Tuesday, March 31, 2020


Doc Evermor died yesterday after a long illness.. Above, a robin took advantage of one of his metal birds.

He was a scrapyard artist. The sculpture park is weird and wild and fun. I think I liked his orchestra best. When we were there last, part of the fun was watching a grandson train the camera on everything around him. If you're by Madison, look it up.

Monday, March 30, 2020


The regular gust blew chill air out of the cave's mouth. In the evening it would blow in. It was old hat to the spelunkers.

The too-fast humans had no inkling of the slow tickle their years of exploring had made in the throat of the Father of Caves.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Visions of the greater

In a very few of the SciFi stories I've read, the author contemplates what would happen to human science and technology after we met aliens with vastly superior technology. (Roughly equivalent technology doesn't change much: They have X and now we have X too, and aside from that we're peers.) Research science, as a field, disappears completely. Engineering turns into either reverse engineering or simply duplicating (if they let us) what the aliens build. We get discouragement. I think that was one of the points in Childhood's End, though I don't care to re-read it to check.

"What is there to do that has not already been done?" We're not big fans of doing the same things our forefathers did. Maybe that's not a virtue, but Is there anything of which one might say, “See this, it is new”? Already it has existed for ages which were before us. was a lament 2500 years ago.

In the face of true superiority, what choices do we have? If we can somehow unite with the superior without losing our own selves/souls, well and good. Otherwise, what's the use of doing anything?

God told Moses that "no man can see me and live." That's obviously true in the "firehose" sense--there is too much God for us to begin to handle. Perhaps there's something else analogous to those aliens as well. Aquinas set down his pen and said all he had written was so much straw. After the Beatific Vision, can we turn attention to the things of the world again?

Maybe. God did, and if we are united with Him maybe we can too. But it seems as though we were made to see in particular ways: "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD," but with the glory incarnate through the physical things. We should have, not direct apprehension of God, but vision mediated and illustrated through His creation. (including ourselves, ideally--though not always so much in practice)

The resurrection of the body suggests that some of the old ways of seeing will remain; but at a minimum will be as they should have been.

Saturday, March 28, 2020


It struck me a few years ago: in the churches I've been a member of, we've had doctors, policemen, guards, nurses, dentists, real estate agents, teachers, school principals, secretaries, accountants, auto mechanics, carpenters, pilots, privates and colonels, painters, general laborers, lawyers, scientists, unemployed, hotel inspectors, even a state senator and a governor--but I don't remember ever meeting a reporter.

If you can keep your head

The headlines keep buffeting us with crises. How do I know when to take action, and what kind?

I want to advise someone who is not a specialist in the whatever the crisis-du-jour is. First--the generic steps to take to learn and evaluate; second--a specific example.

Big picture:
  1. The world has lots of things and people trying to kill you.
  2. Sooner or later something will kill you.
  3. In the meantime there will be plenty of real and false alarms.
  4. Nobody tells one from the other 100% of the time.

Now that that's out of the way: What about the current crisis?

  1. Turn off the TV. And the radio. Log out of Facebook and put your cell phone away. They all make money out of making you afraid.
  2. Get a pen and a pad of paper and sit down at the kitchen table. If you're nervous, recite a Psalm or sing a campfire song.
  3. Write down what the crisis is supposed to be about.
  4. Write down how it is supposed to effect you.
  5. Write down these questions. Don't start looking for the answers yet.
    1. Who says this? Reporters are as ignorant as you are. So are politicians. Find out the source they are quoting. If they don't give you a source, ignore the report and find one that does--if you can.
      1. Is the source they are quoting flogging a new book?
      2. Does the source have an expert's credentials? For example, is this a lawyer talking about medicine?
      3. Do other experts have something to say?
      4. Is the source credible? For example, a lawyer will always say his client is innocent, and totalitarian state officials will always cover up problems.
    2. What are the sources actually saying will happen, as opposed to what may happen? Remember that the media have a vested interest in playing up the worst case scenario. Write down the "may" case and the "worst" and, if they have it, the "best."
    3. Who benefits if the worst case comes to pass?
    4. Who benefits if we take the recommended action to stop the worse case? Sometimes the beneficiaries are politicians grabbing power; sometimes these are particular people or industries. That someone benefits does not make a claim false, but it is something to keep an eye on.
    5. What things might happen to you - short term - in the worst case? In the likely case?
      1. What are the chances that each of these might happen? For example, suppose you're worried about getting hit by a stray bullet. If you don't usually hear gunfire, the chances are very small. If you do: how often are people accidentally shot, and how many people live in the danger zones? Divide the first by the second--that's roughly your risk. It may be less if you live in higher stories of a building, or much higher if your neighbor is a gangster. Raw numbers can be scary; rates less so.
    6. What can you do to reduce your risk? You do not have anything to prove to anybody here--forget phrases like coward or racist or "bad for the planet." Just figure out what you might do.
      1. Any action, including no action, carries risks. What is the risk of your possible action? For example, if you are worried about getting mugged, you might think of investing in a bullet-proof vest. This has some risks--to an experienced eye you stand out, and you don't want attention, and it makes it harder to run when you need to run away.
      2. What is the opportunity cost of your possible action?
      3. If you are a Christian (I am), imagine trying to explain to Jesus why this action is a good plan. Write that down.
    7. Have things like this happened before? Make a list of times and places.
      1. How is the situation now different?
      2. Do the differences make any difference to your risk?
  6. Figure out where you need to look for these answers, turn your computer back on, and go look. Ask for help if need be. Remember that even the devil can tell the truth sometimes. Collect the answers.

  7. What does the risk look like now?

Take the Wuhan virus plague.

Ignore Trump. And Pelosi and Biden. What do the doctors say?

What may happen? If you find the numbers, you learn that something like 1% of people die. That's 10x worse than the average flu year, 10x better than the Spanish flu, and 50x better than Ebola. It is also about 10x worse than the average death rate from other causes. If the ER's get clogged, your chances of dying of something else are higher even if you never catch the disease. If you're old, the risk is high; if you're young your risk of dying is low--but your risk of passing it on to somebody else is high. So, say about 1% unless you're old, and a high risk of passing it on to somebody.

If you read widely, you find that the death rates vary all over the place. If you look even closer, you find that it is almost impossible to get true comparisons, because of reporting problems--if a country doesn't know how many are infected, it can't know what the rate is. So the 1% number that we got from the Diamond Princess is probably as good as you'll be able to know for a few months yet.

Who benefits in the worst case? Not even coffin makers; people will go cheap. Who benefits from extreme action? Politicians--as usual.

Can you reduce your risk? Yes--everybody has explained how. The question of whether to close businesses isn't a private question. Are you going to have a hard time explaining to the Almighty why you decided to skip going to a party and wash your hands? Probably not--those are decencies. You might have a harder time explaining why you decided not to take it seriously.

Have these things happened before? Yep. This one is worse than usual, but it could be a lot worse--and some day a really bad plague will come through. Similar--lots of people are going to die. Different--in this country, at least, we've got pretty decent medical care, which will help more people survive.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Tracking it down

I read a snappier version of this in You Call this Living and thought I should see where it came from.
On an official visit to Paris in 1963 at the death of Jean Cocteau, Jaroslow Iwaskiewicz, President of the Union of Writers and Dramatic Authors, and author of the novel _Mother Joan of the Angels_, was asked by Adrezej Moosman, directory of Slavic language broadcasts: "Are you a catholic?" Iwaskiewicz answered in a detached tone, "Yes, I am a believer but not a practicing Catholic." His companion retorted, "And doesn't that prevent you from having an important official job in a communist country?" The retort was a witty: "That's different, in that case I am practicing, but not a believer."
Found here


I figured sidewalks are inhospitable places for viruses. But I hadn't thought of floors. All those aerosols settle where? The tiny droplets should dry out fast, but the bigger ones might be comfy homes for viruses for a while. A lot gets rubbed away when you walk out of the store, but...

OK, new rule--treat shoes like boots--change at the front door. Then wash your hands.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Covid experience

Via ChicagoBoyz; some experiences of a Texas doctor. Note that he is seeing mostly the bad cases, but he's seeing a lot of them.

Interesting that steroids make things worse--I gather that's a common part of treatment for pneumonia, which this can be mistaken for. I suppose that immune-suppressed people are more likely to get it--but I wonder if they're resistant to the cytokine storm.

And I see why I was tested--I presented with a constellation of the symptoms.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Getting out

It's nice to get out of the house again. I've been recovering (self-quarantined for a few days until the test came back) and not up to driving about much.

The Post Office was open--the woman serving me noticed my glove and said "Oh yes, I need to do that," and pulled hers on.

I'm trying a little experiment. When I have to use touch-screens or buttons I wear a glove on the right hand and leave the left bare for jobs like fetching out debit cards or getting the car keys out--in other words the left hand touches my stuff and the right glove touches the public-facing stuff. And once the car door is open, the glove gets stripped off and dumped. It takes a little thought before acting.

Some stuff is a little ambiguous--e.g. the purchases. I figure a clean working area and cleanup of everything as it gets taken out is probably fine, and wash-up before putting the goods away.

For an amusing exercise, add a quart of oil to your car, and see how many places gather grubby marks. I'll bet you didn't remember touching that, did you?

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Exponential vs

Pearl curve

It starts out looking like exponential growth, and then flattens out as whatever-it-is saturates. WRT the Wuhan virus, we're at the start of the curve, where things look like exponential growth.

I'm just being picky, here. And, for those not aware, "exponential" doesn't always mean growing--it can mean shrinking too.

(To my relief but not surprise, I tested negative and don't have to self-isolate anymore. It turns out that has an impact on what other members of the household are allowed to do. But I've still got a bad cold.)

For some reason newspaper explanations remind me of this.

Two mathematicians are in a bar. The first one says to the second that the average person knows very little about basic mathematics. The second one disagrees, and claims that most people can cope with a reasonable amount of math.

The first mathematician goes off to the washroom, and in his absence the second calls over the waitress. He tells her that in a few minutes, after his friend has returned, he will call her over and ask her a question. All she has to do is answer "one third x cubed."

She repeats "one thir -- dex cue"?
He repeats "one third x cubed".
She asks, "one thir dex cuebd?"
"Yes, that's right," he says.
So she agrees, and goes off mumbling to herself, "one thir dex cuebd...".

The first guy returns and the second proposes a bet to prove his point, that most people do know something about basic math. He says he will ask the blonde waitress an integral, and the first laughingly agrees. The second man calls over the waitress and asks "what is the integral of x squared?".
The waitress says "one third x cubed" and while walking away, turns back and says over her shoulder "plus a constant!"

Friday, March 20, 2020

Elizabethan royal entertainment

“One day, a great feast was held, and, after dinner, the representation of Solomon his Temple and the coming of the Queen of Sheba was made, or (as I may better say) was meant to have been made, before their Majesties, by device of the Earl of Salisbury and others. But alas! as all earthly thinges do fail to poor mortals in enjoyment, so did prove our presentment hereof. The Lady who did play the Queen’s part, did carry most precious gifts to both their Majesties; but, forgetting the steppes arising to the canopy, overset her caskets into his Danish Majestie’s lap, and fell at his feet, tho I rather think it was in his face. Much was the hurry and confusion; cloths and napkins were at hand, to make all clean. His Majesty then got up and would dance with the Queen of Sheba; but he fell down and humbled himself before her, and was carried to an inner chamber, and laid on a bed of state; which was not a little denied with the presents of the Queen which had been bestowed on his garments; such as wine, cream, jelly, beverage, cakes, spices, and other good matters. The entertainment and show went forward, and most of the presenters went backward, or fell down; wine did so occupy their upper chambers. Now did appear, in rich dress, Hope, Faith, and Charity: Hope did assay to speak, but wine rendered her endeavours so feeble that she withdrew, and hoped the King would excuse her brevity: Faith was then all alone, for I am certain she was not joyned with good works, and left the court in a staggering condition: Charity came to the King’s feet; and seemed to cover the multitude of sins her sisters had committed; in some sorte she made obeysance and brought giftes, but said she would return home again as there was no gift which heaven had not already given his Majesty. She then returned to Hope and Faith, who were both sick and spewing in the lower hall. Next came Victory, in bright armour, and presented a rich sword to the King, who did not accept it, but put it by with his hand; and, by a strange medley of versification, did endeavour to make suit to the King. But Victory did not tryumph long; for, after much lamentable utterance, she was led away like a silly captive, and laid to sleep in the outer steps of the anti-chamber. Now did Peace make entry, and strive to get foremoste to the King; but I grieve to tell how great wrath she did discover unto those of her attendants; and, much contrary to her semblance, most rudely made war with her olive branch, and laid on the pates of those who did oppose her coming.”

I thought the cast party was supposed to come after the show, but would be happy to be corrected.

Feet of clay

The great Lord Acton once complained that Bishop Creighton treated morals far too lightly in his historical works. No doubt, fundamentally, Lord Acton was right. But it is a question of energy: to exhaust oneself in disapproval wastes so much, and—since all those strange figures are dead—does no good. No living person is likely to be improved by denunciations of phantoms, and as for the phantoms themselves, what purpose does condemnation serve? “Shrilling on the wind,” they go by; there is something a little comic in trying to rebuke them. Besides, it encourages us to think that we are better than they.

Charles Williams James I

But we find such a thrill in pointing out the real (or merely unfashionable) crimes of historical figures. Plus, they're safely dead, and can't refute you.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Reconstructions of Helenist inventions

I wrote about Russo's book on "ancient" Greek science back in 2013. I don't follow him all the way, but there was plainly a lot accomplished, and then lost.

Pictures help. The Kostanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technologies shows some interesting reconstructions. This is a "mechanical theater".


"And this unwillingness to believe anything until it has been officially denied, my suspicion of every crowd and fashion, is not a virtue of my own making."

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


In vitro is one thing, but clinical studies are another, though with relatively few patients yet.
results from more than 100 patients have demonstrated that chloroquine phosphate is superior to the control treatment in inhibiting the exacerbation of pneumonia, improving lung imaging findings, promoting a virus-negative conversion, and shortening the disease course according to the news briefing. ... regulatory authorities and organizers of clinical trials reached an agreement that chloroquine phosphate has potent activity against COVID-19

"Potency" seems like a strong word, but it is probably a term of art here. And I couldn't read the studies to see what they were like and how much "better than control" they were.

I knew chloroquine--used to take it--but I thought it wasn't any use against today's resistant malaria strains, and had no idea it had other uses as well, against other "intracellular infections" such as Q fever and Whipple's disease. And I'd not have thought that a drug effective against intracellular infections by bacteria would also help some viral infections, but the details matter...

Regarding viruses, for reasons probably partly identical involving alkalinisation by chloroquine of the phagolysosome, several studies have shown the effectiveness of this molecule, including against coronaviruses among which is the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-associated coronavirus

We'll see. It doesn't sound like a cure, but a treatment would be good too. Especially a cheap one like this.

But wait until this replicates before celebrating.

I used to have some pills left over after a bout of malaria over 40 years ago, which I kept around in case of a recurrence--malaria is infamous for those. I think I threw them out decades ago.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Status Updated

I've got a bad cold, and would be at home even without the telecommuting mandate. (I'm also the OOD this week.) However, my temperature is low--as usual: 98.6 is just a population average.

UPDATE: Oops. It seems that just as different medications can interact, so can different diseases. Bottom line: I spent quite a bit of time in ER and under observation, but the best the docs came up with is a two-fer combo deal. Though, out of an abundance of caution, I was also tested for COrVID-19(*) and must self-isolate for a few days until the results come back.

Strange to think that the most dangerous place I stayed was probably the isolation room at the hospital. Negative pressure sucks air into the room from the hall, and we know sick people go through there. Well, maybe the ambulance was risky too--traffic accidents are always possible.

(*)I'm sorry, but I always think of ravens when I see that term.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Remote participation

Playing baseball without fan noise would be weird. They could do it, of course--they practice all the time--but the fans give the game more "energy" and put something more than just game stats at stake.

Suppose MLB created an app that let you watch the game if you liked (this already exists, of course), but with the option of signaling your approval/disapproval in real time.

This would have to be with "buttons"--no way could the network or the servers handle the bandwidth from live-streaming 10,000 fan voices. But when the boo/yay/hit!/miss! tallies arrived at the server, it could drive the appropriate volumes of fan noise into large speakers around the stadium.

The players would get fan feedback and encouragement in real time, the fans would get to feel like they're doing something--and hear the noise that results, and MLB could rake in a little extra money for the app as well.

The user interface is absolutely critical. It would have to be extremely easy to use, maybe let you hear your cry (maybe record your voice and play it back to you?) in the mix, and have enough "resistance" to make it feel like you are actually doing something more than punching a button. By resistance I mean that you have to do something harder than touching a screen: but it has to be something natural. Maybe pushing a button and yelling?

Friday, March 13, 2020

Immunity: Update*3

It seems likely to me that part of the jump in COVID-19 cases is more widespread testing.

I'm not sure how many variants of the tests there are--and I include procedural variants in that, because sometimes the procedures m
ake a difference. (CDC testing procedures)

  1. How many false positives are there in real-world usage?
  2. How many false negatives are there? How often ought we re-test to be confident that the person is indeed not infected?
  3. Can we reliable distinguish antibodies for this strain from others?
  4. Is there a reliable procedure for determining if someone is shedding the virus?

We expect the vast majority of the young who are infected to shake the illness easily. If, as with other corona viruses, those who recover have some immunity, then I think we want to try to assemble crews of the immune.

That means we want some accurate answers to those questions, as soon as we can get them.

UPDATE: " in contrast, the false-positive rate of positive results was 80.33%"

UPDATE2: " 697 who tested positive a month ago, seven people have died on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, 15 remain in critical condition, and 30 were once in critical condition but have improved". In other word, 1% die, and about 6.5% need intensive care. The deaths there were all over 70 with other conditions, but that's not the whole story.

UPDATE3: 23-Mar The first pass on an antibodies detection test

Show of hands?

Who else is starting to feel like Lady Macbeth?

Spam and humility

I may be the center of my world, but if I can manage to remember that I'm not on most people's radar at all, it gets much easier to remember that Bill Gates has little interest in my computer, Nigerian princes won't know me from Adam's off ox, and that strangers are unlikely to spontaneously take pity on my financial woes or my love life. "I'm flattered, but how did you get my name?"

Thursday, March 12, 2020


In congregational music we generally gradually slow down a bit when ending a song. (I don't hear ritenuto--immediately slowing down--very often) Is there a pattern that generally sounds best? (e.g. making the penultimate measure 25% longer and the last one 50%, or lengthening the notes in the last couple measures by 10% over the note before, or maybe the fractions vary with the original tempo)

A quick googling found the term "ridardando," but it looked as though it not defined and is left entirely to the taste of the performers. Which is fine, but I wonder in practice if they generally converge on some patterns that sound better.


The sign on the door matched the poster on the quad. He went in. Kingston looked around the brightly decorated room with its chairs and lectern and upbeat posters on the walls, and then at the handout the teacher offered him: Properly Ordered Desire. He hefted the coin in his hand and asked "Where's the wishing well?"

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Today's covid watch

UW-Madison is moving to online classes. Spring break is being extended a week and students asked to please move out of the dorms when they leave. Profs are supposed to use the extra week to shift to online classes. (They understand that some students can't do that--e.g. Italian students--so some dorms will still be open.)

We started looking at this a while back, but I suspect that hand-holding a couple of thousand lecturers through the process is going to take more than a week. And we'll need a lot of facilities: lots of tech support to keep them running too.

I'm to travel tomorrow--but I'll be driving, not flying, so as long as I use care gassing up the car I shouldn't see much opportunity for infection, and as long as Louisville doesn't go all New Rochelle I should come back on time.

Conferences are cancelled left and right, and it looks like the collaboration meeting in Brussels isn't going to happen. Maybe it'll be virtual--I wasn't slated to attend, but I could try a virtual meeting. I just have to set the alarm to "impossibly early."

And, one of the team is self-isolating. It doesn't sound like covid to me, but he wants to be safe, and he can work just as easily from home--maybe more so.

The ravens aren't perched watching us yet. COVID-19 hasn't turned into corvid yet.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Better than metric units

I never remember how many feet are in a mile, and avoid stones and slugs (and slings and arrows). Imperial units have their little issues, and when distances go to sea they leave me in knots.

But give the Imperial units their due. At least one set of measurements anticipated digital computers with their powers of two--the fluid measures. For a computer, they're better than metric. 2^3 fluid ounces to a cup, 2 cups to a pint 2 pints to a quart, 2^2 quarts to a gallon. If you move to dry measures, 2 gallons to a peck, 2^2 pecks to a bushel.

Daylight Savings Time

Every Spring, for about a week:

Saturday, March 07, 2020


Measure R passed in LA. "The new policy grants an LASD civilian oversight commission independent authority to subpoena documents or witnesses pertinent to its investigations. Additionally, the referendum’s passage requires that body to draft a plan for reducing the county jail population with alternatives to incarceration."

That sounds relatively benign, unless you've heard about how oversight boards can work in big cities. What is planned for this one?

“We will use it to hold the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department accountable, and we will use it to make sure L.A. County continues to move forward with a care-first/jail-never ethos.”

Cullors, who has often been candid about her desire to “dismantle” law enforcement agencies and abolish prisons,

It seems to be an article of faith that "the system" causes crime. Never mind evidence; never mind experience; never mind logic. None of those things matter. The fact that blacks are arrested more often than whites or asians is proof of injustice.

In Chicago there will be a Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability: "Commission members will be selected based on their expertise in areas such as civil rights, social work, work with immigrant and undocumented communities, and law. Two of the seven commissioners will be between the ages of 18 to 24 and have experienced police misconduct." That last seems very very odd. I'm trying to think of a way this won't be abused.

Qui bono?

What drives this sort of "stop the police?" Self-justification, maybe. A kernel of truth; enough to make the whole thing seem palatable. Once upon a time in the South you couldn't convict a white man for attacking a black man--maybe there's a inchoate sense of collective revenge? Snow jobs? Netflix and Facebook founder's wives kicked \$2M into the campaign to get the LA referendum passed. Maybe they got the English version instead of the Arabic version of the story.

Yes, police misconduct is a real thing. But just as I don't want the police to monitor complaints against themselves, I don't want cop-haters and "social justice" activists doing it either. We've seen both movies--neither turns out well.

Hair of the dog

At a school concert the other day, I saw a number of posters evidently directed at an African-American student event. The one nearest me involved a black family, and bore a slogan inviting us all to build the family and destroy the patriarchy. I wonder who thought that up. If I read the statistics and studies correctly, black children need more fathers willing to take responsibility for their families, not fewer.

What does the slogan-eer think a family is? A fungible collection of interchangeable, role-less bodies?

Friday, March 06, 2020

Science Fiction Culture

"It is impossible to use electric light and wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles. We may think we can manage it in our own lives, but to expect others to do so is to make the Christian faith unintelligible and unacceptable to the modern world." Bultmann, 1961

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Arthur Clarke

Apparently for Bultmann, "sufficiently advanced" = "I don't understand it."

Anyone who understands the immense effort that goes into that switch bringing light will not mistake it for a miracle. If the knowledgeable one is working in the fields himself, he might even be insulted that you ignore his hard work.

Perhaps the mistake is unsurprising--miracles are done by Someone else, and the light from the ceiling or frozen food in the store is done by someones else--other people who are usually invisible to the lucky consumer.

Are we aware enough to be grateful?

It wouldn't hurt to remind ourselves, and our children, of how much work goes on behind the scenes, and how hard one must work to make things easy.

One side effect of living with so many "pocket miracles" is losing track of what is possible and what isn't.

Science Fiction Culture is a kind of magical thinking, shaped by our attitudes to the engineering marvels that we don't understand. In science fiction anything is possible. Travel faster than light? Upload your brain into a computer? All just a matter of time. I can point you to people who believe this!

The sci-fi/magic universe isn't just "pocket miracles" now, it is a future of more and more. "Whatever you imagine can be someday." There's already a touch of solipsism here--who needs to think about pesky realistic constraints?

If anything is possible, what's to keep us from achieving it now? "If we can put a man on the Moon, we can find a cure for cancer! All we need is the will to commit the resources." It turns out that dreams demand power and money, and if they're fruitless it's just because "You're not doing it right!"

When dreams meet reality, frustration ensues. I don't think it gets better when you can't admit you were wrong.

  • "We can eliminate poverty" Depending on how you define that, "sort of" and "not a snowball's chance."
  • "If the other countries just got to try the democratic/consumer society, they'd all get along." Somebody didn't pay attention in history class. Or current events.
  • "If everybody would become Christians, the world would be perfect and at peace." Jesus said a few things that disparage that premise.

What else is the notion that you can easily change sexes than sci-fi? (Tiresias had to have Hera work a miracle--not something just anybody can arrange.)

UPDATE: About the "invisible people:" when you think of "Top Gun" remember these pictures.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

"At risk"

From April 25, 2018 a pilot program that assists students with academic challenges and allows them to participate in a high school and college-credited state-certified Fire Academy program."

A few months later: September 9, 2018 they arrived and found 17-year-old Mekhi Moss threatening to punch a METRO bus driver. He was riding the bus. ... The teen faces multiple charges, including disorderly conduct, marijuana possession with intent to deliver and felon in possession of a firearm. Felon at age 17--presumably he was during the Fire Academy program too.

And today the report says that being charged with an armed robbery on 21-Jan.

I gather the Fire Academy program didn't help much. He wasn't in the picture with the mayor; I wonder if he had all the tattoos then.

The name turns up in "part time nannies" available in Sun Prairie. Was that a joke on him or by him?

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Movie focus

I was absorbed in my reading on the bus. I felt it turn, and turn, and when I looked away from the kindle I realized I'd lost track of where we were. It wasn't significant--my exit wasn't for another 15 minutes--but it was a sharp reminder that I'm not always attentive. The sketch of a man eyeing an attractive woman walking by and running into a phone pole he didn't notice is funny because it's all too true.

What comes to mind is one of those scenes in the New Zealand movies where there's vast scenery and a troop of nine walking along the ridge. My eyes flick back and forth between the scenery and the actors, and when I concentrate on one the other fades.

Suppose you were making a "first person"/stream-of-consciousness movie, seeing what the protagonist sees and hearing what he hears. You could force the viewpoint with camera focus, and maybe with post-processing tricks to literally fade other things in view. I've seen something like this done when the hero has been drugged or slugged and is slowly gaining consciousness, but that's only for a scene. I wonder if you can do it longer. Finding a balance between single-minded focus and flicking the attention this way and that would be quite a trick.

In clumsy hands this would be unwatchable. Without a good story-line reason for doing it, it would be pretentious. With skill and story-telling reason--it might still be a poor choice.

Somebody is bound to have tried this--probably many somebodies. And I'd bet most of the results aren't any good: in art "90% of everything is junk". Has this approach to forcing the viewer's attention ever worked?

Monday, March 02, 2020

Snapshots and browsing security

Your browsing session carries along with it quite a bit of information--not just cookies. I'm told that even without cookies there's often enough info to almost uniquely identify your computer/browser combo.

There are supposed to be ways around that with Virtual Private Networks and anonymizers and what-not, assuming you trust them. I'll look into that some other time.

Another, perhaps more urgent, problem with browsing is that bad actors out there are happy to infect your computer with whatever they can load on. Anti-virus software can help, but last time I checked none of them were 100% effective.

I decided to experiment with virtual machines.

Maybe containers would be a more lightweight way to go. I'll look into that later. I figured virtual machines would be easier to offer step-by-step instructions for.

The platform is a 5-year-old Macbook I use but don't own: 16GB and an SSD. That SSD would probably be the biggest difference when comparing to some other platform.

I installed VirtualBox.

After starting VirtualBox and asking to create a new virtual machine, I installed Windows 10. And then installed the "extension pack" for VirtualBox into Windows 10. (I had to go back and add a "Virtual DVD drive" and then use the menu to point that at the extension pack's .iso file to get it to load) I asked that the clipboard be importable from the main OS to the client, but not vice versa. If you allow the VM to mount any part of the host's filesystem, a malicious worm may write there without your knowledge--so only mount scratch areas you don't care about.

In Windows 10, I installed firefox as the browser because it was familiar. I manually asked for the most recent Windows 10 updates. Then I started the browser.

Then I "took a snapshot;" both filesystem and memory at the same time.

That's a clever trick used with some filesystems (e.g. Plan9 and ZFS) and pretty much all virtual machine managers. At first there's no change, the snapshot is just like the original filesystem. But if I change a block of data, the old data in the snapshot does NOT change. What changes is the pointer: it points to the new data stored elsewhere. If you delete a file, the snapshot file is still there in the old area, but in the current system there's no pointer to it anymore.

You can tell the virtual machine manager to "revert" the virtual machine to the old snapshot, and it will chuck all the new stuff and return it to the old state.

So, suppose I need to look up repair manuals for a washing machine. Those sites are notoriously infected; as bad as recipe sites. I connect to a site that promises me a parts list, but instead it uploads a javascript that rewrites some important little files in my area.

At the end of the session, I have an infected machine, that may be phoning home as I sit back and reach for the peanut jar.

I log out and shut down the virtual machine. It isn't running, but is still infected.

I open the VirtualBox menu for the virtual machine and "revert to snapshot." It asks if I want to make a snapshot of the new version. No, I don't.

The system is reverted to the state of the original snapshot.

Now if I restart the virtual machine, it comes back to the state it was in at snapshot time--open browser and all.

Bottom line: With a Windows 10 VM and SSD for the host, it takes about 15 seconds to open and be ready.

I should play around with some other, lighter-weight, operating systems, to see if I can cut down that 15 seconds to something more snappy. I figure the less data it has to load from disk, the faster it will load.

Side effects: Any form fill-ins that weren't set up with the snapshot will be lost when you revert. Any updates to the OS that happen while you are browsing will be lost on reversion. That latter bit is important: every few weeks you will want to start a snapshot, install updates, create a new snapshot, and merge the old one away.

I tried watching YouTube videos: sound and movement were slightly and annoyingly out of sync.

UPDATE: Mint loads in about half the time.