Monday, September 26, 2022

Curious results

I asked Amazon for "domra instrument". Of the first 19 entries, one was a decal of a domra player. OK. I was also offered a blue kazoo, a bongo drum set, a harmonica, a jaw harp, an Otamatone, a "wave bead ocean drum", a portable analog synthesizer, six kalimbas and five steel tongue drums. The next page includes more of the same, a Tibetan singing bowl, a percussion box (the wooden one you sit on), and some sheet music for a domra--which is at least within shouting distance. Asking for "alto domra" gets me sheet music, recordings, and blood pressure meters.

It's hard to believe the algorithms are that wild. They can't be blocking Russian-related vendors, can they?

Nope; asking for a balalaika returns an offer for a violin kit, followed by several for balalaika prima (and that blue kazoo again, and a ukelele). I guess the domra is just not weird enough for quick recognition, so it isn't so popular. Or that sponsored offers are shoved in anyplace they might be remotely relevant. But I still don't understand the blood pressure meters. Maybe they figure you'll need them after the interminable search for what you want.

UPDATE: "domra folk musical instrument" finds one, mixed in with with the kalimba and flute and wave bead ocean drum.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Tiny bonds

How do they bond those tiny wires in a computer? No soldering tip I have is small enough. Heated air is used to solder pre-soldered components to robot-registered spots on the board. (Have you seen what a resistor looks like? -- a tiny box with metal ends.) But that's not the whole story; there are sometimes little wires involved too--often where you can't see them, like inside the epoxy.

Themosonic bonding: a little bit of heat, a little bit of pressure, and a little bit of vibration--none are enough by themselves but together they suffice to bond tiny wires together. And the heat is kept low enough to keep from damaging anything else.

Oh, and epoxy is nice for keeping light off of sensitive chips.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Do a fifth of Americans agree with QAnon?

QAnon's been in the air for a few years now. One of the members of our Braver Angels group has a friend who's a true believer. I'd had only the vaguest idea of what they actually believe (assuming they all believe the same things), but since they seem to have some staying power, I decided to spend a little time trying to figure them out. I generally assume that for anything anti-establishment, Wikipedia takes the worst case and expands on it--I don't think this was an exception.

One article seemed pretty scary--One in Five Americans Agree with the Core Tenets of QAnon. That's a survey I had to see.

Figure 1 explains it. There are 3 "core tenets", and they lump "Completely Agree" together with "Mostly Agree" to get their numbers. Oddly enough, "Don't know" was never more than 3%.

5%+11% at least mostly agreed that the "government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation." That seems pretty far out there--but look at the format of the responses. Completely agree, mostly agree, mostly disagree, completely disagree. There's no option for disaggregating the bundle of claims. One could believe that the elite include some fraction of pedophiles (what was Epstein up to?), and that the elite cover for each other (what's new?).(*) How do you slot that belief into the questionaire's framework? "somewhat=mostly?" I don't quite get where the "Satan-worshipping" is supposed to come from--some aspects and actions of our elite seem satanic but I, with Screwtape, don't think they need to believe in the devil to accomplish them.

6%+16% at least mostly agreed that "There is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders." This seems remarkably optimistic. I'm not quite sure who the "rightful leaders" are--nominally we pick them, though I don't know who voted for the "White House" that keeps walking back Biden's pronouncements. In any event, that the current elites will eventually be swept away is something history tells us--nothing lasts--it's the "soon" that is debateable. "If it can't go on forever, it won't"--but once again, there's no option for disaggregating claims.

5%+13% at least mostly agreed with "Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence to save our country." I seem to remember that this was an article of faith for the left back in the late sixties and into the seventies. Given the avalanche of panic-mode news stories we're buried in, I'm a bit surprised the numbers aren't higher.

Bottom line--I'm not persuaded that QAnon as such has as much traction in population as PRRI wants me to think. If their questionaire had allowed disaggregation of claims, or weighting of how certain their predictions are, I'd find it more useful.

(*) We always have a few pedophiles among us, including the elite. It wouldn't be terribly surprising that the incidence would be higher among the elite--there are always plenty of groupies, but a) one could get jaded and b) I suspect a lot of the groupies want something that their target may not be disposed to allow, such as political input, notoriety, etc. Some simalacrum of innocence might be attractive.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Si vis pacem

I read Commander Salamander for news about the Navy (if anybody knows something similar for Army or AirForce, I'm all ears). He has an all-too-regular post on diversity, about the things we spend time and money on instead of defense. I'm curious what our adversaries' frank opinions are. I can guess, but the real thing is likely more colorful.

Probably the best we can hope for is a Zhuge Liang bluff, with the city doors open and the general playing music on top of the wall, but I'm afraid the world has already seen these commanders at "work" and knows better.

Thursday, September 22, 2022


Althouse referenced an article on "feminist science". Charity demands that I ignore the "feminist science" aspect of the article, but the claim that Bateman's principle had been disproved was interesting. "Hogamus Higamus, Men are Polygamous. Higamus Hogamus, Women Monogamous" is the executive summary of the principle. Careful studies have both supported and deprecated the claim--wikipedia has summaries.

There's been some objection to that formulation for a long time--I don't think you can attribute it to the sex of a modern researcher. An old tradition (possibly thanks to the glorification of monk-hood) held that women were the dangerous sexual aggressors. (Dangerous to one's morals, as opposed to physically dangerous, of course.)

The reversal in attitude is interesting. I don't think it demands explanation, partly because I'm not confident in how universal those claims about antiquity are, but it seems reasonable that if the pool of available men becomes small thanks to high death or imprisonment rates, competition among women should increase. I wonder how Augustine would have interpreted twerking. "We've always seen African women gather in villages and wiggle their butts in loincloths, especially during rites of passage to signify that they are fertile"

I see that Razib Khan is addressing a related issue, but it's behind a paywall.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Predatory conferences?

Are there Predatory science conferences?

Yes. For about a dozen years I've gotten email invitations to speak at physics conferences where the topic had nothing to do with my field--sometimes it seemed to be more about chemistry. I couldn't be bothered to learn about them--if they didn't know what I did well enough to target me better, there was something wrong with their pitch.

Predatory journals aren't new either--I remember a student (who went on to better things, fortunately) who, needing a publication in his record, wrote up the meaning of the terms in the Bethe-Bloch formula and submitted it to a journal that took anything. Although, to be fair, I don't know if he had to pay for publication. Somebody does, one way or another.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

"Speak no evil" rabbit chasing

The "See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil" Three Monkeys (or perhaps four: "Do no evil") may distantly relate to the Analects of Confucius: "Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety". At any rate a philosophy which used this 3-fold admonition may have come from China to Japan in the 8'th century, and the maxim became part of the folk religion of Koshin. The saying in Japanese is "see not, hear not, speak not", in which the negation part "zaru" is a pun on the word for monkey. Who could resist?

The tie-in of Koshin with the monkeys has to do with the Three Corpses (or Worms), malevolent creatures that live inside humans. Every 57'th day in a 60-day cycle, while the human sleeps, the creatures ascend to heaven and report on their host's deeds, taking special delight in reporting the misdeeds in hopes of punishment for the poor human. (your own personal accusers)

At first it was only the elite (the ones who first adapted the faith) who tried to stay awake all that day and night to keep the 3 from reporting, but apparently the notion of having a regular all-night party became popular. That there is a relationship between the monkeys not seeing or reporting on evil and the hope that the evil spirits will do the same seems clear enough, but the details aren't.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Things not good to say

I'd looked up one Godspell song, so youtube offered me "Turn back, O man." The lyrics sounded a little off, but my ear for lyrics has always trended mondegreenish, so I looked it up. It turns out to be a hymn from 1916, though with decidedly different music and choreography. And the "off" bit is in the original: "Yet thou ... Still will not hear thine inner God proclaim".

When I hear "inner god" or "god within" I don't think of "indwelling Holy Spirit" but either Hinduism or the semi-gnostic do-it-yourself denial of "organized religion" that's been so popular in our culture. As far as I can tell, that's what most other people think of too, so as AVI points out, that's what the phrase means now--unless you preface it with an explanation.

So if we want to use the old hymn and keep the intended sense (at least I hope the intent was orthodox), we should probably revise it, because the words, though strictly accurate, are no longer good to say.

I wrote before that: A husband may say of his wife: "She is mine." That is true enough, but it is much safer to say "I am hers." Likewise "Mother of God" is a true title for Mary, but a dangerous one to try to use. And a Christian, given God's Holy Spirit, with a changed and increasingly sanctified life, may truthfully stand to pray "God, I thank thee that I am not like other men"--but I wouldn't recommend it.

I've recommended Charles Williams' works before--but I probably should do that with care, since he frequently uses occult environments, and I know of at least one person who became interested in tarot after reading Williams. (The underlying themes of his novels are Christian, but an on-ramp can become an off-ramp.) I'm not sure I ought to say "Read him" to all and sundry.

The slogan "Blue Lives Matter" seems banal enough, but that's not the way it's taken--I'd use the phrase with caution. It isn't always a good thing to say.

By the same token, "Black Lives Matter" isn't always a good thing to say either, without some explanation. Does it refer to the banal plain meaning, or the political slogan that stands for a lot of claims--some true and some lies, or does it refer to the corrupt organization whose main interest, if their children's education material is any guide, is unusual sexual claims?


Am I God to tell you what you shouldn't say? Quite a few Catholics will assure me that honoring Mary in no way diminishes from their worship of God--and I know that's true for some friends.

Will people die because you pulled an Andrew May?

Are you God to tell me there are kinds of knowledge too dangerous to be learned?

Granted, I think we can agree that if you discovered how to make a 25kT nuke from a speakerphone and a box of Oreos we should suppress that information. But I decline to believe that closing your eyes and pretending will have much effect on already active realities. (Grim is more hopeful than I about that writer.)

Yes, I self-censor. I tried to teach the kids to too. But I object to you trying to do it for me. I won't do it to you.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Painless tattoo

Microneedles are made of ink in a soluble matrix, and bundled into a pattern that is pressed onto the skin for a few minutes until the matrix dissolves.
Prausnitz’s lab has been researching microneedles for vaccine delivery for years and realized they could be equally applicable to tattoos. With support from the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs, Prausnitz’s team started working on tattoos to identify spayed and neutered pets, but then realized the technology could be effective for people, too.

Bundling of the microneedles onto a patch sounds a bit complicated. Anything customizable would probably require a fancy machine to manipulate the needle stock (limited color palette?) to embed them in the patch. Doable, and if there were economies of scale it might be saleable. I assume you'd have to build up a market first, with standardized images and messages.

Two problems come to mind.

How stable is the delivery system? I assume that some of the microneedles will fall out with handling. Folding the patch would probably make an empty line, sort of like an electronic billboard with a glitch. That would need manual repair--the tattoo artist would still need to be there.

This lends itself to nasty pranks. Your buddy is drunk? Slap one on, and by the time he notices it's too late. Plant one on a beach chair; when the suntan is done there's a new tattoo on her leg, or mostly so.

Even painless, I think I'll pass. I kind of like my skin.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

all for the best

In checking a sidenote to a study on Jeremiah, I looked up It's All for the Best. I concluded that the song had too much flippancy to be useful, though the solo of Herod/Judas singing "Some men are born to live at ease, doing what they please, richer than the bees are in honey Never growing old, never feeling cold, pulling pots of gold from thin air" and ending with "Someone's got to be oppressed" is perfect--beautifully cold.

They end singing "it's all for the best" on top of one of the twin towers.

In some sense that's true (following Romans 8:28), but it is hard to know how 9/11 worked for good, even for those who love God. Somehow.

Math for scientists?

In Quillette, Thornett says most STEM majors should skip calculus and learn statistics. I was in physics, which of course needs calculus and differential equations for the models the field uses--and more than just those. But most week-to-week research work didn't use anything beefier than trig--there were months where all I was doing was programming, or hardware work. On the other hand, there were (much shorter) spells when derivations were all I did.

More statistics would have been useful, especially if better targeted to hypothesis rejection, etc. Simple statistics should be taught as soon as possible, starting before high school. How to Lie with Statistics is good.

But I don't think calculus is intrinsically all that hard. There are only two main concepts to learn--what's a derivative, and what's an integral. The rest is just algebra--and the clever changes of variables and whatnot that nobody actually uses in the field. We look them up, or if we need numerical answers, use programs designed to do integrations in stable ways. (Just trying to translate your textbook equations into computer code is fraught with pitfalls thanks to the finite resolution of numbers in a computer.)

I think we can do calculus better if we divide it. One short course would be calculus basics (differentiation and integration), another would be calculus methods (how to play the fancy games), and then you go on to advanced calculus (with the fancy rigor). The first is the one you require of non-math majors.

True, a field geologist may not use much of it, but what happens when he wants to model crustal pressures? Even having just a passing knowledge of rates of change beats just accepting a black box result. I wrote earlier of different levels in math: arithmetic, understanding the abstractions when explained, able to use the abstractions yourself, and able to do research. I think a minimum for most scientists would be "understanding the abstractions when explained." The field geologist needs to know enough to know the tools to use, and have an approximate notion of what sort of results the computer program should give him and why. But how much more depends on what he'll be doing.

There's a story that Terry Pratchett was addressing some physicists, and explaining that he'd wanted to become one, but had problems with calculus and wound up a writer instead--and met with laughter, as people explained that they rarely used anything more than algebra. They were wrong and Pratchett right. If he wanted to understand the field, he needed to know the language. And in the event he probably contributed more as a writer than he ever would have as a physicist.

From "Physicists continue to laugh", translated by Lorraine Kapitanoff:

Group QuestionedTotalKnewDon't KnowAnswer
Writer-Realists 11 74 They argue until hoarse in smoke filled rooms. It is not known why they set up unintelligible dangerous experiments using huge apparatus.
Writer-Visionaries 58 58 0They work on enormous electronic machines called electronic brains. They work primarily in the cosmos.
First year college students65 65 0They speculate a lot. They make discoveries no less than once a month.
Graduate students 30 10 20They solder circuits. They ask the older ones to find the leak. They write articles.
Young scientific staff members, experimenters 19 190 They run to the equipment department. They scrub rotary vacuum pumps. They flap their ears at seminars.
Young scientific staff member, theoreticians 19 19 0They converse in corridors helping to make great discoveries. They write formulae, mostly incorrect.
Older scientific Staff members761They attend meetings. They help younger scientific staff members to find the leak.
Members of the personnel department550 Experimenters must arrive at 8.25 so that at 8.30 they can sit silently next to apparatus which is running. Theoreticians do not work at all.
Members of the guard force6 6 0They walk back and forth. They present passes upside down.
Representatives of the Ministry of Finance18180They spend money to no purpose

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Looking for ideas

The teaching garden in the park has had good crops of beans, and the early tomatoes were fine, and most of the flowers (the ones that weren't accidentally weeded) did well. The kids liked those, especially the flowers. (The rest of the tomatoes find it too cool to ripen, and the peppers are slow.) Carrots don't grow very big, but the kids recognize those. (One had been sure that carrots came from the store.)

But while onions and radishes grew very nicely the kids had less than no interest in them, and they don't believe that anything but iceberg is real lettuce. Squash looks weird. They'll take home bags of greens sometimes. The adults haven't been coming by much.

As you can see raspberries or apple trees are out of the question in the small containers, and for teaching purposes I think we want annuals anyway. A few weeks after the kids do the planting we have to have a little lesson on the how and why of thinning.

Any suggestions for kid-friendly zone-5 crops?

Before you get the wrong impression, my wife does the lion's share of the gardening and teaching over there; I'm an occasional auxilliary to do heavy lifting and try to show kids how to wash carrots.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Bertrand's Paradox

Simple question: Given a circle, what's the average length of a chord of the circle? OK, maybe that's too messy; try something simpler: What's the probability that a chord will be longer than the side of an inscribed equilateral triangle (radius * √ 3)?

Depending on what method you use to define the chord, you get 3 different answers, all of which look perfectly reasonable. The first is the most obvious--fix one point at one corner of that inscribed triangle, and then just pick other points on the circle to draw the chords to.

If you draw the picture, it seems instantly obvious that you should get 1/3 of the chords being longer than the specified value. But if you look closely, you might notice that for the same small angular range, the density of chords for points close to the original point is higher than for those chords reaching to the opposite side of the circle--is this the kind of uniformity of distribution we want? It would seem to give too many short chords, for a lower probability of long ones.

Other approaches give 1/4 and 1/2 for the probability. Therein lies the paradox--which of the 3 values is it? The video (3blue1brown) doesn't need much more than high school geometry; give it a whirl.

Bottom line--sometimes you have to be very very careful to define what you are trying to measure.