Wednesday, April 29, 2020

His Master's Voice

AVI thought that dogs would pay more attention to recorded voices as the reproduction quality improved.

I wasn't so sure. Look at the above frequency response thresholds. Dogs can hear higher frequencies than we, but miss out on the lower. When a dog hears your voice, it hears supersonic details we don't, and misses the lower register. It doesn't hear what you hear.

Below find the response curve for a "Wadia 861, Filter A, CD." The response curve is nice and flat--until it falls off. It keeps up with the low register, which the dogs don't notice anyway, but it misses out on the high end, which we don't care enough about to instrument. (Why bother? Dogs don't buy electronics.)

The bulk of the energy spectrum for human speech is below 1000Hz, but there's still about a percent or so above human hearing range. Does 1% matter? I guess that dogs wouldn't have that kind of sensitivity unless it made a difference--maybe in finding mice. I wonder if anybody has tested dog response to human voices with signal response flat out to 30-40 kHz.

Monday, April 27, 2020


AVI links to a common sense essay by Kling. Except for the bit about ventillators, which I don't know enough about to have an opinion on, this matches my view of the situation.

I have said for years (even on this blog), that defense against non-human invaders is a responsibility that can rise to the same level as defense against human ones, and that we should plan accordingly. And fund the planning. Epidemics can get a lot worse than this one, and will.

One of the similarities between the DoD and the Department of Plague Defense is that in both cases you have to be adaptable. OK, so the enemy is coming through that impenetrable forest after all--your old plans are no good: adjust.

The generals we curse are the ones who doubled-down on stupid. When this virus first appeared, China was getting draconian. (The Chinese say that all is well now, and it wasn't from China in the first place, so I infer they're still in deep trouble.) Italy got hit hard. Knowing little more than that, radical measures seemed appropriate, but given the political effect of "it hasn't happened here yet," even things as obvious as shutting down travel with China roused objections.

We know more now. We don't have vaccines, and won't; we don't have cures, and won't for a while, if ever. We can see patterns, though. Some things look like they'll help, and some don't. Outdoor activities--probably OK. Singing--probably not OK. Close quarters--not OK. Aggressive air circulation/filtering--worth checking. Masks--if I were a business owner I'd demand that customers wear them. Putting the homeless in hotels--probably not as kind an idea as it seemed. Releasing prisoners--looks like that was a bad idea too. Listening to panic mongers--very bad idea.

Another similarity between the two defense arrangements is that you find profiteering and power grabs in both. "For the duration of the emergency" is a classic excuse. We've done mostly OK with keeping power grabs under control (yes, I've heard of exceptions), and sometimes we even prosecute war profiteers. When designing the Department of Plague Defense we can use some of the lessons learned from keeping the military under control to keep the new systems under control.

Who decides when a situation has risen to the level of an emergency? And who is accountable? Political partisans aside, most of us tend to forgive good-faith mistakes, but get impatient with CYA and refusal to decide--and refusal to notice that charges across no-man's-land aren't working very well. (*)

How do we define victory? "If it saves one life, it's worth it" is not a wise calculation. (I'm being kind.)

Another similarity is that both are guided by politics. The World Wars are pretty clear examples--there were plenty of sympathizers with the "other side" before, and some even after we committed to war. A large fraction of the "news" about the current epidemic is driven by political partisanship and not by dispassionate analysis of the data.

In time of peace and prosperity, the top officials for both will care more about internal politics and budgets than their mission, and congress-critters with pet programs will invite the agencies to "work smarter" and pare budgets. And both will indulge in fantasy boondoggles (the Zumwalt class destroyer, for example).

Yet another is that, when the real problem rises, both will probably be caught with their pants down. The CDC didn't cover itself with glory this time around, and military history can make you weep. On the other hand, without some infrastructure and thought beforehand, things would have been even more dire.

No plan survives first contact with the enemy. On the other hand, without a plan you will lose.

UPDATE: One more thing. One way we keep the military under control is by clear definition of the mission. Military are not police..

Defense against plagues is not public health.

(*) The Athenian approach didn't work very well and I'm not advising it, but I suspect that if there were more reporting of what Generals/Admirals say and do, and if they could face recalls, quite a few would be gone.

Sunday, April 26, 2020


This makes such a good story--too good--that you just have to cross-check. "Francis observed that when he played the records of his dead brother's voice, the dog would run over to the phonograph and listen intently. Francis painted the scene, calling it "His Master's Voice" and tried to sell the painting."

"The painting His Master's Voice in its original form was completed during 1899 and originally showed the dog (who had in fact died four years previously) listening to a cylinder phonograph."

Or in more detail:

It is difficult to say how the idea came to me beyond the fact that it suddenly occurred to me that to have my dog listening to the phonograph, with an intelligent and rather puzzled expression, and call it 'His Master's Voice' would make an excellent subject. We had a phonograph and I often noticed how puzzled he was to make out where the voice came from. It certainly was the happiest thought I ever had.

Or in another page: "The little dog was puzzled by where the voice came from, and Barraud found it very amusing." ... and ... "Barraud named the painting "Dog looking at and listening to a Phonograph," and eventually he decided to rename it to "His Master's Voice.""

FWIW: "Nipper (1884–1895) was born in Bristol, England, and was a mixed-breed Jack Russell Terrier. The playful dog’s tendency to bite the backs of visitors legs earned him the name."

Yes, the story was a bit too good to be perfectly accurate...

Friday, April 24, 2020


I looked at the picture in the newspaper's website, and given that the event was supposed to start at 1, figured that arriving by 4 should avoid most of it.

Sort of. The last block of East Washington had 2 lanes full of protest cars, decked out with banners, posters, big signs on top, and functioning horns. I had to detour a bit, but the delay wasn't important. People were leaving, with signs tucked under their arms, and waving flags--mostly US flags, but there were a few Gadsden flags too. No, I saw no Confederate flags.

I spotted a few counter-protestors too: "Who do you trust, scientists or rednecks?" but even they seemed to be in a good mood.

Most protestors seem to leave whatever their event was in good spirits. Not all--I heard of a few, but I wasn't around for those. Maybe it's a function of who they attract--a demonstration in favor of letting people go back to work probably won't be a beacon to out of town looters.

I'm not a huge fan of big crowds, but I gather protests usually tend to be pep rallies, and are good for morale boosts.

The view from the home office

In the recently-turned garden outside, a bluejay is having a territorial dispute with a robin over who gets to find nesting material in the garden. At one point the jay perched sideways on the fence attempting to pull chickenwire loose.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Pain and Mary

I ran across the reference: Did Mary have labor pains?

The official (but not fully authoritative) word from the Catholic Church is "no". That link cites Isaiah 66:22 "Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she was delivered of a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things?" OK, that could be a reference--or maybe not. It doesn't cite Revelation 12:2, which is cited in other contexts to refer to Mary as Queen of Heaven, and which refers to pain in childbirth. Further, arguments like "Many Fathers of the Church and theologians down through the centuries deemed it fitting that Mary alone would be exempt from such pains as a sign of her unique holiness. Thus, Mary’s freedom from the pains of labor is one of many reasons for belief in her Immaculate Conception." are a bit circular.

I don't know. I'm not obligated to believe in the Immaculate Conception, though I will cheerfully concede that her relationship to her son was not going to be ordinary. But stipulate the doctrine for the sake of the discussion. (FWIW, the Orthodox reject the doctrine, since they don't have the doctrine of Original Sin, which, as Chesterton noticed "is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved." But they believe in a painless birth.)

What would Mary have answered if God had asked her "Would you rather have a painless childbirth, as a reminder of what Eden was supposed to be and as a promise of what will be, or would you rather share the pain your sisters do?" She wasn't going to be pain-free later (Luke 2:35). Her Son came and shared our pain.

Microwave-powering rockets

Calling this a microwave rocket (see the journal article) isn't ideal, but there's not an obviously better way of describing it. The idea is that you just bring along reaction mass, and let the energy supply be beamed to you. "Furthermore, if the atmosphere around the spacecraft is used as a propellant (in the ramjet or scramjet mode), the amount of fuel that needs to be carried by the rocket can theoretically be reduced almost to zero."

Um, not quite. You could get a huge boost getting out of the atmosphere, but after the first few miles it gets harder to pick up gas to use as reaction mass. Once you're up that high, you need to provide stuff yourself.

Ideally what you'd like your rocket to have on hand is atomic hydrogen, and some magic energy source to heat it up so you can eject it out the nozzle and propel yourself forward. In our not-so-ideal world you have to make do with oxygen and hydrogen, though I suppose fluorine and hydrogen would work too--though I'd prefer to be very far away from the launch. Nuclear rockets use a reactor to heat the fuel, but the shielding is heavy, control is hard, and the erosion you get running plasma through the reactor is scary.

If you can beam the energy from a ground station, receive it and efficiently transfer that to the reaction mass, you have your "magic energy source."

The popular article seems to have gotten a few things confused. The paper says they got 28-36% power generation efficiency (wall power to waveguide power), which isn't something terribly surprising. This is the ground-based stuff--you've got plenty of room to amp up your power generation.

The second part of the problem is power transmission--and they get about 51% of the power getting beamed out in the direction you want, and about 14% actually making it into the thruster.

Side note--they beamed power into the back of a tube with an aluminum nose, to see how much impulse they got--from 22 to 52 mNewtons/second.

With 34% efficiency into actual thrust, they claim a 5-6% power efficiency. That beats rocket fuel.

But that last step bothers me. If only 1/3 of the beamed power goes into thrust, what becomes of the other 2/3? Some is wasted and goes out the nozzle in non-kinetic energy, but not all. And when the rocket trajectory bends and you're not aiming up its backside...

Still, it's a nice measurement, and I'm guessing it would be way cheaper to put together a power beaming station (to send up small rockets) than the huge rockets we make now. But there are a number of little details to deal with in the meantime--like making sure the power transfer to the reaction mass is high performance (even if not efficient), and shielding the cargo and the rest of the rocket fuel, and redundancy in case of a power station failure.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Faith, hope, and love

These seem to be closely allied to actions.

James has a famous passage on faith and works. If faith is like trust, it only shows up in actions--or refraining from action; it's an approach to

Hope is looking forward by remembering--which is a choice of what to remember, and how to let that inform your other choices.

Love, of course, is also expressed in actions.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Arts and Sciences

It is National Poetry Month, and (so far) a couple of IceCube collaborators have tried their hands at the art. Illustrations are by the IceCube outreach team.

On Facebook

On Facebook

And a third, also on FB

And a fourth, also on FB

And a fifth
Maybe we're not Shakespeares, but we try to have fun.

UPDATE*3: Adding more as they arrive. They didn't post my second offering.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Illicit drug trade

I wonder what effect the social-distancing and shelter-in-place and what-not is having on the last link in the chain--consumer purchases.

I gather from SCC that social distancing is not a thing in the inner city. The street-corner deals there are presumably as brisk as ever, or, with the prisons being emptied, even busier.

And I presume that for addicts outside the inner city, getting supplied is a high enough priority that they are finding ways. Maybe the purely recreational users might be put off by elevated risks, but not the addicts.

But with less traffic, are deals more visible? Is the US Mail handling more of the deliveries?

Monday, April 13, 2020

I do not think that word means what you think it means

This from seconds ago by an NPR literary pundit recommending books to read while isolated.
" reminds me of the immortal (redacted), who died in 1991..."

Garden Gates and Power Tools

To put up a garden gate, you just need a screwdriver, a level, a pencil, and a drill. And some soap for the screws.

But. If you are building a garden gate, it must have a sill. Trust me on this--it may swing freely now, but just wait while the grass grows and the dirt shifts.

At some point you will be exasperated enough to take the gate off and reseat it above a real sill.

If you originally drilled through a pine knot, that screw will be glued in forever or until the post decays in a landfill, whichever comes first.

If the screw is well and truly glued in, it will turn out to be made of something the bit can't get a bite on. Other screws will just take a minute to drill out; this one looks to take hours. The bit size doesn't seem to matter.

However, an angle grinder will make quick work of the screw head, and any of the shaft sticking above the wood--and about 1/8" of the wood too. And it'll tear up the hinge plate, but since there's room for 5 screws there's enough redundancy that you can ignore that.

(I don't like that angle grinder. It has a switch on/off, not a spring-loaded "Ouch! and it stops" switch.)

Oh yes--since the posts are no longer perfectly parallel, you need to use a planer to narrow down the top of the gate a bit.


The LawDog, a blogger and policeman, is a firm proponent of always being prepared to provide bio-degrading elements at high speed. This isn't his go-to, and he much prefers quieter ways to get yourself out of trouble. Hence the Media Pass.
Reach into your glove box, grab your Media Pass, a notebook, and a writing instrument; stare purposefully at the crowd/mob/ demonstration/ riot, and move along the periphery of the crowd/ mob/ demonstration/ riot, pretending to take notes, and waving your Media Pass at anyone who takes notice of you.

As soon as you get to a point where you can duck, disengage, and Beat Feet Away From The Stupid, do so. If there's a barricade in front of your Newest Favourite Alley, waving your Media Pass at the cops manning said barricade will frequently get you past it.

Sunday, April 12, 2020


He is risen, and with Him, we too can rise.

I'm not a big fan of dying. It hurts, losing all your powers of body and mind is humiliating, and there are no more chances--"Pencils down. Time's up." Woulda/coulda/shoulda--but too late.

What of that does resurrection change? The pain would be past, and the soul and body restored. Are there any more chances? Probably not.

"Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; He did not come to improve the improvable; He did not come to reform the reformable. None of those things works." — Robert Farrar Capon

I look at my life and talents and, I think properly, see the losses and waste. But perhaps what was done for God, however half-heartedly--perhaps some of my dead deeds can also be resurrected and purified, in union with Him and His resurrection.

Saturday, April 11, 2020


"And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment."

Saturday was a day of rest, but also of helplessness. The prophet they had trusted was dead, the men were hiding, and the women couldn't even have the closure of completing the burial.

There are times you can act, and times you can do nothing. When Jesus hung on the cross, he couldn't swat away the flies.

Wait and endure and hope. There we have the advantage over the disciples: they had no hope. But helplessness we all share in. It needn't be always bad--babies are helpless too.

As a little contrast, the Pharisees seem to have indulged in a little business on the Sabbath (I wonder how they justified that?): they asked Pilate for a guard, and were told to set one up. They thought they weren't helpless.

Friday, April 10, 2020


I'm not sure I agree with Augustine that sin is essentially a deprivation. I think it's a negation. I could be wrong, but personal experiences lean me that way.

In heaven un-numbered creations can say "Look what God made of nothing!" or out of His glory, according to some scholars

I think we will be saying "Look what God remade of less than nothing!"

State Parks

I was wondering why Evers wanted to close the state parks. Apparently, with other venues closed, the parks had such a huge surge in use that they couldn't keep them clean. Plus there is the "social distancing" when passing on sometimes-narrow trails, although I think that's probably overblown in the breezy outdoors.

The photo below is from a "back door" entrance to Gov. Dodge park, and it has at least 3 times as many cars parked there as I've ever seen before.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Epidemic analysis

In our practice with the small epidemic (there's going to be a big one someday, with the O(30+%) death rates), I'm not sure who is keeping track of what works and what doesn't, and trying to see how to open things back up.

We have "essential services" and "very low risk work." If you're not public-facing, a huge chunk of risk goes away. How can you reduce the rest of the risk? How do you know? Who is studying this?

Take tree-trimmers as an example. What precautions do they need to take? Separate vehicles, spray cleansers on shared tools like ladders, eat lunch apart, liners under the work gloves... Would those be good enough?

Sometime or other the lockdowns have to end, and they will have to end before the disease is completely gone--because it may never completely go away. The sanest way would seem to be staging it--but how do we (and who does) decide who goes first?

UPDATE: Looks like NEC Directory Gary Cohn is starting to think about it.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Subjective and Objective

Long ago I came to the conclusion that all women were beautiful if you looked at them in the individual way God made each to be looked at—not demanding "identi-kit beauty." True, there are some with such deep infelicity of feature or character that I've never been able to apply that rule to them. But as a general rule it has seemed to work.

Some 15 springs ago I was waiting for a bus in front of the student union, where three young women were improving the vista with their presence. After a while I noticed that my eyes lingered longer on one of the three, and wondered why. All seemed equally cheerful, and the other two had more classical figures. One of the other two was displaying a good deal of herself, which is a sure-fire attention-getter. Still, I thought the first more attractive.

After a few minutes I realized why. The first woman resembled my wife.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Care for the ancients

Looking at the Met's Aida tonight--or at least the first part of it--you can see that much
of the background is painted to look weathered, cracked, and worn. For a palace scene that
makes no sense, of course--everything would be made to look as good as possible.(*)

Egypt has been old for a long time. Did the rulers of Dynasty X take care to keep the temples of Dynasty X-N in good repair? If the gods weren't the currently fashionable ones, the temples might have been left to their own patrons' support. That might leave some decrepit-looking buildings around, which might not be the impression a pharaoh would want to give.

How about the funerary temples?

Some of the later builders scavenged stone, and there has to have been a huge black market in tomb-robbed gold, to which somebody was turning a blind eye. Perhaps, despite the elaborate efforts to maintain service for the dead, the ancestral service only lasted as long as the annuity. In addition, I suppose that the notables of N Dynasties back weren't really the ancestors of the current rulers.

Where paint survives on the temples, I assume we can figure out how often it was repainted. I'm pretty sure they could have used a little touch-up every few hundred years, and it would tell us something about their attitudes to the works of the ancients if the reliefs got the touch-up or not. Although something might be too sacred to monkey with, or too old-fashioned to keep in repair--the effect would be similar.

I'm tolerably sure that, even if a family lived in the same home for centuries and kept up the accruing memorials to the kas of all the ancestors, most of them would be honored en masse, because nobody could remember who they were. To be forgotten was a terrible fate for a ka, and observing this would make it a live worry for the living. "How can I make sure I will be remembered as me and not as 'honored ancestors'?"

(*) I wonder how many of the "hieroglyphs" Aida used in its decorations actually meant something? I can imagine some of the stage-crew getting a little creative. In their shoes, I'd try. It isn't as though anybody was trying extra hard for authenticity--the central figure in the "stone" trio of statues is a woman, of the same height as the men.


How do you clean an aircraft? The trays are notorious, the seats aren't exactly designed for quick scrub-downs (just imagine trying to vacuum them), and is there anyone here who hasn't flown with sick passengers (or been one of them!)?

Enter the GermFalcon, which generates UVC to kill bacteria and viruses. They use a 100amp battery (I think they get about 300 watts) to power UVC lamps to bake the surfaces.

Unfortunately the story doesn't mention how long it takes, and given that you only see one side of the tray table at a time (and it shadows other things), you'd need 2 passes to get the upper surfaces. I didn't see any lights down low for the floor--mustn't forget the floor and all the passengers who take their shoes off. And the shield for the operator isn't enough--he needs safety goggles as well, and had better wear long pants.

It looks interesting, though.

We bought a UVC sanitizing lamp, mostly for fluorescence demonstrations, but under the circumstances we may find uses closer to its original purpose. Ozone stinks, by the way.

Sunday, April 05, 2020


Has everyone seen the story about the Venezuelan rammer?. "The 403-foot-long Resolute ... Intended for Antarctic cruises, it has a reinforced ice-capable hull." and "the steel-hulled patrol ship suffered severe damage from repeatedly ramming the cruise ship, began to take on water, and ultimately sank."

I'd have thought that the Naiguatá's captain might have noticed that things weren't going his way and desisted, but perhaps communications were poor.

I've heard a couple of explanations for the attempt--one at the link: "The ship was recently "arrested" by Argentina due to alleged non-payment of her fuel bill." Another implied a history of shakedowns.

Want to book a cruise?

Friday, April 03, 2020

Hypertension meds

"Instead of making COVID-19 symptoms worse, some antihypertensive drugs may actually reduce the severity of infections, and could therefore be used to treat the disease, both sets of doctors say."

One of those on the list is the very common lisinopril. It would be nice if that helped alleviate symptoms.

OTOH, one of those "underlying conditions" they warn about for COVID-19 death risk is hypertension. I wonder if they can split out those who were taking their meds and those who weren't: probably not. But if the drugs helped, I'd hope one could see a difference--hypertension being a lesser risk than other factors.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020


An economic contraction can happen anytime, no matter what the Fed fancies its powers to be. And if it is deep enough and long enough, we have to consolidate: families take in fledged children, cousins, elderly aunts--and make do until opportunities open up.

Which suggests two questions...

Do we (on average) retain enough sense of extended family to be able to make that a real option?

Do we have the legal framework to define such mutual support? (Insurance, IRS tax status, etc). We've been busily trying to redefine marriage, but what about defining an ordinary extended family?