Thursday, February 28, 2019

Time wasting

Unfortunately the site seems to have lost some of its zing lately, but I ran across this today:

never wrong


snake coil


how much thought

bean juice

time passing


Monday, February 25, 2019

What am I missing?

When the top stories have to do with whether a governor appeared in blackface, and the deep significance of who got an Oscar, I suspect that somebody is blowing smoke in our eyes. There are some much more important, and much less entertaining, stories that aren't getting covered. I notice that the blackface business put the governor's dance with naked infanticide off the front page.

One example--it may be TDS or may be sleight of hand--is the Russia collusion stories. The gory details turn out to be rather dull and not terribly convincing, but the framework is kept perpetually dramatic. But go back to the basics. Russia is weaker than it was when it ran the USSR. What gives Russia the power it still has is money, and what keeps money flowing is its arms exports and fuel exports. Depressed fuel prices hit Putin hard. Fracking depresses fuel prices. Now explain to me again why Putin was going to try to get somebody elected who would significantly weaken Russia. To refresh your memory, Hillary wanted to restrict or ban fracking--higher fuel prices, stronger Russia.

Another example. Trump seems to go wild with tweets, and runs through team members like a snow blower. But at the end of the day things seem to go well enough. There's no vast centralization of control as real fascists would do. If I had a higher opinion of his skills, I'd suspect he tweets to make opponents go nuts and throw them off balance. Maybe I'm wrong about him. So far the trade negotiations haven't seemed crazy, and there's a fair chance we'll be able to get our troops out of South Korea, and maybe we can undo some of the earlier screw-ups in dealing with Syria. (There never were any "moderate" factions there. It seemed implausible from the get-go, and subsequent events proved it.)

An intellectual lightweight is getting an amazing amount of coverage for risible proposals. While we all sit around and pretend to take her seriously, what else is going on?

Never mind the magician's patter. Watch his hands.


My memory is pretty sketchy here, but I think I watched the show once, a bit over 40 years ago. And maybe a few bits and pieces in the year or so preceding or following.

I remember no details, just my impressions. The overwhelming majority of the movies mentioned had never been on my radar or were ones I never intended to watch.

The show dragged. They spent more time congratulating each other than trying to entertain me. I gather that since that era they've spent more and more show time trying to demonstrate how socially relevant they are. And to show up in strange get-up at photo-ops disguised as parties.

The Cat in the Hat had a better plan. I'd watch that.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

That little something

Basic cheese sandwich--white bread and butter and a slice of cheddar--is a "force it down for the nutrition" food for me. Separately they're fine, together blech. But... at de Gaulle airport when my flight was late and my connection long gone, I got a coupon for lunch and the only thing it would buy (without francs to supplement) was a cheese sandwich. Tiny baguette, butter, slice of cheese. It was the first time I realized that airport food could be good.

I've tried without success to duplicate sub sandwiches at home, and my attempts to duplicate the CERN cafeteria's brie and tomato sandwich were miserable failures. Something little thing was not quite right.

Not that I'm a bad cook--my (and my mother's and my wife's) red beans and rice are better than any restaurant's I've had--maybe we cook them longer and the flavors mingle better. Our lentil curry is different from but as good as the restaurant's. It's not a "sour thumb."

Several daughters can taste the mix and instantly spot the missing ingredient. I don't know the gustative language. I know the difference (usually), but not how to get there.

Sunday, February 17, 2019


I'm enjoying the book, which can be found Here or here.

Some quotes:

"There is nothing so cold or so pitiless as youth"

"We are in some danger of becoming petty in our study of pettiness; there is a terrible Circean law in the background that if the soul stoops too ostentatiously to examine anything it never gets up again."

"The vast mass of humanity, with their vast mass of idle books and idle words, have never doubted and never will doubt that courage is splendid, that fidelity is noble, that distressed ladies should be rescued, and vanquished enemies spared. There are a large number of cultivated persons who doubt these maxims of daily life, just as there are a large number of persons who believe they are the Prince of Wales; and I am told that both classes of people are entertaining conversationalists."

"The one hell which imagination must conceive as most hellish is to be eternally acting a play without even the narrowest and dirtiest greenroom in which to be human. And this is the condition of the decadent, of the aesthete, of the free-lover. To be everlastingly passing through dangers which we know cannot scathe us, to be taking oaths which we know cannot bind us, to be defying enemies who we know cannot conquer us—this is the grinning tyranny of decadence which is called freedom."

"The merely educated can scarcely ever be brought to believe that this world is itself an interesting place. When they look at a work of art, good or bad, they expect to be interested, but when they look at a newspaper advertisement or a group in the street, they do not, properly and literally speaking, expect to be interested."

"that feeling which should be the birthright of men—the feeling that this planet is like a new house into which we have just moved our baggage. Any detail of it has a value"

"A grocer should have a coat-of-arms worthy of his strange merchandise gathered from distant and fantastic lands; a postman should have a coat-of-arms capable of expressing the strange honour and responsibility of the man who carries men's souls in a bag; the chemist should have a coat-of-arms symbolizing something of the mysteries of the house of healing, the cavern of a merciful witchcraft."(*)

"The moment we have snapped the spell of conventional beauty, there are a million beautiful faces waiting for us everywhere, just as there are a million beautiful spirits."

"The literature of joy is infinitely more difficult, more rare and more triumphant than the black and white literature of pain."

"we all do warmly respect humility—in other people."

"The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial."

"A child has a difficulty in achieving the miracle of speech, consequently we find his blunders almost as marvellous as his accuracy. If we only adopted the same attitude towards Premiers and Chancellors of the Exchequer, if we genially encouraged their stammering and delightful attempts at human speech, we should be in a far more wise and tolerant temper."

You can easily guess the author.

(*) We made a coat of arms for the Better Half's birthday some years back. The motto is IVREM DILVAMVS ET OVA MISCEAMVS: Always room for one more. (I hope that's what it means, anyway: languages are not my strong suit.)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Keeping time, time, time

In the waiting room of Lord Vetinari; something to keep you off-balance:

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Executive horn

When the ruler arrives, the band announces his entrance. Here we use "Hail to the Chief" performed by the Marine Band. Someplaces it is the national anthem, sometimes something else.

In Liberia, it was The Executive Horn. Gabriel Nyanti Wilson, who died this past week in an executive motorcade accident, had performed the office behind Tubman(!) and all of the leaders since then.

“This horn has message, there is a way when I blow it, people from Maryland will know the mood of the occasion. If the president is speaking during a joyous occasion, my kinsmen will understand and when someone dies and I blow it, they will also understand it is a sorrowful period,” he told FrontPageAfrica.

He said none of his three sons were interested in taking after him, calling his craft ‘old fashioned’.

“They said it’s old fashioned yet, it is the old-fashioned job sending them to school and feeding them. Since my children do not want to learn the art, I am presently training a boy from my home to take after me,” he added.

I was never at a state function, so I never heard him. Wish I had.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Language simplification and complexification

Eldest Son is interested in languages, and can tell us a lot about families of the same and how this bit or that of the language changes over time.

In almost all cases he mentions, the result has been a net simplification of the language--e.g. fewer cases.

Aside from enforced vocabulary mixing (e.g. beef/cow), can you think of instances when a language became more complex?

If not, then we have a problem.

  1. Perhaps we have had a bias for observing simplifications.
    • Maybe linguists have been using the wrong tools to project into the past. Since these are dead languages, they have to make some assumptions.
    • Maybe languages tend to become simpler when they get recorded, either natively or when interacting with literate cultures. Pidgins do tend to have simpler structure--but the changes don't seem that dramatic.
  2. If not, then we have an "expanding universe" kind of problem. Extrapolating back points to greater and greater complexity. I'm not sure how to extrapolate with any precision--it depends partly on what sorts of other cultures your test language happened to run into. The best I can do is say: "It was more complicated."

    The language families are different enough that you can't point back to a single ur-language--you wind up with several of them. Sort of like Babel.

Are there good examples of complexification?

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Finding a need

The inventor of hot cocoa mix lives in Madison. He's 101.
Using first his five children and then elementary school students as taste-testers, Sanna perfected the recipe in his kitchen for what is now known as Swiss Miss hot cocoa mix.

Its predecessor, Brown Miss — named for a breed of cow — was similar to Swiss Miss and sold commercially to airlines and restaurants. Airline passengers and employees enjoyed it so much they would pilfer supplies because they couldn’t get it anywhere else, Sanna said.

“Business started going down because the product was quite expensive and people were taking it home,” he said, which prompted airlines to stop purchasing it. “So the sales to the airlines were falling and so we saw that as an opportunity.”

From the interview:

Did your kids like the hot cocoa mix?

Well, you kept drinking it until you didn’t like it.


You did a lot more throughout your career and your life. Do you have an accomplishment you’re most proud of?

The submarines that won the war practically, and building them and maintaining them.

A public benefactor.

Friday, February 08, 2019


We had an ice storm all day yesterday. Some of us were wise and some foolish--the wise ones scraped off their cars and their pre-salted sidewalks as soon as the storm let up. The temperature dropped 40 degrees (F) overnight.

Perhaps it was the sheath of ice on the roof and deck linking everything together into giant drums that amplified the sound, but in between contraction in the cold and the wind gusts, we were treated to loud bangs from the roof and the deck for half the night. (Tree branches fell silently in the driveway.) I'd not heard that sort of house-noise before.

This afternoon, the sunset over a field of ice-sheeted grass was beautiful.

Thursday, February 07, 2019


Part of the crash information is available, and there's a nice description at Propublica. And some thoughts from people who know more about the Navy than I do at CDR Salamander.

A couple of other Navy Times stories here and here.

Overconfidence kills.

UPDATE: An update to the story, naming names. Yes, politics. Some national, a lot internal.

Monday, February 04, 2019


Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about "liberty"; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about "progress"; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about "education"; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. The modern man ... says, "Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education." This, clearly expressed, means, "We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children."

Chesterton, again, of course, from Heretics

I submit that one reason we don't seem to be able to compromise is because different factions don't agree on what the "good" is. The power-hungry don't help, but when the rank and file of each party think that goodness lies in radically different things, how can you satisfy everybody--or much of anybody?

As one example, it is easy to find people who think that landing an explorer on a comet is a wonderful and good thing. It turned out to be very easy to find people who thought that the important thing was to do it with a careful dress code. To create search software is a good thing--or is the good thing to attempt it with the proper mix of self-identities? (including someone who self-identifies as a dragon...)

Is the measure of the goodness of an action your subjective reaction to it?

Michener, in a scene from The Source, wrote "with different gods her husband Urbaal would have been a different man." It seems as though we worship different gods.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

First things

"The very word 'superficial' is founded on a fundamental mistake about life, the idea that second thoughts are best. The superficial impression of the world is by far the deepest. What we really feel, naturally and casually, about the look of skies and trees and the face of friends, that and that alone will almost certainly remain our vital philosophy to our dying day." Twelve Types, Chesterton

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Interlocking vertebrae

I had never heard of the hero shrew before tonight.
But the first known hero shrew, S. somereni, has 10 to 11 vertebrae with many more bony projections that lock together, giving it unparalleled power in the animal kingdom.

It’s so strong that, according to written accounts of DRC explorers in early 1900s, a man stood on the back of a hero shrew for five minutes, stepped off, and the animal walked away unharmed, Stanley said.

Wikipedia has a clearer picture of the spine. I have no comments beyond "Wow!" and "Why?"


I'm still trying to figure out the new Sue. Her new physique, outlined by her gastralia, looks downright chubby. And I don't quite see how the extra weight (9-10 tons vs the old estimate of 5-7) is balanced by the same old tail. Leaning forward like that seems like an invitation to faceplant in the mashed potatoes. I haven't tried to learn the biomechanics, but intuitively you'd think it would be easier to balance erect when you have so much weight above the hips.

They think the belly-bones helped with breathing. They have to be useful for something. Maybe they helped with digestion too. T-Rex wasn't the only one with such bones--diplodicus and others had them too. I'd guess if the critter got too big the extra strengtheners might be needed to keep from herniating.


A dozen years ago I asked if chefs had to consider the local flavor of the water when perfecting their recipes. I was reminded (offline) that many recipes use milk or wine, which would render the question moot.

But stock still uses water. And we all know that doesn't taste the same from place to place.

I suppose that if the local water made too big a difference in flavor (I'm thinking of water from a certain well in Picayune, Mississippi), the chef would just get water from elsewhere, and if the difference was within the margin of error the chef would just ignore it.

I'd think he could tell the difference, though.