Wednesday, February 28, 2018

BBC and eggs

Liberia has given a leading foreign investment firm 72 hours to pay a $25,000 fine for hiking the price of chicken eggs.

According Liberia's Daily Observer newspaper, Fouani Brothers Corporation raised the prices of eggs from $35.89 per carton of 360 eggs to $70 per carton.

Let's see. The original price, per BBC, was 10 cents an egg in bulk. For imported eggs that's spectacularly cheap--comparable to what we pay here. I have a little trouble believing that number.

Try another source: Numbeo site on the cost of living says eggs are (today--when you look at it it may differ) $3.70/dozen (480 LD). ($6.25 for a gallon of milk)

A man who has one watch knows what time it is...

(*) No, I don't know whether this is the 12-egg carton or a 24-egg carton.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

George Ott

I first met George Ott when I came to work at UW in 85. He was friendly, helpful, and challenging--he made sure anything was thought out before it was started--before it was planned. He was always busy, and always had time. He told me of his youthful rocketry--he and a friend built zinc/sulfur rockets, with a launch pit and a fortified control center. (We just used our own mix of black powder and a fuse.) He built a cabin in a lake resort area, and family and friends (and sometimes boy scout troops) would visit the place during the summer--the rule was (since the cabin was never completely finished) that you did something for maintenance or construction. He built an air pump system so his kids could go diving in the lake!

His family took vacations near power generators--but he never got to see the Aswan Dam, which was on his bucket list. He took a boy scout troop to Alaska, another to the Grand Canyon, and another to see the polar bear migration.

At the funeral we heard a lot about how he'd chaired the building and grounds committee for his church since there were dinosaurs on the earth, and was the only one who understood why the building had 5 furnaces. He was also the go-to person for building questions (he volunteered for Habitat for Humanity)--my last conversation with him was about the Tiny House construction materials and how durable they were.

It was fun talking with him and working with him. I once told him this was probably my favorite scene from movies, and it seems to fit him.

Friday, February 23, 2018


Lubos Motl takes an interesting approach to thinking about Bitcoins: think of them as stock in a company that doesn't pay any dividends. Or hold any assets.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Born Free

The song from "Born Free" came back to me again this evening. I haven't heard it (or mentally replayed it) in decades. It is a great anthem to freedom--sort of.

Elsa was trained to return to the wild, and when she was released her scope for roaming was vastly increased--in that sense she was free. But in another sense she still wasn't. Her appetites drove her, and what choice had she in that? I have not quite puzzled it out completely, but I suspect, with Lewis, that the pet cat may be more free than the wild one, even though it superficially labors under more restraints.

"As free as the grass grows" It sounded nice, and I never bothered to think about exactly what that might mean. "Stay free where no walls divide you" Sounds good, but it doesn't seem to make sense, unless somehow I'm on both sides of the wall. Even "born free" is a little odd when you think about it. We're born dependent, not able to exercise much freedom. We're born into families, with obligations we did not ask for. What kind of freedom were we celebrating here?

It sounded good and noble, and we didn't think about it much. I wonder if, at that age, I would have sat still for a more rigorous discussion of what freedom was. I read Plato, but I didn't do Plato--I didn't try on my own or with others to puzzle such things out. Do you need more adult experience, or can youngsters handle such questions? (If said youngster is aching to get back to a video game, probably not.)

Also from Eliot's Choruses

О Lord, deliver me from the man of excellent intention and
  impure heart: for the heart is deceitful above all things, and
  desperately wicked.

Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem
  the Arabian: were doubtless men of public spirit and zeal.

Preserve me from the enemy who has something to gain: and
  from the friend who has something to lose.

Remembering the words of Nehemiah the Prophet: "The trowel
  in hand, and the gun rather loose in the holster." 

Armed teachers

The idea is back in the news.

Let's not.

True, there are schools where I wouldn't care to go teach without a gun and a buddy handy. But curiously enough nobody seems to be talking about those classrooms.

Have you watched teachers at work? They are concentrating on things relevant to the lesson and to class management. If you want a guard, get a dedicated guard.

Although even a guard may not be very useful.

Think about it: if teachers were armed, the likelihood of a weapon going loose thanks to carelessness or pickpocket-ry goes through the roof. Can you remember what it was like at those ages, and imagine what a fascinating challenge it would be to try to swipe the teacher's pistol(*)? With Billy going OOC in one corner and Jennifer melting down in another, and the teacher too distracted to notice the rest of you?

Do I have a solution to the problem? Which problem? Mass shootings are rare; gang fights and deaths on the way to and from school are much more common. I don't have easy solutions to that. Cruz had red flags sticking out all over (I gather most of the shooters did, though not to this extent), but ... I've heard that discipline policies are applied unevenly to avoid the horrifying sin of "disparate impact." Maybe that played a role. Maybe nobody wanted to take responsibility. I'll wait a while for a fuller report. If we get one, of course. Since a lot of his record accumulated when he was a minor, maybe there'll be some claims about privacy to justify circling the wagons. Notice how we hear virtually nothing about the Las Vegas shooting? (The best explanation I've heard is that the really big money is having lawyers slowly dredge through and dispute every detail to make sure the hotel doesn't get sued to bits.)

(*) "Smart guns" sound pretty useless in a pinch. And if the weapon is easy to get at it is easier to steal or have fall out; and if it is hard to get at it won't be nearly as much use when you need it. And seriously--teachers already have in-service training about every fad under the sun; I don't think they'd be happy with mandatory bi-weekly firearms practice.

Trying to do good?

Grim's Hall links to a review comparing popular political philosophy and Christianity, noting the same thing I've observed before--for many people the state and politics are their religion.

I'm looking at the different ways people tried to be good. Billy Graham tried to tell good news about God, and concentrated on personal integrity--the famous "Pence Rule" and making sure he never managed the money or was paid outlandishly (unfortunately 1 Samuel 8:5 applies). He tried to concentrate on just one thing.

"Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner drank a glass of chocolate milk to demonstrate his belief in diversity." "It was one of two demonstrations at the event, both of which received ovations from the crowd.") True, it wasn't his idea, but he was applauded for a symbol of "diversity," which is not a good in itself but potentially a means to a good--or to disaster, depending on whether people manage to keep their eyes on the real prize or not.

To be fair, the governor's humiliation is just the first thing that appeared--it's no trick to find plenty of other posturing about "do X and we will all be happy," when X is only tenuously related to Y which might, with proper guidance, produce some happiness. But when the moral center of the universe is the state, these weak chains of reasoning get weighted with transcendental meaning.

"They constantly try to escape. From the darkness outside and within. By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good."

Monday, February 19, 2018

California Stop

When I went to UCLA some years back, the taxi took us from the airport to UCLA by taking back roads and not spending much time at stop signs.

I gather the rolling stop is part of the informal rules of the road there, though the link above suggests that other places indulge too. Enough of us obey stop signs around here to make the exceptions stand out--until the intersection gets icy. Then the more experienced drivers take it slow, but never quite stop. It is hard to get started again. I suppose that's technically illegal, but it helps keep driving safe.

Yes, the road to the stop sign is uphill. How'd you guess?

Thursday, February 15, 2018


AVI has an interesting post up asking what gods are worshipped through the violations of the Ten Commandments.

Off and on I've been exploring a somewhat different question--What is the power behind the seven deadly sins; not as in one-offs but as part of your life?

I'm not such a staring fool as to believe that ignorance is the root of all sin, and that with education we could all be righteous. On the contrary, one of the turning points in my becoming a Christian was discovering a hunger for destruction for the sake of destruction. I see enough evidence around me to suggest that this is a universal trait.

But something needs to feed a vice. Glutton is a vice, and presumably so would gnawing gravel if people were apt to do that. That's my question: What makes people apt to the one and not to the other?

Some of the vices (lust, gluttony) are fueled by pleasure. Got it. What's the pleasure in envy? In some ways that's like gnawing gravel!

I gather that Maslow's pyramid puts morality in the top of the hierarchy of needs, but I think this need to be moral permeates the rest.

I wrote a few years ago that sex wasn't just a pleasure, but could mimic a number of the gifts of the Spirit--make us seem holier than we are.

One plausible candidate to fuel envy is a love of justice, although very restricted in scope. "I'm as good as he (and in some senses that is true!), so why does he have the money or the respect or Jesse's girl and I don't?" It ain't fair. Twisted love of justice could power wrath too.

Gluttony and sloth seem related in a focus on comfort, but I'm not seeing any obvious nobler fuels than pleasure--though sloth might also be related to cowardice or despair. And gluttony in the form of eating too daintily can tie in with pride, too.

Greed: we want recognition for our contributions. (Or maybe we're afraid, or there's a hunger in the soul that we can't fill no matter how much stuff we pile in there, but we persevere. Perseverance can be a good thing, can't it?)

Pride: I'm made in the image of God; I'm a co-creator; I'm big stuff. I'm not saying I'm the center of the universe, but wherever I go, there I am. It really is hard to get past that, isn't it?

What else can we look at? Despair, acedia, cowardice... Maybe acedia is what's left when all the power of virtues drain away.

Warwick Allison meant it as a joke, but

Pride Self Esteem
Anger Assertiveness
Envy Appreciation
Greed Enterprise
Lust Libido
Gluttony Appetite
Sloth Stress Management

Monday, February 12, 2018


The NYT linked to a study finding mental decline correlated with high blood sugar levels in people over 60. I really really like error bars on plots, but this is what they want us to see:

BTW, it looks like what was originally dotted lines turned into grey lines instead. Pre-diabetes--not too much additional effect, but diabetes was noticeable. Not disastrous, but noticeable. Given how high some of the A1c levels got, I'd have expected maybe a little more effect. (I'm not sure I understand their translations from mmol/mol to % on page 4.)

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Chicxulub vs Deccan

I have wondered for a while if Chicxulub might have triggered the Deccan Flats eruptions. Two big events happened at a similar time, and we had arguments over which did in the dinos. Chics was winning the debate, but why not have both?

One new proposal suggests that there might be a relationship, and in addition something I didn't think about at all:

The asteroid also appears to have sent ripples through Earth's tectonic plates, which spread out through the oceans and caused tens of thousands of miles of underwater volcanic ridges to spew magma. The authors describe those eruptions as "on par with the largest eruptive events in Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history, including the Deccan Traps."

Part of the debate about what really killed the dinosaurs has to do with the interplay between the asteroid impact and the Deccan Traps eruptions. The most up-to-date understanding suggests the Deccan Traps eruptions began before the Chicxulub impact. But they also seem to have gotten much more active in the time after the asteroid hit.


Yard Sale of the Mind has and cites some interesting thoughts on what it is and whether we have it.


One of the party became ill on our trip to the Field Museum, and we turned back at Belvidere. It cost $1.90 to get into Illinois, but $6.00 to escape. ($1.10 to turn around, then $3 and $1.9 again) Draw your own conclusions.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Trench warfare

I had not heard about these lessons from the Russo-Japanese War before. The obvious lesson was wrong.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

From whence the numbers?

The story about student protests at the University of Liberia had a few curious features. The claim was that 10,000 would-be students paid fees to apply, but that Dr. Weeks, president of the university, said only 2,000 were going to be allowed to register. It looks like the process was so slow that only 2,000 were registered by the deadline, possibly slowed by people looking for a dash. At any rate, 8,000 students wanted to register, or at least get their fees back. They claim that not getting a university education is unconstitutional(*)

The first article is a little over-the-top ("In other countries or other universities students sit in their bed rooms to register."), but yes, facilities aren't that good and registering, much less getting reimbursed, can be quite difficult.(**)

The story also suggests that Weeks backed down under pressure, and is opening registration--but doesn't make it clear whether this is for some of the 2,000 who hadn't finished the process or for the 8,000. Or if this is going to be a "go slow" process. The UL's budget is $16 million (some from aid sources)--Liberia is not rich. Tuition is nominal: $0.80/credit, though this doesn't include fees, and for some families even this can be a hardship. Tuition makes up about 1% of the school's budget.

Who is applying? The spring entrance exam passed 1,661 out of 7,735, and the fall exam passed 1,036 out of 5,243. Unless my calculator is badly mistaken, that suggests an entering class of no more than 2,697, not 10,000.

2000 was the size of November's graduating class.

I think somebody is pulling numbers out of the air.

(*)"Article 6:
The Republic shall, because of the vital role assigned to the individual citizen under this Constitution for the social, economic and political well being of Liberia, provide equal access to educational opportunities and facilities for all citizens to the extent of available resources. Emphasis shall be placed on the mass education of the Liberian people and the elimination of illiteracy."

The resources aren't there, and the emphasis is on "mass education:" I don't think the students have a solid case. OTOH, the "equal access" doesn't seem to be qualified by whether or not the student is able to master the work--sloppy drafting here.

(**) I've seen the library. I offered to organize a donation of physics/math books, but the only reply was deeply unserious (leave piles of books at the airport for people to pack into their luggage and bring? really?).

Friday, February 02, 2018

Microlensing planets

The image with the article is deceptive:. It shows blobs around a center, and you want to hope, "are those actual images of extragalactic planets?" Unfortunately, no--those are images of quasars, and the microlensing effects not the image but the spectrum of light:
We show that a population of unbound planets between stars with masses ranging from Moon to Jupiter masses is needed to explain the frequent Fe Kα line energy shifts observed in the gravitationally lensed quasar RXJ 1131–1231 at a lens redshift of z = 0.295 or 3.8 billion lt-yr away. We constrain the planet mass-fraction to be larger than 0.0001 of the halo mass, which is equivalent to 2000 objects ranging from Moon to Jupiter mass per main-sequence star.

To make up for that disappointment, notice the word "unbound" in the quote above. They think they have detected, though not seen, a multitude of planets between stars. REAL planets.


In looking up a daughter's question, I found The story of Dinkum. Executive summary: it looks like it derives from Lincolnshire or Derbyshire. The folk etymologies are fun, though.

Do you often feel like cocky on the biscuit tin?

Thursday, February 01, 2018