If Only I Had a Babel Fish Who Could Read to Me

I wrote recently on another site about The Embassy of the Free Mind which is collection of pre-1900 books on alchemy, astrology, magic, and other occult subjects.

These books have been, and still are being, digitized under a digital education project called “Hermetically Open.”

A donation from author Dan Brown - who certainly has an interest in these areas and has used them to great advantage in his own novels - has enabled much of this work to be done.

Amsterdam’s Ritman Library has a sizable collection of pre-1900 books on occult subjects. Currently, the first 1,617 books from the Ritman project have come available in their online reading room.

If you are interested in having full access to hundreds of rare occult texts, you might want to check it out.

One caveat: these books are written in several different European languages, especially Latin, the scholarly language of Europe throughout the Medieval and Early Modern periods.
Other books appear in German, Dutch, and French.

This makes me want a Babel fish. The Babel fish is small, yellow, leech-like creature that feeds on human brain wave energy. After absorbing all unconscious frequencies, it can then "excrete" telepathically a matrix formed from the conscious frequencies and nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain.

That means the babel fish when stuck in your ear allows you to instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language.

The only problem is that it was made up by writer Douglas Adams for his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book series.

It would be amazing if we had this universal translator that neatly crosses the language divide between any species.

Adams says that the Babel fish could not possibly have developed naturally, and therefore it both proves and disproves the existence of God.

"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
"Oh, that was easy," says Man.
Is there the secret, the answer, to what we have been seeking in those texts? Maybe this is more than just the stuff of novels and movies.

The Moon, Jupiter and Spica

This Memorial Day Weekend, from May 25 to 28, we had some clear skies and some rainy ones. Tonight should be clear in my neighborhood and I will be able to see a very bright “star” near the moon. But it is not a star. It is Jupiter.

Venus sets in the west not too long after the sun had set, and the Moon and Jupiter were the two brightest objects in the sky.

I knew to look for a fainter true star. It is fainter but still one of the brightest stars, even in moon’s glare. This is Spica. It is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. I'm not very knowledgeable about the zodiac, but I know it is a key star in that study.

Spica is a first-magnitude star, but it appears much fainter than Jupiter. That is because Jupiter is relatively close (or at least nearer)to Earth. This is what draws me to gazing at the night sky is my semi-knowledgeable way: the idea that Spica is about 262 light-years away, and I am looking at its light.

The universe makes me think about the first meanings of words like WONDERful and AWEsome.

Spica is the easiest star to spot in Virgo. There is a saying to find Spica you can "follow the arc of the Big Dipper to Arcturus and speed on to Spica." But that probably doesn't make it any easier for the average Earthling to find because most people know very little about the night sky.

Besides Spica, other bright stars in Virgo include many I had never heard of: β Virginis (Zavijava), γ Virginis (Porrima), δ Virginis (Auva) and ε Virginis (Vindemiatrix). Other fainter stars that were also given names are ζ Virginis (Heze), η Virginis (Zaniah), ι Virginis (Syrma) and μ Virginis (Rijl al Awwa).

Again, the wonder and awe of all this is discovering that one of the stars, 70 Virginis, has one of the first known extrasolar planetary systems and it contains a confirmed planet 7.5 times the mass of Jupiter. I can't even really grasp the size of my own Earth. And the star Chi Virginis has one of the most massive planets ever detected, at a mass of 11.1 times that of Jupiter. And there are 35 verified exoplanets orbiting 29 stars in Virgo.

All this makes me feel like such a small part of the universe. But it makes me feel like part of he universe. I feel better knowing these things.

What a Photo Posted Online Can Say About You

You're probably tired of stories about privacy, Facebook and social media. But in the midst of all that the past few months, I continue to see lots of my online friends taking quizzes, liking posts and especially uploading photos.

Oh, what's the harm in posting a photo?

Your camera or phone adds a lot of data to a photo file. Especially with your camera's phone (on Flickr and many photo sharing sites, the most popular "camera" is a phone) you are sharing your location, the date and time, the kind of device you used and its device ID and your mobile provider. It will also ping off any nearby Wi-Fi spots or cell towers, so your location is there even if you don't add that to the image post.

Add in facial recognition, which Facebook and Google use on your photos, and features will try to determine who is in that photo. If you tagged anyone or captioned the photo or added a new specific location, you are feeding the database. Thanks, users!

Think about how this data along with knowing who your friends are and their data and where you go with or without them and it builds a very robust picture of you and your world.

Can't this be controlled by us? To a degree, yes, but not totally. Your phone and some cameras will automatically record that data for every shot. You can turn off location services/geotagging in some instances, but I'm not even convinced that the data still isn't there anyway. And if you are automatically backing up your photos to iCloud or Google or somewhere in the cloud, I'm not positive that even your deleted photos are forever gone along with their metadata.

Am I overly paranoid? Can anyone be overly paranoid about privacy these days?