to convict beyond a reasonable doubt; the evidence must prove that an opportunity presented was indeed taken by the accused and for the crime with which he or she is charged. For an example, consider this ruling in the case of a suspect accused of robbery and assault:

... evidence of motive, means, opportunity, and consciousness of guilt are not enough to establish guilt. Compare Commonwealth v. Mandile, 403 Mass. 93, 98 (1988) (evidence of motive, means, unexplained possession of property, and consciousness of guilt not enough to establish robbery). On this record the evidence is insufficient to permit a rational jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was the victim's assailant... Nothing in the record sufficiently links the defendant to the crime to permit the conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the perpetrator.

Contrary to popular depictions in the fictional media, the court cannot convict merely on these three famous elements, but must provide convincing evidence, and opportunity actually acted upon by the defendant charged.

For example, if a criminal shot someone with a handgun and took his/her money when the victim was in an isolated, secluded area at night, the means would be the handgun, the motive financial (i.e., the money they stole), and the opportunity the fact that it would be unlikely someone else would witness or stop them. For the majority of crimes, means and opportunity are the easiest to prove; however, for some offenses (such as rape or serial killing), the motive can be hard to define.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Positive Quiddity: Forecasting Standards

[From Amazon.com’s listing of Principles of Forecasting, an 850 page paperback book that costs over $160 to purchase new:]

Principles of Forecasting: A Handbook for Researchers and Practitioners summarizes knowledge from experts and from empirical studies. It provides guidelines that can be applied in fields such as economics, sociology, and psychology. It applies to problems such as those in finance (How much is this company worth?), marketing (Will a new product be successful?), personnel (How can we identify the best job candidates?), and production (What level of inventories should be kept?).
The book is edited by Professor J. Scott Armstrong of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Contributions were written by 40 leading experts in forecasting, and the 30 chapters cover all types of forecasting methods. There are judgmental methods such as Delphi, role-playing, and intentions studies. Quantitative methods include econometric methods, expert systems, and extrapolation. Some methods, such as conjoint analysis, analogies, and rule-based forecasting, integrate quantitative and judgmental procedures. In each area, the authors identify what is known in the form of `if-then principles', and they summarize evidence on these principles.
The project, developed over a four-year period, represents the first book to summarize all that is known about forecasting and to present it so that it can be used by researchers and practitioners. To ensure that the principles are correct, the authors reviewed one another's papers. In addition, external reviews were provided by more than 120 experts, some of whom reviewed many of the papers. The book includes the first comprehensive forecasting dictionary.

Editorial Reviews

`...Its wide-ranging scope ensures that almost every type of forecasting activity is reviewed and summarised and distilled into principles by an expert in that particular field. ... Its broad scope and thorough summary of the available evidence makes it a valuable guide for any quantitative professional venturing into an unfamiliar area of forecasting.'
     -- John Aitchison, Director of DataSciencesResearch 

`This very readable handbook provides a comprehensive synopsis of the entire field of forecasting. The editor, Scott Armstrong, is highly qualified to pull together such a volume. He has been centrally involved in the development of the subject for more than two decades. Armstrong's publications cover the field, ranging from econometric modeling and the extrapolation of time-series data, to role playing and opinion-based forecasting; he is the author of the equally comprehensive book Long-Range Forecasting, which was published in 1978...In sum, Principles of Forecasting is a very handsome volume. It will be a welcome addition to any applied research library, and it should be kept near at hand by any statistician.'
     -- Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series D, The Statistician (forthcoming in 2003)

`... Armstrong's book goes beyond its stated goal of presenting the state of the art of forecasting research in the form of concrete principles; it sets the tone and direction for all future work in this area. The book has earned its place as the bible for forecasters and is a "must have" in every forecaster's library.'
     -- Journal of Marketing Research, XXXIX (2003)

About the Author

Professor Armstrong is the author of Long-Range Forecasting and he is a founder of the Journal of Forecasting, the International Journal of Forecasting, the International Institute of Forecasting and the International Symposium on Forecasting.

Customer Review

By Kesten Green (kesten.green@vuw.ac.nz) on December 14, 2001

The subtitle of this book, A Handbook for Researchers and Practitioners, too narrowly defines the audience for Armstrong's new reference. Principles of Forecasting is, in fact, an indispensable resource for managers and professionals of every ilk. Forecasting is an integral part of decisions that we make and that are made for us. To be good decision makers and citizens we owe it to ourselves and others both to make our forecasts explicit and to examine the quality of those forecasts. This book gives the guidance to ensure that best practices are followed and to judge forecast quality after the fact.

Principles of Forecasting is not a book that you will find in airport bookstores. It is not a popular management title that dishes-up the latest buzzwords. On the contrary, this book will give you knowledge to examine critically the fashions and fads, as well as the received wisdom, of management. And yet, despite being a serious work, the book is a joy to read at length, or to browse. I suspect many decision makers will tend to do the latter.

The Forecasting Dictionary is part of Principles of Forecasting and is a good place to start some directed browsing. For example, experienced decision makers will often rely on their intuition, even for important decisions. Is that a good idea? The Forecasting Dictionary has an entry for "intuition" that tells us, "... it is difficult to find published studies in which intuition is superior to structured judgment". Highlighted terms, such as "structured judgment" in the preceding passage, indicate that there is a separate Dictionary entry for the term. By following the highlighted terms and the references to the body of the book which are included in Dictionary entries, one can quickly pick up a useful understanding of a topic. Some entries are very detailed.

Following the intuition entry to the entry on structured judgement, one finds "role playing" as an approach to imposing structure on a forecasting problem. Role-play forecasting for conflict situations happens to be an interest of mine. There is a chapter on role-playing in Principles of Forecasting that provides evidence that the outcomes of role-plays by students, and other non- representative role-players, provide accurate forecasts of decisions in real conflicts. This is counter-intuitive given that the conflicts examined involved generals, chief executives, directors, and union leaders among others. Moreover, unaided judgment tends to do poorly by comparison. This has important implications for strategy development - after all, what use is a strategy that fails to forecast accurately how other parties will behave?

I keep my copy of Principles of Forecasting handy, refer to it often, and learn something new every time I do so. How many books could one say that of? A precious few. Congratulations to the authors on a unique and valuable work well executed.

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Afterword by the Blog Author
Armstrong wrote the bible of statistical forecasting.  He also got together with Kesten Green (the customer reviewer above) in 2007 so that the two of them could independently review the quality of the IPCC 2007 forecast of global warming throughout the twenty-first century.  The two of them found that the 2007 global warming forecast violated dozens of forecasting standards and recommended that governments not rely on IPCC 2007 to make decisions.  An exact list of the 139 forecasting standards is available on-line free as a pdf file at: http://rampaks.com/pdf/standards-and-practices-for-forecasting-forecasting-

Monday, March 23, 2015

Rhett Butler's Dossier

Rhett Butler is a fictional character and one of the main protagonists of Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.


In the beginning of the novel, we first meet Rhett at the Twelve Oaks Plantation barbecue, the home of John Wilkes and his son Ashley and daughters Honey and India Wilkes. The novel describes Rhett as "a visitor from Charleston"; a black sheep, who was expelled from West Point and is not received by any family with reputation in the whole of Charleston, and perhaps all of South Carolina.


In the course of the novel, Rhett becomes increasingly enamored of Scarlett's sheer will to survive in the chaos surrounding the war. The novel contains several pieces of information about him that do not appear in the film. After being disowned by his family (mainly by his father), he became a professional gambler, and at one point was involved in the California Gold Rush, where he ended up getting a scar on his stomach in a knife fight. He seems to love his mother and his sister Rosemary, but has an adversarial relationship with his father which is never resolved. He also has a younger brother who is never named, and a sister-in-law (both of whom he has little respect or regard for), who own a rice plantation. Rhett is the guardian of a little boy who attends boarding school in New Orleans; it is speculated among readers that this boy is Belle Watling's son (whom Belle mentions briefly to Melanie), and perhaps Rhett's illegitimate son as well.

Despite being thrown out of West Point, the Rhett of the novel is obviously very well-educated, referencing everything from Shakespeare to classical history to German philosophy. He has an understanding of human nature (save for a realistic understanding of his beloved Scarlett) that the obtuse Scarlett never does, and at several points provides insightful perspectives on other characters. He also has an extensive knowledge of women (again except for Scarlett), both physically and psychologically, which Scarlett does not consider to be "decent" (but nonetheless considers fascinating). Rhett has tremendous respect and (gradually) affection for Melanie as a friend, but very little for Ashley. Rhett's understanding of human nature extends to children as well, and he is a much better parent to Scarlett's children from her previous marriages than she is herself; he has a particular affinity with her son Wade, even before Wade is his stepson. When Bonnie is born Rhett showers her with the attention that Scarlett will no longer allow him to give to her and is a devoted, even doting and overindulgent, father.

Rhett also decides to join in the Confederate Army; but only after its defeat at Atlanta, and when the "cause" as it were, was clearly understood by a man of his perception, to be truly lost. This facet of the character is completely at odds with [his demonstrated character as a] worldly and wise predictor of Southern defeat on the eve of hostilities. Rhett has known and believed (and has said so publicly) the South is doomed to lose. And he has risked neither his life, nor his fortune for the cause of the South, when to have done so at the beginning of the war, might have been worth the risk, to establish a new nation.

In the sequels − both in official sequels (Scarlett, written by Alexandra Ripley, and Rhett Butler’s People, written by Donald McCaig) and in the unofficial Winds of Tara by Kate Pinotti − Scarlett finally succeeds in getting Rhett back.

Searching for Rhett for the Film

In the 1939 film version of Gone with the Wind, for the role of Rhett Butler, Clark Gable was an almost immediate favorite for both the public and producer David O. Selznick (except for Gable himself). But as Selznick had no male stars under long-term contract, he needed to go through the process of negotiating to borrow an actor from another studio.  Gary Cooper was thus Selznick's first choice, because Cooper's contract with Samuel Goldwyn involved a common distribution company, United Artists, with which Selznick had an eight-picture deal. However, Goldwyn remained noncommittal in negotiations.  Warner Brothers offered a package of Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, and Olivia de Havilland for the lead roles in return for the distribution rights. When Gary Cooper turned down the role of Rhett Butler, he was passionately against it. He is quoted saying, "Gone With The Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I’m glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling flat on his nose, not Gary Cooper".  But by then Selznick was determined to get Clark Gable, and eventually found a way to borrow him from Metrro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Selznick's father-in-law, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer, offered in May 1938 to fund half of the movie's budget in return for a powerful package: 50% of the profits would go to MGM, the movie's distribution would be credited to MGM's parent company, Loew’s, Inc., and Loew's would receive 15 percent of the movie's gross inome. Selznick accepted this offer in August, and Gable was cast. But the arrangement to release through MGM meant delaying the start of production until Selznick International completed its eight-picture contract with United Artists. Gable was reluctant to play the role. At the time, he was wary of potentially disappointing a public who had formed a clear impression of the character that he might not necessarily convey in his performance.

Rhett Butler and James Bond

Michael Sragow of Entertainment Weekly compared Butler to James Bond, arguing that both characters share an analytical sense, are good at seducing "ambivalent" women, and are "masters of maneuvering behind enemy lines".  He also stated that "007's erotic quips follow straight from Rhett's verbal jousts with Scarlett.”


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Afterword by the Blog Author

“It is impossible to love for a second time anything you have really ceased to love.” – La Rochefoucauld in his Maxims.  This is explicitly and perfectly described in Chapter LXIII, the last chapter of Gone with the Wind.  In spite of this, the ersatz sequels to Gone with the Wind reunite Scarlett and Rhett.  That’s absurd.  Life isn’t like that.  La Rochefoucauld was right – as usual.  And a very thorough explanation for why that is true is spoken by Rhett in the last chapter of Margaret Mitchell’s only novel.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Modern American Quackery

Quackery in Contemporary American Culture

"Quackery is the promotion of false and unproven health schemes for a profit. It is rooted in the traditions of the marketplace", with "commercialism overwhelming professionalism in the marketing of alternative medicine". Considered by many an archaic term, quackery is most often used to denote the peddling of the "cure-alls" described above. Quackery continues even today; it can be found in any culture and in every medical tradition. Unlike other advertising mediums, rapid advancements in communication through the Internet have opened doors for an unregulated market of quack cures and marketing campaigns rivaling the early 20th century. Most people with an e-mail account have experienced the marketing tactics of spamming—in which modern forms of quackery are touted as miraculous remedies for "weight-loss" and "sexual enhancement", as well as outlets for unprescribed medicines of unknown quality.

While quackery is often aimed at the aged or chronically ill, it can be aimed at all age groups, including teens, and the FDA has mentioned some areas where potential quackery may be a problem: breast developers, weight loss, steroids and growth hormones, tanning and tanning pills, hair removal and growth, and look-alike drugs.

In a 1992 article in the journal Clinical Chemistry, then president of The National Council Against Health Fraud, William T. Jarvis, wrote:

The U.S. Congress determined quackery to be the most harmful consumer fraud against elderly people. Americans waste $27 billion annually on questionable health care, exceeding the amount spent on biomedical research. Quackery is characterized by the promotion of false and unproven health schemes for profit and does not necessarily involve imposture, fraud, or greed. The real issues in the war against quackery are the principles, including scientific rationale, encoded into consumer protection laws, primarily the U.S. Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. More such laws are badly needed. Regulators are failing the public by enforcing laws inadequately, applying double standards, and accrediting pseudomedicine. Non-scientific health care (e.g., acupuncture, ayurvedic medicine, chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy) is licensed by individual states. Practitioners use unscientific practices and deception on a public who, lacking complex health-care knowledge, must rely upon the trustworthiness of providers. Quackery not only harms people, it undermines the scientific enterprise and should be actively opposed by every scientist.

For those in the practice of any medicine, to allege quackery is to level a serious objection to a particular form of practice. Most developed countries have a governmental agency, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, whose purpose is to monitor and regulate the safety of medications as well as the claims made by the manufacturers of new and existing products, including drugs and nutritional supplements or vitamins. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) participates in some of these efforts.  To better address less regulated products, in 2000, US President Clinton signed Executive Order 13147 that created the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine. In 2002, the commission's final report made several suggestions regarding education, research, implementation, and reimbursement as ways to evaluate the risks and benefits of each.  As a direct result, more public dollars have been allocated for research into some of these methods.

Individuals and non-governmental agencies are active in attempts to expose quackery. According to Norcross et al. (2006) several authors have attempted to identify quack psychotherapies, e.g., Carroll, 2003; Della Sala, 1999; Eisner, 2000; Lilienfeld, Lynn, & Rohr 2003; Singer and Lalich 1996. The evidence-based practice (EBP) movement in mental health emphasizes the consensus in psychology that psychological practice should rely on empirical research. There are also "anti-quackery" websites, such as Quackwatch, that help consumers evaluate claims.  Quackwatch's information is relevant to both consumers and medical professionals.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

El Cid -- Brief History

Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (c. 1043 – 1099) was a Castilian nobleman and military leader in medieval Spain. He was called El Cid (the Lord) by the Moors and El Campeador (the Champion) by Christians. He is the otherwise real but made legendary national hero of Castile. He was born in Vivar del Cid, a town near the city of Burgos.

Born a member of the minor nobility, El Cid was brought up at the court of King Ferdinanbd the Great and served in the household of Ferdinand's son Sancho. He rose to become commander and the royal standard-bearer (armiger regis) of Castile upon Sancho's ascension in 1065. He went on to lead the Castilian military campaigns against Sancho's brothers, the rulers of the kingdoms of Leonb and Galicia as well as against the Muslim kingdoms in Andalusia. He became famous for his military prowess in these campaigns, and helped enlarge Castilian territory at the expense of the Muslims while driving Sancho's brothers from their thrones. This, however, ended up putting him in a difficult position when suddenly, in 1072, Sancho was murdered and with no legitimate heir, leaving his recently ousted brother, Alfonso, as his only heir and ruler of the reunified empire. Although El Cid continued to serve the crown in the person of Alfonso, who was now Emperor of Spain, he lost his status in court and was held in suspicion. Finally, in 1081, he was ordered into exile.

Rodrigo Díaz found work fighting for the Muslim rulers of Zaragoza, whom he protected from the domination of Aragon and Barcelona, further bolstering his military record and reputation as a leader. He was also victorious in battles against the Muslim rulers of Lerida and their Christian allies, as well as against a large Christian army under King Sancho Ramirez of Aragon. In 1086, Alfonso was defeated by Almoravids from North Africa, and he overcame his antagonism to talk El Cid into fighting for him again. Over the next several years El Cid set his sights on the kingdom-city of Valencia, operating more or less independently of Alfonso while politically supporting the Banu Hud and other Muslim dynasties opposed to the Almoravids. He gradually increased his control over Valencia; the Islamic ruler, al-Qadir, became his tributary in 1092. However, the Almoravids instigated an uprising that resulted in the death of al-Qadir – he responded by laying siege to the city. Valencia finally fell in 1094 and El Cid established an independent principality in the eastern Mediterranean coast of Spain. He ruled over a pluralistic state with the popular support of both Christians and Muslims.

The final years of El Cid were spent in fighting the Almoravid Berbers. He inflicted the first major defeat on them in 1094 in the plains of Caurte outside Valencia and continued resisting them until his death. Although El Cid himself remained undefeated in Valencia, he suffered a tragedy when his only son and heir, Diego Rodríguez, died fighting against the Almoravids in the service of Alfonso in 1097. After El Cid's death in 1099, his wife, Jimena Diaz, succeeded him as ruler of Valencia, but she had to surrender the principality to the Almoravids in 1102.

Long after his death, El Cid remains an idolised figure in Spain. The character and his name have been immortalized in plays, film, folk tales, songs, and videogames.

Friday, March 20, 2015

"Small" Solar Flares

The Mystery of Nanoflares
By Dr. Tony Phillips

NASA --March 19, 2015:  When you attach the prefix "nano" to something, it usually means "very small." Solar flares appear to be the exception.

Researchers are studying a type of explosion on the sun called a 'nanoflare.'  A billion times less energetic than ordinary flares, nanoflares have a power that belies their name.

"A typical 'nanoflare' has the same energy as 240 megatons of TNT," says physicist David Smith of UC Santa Cruz. "That would be something like 10,000 atomic fission bombs."

The sun can go days, weeks or even months without producing an ordinary solar flare.  Nanoflares, on the other hand, are crackling on the sun almost non-stop.

"They appear as little brightenings of the solar surface at extreme ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths," continues Smith. "The first sightings go back to Skylab in the 1970s."

Smith thinks nanoflares might be involved. For one thing, they appear to be active throughout the solar cycle, which would explain why the corona remains hot during Solar Minimum.  And while each individual nanoflare falls short of the energy required to heat the sun's atmosphere, collectively they might have no trouble doing to job.

To investigate this possibility, Smith turned to a telescope designed to study something completely different. 

Launched in 2012, NASA's NuSTAR X-ray telescope is on a mission to study black holes and other extreme objects in the distant cosmos. Solar scientists first thought of using NuSTAR to study the sun about seven years ago, after the space telescope's design and construction was underway. Smith contacted the principal investigator, Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, to see what she thought.

"At first I thought the whole idea was crazy," says Harrison. "Why would we have the most sensitive high energy X-ray telescope ever built, designed to peer deep into the universe, look at something in our own back yard?"

Eventually, she was convinced.  As Smith explained, NuSTAR has just the right combination of sensitivity and resolution to study the telltale X-ray flickers of nanoflares. A test image they took in late 2014 removed any doubt.  NuSTAR turned toward the sun and, working together with NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, captured one of the most beautiful images in the history of solar astronomy.

The next step, says Smith, is to wait for Solar Minimum.  The current solar cycle will wind down in the years ahead, leaving the sun mostly free of sunspots and other magnetic clutter that can obscure nanoflares.  NuSTAR will be able to survey the stellar surface and gather data on these explosions like no telescope has done before.

Will it solve the mystery of nanoflares and the solar corona?  "I don't know," says Smith, "but I cannot wait to try."

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Front Wheel Drive

Pro and Con Features of Front Wheel Drive
Compared to Rear Wheel and Four Wheel Drive


  • Interior space: Since the powertrain is a single unit contained in the engine compartment of the vehicle, there is no need to devote interior space for a driveshaft tunnel or rear differential, increasing the volume available for passengers and cargo.
    • Instead, the tunnel may be used to route the exhaust system pipes.
  • Weight: Fewer components usually means lower weight.
  • Improved fuel efficiency due to less weight.
  • Cost: Fewer material components and less installation complexity overall. However, the considerable MSRP differential between a FF and FR car cannot be attributed to layout alone. The difference is more probably explained by production volume as most rear-wheel cars are usually in the sports/performance/luxury categories (which tend to be more upscale and/or have more powerful engines), while the FF configuration is typically in mass-produced mainstream cars. Few modern "family" cars have rear-wheel drive as of 2009, so a direct cost comparison is not necessarily possible. A contrast could be somewhat drawn between the Audi A4 FrontTrak (which has an FF layout and front-wheel drive) and a rear-wheel-drive BMW 3-Series (which is FR), both which are in the compact executive car classification.
  • Improved drivetrain efficiency: the direct connection between engine and transaxle reduce the mass and mechanical inertia of the drivetrain compared to a rear-wheel-drive vehicle with a similar engine and transmission, allowing greater fuel economy.
  • Assembly efficiency: the powertrain can often be assembled and installed as a unit, which allows more efficient production.
  • Placing the mass of the drivetrain over the driven wheels moves the centre of gravity farther forward than a comparable rear-wheel-drive layout, improving traction and directional stability on wet, snowy, or icy surfaces.
  • Predictable handling characteristics: front-wheel-drive cars, with a front weight bias, tend to understeer at the limit, which (according to SAAB engineer Gunnar Larsson) is easier since it makes instinct correct in avoiding terminal oversteer, and less prone to result in fishtailing or a spin.
  • A skilled driver can control the movement of the car even while skidding by steering, throttling and pulling the hand brake (given that the hand brake operates the rear wheels as in most cases, with some Citroen and Saab models being notable exceptions).
  • It is easier to correct trailing-throttle or trailing-brake oversteer.
  • The wheelbase can be extended without building a longer driveshaft (as with rear-wheel-driven cars).

  • Front-engine front-wheel-drive layouts are "nose heavy" with more weight distribution forward, which makes them prone to understeer, especially in high horsepower applications.
    • If a front-engine front-wheel-drive layouts is fitted with a four-wheel-drive, plus enthusiast driver aids, such as active front differential, active steering, and ultra-quick electrically-adjustable shocks, this somewhat negate the understeer problem and allow the car to perform as well as a front-engine rear-wheel-drive car. These trick differentials, which are found on the Acura TL SH-AWD and Audi S4 3.0 TFSI quattro, and Audi RS5 4.2 FSI quattro, are heavy, complex, and expensive. While these aids do tame front end plow, cars fitted with these systems are still at a disadvantage when track tested against rear-wheel drive vehicles (including those with added four-wheel drive).
  • Torque steer is the tendency for some front-wheel-drive cars to pull to the left or right under hard acceleration. It is a result of the offset between the point about which the wheel steers (it is aligned with the points where the wheel is connected to the steering mechanisms) and the centroid of its contact patch. The tractive force acts through the centroid of the contact patch, and the offset of the steering point means that a turning moment about the axis of steering is generated. In an ideal situation, the left and right wheels would generate equal and opposite moments, canceling each other out; however, in reality, this is less likely to happen. Torque steer can be addressed by using a longitudinal layout, equal length drive shafts, half shafts, a multilink suspension or centre-point steering geometry.
  • In a vehicle, the weight shifts back during acceleration, giving more traction to the rear wheels. This is one of the main reasons nearly all racing cars are rear-wheel drive. However, since front-wheel-drive cars have the weight of the engine over the driving wheels, the problem only applies in extreme conditions such as attempting to accelerate up a wet hill or attempting to beat another RWD car off the line.
  • In some towing situations, front-wheel-drive cars can be at a traction disadvantage since there will be less weight on the driving wheels. Because of this, the weight that the vehicle is rated to safely tow is likely to be less than that of a rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicle of the same size and power.
  • Traction can be reduced while attempting to climb a slope in slippery conditions such as snow- or ice-covered roadways.
  • Due to geometry and packaging constraints, the CV joints (constant-velocity joints) attached to the wheel hub have a tendency to wear out much earlier than the universal joints typically used in their rear-wheel-drive counterparts (although rear-wheel-drive vehicles with independent rear suspension also employ CV joints and half-shafts). The significantly shorter drive axles on a front-wheel-drive car causes the joint to flex through a much wider degree of motion, compounded by additional stress and angles of steering, while the CV joints of a rear-wheel-drive car regularly see angles and wear of less than half that of front-wheel-drive vehicles.
  • Turning circle — FF layouts almost always use a Transverse engine ("east-west") installation, which limits the amount by which the front wheels can turn, thus increasing the turning circle of a front-wheel-drive car compared to a rear-wheel-drive one with the same wheelbase. A notable example is the original Mini. It is widely misconceived that this limitation is due to a limit on the angle at which a CV joint can be operated, but this is easily disproved by considering the turning circle of car models that use a longitudinal FF or F4 layout from Audi and (prior to 1992) Saab.
  • The FF transverse engine layout (also known as "east-west") restricts the size of the engine that can be placed in modern engine compartments, so it is rarely adopted by powerful luxury and sports cars. FF configurations can usually only accommodate Inline-4 and V6 engines, while longer engines such as Inline-6 and 90° big-bore V8 will rarely fit, though there are exceptions. One way around this problem is using a staggered engine.
  • It makes heavier use of the front tyres (i.e., accelerating, braking, and turning), causing more wear in the front than in a rear-wheel-drive layout.
  •  Under extreme braking (like for instance in a panic stop), the already front heavy layout further reduces traction to the rear wheels. This results in disproportionate gripping forces focused at the front while the rear does not have enough weight to effectively use its brakes. Because the rear tyres' capabilities in braking are not very high, a significant number of cheaper front drive vehicles use drum brakes in the rear even today.
  • The steering 'feel' is more numbed than a RWD car. This is due to the extra weight of drive shafts and CV join components that increase unsprung weight. Combined with torque steer, determining how much lateral traction is actually available is more difficult if not impossible especially during high performance driving.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Details about Pluto

Pluto (minor planet designation: 134340 Pluto) is the largest object in the Kuiper belt, the tenth-most-massive known body directly orbiting the Sun, and the second-most-massive known dwarf planet, after Eris. Like other Kuiper belt objects, Pluto is primarily made of rock and ice, and is relatively small, about 1/6 the mass of the Moon and 1/3 its volume. It has an eccentric and highly inclined orbit that takes it from 30 to 49  (4.4–7.4 billion km) from the Sun. Hence Pluto periodically comes closer to the Sun than Neptune, but an orbital resonance with Neptune prevents the bodies from colliding. In 2014 it was 32.6 AU from the Sun. Light from the Sun takes about 5.5 hours to reach Pluto at its average distance (39.4 AU).

Discovered in 1930, Pluto was originally considered the ninth planet from the Sun. Its status as a major planet fell into question following further study of it and the outer Solar System over the next 75 years. Starting in 1977 with the discovery of the minor planet Chiron, numerous icy objects similar to Pluto with eccentric orbits were found. The scattered disc object Eris, discovered in 2005, is 27% more massive than Pluto. The understanding that Pluto is only one of several large icy bodies in the outer Solar System prompted the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to formally define “planet’ in 2006. This definition excluded Pluto and reclassified it as a member of the new "dwarf planet" category (and specifically as a plutoid). Astronomers who oppose this decision hold that Pluto should have remained classified as a planet, and that other dwarf planets and even moons should be added to the list of planets along with Pluto.

Pluto has five known moons: Charon: (the largest, with a diameter just over half that of Pluto), Nix, Hydra, Kerberos, and Styx. Pluto and Charon are sometimes described as a binarty system because the barycenter of their orbits does not lie within either body.  The IAU has yet to formalise a definition for binary dwarf planets, and Charon is officially classified as a moon of Pluto.

On July 14, 2015, the Pluto system is due to be visited by spacecraft for the first time.  The New Horizons probe will perform a flyby during which it will attempt to take detailed measurements and images of Pluto and its moons.  Afterwards, the probe may visit several other objects in the Kuiper belt.


In the 1840s, using Newtonian mechanics, Urbain Le Verrier predicted the position of the then-undiscovered planet Neptune after analysing perturbations in the orbit of Uranus.  Subsequent observations of Neptune in the late 19th century caused astronomers to speculate that Uranus's orbit was being disturbed by another planet besides Neptune.

In 1906, Percival Lowell—a wealthy Bostonian who had founded the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1894—started an extensive project in search of a possible ninth planet, which he termed "Planet X".  By 1909, Lowell and William H. Pickering had suggested several possible celestial coordinates for such a planet.  Lowell and his observatory conducted his search until his death in 1916, but to no avail. Unknown to Lowell, on March 19, 1915, surveys had captured two faint images of Pluto, but they were not recognized for what they were.  There are fifteen other known prediscoveries, with the oldest made by the Yerkes Observatory on August 20, 1909.

Because of a ten-year legal battle with Constance Lowell, Percival's widow, who attempted to wrest the observatory's million-dollar portion of his legacy for herself, the search for Planet X did not resume until 1929,when its director, Vesto Melvin Slipher, summarily handed the job of locating Planet X to Clyde Tombaugh, a 23-year-old Kansan who had just arrived at the Lowell Observatory after Slipher had been impressed by a sample of his astronomical drawings.

Tombaugh's task was to systematically image the night sky in pairs of photographs, then examine each pair and determine whether any objects had shifted position. Using a machine called a blink comparator, he rapidly shifted back and forth between views of each of the plates to create the illusion of movement of any objects that had changed position or appearance between photographs. On February 18, 1930, after nearly a year of searching, Tombaugh discovered a possible moving object on photographic plates taken on January 23 and January 29 of that year. A lesser-quality photograph taken on January 21 helped confirm the movement.  After the observatory obtained further confirmatory photographs, news of the discovery was telegraphed to the Harvard College Observatory on March 13, 1930.


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Note by the Blog Author

There exists a very clever, cogent theory that Pluto and its moons are escaped satellites of Neptune.  See this link for an explanation: