Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Boars at large

Boars seem to be becoming a problem in some European cities.
The following night, in Nou Barris, another part of the city, the trap was set up again – this time in a grassy clearing a few metres from a bus stop. Down the road was an asphalt football pitch, high-rise apartment buildings and a school. The team caught and killed eight more – seven females and one large aggressive male.

Apparently disease goes both ways--humans may be spreading African swine fever, and of course the pigs have plenty of diseases to spread to humans.

One tested positive for salmonella. Three carried rickettsia-infected ticks, a pathogen that can move from animal to human. Fourteen had campylobacter, which the World Health Organization calls a top cause for diarrhoeal diseases in humans, and “the most common bacterial cause of human gastroenteritis in the world”. Seventeen tested positive for the antibodies against the hepatitis E virus, with six showing signs of ongoing infection.

We have wild boars in this country too, of course.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Playing in the woods and studying

A squib in the UW newsletter linked to this article: Study finds rural upbringing, time spent outdoors in childhood are correlated with academic performance in science courses. That sounded interesting: recalling Last Child in the Woods. I spent a fair bit of time in the jungle.

Unfortunately the article doesn't link to the actual results. But from the article I gather that the study focussed on 11 intro courses in life and environmental sciences, and found that the "Median-centered grades were significantly correlated with the residence type in which the students spent most of their childhood; a greater proportion of students who came from a more rural setting were earning higher grades, on average, than students who were coming from more urban settings"

Not surprisingly, students who reported being uninterested in the course "performed profoundly worse."

The author goes on to suggest ways to make intro courses more hands-on and less talk-to, which may help. Or maybe not.

Oh well. I suspect the "uninterested" aspect would drive the differences, and that people who grew up playing with the wild would be less "uninterested" than those for whom it was abstract.

It probably doesn't have anything to do with mental stimulation, or the practice of hands-on learning (even important in math), or just being well-off enough to be able to live where there's land.

Pity. It would have made such an excellent excuse. "Come in and finish your homework!" "But Ma, you want me to go into STEM, don't you?"

Sunday, July 28, 2019


Tomorrow I'll be 64.

AVI has thoughts about changes in life direction as one ages.

I moved from physics to IT several years ago. I'd been doing pretty much entirely software and support anyway when the old jobs went away, and this way I could stay near family. More recently I've been writing more--how successfully remains to be seen. (Nobody was buying novellas last quarter.)

I set myself a retirement test (it involves the Putnam) to see if I still have the fluid intelligence for the job. So far so good.

Then what? (an old question) I'm not really my own, and God put a number of surprises in my life already, so I can't say with any confidence what will be the focus of my life two years from now.

I know I have a deadline. There's some evidence that heredity is going to have a major impact on my later years.

I still think a major human need is to be needed. But that doesn't really apply to babies. And, whether we like it or not, to the infirm and dying as well. I suppose I need to be open to letting other people be needed--by me.

In between now and then--we'll see. I need to do some pruning, though.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

"The past is a different country"

While doing some research in Ashland for my wife's book, we ran across Ashland County Wisconsin in the World War by Rev. Harry S. Ruth.

That describes what it is; for each city there's a list of who was sent, and highlights of the daily events, whether this was the rather banal "May 27, 1918: Wisconsin two cent fares no more. McAdoo wiped out the rate today. Freight rates will rise 25%" or the tar-and-feathering of a professor. (April 1, 1918--"... Professor E.A. Schimler, teacher of languages at Northland College. Pro-German". The mob let him walk home afterwards.)

I thought the section about the draft might be interesting.

June 2, 1917. Registration day, June 5'th, Tuesday. ...

1. There is only one day for registration, June 5'th, 1917.

2. Every male resident of the United States who has reached is twenty-first and has not reached his thirty-first birthday must register ...

                  Registration Blank for Army Draft
Form 1                                                   No.  ________
     Registration Card
                     Given Name     Age in years     Family Name
1.  Name in full......................................................
2.  Home address......................................................
3.  Date of birth.....................................................
4.  Are you (1) a natural born citizen?  (2) a naturalized citizen?
   (3) an alien?  (4) or have you declared your intention?
   (Specify which.)....................................................
                          Town      State            Nation
5.  Where were you born?...............................................
6.  If not a citizen, of what country are you a citizen or subject?....
7.  What is your present trade, occupation or office?..................
8.  By whom employed?..................................................
9.  Have you a father, mother, wife, child under 12, or a sister or
   brother under 12, solely dependent on you for support?
   (Specify which.)....................................................
10. Married or single (which)?.........................................
   Race (Specify which)................................................
11. What military rank have you had?...................................
       Rank............. Branch............... Years...................
       Nation or State ................................................
12. Do you claim exemption from the draft? (Specify grounds)...........

I affirm that I have verified the above answers and that they are true.

If person is of African descent,
tear off this corner.

That entry was followed a few days later by this, which is part of the June 13 entry: "Registration Report is completed. 1,133 men who registered in Ashland County do not claim military exemption. Only 21 alien enemies according to report."

At the time, the Indian nations were exempt, but many men waived the exemption--up to 70% in some places. Their names are often French or English, but when you read that someone was from Odanah you know he was Bad River Band. It wasn't until 1924 that Indians who were members of Indian nations were US citizens.

FWIW, "declarant aliens" had a special status in Wisconsin for a long time. If a man had been a resident a year and declared his intention to become a citizen, he was allowed to vote. In fact, during the Civil War he was encouraged to. This was stopped in 1908.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Improving signage

Park signs are more dull than they need to be.

"Dogs must be on a leash. Our nearsighted ranger is culling the coyote population."

"Stay on the marked path. Enforced by rattlesnakes."

"Stay on the inside of the fence. The cliff edge is treacherous. Crows eat your eyes first."

"Smoking is not allowed in the restrooms. Other campers are hereby permitted to use the fire extinguisher on smokers."

"Do not approach the bison. Where should we send what we can scavenge of your remains?"

"Be courteous to other campers." If we ever catch the one who put cement in the urinal, he'll be treading 'water' in the pit toilet."

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Tracing blue blood

Horseshoe crab (and some other critters, like octopi and tarantulas) have copper-based heme instead of iron-based.

Cool. Where do they get the copper?

We get iron (about 4g for an adult man) from meat and some plants (preferably meat), but that's kind of a zero-sum game--somehow iron had to enter the cycle from non-organic sources. Maybe plankton pick up enough trace iron and copper dissolved in the water to allow overall biosphere growth and make up for losses.

The crabs get some from momma, but they have to get more to grow. They eat mollusks, which have copper-heme too, so maybe that's their main source. What do the mollusks eat that give them copper? Octopi eat fish, and many other mollusks eat algae. Some algae need trace amounts of copper, and fish seem to need a little too.

It looks like the devil is in the details here--I don't know how well a snail will take up trace elements from algae (and it looks like a moderately hard problem to solve).

I wonder if anybody has studied copper takeup and use in the food chain.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Tradition Markers

We've stopped at a couple of "Historical Markers" on our trip so far. One was about the naming of Madeline Island (named after the new name of Chief White Crane's daughter).

Very few such markers (in this part of the country, anyway) involve Indian history. We consider history as tied to dates and places. Non-literate societies don't usually record times precisely, so if something happened before the white man started writing things down, it isn't quite as "solid" a history. But all sorts of things happened; why not memorialize them?

I wonder how many tribes would jump at the opportunity to have "Tradition Markers" put up, that record what happened nearby at some non-entirely firm date, and what it meant. There's plenty of precedent--the date of Jesus' birth isn't known precisely, nor its exact location, but there are plenty of markers of tradition.

I'm not quite sure where the line would be drawn--I suspect that there might be some objection to describing the Devils Tower as bear scratchings desecrated by builders and climbers.

And different tribes might have radically different interpretations of the same event--who gets to write the text?

I'd be interested in "Tradition Markers," and stop to have a look. Would you?

Saturday, July 20, 2019


The Saturday morning Bible study was going over Hebrews 10 and 11. One of the exercises was to read through Hebrews 11 and note the actions each of the heroes of faith did. One commonality was obedience (including testifying at the appropriate time). Not just any old works, obedience.

James wrote that "faith without works is dead." Maybe we could read that as "obedience without works is dead." Or "faith without obedience isn't faith."

Friday, July 19, 2019

Moon landing

AVI says he wasn't excited. I was, and so were plenty of others. A surprising number of the stories in that list are from Vietnam, and there were a lot from mothers with young babies. And stories of amazement and of disbelief.
“Would you look at that? The Americans put a man on the moon with a rocket this morning, but this afternoon it takes a pair Moroccan donkeys to get these two back to their parking place on the main square.”

Yes, my story is in there too.

I didn't hear a thing

A substation exploded and burned this morning. I was on the bus at the time, and didn't hear a thing. The driver stopped to talk to some people in uniform who were staring down the road, and said "you guys need to go fight the fire." We drove by the fire--the road wasn't blocked yet, but sirens were converging from all over.

I didn't get to work quickly because the bus re-routed around State Street for "Maxwell Street Days," but when I did I saw an urgent bulletin warning people to evacuate Ogg Hall on campus because a substation had caught fire there. I mentioned this to my colleague, and the lights went out.

The powers that be still don't know what caused the breakdowns, but it wasn't hot yet, so load wasn't the main issue. Thunderstorms might have left some components in a dicey state.

Or, with 2 fires at about the same time, somebody may have been sabotaging the system.

MG&E warned that it might take a couple of days to restore power, so I went home. I should have walked to the car--I waited for the #6 and it never showed. Traffic lights were out all over downtown, all the buildings on the square had no power--even the Capitol, I think.

Of course, this afternoon the power came on briefly, and finally continually, and so the people that stayed put had a pile of problems to deal with that I was placidly sleeping through.

It's ironic. I wasn't feeling well, but I went in anyway to manage the migration of a special server(*) to a new IP address. About four people were going to be monitoring the transition to make sure the downtime was as short as possible--a minute if we were very careful. Instead we got a 10 hour downtime.

One campus building has cameras: there's a time-lapse video from it.

(*) The server is a relay to send supernova alerts to/from our detector to other astro experiments around the world. If one of them sees something interesting, the rest take a close look. Luckily, I don't think any alerts were blocked.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Who benefits (again)

In the news reports I skimmed yesterday, some of the usual suspects explained why having children is a bad idea and that they'll never do it (for the sake of future generations--parse that...). What X thinks is X's affair, but the publicity is managed by money. And my first question these days is "who benefits? in this case from people having fewer kids?" I wish I didn't have to be so cynical.

Short term--anybody who sells toys for adults instead of children. Double income, no kids ==> lots of money to spend on consumables, entertainments, travel--and having two cogs in the machine instead of one helps keeps down the wage you have to pay a cog. And it is easier to sell stuff to someone who is vaguely disatisfied with life. (Yes, I know poverty is really hard when there are lots of little mouths to feed--but we're talking upper and middle class here.)

Longer term--you won't have as many customers, but lots of firms don't look that far ahead.

I looked up one of those cost of raising a child stories to see if I could figure out the relative expenses of a child and an adult. I already knew the expenses were elastic--the nominal \$233,000 for a total of 17 years times 5 kids was quite a bit more than I was pulling down. But this bit was interesting: "The actual cost of raising a baby in its first year is around \$21,000 (for a household earning \$40,000) and \$52,000 (for one bringing home \$200,000)." True, they include the cost of housing in that, but I guess more money burns holes in your pockets faster.

In case you were curious, the USDA report has a \$13K annual estimate per kid for a 2-child family with income between \$59K and \$107K. At the low end of that, it comes to \$13K per kid and \$15K per adult (OK, with taxes maybe more like \$10K/adult), and if I assume a linear relationship from the previous paragraph's numbers, \$21K per kid and \$33K per adult at the upper end. (with taxes maybe less).

So it looks as though adults are about as costly as kids, maybe more so. Don't trust these hacked numbers--the devil is in the details/taxes/elasticity.

Monday, July 15, 2019


I missed the announcements last year, but there's a claim that the largest Bronze Age city of the era, buried in Tall el-Hammam is what's left of Sodom. Whatever it was, it was certainly a major player in the region--nothing else is that big or well-fortified. And there's some evidence of intense heat, and a destruction time in the range of 1750-1650BC.

It is fascinating to read the arguments of the scholars, a few of whom are Bishop Usher followers.. My takeaway from the last link is that trying to tease out critical background details from stories focussed on other things can be fraught, and that parsing out old names isn't reliable. And that there's some bitterness between groups of scholars.

A little extra platinum in the area suggests a air-burst meteor, though something volcanic or even a natural gas burst would also be possible. I look forward to hearing more about this. If it wasn't Sodom, it was a hitherto unreported culture.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


The existence of hell isn't the most popular of doctrines. A preacher can win fame and fortune by denying it.

Jesus warned that we should fear Him who is able to destroy body and soul in hell, and spoke of the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. I don't think it wise to contradict Him. If your wisdom has led you to the conclusion that hell is either symbolic or a warning that will never be implemented, then at least remember that Jesus has His own good reasons for expressing the warning--are you sure you are wiser than He?

What kind of punishment is hell? Jesus describes it as a place of destruction, and also of fire, and in Revelation it is depicted as a lake of fire and a second death--and at least the beast and false prophet are tormented forever. I don't know what time is like when there is no longer a body, and I've no notion of how times relate to each other hereafter. It isn't impossible that forever and a blink of an eye are the same event from different perspectives. (Hint: what does the photon travel time from a distant galaxy look like to us, and look like to the photon?)

Early on there were visions of hell that showed people getting different punishments. Dante didn't invent the idea. There's quite a bit of literature describing Jewish and Christian tours of hell, some dated back to the first century AD. I've read a little bit; I think Dante did a much better job of matching the sin to the punishment.

"Pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul." Elsewhere Lewis notes that our sense of justice demands that the guilty one understand the gravity of his crime. Maybe it's presumptuous, but that seems right to me too.

I like Inferno by Niven and Pournelle. Its thesis (if you haven't read it already, do) is that those who appreciate the gravity of their sin can repent even from hell. They had some fun slotting in modern sinners and new categories of sinners (e.g. advertisers, who of course are in the circle of liars), but in that book and in its sequel they had trouble figuring out how to deal with solipsism, and the hunger and thirst to be lied to.

For solipsists the most appropriate punishment would seem to be to make it absolutely clear that there is reality and that they are contingent. It sounds like the kind of change that would break your mind--which is probably why God doesn't force that kind of revelation on us on a regular basis.

Maybe the judgment is punishment by itself, and the lake of fire is destruction.

Whichever--it isn't the way to go. "That's where all the interesting people are!" uses the same meaning of "interesting" as "May you live in interesting times".

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Doing business abroad

CocaCola is "remodeling" in Liberia

That's what the headline says, and the story mentions that several times, but what they're actually doing is stopping local production in favor of importing the beverages. The remodeling is to make the plant a distribution center.

The press release requires translation, as usual. The newspaper provides one.

The statement continued: “The realities of the Liberian market have evolved and become more complex in the last few years. After a recent evaluation of our current business model in the country we recognized that it needed to be reorganized so that it can respond quickly to the evolving needs of our customers more efficiently and sustainably. Despite various other changes applied to date, the current business model remains unsustainable, so the company has decided to take steps to transform the facility into a distribution center to ensure the service to our customers.”

This means the company will no longer be manufacturing the beverage in Liberia but will import drinks for distribution in Liberia

"Since 1949, the bottling company which produces and markets Bonaqua, Schweppes, Burn, Fanta, Sprite, Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola Light, Coca-Cola Zero at its Liberia plant on the Kakata road, has been a fixture."

"the Liberian market is said to be flooded with low quality unregulated soft drinks."

Both the Ministry of Commerce and the Freeport of Monrovia have kept their eyes off the ball by allowing all kinds of beverages including Coca Cola rival, Pepsi and others into the market without duty, thereby allowing importers to price at or below the price of the locally produced product, which also limits the ability to take prices up.

... Priced in local Liberian currency to the consumers, all the ingredients are imported and priced in US dollars, to the company’s detriment.

Duty free? Interesting. That's not the rule.. I'll bet several people got a "small dash."

The Coke Facebook page is 3 years old.

We used to buy Coke in 24-bottle wood cases, returning the empty bottles and the case for their deposits. Several miles of shaking over dirt roads in a hot trunk left the bottles too "trigger-happy" to drink, so we set the crate in the laundry room to cool off and settle down for a day while we used the last from the old crate. There wasn't always room in the refrigerator for a few. The temptation is obvious. When I tried the secret swap, I worried that my sister would notice that the bottle was warm, or that she would pry the cap slowly and be warned, but she was very thirsty and when she popped the cap off the spray hit the ceiling. Literally. (Mom was annoyed for some reason--though I don't think the spray hit her.)

It gives you a warm feeling when plans go just right, doesn't it? I wasn't worried about waste; I didn't like Coke anyway--Sprite was my preference. Or water with lots of ice in it. (We used Katadyn ceramic water filters--there was no chlorine or any other cleansing in the water. When it came time to clean the filters they were foul.)

Spontaneous combustion

"Sushi 'crunch' caused 2 restaurant fires by spontaneous combustion".

It doesn't have to be oily rags. It can be oily batter.

Sunday, July 07, 2019


I don't know how new these sources were (it has a 2.6 year half-life), but "Turkish police in the Black Sea region seize 18.1 grams of radioactive californium". Estimated value 72M$. That's a bit more than 3 quarters in weight. It was under the gear shift in the car.

The dose rate is about 2200-2300 rem (m^2 / gram hour). Let's see. 18.1g means about 40krem (m^2 / hour). If the driver was 1m away, and passengers 2m away (you can ignore shielding effects of the material around it--these are neutrons), and the trip was 3 hours, the passengers got about a 30,000 rem dose of neutrons and the driver 4x as much. And they'd get about 1/14 as much of that dose in gammas as well. The LD50/30 (50% die in 30 days) dose is about 450rem.

10,000 rem means death in 0-5 days.

Even if the source was 2 half lives (5.2 years) old, if it was pure you'd still expect the couriers to die--and maybe pass out on the trip.

"In a scare in March of last year, police in Ankara said they had seized a whopping 1.4kg of the same substance in a car following a tip-off. It turned out to be false alarm, as the haul was later found to have no trace of nuclear or radioactive material, and was, in fact, organic matter." I wonder if this will be similar, or if somebody was being very careless.

Peter and Thomas

"Doubting" Thomas seems pretty bold to me. When Jesus said he needed to go into danger, Thomas offered to go and die with him. After seeing the resurrected Jesus for himself, Thomas made the boldest declaration of Jesus' nature of any of them. And later, he took the boldest missionary journey, away from the relative security of the Roman Empire and into lands he'd only heard of.(*)

Peter seems more impetuous. "Tell me to walk on the water." Oops. "I'll never deny you!" Oops. Jump in the water to swim to shore for Jesus. Check. Chopping off an adversary's ear isn't exactly impetuosity--from his POV he was one of the two swordsmen responsible for defense of the group, though he didn't wait for orders--Jesus said there were angels available if He wanted them. After Pentecost he's described as bold, though Paul complained about Peter's courage in Galatians.

(*) Thomas probably knew there were Jews in India, though.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Friday, July 05, 2019


Diversity in STEM is all the rage these days, with Women in Physics groups and activities, and other subgroups as well (though those are not so well attended); all intended to make it easier for minorities to become comfortable in the group.

I can empathize. I've been in large groups where everybody knows everybody else, I've been the only one of my skin color, and the bulk of the crowd was not friendly--though not unfriendly either. It feels stifling at best.

There are simple and obvious ways to address this "stifling:"

  1. Make sure everybody is told that they have to welcome strangers. Um. Icebreakers are one thing, pre-scripted "acceptance" is another. Granted, the population of scientists and engineers is somewhat enriched in the socially inept, who might need some reminders.
  2. Make sure there are people who look like the newbies. I know what my natural tendency would be--hang out with the folks like me. I gather that tends to happen in the Women in Physics groups, but I haven't studied them in detail.
  3. Forget yourself

Self-forgetfulness may sound very Zen, or like a Christian saint's humility, but I think it may be the best option.

At a church where you're the only one who doesn't know the drill, concentrate on Who you are worshipping. You are in communion with the others who are also concentrating on God, and that's a good place to be.

At a party where you're the odd duck, games can make the connections between people. Concentrating on the play (whether you are participating or watching) gives you something in common with the others: a connection. It's ephemeral, but it works.

In a science team, concentrate on the problem. Maybe it is too hard for you alone; ask for help. Forget about your past, or your hair (or lack thereof; I'm often the oldest one in the group)--look at the problem and you become a scientist, engineer, mathematician, doctor--along with the rest. You become by doing, and become part of the group of doers. Maybe you won't be in the "cool crowd." Meh.

Look at it from the outside. Only hopeless tribalists care about the PC beancounting--everybody else wants to know "What have you discovered?" or "What did you make?" or "Can you cure her, doc?" A gratuitous rainbow on your press release tells people you've been spending time doing something other than the research you were paid to do.

Those "hopeless tribalists" are deadly when they get hold of power. I'm reading my one-time supervisor's book The Soviet Atomic Project, and the account of what happened to harmless researchers when Stalin's purges swept through is pretty grim. One theorist wrote an article explaining (before the discovery of the neutrino) that conservation of energy was a bourgeois concept that had no place in Soviet lands. His loyalty didn't save him from execution.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Round up the usual suspects

"LAPD pioneered predicting crime with data. Many police don’t think it works"
“It never panned out,” said Rodriguez, who spent 11 years with the LAPD. “It didn't really make much sense to us. It wasn’t telling us anything we didn’t know.”

Are you surprised?

From the Olmstead police: "They say 10 percent of the people commit 90 percent of the crimes; we get familiar with names."

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Just missed it

I was only about a minute away from running into an altercation involving Jehovah J God.

Summertime, and the downtown is easy--and the population has grown quite a bit. I think I've seen one of the women involved in this fracas before, but she's not one of the regulars. There are some new predators in the mix this year, but fortunately so far I'm not seeing teenagers hanging out.

Most of the working or visiting people just go about their business, with the "leave other people alone" courtesy that easily shades into, or is taken for, "don't care."