Sunday, July 15, 2018

Explosion followup

The explosion downtown came from a gas leak that started about about 6:20. The gas wasn't completely shut off until 9:30. Why?

The first response gas fitter (presumably tasked with turning it off) was caught in the explosion. Word on the street is that he has a severe concussion and no hearing. The explosion damaged a network of pipes and required a dozen valves be shut off.

2500 attended fireman Barr's funeral. That's over 7% of the population of the town. Our next door neighbor's son is in the volunteer fire department, and was on the scene. Barr had initially asked him to walk with him over near the intersection, and then changed his mind and told him to stay by the truck while Barr went on alone.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Sports beverages

I've always had an intuitive sense that chocolate milk was good for you--certainly it is good for morale, and that has to have an impact on your physical state, right? People were looking at it years ago to see if it was better than recovery drinks like Gatorade.

A newer study bears that out. Alas, there are caveats.

Even though this analysis pooled data from several smaller studies to get more robust results, it still included less than 150 people. Results from running or cycling exercise tests also might not reflect how chocolate milk would impact recovery from other sports.

"Any food that provides carbohydrate, protein, fluid and electrolytes and is well-tolerated will help promote recovery," Spaccarotella said by email. "In addition to chocolate milk, other popular choices are cereal with milk, smoothies, sandwiches or soup. A small meal will even work, if the athlete is feeling hungry."

I'll chance it. Although they probably weren't studying people with my level of inactivity.

And given a choice between coffee and cocoa on a cold day, I'll go with cocoa.

You can probably see a pattern here.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Live Press Conference on Astrophysics Breakthrough

Live for now, will link the record later.

Recorded version. They fixed the dead time problem

The NSF representative bobbled some of her statements, but largely got things right. Halzen has a good sense of humor and of proportion--I like him. Some of the animations the presenters used make things much clearer.

This has been in the works for months, as people tried to make sure all the eyes were dotted and teas crossed.

Executive summary: For the first time we were able to tell where an extra-solar neutrino came from, and it pointed back to a flaring blazar. (That tells us something about blazars, too.) IceCube saw a neutrino, told the rest of the world, and fast telescopes looked to see if they could see it too. Fermi and Magic did, and said it was associated with a blazar that flares now and then, and was flaring right now. IceCube went back to the last time it flared and looked for an excess of energetic neutrinos coming from that region, and found them.

The old excess wasn't something to write home about by itself, anymore than seeing plants chewed down inside your garden fence tells you there's a deer. But if your neighbor says there's a deer around, and you see a deer track in the front yard, the chewed-down plants mean something.

Since only about 1 in a hundred thousand neutrinos at that energy will interact in IceCube, that means there were an awful lot of neutrinos coming from that blazar.


We can tell from what direction gamma rays come, but most of the cosmic rays that hit us are nuclei, and charged. The magnetic fields of galaxies are weak but gigantic, and bend the cosmic rays this way and that. A proton from SagA* might wind up hitting the Earth from the opposite direction.

Gamma and X rays can come from two different sorts of processes--one which involves nuclei interacting with things and one which is pretty much entirely electron-in-magnetic-field-based.

Neutrinos come almost entirely from the first class of processes, as nuclei interact with stuff (e.g. other nuclei or the background light around the galaxy) to produce pions that decay to neutrinos.

Sighting this means that we have

  1. The first extra-galactic neutrino with an understood origin
  2. That source produces jets of nuclei, not just electrons
  3. Blazars (actually, any active galaxy--blazars are just active galaxies whose jets point at us) can produce the cosmic rays we've been trying to understand the origin of for a long time.

I haven't seen estimates for the numbers yet--they'll be pretty rough because we haven't seen very many neutrinos yet--but maybe we can get some idea of what fraction of cosmic rays come from active galaxies.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

One problem with explosions

You can't always estimate them well.

When we heard it, I said to the neighbor boy who was helping us garden, "Sounds like a power transformer. I'll bet some neighborhood doesn't have power anymore." It wasn't the crisp bang of fireworks, or the bang of a shotgun or a rifle, and it wasn't dynamite--the noise had a gentler "attack."

Or it could have been a lot farther away--like a mile. I heard they evacuated the building after they smelled gas, but sirens have been going to and fro, and the smoke is darker and still rising after 2 hours.

I hope the neighboring buildings and businesses and residences were well insured. I like The Chocolate Caper.

The Barr House's previous tenant had put up amusing messages about the bar business, and kept it up even after they moved. Google street has "Life is not a fairy tale. If you lose your shoe at midnight, you're drunk."

FWIW, first reports got one of the streets wrong. You'd think that was pretty easy to get right, but I guess somebody got the landmark "Old City Hall" and turned it into "City Hall."

And they are evacuating around the area as well, so they must worry about the gas lines too.

UPDATE: A contractor hit a gas line.

UPDATE2: So far 2 firemen hurt and a cop had minor injuries. Sirens go to and fro.

UPDATE3: One fireman dead, 2 hurt. Part of the street flew in the air, according to a fellow I know who was driving in the area.

UPDATE4: When they write that a restaurant was "heavily damaged" they mean that the foundation still looks good. And maybe some of the walls. The volunteer fire captain who died owned the Barr House.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Mazon update

I mentioned a detour to Mazon a few months ago, and said we collected some discarded concretions, one of which had an obvious fossil.

Instead of using a hammer and chisel, I soaked the concretions in water and then froze them. Repeatedly.

After about 20 iterations, during which little chips spalled off here and there, one that had an OK jellyfish opened up to show a fragment of a leaf on the other side. There's probably more, but I'm not sure how to peel back the rest of that layer. Yesterday, after a dozen more iterations, a little crack opened in another, and when I pried the thing apart it looks like a twig was inside. Not as exciting as a TullyMonster, but discovery is fun.

Ring neck doves

In Sheridan, Wyoming we heard a curious creature. When we got binoculars on the bird it was plainly a ring neck dove. But, contrary to the bird books, its call sounded like it was taking cooing lessons from crows. OK, sometimes it cooed, but sometimes made a sound halfway between a coo and a caw. Yes, there were several of them, so it wasn't a weird individual.

Has anybody else heard this?


One does not sleep in as long when tent camping.

"He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, It will be reckoned a curse to him."

Although, to be fair, one does feel better waking up in the woods early after watching a fire until 10 than one does waking up at an ordinary time after working on a computer until 10.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Spiders soaring

Some spiders are light enough, and can spread their silk far enough, that electrostatic fields can levitate them. Go have a read
Bristol’s researchers exposed Linyphiid spiders to lab-controlled e-fields that were quantitatively equivalent to those found in the atmosphere. They noticed that switching the e-field on and off caused the spider to move upwards (on) or downwards (off), proving that spiders can become airborne in the absence of wind when subjected to electric fields.

"bumblebees can detect e-fields arising between themselves and flowers"

I suppose if you worry about spiders rising to meet you, this might not be pleasant news.

Vortex collisions

This is cool. Colliding vortices, when exactly balanced, spread out in a ring into smaller vortices at right angles to the original ones. Have a look. They did this in an aquarium so the speeds would be low enough to film easily, and without the complications of compression that you get in air.

Mammoth trap

One of the places we visited in the Black Hills was the Mammoth Site, a sinkhole that trapped a number of mammoths over the years. This has the largest concentration of mammoths in the world, and they think they've only dug about a third of the way down. Pay them a visit if you're in the area.

The mammoths seem to have fallen in and drowned, so the scientists think the sides were steep and covered with vegetation, making them a little more enticing in the winter. So far every last mammoth has been male. Maybe, as with elephants, the young males are chased out of the herd to fend on their own and find their own females. And, all alone, you don't get the benefit of other's experience or much help when you get stuck.

Right now they think the sinkhole (spring-fed) is about 140,000 years old, and only finished filling in relatively recently. During our wandering about the pit, I looked at the layers in the sediment and did some back of the envelope estimations. There aren't enough layers for 140,000 individual years, but if the layers represent extra wash from El Nino's (or Nina's, dunno which would send extra water to South Dakota during the various glacial periods), it kind of works out if the average time between Nino's is about 5 years.

It sounds like the place must have been a terrible trap, but if the number of mammoths yet undiscovered is proportional to the number found so far, the hole claimed only about 1 mammoth per thousand years or so. (And a few other critters as well.) So it didn't make much of a dent in mammoth numbers. Could be that most of the time there was an easy way out.

They found a few tiny fish bones--those probably don't preserve very well. The mammoth bones aren't fossils, and all DNA was washed out of them ages ago. Look but don't touch.

Dogs 2

Earlier I wondered about American dogs--among other things, where they went.

If this story is correct, even what I thought were native breeds (Chihuahuas) actually aren't.

Comparison of ancient and modern American dog genomes revealed that these unique, pre-contact American dogs rapidly disappeared following the arrival of European settlers and left little to no trace in modern American dogs. This disappearance was most likely due to a combination of factors, including new diseases, cultural preferences for European breeds, and extermination of native dogs.

I'd think that exterminating local breeds would rank extremely low on the to-do list of European settlers--but if the reports that European dogs hated the American breeds, it might be something they wanted to attend to. And if we tried to defend our dogs...

‘In fact, we now know that the modern American dogs beloved worldwide, such as Labradors, Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican hairless dogs), and Chihuahuas, are largely descended from Eurasian breeds, introduced to the Americas between the 15th and 20th centuries.’

The story goes on to suggest that the only trace of the old American breed is from a transmissible cancer that presumably originated in an American dog and infected the European dogs. Nice and weird.

People talk about trying to restore mammoths from DNA. I'd think dogs would be easier. If there were enough DNA samples. Maybe there are some frozen in the tundra?

Tuesday, July 03, 2018


AVI wonders how deep the differences are between generations. AVI thinks not deep, though he suspects that cars and teenage personal money made changes starting in the 50's and 60's.

Cultural fashions come and go, of course, and what is passe now may revive later. Permanent cultural changes (the spread of a new religion) or technological changes might have clearer consequences.

I wonder how much "use it or lose it" plays a role in shaping the way we think and solve problems. I've done some DAQ work, in which I had to care about what bits were on which traces in the interface card, and had to track down odd program problems with strace. I've also had to use icon-based administration. You think about problems in different ways, approach problems differently. Allegedly the latter approach lets you think "big picture," but corner cases pop up, and you wind up having to know some details anyway. I think about problems a little differently from most of the rest of my family; I suspect because I trained as a scientist.

We have our "go to" toolkit for meeting new problems. Sometimes this is disastrous--think of the folks who use the "nice doggy, here, have a treat" approach to Yellowstone bison. That toolkit is part of our culture. Our urban/suburban toolkit doesn't include anything dealing with edible animals. If it did, I suspect we'd have fewer vegan restaurants. It does include tools for giving the appearance of independence (your own apartment, etc), and the more popular philosophies magnify the importance of independence. I don't see the latter changing without a change in the toolkit, whether that is economic/technological (e.g. apartments get too dear) or religious (e.g. like the Beguines).

FWIW, we use Slack at work. One of the channels is titled "First World Problems." Those are the kind of things that the young and lucky(*) get worked up over. Do we have more of them than earlier generations? That'll certainly make a generational change.

(*) Luck includes wealth.

A garden in East Berlin

If you haven't read the story about the garden that was technically in East Berlin, though the wall was built on a shortcut that put it on the West side, go read it.
The East Berlin guards watched this exchange from a nearby watchtower. They could see he was really annoying the West Berlin authorities - so to annoy them even more, the East Berlin authorities made sure that Kalin had free and full use of the land.

The little glowing screen

When I look around the bus, about half the people are deeply involved with their cell phones. I'd think this was a new distraction, but I'm old enough to remember people deeply involved with their newspapers. And doing crosswords when not reading the stories.

When I rode the Chicago L some people still read newspapers, but if I recall correctly a goodly fraction kept their eyes peeled for tottering strap-hangers. Some of the turns rattled us around a bit. I don't remember having to keep an eye on dicey passengers--not much at rush hour, anyway. At 10pm, somewhat, but the platform seemed riskier, and the entrance still more. The cars themselves were well lit and you could easily see through one to the next.

After running a few numbers, I conclude that the monthly price for a smartphone (over and above the dumb-phone price) is probably comparable to the price of the newspaper--which has been going up lately. Hmm. Have to cough up something for the online access too, so it doesn't quite balance. I don't play candy crunch or whatever it is, I read Facebook maybe twice a month and am not going to display personal stuff to seatmates on the bus, a little bitty screen is hard to read books on, and I don't want to be accessible by email wherever I go. (Contrariwise, I sometimes do want to be able to email somebody else.)

Frequently I solve a thorny problem when I get on the bus and am far away from anything but pen and paper. Maybe that has to do with changing the scene or changing the mode I'm thinking in--and I might prevent that if I brought along a little computer to look at.

Monday, July 02, 2018


When in Caspar we drove by Christ Convergence Church several times. The name didn't seem auspicious. In math-land convergence has a clear and common meaning, but the plurality of popular uses I see are associated with New Age stuff. I looked up the church.

They say they are evangelical, liturgical, and charismatic. I don't know how they square that circle, but if that's what they mean by "convergence," God bless them and I hope it works out.

Friday, June 29, 2018

More Chesterton

And in precisely the same fashion a poet must, by the nature of things, be conventional. Unless he is describing an emotion which others share with him, his labours will be utterly in vain. If a poet really had an original emotion; if, for example, a poet suddenly fell in love with the buffers of a railway train, it would take him considerably more time than his allotted three-score years and ten to communicate his feelings.


Poetry deals with primal and conventional things--the hunger for bread, the love of woman, the love of children, the desire for immortal life. If men really had new sentiments, poetry could not deal with them. If, let us say, a man did not feel a bitter craving to eat bread; but did, by way of substitute, feel a fresh, original craving to eat brass fenders or mahogany tables, poetry could not express him. If a man, instead of falling in love with a woman, fell in love with a fossil or a sea anemone, poetry could not express him. Poetry can only express what is original in one sense--the sense in which we speak of original sin. It is original, not in the paltry sense of being new,
but in the deeper sense of being old; it is original in the sense that it deals with origins.


It is only the smaller poet who sees the poetry of revolt, of isolation, of disagreement; the larger poet sees the poetry of those great agreements which constitute the romantic achievement of civilisation.


When a lady in Italy said, on an occasion when Browning stayed behind with his wife on the day of a picnic, that he was "the only man who behaved like a Christian to his wife," Browning was elated to an almost infantile degree. But there could scarcely be a better test of the essential manliness and decency of a man than this test of his vanities. Browning boasted of being domesticated; there are half a hundred men everywhere who would be inclined to boast of not being domesticated. Bad men are almost without exception conceited, but they are commonly conceited of their defects.


Humanitarians of a material and dogmatic type, the philanthropists and the professional reformers go to look for humanity in remote places and in huge statistics. Humanitarians of a more vivid type, the Bohemian artists, go to look for humanity in thieves' kitchens and the studios of the Quartier Latin. But humanitarians of the highest type, the great poets and philosophers, do not go to look for humanity at all. For them alone among all men the nearest drawing-room is full of humanity, and even their own families are human. Shakespeare ended his life by buying a house in his own native town and talking to the townsmen.


Prejudice, in fact, is not so much the great intellectual sin as a thing which we may call, to coin a word, "postjudice," not the bias before the fair trial, but the bias that remains afterwards.


But there are, when all is said and done, some things which a fifth-rate painter knows which a first-rate art critic does not know; there are some things which a sixth-rate organist knows which a first-rate judge of music does not know.


A man must love a thing very much if he not only practises it without any hope of fame or money, but even practises it without any hope of doing it well. Such a man must love the toils of the work more than any other man can love the rewards of it.


Despotism indeed, and attempts at despotism, like that of Strafford, are a kind of disease of public
spirit. They represent, as it were, the drunkenness of responsibility. It is when men begin to grow desperate in their love for the people, when they are overwhelmed with the difficulties and blunders of humanity, that they fall back upon a wild desire to manage everything themselves. Their faith in themselves is only a disillusionment with mankind. They are in that most dreadful position, dreadful alike in personal and public affairs--the position of the man who has lost
faith and not lost love. This belief that all would go right if we could only get the strings into our own hands is a fallacy almost without exception, but nobody can justly say that it is not public-spirited. The sin and sorrow of despotism is not that it does not love men, but that it loves them too much and trusts them too little. Therefore from age to age in history arise these great despotic dreamers, whether they be Royalists or Imperialists or even Socialists, who have at root this idea, that the world would enter into rest if it went their way and forswore altogether the right of going its own way. When a man begins to think that the grass will not grow at night unless he lies awake to watch it, he generally ends either in an asylum or on the throne of an Emperor.


A Liberal may be defined approximately as a man who, if he could by waving his hand in a dark room, stop the mouths of all the deceivers of mankind for ever, would not wave his hand.

Somebody didn't get the memo.

I think in the first paragraph Chesterton is writing about people who support the despotism--likely enough the wolves at the top got there because they don't care for anyone but themselves. But you know rank and file people just like those he describes, don't you?

Browning's father

Chesterton wrote an interesting biography of Robert Browning. There you may find:
In early life Robert Browning senior was placed by his father (who was apparently a father of a somewhat primitive, not to say barbaric, type) in an important commercial position in the West Indies. He threw up the position however, because it involved him in some recognition of slavery. Whereupon his unique parent, in a transport of rage, not only disinherited him and flung him out of doors, but by a superb stroke of humour, which stands alone in the records of parental ingenuity, sent him in a bill for the cost of his education. About the same time that he was suffering for his moral sensibility he was also disturbed about religious matters, and he completed his severance from his father by joining a dissenting sect. He was, in short, a very typical example of the serious middle-class man of the Wilberforce period, a man to whom duty was all in all, and who would revolutionise an empire or a continent for the satisfaction of a single moral scruple.


Robert Browning senior destroyed all his fortunes in order to protest against black slavery; white slavery may be, as later economists tell us, a thing infinitely worse, but not many men destroy their fortunes in order to protest against it. The ideals of the men of that period appear to us very unattractive; to them duty was a kind of chilly sentiment. But when we think what they did with those cold ideals, we can scarcely feel so superior. They uprooted the enormous Upas of slavery, the tree that was literally as old as the race of man. They altered the whole face of Europe with their deductive fancies. We have ideals that are really better, ideals of passion, of mysticism, of a sense of the youth and adventurousness of the earth; but it will be well for us if we achieve as much by our frenzy as they did by their delicacies. It scarcely seems as if we were as robust in our very robustness as they were robust in their sensibility.

I suspect if he were writing today, Chesterton might be a little less flattering about our ideals. One of our ideals is that revolution is a proof of a good change.

Saturday, June 23, 2018


We drove 16 to Ten Sleeps. The weather cooperated (not so much for the folks camping next to us who went to Shell Falls), and the scenery and the details were beautiful. Except for the descent/ascent at the west end--I'm a flatlander with a white knuckle dislike of heights. And, now that I think of it, the minivan ran a bit hot too--I don't think it likes steep grades.

We arrived at one lookout in time to see a man dash across the road and up the scrubby hill chasing a dachshund. The dog is 14 and supposedly blind, but she saw a marmot on the hill and took off after it. The man pulled her out of the marmot's hole. The breed was bred for that...

Most places the deer crossing sign shows a white-tail leaping. Here it depicts an elk standing as though it owns the road.

The cattle drive really owns the road, though. We passed a woman by a pickup at the side of the road who was waving an orange flag about; she nodded at us, we waved back, and wondered what she was trying to do. Around the curve about 300 cows and calves trotted loosely in our direction, with a line of cars backed up behind them. Several mounted cowboys and a fast little dog tried to keep the cows going more or less down the road.

There are even more large pickups on the road than RVs (most pulled by pickups themselves).

Cruise control isn't very useful in the Bighorns either. Dangerous would be a better description. And, maybe you can use your brakes to manage one downhill 8% grade, but don't risk it for more than one. My Better Half took lots of pictures while things cooled down.

Friday, June 22, 2018


The reenactment of Custer's last stand was rained out--too wet for people and probably dangerous for the horses--so we went to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument instead. That was pretty wet too, but we didn't have to gallop uphill. The white tombstones on the hill and through the valley were evocative--but incomplete. They haven't put any in the ravine. And, it turns out, when the Feds sent the monuments sent to be installed they included some for another battlefield. Many markers are in pairs, but the archaeologists usually found evidence of at most one burial. They suspect that the bodies were covered, not buried, by scooping the loose dirt on top--and sometimes they scooped from both sides, leaving a depression on each side. When the markers went in, they went in by the depressions. And since there were too many markers sent, nobody noticed at the time. Duplicate markers cannot be removed, since they are now historical in their own right.

On a hill close to the cavalry's monument is a monument to the Indians who fought--it includes a list of all the warriors. (Some names have a lost story somewhere: "Not Good for Anything.") This monument tells the Sioux side (including a quotation from Custer promising he would never shoot at gun at them again) and celebrates their fight for their way of life.

The monuments celebrate courage and faithfulness.(*) On a rainy Friday morning it was crowded, and the docents were busy.

(*) Hmm. Maybe we could do something like that with the American Civil War? Do you think people would go for not just having monuments for the heroes of the winning side, but monuments for the heroes of the losing side as well--putting it all behind us and celebrating courage?