Einstein’s birthday is Pi Day; coincidence?

March 14, 2019

How many ways can we say happy birthday to a great scientist born on Pi Day?  An encore post.

Happy Einstein Day! to us.  Albert’s been dead since 1955 — sadly for us.  Our celebrations now are more for our own satisfaction and curiosity, and to honor the great man — he’s beyond caring.

Almost fitting that he was born on π Day, no? I mean, is there an E=mc² Day? He’s 140 years old today, and famous around the world for stuff that most people still don’t understand.

E=energy; m=mass; c=speed of light

Fittingly, perhaps, March 14 now is celebrated as Pi Day, in honor of that almost magical number, Pi, used to calculate the circumference of a circle. Pi is 3. 1415~, and so the American date 3/14 got tagged as Pi Day.

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Germany, to Hermann and Pauline Einstein.

26 years later, three days after his birthday, he sent off the paper on the photo-electric effect; that paper would win him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.

Einstein as a young man.
Einstein as a younger man, circa 1921. Nobel Committee photo.

In that same year of 1905, he published three other papers, solving the mystery of Brownian motion, describing what became known as the Special Theory of Relativity and solving the mystery of why measurements of the light did not show any effects of motion as Maxwell had predicted, and a final paper that noted a particle emitting light energy loses mass. This final paper amused Einstein because it seemed so ludicrous in its logical extension that energy and matter are really the same stuff at some fundamental point, as expressed in the equation demonstrating an enormous amount of energy stored in atoms, E=mc².

Any one of the papers would have been a career-capper for any physicist. Einstein dashed them all off in just a few months, forever changing the fields of physics. And, you noticed: Einstein did not win a Nobel for the Special Theory of Relativity, nor for E=mc². He won it for the photo-electric effect. Irony in history. Nobel committee members didn’t understand Einstein’s other work much better than the rest of us today.

114 years later, Einstein’s work affects us every day. Relativity theory at some level I don’t fully understand makes possible the use Global Positioning Systems (GPS), which revolutionized navigation and mundane things like land surveying and microwave dish placement.

Development of nuclear power both gives us hope for an energy-rich future, and gives us fear of nuclear war. Sometimes, even the hope of the energy rich future gives us fear, as we watch and hope nuclear engineers can control the piles in nuclear power plants damaged by earthquakes and tsunami in Japan.

English: Albert Einstein on a 1966 US stamp
Albert Einstein on a 1966 US stamp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If Albert Einstein was a genius at physics, he was more dedicated to pacifism. He resigned his German citizenship to avoid military conscription. His pacifism made the German Nazis nervous; Einstein fled Germany in the 1930s, eventually settling in the United States. In the U.S., he was persuaded by Leo Szilard to write to President Franklin Roosevelt to suggest the U.S. start a program to develop an atomic weapon, because Germany most certainly was doing exactly that. But while urging FDR to keep up with the Germans, Einstein refused to participate in the program himself, sticking to his pacifist views. Others could, and would, design and build atomic bombs. (Maybe it’s a virus among nuclear physicists — several of those working on the Manhattan Project were pacifists, and had great difficulty reconciling the idea that the weapon they worked on to beat Germany, was deployed on Japan, which did not have a nuclear weapons program.)

Everybody wanted to claim, and honor Einstein; USSR issued this stamp dedicated to Albert Einstein Русский: Почтовая марка СССР, посвящённая Альберту Эйнштейну (Photo credit: HipStamp)

Einstein was a not-great father, and probably not a terribly faithful husband at first — though he did think to give his first wife, in the divorce settlement, a share of a Nobel Prize should he win it. Einstein was a good violinist, a competent sailor, an incompetent dresser, and a great character.

His sister suffered a paralyzing stroke. For many months Albert spent hours a day reading to her the newspapers and books of the day, convinced that though mute and appearing unconscious, she would benefit from hearing the words. He said he did not hold to orthodox religions, but could there be a greater show of faith in human spirit?

When people hear clever sayings, but forget to whom the bon mots should be attributed, Einstein is one of about five candidates to whom all sorts of things are attributed, though he never said them. (Others include Lincoln, Jefferson, Mark Twain and Will Rogers). Einstein is the only scientist in that group. So, for example, we can be quite sure Einstein never claimed that compound interest was the best idea of the 20th century. This phenomenon is symbolic of the high regard people have for the man, even though so few understand what his work was, or meant.

Einstein in 1950, five years before his death

A most interesting man. A most important body of work. He deserves more study and regard than he gets, in history, diplomacy and science.

Does anyone know? What was Albert Einstein’s favorite pie?

More, and resources:

Fly the U.S. flag in March 2019

March 8, 2019

Members of the New York City Fire Department carry 343 U.S. flags honoring the 343 NYFD members killed on 9/11, in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. New York Post caption:

Members of the New York City Fire Department carry 343 U.S. flags honoring the 343 NYFD members killed on 9/11, in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. New York Post caption: “Despite the cold and gray morning, parade-goers turned out for St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate Irish heritage in New York City on March 17, 2014. FDNY members set the pace as they marched down 5th Avenue holding American flags for the annual event. SHANNON STAPLETON/Reuters”

I usually put up a post near the first of the month listing the occasions upon which U.S. laws urge us to fly Old Glory. March sometimes slips by without such a post.

No good reason, other than in most years, March offers no regular national commemorations upon which flag flying is urged. The odd year is when Easter comes early. Easter is one of the holidays the Flag Code says flags should be flown.

But, most years, Easter falls in April, as it does in 2018.

The Flag Code urges residents of states to fly the U.S. flag on the anniversary of their state’s entering the union, on statehood day. Those are the only dates in March, most years. In March, we have four statehood days in the first four days of the month. If I dawdle, we miss most of the dates.

Flag fly dates, for March (some already past, in 2019):

  • March 1, Ohio statehood (1803, 17th state)
  • March 1, Nebraska statehood (1867, 37th state)
  • March 3, Florida (1845, 27th state)
  • March 4, Vermont statehood (1791, 14th state)
  • March 15, Maine statehood (1820, 23rd state)

Okay, all but one already past in March. Apologies to Ohio, Nebraska and Florida. Surely you can find the stories of their big parades and flyovers for statehood in Google News.

St. Patrick’s Day revelers and parade marchers display the U.S. flag, but it’s not an official U.S. observance.

I keep hoping, but I get little traction for a law urging flying the flag to observe Freedom Day, on the birth anniversary of the Father of the Constitution, James Madison (he was born March 16, 1751).

People gathered on the lawn of James Madison's home in Montpelier, Virginia, to display the U.S. flag in a card display, 2011. AP photo?

People gathered on the lawn of James Madison’s home in Montpelier, Virginia, to display the U.S. flag in a card display, 2011. AP photo?

Much irony, and great history, in the U.S. colors being shown so dramatically on St. Patrick’s Day, a day relatively uncommemorated in Ireland, and commemorated in the U.S. chiefly to help overcome bias against Irish immigrants.

Some irony in the unmarked birthday of the Father of the Constitution.

Sure, you may fly the U.S. flag every day in March. You need not wait for sanction from a Presidential Proclamation or a Congressional Resolution. You may fly the flag every day. (Just follow flag etiquette when you do.)

I’ll try to keep up better, next year. (I said that last year.)

U.S. colors led the St. Patrick's Day parade in Seattle, Washington, in 2014. Photo from IrishClub.org

U.S. colors led the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Seattle, Washington, in 2014. Photo from IrishClub.org

U.S. colors stood out in a field of green at the St. Paul, Minnesota, St. Patrick's Day parade, 2015(?). Photo from VisitStPaul.com.

U.S. colors stood out in a field of green at the St. Paul, Minnesota, St. Patrick’s Day parade, 2015(?). Photo from VisitStPaul.com.


This is an encore post.

Yes, this is a bit of an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

Quote of the Moment: Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri (again)

March 8, 2019

March 5, 2019, was the 73rd anniversary of Winston Churchill’s speech in Fulton, Missouri. He called the speech “Sinews of Peace,” but it is better known as the speech in which Churchill first used the phrase “Iron Curtain” to describe events in Eastern Europe after World War II.

Winston Churchill delivering the "Iron Curtain" speech, Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, March 5, 1946 - Photo by George Skadding

Winston Churchill delivering the “Iron Curtain” speech, Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, March 5, 1946 – Photo by George Skadding

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.”

Sir Winston S. Churchill, in a speech at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946, titled “The Sinews of Peace.”

Some historians mark the beginning of the Cold War from this speech, in which a respected world leader (though without portfolio at the moment) first spelled out the enormous stakes at issue, and also pointed out that Russian, communist totalitarian governments were replacing more democratic governments in nations only recently freed from the spectre of Nazi rule, in World War II.

In June 2012, son James and I stopped off in Fulton, on the way back from James’s graduation from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.  We were treated royally by the people at the Churchill Centre, and got a chance to spend time in a first rate museum.  More people should make Fulton a destination, or pause in their summer travels, for the sake of the kids.

This is an encore post.

Below the fold is the speech in its entirety, from the transcript at the Churchill Centre. Read the rest of this entry »

Photo challenge: Patterns

March 7, 2019

I don’t normally make time for these sorts of things, though I often find they lead to other blogs with great content, especially photos.

But when else would I use some of these photos?

So, for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, a few quick patterns. See details for what you should post at Cee’s Photography.


Adobe bricks in a house under construction, for Habitat for Humanity in Taos, New Mexico
Adobe bricks in a house under construction, for Habitat for Humanity in Taos, New Mexico.

Fractal mountain erosion, fractal clouds

Fractal erosion patterns in the mountains around San Francisco Bay, California.

Dead prickly pear cactus

Support structure of a prickly pear cactus, exposed by the death of the cactus section and weathering.

Windows on the Oquirrhs

West windows in the lobby of the Utah Museum of Natural History, campus of the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. Oquirrh Mountains on the west side of the valley visible through the windows.

I should probably post more of my photos just to make sure they get preserved somewhere. You should, too.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Deb Kroll at Unexpected in Common Hours.


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