Hat tip to Cellar Image of the Day
Sunday, January 31, 2016
Friday, January 29, 2016
Do you see the little problem here? You are notoriously trying to hit a bullet with a bullet, and relying on guidance to fine tune the intercept trajectory. From whence comes that guidance?
The B in ICBM is "Ballistic:" the warheads fly like a rock. They get their direction in the boost phase (which for fast solid state boosters is 90 seconds). That part of the trajectory shows up like a searchlight, but it is kind of hard to triangulate from above and is invisible around the curvature of the earth if you're too far away. From then until near the end of its journey it is just a warmish object sailing along like any harmless low speed meteor.
Aha, you say: Just locate its orbit, and those of its comrades, with radar and send the adjustments to our defense missiles to home in on them. Problem is that countermeasures are pretty easy: lots of lightweight decoys to confuse you, or just let one of the warheads go off in space and mess up radar for several minutes. (Or just time your launch for a solar flare.)
Wikipedia has a little history of this sort of thing. Boost phase interception might work against North Korea, but not China.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
A message from the UW Urban Canid Project.
I gather that we are supposed to enjoy the view of coyotes in the neighborhood, but haze them anyway. Hazing doesn't work unless the whole neighborhood undertakes to haze them: yell, throw sticks (but not directly at them?), spray them with a hose (this here is winter, son), keep your large dogs close to you and pick up the punt-ables.
My inclination is to grab the pitchfork and advance. If something way bigger than a coyote comes towards it, that should make it feel uncomfortable, and the pitchfork is handy if it decides to return the favor. And if I'm going to hurl something in the direction of a predator I think the fire pit poker is a better bet than an old branch. (Blazing away is inadvisable when there's a daycare in the background.)
I gather they tend only to be problems when they get used to being around people. Around people you find stray food, rabbits and squirrels taking advantage of bird feeders, small pets, and idiots who feed them. I assume familiarity breeds contempt after a while...
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
I wonder if he'll get bail this time.
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
There's a little heat crack over one of the "spray" lines, so they think they can date it. There were volcanoes roughly around that period. But...
I'd expect the spray to be more uniformly spread around. Unless it came out of two opposite cracks in the volcano? Lots of lines went into each of the sprays, so the artist (if so) could have spread them around without much more effort. (I'm assuming that the lines originated near the animal head instead of farther out--easier to start more or less uniform than end up that way. They could look at the grooves and be sure.)
But just to be cantankerous, what else could the spray lines have been?
- Erasure. Somebody didn't like what was put there before, and scratched it out violently. &$#! graffiti kids
- Illustrating which ways this kind of critter tends to use in escaping, to class after class of newbie hunters
- Magical summons--follow the path to our hunters
- Somebody tried to draw geysers
The lower image is a volcano image from Turkey. The article claims this cave thing is older, which it probably is. What do you think it is?
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot,
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.
You are easily tempted to think that the problems that matter for your career are the only ones that matter. If you are used to problems that have precise statements, if not always simple answers, those are obviously the only important kind. "There's nothing like leather." "If I can't measure it, I don't want to talk about it." "Do you love me?"
And it is true that there's always been a tendency among philosophers to nit-pick issues into fog or to create one-legged stools that explain all morals from a single principle. Some of their bad reputation is deserved.
But differing answers to "What does it mean for people to be equal?" partition us into social/political tribes, while only rarely does anyone try to thrash out why there's disagreement and discover where the sides overlap.
Is democracy a goal or a tool? If it's a tool, what's the goal? Some of our foreign policy priorities in the past decade have seemed a trifle naive in that regard.
Is education a tool to plug you into a good job in the work force, or something valuable in itself? If the latter, what parts are the most valuable? Once you have that, then you can ask about the best delivery system. It is obvious that the modern high school and university are how we try to deliver education; it isn't obvious that this is the only or most efficient way. Or the best.
And it is funny to hear people who get their panties in a wad over the phrase "good character" angrily ostracizing someone for what they consider a character deficiency--though they never use those words.
Saturday, January 23, 2016
I'm still a trifle dubious about algorithms that step through uncountable numbers of points (or maybe I misunderstood that), but after we brushed the rabbit tonight I'm fairly sure that the assertion must be true--there's enough fur to constitute an entire new rabbit, and the old rabbit is still shedding.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
I figured I should learn about it anyway--if for no other reason than to try to keep the wits sharp. One of the big names in string theory is Leonard Susskind, and Stanford published several sets of his lectures on youtube. As I write this I'm done with lecture 6 of this 10-lecture playlist. I suspect that this is something like a survey course, since he goes into a lot of quite elementary detail--or perhaps he was reacting to his audience, since some things are shown on the fly. I hadn't appreciated the historical motivations, and there are some things I'd not seen before.
Without some introduction to special relativity and to quantum mechanics, you won't understand exactly what he's saying--but you might get some feel for the subject anyway. Be warned: the lectures are typically over 1 1/2 hours long.
UPDATE: By lecture 7 Susskind is starting to review some math the layman isn't likely to have been acquainted with.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Someone recently suggested a rule that if the headline is in the form of a question, the answer is "No." "Is this proof the Virgin Queen was an imposter in drag? Shocking new theory about Elizabeth I unearthed in historic manuscripts" Umm. The "proof" is a chapter in a book by Bram Stoker, which I suppose counts as "historic" but hardly counts as "new."
The BBC, despite throwing scare quotes around as though ink was free, is often fairly uncritical of news stories that claim the mantle of science. Fairy tales are old. Umm yes? They're often variations (East of the Sun and West of the Moon, anyone?) on mythic themes you find everywhere. Good stories can travel back and forth--unless you have ancient records you don't know the ancestry of a modern fairy tale. There's no guarantee a group was isolated. This isn't like genetics--large groups of people only rarely move around. Stories are lightweight and storytellers often look to expand their repertoire.
Are Aesop's fables related to Anansi stories? Or to tales from India? Or, given travel back and forth (not always voluntary), are they all related to each other? If you collect tales from an apparently isolated tribe in South America, imagine the chances that one or more of them have echoes of Spanish stories--they've had 500 years to diffuse.
UPDATE: See AVI for more details
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Memorial Hospital in New Orleans used to be Baptist Hospital until a conglomerate bought it. My mother worked there; I was born there. It had a good name in the city.
Nobody prepared very well for a hurricane, either before the conglomerate or afterwards. Not just generators but the whole electrical plant needs to be above the high-tide flood level, especially in a city like New Orleans. Nobody had evacuation plans, and the two businesses sharing the facilities didn't coordinate. Disaster, here we come. Once the lake came through the levees (after Katrina had mostly passed the city), water rose too high for ambulances, and the hospital was out of power and crowded with refugees. Ventilators tend not to work very well without electricity, nor do monitors or oxygen pumps or automated drug infusion systems. There were quite a few very sick and frail there; some couldn't take the strain and died.
The city itself was not as violent during the flooding as the infamous first reports claimed, but neither was it as peaceful as later stories made out. Everyone was worried about attacks, and the gunfire at all hours didn't ease tensions.
It got worse. In ad hoc triage DNR orders translated to DoNotEvacuate (or Evacuate Last) regardless of patient condition. The left hand didn't know what the right was doing. Even after the generators failed there was some power in another wing, and at least one caregiver took refuge from the heat in the AC by running the car AC in the parking garage--nobody realized this might be useful for frail patients who were suffering badly in the heat. Communications with the Coast Guard were confused--at one point the hospital stopped evacuating patients because they were afraid it was too dark to fly (guardsmen were using night vision goggles). (And it turned out that nobody had thought through the next step after transporting city patients to evacuation points--many sick stayed there for days.)
And it got worse. Whether the problem was doctors who didn't want to be bothered (the author didn't think so) or a combination of the spirit of the age and exhausted and mis-communicating doctors, at least 9 patients were deliberately killed, by at least 2 doctors and 2 nurses--and probably nearer 20 patients.
The latter half of the book is the story of an attempt to charge Dr Pou with homicide. It failed. Her attorney did a marvelous job of smokescreen and PR misrepresentation, and (since Dr Pou was a state employee) the taxpayers coughed up over $400K for the privilege of being lied to.
I've opposed lethal injection as a method of execution because it involves doctors or nurses in killing (I don't mean killing in self-defense), and having amateurs do it seems cruel. The spirit of the age loves "euthanasia," and it looks like doctors were buying into it that day, even as the evacuation vehicles were coming. It is a very ugly change in medicine.
Saturday, January 16, 2016
I don't know about you, but I hang up on pollsters. (Since almost all are robo-calls, such rudeness pricks my conscience not one bit.) Reporters use poll results; I wonder how much they trust them? Is there (pardon my skepticism) a bias towards using polling firms that produce dramatic results; not just by candidates but by media outlets who think a horse race makes good copy?
"Vsauce" doesn't mention that the universe we live in isn't infinitely divisible the way an ideal sphere is, because of Heisenberg Uncertainty. Not just because of our finite understanding of things--the fuzziness is built-in. So in the real world no, you can't divide a sphere into two identical spheres.
Also, I doubt that you can use algorithmic procedures on uncountable sets--that seems like it is built into the definition of countability.
So this might be another calibration test. But it might not.
A team of radio astronomers think there's another black hole in our galaxy, and if their models are correct it would be an intermediate size one. If verified, this would be the first black hole found in this size class: O(100,000)x Sun's mass. The cloud it is supposedly embedded in is about 200 light years from SgA*, so we won't be seeing any fireworks anytime soon, but if these things are more common than previously expected, there will be more black hole mergers and a better chance for LIGO to see waves from the results.
If you are wondering how two black holes can wind up merging, there are two effects. The first is that each of them interacts with stars and gas as they orbit each other, and typically the result will be that the nearby star gets a kick in its speed and the heavy black hole slows down a bit. You can think of it as like a satellite's orbit decaying as it pushes through the air, except that the interaction isn't friction but gravitational scattering.
The second effect is the one LIGO is looking for: as the two get very close together they emit stronger and stronger gravitational waves. Those take away energy from the system, and the objects necessarily orbit more and more closely until they collide. As that happens there is supposed to be a characteristic "chirp" of very rapid gravitational waves, that LIGO is designed to spot. The pair (assuming the new object really is a black hole--they infer that from the very large spread of velocities of gas in the cloud) near us aren't going to collide anytime soon, though. I'm not sure I'd want a ring-side seat for the festivities. I think we'd be safe enough at this range.
Friday, January 15, 2016
But. We have plenty of kames, formed when a hole melts down through the glacier and the streams flowing into the hole drag gravel along with them. That implies that there was gravel on top of at least part of the glacier. When one goes through a valley, lots of stuff gets ground off the walls of the valley and some winds up on top. However, Kettle Moraine isn't famous for its steep valleys--the whole area was under the ice. So somehow, lots of gravel wound up on top. And if gravel did, surely there was dust and maybe dirt as well.
The Glacier Glossary defines "supraglacial" this way:
"The area on top of the glacier which may be snow, ice, rock fragments or covered with soil, plants or forests."
You've seen what happens to December snowpiles that last into February--white isn't the color most of us would use to describe them. Green I wouldn't expect. But if February lasted long enough...
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Monday, January 11, 2016
His columns were memorable in many cases for a single aphorism. Politicians who seek high office, for example, should be disqualified for being stupid enough to think they can do it. Crime is not wrong because it is illegal, it is illegal because it is wrong. Cold War Communists “could cope with bankruptcy; they had never been anything but bankrupt, beginning with Karl Marx himself.” Freedom is too fragile to put into words, so “if you write down your rights and freedoms, you lose them.”
and more about this refugee from Hungary
For all his interest in and experience with war, hatred and the ugliness of global affairs, though, he acknowledged that his most popular column was about a squirrel stealing a bagel from a bag left by a friend on his front porch, and his conversation with the rodent, which was first terrified, then seemed to understand and accept Jonas’s offer to just keep the damn thing, possession being nine-tenths of the law. Plus, as he put it, memorably, “You can’t wash a bagel.”
That's Providence Baptist Church at the right.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
The wind is the spirit which bloweth where it listeth; the trees are the material things of the world which are blown where the spirit lists. The wind is philosophy, religion, revolution; the trees are cities and civilisations. We only know that there is a wind because the trees on some distant hill suddenly go mad. We only know that there is a real revolution because all the chimney-pots go mad on the whole skyline of the city.
Just as the ragged outline of a tree grows suddenly more ragged and rises into fantastic crests or tattered tails, so the human city rises under the wind of the spirit into toppling temples or sudden spires. No man has ever seen a revolution. Mobs pouring through the palaces, blood pouring down the gutters, the guillotine lifted higher than the throne, a prison in ruins, a people in arms--these things are not revolution, but the results of revolution.
I'd have thought that the various police and military groups would be similarly loaded with "former" partisans, but perhaps events like this fight between officers of different security groups indicates that different groups are actually partitioned between different "former" partisans. Or maybe there was just some tribal argument. Or better still, some complaint about precedence in the parade.
I figured it had to go on my to-read list, and I ordered it. It is not something to sit down and read in one sitting. Last night I read this one. "Forbidden follies and vanities" could be an expansive notion in some hands--and probably should be for many of us. But the line that bit was "to leave the world before I enter the church."
I tend to bring it with me, and ponder it often.
Maybe it helps to have clear boundaries around the service, or even entering the sanctuary, as some more liturgical churches do. I remember the woman exiting the Orthodox church in Geneva, stepping backwards and crossing herself at every step (I changed my mind about playing tourist there).
But I suspect that any ritual can become automatic. Grass on the other side of the fence, and all that.
Thursday, January 07, 2016
It is so easy to use The Net to find out how to fix a broken tool or check symptoms or find the exact quotation, but along with those comes canned entertainment and snares to snatch endless hours from the curious (I'm one of that multitude). There's nothing quite like having the carpenter explain as he shows, but he lives miles away from me, so I make do with impersonal learning.
And so our lives seem to spread farther and farther away. Even the "connection" tools only offer the illusion of friendship, together with even more distractions.
I think T S Eliot was wrong; not so much "with a whimper" as "Oh look, a squirrel!"
Wednesday, January 06, 2016
A witchdoctor dug out a sealed pot from the home of one of the accused and some pieces of chalk owned by Yei Luolay of Nenghen Town near Ganta.
According to her confession, Yei Luolay said the pot is used to cook their human victims and sometimes they place anything taken from their victims into the pot in order to suppress their progress in life, either preventing them from bearing a child, blocking their luck or making them face perpetual hardships.
The confession took place in the presence of the National Traditional Council of Liberia’s General Inspector, herbalist Orando Z. Tuayen.
"A Guinean herbalist, Zoe Konah, who was brought from Guinea to oversee the confessions, said most of the inhabitants of Nenghen Town were involved in witchcraft." Hmm. I'm not sure what to make of that--it could be self-serving "You still need my services," or he could be using a broad definition of witchcraft that picks up local pagan traditions, or maybe the town really is heavily into trying to do magic.
Someone (Lewis?) said that the fact that we didn't hang witches anymore didn't mean we were more morally pure than those who did, it just meant we didn't believe in them anymore. These folks do, and have an interesting approach to dealing with it: "Witchcraft is very common in Nimba County where hundreds of alleged witches are taken to Dahnplay, a town in Buu Yao, every month to take oaths intended to prevent them from practicing witchcraft."
"African science" is their phrase, not mine.
I've tried to figure out where that attitude came from. Most of the Corinthians were probably pagans. They had sacrificial meals (so did the Jews). The priests got some, the worshipers got some which they took home to cook, and what the priests didn't need was sold. There were probably some community festivals (and potlucks), but I can't recall any offhand. The temples were small.
When did excess meat become "desacralized?" Knowing that some of the offering would become profane may have made the rest seem a little bit profaned too. Maybe.
Most offerings had to have been cooked and eaten at home (no room at the temple!)--I'd guess these would be mostly family gatherings, where you don't have to consider whether somebody else is rich or poor, you just do what you've always done.
So if they considered the Lord's Supper as a larger meal, and brought in attitudes of "less than fully sacred" and "eating just like at home," the result could be pretty unedifying to the larger family.
"You stick your hand in a cage, and pull out a rat," Ian Roberts, a professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told The Scientist. "The rats that are the most vigorous are hardest to catch, so when you pull out 10 rats, they're the sluggish ones, the tired ones, they're not the same as the ones still in the cage, and they're the control. Immediately there's a difference between the two groups."
. . .
"For ethical and cost reasons, researchers try to use as few animals as possible, which can mean minuscule sample sizes. Unblinded, unrandomized studies are the norm.
And, of course, rats aren't people. Back somewhere around 1972 or so there was an article in Scientific American about comparing animal and human studies, in which they noted that for one variety of PCB (I think it was) a rat could stand 100x the per body mass dose that a guinea pig could, and a factory accident had exposed some people to levels 1000x the guinea pig's without immediate ill effects. Googling shows different numbers, but the spread is even larger than the earlier report said: a factor of 2500 and people aren't even in the list.
Tuesday, January 05, 2016
"If many independent witnesses unanimously testify to the identity of a suspect of a crime, we assume they cannot all be wrong," coauthor Derek Abbott, a physicist and electronic engineer at The University of Adelaide, Australia, told Phys.org. "Unanimity is often assumed to be reliable. However, it turns out that the probability of a large number of people all agreeing is small, so our confidence in unanimity is ill-founded. This 'paradox of unanimity' shows that often we are far less certain than we think."
You know that the probability of two people sharing a birthday is not very large: 1/365 (let's forget about leap year). But in a room of 30 people, what is the probability that at least 2 will share a birthday? (If you want to check it for yourself, I'm fond of Pari/GP. The author had a fix within 2 days when I reported a bug.)
As the article says, distinguishing an apple from a banana in a lineup has a vanishingly small failure rate--the rule against unanimity isn't 100%--but for most circumstances unanimity is suspicious. Voters spoil ballots (I've heard people swear and ask for a new one while I was there voting) and I've run into people who weren't quite sure which party controlled the candidate they were supposed to vote for. When I hear of a community going 98% for one party, I suspect assistance was involved.
Have a look at the article.
Monday, January 04, 2016
I was curious about how accessible my blog is. By that standard, not very. 2/3 of the vocabulary in my front page of posts wasn't in the 2000 most common words, and 1/2 wasn't in the 3000 most common words. Yes, my Better Half teaches ESL.
I should try the experiment of forcing myself to use easier words and shorter sentences when covering science stories. I suspect I make too many assumptions. On the other hand, explaining what sigma is in each post makes them drag, and nobody is going to read a post in which they have to follow half a dozen vocabulary definition links. The post in which I tried to motivate symmetry arguments and multiverse speculation had so much background material that I'm not sure anybody but me stayed awake to the end.
My target is literate people who are going to know more than a measly 3000 words.
FWIW, AVI's word use ratios were about the same.
Saturday, January 02, 2016
The author quotes Proverbs, but evidently didn't read much beyond the single verse, or he'd not have written this: "Whoever spoke of a wise lover? The wiser the lover, the longer ago he stopped loving." Then what of this advice? A wise man doesn't have to sleep on the sofa.
"What's wrong with wisdom is that it implies stasis, as though our greatest faculties of cognition and intuition are at their journey's end, and have attained a peak of complacency from which they gaze down imperturbably on the small vanities of man." But wisdom is always growing, and so is understanding.
I think he's really just making up reasons why he doesn't want to be called wise. I agree; I get nervous when someone calls me wise. I'm wiser than I was 30 years ago, but that's not saying much.
A determined Yankee book drummer once told a Southerner that "a set of books on scientific agriculture" would teach him to "farm twice as good as you do." To which the Southerner replied: "Hell, son, I don't farm half as good as I know how now."
The son in Proverbs is urged to hang out with the wise, but why should the wise care to hang out with him? It seems a trifle asymmetrical.
But maybe not. If wisdom has to do as much with application and the desire to apply as with the understanding, then the simple desire to be wise is the start of wisdom and an encouragement to the elders--who often acquired their wisdom by having life beat it into them, and who still need reminders to do the right thing.
Friday, January 01, 2016
I just go to egg section and grab a box, but prices have gone high enough that the farmer's market is sometimes cheaper.