Thursday, August 29, 2019

The young teaching the young

AVI wrote about apostasy among young leaders, and lamented the use of athletes and celebrities as quasi-preachers.

I grant that Timothy was told "Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe." Still, it seems as though most of history, in the church and out of it, it is elders who teach.

Why are youth group leaders so young? I know the theory is that they are better "able to connect and communicate," and it is certain that they've got more stamina, but when I was that age I thought I knew more than I really did--and quite a bit of what I did know was theoretical. There's something about being able to say "I've seen this fad before, and it doesn't help anything."

I think I persuaded our youth group leader to have a look at my Background for the Faith (currently rough and uneven). If he wants me to introduce a few modules, I'll ask if he's also interested in the concept of "Ask a Grandpa" for confidential questions.

Before Galileo

John Philoponus tested Aristotle's claim that the heavier body fell faster in proportion to its weight. He died about 570AD. If Aristotle was right about air rushing around a spear to push it from behind, "then soldiers need not launch projectiles. They could perch them on a thin wall and set the air in motion behind them with bellows and watch them fly off."

Why not drop bodies of different weights and see whether Aristotle's prediction was correct. As early as 1544, the historian Benedetto Varchi referred to actual tests, which showed that it was not.

Simon Stevin explained the Moon's attraction made the tides--a point which Galileo got wrong.

Albrecht of Saxony described a thought experiment in the 14th century in which he imagined two equal-sized falling bodies attached by a string, and then mentally cutting the string. It was absurd to imagine the two separate bodies would suddenly decelerate to half speed.. This thought experiment is also attributed to Galileo, quite a bit later.

The textbooks leave a lot out.

What brought this little essay on was the Quillette article A Celebration of Errors, in which they attribute the debunking of Aristotle's theory of motion to Galileo. He came to the party a little late.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A Modest Proposal

I saw that Stanford was making physics inclusive and creating an additional physics course that is about experiences and not physics. And it isn't, apparently, a mentoring program.

You can probably gather from an earlier post that I think of this sort of thing misses the point.

But I want to be positive for a change.

I have a modest proposal.

Most of the claims about racism and toxic environments are blissfully innocent of any data. It would not be expensive to accumulate some.

Every incoming student's records are already associated with their 1) age and 2) college board scores. Ask 3 questions during onboarding, that also go in their record:

  1. Sex: male, female, "whatever"
  2. Ethnicity: (include "prefer not to answer")
  3. First and second choices for major ("undecided" is OK)

Five years later, look up the all those students' records and determine

  1. Did the student graduate?
  2. If so, with what major?

Any such study has to preserve anonymity, so the only things included in the database for research are the 7 items.

A lot of students change majors, a number drop out, some get sick or even die. But even so, for a state university you'll start to get good statistics with the first or second cohort. In 10 years you might even have enough statistics about minority groups and about uncommon majors to begin to learn something useful, but even after 6 years (the second cohort) you'd have enough to start saying useful things about men and women in college.

After you learn the patterns ("18-year olds who want to do chemistry but have combined SAT less than 1150 generally don't complete the degree, but 35+ year olds do") you could, for the first time, actually use statistics to say whether some department is less friendly to women than others, or than the same department in another university. Right now we have subjective anecdotes. Sometimes those are revealing, and sometimes they are less than fully accurate.

Easy, cheap, high statistics--what's not to like? I know the diversity industry might fear it, but they aren't the only players in town.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Infrared vision

Mice can see near infrared if you inject some upconversion nanoparticles (with an appropriate stickem) into their eyeballs. A particle absorbs an infrared photon, winds up in a metastable state that lasts long enough for it to absorb a second, upon which it emits a visible photon (and probably something invisible as well, but never mind that).

They ran some tests to see if the mice could distinguish green from infrared, distinguish shapes, etc--and they pretty much could. The video goes on to suggest great things from enhancing human vision--soldiers wouldn't need night vision goggles--but

  • The human eye has some chromatic aberration already; the focus for infrared would be farther farther off than the red. But the infrared would appear green. Our focus centers on the green. I leave to your imagination how fuzzy things will get with 2 different focus lengths for green light.
  • Try to imagine persuading soldiers to get shots in their eyes. Just try. Don't forget that they carry powerful weapons.
  • Night vision is also about intensifying small amounts of light, not just infrared.

I don't believe I'll volunteer for human trials, if any.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Personalized Pathways

West High is "pausing" its "Personalized Pathways" program.

I missed its introduction. "enrollment is frozen in Pathways, which is designed to introduce students to possible careers and prepare them with a post-graduation plan. The school is hitting the pause button as it looks to address concerns that the program has not shown an improvement in student outcomes." It is "a second track of study that will have a cohort of freshmen focus their learning through an information technology (IT) and communications perspective."

Pathways is billed as an interconnected, experiential approach where learning is centered around a career field; students form tight-knit communities with classmates and teachers within the pathway; and material learned in one class is connected to other classes.


Through core classes and related electives, the new track will expose students to skills and career fields such as cybersecurity, coding, network infrastructure, video production, graphic design and strategic communications.

Why the pause? Maybe because they are trying to make the program do things it isn't designed for.

There has not been the anticipated improvement in attendance, grades and behavior, prompting the school to not take on a new cohort of students this year, Boran said.

I gather from her statement that there was "room for improvement" with the behavior and attendance of the students selected. "But at West High, the Pathways students had a higher course failure rate compared with students doing traditional coursework. Pathways students at West also had the lowest attendance rate in 2017-18 among Pathways students at the four high schools."

Just a thought--if you're going to design a program for motivated students, you might want to populate it with motivated students. Self-discipline comes first. If they haven't got that yet, start with elementary incentives--but in the end you can't make them.

The different schools came up with their own mottoes: "such as “empowering voice through innovation” at East and “changing the face of information technology and communication” at La Follette." I'm afraid my immediate reaction to "empowering" recalled Dilbert: "The 'Principle of employee empowerment'? Why would you have a special phrase for something like that? If you could really make decisions on your own it would never occur to you to invent a phrase for it."

Do I smell magical thinking?

The liberation of Paris

HistoryNet has an article about the intrigues and confusion and impetuosity and arrogance. And an under-the-table truce between the Resistance (via Raoul Nordling) and von Choltitz.

"At dinner with his staff one evening, he said, “Ever since our enemies have refused to listen to and obey our F├╝hrer, the whole war has gone badly.”"

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Some thoughts on nuclear powered drones

from Hackaday. A lot of comments are political and not technical, but some are interesting.

History of the world

Unfortunately the good Dr. Boli has not yet completed his Complete History of the World; perhaps because there's more history to come in the next few years and he is mulling the old over to determine the direction. It wouldn't do to leave out a detailed explanation of Tibet, if that turns out to be the focus of civilization 200 years from now.

Gasoline safety cans

We don't have any of the old simple metal kind anymore. The plastic ones are supposed to be vastly superior.

My eldest had to buy and use one this morning. Trying to get the safety spout out was quite a job. The gasket was a loose O-ring, and twisting the adapter into place seems to stretch it. The safety spout is spring-loaded--you have to twist and push the upper end of it back into the lower end for gasoline to flow. If your fingers slip and let go of the spring-loaded tip--it stops pouring immediately.

That's nice in theory, but remember that stretchy gasket. The can dribbled gasoline all over my hands.

I use an older version of such cans, that doesn't have a separate ring or a fancy auto-stop mechanism in the spout. That gets gasoline on me too.

If I'm going to walk away from the job with gasoline all over something, I think I'd rather it be a funnel than me. Of course, they're hard to get the dust out of when you're in a hurry.

Thursday, August 22, 2019


I'm trying to understand the logic behind some of the PC demands. I think I've converged on something that doesn't misrepresent them too much.

The idea seems to be that criminals are just like the rest. of us, just with a bad social environment that (key point) they share with the rest of us. If all of the rest of us become good-thinkers, the criminal's environment naturally changes accordingly, and she will not even think of doing bad things again.

It is therefore vitally important that bad thoughts never creep into your mind, because that opens the way for bad thoughts to enter the criminal's mind--making you culpable for the resulting crimes.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

WW-II history on a different front

I'd not read about Brazil's role before.. I knew there were flights to Africa, but little else.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Personality and beliefs

AVI often writes that our beliefs often precede our justification of them.

I think I can supply an example each way.

I was talking with Middle Daughter yesterday and mentioned that I had lived my life on the principle that it was OK to leave some money on the table. The obvious citation for that is Leviticus 19:9. But I've been like that before I was a Christian, and well before I cared much about details of the old law.

To grab for every last penny in a free-for-all demands a kind of pushy personality (not me), and it seemed rather tasteless to concentrate so much on "relative stuff." When I was young I'd jump for every lost coin on the sidewalk, and when we were squeezing each nickel to make it act like a dime I was thankful for each coin I found. One day I asked myself(*)--"If I don't pick this up, some kid will. Which of us will get more joy out of the discovery?"(**) I haven't picked up lost change since then. I haven't gone so far as to deliberately drop any, though.

I don't like the kind of people or organizations who try to monetize every little detail of your interactions with them. Have you been to a baseball park lately? Any day now I'm expecting an ad offering an (extra-cost) ad-free section. And if pay toilets weren't often illegal... (I get it with ads in online stuff--I'm not explicitly paying for it and they have to earn a living somehow. But I paid for a ticket to the game!)

Realizing that the Leviticus passage held a principle that pertained today simply validated my existing habits of thought.

On the other hand, I remember thinking about immigration issues years ago, and being willing to defend a 2-tier system of natives and non-natives. Then somebody pointed out Leviticus 19:34, and my reaction was "Oh crud, I was wrong."

(*) I remember where I was at the time: a back street in a small Wisconsin town- my wife admiring the gardens and the houses- a bill blew along the sidewalk.

(**) And of course: who knows--the owner might come looking for it.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Sacrifice of praise

"The sacrifice of praise" is an evocative phrase. What kind of sacrifice can praise be? When I sing or recite praises I'm not giving up any "thing" in particular, besides some time and attention.

Peace and thanksgiving offerings were shared by the worshippers. In one sense the worshipper was giving up something from his flock, but in another he was sharing a meal with God--not exactly giving up anything.(*) In fact a few commentators think these were some of the rare times when the ancient Hebrews ate meat. Think "party times." Notice what was prescribed for the tithe. That would have been a big feast.

Thanksgiving is kin to praise. Peace is related to the right ordering of things. I gather that the peace offering could be free-will, along with a vow you fulfilled, or for thanks for your deliverance. All seem to fit with "right ordering."

Psalms 22:3 is a bit vague, but modern Hebrew experts(**) think it doesn't mean that God inhabits the praises of His people--though Jesus said where 2 or 3 were gathered in His name, He was among them. So maybe it does mean that after all.

Songs of praise, thanks, and celebration of "right order" seem to fit with a few of the aspects of OT sacrifice: worshippers, enjoying the "sacrifice" together with God, and, of course thanksgiving or peace. There's no physical "giving up" something, but as with the ram and Isaac, we don't always provide the material for the sacrifice.

Just don't sing by rote while your mind is chasing squirrels. Like mine does.

(*) Ayn Rand was a fool, probably because she didn't look honestly at herself. Sacrifice of things isn't giving up a greater value for a lesser, but the opposite. The reason we encourage it is because people (Rand included) aren't always eager to act rationally. If you want to earn yourself a STEM degree, you are almost certainly going to have to sacrifice your habit of late night parties. Some people don't, and generally don't get that degree.

(**) And ancient experts: the Septuagint translators seemed to think that it meant that God, the praise of Israel, dwells in a sanctuary.

Friday, August 16, 2019

"the old order of things has passed away.”

We're told that God "will wipe every tear from their eyes." Given the sources of some of those tears, that's a tall order.

He can do it. He has done this kind of thing before. How many of us remember the overwhelming sorrows (and joys) of our toddler years?

How do you get rid of this?

He didn't take it out to the back 40 to try using it for target practice. He took it to the people he thought would be experts. The back 40 option might be fun, though I'd want a lot of distance in between us. And if it didn't go off I'd avoid the spot for a month. At least.

"The Sheriff's Office is encouraging people who find explosive devices to leave the area and call 911."

Thursday, August 15, 2019


Have you noticed that if you do a half-day fast, you're likely to overeat during the free half?

You mean I'm the only one? Oh well.

Something similar happens when you try to fast from digital media. It has to be all or nothing--half days don't work.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Driving on the ice

A little Wisconsin history. I had my camera tilted, but it seems appropriate to the material so I won't fix it.

The photographer lucked out. He went on to make a name for himself in the field.

Rather than go to all the trouble of ferrying people and materials to the new home site, why not just take advantage of the frozen lake? Everybody else is driving on it--trucks too--why not you?

"Furnished house for sale. Sunken bedroom. 360 degree lake view."

Monday, August 12, 2019

Better late than never

As I wrote earlier, I'm now 2^6 years old, and that next exponent is going to be very hard to hit.

AVI has been listing his most popular posts, and I was curious what that would look at from my blog. The "most popular" is a bit messy to calculate--for example there's some background subtraction that varies with time, and if there's a large gap between posts the one just before the gap racks up a few more hits than ones immediately earlier--or later.

Anyhow, I ran across an old review of Learning to Grow Old. I'd read it, but not taken it to heart.

I think I need to spend a week logging what I do, and why. How much is work-related, how much social media (ie. blogspot), and how much projects of my own that I may not have the zing for ten years from now... And how much is people-focussed. The results might be useful.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Without Cloak or Dagger

FWIW, the talk of blackmail making all the rounds today reminded me of a book by Miles Copeland: Without Cloak or Dagger.

Reviews of the book back in '74 pointed out that the author (former CIA) had had the CIA vet the book before publishing, and so the reviewers didn't trust it 100%--there might be things he covered up.

True; read it with that caveat. But it described a far more plausible way to use blackmail material than the "get this info for us or we tell the world about your embezzlement" MO that comes to mind first.

It depended on the target, of course--some personalities wouldn't be malleable enough--and it had more moving parts, but it seemed to this amateur that the method would more likely be fruitful than not.

If you really have the goods on somebody and you try to get them to do something else unethical, and maybe dangerous, you run the risk of a "publish and be damned!" reaction, or suicide. Neither helps you, the spy.

The setup he described worked a little differently.

The agent gets to know the target casually, and builds a relationship from there. When the time seems ripe, a third party threatens or warns the target that he has incriminating evidence. The agent, allegedly hearing of this through some plausible mechanism, offers to help--somebody owes him a favor and he can call it in, no questions asked. The agent "helps," the incriminating evidence is given to the target, and it is never mentioned again.

But the target now owes the agent big-time. He won't be as averse to doing the agent a small--almost trivial--favor. If the agent carefully calibrates the increasing favors, and the increasing rewards that go with them, the target can grow into a nice reliable source via a "gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Conspiracy and me

AVI wrote many times about "Conspiracy and Paranoia". Time to try out the ideas--Jeffery Epstein seems to have killed himself.

It isn't hard at all to find people who predicted that he would die before the trial. Of course, if he really knew where skeletons were buried, that went without saying--he was 66 and trials can be dragged on for a long time. That's especially true when there's no smoking gun, and some would have have testified that they saw nobody underage. The last link is about how he "collected scientists."

It isn't hard to find stories claiming that some aspect of events or another isn't consistent with the way things are usually done, or which looks suspicious in hindsight. He wasn't on suicide watch. Ooh, suspicious. In hindsight. But that's always a judgment call--who knows how he presented himself to the authorities?

If you told me that the Clintons had a friend who knew somebody in the general population there who owed him a favor, I'd be dubious. The probability seems pretty low. If you said they had a friend who had a friend who had a friend who knew somebody, I'd say the probability is much higher, but the likelihood of somebody ratting is also much higher--so not a credible claim.

If you told me that none of the famous names had a friend who knew somebody in general population, I'd also be very dubious. That too seems quite improbable.

How many things have to be true for this to be an "encouraged suicide?" (That seems much more likely, and less risky, than outright murder, and it has the same effect--there's now no reason for discovery to happen.)

Somebody(s) had something to hide that would have ruined their careers or their lives. This is "explained" by Epstein serving some underage women to high profile men. Then one of those had to have connections in the prison. The connections had to be secret (implying very few nodes in the connection), and easy to exercise. (And, of course, where did Epstein get his money--blackmail or funding from an intelligence agency?)

OK. I don't know how many of the famous names would have been looking for underage women--presumably not all of them. I don't know how many would have had problems if adultery were revealed--probably not all of them. But in either case a skillful agent might be able to use his services in "covering up scandal" to nudge the celebrity into cooperation; so "funding from an intelligence agency" is plausible. If some spy agency hasn't thought of doing this sort of thing already, they should have. An intelligence agency might have very interesting contacts in prison, too.

That last claim--that he had access to a surprising amount of money without any obvious source--is repeated in several stories, but I don't know the source. If it is true, a whole lot of nefarious options open up. If not, maybe he just liked collecting celebrities the same way he liked to collect scientist and women.

Why would I be likely, or unlikely, to believe that there was nefarious intent in the death? I'm, unfortunately, ready to suspect that the FBI is not telling the whole truth. It hasn't covered itself with glory recently, and on reflection, its history isn't as glorious as they like to present. Most of the names on his flights are people I don't know or care about--it is no skin off my nose if Prince Charles is a pedophile (I doubt that that would have been hidden for long from the British press). My opinon of Bill Clinton, while extremely low, doesn't include any suggestion that he goes for young ones--and we know more about his preferences that I really care to know.

That's all after-thinking. What was my gut reaction to the claims about Epstein at the time?

I thought the claim quite plausible--generically. I believe there are people who provide the rich and powerful with whatever luxuries or vices they want. (I sort-of-suspect that they cater to a partisan clientele, to avoid embarrassing the customers--but maybe there's a "camaraderie of weed".) The news claimed that Epstein was one of these purveyors--OK, that's plausible, especially if the claim about the no visible means of support were true. And that Clinton likes a variety of women isn't news; he'd be the kind who'd like being surrounded by beautiful women (but not jailbait)--that's a little corroborating evidence. So, OK, I'll trust that as far as I trust other news stories--but with the caveats that 1) jailbait aspects are probably over-stated, 2) blackmail (by him) seems very dangerous and unlikely: 3rd party support would be more likely, and 3) what else was he supplying? There would be many people unwilling to have their vices (or spying) exposed, so one could predict complications and delays.

Followup stories, such as the link about scientists, suggest a more benign interpretation--assuming that he made the wealth himself. Of course, you could expect that sort of story to appear if his lawyer had the money to hire PR consultants.

So, in light of my "it's plausible" view of the claim about his activities, I should be joining in the "it was murder" crew. But I'm not. I suspect that he was nudged into suicide--not quite the same thing, though still nefarious. His future was going to be pretty scary. So, am I a conspiracy theorist? And if so, what kind am I?

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

The Church's One Foundation

AVI quoted a verse from The Church's One Foundation--the one about "She is from every nation, Yet one o'er all the earth."

I'd heard that Samuel J. Stone had written a dozen hymns to illustrate the articles of the Apostle's Creed, of which only the one for Article IX was commonly sung anymore. Have a look at Lyra fidelium. He wrote a song for each article, illustrating the song with scripture citations.

Most clergymen are aware how many of their parishioners, among the poor especially, say the Creed in their private prayers. And they cannot but feel how this excellent use, as also its utterance in public worship, is too often accompanied by a very meagre comprehension of the breadth and depth of meaning contained in each Article of the Confession of Faith. Such a feeling first suggested to the Author the probable usefulness of a simple and attractive explanation of the Creed in the popular form of a series of Hymns, such as might be sung or said in private devotion, at family prayer, or in public worship.

He wanted "Tune 142" to go with The Church's One Foundation, but apparently AURELIA is the standard now. "In Lyra Fidelium (Fig. 1), Stone’s designation “Tune No. 142” for “The church’s one foundation” referred to the first edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern (1861)"

PDF of the 1861 edition for the curious.

Someone who can read music better than I may be able to tell if AURELIA is a better tune than what he had in mind.

Of the other hymns, I think parts of them are good, but the grammar is often so badly twisted to match the meter and rhyme that it is no great wonder that only one survives.

But I think he had an excellent idea.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Joshua Harris

I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop. So far nothing, so I figure I may as well comment.

I never read any of his books. I Kissed Dating Goodbye wound up on our bookshelf somehow or another(*), but the Book of Mormon and the Bhagavad Gita sit there too, so you can't conclude much from its presence. On inspection, it isn't there anymore. Maybe it was a loaner.

I gather that IKDG was about maintaining purity, which in our super-sexualized culture is challenging. Any support our kids can get--and adults too--is useful.

The focus on "dating" seemed a little over-the-top; rather like "putting a hedge around the law." Not that I'm always averse to putting a bright line in the sand; I wrote a little about how that might have played out in the era of Judges.(**) Since I hadn't actually read the book, I didn't feel comfortable in judging it--especially since I was laboring under the delusion that he also wrote I Gave Dating A Chance (that was Jeramy Clark). But I was dubious--I suspected overreaction.

Maybe there were useful suggestions in the book. I can think of a few suggestions on my own(***): "date" in groups. Find something besides entertainment that you can do together--you learn more about people when they're a little stressed hauling prickly brush out of a widow's back yard than when they're dressed up at a restaurant. (Maybe I should charge for advice.)

If the news stories were correct, there were some problems in the pastorship, and then he got into some marital difficulty, and now has decided not to call himself a Christian any more. I thought one of the main points of Christianity was the opportunity and the power to have sins forgiven and get up and soldier on again. Maybe you learn something different in seminary.

Some say he got too famous too fast and too young. I could believe it. “I have lived a sort of backwards life. Without meaning to, I have experienced life out of the normal order and sequence of events.” He became a senior pastor at age 30, and was only 23 when he published his famous book--he didn't marry until 24.

(*) So did The Prayer of Jabez: I think somebody gave that one to us too. I never read that book either--it seemed disproportionate to the material, and I generally react against fads.

(**) The names in that piece are horrible. I tried for realism, and I shouldn't have.

UPDATE:(***) Added a phrase to clarify.

Too expensive, but it would be cool

UV cameras look like fun. The video at the end shows what people look like in UV. Some people use UV cameras to look for skin damage that might be pre-cancerous. Unfortunately they don't have examples of using UV to distinguish cancerous from non-cancerous regions: that would be very useful.

Explanations from Interesting Engineering...

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Multi-messenger events

You have heard that LIGO is a gravity wave detector, and has spotted signals consistent with black hole mergers. They've actually spotted a number of things, and with the Virgo detector running now, they're able to narrow down the window to tell where things come from.

A few days ago they spotted what looks like a neutron star merger. A neutron star has lots of ordinary matter to play with, so you expect a more brilliant explosion than with black holes--and there was a gamma ray signal within 2 seconds of that neutron star merger event. The merger proper is the last act of the event, and a lot of the fireworks come along with the initial splashing.

LIGO and Virgo and IceCube and FERMI and others send messages to each other when something interesting happens. Initially IceCube didn't get a good estimate, but on followup we found a neutrino track about 360 seconds before the merger. We issued our own bulletin.

6 minutes seems like a pretty long time, but even before the neutron stars touch they could be distorting each others' surfaces though tidal effects and blasting stuff around, or having dramatic magnetic field interactions (which could accelerate protons to wild speeds), or some other general relativistic interactions that I'm not thinking of yet. I don't have a good intuition for what those should look like.

That should generate lots of gamma rays too, but there could be so much stuff clouded around that a lot of the gamma rays might not get through. (Think of it like not seeing a fire because of the smoke.)

I suspect that more refined analysis will not make the time agreement closer, and that what will really help us decide what's going on is finding more events like it, and learning what the timing patterns are. So far the event rate seems high enough that we can be optimistic. But it will take a few years.