Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Splashing is complicated

But it looks like some MIT engineers may have found one of the keys to understanding droplet formation. Jerk matters.

For some reason this reminds me a bit of the oddity with bubbles: with a bubble on each end of a straw, the pressure is lower inside the bigger bubble, so it grows and the smaller shrinks.


I wondered who would be the best patron saint of computers or of computer managers. For the latter, I figured St. Barbara(*), although St. Dymphna was plausible too.

It turns out that somebody already worked it out: A scholar named St. Isidore is supposed to be the patron of computers and maybe the internet too.

(*) Patron of artillery men and mathematicians (?). If you wonder how this applies to computers, think of this: I often do.


On the topic of simple things: Read about the history of the "Opener, Can, Hand, Folding, Type I".

"In a pinch it might be used as a screwdriver to help field strip a weapon, cut seams on a uniform, or scrape mess kits clean. To accomplish a mission it could strike flint, measure inches, strip wire, deflate tires, adjust a carburetor, or pick inside a wound. Need a box cutter, marking tool, or decorations on a makeshift Christmas tree?"

The article claims that it was not named after the airplane, and that some suspect that it and its bigger "also-not-named-after-an-airplane" brother the P-51 were named after the number of squeezes needed to open a can. I humbly submit that it probably was named in honor of the plane, especially given the second name. Looked at from the side by a child or a tipsy adult, the tool has an airplane look to it. I have a mental picture of a couple of little boys playing zoom zoom airplane with prototypes that daddy brought home from work.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Until you see the whites of their eyes

The group photo had us standing on the hill and looking down at the cameraman. He had a clever idea: "Close your eyes and open them when my countdown reaches 1". He wanted to cut down on blinking. It was not 100% successful.

Dark eyes everywhere.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


On the way back from Louisville we detoured and spent about an hour and a half fossil-hunting in the Mazon Creek park. There were once coal strip mines, and the tailings include some very well-preserved soft-bodied fossils. The loop we walked was very much overgrown and covered with long dry grass and medium height green grass, alive with ticks. (We disposed of at least 60 on the first leg of the trip--very few on the rest.) Here and there one could find a few promising rocks, but the bulk of those I picked up were by the road.

You can sometimes crack a rock open with a hammer, but that's not reliable and can crack it in the wrong plane to view anything. The approved approach is to soak them in water and then freeze them--perhaps repeatedly. We'll see. I picked up quite a few opened and discarded rocks by the roadside--some of which look rather jelly-fishy. Somebody was impatient.

The strip mines are now oddly shaped lakes, with hills in between.

Saturday, May 12, 2018


Two extremely different bloggers, Joseph Moore and Lubos Motl, recently wrote about the role of engineering in the world, coming to the same conclusion--without a lot of dedication to making things work, and work better, all the knowledge in the world comes to nothing.

And as Lubos points out even the knowledge of how-to (e.g. The Manual for Civilization) requires enough people actually doing it in order to have the resources to build more.

(How do you make a screw by yourself? You use a lathe? Who makes the parts to fix your lathe?) You need a critical mass of people who not only know how, but are actually doing stuff, in order to make better stuff.

I remember a sci-fi story from a collection ages ago in which an exec sold his soul to the devil for youth, time travel to before Henry Ford, complete specs for building a car, and enough $$ of the correct vintage to start building his factory. In the town he arrived in, the local metallurgist was a blacksmith. They knew more at a university, of course, but getting the new-fangled kinds of steel was going to be hard even in small batches. (Spoiler--he forgot to check the fine print and didn't wind up with the youth he needed either.). Even with prior knowledge, it was going to take about as long for him to build his car as it did in the real world.

Even the little pencil I linked to in an earlier post--you can construct something crude that mostly works, but the modern version has so many refinements that nobody could make one by himself. Build your own toaster?

Yes, I run into people who think they're incredibly smart because they can use the technology that a team of other people designed, and many teams of other people made, and an invisible army provides the infrastructure for.


I'd had the impression, maybe driven mostly by the book of Job, that when people asked God "Why?" they didn't generally get an explanation, but something else instead.

Time to go find out. I got the KJV from Project Gutenberg and looked up all the why's and wherefore's.

First off, sometimes the question "Why?" is purely rhetorical (e.g. Judges 21:3, where they know perfectly well why a tribe is now going to be missing, or Exodus 32:11 where Moses is arguing with God).

Second, lots of times the question is a plea for help rather than for an explanation (Psalm 10:1, 22:1, 42:9, 44:23, 74:1,11, 80:12, 88:14, 89:47; Why have you forsaken/forgotten/hidden from us?, or Isaiah 63:17 Why did you make us err from your ways?, Jeremiah 14:8,19, Lam 5:20)

Third, sometimes He does answer and it turns out to be "because of your sins" (Joshua 7:7, Isaiah 58:3, Jer 5:19, Jer 13:20, 16:10, 22:8, 22:28, Malachi 2:14). When there is an explanation given, this is it--but sometimes this is explicitly not the explanation (see the rebuke to Job's friends, or John 9:3.

Jesus' disciples often ask "Why?", but they don't really know who they are talking to yet, so I don't think I'll count those.

I found just a handful of other cases:

    Numbers 11:11 Moses asks God why he is afflicting Moses with all this responsibility. God says to appoint elders to help him. I take it Moses was asking for help, and got it, so this is like the second case above, but with an answer.

    Judges 6:13 Gideon asks God why is all this befallen us if God is with us? God says go, I'm sending you.

    Jeremiah 15:18 Why is my pain perpetual? God answers: I will make you strong

    Jeremiah 12:1 Why does the way of the wicked prosper? God answers--are you giving up so soon?

    Exodus 5:22 Moses asks God why he was sent, because things look worse than before. God answers "Now you will see"

    Habakkuk 1:3,13 Why do you show me evil? Why do you allow evil? God answers: wait for the judgment, it will come

    Job: Job asks lots of why's: God does not address any of them but shows what he is like and asks if Job can deal with even that

    Ezekiel 18:19 Rhetorical Why? Doesn't the son bear the iniquity of the father? God answers "No, he doesn't."

    Matthew 27:46,Mark 15:34 Jesus asks "Why have you forsaken me?" He gets no immediate answer

So sometimes the answer is "Wait and see" and sometimes "Be strong." And sometimes it is "Repent." And there's God's answer to Job "Can you do what I do?" with the implicit "If not, how can you understand the why?"

I skipped the Apocrypha. Sorry about that. If my memory doesn't deceive me, they wouldn't change the results much.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Wealth and choice

More money usually brings more opportunities, which is always good until it isn't. Too many choices and you wind up wasting time context switching, not to mention the bright ideas that never go anywhere. Remember Toad of Toad Hall? If you haven't read The Wind in the Willows, do.

I have 4 major projects I'm working on. That is probably 3 too many. I can flip a coin, or ask which is more likely to be finish-able, or rotate a week between each--but it needs a choice.

Sometimes being "spoiled for choice" becomes "failing to choose." I look at some of what our forebearers did, and sometimes they seem amazingly productive, especially given the relative size of the population and the fewer opportunities available then.

Maybe the impression is wrong--perhaps we have the same proportion of Jefferson's now as then, but the centralized nature of our society means we only see the best and luckiest of them, with the rest lost to view.

Or maybe we're swamped with a-muse-ments in the full sense of that term, and lose much of our creative time to passive entertainment.

Or perhaps we find it hard to choose, and do too many trials and too few commitments. Clint Smith said "Beware the man who only has one gun. He probably knows how to use it!"

I have known very few rich people (and them not very well), and no very rich people at all. I discount stories about them, but one thing crops up over and over--the heirs generally lack the concentration of the ones who formed the fortune. Is that a natural side effect of the increase in opportunities, as well as the result of a comfortable existence with nothing to goad them? (I know about regression to the mean, but if that plays a role you also expect to still see greater ability than average.)

Friday, May 04, 2018

"Tomorrow will be like today, only more so"

Maybe. Or maybe there'll be a volcanic irruption in the street, or a sinkhole in your field. Or a mouse will chew off the insulation on some wires and start a fire, or the sewer back up and your sump pump fail.

We're good at taking things for granted. Especially nice things, like comfortable houses. And being able to trust the electricity, or that the bus will stop for you, or that laws and regulations won't be capricious.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Get Out of Jail Free

"Dr. Malachi Z. York, naturalized Liberian citizen from the United States, who was granted Liberian diplomatic status by ex-President Charles G. Taylor, is said to be languishing in solitary confinement in a U.S. prison without any medical care accorded him, even though diagnoses show that he is suffering from complicated diseases, "

The article is pretty one-sided, relying heavily on what his lawyer says--and she magnifies every ailment into the worst case, of course. Even though it is his lawyer who says so, I'll accept that he is in solitary. Solitary, by the estimates I've seen, is 3x more expensive than keeping someone in the general prison population. Since York was nailed for "transporting minors across States for the purpose of sexual molestation," I wonder if he's in solitary for his own safety.

Anyhow, the interesting bit is a letter from Charles Taylor dated 1999 appointing York as Consul General of Liberia to Atlanta, and which York was relying on for diplomatic immunity.

There's no evidence of a quid pro quo, but given that this was Liberia under Taylor, I assume York paid for the privilege.

I thought Get Out of Jail Free cards were just a Monopoly invention. I hadn't thought of this angle. Apparently the State Dept. has seen that scam before.

Sunday, April 29, 2018


Eating you can do alone, dining requires friends.

I like the "Legendary Enchainment." We haven't quite done that, but we've come close a few times.

Out-herods Herod

If you haven't read Warren's piece on showing emotion, do. "In every “traditional” culture I have encountered, raw emotion is masked."
But we had once been much like them. Once, we had taken our lumps, silently; once, we had ritualized external display. And this was decency. You (anyone) will never be able to see inside a marriage that is not your own; or inside a family death. Words don’t go there.

I want to take his idea a different direction.

IIRC, actors as a group have often been, if not despised, at least considered low class. Since I live in a culture that reveres the famous, I've had to project what the reason might have been--and to me it seemed very possible that one doesn't find it easy to trust people who specialize in lying about who they are and what they think.

But this makes sense--the actors, by wildly showing emotion, would have been acting in ways decent people didn't. And so decent people disdain them. Even when they patronize them.

How did we get from there to here? Catharsis for therapy? We get to blame Freud. Somehow or another the notion arose that the stronger your emotion, and the less able to control it you therefore were, the more powerful and majestic your character must be. Maybe we can blame the artists. Or perhaps is isn't a matter of lack of control--you do the world a favor when you illustrate your glorious and sensitive nature by inflicting your spleen on the rest of us. Hmm. Or perhaps the rest of the world doesn't really exist? We get to blame the philosophers.

There are undoubtedly positives and negatives each way. You'd think we'd be more alive to the negatives in a culture we live in than one we only know from stories, but maybe not when the differences are so great that we don't understand the stories.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Giving up on satire

When I studied at U of I at Chicago Circle the campus was alive with student radicals. The editors of the student newspaper printed a series of letters I wrote designed as satires of the radicals' frantic screeds. I was ridiculously proud to overhear someone tentatively speculating that maybe one of the letters might not be real. (Ho Lee, Chairman of the Re-Education Committee--I don't know if anybody got the pun) I excoriated Sri Lankan watermelons and called for a demonstration against oppressively produced cotton, with divestiture of the same.

I kept and lost copies, which is probably no great loss: reality catches up with satire. I wrote a little satirical piece a couple of years ago explaining how I identified as a gazelle and needed trans-species surgery. I gather that at google you now can identify as a dragon without being mocked.

What do you do when people not only have no shame, they have no sense of the ridiculous?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


AVI links to an article about Japanese "rental families." You may rent actors to portray family members. A man who was too embarrassed to admit to his fiance that his parents were dead rented actors to play his parents at their wedding. Another whose wife had died and whose daughter was estranged hired actors to be his wife and daughter, so he wouldn't be so lonely.

It makes for sad reading--"It is not good for man to be alone," but how poorly we often manage the relationships we have, and how hard it is to establish new ones. Once the barrier is down and there is someone present and the illusion of a relationship, some clients aren't content to maintain the play and want something more real. Some, though, are ok with living in illusion.

The rental agency owner says 30-40% of the rental husbands wind up being proposed to by the woman. The story didn't say how many accepted--I suspect few.

But before you think "It's their choice, and it doesn't hurt anybody," notice the additional services available.

If you make a mistake at work, and a disgruntled client or customer demands to see your supervisor, you can hire Ishii to impersonate the supervisor. Ishii, identifying himself as a department head, will then apologize. If the apology isn’t accepted, a different actor can be sent to apologize as the division head. If the division head doesn’t get results, Ishii dispatches a remorseful president. These situations can get complicated, because the real department heads and presidents aren’t aware that they have apologized.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Tailored Awards

Have you noticed that when the ball game is going slowly, the radio announcers regale us with statistics like "He has struck out more left-handed second basemen than any pitcher since 2005"?

"... she was named one of the most gifted writers of Arab origin under the age of 40"

Friday, April 20, 2018

How accurate are our evaluations?

If I were inclined to gamble, I'd have risked a month's income that the two gentlemen who boarded the bus Monday were more than slightly acquainted with prison life, and probably were still gang-affiliated.

Demeanor, clothing, something about the expression and the way they looked at people--I can't pin down the details, but put it all together and it added up to "people who found the trouble they went looking for."

The newspaper publishes mug shots of those arrested or convicted, and most of the time the perp looks the part. You'd avoid him, or not trust her checks, just because of the way they looked. "The eyes are the mirror of the soul"--and maybe "a lifetime of bad character" puts a stamp on the features.

Not always. The bank robber trio consisted of a man who looked suitably violent and two younger men who looked, for a change, quite harmless. False negatives.

And my driver's license photo shows me as a malevolent zombie, which I trust is a false positive. I'm not shambling, I just have a bum knee!

But a lot of the time it works--at least within a single culture. Skillful manipulators can fool pretty much anybody, and some people (and animals) have unfortunate features that give a terrible first impression. (I'm thinking of a prognathous and jut-fanged dog that looked aggressive, but tended skittish.)

I don't know if this was replicated, but the claim that people are good at spotting the naturally empathetic was interesting. I don't think I'd put much faith in studies involving people looking at pictures--face to face evaluations include far more information. Can we put numbers to this with any reliability?

Somebody must have done some studies of this for use in jury selection. Guilty or innocent? Hmm. He's in a suit, and smiling almost normally, just as he's been coached, but we're not face to face and not talking together.