Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Teacher union

I have said before that the industrial union adversarial model is problematic for public-sector workers--the result is inevitably adversarial, inescapably political, and as experience shows, often becomes a Praetorian Guard.

But if you ever wonder why teachers might need something to represent them, read this about Liberton teachers.. The powers-that-be demand that they teach 8 violent students (thrown chairs, injuries, police calls). 8 students, and even with 7 aides it wasn't possible to keep them from fighting. When the powers-that-be get an idea in their collective skull, there's no way to let reality intrude.

We get the same problem in this country, of course.

Trying to translate

I remember trying to read newspapers in French, and finding that I could read everything except a few key words. At the end of the article I was unsure if the minister opposed or supported the proposed law, or whether the crime report was about jaywalking or bigamy.

I have the same problem with stories in English. Some phrases have no clear meaning, and the whole story depends on them. Like "far right."

Sometimes I can figure out the meaning by tracking down the quotations--one common meaning is "nationalist," which quite a number of reporters and other sloppy thinkers think means Nazi. Sometimes it means somebody who wants to cut back hard on the welfare state. Sometimes it means somebody who wants to decentralize the government. Sometimes I can't find out what the writer means at all.

Given the propensity certain groups have for demanding ideological purity in every detail, sometimes the label gets slapped on a person who disagrees with just one item in the list. A Progressive Democrat who decides that abortion is wrong can get the label.

It's hard enough to figure out American news stories: European uses of the phrase seem disconnected from anything I'm familiar with. There's no way of easily mapping disagreements about personalities in Bavaria into American categories.

How about using categories instead? You'll find some clustering, but the smaller groups will almost certainly not cluster along the same lines as the majority parties.

Nationalism doesn't form a neat spectrum. Some think it the root of all evil. A lot of people are perfectly OK with taking care of me and mine first. Some (e.g. the Nazis) think "me and mine" have the right to dominate the rest.

Ideas about immigration seem likely to correlate with ideas about nationalism.

You'll find a spectrum rather than discrete divisions when asking how much control the central government should have.

Do they hate Jews? These days more folks on the "left" do than on the "right:" it really should be split out as its own category.

Do they advocate for one race against others?

What framework do they support for helping the sick or out-of-work?

And so on. I can understand what those things mean.

Getting clarity won't happen spontaneously. Reporters are comfortable with things as they are, and in my observation not the wisest or smartest folks around. (Good at writing, as a rule.) And who speaks for a group and when? Some groups unite on a few topics but are agnostic on others, and Schmidt will give you a different answer than Fritz. And the press releases and reporter's questions tend to focus on a few of the details, and often controntationally rather than informationally. And politicians won't sit still to answer a long list unless there's some benefit--many don't even answer the 3-4 questions the League of Women Voters asks and publishes.

Probably the nearest we'll get is by collecting the evaluations of a number of different interest groups. I wonder what google translate would do with candidate evaluations from Italian tourism promoters pushing for more money to restore Pompeii? (And which groups are actually independent of the party? It is no trick to find sock puppet groups, and others are long-time close affiliates with parties.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Question for followers

I updated the previous post (about the fellow who tried to buy radioactive poison). Did that appear as something new?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Dark web trap

The Dark Web is an odd place.

First, to be clear, there's a huge amount of invisible stuff on the web. Absolutely gigantic. When you connect to a news site for a news story, it generally comes from a database--and there's lots of stuff in that database. We have thousands of pictures at IceCube, but no way for you to browse them. If you know what you're looking for, you can view it, but we have no index and the rest is not obvious--google doesn't see it, for example.

That's not what I'm talking about here. You can find details on how to access the Dark Web in a number of different places, some of them even reputable. Some reporters have ventured there and reported back what they found.

Bottom line: you need special software, and you need to know where to look. And if you've got any sense at all, you use several virtual networks to conceal where you are, and work from a throw-away virtual machine, or maybe a virtual machine inside a VM. Some people are very good at sniffing out where you are, and some of them are not nice people. Transactions run through crypto-currency. There appear to be, believe it or not, circles of trust. Vendors who cheat can be flagged. I assume lots of work has gone into figuring out how to subvert these trust networks.

What can you do there? Communicate privately with like minded people. That might be North Korean dissidents, or it might be neo-Nazis, or kiddie porn creators, or communists with an action plan.

Or you can also buy and sell stuff that you don't want other people to know about: fentanyl mailed from China, hand grenades, radioactive poisons, what have you. Even, supposedly, hits.

That's where one weak point in the chain shows up: if you want delivery of something physical, you have to give a physical location.

One of our local "frequent protestors" just got himself arrested for trying to buy radioactive substances to kill someone. Turns out the vendor was the FBI.

Ryan allegedly asked in subsequent contacts about how long would it take the poison to kill someone after ingested.

“I’m looking for something that’s very rare/difficult to get a hold of. Also that doesn’t show symptoms immediately but kills them fairly soon after,” the message said.

He also said he wanted the material to be “extremely difficult” to get so people would automatically suspect the government, and that the material would be safe to ship.

Anybody can pretend to be anybody on the Dark Web, but when you go to pick up the delivery it is pretty hard to deny that you-done-it.

Don't try this at home. Or anywhere, actually, unless you actually happen to be North Korean dissidents trying to stay alive. Even then I'd wonder.


His lawyer claims he had cancer already, and wanted to kill himself in a way that a) would be untraceable and look like cancer and b) would make people think the government did it. The claims are not entirely consistent--throwing stuff on the wall to see what sticks?

Titus directives

Although you have to take a passage in context and cross-connect it with others, sometimes a close reading can be interesting.

Paul tells Titus how to direct different types of people in the church. Something jumped out at me this time. He doesn't bother directing older women to be sensible--in fact they are to be teachers themselves. But to be sensible is the only directive he gives for the young men, which included what we'd call teenagers. Perhaps his thought was that getting teenagers to be sensible was going to be a tough enough job that the rest could wait until later.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Novel approach to bank robbery

It was almost completely non-violent.

They may have known what to expect: "They has left a red bag behind that contained one hard saw, two drill machines one, one-wheel rim and 150 keys." And they may have known that the vault lock was on the fritz. But I've never before heard of herbal tea playing a pivotal role in a crime.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Cell phone call curiosity

Apropos of nothing much--I've gotten several robo-phone calls in Chinese from Chicago and LA numbers. We don't pick up, but they leave a message. The family cell phone numbers are sequential, and one of the others gets them too. Chinese spam can't be that cost-effective in the USA.

Probably it's targeted advertising--sort of like the East Coast college emails I've been getting for a year that are actually intended for a high school junior. Cheer for the almighty algorithm!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Energizing the ratchet

Performers sometimes say they're energized by the energy of the crowd. They do better than they planned, more than they planned, louder than they planned.

While no doubt almost all politicians are manipulative, I suspect quite a few get similar energy from the crowds, and sometimes depart from the stump speaches and say things that weren't on the cue cards. The morning after, some of those claims sound too wild, but they fit the moment. You can sometimes walk back things you say, though it is harder when everything is recorded.

These moments can also ratchet the wider dialog. AVI elaborated on the power of the perversion of language mentioned in Codevilla's essay. What struck me was the ratcheting--what Codevilla called the spiral. Sometimes it's clearly deliberate, and sometimes the participants have no options, but I wonder how often the ratcheting is inadvertent. The accusations just become more extreme, and sometimes it isn't part of any master plan, it just evolves.

That "energizing" seems to have a parallel in online discourse. The intensity/energy level they find in a group seems to inspire people to match it and exceed it--they must get a rush out of it, even though the mechanism is far more impersonal than is meeting face to face. Unless members of the group jump on someone who's out of line, I never see the culprit back down from an extreme claim. The morning after a bull session you can start more or less fresh, but the online conversations seem to pick up where they left off. The text is right there, just as you left it.

Without a guiding plan, with just the feeding off each other's energy, the accusations grow more extreme and the enemy more vile.

Politician meetings with hoi poloi seem to be alternately more attacked by coordinated noisy opponents, and more locked down and scripted to deal only with loyalists. Ratcheting.

Delay of game

I was trying to get to sleep with a West-Coast pennant game on the radio. No doubt the advertisers will disagree with me, but I think some minor changes would improve the game.

Every time a pitcher calls for a timeout, a ball is added to the batter's count.

Every time a batter calls for a timeout, or steps out of the batting box, a strike is added to his count.

I think the majors are probably ready for the pitch clock by now.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Gardening observations

Resist the temptation to use a chainsaw on the morning glories. It will probably damage the trellis, and will throw seeds into even more places--and nothing eats the seeds. A flamethrower is probably not allowed by city code. Seeds will get stuck in between the boards of the deck. A butter-knife can be helpful.

When the times come to harvest bindweed, you will regret having it so close to the rose bush.

There seems to be a strong positive correlation between the size of the harvest and the quantity of mosquitoes supervising the harvest.

Flower names evaporate: it is necessary to specify which pot and use landmarks other than other flowers' names when ordering a transplant.

Before and after the first frost is a dramatic transition.

Tall plants fall over.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Right Stuff

The announcer is cool and collected

Diagrams: "That was a quick flight."

Some details at Hackaday, and a followup story about the time crunch at the ISS: "ISS crews are rotated out on a six month schedule because that’s about how long a Soyuz capsule can remain viable in orbit. It has a design life of only 215 days, any longer than that and the vehicle’s corrosive propellants will degrade their tanks."

I saw Esau by Iona and Peter Opie

I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book is an updating of their older book, this time profusely illustrated by Maurice Sendak. It contains schoolchildren's rhymes, "clearly not rhymes that a grandmother might sing to a grandchild on her knee."
Tommy Johnson is no good,
Chop him up for firewood;
When he's dead, boil his head,
Make it into gingerbread


Patience is a virtue,
Virtue is a grace;
And Grace is a little girl
Who doesn't wash her face.

The second is the natural riposte to the original: "Patience is a virtue, virtue is a grace; both put together make a very pretty face."

I'm a book owner, and like this one:

Who folds a leaf down,
The devil toast brown;
Who makes mark or blot,
The devil toast hot;
Who steals this book
The devil shall cook.

No, it isn't Shakespeare, and it is often rather vulgar, and some of the customs jar--"selling a wife" was a poor man's form of divorce. You probably used some variation or another of these British chants when you were little. This may help you get a better feel for the past. For the longest time I didn't understand the point of the "Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief" poem, but once I learned the key it made English attitudes clearer. I remember joining in with other first graders to chant a ditty at a chubby classmate. I had no idea what exactly it meant, and from his reaction I'm not sure he did either, but it was supposed to be insulting.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

An old observation

The rain it raineth every day
Upon the just and unjust fella
But chiefly on the just because
The unjust stole the just's umbrella.

Somewhere, somehow, somebody wrote the old rhymes that the children took up. Somebody had to write the folk songs. I wonder what they'd have thought if you'd told them that nobody would remember their names, but everybody would remember their songs.

Friday, October 05, 2018

ANITA and new physics

You may have heard of the ANITA experiment results. They claim to have seen upgoing energy showers in their Antarctica balloon experiments. That doesn't sound very surprising: IceCube sees them too--but at a lower energy. At these estimated energies, pretty much nothing doesn't interact in the Earth. They estimate the chances that this is an ordinary tau neutrino to tau lepton transformation, and get of order 1 in a million.

Their paper looks at the IceCube results and finds confirmation--but they actually beg the question a bit--they assume the particles are taus and then see if this agrees with the Standard Model, rather than assuming the Standard Model and trying to estimate whether these are taus.

And though they wrote about supersymmetric s-tau ("stau") particles as a Beyond-The-Standard-Model alternative, these don't act like the usual predictions for staus. (There's some flexibility. Actually, alot. Actually there are a ridiculous number of unknown parameters in supersymmetry, so maybe they're right after all..)

Halzen said he was surprised that an acquaintance's paper refuting ANITA's first premise wasn't out already--perhaps it wasn't as easy as he thought.

ANITA looks for radio bursts in the atmosphere resulting from showers of particles . It can't see very many radio bursts coming down at it directly, but the radio waves of downgoing showers reflect off the Antarctic ice, so its coverage is actually quite wide. Thing is, a shower developing in the Earth's atmosphere will have a particular polarization. When it reflects off the ice, that switches. So if they see an upcoming shower's radio waves with the wrong polarization (and they see 2 such), they conclude that it wasn't a reflection--the parent particle was really coming up through the Earth. And the angles they see those coming from imply that the chord through the Earth is thousands of miles. And the energy of the shower they infer means the original particle that entered the Earth on the other side must have been mighty energetic: 100EeV or thereabouts. It would have interacted along the way, and the granddaughter particle that interacted for the last time in the crust would have had only about 10EeV left. That's still a lot, btw. And the probability that it could happen as described is, as noted above, very very low.

But... What if the ice isn't nice and homogeneous? Can you get an effective reflection that doesn't reverse the polarization of the radio waves generated by the shower? Then you just have an "ordinary" 10EeV cosmic ray shower. That would be my first guess, and that's Halzen's friend's estimation (so far).

Experimental glitches and surprises happen.

Thursday, October 04, 2018


I remember the conversation--monologue, actually--in which my then-supervisor, without a trace of irony, assigned me 3 different absolute top priority tasks in the space of 5 minutes. (One involved working closely with someone who was out of town...)

Other people can better that anecdote. I don't have the flier anymore, but the then-principal of our local elementary school sent home a half-page announcement that had several spelling errors and a grammatical glitch.

Opium wars

I don't sit still for podcasts, but I made an exception for the first part of Scott Adams announcing that his stepson had just died of a fentanyl overdose.

He describes the things that came together to cause this, starting with an accident his son sustained that caused brain damage, California rules that limit parental control of minor children, and the ready availability of powerful drugs and of fake Xanax (which can contain fentanyl too).

He suggests that the agents responsible for killing 30,000 Americans a year should be executed, and that if the Chinese don't do it, we should. He has a lot more faith in our ability to act inside China than I do. And faith that the society with more addicts will prevail--didn't happen last time.

This is a hard time for him. I wouldn't link to it at all, except that this is what he wanted to be public.

Fentanyl is nasty stuff. One policeman died after contact with it--apparently because he tried to wash it off with hand sanitizer, which made it much easier to absorb through skin. I gather that quite a bit of the drug is simply mailed from China, and delivered by the USPS.