Sunday, March 26, 2017

Nick Destroys an iPad

iPad3 on the operating table
I've been enjoying an iPad3 that a friend who works at Apple gave me -- especially the Sky Guide astronomy app for locating stars, planets and deep sky objects. And it's also great for reading eBooks and pdfs in bed. Recently the touch screen has been failing to respond so I traveled to the Apple Church in Los Gatos and found that it would be very expensive to repair compared to simply buying a new one.

So I decided to try to fix it myself. The Apple Father Confessor said I needed a new "digitizer" which is a fancy word for the touch-sensitive front screen.

It's not easy to take apart an iPad. No screws. The two halves of the clam-shell case are held together with a heat-sensitive glue.

Fortunately a company called iFixit sells a kit for opening an iPad and doing simple repairs. The key item in the kit is a black sausage-shaped plastic sack of liquid which iFixit cutely calls an "iOpener". You put this sack in a microwave oven for 30 seconds, then use it to soften the glue around the edges of the iPad. Then you slowly pry open the case with the help of a half-dozen green guitar picks and a few more specialized plastic prying tools.

I bought a new digitizer and watched a repair movie on YouTube several times until I thought I knew what I was doing.

Looked pretty simple. After backing up my iPad''s memory to iTunes,  I only needed to 1: Open the case. 2: Unplug and remove the LCD (liquid crystal display). 3: Unplug and remove the damaged digitizer.

4: Plug in the new digitizer. 5: Plug in the LCD. 6: Reseal the case and enjoy my new iPad. How could anything go wrong?

Opened iPad. LCD on left; new digitizer on right
Opening the iPad was a lot easier than I expected (that iOpener really works). An important feature of the repair kit is a well-crafted set of screw drivers that you won't find at your local hardware store; and that are absolutely essential once the case is opened. The drivers include three very small Phillips bits, size 0, 00 and 000. The smallest 000 size was perfect for removing the LCD (which covers up all the connectors). The drivers also include a magnet for retrieving tiny screws as well as the fabled pentalobe driver used by Apple to make its products difficult to repair. For the iPad there was no need to deploy the magic pentalobe driver, but if I ever get my hands on an old iPhone, that driver will come in handy.

Everything came apart easily. Inside the iPad it's mostly batteries -- three big black flat rectangles that take up most of the space.  

Now to put everything back together again.

The digitizer cable has two parts which plug into two adjacent FFC (Flat Flexible Connector) sockets which I have labeled D1 and D2. These sockets are a type of connector called ZIF (for Zero Insertion Force). To remove the cable, you lift a latch which frees it; after inserting the cable (presumably with zero force) you lower the latch to lock the cable in place. The latches can be snapped open or closed with a flat plastic spatula included in the repair kit. 

The LCD cable also plugs into a FFC socket which I have labeled L1. This socket is also a Zero Insertion Force connector with a latch/unlatch mechanism identical to that of the two digitizer sockets.

Open iPad showing three flat cable sockets D1, D2 and D3
Now my trouble began. The digitizer cable plugged easily into socket D1 but would not go into socket D2. The D2 latch was snapped open but the cable only went in partway, as though the latch was actually closed. I pushed all sorts of small plastic slivers, including part of a credit card, into socket D2, trying unsuccessfully to pry it open.

As a last resort, I decided to push the cable into D2 as far as it would go and anchor it with a bit of duct tape. Since half of the flat digitizer cable was already latched in socket D1, perhaps this desperate measure might work. I also figured that maybe I never needed a new digitizer in the first place but my problem might have been due to a bad D2 socket.

With the digitizer cable fastened as securely as I could manage, I moved on to the task of plugging in the LCD screen.

Closeup of the digitizer sockets (D1 and D2) and the LCD socket (L1)
Unlatching socket L1, I pushed the LCD cable in as far as it would go. Definitely not zero force, but with a bit of effort I was able to get the cable into its socket almost as far as the white "water line" printed on the cable that indicates full insertion.

Then the socket broke.

And scattered lots of tiny gold-plated pins across the circuit board. If you look closely at the L1 connector, you can see that it is missing 6 or 7 of its little golden pins.

Whoops! Now I had converted my sophisticated iPad tablet computer into an inert lump of eJunk. The fault was in the so-called Zero-Insertion-Force connectors. Neither socket D2 nor socket L1 had behaved as I had been led to expect. Was this due to my own incompetence? Or were those sockets on the edge of failure from the start? One friend speculated that these sockets are cheaply designed for easy assembly only -- and are not expected to be reused. My guess is that quality control is very bad on these connectors and I had simply drawn two deuces in the iPad repair lottery. In any case, I had learned a lot about what's inside an Apple tablet computer and consoled myself with physicist Niels Bohr's famous saying that an expert in a field is someone who's made every possible mistake. Towards becoming an expert on iPads, I had taken the first few steps.

However three other things that happened this week more than made up for my fixit failure.

Number One: My friend KSCO radio host Dr Future gave his wife Mrs Future a new iPad for her birthday. Then dear Mrs Future kindly passed her old iPad on to me. Thank you Allan and Sun Lundell for this timely and generous gift.

Number Two: Artist, author, philosopher Michael Grosso posted on his Consciousness Unbound blog an over-the-top review of Harlot Nature, my latest book of quantum tantric verse. Thanks, Michael, for your very appreciative review of my work.

Number Three: I just found out that this year's  Kanamara Matsuri Festival of the Iron Penis will take place on Sunday, April 2, 2017. If you are traveling in Japan next week, you may want to include this unusual event in your schedule.

In the city of Kanayama, the male phallus is honored on this day in many shapes and sizes. How did this festival come about?

One story tells of a demon who fell in love with a woman and hid inside her vagina, biting off her newlywed husband’s penis, twice. She then sought help from a blacksmith, who made her a metal phallus. It broke the demon’s teeth and sent him off for good. They later enshrined it in Kanayama Shrine as a sort of commemoration.

I won't be traveling to Japan next week, but here's my humble contribution to the iron penis festivities:

Kanayama wife, instead of a locket,
Kept a demon inside her soft pocket
When inside her you slip
He will bite off your tip --
Not a Zero-Insertion-Force socket!

Festival of the Iron Penis, Kanayama, Japan

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Man Who Could Fly: A Book Review

Tycho's Star: SNR 1572
In 1572, a new star appeared in the heavens, brighter than the planet Venus, then slowly disappeared over a period of 18 months. The new star (stella nova) was closely observed and measured by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe who christened the star, "new and never before seen in the life or memory of anyone". Brahe's discovery challenged the reigning Aristotelian dogma of the incorruptibility of the heavens. We know now that this event was not a "new star" but an old star ending its stellar career with a colossal explosion, which today's astronomers call a "supernova". The hot debris from this explosion is named Supernova Remnant 1572 (visible now only through powerful telescopes) or "Tycho's Star" for short.

Kepler's Star: SNR 1604
Thirty-two years later, a second stella nova appeared in the heavens and was dutifully described by Tycho's successor Johannes Kepler. This new star of 1604 was also a supernova explosion and is now called "Kepler's Star" or Supernova Remnant 1604. Although many supernovas have since been observed telescopically in other galaxies, Kepler's Star was the last local supernova visible with the naked eye.

Almost coincident with these revolutionary celestial explosions was the birth of a man whose explosive behavior challenges modern science at its core. Joseph Desa, born in 1603, in the small town of Copertino, located in the heel of Italy's boot, was a completely unlikely scientific revolutionary. Clumsy, absent-minded, unfit for the simplest profession because of his tendency to fall into prolonged reverie, bedridden as a young boy for 6 years, Joseph earned the nickname Boccaperta (Gapingmouth) for his stupid-looking countenance. He first attempted to enter a monastery, but was dismissed after eight months for incompetence in the kitchen. Through the help of a influential uncle he was accepted into the Conventual Order of the Franciscans in the nearby town of Grotella where he was given the task of caring for the mule.

As a Conventual friar Joseph became a candidate for the priesthood. And, through a set of seemingly miraculous circumstances, he actually passed his exams and was ordained a Catholic priest at the age of 25.

And then his troubles began. The new priest could levitate.

Before his ordination, Joseph's frequent reveries (or ecstasies) might be tolerated but now these trances were often accompanied (especially while saying Mass) by literal flights into the air, in seeming violation of (today's) laws of physics. Joseph's miraculous flights occurred over a period of 35 years till his death in 1663 at the age of sixty, and were witnessed by hundreds and perhaps thousand of people.

Johannes Kepler by Gabriel Herrera; St Joseph of Copertino by Michael Grosso

Recently writer, painter and scholarly researcher Michael Grosso arranged for a translation into English of an Italian biography of Joseph by Domenico Bernini written in 1722, only sixty years after Joseph's death and forty-five years before he was canonized as a Catholic Saint. Grosso used Bernini's work and many more recent scholarly accounts of Joseph's deeds (including documents from the Vatican archives) to produce his own analysis of this 17th-century gravity-defying Franciscan monk. 
Michael Grosso and The Man Who Could Fly
In The Man Who Could Fly, Grosso tells Joseph's story in brief and then again in more detail, analyzing Joseph's alleged levitations from a number of angles including scientific, psychological and religious perspectives and even considering Joseph as a performance artist in the context of sacred theater. In addition to telling a compelling tale of the unusual life of an unlikely miracle-worker, Grosso does the reader a favor by examining Joseph's behavior from a variety of approaches that a merely biographical approach might ignore.

For instance, from the historical viewpoint, levitations connected with religious ecstasy have been documented for at least 200 Catholic saints, about equally divided by gender. For comparison, only five naked-eye supernovas have been observed in the last 1000 years. Until recently, evidence for levitation and for "new stars" was of the same nature -- personal testimony concerning a rare and short-lived event. Today, with telescopes and photography, we can make lasting records of supernovas. Levitating saints are allegedly still around. It would be interesting to see if this book inspires scientific recording of ecstatic flight by a monk or nun with a digital video camera.

Ironically, the life of Joseph, the gravity defier, coincided in part with the life of Galileo, who was the first to work out the mathematics of the motions of falling bodies. Both men were several times examined by the Italian Inquisition under the same Pope (Urban VIII) and both received essentially the same punishment -- enforced isolation from the public -- house arrest in the case of Galileo and confinement to remote and inaccessible monasteries in the case of Joseph.

In Joseph's case the inquisitors did not doubt the numerous reports of his levitation, but were concerned that his powers might be of demonic origin, or that, through his wonder working, he might turn into a popular figure (such as Martin Luther) who could challenge the authority of the Catholic Church. Anticipating a Luther or a demon, the inquisitors in Naples were totally disarmed by the unfeigned humility and clumsy helplessness of  Padre Giuseppe Gapingmouth. Neither a demon nor a demagogue, what to do with this guy who could fly?

Naples sent him to Rome for a second inquisition where he levitated in the presence of Pope Urban VIII. The Pope's decision was to "get him out of town". The Pope moved Joseph from Grotella (in Italy's heel) where he was drawing huge crowds of miracle seekers (he also was gaining a reputation as a healer) to Assisi (whose patron saint is St Francis) almost 500 miles to the north. As a Franciscan monk, Joseph welcomed the chance to be near the relics of St Francis. He was employed there as a gardener's assistant and kept away from the public -- a kind of monastic house arrest. 

Coincident with Joseph's confinement, Galileo was under house arrest in Florence, less than 100 miles from Assisi. One can only speculate how Galileo might have reacted to the sight of a monk that could fly. Eppur si muove (and yet it moves) indeed.

In searching for a context that might explain Joseph's flights, Grosso places them in the category of unusual mind-matter interactions, which range from familiar (but not yet understood) acts such as your own mind lifting an apple with your hand, to astonishing sports performances, to table tipping, poltergeists and mental influences on quantum random-number generators (Schmidt machines). He also cites cases of mediums such as the Scotsman D. D. Home and Icelandic medium Indridi Indridason, who went into trance and levitated, sometimes carrying others up with them (as did Joseph). Grosso speculates that certain states of mind can give rise to physical forces as yet unrecognized by science. Grosso criticizes scientists who dismiss out of hand the phenomena of levitating saints, not only for their unjustified dogmatism but mainly because their "stolid incuriosity" is so unworthy of a true scientist.

Just as Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler carefully documented their "new stars" without having the slightest idea what was really happening in the sky, so Michael Grosso carefully examines and presents the evidence for Joseph's levitations (including the processi, the records of Joseph's inquisitions which are still on file at the Vatican). This is a scholarly and richly informative book on a phenomenon deemed by many to be "impossible". This impact of this carefully written book is enhanced by multiple readings. I've read it three times. And who is to say, perhaps Grosso's book might inspire some young and imaginative reader to discover the secret of "the man who could fly".

On the other hand, the solution to the mystery of the Franciscan frequent flyer might not be possible using only what we know today. 

The nature of Kepler's new star, for instance, was solved only recently, and needed new knowledge for its understanding.  At the end of the 19th century, Lord Kelvin calculated that the Sun was no more than 25 million years old, which was "impossible" because the Earth itself was known to be much older than that. The source of the Sun's energy was finally explained only after the discovery of two new forces -- the strong and the weak nuclear interactions. Once scientists could explain the Sun, it was only a matter of time before they were able also to explain supernovas, as a logical consequence of the same two new short-range nuclear forces.

It may not be too farfetched to hope, in analogy with how we managed to understand the Sun, that when scientists can confidently explain the origin of ordinary consciousness (whether via a new force or some more sophisticated twist), then the path will be open to explaining the outlandish behavior of religious super stars such as St Joseph of Copertino, the patron saint of aviators, astronauts and exam takers. Thank you. Michael Grosso, for telling so well the story of this truly marvelous man.

Joseph of Copertino from Thuen Karelse's Field Guide to Flying Saints

Friday, March 3, 2017


Jim Rintoul, live at the Boulder Creek Bistro 12/04/1996
One of the most inventive poets
of Boulder Creek's Middle Bistroscene Era
(when giants walked the earth)
was Jim Rintoul
captured below on video
(Dec 4, 1996) by Allan and Sun Lundell.

I wonder 

how many among us 
poets and writers have ever
somewhere in the recesses of our minds
felt that we had the power with our words
to launch something so powerful
into the heart of a culture
that it would just rip it apart
and something beautiful and new
would emerge?

I know that this fantasy
animates much of my life.

That's where this comes from:


(upon slaying unavoidably
a few pillars of conventional wisdom.)

Had you ever thought about
how hard it had become to do
anything really holy anymore?

The holy event
demands a rawness,
a stripped situation,
the down comforters
of modern convention
had smothered
the sacred impulse
in its own dank heat.

The valley of the shadow of death
had been buried
under asphalt intersections
and fertilized lawns.

Just think about
how hard it had become
to get really naked anymore.

The clothes of common understanding
clung to bare skin
like a hot wet fog
like a thick exhalation.

Bones packed in such fat,
like flies in amber,
can't be easily rattled
to stir the demon guides
and spirit helpers.

There was just no way around it, Judge --
I had to destroy that culture to save it.