Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Does cancer have a double whammy? They claim that the "wasting" aspect of cancer is or can be independent of effects due to tumor growth and associated tissue damage (such as bone destruction next to growing tumors). If this pans out it could be very interesting:
Cachexia affects up to 80% of cancer patients. It is estimated to cause one in four cancer deaths, primarily when their diaphragm muscle becomes some wasted and weak they can no longer breathe. Doctors try to fight cachexia by feeding the patient up, but this approach rarely works.


When Hoogenraad’s team implanted mice with cancer cells genetically engineered to lack the Fn14 protein, the tumours grew almost as aggressively as a regular tumour. Yet the mice remained bafflingly fit, strong and healthy.
This adult male cachexia patient has suffered extreme muscle and fat loss.

“We scratched our head and thought, ‘What the hell have we done?’” Hoogenraad says. Then they realised they had switched off the cachexia.

The team moved quickly, making antibodies that block Fn14. A mouse with a normal, Fn14-producing tumour will start to lose weight and sicken within eight days. But when mice with Fn14-expressing tumours were injected with the antibody, the weight loss never materialised.

I assume that if the lack of this doesn't change the tumor growth, then cancers could appear without it. One thing to try to learn is whether different cancers produce this protein. This article suggests to me a list of candidates: gastric, lung, prostate. Pancreatic is on the list of frequent cachexia, but I think it might be hard to distinguish the effects of the destruction from those of any additional mechanism in that case.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Negative interest

Sweden has been using negative interest rates.
Cut rates too deeply, and savers would end up facing negative returns. In that case, this could encourage people to take their savings out of the bank and hoard them in cash. This could slow, rather than boost, the economy.

What is happening now should not – according to conventional thinking – be possible.

As central bank rates have turned negative, the rates offered on bank deposits have followed. Yet rather than stuffing cash under mattresses, people have left their money in the bank or spent it.

Later on the article says

Pension funds might be among the first to abandon banks if things get too painful, because of what in effect can look like a tax on holding money.

One solution is to give savers nowhere else to go. This idea was floated by the Bank of England’s chief economist in recent weeks, who made the case that sub-zero rates will be needed in the near future.

Andy Haldane, a member of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), the UK’s equivalent of the FOMC suggested that to achieve properly negative rates, the abolition of cash itself might be necessary.

The first point about negative interest rates is that they've been tried in Japan and Sweden, two countries with strong social cohesion and trust. The second:

I find it useful to translate proposals into simple models. It gets around a lot of obfuscation.

I put my paycheck in the bank. The bank takes some of it away. I automatically lose money.

I'm not allowed to not put money in the bank.

The only way the bank doesn't get my money is if I spend it right away.

If everybody knows I have to spend money right away, they will raise prices.

No matter what I do, I get less for my hours of work.

Cui bono?

  1. The State. They overspend and need to borrow. Negative interest rates force us to subsidize their borrowing: they benefit. I notice that all the happy-joy talk about this comes from government types, who grimly warn that cash is used for drug deals and other evil trades. Like paying the kid next door to mow the lawn while I'm on vacation.
  2. The bank, as long as they can make sure my rate is worse than theirs

I conclude that this is, at minimum, a disingenuous way of raising taxes.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Bee careful reporting

An alderman proposed a revision to city ordinances to allow beekeeping. I agreed to speak in favor, and went to the planning committee meeting Tuesday night at 7. The first item on the agenda was a zoning change and waiver application, and the next 3 hours were filled with justified worries about traffic. The waiver application lost. Then several experts on beekeeping explained its safety and practicality. I had plenty of time to hone my presentation. You might be amused to compare what I actually said with what the paper said I spoke into the microphone.
I am James living at YYY, and I speak for myself and for my daughter who owns the other half of our duplex at ZZZ. I am not an expert, so I can be brief. My wife says a garden is the best way to show the connection between hard work and eating. Over the years we have made the gardens an integral part of our children’s education, and now that my daughter has children of her own she is doing the same. If you drive by our homes you can see the gardens: lots of flowers and vegetables. She wants to add beekeeping to what she is doing and teaching, and to help increase her family’s resources. This may not be the way other families live, but this is ours.

OK, I should have written it down--I had plenty of time. The last sentence was brain freeze on my part; I'd forgotten to devise a wrap-up sentence. And for the honor of truth, I stuttered and started with “I am an expert” before correcting myself. Still, my address was easily the shortest of the night by a factor of at least 5. You'd think it would be easy to keep track of.

..., a Juniper Lane (Street!) resident, told commissioners his daughter was in the process of growing a garden and wanted to add a bee hive. He would like the city to change the ordinance to allow it so he can tell her she can put one in and continue to teach her self-sustaining agricultural practices.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


In Romans 1:29-32 the list of sins deserving death includes slander. It might seem disproportionate at first, but go read these stories about how Tim Hunt was forced to resign because of lies by Connie St. Louis, Deborah Blum, and Ivan Oransky, about a Florida man who incited attacks on strangers from his parent's basement and how Pakistan's rent-a-mobs let you deniably kill your enemy for a few bucks with just an accusation.

Maybe slander isn't so supportable after all. A penalty proportional to the injury, perhaps?


I haven't paid much attention to the Common Core debates. The idea of having some minimum standards has its appeal, but the devil is in the details, and if we get more teaching to the test we're going to get less education.

BBC has a story about misfeatures in Indian textbooks, some of which are simple misspellings and some are--well, did you know Japan launched a nuclear strike against the USA during WW-II? I know they wanted to, and didn't know how to make a bomb yet, but ...

OK, the USA has a more consistent market for textbooks, they'll be better, right? Feynman found otherwise:

Finally I come to a book that says, "Mathematics is used in science in many ways. We will give you an example from astronomy, which is the science of stars." I turn the page, and it says, "Red stars have a temperature of four thousand degrees, yellow stars have a temperature of five thousand degrees . . ." -- so far, so good. It continues: "Green stars have a temperature of seven thousand degrees, blue stars have a temperature of ten thousand degrees, and violet stars have a temperature of . . . (some big number)." There are no green or violet stars, but the figures for the others are roughly correct. It's vaguely right -- but already, trouble! That's the way everything was: Everything was written by somebody who didn't know what the hell he was talking about, so it was a little bit wrong, always! And how we are going to teach well by using books written by people who don't quite understand what they're talking about, I cannot understand. I don't know why, but the books are lousy; UNIVERSALLY LOUSY!

Anyway, I'm happy with this book, because it's the first example of applying arithmetic to science. I'm a bit unhappy when I read about the stars' temperatures, but I'm not very unhappy because it's more or less right -- it's just an example of error. Then comes the list of problems. It says, "John and his father go out to look at the stars. John sees two blue stars and a red star. His father sees a green star, a violet star, and two yellow stars. What is the total temperature of the stars seen by John and his father?" -- and I would explode in horror.

My wife would talk about the volcano downstairs. That's only an example: it was perpetually like that. Perpetual absurdity!

(The essay goes on to explain how a blank book got a positive review.)

The math books I dissected for the local middle school (without any response to my evaluation, I might add) weren't quite that bad, but there were quite a few misfeatures. Probably some errors, too, but I didn't work all the exercises. I noticed that the "author list" included a lot of names, but very few of them had any background in anything but education. No "domain knowledge"

The kids' high school books were by and large somewhat better, though I hear some schools teach history out of Zinn. (I get it that this was supposed to be a corrective book to the old 50's-60's baseline histories, but if that's to be the new baseline you desperately need a corrective to it.)

I am perfectly willing to believe that the Common Core textbooks will be crud. It is a tradition.

Friday, September 18, 2015


Suppose momentum weren’t conserved. Or angular momentum. You can make up science fiction scenarios, but if you think them out thoroughly you find that your imaginary universe is extremely strange.

It turns out that if it doesn’t matter where you measure from—if one part of space is just like any other part and you can move anywhere and have it look the same—you get conservation of momentum. If one direction is like any other and you can turn in any direction you like and it still looks the same, you get conservation of angular momentum. Those symmetries have important consequences. Other less obvious symmetries result in forces: “… physicists gradually realized that all forces (fundamental interactions) arise from the constraints imposed by local gauge symmetries, in which case the transformations vary from point to point in space and time.” Invisible symmetries.

Or to put it another way, if you had different symmetries, you’d have a different universe with different forces.

So far so good.

Quantum Mechanics

In quantum mechanics you find the consequences of not being able to measure two quantities at the same time: e.g. momentum and position in the x-direction (whichever that happens to be for you).

One way of picturing this is to think of an arrow that points up, down, or sideways when you want to measure its direction, but is spinning either left or right. And you’re in the dark, so the only way to measure it is to grab it. Now that you’ve grabbed at it, you know which direction it pointed, but you’ve no clue which direction you knocked it spinning. not an exact analogy, but easier to visualize

So if you measure one quantity you know that the object is in state A instead of B or C, but you are unsure if its other quantity is in state X, Y, or Z.

As a result when you find that you must describe a system as being in potentially many different states at once, until you actually measure which. (Yep, sounds weird, but it works. More intuitive approaches don’t.) You have to “add up” the probabilities that it is in each of the different states to get the full description. I oversimplify.

So far: symmetries are closely related to forces, and things are described by waves with various properties that you can’t simultaneously measure perfectly. Even mass: it turns out that you can’t know both the type and mass of a neutrino simultaneously.

And so…

Physicists get used to calculating with ensembles and also with trying to figure out the rules of the game from the structure of symmetries. Classical physics has long used the “least action” principle—an object follows a path that minimized the ”action”. Why not calculate the behavior of a particle by adding up every single path it could have taken, each path weighted by a handy quantity related to the action? Making it crazy complicated turned out to be very useful.

Physicists don’t like arbitrariness in a theory. They generally feel that if there is a constant in the equation, there should be an explanation for it. If the ratio of several constants were a little different, the Sun wouldn’t shine very usefully. Why is the ratio what it is? There’s got to be some reason, maybe based on the structure of the universe—some structure that has to be there.

In other words, this isn’t “the best of all possible worlds”, they expect it to be “the only possible world.”

But suppose it isn’t. Suppose there were many different “universes” in the grand ensemble UNIVERSE. (No, you couldn’t manage to get from one to another. You can’t even get to Proxima Centauri.)

Maybe there are an infinite number of universes with slightly different physical constants, or maybe the initial “inflation” of our universe was so fast that parts effectively separated from each other and became effectively disconnected universes.

Oh, I didn’t mention cosmic inflation?

A simple “Big Bang” with the universe expanding outwards, the expansion slowing down due to gravity, seems to predict certain things about the distribution of matter that don’t match observation. There should be much bigger correlations between distant parts of the universe that weren’t so distant when the universe was just born. If you posit an extremely rapid inflation of the universe for about 10^-32 seconds after the Big Bang (for unknown reasons), the observations match the predictions—different parts of the universe are appropriately uncorrelated from each other. In other words, it is crazy but it seems to work.
Hold it

A multiverse is a bridge too far. Even if using it in models gave some sort of calculational simplification, you’ve no way of interacting with these alternate universes, no way to know which, if any exist, and no way to test anything. Any trace of them has to drop out of your final answer—they’d be simply an unreal convenience.

You can use complex numbers instead of real ones sometimes, as an "unreal convenience"; it just turns things a little sideways for a while but in the end the predicted measurement is real. There’s a connection all the way.

To say that a particle can move through two different slits at once because it is also a wave is, by contrast to a multiverse, easy to test. You can point to the different locations, do the experiments, and infer the proposition. All you have to understand is that a particle isn’t quite as simple a beast as your old mental model of it.

So how come the Universe is like this?

In a multiverse, there are an enormous number of possibilities for us to be in. How come we’re in this one?

One vexed answer: The Anthropic Principle. We’re in this sub universe because we wouldn’t be here if the fundamental constants were different, so we’re not in the other ones, where maybe the W mass is different and so nuclear decay is different and stars aren’t as bright and light is different. And you don't need to worry about purpose, which you do if there's a Creator.

Put another way: Let there be US! And there was light.

If you’re going to be that arbitrary about how to get the fine-tuning needed for our universe, you might as well go whole hog. However, the mere suggestion of a Creator makes some famous physicists shudder. not all And a lot of them shudder at the multiverse too, and wonder why it and the anthropic principle get so much press.

It isn’t that hard to see why they get press. The ideas seem wild and exciting and just the thing for click-bait. There’s no need for the hard questions about how and why things work the way they do; just punt and say they’re the way they are because that’s the way they are here, and things are different next door. Just the ticket for journalism majors and the average reader.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Ledge Park

We picnicked in what seems just a small county park at the end of the Niagara escarpment, but the cracks and gaps in the boulder field look ideal for youngsters to hide and scramble and scrape knees in. (Not too young, though.) Only got to some of it--it was a bit too rugged for my knee--but what we reached was fun.
Image from here.

Just for fun

There's a site devoted to Walt Kelly that's worth taking a look at. You could probably guess that I use Howland as picture/avatar when one seems required...

Sunday, September 13, 2015

On the scene reporters

From David Warren:
In a previous generation there were foreign correspondents who stayed in one place long enough to acquire some idea of what was going on there.


The contemporary journalist is voyeur to a “crisis.” He has been flown in, with a crew. He does not arrive knowing the way from the airport. He is taken for a fool by every interested party he encounters, and manipulated accordingly. He is like a rich hunter on safari who must employ beaters to drive a few game animals into his way. He has limited time, before his audience has lost interest in the latest crisis, and he is himself air-freighted to the next one. The result is reportage not quite so good as no information at all.

I suppose our familiarity with (but not actually knowledge of) a reporter whom we've seen before at other locations is supposed to be a proxy for the reporter's knowledge of the situation.

The essay ends with a novel suggestion for dealing with the army of would-be immigrants (aka refugees) in Europe.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Conversions in Germany

The AP reported that hundreds of immigrants were converting to Christianity in Germany. Some are skeptical, seeing it as a ploy to get a better chance at staying. It is a dramatic way of burning your bridges: Christian converts are, to put it mildly not welcome in their home countries.

Even in Germany a convert isn't safe: their fellow immigrants can threaten or worse.

The pastor quoted in the article said that 90% of the converts kept coming to church, another measure of how serious the conversion was.

I think what we're seeing is a measurement of a minimum level of enthusiasm for Christianity in Muslim countries. Without harder numbers about the total number of immigrants I can't say much, but if Germany had 130,000 in the first 4 months and about 1/4 of them wound up in Berlin (wild guess from the routing of refugees described in another article), that's about 33,400 refugees in Berlin, from which one church added 450 members, or about 1.3%. Multiply by that 90% and get 1.2 as the minimum--and there may be other churches as well. These I think are the people who are serious about Christianity; there are probably many more who are interested but not willing to take the risky steps.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Predicting the future

Why futurism has a cultural blindspot
In his book Predicting the Future, Nicholas Rescher writes that “we incline to view the future through a telescope, as it were, thereby magnifying and bringing nearer what we can manage to see.” So too do we view the past through the other end of the telescope, making things look farther away than they actually were, or losing sight of some things altogether.

These observations apply neatly to technology. We don’t have the personal flying cars we predicted we would. Coal, notes the historian David Edgerton in his book The Shock of the Old, was a bigger source of power at the dawn of the 21st century than in sooty 1900; steam was more significant in 1900 than 1800.


But when it comes to culture we tend to believe not that the future will be very different than the present day, but that it will be roughly the same. Try to imagine yourself at some future date. Where do you imagine you will be living? What will you be wearing? What music will you love?

Chances are, that person resembles you now. As the psychologist George Lowenstein and colleagues have argued, in a phenomenon they termed “projection bias,”1 people “tend to exaggerate the degree to which their future tastes will resemble their current tastes.”

In one experimental example, people were asked how much they would pay to see their favorite band now perform in 10 years; others were asked how much they would pay now to see their favorite band from 10 years ago. “Participants,” the authors reported, “substantially overpaid for a future opportunity to indulge a current preference.” They called it the “end of history illusion”; people believed they had reached some “watershed moment” in which they had become their authentic self.

I generally like science fiction that traces how technology changes behaviors, but not when it loses touch with the fundamentals. The Forever War's military fads lost me, though I must admit that our current politically driven changes are about that stupid.

When the writer gets too disconnected from "the fundamental things" they seem to be writing about aliens instead of humans--and fortunately they're in a genre where that's OK. Still, a stories about worlds where production is so cheap that everyone is idle just don't ring right. We're trying something like that now, and discovering that the devil finds work for idle hands to do. One of those fundamental things is that people need to be needed.

I never thought flying cars would be in every garage--when the subject came up for the first time my father pointed out that drunk driving was fairly common and asked what drunk pilots would do. When I got a little older I started to understand about insurance and liability and the relative fuel costs of flying and driving. Oh well. (Just as well--I like getting a little extra shuteye riding the bus...)

“The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children's games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. And one of the games to which it is most attached is called "Keep to-morrow dark," and which is also named (by the rustics in Shropshire, I have no doubt) "Cheat the Prophet." The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clever men have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely. They then go and do something else. That is all. For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun.”
― G.K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill

When I looked up that quote, I found another from the same book that suits the topic just as well:

“... just as when we see a pig in a litter larger than the other pigs, we know that by an unalterable law of the Inscrutable it will some day be larger than an elephant,—just as we know, when we see weeds and dandelions growing more and more thickly in a garden, that they must, in spite of all our efforts, grow taller than the chimney-pots and swallow the house from sight, so we know and reverently acknowledge, that when any power in human politics has shown for any period of time any considerable activity, it will go on until it reaches to the sky.”

Now that I think of it, for some years now I haven't been reading a lot of science fiction--by a large factor not nearly so much as I did in my teens and twenties. Some of that is lack of time, and some is uninteresting fashions, but perhaps I'm more demanding. The most recent SF/fantasy I read (Somewhither) had a brief reference to an imaginary incident at the LHC that had me rolling my eyes--the alleged mysterious event was one of the things they are always looking for (minus the mysterious writing, of course).

I can't find the quote, but I think it was cited in Stand on Zanzibar: reality is what has the capability of surprising you. Setting aside "eye has not seen nor ear heard", even in this world we can't quite imagine everything.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Bacterial showers?

Along the lines bs king’s comment about teaching high schoolers how to spot bad science reporting, how about a step by step walkthrough of a science claim?

”I have not taken a shower in over 12 years,” says Dave Whitlock, a chemical engineer and MIT grad who says he doesn’t miss bathing at all. “No one did clinical trials on people taking showers every day. So what’s the basis for assuming that that is a healthy practice.” So . . .

In fact, what Whitlock does believe is healthy is restoring good bacteria to our skin that our ancestors enjoyed long ago and that has slowly been stripped away by excessive cleaning. To prove his theory, he helped found AOBiome, a company based in Cambridge, MA.

Maybe your BS meter pegged already, but just for the sake of the exercise let's see what simple searching does for us.

We are fortunate to have search engines to help us.(*) One of the first things that pops up for "skin bacteria" is Wikipedia’s “skin flora” And one of the first sentences is “Many of them are bacteria of which there are around 1000 species upon human skin from 19 phyla.” You can also read about fungi, and note that there are skin diseases. That 1000 is an interesting number—it isn’t gigantic, but it isn’t tiny either. We’ll get back to that. Notice that the term “hygiene” turns up. And “damaged skin.”

First we pick one of the random organisms mentioned (this one inhabits frogs): Batrachochytrium_dendrobatidis. The article contains a lot of $40 words, a few of which you can piece out, but a couple of things strike your attention. It was first discovered in 1998, and only recently was found to be a number of different varieties. And the references listed at the bottom show a lot of different authors—I quit counting at 21 and guess there were more like 50-60. All for one variety or set of varieties of organism. The first article says there were 1000 bacteria types, let alone the fungi.

How many people do you need to study all 1000? Or better, how many man-years of study? 50,000?

Second we take warning from the fact that skin diseases exist, and start our search again for skin diseases. One of the early ones that pop up on the list is candidiasis (acne we won’t worry about). Funny how the term “hygiene” keeps showing up. Warm moist undisturbed areas help the fungi grow. And also notice that among the contributing causes is “taking antibiotics that kill normal flora.”

That last sentence sets up another warning flag. The bacteria and fungi interact. So we don’t just have to study each of the bacteria in isolation, we have to study them in combination. So we have not 1000 bacteria, but 1000*999 pairs to study—not to mention triples. (That’s about 50 million man-years to study the pairs, for those counting.)

I’m certain there aren’t a million researchers in the field, so I conclude that we don’t completely understand all the interactions of skin flora with our bodies or with each other.

But do we understand it “well enough?” (We don’t thoroughly understand metals and concrete, but we can build a bridge that can last a century of heavy use.)

What research is Dave Whitlock building his model on? Unfortunately looking him up brings up a more famous fly fisherman and race car driver. The Daily Mail's report has a little more detail on the man than the CBS story, including these bits

Although he doesn't shower, Whitlock does take an occasional sponge bath to clean the grime off of his skin.
The scientist got the idea about 'good bacteria' when a woman he was dating asked him why her horse liked to roll on the ground and the dirt during the summertime, the New York Times reported.

Whitlock said: 'The only way that horses could evolve this behavior was if they had substantial evolutionary benefits from it.'

According to the company: 'Modern hygiene has selectively depleted the natural balance of the skin microbiome particularly affecting AOB.

The company web site includes this “We are developing a new class of transformational products based on the use of beneficial ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB). AOB are naturally occurring bacteria that metabolize the ammonia found in sweat, creating both nitrite and nitric oxide, two critical building blocks of good health.”

What I don’t find (maybe your search would be more productive) is any links to any research showing that having nitrites form in your sweat is good for the rest of your body. I’d think that sweat is mostly a one-way phenomenon, though I’ve heard many times of things being absorbed through the skin. Maybe you’d stink less—ammonia is kind of acrid, and if some bacteria destroy it that might be good.

He’s a chemical engineer and not a biologist, but a gifted amateur can do a lot, so I won’t count that for or against his claims.

Let’s score the findings.

On the plus side, he claims that the skin flora can be disrupted by washing. This we know to be true about antibiotics, and soap also has an antibiotic aspect. In addition, though he isn’t quoted as mentioning it, damage to the skin can cause opportunistic infections by otherwise benign bacteria (from that first Wikipedia article), and aggressive scrubbing can damage the skin. (Why do people exfoliate anyway?)

On the minus side, we know that we don’t fully understand bacterial/fungal interactions on our skin. And he doesn’t cite any research explaining how any of this works.

On the minus side, he doesn’t have any of our ancestors handy to take skin bacteria cultures from. The next best thing would be to find some people who don’t use soap back in the jungles, and take some samples from them. And maybe see if they are more or less susceptible to skin diseases. (In the tropics there turn out to be a lot of endemic diseases, so maybe that’s not a fair comparison.) But once again, not a peep.

Minus again: no mention of whether this prevents athlete's foot. Washing regularly does help.

On the “Hey Wait A Minute” side, I can’t find out whether he recommends washing your hands after using the toilet. I hope he does, and that the reporters simply never had the wits to ask, but that’s an obvious case where washing matters.

Summing up: I don’t know if he is right, but he hasn’t given me any reason to believe that either

  1. The rebalancing of flora that results from washing is in any way bad for us
  2. His bacterial spray rebalances in a beneficial way

Not proven, and if he wants me to buy his product or cheer him on, he needs to show some evidence. Let’s see some of those clinical trials he was talking about. Blinded, with controls.

(*) Wikipedia has some good math articles, and in science it's generally OK, but don't trust it for anything controversial.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Is blood thicker than water?

A Madison police officer was surrounded and attacked by at least one person when trying to arrest a woman who'd attacked someone else. He apparently was able to keep calm, and backup arrived very rapidly, and nobody was seriously hurt. From the newspaper report:

The incident alarmed and dismayed local police officials, especially because the officer involved, Caleb Johnson, has spent years reaching out to residents in the area as the neighborhood officer.

He’s done tremendous work there with things like youth basketball tournaments and bike repair clinics," said West District Capt. Vic Wahl. "To be treated like that for his contributions to the neighborhood? Everyone should be angry about that."

I know people for whom that kind of work matters, who are grateful for acknowledgement and help and who look to pass it on. But most of them don't live in areas like Prairie Road and Jacobs Way--though they often used to. And I meet preachers and other workers who point to changed lives. Systematic studies asking "How much does this help?" seem to conflict somewhat. Maybe systematic analysis is the wrong paradigm here, and numbers don't tell the proper story. Maybe softening attitudes show up as a difference in the types of threats rather than the number of people threatening.

Or maybe Vic Wahl is being naive, and when a call comes to stand with your tribe, on the whole people stand with their tribe.

Race relations seem worse now than 7 years ago. Whether that's mostly because of persistent aggravation of grievances real or perceived, or because the economic climate has hit blacks hardest (and importing cheap labor can't have helped) is hard to tell--likely each exacerbates the other.

FWIW, I never have spent much time around most of the current high-crime neighborhoods, though I go through South Park often and frat row is, of course, close to the University. I remember some of them as quite peaceful, though. We're not at Milwaukee levels, but violent crime has shot way up. I'd really like to see some analysis of who's who and from where.

Passing along wisdom...

This was posted at work today:
  1. First Law: The correct order is: debug, then ship.
  2. Second Law: If it isn't broken, don't fix it.
  3. Third Law: If you fiddle with something long enough, it will break.
  4. Fourth Law: It works better if you plug it in.
  5. Fifth Law: If it's wedged, power-cycle it.
  6. Sixth Law: A working example is worth a thousand manual pages.
  7. Seventh Law: Failures occur where two parts join.
  8. Eighth Law: Demos cause failures.
  9. Ninth Law: Systems grow more complex with time.
  10. Tenth Law: If it's too complex, rebuild it.
  11. Eleventh Law: Small parts vanish when dropped.
  12. Twelfth Law: Don't build from components what you can buy pre-packaged for less.
  13. Thirteenth Law: Given sufficient load, all materials deform.
  14. Fourteenth Law: Given sufficient heat and oxygen, all materials will burn.
  15. Fifteenth Law: Everything interacts with everything else.
  16. Sixteenth Law: Everything goes somewhere.
  17. Seventeenth Law: There is no such thing as a free lunch.
  18. Eighteenth Law: Nothing is impossible to the person who doesn't have to do it.
  19. Nineteenth Law: Better is the enemy of good.
  20. Twentieth Law: One test is worth a thousand expert opinions.
  21. Another: If you didn't fix it, you didn't fix it
  22. Final catch-all for legal conflict: Deny everything, admit nothing, demand proof, and reject the proof.

What a student should know

A high school student, that is.

My office mate said that every high school driver's ed student should take a ride along with a trucker, as he did once. It gives you a gut feeling for how much a trucker actually can't see. I don't think a video game would give quite the same all-round sense, though it might help a bit.

I said they should all have an afternoon spent learning how to put out fires. It takes a little practice, and when you need the skill you really need it.

And I've said before that a driver's ed course should include a morning in a giant parking lot covered with ice learning how not to spin out.

And it would be good to learn basic gun safety, especially the rule about knowing what lies behind your target. There are plenty of pictures on the net showing how you can easily be so fascinated with the foreground that you miss the background; some "photobombs" might even be suitable for class.

My wife says that there's nothing like gardening for teaching the relationship between hard work and eating--though that's a longer project, and things tend to ripen during vacation time.

What sorts of one-day lessons do you think they need?

I know; some kids never see a farm. Others never see poverty (and I'm not sure a field trip would be well-received by anybody involved, including the "quaint" people being inspected). Video isn't remotely the same.

Makes _me_ want to hire them

A car raced past a bus to make a right turn directly in front of it. The sign on the car's side was "Hooper Safety Services."

Wednesday, September 02, 2015


Somehow or another The Flavor Principle was mislaid last week. Youngest Daughter is trying a month of dinners from different cuisines, and while the official recipes are nice it is sometimes expensive to get the exact ingredients. And devotees of each cuisine substitute local equivalents, why shouldn't we?

I was looking up some Ojibwa recipes, and ran across this collection from many tribes: lots of substitutions there. Wheat, sheep fat, baking powder... just like the Italians took to tomatoes. (Norwegians say they don't eat lutefisk anymore--they have refrigerators now. Only in Wisconsin...)

Several Navajo recipes used juniper ash. The ash was mixed with water and then strained out to provide an alkali to mix with the corn. Corn needs a little tweaking to get full nutrition out of it. Cooking is enough for most foods, but corn needs a little "nixtamalization" to make the niacin available. (I gather that there were epidemics of pellagra when corn became a staple in Italy. Italian cuisine didn't include the extra tweaks needed.)

One side effect of the processing with alkali is that the corn hull softens, and another is that you can mash the corn up to make a dough. Those effects would probably be the goals for using alkali water--it isn't something I'd think of adding just for the heck of it. And the extra nutrition comes along as an extra benefit. But who knows--the developers of corn didn't leave any records and they might have indulged in systematic nutritional studies on mice the way we do. Which ones get fatter?