Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What if: painting

On the way back from the Milwaukee Museum exhibit of Glasgow's Italian paintings we improved the shining hour with a what-if.

If you had a time machine (and an interpreter) and a supply of gold and silver, which ancient or modern painter would you commission, and what would you have him (or her) create?

Proposed answers:

  • Titian, to paint some ordinary people that struck his eye (instead of the models and the rich patrons).
  • Bosch, to paint Times Square (who else could do it justice?).
  • Somebody like Zampieri Domenico (we couldn't remember the name of the one we really wanted) to do the Grand Canyon: give him a really wild landscape to paint.

The better ideas come when you're not on the spot, of course: how about one of the Lascaux cave painters painting the village and people in it? Dunno if they'd care for gold...

Or Bruegel painting a legislature? Or Titian to redo the woman taken in adultery without anachronisms. (Notice the prominent codpiece on her captor; a nice touch illustrating hypocrisy...)

I'm not skilled enough to appreciate the finer points distinguishing painters of the same genre and era, nor so fond of my own features as to be interested in a portrait of myself. But maybe you have other ideas?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Wouldn't it have been so much easier if Jesus had said "Take up your empty tomb every day and follow Me"? The "name it and claim it" crowd?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Firing at the enemy

Remember that statistic that only 15-25% of the soldiers in WWII fired at the enemy? Seems to be garbage. Funny, because the Army seemed to believe it, and that sort of question is the sort of life-or-death question they're supposed to try to get right. Supposed to, anyway.

The summary is that Marshall seems to have made up the statistics about the Malkin Island fight: he didn't have time to do the number of interviews he claimed, soldiers had to be told to hold their fire when they were blazing away at enemies that weren't there (rumor), and it isn't clear if he drew any distinction between soldiers in reserve and those at the point. It took delving into archives and a number of interviews to find this out--not the sort of thing an armchair analyst can take on.

What's really annoying is to find out that he'd been known to be full of it since 1989! But the numbers still circulate. I suppose that's nothing new for made-up numbers, but usually those keep zombie-ing around because somebody has a political agenda or iron rice bowl they need to protect.

Grossman relied on Marshall's numbers, but tried to supplement them with other estimates, so I'm not sure his conclusions are seriously undercut, such as "It is a lot easier to kill a fleeing enemy." Hat tip to West Hunter

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Food stamp variation

Eldest Daughter suggested that surplus or in-season food could be made into 2-fer or discounted deals for food stamp use. It seemed to her a non-paternalist way to encourage healthier eating, since currently the cheapest calories per buck tend to be "junk food." "Junk food" isn't so great if you're susceptible to type 2 diabetes, as it turns out a surprising number of us are.

A quick survey didn't show that anybody tries this, which is a bit surprising. Maybe it's a problem of coordination between federal funding and the states: the state may have in-season foods that other states don't and the feds are one size fits all?


I ran across a little clarification tonight. On its trip from Nazi Germany to Imperial Japan U-234 was carrying technical drawings, templates and forms and a couple of engineers, not broken-down ME262 jets. It also had 560kg of uranium oxide, which no doubt the Japanese scientists were eager to get ahold of (when they heard of Hiroshima they knew exactly what had happened because they were trying to build the same kind of weapon).

It makes more sense to provide the drawings--though they'd have been unbeatable while they lasted the jets themselves wouldn't have lasted long before they needed maintenance. Of course the Japanese weren't going to have the time to tool up a new factory.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

"We are able"

"James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You." ... "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" They said to Him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized."

James was the first to be martyred. John died last of all, of a natural death. So the "cup" wasn't martyrdom as we think of it, though that's the hymn suggests . I wonder which of the two had the harder row to hoe.

Christmas Day

From David Warren: "The city for its part remains unearthly quiet, the usual crash of traffic damped below nature’s breathing. It is the sound that cars make when they are parked; of a million cars not driving to church on Christmas Day." He's carelessly rough on the lonely in that essay: a rare misfire. But ...

Our church had 9 Christmas Eve services at 3 venues, including the 23:00 service that ends as Christmas Day begins. But they've nothing on Christmas Day. Which is kind of odd, given the day's name: the Christ Mass. I get it that lots of people want to stay home with their families. Still, an hour for a Christmas service seems like a small price for recognition of a holy day.

We end the Christmas Eve services with Silent Night and the shared candle-lighting (amazing how bright the place gets so quickly). It isn't easy to hold a candle in one hand and manage the phone to snap a picture of yourself and your husband with the other, but she managed. I don't think she was trying to show off; she was just uninhibitedly enthusiastic about lots of things--like the baby she carried after the service.

On the other hand, it's my job to manage my own attitude to the day.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Lizzie Wade looks at a couple of papers about spongy bone
The hunter-gatherers’ hip joints were about as strong as those of the apes, whereas the ancient farmers’ hips showed a significant loss of spongy bone. The researchers conclude that a lack of rigorous exercise, rather than any evolutionary pressure toward lighter skeletons, is the reason for modern human’s weak bones. So if you want a stronger skeleton, start exercising like a hunter-gatherer.

Hmm. They looked at the hip joint, which you'd expect to get more of a workout in humans chasing after critters, though maybe not quite so much if the hunter-gatherer spends time setting traps or doing ambush hunting. I wonder how they distinguish those. A farmer probably gets more upper body exercise than a hunter--how do the arm bones compare? Or the hip joints of a racer? Or of a slave? (The "helmsman" found by the older! boat in Herculaneum had bone changes from his work.)

It is a bit surprising that some bones would be as strong as an ape's. How dense are the rest of an ape's bones? (quite a bit denser than human)


I always loved the chorus to Angels We Have Heard On High: The syllables flow so perfectly in the music. "Gloria in excelsis Deo"

I remember hearing it, and thinking it magnificent, when I was young enough that I didn't understand why I didn't understand it. (When I heard the explanation I would have sympathized with Jim: "Is a Frenchman a man?" "Yes." "WELL, den! Dad blame it, why doan' he TALK like a man?") Even when I was an atheist I liked to listen to it (shades of Herod?). In church choir we were told to approximate it with "een eggshells ees," which provoked some snickers later when explained to someone who actually knew a little latin.

I ran the sound system tonight from the back of the chapel. It was glorious to hear the congregation gathering into that chorus; even facing away from me they drowned out all but a bit of the brass in joyful salute to God. It felt almost as though there were others singing along with us.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Hosen and shoon

I tend to find it a relief when the beggars aren't hanging around the Philosopher's Stones. That's not quite the right attitude. I should be unhappy that I can't help (which I mostly can't anyway, since handing out money isn't good for anybody).

Taking a few liberties:

Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’

“Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, but we voted for people who promised to take care of the poor and reduce recidivism. And we paid taxes too.’

And He will say to them, `You wanted other people to take care of the poor, but would not do it yourself.’

Well, Teddywedgers is open again; though that's probably everybody else's first idea too.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


We’re still going through his boxes of papers and tools and memorabilia. I found his notes for his first book, which was never completed. It is just as well--Blame it on Venus would have been a Velikovskian tract. I read over his page complaining about the foolishness of astronomers who claimed to have seen silicate dust around one star. I could have taken him to the physics museum and showed him emission spectra and explained absorption spectra, and I think he’d have gotten the picture—he used to look at electron scattering spectra to identify minerals. Never happened, though.

He praised Velikovsky a time or two to me, and I complained about orbital dynamics. I guess he decided I was one of the lock-step establishment and didn't want to waste time arguing.

As I filed the papers in a box, I wondered if my own efforts were just as ridiculous. I devised a preon model that didn’t work, though the symmetries were unexpected. A BFI approach to studying those symmetries ran aground on tensor transformations that I couldn’t solve. I played around with generalized lines in metric space—which is probably a special case of a much more general approach that I don’t know anything about. I tried to get limits on dark matter interactions with neutrinos, and they’re terribly loose—work from a half dozen other groups is orders of magnitude better. No breakthroughs here.

Oh well. Do what is in front of me faithfully...

He didn’t finish his second book either, but I think we can make it happen anyway.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Unsung heroes of faith

John Horden is in the calendar of saints of the Episcopal Church, as I found from Mission St. Clare's site. He was initially a missionary to Moose Factory, and from then on to preach to the Cree and translate the Bible and Book of Common Prayer into Cree and Ojibwe.
On May 10, 1851, Hordern received a letter from them, informing him that the Bishop of Rupert's Land had made a request for a schoolmaster at Moose Factory, Ontario and that he had been appointed to fill the position. They also told him to prepare to leave within a month and indicated that they desired that he marry and take his wife out to assist him in his missionary work. Although he was less than enthused about the appointment, he immediately prepared for his new position. He contacted the woman of his choice, a young woman who herself had missionary inclinations, and she agreed to marry him. On June 8, 1851, they set sail for Canada.


Then in 1865, Horden and his family, which now included five children that he and his wife had had in Canada, sailed back to England so that his children could be educated.

Yes, he was an obedient servant of the gospel. But I'm really impressed by the faith and dedication of someone not named in the article--his wife Elizabeth Oke mentioned but not described here.

"Hello. I'm going next month to be a missionary in the wilds of Canada. Want to get married and come along?"

OK, it wasn't quite like that. From a history

On May 24, Horden left his work at school ; on May 25, he was married ; on May 28, he left for London on the way to his post in the mission-field.

Horden had not to choose a wife with the haste which this statement might suggest. At the time
when he first offered himself to the Church Missionary Society he became engaged to Miss Elizabeth Oke, who was not only a member of the same congregation as himself, but was filled with the same desire to be a missionary. She, too, had prepared for the foreign field by working at home. When the call to Moosonee came, the decision rested with her. With out hesitation she resolved to go, and the hasty wedding began a married life of singular happiness and of long duration.

I'll be interested to hear her story.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Diet and health

Atherosclerosis seems to have been just as common (after accounting for age) in ancient Egypt as in modern Egypt. (HT to Archaeoblog) Lifestyles may be different (though I wonder if the expense of mummification would skew the distribution to the richer folks)--but certainly Osti wasn't leading a life of ease and he was getting calcification too. So maybe "lack of physical activity, an unhealthy diet, and smoking" really don't matter as much as choosing your ancestors correctly after all.

"Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside." Mark Twain

Looks longingly at the bread and wishes that heart disease were the only worry. . .

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Behind the decline

I indulged in the usual kvetching about songs (at greater length here, with some rare comments by my Better Half).

But it's a good exercise to see where maybe I'm contributing to the problem.

I don't sing them myself. That follows immediately from the broader statement that I don't sing much at all, except in church or on the way, or sometimes during long distance driving. Nor do many people I know. In fact we have a rule: "no singing at the table." At this late date I don't remember why we instituted it, but it probably had to do with one or two dominating the table with irrelevancies.

Instead I generally listen to other people sing. Now though the tune does sometimes slosh out of the bucket when I hit the achievable note rather than the one the composer had in mind, I have a good time sense and keep the rhythm OK (can't manage the chorus of Grazing in the Grass, though). True, Youngest Daughter winces audibly.

I notice that if I pick a song to sing, I don't get bored with it and demand new variations. I may play with it a bit, but most of the time I sing it straight without irritability. Hearing the same Rudolph 4 times in a day became wearing, but singing Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel 3 times was fine. OK, that's not a fair comparison: marshmallows and steak; but that's the freshest example in my mind. I seem to recall the same effect with standard carols in past years, though.

Is singing in public too intimate? (Whistling might be more acceptable, but I only have about 3 notes and they aren't consecutive.) Perhaps we're too crowded for it not to be invasive, though given how many people have their ears plugged perhaps we're more isolated than we appear.

Cleaning up

The apartment was his junk drawer.

He’d been through the Great Depression, and done all the usual things—hauled bottle caps for trade-in for metal value, fished for the family dinner, and on and on. He decided to try to live off as little as he could. Every year of the past dozen he gardened in a city plot, and canned the results. He hunted up remainder bargains, and canned or froze those. He had a freezer set to max in his apartment, and it was chock full of mostly unidentifiable plastic bags of food. (The only way to figure out what something is is to thaw it, and then you’re stuck with it. I used a rod and mallet to knock packages loose from the bed of frost.) Between the 600 odd cans of food he’d made and the contents of the freezers, he could have fed himself for a year given only water and electricity to run the freezer and his hot plate. Yes, he told other people he was expecting the food supply to collapse. He was generous with his produce, encouraging one neighbor with ankle pain to eat lots of pickled jalapenos to mitigate the pain (she liked jalapenos and thought he was funny), and handing out jars of other confections freely.

Some of the dates on the jars are from 2006, but mostly the things are fairly current, so I think he was eating his own preparations all these years. We’d never visited his apartment before, because he told us his enemies were watching him and he wanted to keep us safe.

We ate his cooking once at his sister’s home when she was out. I suppose it had nutrition. Even my weirdest bachelor culinary experiments tasted better. His version was kin to the Asterix the Legionary “legionary’s rations”: “Corn, cheese, and bacon, all cooked together to save time.”

He didn’t have enough shelving for the store-canned goods he bought, so he created a narrow shelving unit tied to the wall by picture hangers. The 7x3 unit used nails to hold the bottom together, but he wasted no nails in the rest—it was held together by the weight of the canned goods. When we disconnected it from the wall the shelves fell like dominoes. Jars held up shelves which held up other shelves. Ceiling tiles nailed to the walls became cork-boards, and in lieu of a queen-size mattress he used a twin mattress and strips of foam wrapped in a blanket. When we entered to begin the cleanup, there was a 1-foot wide path to the bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen. Part of the bath stall was set up with plant lights for seed starting.

He was one of the quartermasters on the Finback, and was brilliant at squirreling away bits and pieces of things in original places and creating ways to house more. That carried over into civilian life (at least when I knew him), and his van and apartment were wondrous things. He bought gear he’d never use, but could trade for things he could use if things went south. But as he got older I think he started to lose track of what he’d hidden where.

He always laid down rolls of paper to protect the carpet or counter from his superstructures, and when these were removed the original surfaces were generally immaculate.

I found a children’s guide to a museum screwed up inside an otherwise empty spice jar. I suspect it was meant for a hide-and-seek game that never happened—he had just the offbeat sense of humor for that. He kept that sense of humor to the end.

Next to his Bible was his “second Bible”—the CRC handbook, worn to a frazzle.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Prospero trilogy by L. Jagi Lamplighter

The thesis of the trilogy (Prospero Lost, Prospero in Hell, Prospero Regained) is that Shakespeare’s Prospero from The Tempest was a real person, as was his daughter Miranda (the narrator) and other children Shakespeare didn’t know about. If there are in fact spirits of the air (and presumably other elements), what keeps them from making mischief? Prospero, Inc.

The title of the second volume gives away what has become of him, but Miranda isn’t sure of much of anything along the way. The environment is a blend of Greek mythology, Norse mythology, English legends, Christianity, and logical conclusions drawn therefrom, together with a dose of Dante and Niven/Pournelle. The history of who was moving behind the scenes over the centuries is fun. The plot and twists move rapidly.

It is a fun read, though I wasn’t so fond of the battles in Hell; and there were some inconsistencies in how the living manage there and how much the demons know. But all in all, fun.

The framework reminds me very strongly of John C Wright’s Chronicles of Chaos and War of the Dreaming series—almost as though they discussed ideas over the dinner table. Which they probably do.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Christmas songs

This is the time of year for kvetching about Christmas songs. In our errands today we heard a lot of songs--not so many of them carols, but a couple. Most were pretty heavy on the nostalgia, as in AVI's post about NPR Christmas. Some of the songs feel attenuated--a nostalgia for the old nostalgia for a time somebody used to know.

When the carols play, I'm reminded of:

They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain. Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them.

Variants of autism

Some researchers are using genetic analysis to find out what the different kinds of autism come from. That there are different kinds seems almost obvious if you hang around with a number of them (e.g. the AUsome Social Group, though you could argue that the main effect is from one broken gene and the variations come from other broken genes. (Simplifying a bit) But their work suggests that there are different mutations, each of which can cause symptoms in the autism spectrum.

I hope the work pans out.

Corporate Conspiracies

It isn't a for-profit corporation, but ... draw your own conclusions about who is gaming science for political ends. The link has a copy of a plan in which "peer reviewed papers" are planned for highest impact, including an ideal author list count, before the paper even exists, much less has been "peer reviewed."

Wednesday, December 03, 2014


My wife's father died this afternoon, listening to his youngest grand-daughter read the 23'rd Psalm while the hospice nurse made him comfortable. My wife and her cousin were called back in time to be with him.

He'd served as quartermaster on a submarine in World War II, sailed on the Great Lakes, been a wrestler in school, learned electron microscopy back in the day and worked as a geologist. And he ran a ceramics business, worked as maintenance everything for a youth campground, and gardened and canned at every opportunity. He turned his attitudes around after becoming a Christian, and the "scrimp and save" approach to life he learned from the Great Depression became a means to maximize what he could give.

He could be a little suspicious and a little Aspergery, but his neighbors said he was a sweet old guy.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Not ready for diagnostic prime time, but interesting.

Is autism diagnosable by fMRI? According to the headline, maybe...but there were 34 (17+17) participants, all adult, all willing to get inside a fMRI machine and be scanned while listening to various words: notably the word "hug".
Whereas the control subjects showed activity in the part of the brain associated with self-representation, the subjects with autism did not. This means that the autistic individuals envisioned the words and actions being told to them (actually they read the words on a screen) without themselves as a participant in defining the scenario, while the control group saw themselves being hugged, complimented, kicked, and insulted when thinking about these concepts.

The article itself is on PLOS.

That there are only 17 neurotypical participants means there is no good estimate for the number of false positives, since autism shows up at the 1% level. And quite a few participants had to be removed from the study:

The data from the 25 excluded participants (12 with autism and 13 controls) had been affected by either excessive (above 3.5 mm) head motion (6 with autism and 3 controls) or lack of attention to the stimulus in a substantial number of trials (6 with autism and 10 controls). Participants in such studies comment that occasionally their mind wanders when processing some items, and we have previously found such inattention to be characterized by an abnormal occipital activation time course.

The effect is certainly dramatic, and it may be real, but this needs a lot more study before we can talk about "diagnosis", especially diagnosis of children young enough that intervention might help. Can you imagine a 2-year old inside a noisy machine lying quietly and listening to Mommy say "hug!"?

The data they are dealing with is somewhat fuzzy, so they use what we call a "neural net" to try to analyze the results. It works something like this: for a given event (a particular patient i, for example), you have several different measurements on channels A, B, C: values A_i, B_i, C_i. If you know in advance that the first 10 events are from bald Martians and the rest are from hairy Venusians, and if you "notice" that in the first 10 cases A_i=B_i but in the rest of them A_i=-B_i, you can generate a "bald Martian" formula (A_i+B_i). When this is 0 you probably have a hairy Venusian, otherwise you have a bald Martian.

The "noticing" is the secret to making the process work. You can use algorithms to combine the data with weights based on the a priori known type of the event, and after a few iterations get a formula (generally linear in the variables) that gives you a kind of probability that a event is one type or the other. There's typically a spectrum, but everybody hopes there will be a nice sharp peak at 1 or 0.

With enough variables you can easily "over train", and the usual procedure is to train on either simulations (risky) or part of the dataset, and then apply the formula to the rest of the data. The experimenters here did something like the latter. If I read the article correctly, they did 34 different neural net training exercises, each time omitting one event and then trying out the resulting formula on the omitted event. They got accurate predictions 33 times out of 34--which is quite good.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Related but not the same

Next to a car dealership on East Washington Avenue sits an enterprise whose sign sports scissors and the name "Lust BeautyWorks".

Am I alone in thinking this a trifle muddled?

There seem to be at least three attributes that get confused: sexy, attractive, beautiful. A few minutes thought should bring to mind women who are clearly more of one of the three but not so much of the other two. (I'm a man. Women can probably find men that fit similar categories, but I won't try to predict how that would work out.)

"What does he see in her?"

You know what I mean, I hope. A woman who doesn't seem to be particularly beautiful but people like to be around her--she's attractive. Another seems to radiate sex appeal, but seems unable to hold onto conquests reliably. And there's glamorous types who excite admiration and envy but aren't the first choice for dreams.

I'm thinking here of public attributes. Plenty of women and men who don't stop traffic are more than adequately sexy behind closed doors. If not there'd be many fewer children born. And the old husband who says his old wife is beautiful isn't kidding--he sees better than the simpleminded public eye does.

Maybe magazine covers(*) make it clearer. (Since Borders closed I don't see magazine stands so often, so I'm not up to date.) Playboy's covers, at least the ones I remember, featured beautiful women with an air of "You're here. Dinner can wait." The beauty was from a rather restricted palette, but was always beauty. It was always on the far side of the line, into erotica, but with enough plausible deniability that you could, for a moment, kid yourself that it was mostly about beauty. Other mags posed their models in postures designed to emphasize secondary sexual characteristics, regardless of whether this was a beautiful pose or not. Sex appeal was the goal, though it sometimes looked too silly to be appealing. But when Jackie Kennedy was on a cover, she was always made to look glamorous: beautiful but not sexy, and not very approachable either--except when the image made her seem helpless and in need of a defender.

If that's not clear, how about Ginger or Mary Ann? Mary Ann was played to appear approachable and attractive, not just beautiful; Ginger played to appear beautiful and slightly artificial, and not approachable and attractive. (And beside me is a Dominican University alumni magazine featuring an airbrushed young nurse with an attractive friendly smile.)

If you are young and healthy it is probably easier to take shortcuts with clothing and styles to appear sexy than it is to try to look beautiful. Teens in particular seem prone to taking these shortcuts. (Compare high school pictures today with those from 80 years ago.) But I suspect that the women who frequent Lust BeautyWorks would prefer to excite admiration for their beauty rather than lust, at least from the general population. Though I could be wrong again.

(*) "magazine covers" = superficiality squared

Showing my age

The pharmacy changed its hours last month. I couldn't remember whether it opened at 8:30 or 9:00, so I looked up its web page and was gratified that 8:30 fit my errand schedule so well.

When it finally opened at 9:00, I inquired about the web pages and was told that they still did not have control over those pages, but were trying to get them changed. "But our Facebook and Yelp pages are correct!" I told her I was "old school," the kind who looked for the business' web pages.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The attention track

An inescapable celebrity(*) apparently tried to "break the internet" recently by posting pictures of herself. The cropped thumbnails are ubiquitous. I understand this is not the first time bare buttocks have appeared on the net; that in fact the competition for attention is fairly intense in that genre. This approach seems a kind of dead end attempt for attention (what do you do for an encore? Get photographed having sex on the Capitol steps?). I suppose with a creative-enough team of consultants you can go on for several years Gaga-style wearing a chain mail veil this week and a feather duster up the rump the next.

It smells like desperation. The next step, IIRC, is either to go to Africa and adopt a child or else go the sex-tape/rehab–stay route.

Is this scripted, or should her family put her on suicide watch?

(*) I still don’t have a good handle on why she or her kin are famous. Bread and circuses? Circuses being an endless parade of lunatic celebrities and movies and empty scandals and twits and cat videos... And bloggers, I suppose—mea culpa.

Friday, November 28, 2014

LED bulbs and unintended consequences

Part 1. When our camera decided to take time off during our vacation north a few years ago I bought a Fuji JZ100.

Part 2. We replaced the rather inadequate lights in the living room with track lighting. The regular bulbs burned out so fast that I decided to invest in LED bulbs instead. With my rock solid or rocky memory skills I wound up mixing both warm and cool light bulbs in the replacements. Of three bulbs in a row, the ones on the end are more yellow and the one in the middle is bluish (which I think is the one called "Natural daylight").

Part 3. Our "international student" guests wanted some pictures from our Thanksgiving dinner. I offered to use our camera; set it on a tripod and pushed the button.

The images were washed out in blue glare. Repeatedly, even with the flash going. Nothing worked until we turned out all the LED lights in the living room and used the flash.

I surmise that the Fuji uses one particular frequency to adjust its exposure setting and that the LED bulb's collection of frequencies omits that one. Result: the room is estimated to be much darker than it really is, the automated exposure is therefore too long, and everything gets washed out.

Maybe I was taking a nap when the memo about LED bulbs went around, but just in case it isn't widely known--watch out when taking pictures under LED lights.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Guess what this means

From the sys-ops chat this morning:
Joseph_Schlitz_rc1 has become a Jedi release that has killed sndaq Beer_Trooper ... The force is so strong that there is not even data showing up at 2ndbuild at all unfortunately that seems to be a more serious thing

Is there anyone in @channel that can look into this? Otherwise I would ask WO's for rollback

A clue:

XXX yes, but for some reason, there were no alerts

YYY run was taken as "TestData"

XXX ah, ok

YYY 8 doesn't that mean online alert systems ignore it?

XXX AM yes
this is a precaution
ok, so everything is fine

YYY well, outside the SNDaq mysteries

I'll look up the details and post the answers later.


As I wrote earlier, IceCube found it useful to give each DOM a unique name; not just a number. Numbers are too easy to transpose. The DOMs are programmed with data acquisition software, which is rarely perfect, and updated from time to time. New software releases are also given names, and by tradition these are named after bars. SNDAQ stands for a special piece of software: SuperNova Data AcQuisition. It works by looking not for individual neutrinos, which from a supernova are plentiful but of too low an energy to stand out, but for a general brightening of all the DOMs by thousands and thousands of small interactions.

The "_rc1" means that this is test release 1.

"@channel" is, of course, the tag for the chat software being used for this conversation. "WO" stands for Winter Overs--a pair who work on our experiment during the antarctic winter (11 month tours--they get started now).

Not all data acquisition taking is for physics: some of the "runs" are tests; hence the TestData run.

A supernova is a very interesting thing to observe, and since SN1987A we now know that neutrinos escape the blast well before the visible light is finally generated. Therefore there is a communications network designed to alert all the participating systems to look out if one of them detects something that might be a supernova. Obviously you don't want the alert to go out if you're just running a test.

A "DOM" is a "Digital Optical Module" with a large phototube, a couple of small computers and a couple of fast signal converters (one less sensitive so it can see large signals), which transmits its measurement of light received to collection computers at the surface. These are all carefully coordinated so we can tell what time light arrived at a DOM on one "string" relative to the time it arrived on another, so we can tell what direction the original particle came from.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


I've never quite understood the appeal of criminals, but I gather that there is a population of women who become their pen pals (so to speak) and even offer to marry them. I don't believe they really think they can reform them, but I've been wrong before.

Charles Manson can "marry" someone. The lady in question this time around seems assured but vacant to me, and her father suggests she is creative with history. Another article says prisoners have the constitutional right to marry (and tries to show what some of the motivations are(*)), but Manson is in for life and nobody is going to parole him--there is no question of making a life together. Even Manson admits this is a fake, and it is not the first prison pseudo marriage for him either. Why cooperate? A minister who thinks a couple isn't serious or isn't ready can refuse to conduct their ceremony. Make them rely on Flying Spaghetti Monster or Universal Light mail-order ministers.

(*) Apparently different criminals attract different sorts of fans. And having a "wife"/"girlfriend" is a status thing inside.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Native ebola control

The conference call with Dr. Mosoka Fallah had a few enlightening notes. I've been deeply suspicious of the claim that ebola is declining in Liberia, but he said it was because local communities had finally gotten the picture, and were being proactive about control. They find a place to isolate the sick, bring food/water to the boundary, and let nobody in or out. Newcomers to a village have to stay in isolation (quarantine) for three weeks, since they are assumed to be infected.

In other words, the simple social tools work. Compare and contrast with Nurse Ebola and the federal refusal to use the same common sense. (Yes, I've heard the hyperbolic claims that quarantines would cripple provision of medical care to the afflicted areas. We can fast-track tests for medicals professionals on a new registry and reduce their quarantine time. Voila. In computer networking you put up a firewall and only punch holes for the protocols and systems you know you want to let through.)

Friday, November 21, 2014


Very good. The only misfire was Floristan's rather too well-fed appearance--in the story he had been on starvation rations for a couple of months.

A grand celebration of love, courage, and knowing which is the pointy end of a pistol. And some nice light bits as well. And the prisoners chorus, which I'd never heard before, believe it or not. It is easier for me to follow the sense of the music when I have the meaning of the words--probably a defect in my music appreciation department.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Still topical

    And they, sweet soul, that most impute a crime
    Are pronest to it, and impute themselves,
    Wanting the mental range; or low desire
    Not to feel lowest makes them level all;
    Yea, they would pare the mountain to the plain,
    To leave an equal baseness; and in this
    Are harlots like the crowd, that if they find
    Some stain or blemish in a name of note,
    Not grieving that their greatest are so small,
    Inflate themselves with some insane delight,
    And judge all nature from her feet of clay,
    Without the will to lift their eyes, and see
    Her godlike head crowned with spiritual fire,
    And touching other worlds.

Idylls of the King, Tennyson

A Western Paradigm

South Africa's President Zuma's take on corruption allegations is fascinating.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ancient Practices Series

I read a set of books entitled “The Ancient Practices Series”—well, a fair chunk of them. I don’t have The Pilgrimage or Tithing available and. . . I’ll explain.

Brian McLaren wrote the intro: Finding Our Way Again. He has some annoying bees in his bonnet. Careful analysis is not his strong suit, and phrases like “the Abrahamic faiths” do not inspire confidence in his powers of observation. Nevertheless this is the best written of the set, and has some worthwhile material: such as the breakdown of the purposes of disciplines into katharsis/via purgative (purification from evil), fotosis/via illuminativa (receiving God’s truth and light), and theosis/via unitiva (unification with God). The three themes sometimes go together, but often one prepares the way for others.

Scott McKnight wrote Fasting, in which he says “Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life.” He’s not so keen on instrumental fasting, except when he is. It turns out that instrumental fasting (to seek more intense prayer, discipline the body, etc) has long roots in tradition. Chapters are “Fasting as” “Body Talk”, “Body Turning”, “Body Grief”, etc; but these metaphors didn’t seem all that useful. He distinguishes between fasting (food/water) and abstinence (everything else). Important point: don’t be an idiot about fasting.

Dan B Allender wrote Sabbath. Feast day, day of delight, but not a day of amusement. This is an impressionist-style book, and I think he was paid by the word.

Joan Chittister wrote The Liturgical Year. Short version: it’s a good thing, and the calendar isn’t about us but about worship and growing in worship. (Another paid by the word.)

Robert Benson wrote In Constant Prayer. Short version: Praying the Office is good prayer in itself, good for corporate worship, and also good training in prayer. My late brother-in-law recommended that decades ago; I’ve been kind of spotty in practicing it. Making sure there’s time is the hard part of any discipline.

Nora Gallagher wrote The Sacred Meal. I randomly opened to a page where she equated the Eucharist and feeding the homeless. I checked another and she was approvingly citing Bishop Spong. I didn’t think I’d learn much about orthodox tradition from Spong, and set the book aside.

I should see if the book about pilgrimage is handy somewhere--that's one discipline I haven't learned much about.

Getting in the way of celebration

In Victor Hugo's book 93 is a scene in which a warship is in deadly danger from a loose cannon. It has come free, and the half ton of iron slides back and forth with each wave, breaking bulkheads and crushing everything in its path and threatening to breach the hull and sink the ship. One man risks his life to jump in its path to ram wedges in place to stop it--and succeeds. The commander rewards such bravery with a medal--and then has the man shot because he was the one whose carelessness let the cannon come loose.

Perhaps that is logical, but it seems less than justice.

A few real-life people with accomplishments:

Alexander Grothendieck died quite recently. He was one of the top mathematicians of the 20'th century, ground-breaking in several fields. The link is a bio of him with thumbnail descriptions of his work (and I need to look up some terms before I will understand the thumbnails). He assembled and inspired a wonderful team, and then his own inner struggles led him to tear the group apart and hide as an unpleasant hermit for the rest of his life.

Feynman was a ground-breaking physicist. He had such an appetite for the ladies that the story goes that undergraduate girls found they could get easy money by telling him that they were pregnant by him and needed to get an abortion. (He apparently stood up for a woman physicist who was being belittled for her sex, so his attitude wasn't purely utilitilitarian.) Martin Luther King Jr. allegedly had an eye for the ladies too. Nelson Mandela started off as a hard-line Marxist, and never quite abjured that murderous faith, though his later words and deeds were more peaceful.

Paladins are a little thin on the ground, and even though the US tries to hold its military men to Knights Templar-like vows of poverty, chastity(*) and obedience, they often seem to have the usual collection of vices--though with fewer cowards than the rest of us.

We celebrate what we can. And try to let the accomplishment atone for the failures, when we can.

And then...

A project director celebrating landing a probe on a comet (a huge accomplishment for European Space Agency) wore a tacky Hawaiian shirt, and several ladies got a case of the vapors. (The response of Nancy Hopkins is beyond parody.) Ho hum. Except that shortly thereafter the accused director apologized in tears. Wait, what? That doesn't happen, even with Aspie folks, unless somebody has taken them out back and threatened them.

Who are these people in the back room who have given the professionally aggrieved the power to become harpies and defecate all over the feast?

I think I understand why they enable the harpies--keeping people worried and off-balance helps keep them in line. But who are they, and how do we depose them?

(*) According to my dictionary that includes fidelity in marriage.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Dental plans

I asked an insurance man why dental plans weren't integrated into general medical plans. He said that most dental costs were predictable--there wasn't much difference between paying premiums and paying cash--unless you had soft teeth and had to have lots of crowns and whatnot. If you were normal it was a wash.

My experience has been a little different--but I have enough crowns to suggest that my experience isn't average. I wonder what the distribution of costs looks like. Anybody know, or is that proprietary information?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dueling hymn versions

Though perhaps that's too violent a description ...

We attended a hymn sing with organ at Overture Center. One of the pieces was "We praise you O God." Deborah Smith said this was composed as a replacement for a militaristic version. The only other version I know is "We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing." Hmm. It would seem a trifle hypersensitive to object to this:

We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing;
He chastens and hastens his will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, wast at our side; all glory be thine!

We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant,
And pray that thou still our defender wilt be.
Let thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

"We praise thee O God" goes like this:

We praise thee, O God, our Redeemer, Creator;
In grateful devotion our tribute we bring;
We lay it before you; we kneel and adore you;
We bless your holy name: glad praises we sing.

We worship thee, God of our fathers, we bless thee;
Through life's storm and tempest our guide hast thou been;
When perils o'ertake us, escape thou wilt make us,
And with thy help, O Lord, our battles we win.

With voices united our praises we offer,
To thee, great Jehovah, glad anthems we raise;
Your strong arm will guide us, our God is beside us,
To you, our great Redeemer, forever be praise!

A little misunderstanding, perhaps: Hymn Lore suggests that "We Praise Thee" was an independent replacement for the Dutch original:

The hymn is a truly noble utterance of praise. Its dominant note is joy, and this is expressed in a quick-moving meter that makes the singing of it worshipful and jubilant. Because the life of young people is usually joyous, the hymn appeals to them. They respond to it with enthusiasm.

That this should be the character of the text can be partly accounted for by the fact that the author, Mrs. Julia Cady Cory, was born and reared in one of the happiest Christian homes in New York City. Her father, J. Cleveland Cady, an architect of national reputation, is remembered for his devotion to boys and girls, and as the one man in the city who was superintendent of the same Sunday School for fifty-five years.

As for the genesis of the hymn, the author writes as follows : "Years before I was married (in 1902), the organist of the Brick Presbyterian Church of New York City, knowing of my interest in hymnology, came to me and told me that he had a very fine Netherlands melody associated with most militaristic and unchristian words. He lamented the fact, and requested me to write more suitable words, which could be used for the Thanksgiving Day service at the Brick Church. The hymn, as you see it to-day, was the result.

OK, fair enough. Wikipedia carries the original dutch song, but google-translate throws up its bits in despair trying to translate it--the Dutch must be way too old. Someone who knows the language (Mysha) rendered a few verses without rhyme:

Let us now come forward for God, our Lord
Praise him above all, with all of our heart
And exult everywhere the honour of his name,
Who there now beats down our enemy.

For the honour of our Lord, in all your days
Commemorate especially this miracle
For God, oh human, make you well behaved,
Do justice to all, and heed treachery!

Pray, wake and make, that to temptation
And evil with downfall, you will not yield.
Your piety will disturb the enemy,
However strong the walls of his realm might be!

OK, I gather this was written (on an older tune) to commemorate a victory, but what’s translated here still doesn’t seem very harsh. When separated from the incident, the sense is much more generic. Maybe the other verses matter... (The German version, as run through google-translate, is also pretty mild.)

Sunday, November 09, 2014

I tell you once, I tell you twice.

The gospels emphasize different things about Jesus' life on earth. One day I wondered what their overlap looked like, and decided this morning to try to piece it out. Of course the synoptics overlap a lot, but John's is different enough that the overall overlap isn't quite as huge as you might expect.

I did a quick-and-dirty review and got this list, though I probably missed a detail or three.

  1. This is about Jesus
  2. John says someone more important is coming
  3. John baptizes Jesus (implicit in John's)
  4. The Spirit descends like a dove on Jesus
  5. Some of the apostles are named
  6. Jesus cleanses the temple (non-linear narrative in John's?)
  7. 5000 are fed from a small lunch
  8. Jesus walks on water
  9. Jesus heals people (not the same list in each)
  10. Jesus teaches (not quite the same material quoted in each)
  11. Jesus says he's going to die
  12. Leaders plot against him
  13. Jesus and his disciples have a meal together with last instructions
  14. Peter boasts of loyalty, but then denies Jesus
  15. Judas betrays Jesus
  16. Jesus is tried before a Jewish assembly
  17. Jesus is tried before Pilate
  18. Pilate doesn't want to kill him
  19. Barabbas is released instead by popular acclaim
  20. Jesus is crucified along with a couple of criminals
  21. Women are present (Mary of Magdala, another Mary, others(*))
  22. Jesus quotes scripture on the cross
  23. Jesus dies
  24. Joseph of Arimathea takes custody of the body and buries it in his own tomb
  25. There is a stone in front of the tomb
  26. On Sunday the women (Mary of Magdala and others) find the empty tomb
  27. Jesus appears alive to the disciples

If overlap is there for emphasis, then what is emphasized?

1,2,3,4 testify that Jesus is going to be the one from God. 6 say he cleanses worship; 7,8,9 say he can control the world; 10 shows that he wants to teach us, 11 says he knows what’s about to happen.

The rest of the later ones are the outline of the plot to destroy him and its unexpected result.

The Jewish leaders plot against him and try him in their own court (his own people). The Roman leader can't be bothered to administer justice (their claim to fame). A criminal goes free (like us).

Jesus is crucified. (This is a curse for both Jews and Romans.)

Judas is a traitor (like plenty of others ever since). Peter is a failure (the only good argument I know for assigning him a "first among equals" position).

Women are essential witnesses (seriously counter cultural).

A rich man you never heard of before (or afterwards) takes the risk of burying Jesus--and in his own tomb at that.

After the Sabbath the tomb is empty, and Jesus shows himself alive.

For full instruction you want the union of the gospels, but I think I like the intersection too. Some things to meditate on.

(*) When I was little I was terribly confused by all the different Marys, Herods, and Johns. It still doesn't help that "Mary the mother of Joses" / "Mary the mother of James and Joseph" and Mary the mother of Jesus may or may not be the same person.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Wild-eyed conspiracy theory

You have probably heard of the Lone Star tick whose bite makes you allergic to red meat.

Last Friday somebody brought up the subject at our team lunch, and the Ukrainian groaned that that would be a fate worse than death. I noticed that it seemed to be a new problem, and asked what PETA's genetic research budget was. My office mate pointed out that India's budget was much bigger. It is a land where people regularly refuse to rent to non-vegetarians (sometimes refusing Americans sight unseen on the expectation that they won't be vegetarians). He used to live there.

No, we were not serious. But I had a little sinking feeling when I remembered the BJP. Were we giving them ideas?

Friday, November 07, 2014

The will of the people

The BBC reports about the Pakistani couple (and unborn child) martyred by a mob. It ends with this:
Pakistan is a long way from changing or repealing its notorious blasphemy laws.

At best, the only thing the country's vulnerable and at risk communities can really hope for now is that the authorities will treat this case seriously and possibly deter similar gruesome crimes from happening again.

What this conclusion skims over is the implications of this:

Clerics from local mosques used loud speakers to incite violence. Soon, hundreds of angry people converged on the brick kiln looking for the Christian couple.

This didn't happen because of blasphemy laws in Pakistan. The blasphemy laws happened because this is the attitude of the people. You know and I know that burning harmless people alive is unjust and vile. But it is also perfectly democratic--this is what they want; or at least what a large number want while the rest are willing to go along with it.

Is "free and fair elections" a sufficiently powerful incantation to purify the vices of a people and automatically produce good government?

Most important

A colleague told me this week of a Psych professor he had who told the class that self-justification was more important than sex. The class of college students was duly startled, and he followed it with "Try to go a day without self-justification."

Trying to do without self-justification seems like a mandatory discipline for a Christian, but I'm still not very good at it.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

It isn't just ebola

Malaria is still a killer. The news story reported that MSF was distributing malaria meds in some of the poor neighborhoods. That's not quite right: they're distributing tickets to be used to get the meds, and doing followup to make sure the households use them properly. In town, that's the right way to do it. Out in the field, where you don't have the staff to go door to door, I still think trusting people with meds is the way to go--with a phone bank to help them with diagnoses.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Timing is all

A man got on the bus today wearing a coat sporting a sticker that read "I voted today."

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

How the mighty have fallen

Within living memory a murder was a newspaper story, but a suicide wasn't. Even today, the Surgeon General urges that reporters avoid glamorizing suicides. But one suicide over the weekend, who I leave nameless and unlinked-to, is being widely hyped as saintly. From the similarity of statements on Facebook I gather people are quoting approved talking points: "a moral choice", "a good person", "brave". Other people with cancer aren't so happy about it: it devalues their lives in others' eyes.

It is hard to avoid the suspicion that the hype is powered by a blend of "Please don't be a bother to us" and "I can't conceive of anything more to life than experience", with maybe more than just a touch of "Don't be an expense to us." Not that this is the attitude of the people commenting on Facebook, but . . .

“Why you fool, it's the educated reader who CAN be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers? He takes it for granted that they're all propaganda and skips the leading articles. He buys his paper for the football results and the little paragraphs about girls falling out of windows and corpses found in Mayfair flats. He is our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the high-brow weeklies, don't need reconditioning. They're all right already. They'll believe anything.”
― C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

Ancient mathematics

I was pointed to David Mumford, who reviewed a book about the history of mathematics in "India". They got pretty far along, though the paradigm was different and the exposition is tough to follow. By that I mean that they were much more strongly application-oriented (not proof-based) and a lot of the literature was written in terse verse to make it easier for students to memorize. Have a look. He also has a history of What's so Baffling About Negative Numbers--why did it take so long for the West to pick up on them when the Chinese and Indians had a handle on them long before.

I've said before that math isn't actually done in the abstract formal proofs you find in papers. A mathematician will noodle around with some models (often inspired by some application!) until some problem finally yields, and then he rewrites the result in a formal style that makes it sound like he was following a straight logical path to the answer all along. There's probably no help for that, but filling out papers with some more examples would help understanding. Certainly help me, anyway.

If his posts are any guide, Mumford seems to like examples. The most recent (as of today) is "An Easy Case of Feynman's Path Integrals." "Easy" is perhaps a bit relative, but I like the step-by-step way he evolved his model. Good writer.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Bad science reporting

You may have noticed that I indulge a hobby of looking up the actual journal articles behind some science headlines to see what's really happening. This tends to leave one frustrated with the "oh look a squirrel" reporting culture, and with a strong suspicion that most reporters not only don't know anything, but they don't have a clue how to investigate a story either. On the other hand, the net makes it relatively easy to discover the truth about claims that in earlier decades would have simply gone unchallenged: "Cronkite said it so it must be gospel."

A Czech named Lubos Motl does the same in a much more dramatic way from time to time: here he takes apart sloppy reports about an experiment in quantum mechanical effects in helium bubbles. Motl is a colorful (some say infamous) string theorist with strong opinions about Russia (he likes it), climate change (the current fashion is a con), political correctness (hates it), and string theory (only fools doubt it). Since academia tends to be leftist, he rubs some people the wrong way.

I'm an experimentalist, btw, and I think a reasonable test of the string theory paradigm is to let a bunch of very smart people have at it for about 20 years and see if they come up with any predictions. So far, zip--so I respectfully suggest that the test has failed, though it has resulted in some great advances in math that I don't understand. Yes, I understand that it predicts supersymmetry, which gets rid of some nasty theoretical issues in a very simple way--but decades of searching for SUSY particles only found limits. That's nice for giving grad students a thesis, but after a while you start to wonder if there's really a pony in there.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ebola vs excellent medical care

Mark Reiff sent me a couple of ebola-links, and the New England Journal of Medicine report was particularly interesting. The patient described isn’t exactly typical: he nearly died of a secondary infection as well, but he had top of the line medical care all along the way after he arrived in Hamburg. Among other things he got about 10 liters of plasma every day for a while (8-13) since he was losing 8 via diarrhea! There was no way he’d have survived without heroic treatment.

Grab a dictionary and have a look at the article.

One thing that was pretty startling is Figure 2, showing the levels of viral RNA detected in various body fluids. The blood levels decrease for a while and then drop like a stone—maybe the result of flushing by the plasma? The levels in urine track the projected decline in blood levels A report from the earlier outbreak in Congo found nothing in urine, but evidently their tests weren’t sensitive enough yet. Sweat levels drop too—and then rise with the onset of the secondary infection and then decline more slowly! At day 63 when the report was written the levels had dropped to undetectability. And of course we’ve heard the reports that viral RNA was found in semen 60 days after infection.

I take this to mean that the virus is holed up in some tissues: skin for one. And that someone can be infectious to touch for a while after they’ve recovered from the disease. The latter seems to conflict with earlier work, but the patient was atypical. Without the heroic treatment he wouldn’t have survived to touch people; maybe the typical survivor isn’t hit as hard. Or maybe not.

Still, something to keep in mind. (Texan99 seems to have been right about high performance medical treatment.)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

University of Liberia Round 2

Last year I noticed that UL had 0 out of 25000 applicants succeed.

This year was better. Many fewer sat the exam (I don't know whether before or after the anti-ebola school closings): 13,000. But this time 15 passed.

It is possible that the 15 learned how to get early copies of the exams, or that the tests were easier; but let's be hopeful about it and assume that some of the schools started to make changes, and some of the better students were able to take advantage of those changes and learned enough to pass the threshold. It will take a few years before the average students have the proper skill-set. Or it would if ebola wasn't such a large factor right now.

So I consider this story a spot of good news. What isn't such good news is the reaction of some of the teachers...

But a Teacher, Prince Nimely said, the result coming from the university is troubling adding that the government has to properly examine the result the university is releasing. Nimely said: “We have to look at the standard the university is using to fail those students and their motive if they do not want students to attend the university due to overcrowding let them say it and they should not discredit other people effort.”

Blame the messenger. Or perhaps there's a less noble motive--Prince is a teacher at UL and hasn't managed to notice how unprepared the students are?

At any rate, congratulations to the 15, and I hope they can study well and safely.

Heart disease and diabetes

The doc says that hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease are the deadly trifecta. So far I'm not in that league, but stories like this--New Evidence of a Possible Link Between Diabetes and the Hardening of Heart Valves--do tend to catch the eye, as having a little bit of a personal flavor.

The study used shrinking of the gel medium as a proxy for pig heart valve cell growth (the "valvular interstitial cell"), and used varying amounts of glucose in the medium. (And other things, see the abstract. The more the gel shrunk, the livelier the valve cells must have been growing.

The abstract suggests they only used 3 concentrations: 1g/L, 2g/L, and 4.5g/L. The 2g/L was the Goldilocks concentration; the others showed less growth.

And let's see: 1g/L is 100mg/dL--which is considered normal for humans, and 2g/L is 200mg/L which is bad. That made me go google for pig diabetes, and the first thing I found asked Why Don't Pigs Get Diabetes? ("we bred them not" to is the proposed answer). Another site discusses how to manage pig diabetes. "And even in a normal laboratory pig, blood sugar can vary from under 40 to over 100; their control is not as tight as healthy human beings have naturally." Sounds like pigs are OK for a comparison, so what's the difference?

Maybe the levels seen in vivo differ from those in the culture medium; the cells are organized in tissues in real life. In any event, this might be a mechanism for inducing the cascading problems that harass us.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Music notes

Last night we went to hear the Westminster Choir and organ concert. The big music folders had hand straps, but even so they were almost as big as the torso of some of the kids. During an organ interlude to give the singers a break, it seemed as though the organ piece was a little like jazz improvisation--much more complicated, but scripted.

Listen to the difference in aesthetic between the boy choir (w/ a few men) and the mixed choir (or the men's choir) and a praise band and a piece from an Aladura church. (OK, to be fair, I'm not sure you call the Church of the Lord Aladura orthodox, but the genre is typical of more orthodox churches too.)

The Orthodox claim that the liturgy embodies theology, and that conclusions can be drawn from the way things have always been done. Certainly the way we pray shapes the way we believe: though perhaps not to the full extent of "Lex orandi, lex credendi". How do each of these styles guide us in our emotions about God and our relationship to Him? (Our thoughts are another matter--sometimes they follow the emotions and sometimes live in tension with them.)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Graves again

I wrote earlier that graves and markers seemed like a minor detail compared to the death itself, but: Graves matter.
In March, the second Wednesday of the month is National Decoration Day, a public holiday during which people flock to cemeteries to clear brush from the graves of relatives, and scrub and decorate headstones.

Cremations in the capital, and burials of Ebola victims in body bags outside Monrovia without relatives present, means there won't be a place to honor deceased relatives. Decoration days will come with many people not knowing where the remains of their loved ones are, or knowing they were cremated and that their ashes were not recovered.

Many will find it hard to accept that they will never see the graves of those lost to the disease.
Nyenswah said many people are remaining home to die instead of reporting for treatment.

"We understand that there are secret burials taking place in the communities," he said. "Let's stop that and report sick people and get them treated."
A commentary on a website, Sierra Leone News Hunters, suggested that a memorial site be built to honor the dead who do not receive traditional burial rites, and to provide some comfort to their families.

It said: "The erection of a monument bearing the names of all Ebola victims would not take away the sad memories but it would at least pacify the broken heart somewhat."


When you have a physics/edu email address you sometimes get odd messages, above and beyond the usual breast enlargement and import business proposals. Never mind the odd grammar (his English is far better than my 30C homeopathic Hungarian), but instead look at the shoehorning of all phenomena into his model.
If the speed of an elementary object not equal to the speed of light, then the elementary object is atom, which consists of many electromagnetic fields of photons, X-ray-photons and gamma-photons. The real "particles" of this world are the photon, X-ray-photon and gamma-photon particles. Other particles not exist.


Known that the several radioactive nucleuses emitt several energy gamma-photons. Speed of all gamma-photons is the speed of light. From this follows that the nucleuses consist of several mass gamma-photons.

Let's follow the logic. It is known that humans emit sweat, urine, and feces, which move at less than the speed of light. From this it follows that humans consist of sweat, urine, and feces.

Despite the claims of political partisans, I suspect this is not so.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Trolls and saints

Last night Middle Daughter and I were talking about trolls and real-life threats.

What did trolls do before the net? With the net they can be heard, and threaten, and stir up trouble to their slimy hearts’ delight. Without it...

I suppose some would have written poison pen letters, but I don’t think those were ever quite as common as trolls are now. You might find some snarlers in the background, but I don’t remember that many, and I suppose the risks of personal confrontation suppressed the urge.

Did that suppression, by the effect of habit, change the attitudes? And does today’s ease of expression, also by habit, ingrain more deeply the bitterness and venom?

If I’m to guess, I think the net both reveals the flaw and makes it grow. With it, what might have been a minor weed of grump blossoms to a titan arum. Anonymity and distance make it consequence-free, and it’s claimed you can tell a man’s character by what he does when he’s alone.

I’m a layman here, but the received wisdom is that the bulk of the trolls will threaten till dawn but never do anything about their threats. But the net lets them link up with really violent types and shape their vision remotely.

New technologies give us new (or expanded) vices.

Maybe some expanded virtues too. What would some of those be, I wonder? Greater scope for charitable giving, yes. At least the potential for greater knowledge and perhaps a trace of effect of the Grand Tour? True, most people head for the bubble gum instead, but then most aren't trolls either. Except maybe on Facebook

It gives the scope to develop plans more quickly and completely--efficiency and perfection are good things, though not quite fitting in the list of classical virtues.

Am I a better person because I use the web? (My family and I are eating because of it, but that's not the point.) In what ways better, in what ways worse?

Monday, October 20, 2014


I'm on the wrong side of the paywall to read the original, but description of Mischel's experiments with kids and marshmallows was new to me.
By now you've probably heard the summary: At the Stanford University laboratory of a psychologist named Walter Mischel, preschool-age children were left alone in a room after having been told they could get a small treat (a marshmallow or pretzel) by ringing a bell at any time to summon the experimenter. But if they held out until he returned on his own, they could have a bigger treat (two marshmallows or pretzels). The outcome, as it's usually represented, is that the children who were able to wait for an extra treat scored better on measures of cognitive and social skills many years later and had higher SAT scores. Thus, if we teach kids to put off the payoff as long as possible, they'll be more successful.

But that simplistic conclusion misrepresents, in several ways, what the research actually found.

1. What mostly interested Mischel wasn't whether children could wait for a bigger treat—which, by the way, most of them could. It wasn't even whether those who waited fared better in life than those who didn't. Rather, the central question was how children go about trying to wait and which strategies help. It turned out that kids waited longer when they were distracted by a toy. What worked best wasn't (in Mischel's words) "self-denial and grim determination," but doing something enjoyable while waiting so that self-control wasn't needed at all.

If you, like me, got the standard line, go read the rest of the article. Or if you can get by the paywall, read the journal article.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Bucket list

I'm reading a book called Sabbath(*) in which at one point the hypothetical question is asked "What do you most want to be, to do, to know, and to give away in the last third of your life?"

Aside from the unwelcome thought that I've probably less than a third to go if family history is any guide, the question seems not quite right somehow. I know that "If you don't have a dream how you gonna have a dream come true?" but something's missing.

I think part of it is the "you ... want" bit. If you had told me before I walked into the church that I'd be up close and personal with autism spectrum, I'd have dropped the ring and run like a gazelle with its tail on fire. But in the end I don't think I'd trade my life with my kids for anything. (and with my wife, of course)

So what I want isn't always a good estimator of what will turn out to be good.

Without some kind of plan and structure, nothing happens, and that's not good at all (see what happens to the fellow with one talent). But the details of how it turns out aren't in our control, only how we respond to the surprises. So I don't think I should have a bucket list so much as bucket principles--that I will do things virtuously, gratefully and with intelligence, so long as that is given to me.

Although I would like a trip to the space station.

(*) By Dan B. Allender. So far it reads like he was getting paid by the word, and I'm not sure he understands who his audience is. Most people I know aren't in danger of taking the Sabbath too strictly.

Simple explanations

I read an article about personal space today, that referenced a study about men and women in airplane seats. It found that men hogged the armrests 5 to 1 over women.

Perhaps this is sexist domineering. Or perhaps men have, on the average, wider shoulders than women. Airline seats are not notorious for roominess either at shoulder height or at the seat. I don't sit widely but some of my neighbors have.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


"Reach for your mate instead of a plate".

Though I don't think you can reliably extrapolate from C. elegans...

Missed the bulls-eye

The comet is going to miss Mars. I still wish it would have, though I grant that it would have made existence difficult for our probes (which will apparently be on the far side of Mars for about 20 minutes when the high-speed comet tail whips through, and thus be relatively shielded from sand-blasting).

I'm not sure if liking explosions is a feature or a bug. I harbored a secret hope that the Scottish vote would be for independence, because of the chaos that would ensue--though if I were voting on the measure myself I'd have picked the less catastrophic option.

Monday, October 13, 2014


I thought one of the great benefits of literacy was that you could learn from the experience of people far away or long dead. You needn't live through a tornado yourself in order to learn how to prepare for one. Of course you can probably ask a friend who has sheltered when one went by--tornadoes are fairly common.

Stock market crashes happen too, but it seemed as though we had a generation of brokers who had not seen one in their working lives, and apparently (one may infer from their advice) believed that such things were now impossible.

The Spanish Flu was about a hundred years ago, and there aren't a lot of people left we can ask about it. But we can read about epidemics and quarantines, and figure out why people did things the way they did in the past.

But if each generation considers itself sui generis, I wonder what the point of writing is.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Graves in Liberia

One of the things that makes ebola hard in Liberia is that the dead cannot be honored. Granted, that seems like a minor detail compared to the death and fear, but people have risked death themselves to honor their dead.

There isn’t a lot we can do about this: those dead of ebola cannot be touched, and would most safely be cremated--not exactly a customary way of honoring the dead. But I wonder if we can do something. If the burial teams have the names (and parents) of the dead, could someone carve the names into a stones to stand by a mass grave? Quite a few would be "woman known only to God."

I don’t know if anybody there could do it, and the lag time in getting something made elsewhere and then shipped there is large, so this probably wouldn’t be much use anyway, but if people knew their family members were being commemorated, it might be a little comfort.

UPDATE: Maybe it would help with the problem of bribing of burial teams.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014


My officemate, on hearing that he missed the eclipse this morning, mentioned a “Virtual Planetarium” called Stellarium, which is quite good. It even allows views from other planets. The stock background is rather amusing when the location is the South Pole (he suggested to the authors that they take some images from IceCube): trees and houses. You can pick a date, or do a Time Traveler scene with the months whipping by too.

We decided that a world with only Geoguesser is incomplete. What we need is a 3-D version, using the stars in our local area. If you need help, you can cheat by asking for the constellation lines to be drawn. When Orion looks like scrambled eggs, where in space are you? He suggested the name.

I’m not quite sure how the user picks a location in a sphere, though...

Stuff and Nonsense

Moseying through Wikiquotes after the Supreme's recent “non-decision…”
Nor do the gods appear in warrior's armour clad
To strike them down with sword and spear
Those whom they would destroy
They first make mad.

Bhartá¹›hari, 7th c. AD; as quoted in John Brough,Poems from the Sanskrit, (1968), p, 67

If there are certain pages of Mr Bertrand Russell's book, Power, which seem rather empty, that is merely to say that we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.

George Orwell, Review of Power: A New Social Analysis by Bertrand Russell in The Adelphi (January 1939)

At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is 'not done' to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was 'not done' to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

George Orwell, The Freedom of the Press", unused preface to Animal Farm

. The highly socialised modern mind, which makes a kind of composite god out of the rich, the government, the police and the larger newspapers, has not been developed — at least not yet.

George Orwell, Review of The Civilization of France by Ernst Robert Curtius; translated by Olive Wyon, in The Adelphi (May 1932):

If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be conducted successfully.

Confucius, Analects

To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.

George Orwell, "In Front of Your Nose," Tribune (22 March 1946)

"One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool."

George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism

And don’t forget Kipling

This isn't just about the latest folly endorsing the contradiction "homosexual marriage"--there are plenty of wads of nonsense we solemnly tip the hat to.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Fermions and Bosons

It occurred to me that I should maybe define some terms, especially when they represent such curious features of the world.

It all goes back to the photoelectric effect. It turns out that light comes in little “chunks” (photons). These have different energies, which correspond to different frequencies. The higher the energy, the higher the frequency; they’re directly proportional. But there’s another little detail about them that emerges: they have angular momentum.

That’s kind of weird at first glance, but electromagnetic fields can have momentum and angular momentum, so we can live with that. It turns out that not just photons have angular momentum but also other elementary particles, including the electron. Since as far as we can measure it doesn’t seem to have any size, it is hard to imagine how an electron could have angular momentum, which is the product of the radius and the component of momentum perpendicular to the radius. Radius=0 means angular momentum is 0, right? Except that it isn’t, here. There’s some intrinsic angular momentum to the electron. And the proton. And the photon.

And that the angular momentum comes in units, it isn’t continuous. Each photon has the same total angular momentum. It can point in different directions, but it is always the same total. So if a particle emits a photon, that particle’s intrinsic angular momentum has to change by one unit.

That unit is, of course h, Planck’s Constant, the pivot of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. You might think that this just applied to photons, since that was where it was discovered, but it turns out to be more universal than that: gluons too, and the W/Z of the weak interaction--all have 1 unit of angular momentum.

So if something has an intrinsic angular momentum, what sizes can it be?

You can guess right off the bat: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 ... units of h. If these are elementary particles we call them bosons. If they are composite (like a Helium atom), we generally still call them bosons but with the caveat that they are complicated.

But, there’s another possibility. 1/2 h. If something with that angular momentum emits a photon, you get (1/2-1)=-1/2: the same size, just pointing in the opposite direction. Particles with spins 1/2, 3/2, 5/2 etc. we call fermions.

That different spin might not seem to matter much, but it turns out to be very important. Each electron is exactly like every other electron. If you have two, their joint wave function has to be anti-symmetric. In other words, if you swap their positions, directions and their spins, you get the opposite sign. So what happens if they’re both at the same place with the same spin? When a function is equal to its negative, it has to be 0. So you can’t have two fermions in exactly the same state. Which is fortunate, or else atoms would collapse as all the electrons emitted photons and fell into the nucleus.

So if angular momentum comes in discrete chunks, does that mean that the angular momentum of a spinning wheel is a finite (but large) number of those chunks instead of a continuum? Or that your angular momentum relative to the door knob as you walk down the hall is limited to particular values? Probably. And if you try to wrap your mind head around how that works, you begin to see why some researchers are working with models of spacetime/momentum space that use a grid rather than the old faithful number lines. In everyday life you can't tell the difference between a quadrillion h and a quadrillion and one, so it looks continuous to you. But things look different in the small world when the lumps become obvious.

Capital city problems

Fortunately I can do most of my work remotely. The First Lady is visiting the Overture Center tomorrow morning, which will tie up traffic abominably. The square is pretty sluggish at the best of times, and when security (the center is less than 500 feet away from my office) gets involved there's not much point in trying to come in. The airport is between my home and the square, so to go around I'd be circling half the city.

I just hope she doesn't go after my lunches.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Left off preaching and gone to meddling...

I hadn't noticed before, but the Bible addresses government deficit spending: "The wicked borrows and does not pay back." (Psalm 37:21)

I noticed that while I was slogging through The Life and Death of Mr Badman, Bunyan's originally planned sequel to The Pilgrim's Progress. He wrote the book as a counterpoint to Pilgrim, but when someone published a fake sequel, Bunyan wrote a real Part II to the Pilgrim's Progress, concerning the adventures of Christiana, his wife. Part II isn't as dramatic a read as the more familiar Part I, since it is more of an allegory of the Christian life in community, but it is well worth reading. And some call The Holy War the second best allegory in English, with Pilgrim's Progress being the best.

Mr Badman, on the other hand, is a dialog between two people who pretty much entirely agree with each other, and consequently it lacks almost all dramatic interest. It includes thumbnails of real people's stories, which of course I've never heard of but were probably of lively interest to his readers. I'm about halfway through, and within an inch of just jumping to the end to see how Mr Badman meets his maker. It does provide an view of what life was like then, with Masters over apprentices rather than students in schools, and informers getting an extra revenue stream by spying on their neighbor's transgressions (especially the neighbors stepping out on their spouses).

I bought an inexpensive tablet to see how the pocket appliance world works, and loaded FBReader and some kindle-style books from Gutenberg on it. Works OK; I can read and listen to music easily enough, though a more expensive model would have better sound and wireless reception. Miserable for anything involving typing, though, and speech recognition is more amusing than useful. Oddly enough the Kindle app doesn't seem very useful.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

No, please, read the paper!

"Meet the Majorana fermion", the particle predicted 80 years ago.

Except it isn't an elementary particle at all. If you take the trouble to read just the abstract of the article, it is clear enough that what was observed wasn't a Majorana neutrino, but a collective state in a superconductor. That's cool, and it was quite challenging to create such a composite system that models a Majorana fermion, and it probably satisfies the equations to first order, but it isn't a new particle in the standard sense. Not in the sense that a proton or a tau is a particle (and a fermion).

If neutrinos are Majorana particles, then they are their own anti-particles. Since they're so hard to detect, it hasn't been actually proven that the neutrino and the anti-neutrino are distinct, so Majorana's proposition is still an open question. Despite what Jessica Orwig at Business Insider implies in the rather muddled article.

To be fair, the experimenters probably made the comparison themselves, and expected that other people would know the difference.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Secret Service

I know the rule: "never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by stupidity." But when the disastrous choice is made time after time, with virtually no intervening successes, even the most generous soul starts to wonder if there's malice behind the smiles.

The latest Secret Service fiascoes are reassuring. Despots are typically careful of their safety. Turning off alarms, dialing down the rules of engagement to gentle/delicate, and installing guards on the basis of political correctness rather than competence have predictable consequences—predictable to any but the terminally stupid. Even if someone besides the President is calling the shots, that person would have to be foolish to forget that their access to the throne depends on the safety of the king. So: stupidity.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Patient confidentiality

Patient X in Dallas went to a hospital on the 27'th with a fever and was sent home. He's back, with ebola. If I understand ebola correctly, he was contagious on the 27'th. I gather the authorities are trying to trace his contacts, but apparently the public isn't allowed to help. Remember the Boston bomber search, with the police wanting everybody behind doors to avoid danger? Eyes on the street was what spotted him, not door-to-door police.

I wonder how long it will be before parts of patient confidentiality get waived. We paid a pretty high price for not being more aggressive with quarantine (and closing the bathhouses) with AIDS. It wouldn't have solved the problem then, but it would have made it smaller.

I think the authorities are going to need help. At some point we're going to have to ditch confidentiality in favor of public health for some diseases--this would be a good time before things really get started.

How closely does the appearance of the virus correlate with fever? When exactly do you start to become contagious?

They can quarantine the family in the hospital and monitor them through all the stages of the disease. Maybe that's why the CDC team flew out there.

We talked about this at the table this evening, and it occurred to us that he might have picked it up riding in a taxi. Think sweaty seats--very sweaty seats.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Very different values

We generally try to make sure disagreements don't inflate into violent disputes (despite the revolutionary origin of the country). Editorials cluck-cluck about the partisan divide we have, though they celebrate it quietly: "our party is principled, theirs is obstructive." "Moderate" is a nice label to wear.

I started reading The Constitution of Athens, and in Chapter 8 find this about the rules confected by the famous Solon:

And seeing that the state was often torn by faction, and that some of the citizens from indifference stood aloof, of his own motion he passed a law specially directed against them as follows—that anyone who, when the state was divided into parties, did not take up arms and side with one or the other, should be deprived of his political rights, and have no part in the state.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Distributed doctoring

UPDATE: Prepositioning medicines won't work very well. They will deteriorate in the heat and humidity (want to bet the bottles won't be opened from time to time?). You would have to re-distribute regularly--possibly annually.

One of my favorite scenes in the movies is the engineers around the table in Apollo 13.

I wish I had a team of engineers and nurses.

Ebola is, of course, out of hand in Liberia/Guinea/Sierra Leone now. The centralized medical centers were overwhelmed and eviscerated. They are trying to open secondary centers. USAID is trying to bring in ebola management kits to distribute to the villages.(*) The kits aren’t quite complete enough but they have the right idea.

Treatment has to happen at the extremely local level: village or neighborhood. Without that presence people don’t buy into the system, and in any event there’s nowhere near enough beds even if you could transport everybody to the hospital without infecting another half dozen people on the way.

There are not enough doctors or nurses. There won’t be. All you have available is family members, with advice.

Cell phones are widely known and used, and though smart phones aren’t nearly as common as the candy-bar models this can help spread the word among the skeptical. But this is just the start.

Here’s the challenge: given local resources (in the slum or in the village), how can we arrange for medical care while minimizing the risk of ebola infection to others?

A few features seem to be inevitable. Homes are crowded, so the patient needs to come out of the home and stay in a more isolated setting. One member of the family will be taking care of the patient—so the isolation area needs to have room for pairs. The caregiver has to assume that the patient has ebola, and so buckets of bleach water have to be available.

The patient probably doesn’t have ebola, so the kit is deficient. It should also have malaria suppressants and vermifuge and some anti-diarrhea tablets and some rehydration salts and maybe a few other things as well. The average caregiver will have no idea how to use these things. I’ll get back to that. (Tylenol might be more dangerous than it is worth unless the kit has only a little--that's a judgment call.)

The slums should have readier access to bleach, plastic bags, gasoline, cloth, and other useful items. The village will have more space to put an isolation building—the slums are horribly crowded—and better sewage disposal. Neither one has useful medical advice.

Engineers and Nurses:

Can one kludge procedures using cloth, plastic bags, and bleach that will let you clean a sick patient without exposing your own skin to ebola? How much bleach residue can someone with diarrhea stand, since you have to bleach the cup he drinks from? How can you use cloth and whatever to hold someone up enough to drink? What sorts of procedures can you use to wrap the dead (bearing in mind that whatever he was lying on is wet and contaminated) that won’t put you at excessive risk?

Can you make a decent mask with available cloth? How many do you need to have on hand if you have to keep soaking old ones in the bleach?

Can you make disposable bedding from leaves and branches (in season)?

What is bleach going to do to skin infections?

How much cloth is one person with the runs going to need?

If the patient is bed-ridden, what can one use for a bedpan?

If the patient is not bedridden, how can one kludge a latrine in the slum? Since the waste is potentially deadly (even without ebola), this isn’t a trivial problem.

Other ideas and questions--straw men and otherwise.

Beef up those medical kits. I’m assuming the information pamphlets are cartoons, since most people can’t read. The medicines need to be brightly and distinctly colored so they can tell them apart easily. Probably everybody has worms, so dosing everybody in the village on general principles is probably harmless and might increase overall health.

Create medical teams that just answer cell phone questions. You need a lot of them, because there will be a lot of questions and a lot of languages. Their job is not to provide care but to explain how to use the souped-up medical kits. They in turn will not be doctors or nurses; they’ll be working mostly from scripts. If they get stumped they call for advice from medical central (which might not even be in the country). Not all villages will have a cell phone to call with. Can't solve that problem here.

The circulating education teams have to demonstrate all the details of all the procedures. This means that it will take a long time to finish a circuit. Folding cloth to make a support or an impermeable mitten is something that needs to be practiced a little. So long as one person gets it, the team has to rely on that person to train the others as needed since they can't stay for too long. Cartoons are all very well, but there’s no substitute for trying procedures out yourself (even cartoons aren't as clear as their creators dream). The teams will have to resupply the medicines from time to time. Some villages can only be reached by a few day’s walk. Some slums are dangerous.

I'd thought that for somebody in a village with ebola a trench filled with leaf bedding would be useful, but since there won't be a diagnosis (probably ever) I don't know if this would be suitable. For a one-off treatment site it might be OK for easing cleanup.

If a man dies you need to bury or burn his contaminated clothing and bedding. This will be a bit of a sacrifice, and in the rainy season (like right now) difficult. How long can you soak a filthy shirt in bleach before it is safe enough for someone else to inherit?

If the people intensely dislike the smell of chlorine bleach on the departed one, maybe perfume would help mask the smell, and also mask the fact that the person hasn’t been bathed as thoroughly as custom demands.

Sometimes liquid latex is available from rubber trees—can that be used to make cloth less permeable?

In the slums, the city is going to have to clear some areas out to make room for isolation buildings and latrines. This will make people angry. If you compensate those whose houses were razed, the neighbors will be angry that they didn't get a share. Money allocated for compensation will leak away before it gets to the people. You just have to deal with the anger somehow.

This will need lots of volunteers with working knowledge of tribal languages. You can probably find some in churches.

The isolation buildings don’t have to be any fancier than anything else in the area—in fact it is probably a bad idea to have them be too good since there will be squatters in the slums. The shelters have to keep the rain off, fresh air in (insofar as there is any), and the patients out of the draft and separated from each other. Latrines outside, places for paraphernalia where the caregiver can keep an eye on them so they don’t get stolen (the slums are slums). There need to be a lot of these shelters, since a caregiver will likely have other obligations to other family members and can’t spend 24/7 at the isolation building—so these can’t be far from home.

What kind of landscape is needed for siting an isolation building?

Try to recruit burial team members from the slums. You may have to pay by the body or they might not show up.

Water is a problem--too big to solve on a useful timescale for stopping ebola.

UPDATE 27-Sep: See this story about makeshift protective gear.

SIEGEL: That kind of gear and information is in kits that will soon be distributed by the U.S. government in Liberia. But as NPR's Nurith Aizenman reports, the home health care kits come with mixed messages.
NURITH AIZENMAN: Here's what's in these kits...
NANCY LINDBORG: It's a bucket that contains a sprayer, which is used for disinfectant, rolls of bags for capturing any infected garments or items, gloves, a gown, a mask, soap, chlorine.
AIZENMAN: Nancy Lindborg is a top official at USAID. She says the agency's plan is to distribute the kits to 400,000 households across Liberia. The first 50,000 kits are arriving next week. And here's the question - can these kits help slow this outbreak?
Kits like this have been distributed in previous Ebola outbreaks, but never on this scale. Dr. Daniel Bausch is an infectious disease expert with Tulane University and the U.S. Navy. He's advising the U.S. government on the current Ebola outbreak, though he's not working directly on the home kits.
DANIEL BAUSCH: In previous outbreaks, the question was is it better to try to take care of people at home with these sorts of kits or should we really focus on getting people into an Ebola treatment units? But that's not an option now.
AIZENMAN: There are very few treatment centers in Liberia. So people are taking care of their family members at home. They don't have a choice. President Obama is promising to build 17 new treatment centers with a total of 1,700 beds. But that's going to take time.
BAUSCH: Until we can do that, I think that we have to be honest. And we have to offer people what protections and what care we can even though it's far from ideal.
AIZENMAN: But USAID says that the kits are not meant to be used to provide treatment. For instance, they don't contain Tylenol for fevers or rehydration salts to help replace fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhea. Officials say the most important item in the kit is an information pamphlet telling people how to protect themselves. Dr. Bausch says that while using items in the kits like gloves or surgical gowns won't completely protect the family members and friends of someone with Ebola, every little bit helps.
BAUSCH: If we can cut down - rather than having five infected people from a sick person in a home, if we can cut down to three, obviously that's a good thing.