Thursday, December 31, 2020

Antique mirror

From Schiltberger's book, a curious mirror.
Near the port of Alexandria there is a fine high tower, on which there was not long ago a mirror, in which one could see from Alexandria toward Cipern those who were on the sea; and whatever they were doing, all could be seen in this mirror at Allexandria, so that at the time that the king of Zipern went to war with Allexandria, he could do them no harm. Then came a priest to the king of Ziperen, and asked what he would give him if he broke the mirror. The king replied, that if he would break the mirror, he would give him whichever bishopric he might choose to have in his country. The priest then went to Rome to the Pope, and said: That he would break the mirror at Allexandria, if he would allow him to abjure the Christian faith. He gave him permission that he might do so in words, and not in deeds nor with the heart. Now he did this for the sake of the Christian faith, because the Christians at sea suffered many injuries from the Infidels, through this mirror. The priest returned from Rome to Alexandria, and was converted to the faith of the Infidels, and learnt their writing, and became an Infidel priest and their preacher, and taught them the Infidel faith against the Christian faith, and they held him in great honour, and wondered, because he had been a Christian priest, and they trusted in him very much. They asked him which temple in the city he wished for, as they would give it to him for his life time. There was also a temple in the middle of the tower where the mirror was; this temple he asked for, for his life time; they gave it to him together with the keys of the mirror. There he remained nine years, and then one day he sent to the king of Zypperen that he should come with his galleys, and he would break the mirror which was in his power, and he thought, that, after breaking the mirror, if the galleys were there, he would go on board. One morning many galleys came, he struck the mirror three blows with a hammer before it broke, and from the noise all the people in the city were frightened, and ran to the tower and fell on him, so that he could not get away; then he jumped out of a window of the tower, into the sea, and was killed.

In the (extensive!) footnotes one finds:

Makrizi describes the pharos at Alexandria (S. de Sacy, Chrestom. Arabe, ii, 189) as having at the top a large mirror, around which criers were seated. Upon perceiving the approach of an enemy through the agency of this reflector, they gave warning to those in the immediate neighbourhood by loud cries, and flags were displayed to apprise others at a distance, so that people in all parts of the city were immediately on the alert.

I don't know about you, but the first thing that comes to my mind with mirrors and lighthouses is "optics." "Consider that Bacon, in the fifth book of the Opus maius, waxed enthusiastic about the Ancient's ability to enlarge small objects and to bring faraway ones close, using appropriate configurations of lenses and mirrors."

The use of lenses has been known since antiquity. This is in Alexandria, and the earlier references to it date back to the 8'th century. It sounds a lot like a telescope.

Although this wonderful "mirror" is also supposed to have been used to set ships on fire by reflecting the sun's rays--sorry, not big enough for that. But little demonstrations inside the tower might have been frightening.

And ...., it turns out my speculation isn't orignal. That article includes a truly spectacular speculation about a telescope in the lighthouse.

Oddity in descriptions

Idly reading THE TRAVELS OF BISHOP ARCULF IN THE HOLY LAND, one of the first things that struck his, and my, notice was the church of the Holy Sepulchre and the tomb of Jesus. Since he was there about AD 700, Hakim the Mad had not yet destroyed everything, and it was presumably in the same state it had been for hundreds of years, and the descriptions will be very different from what you would see today.

All the tomb pictures show something about as tall as a man's shoulders, but Alculf's description is a bit different.

Within, on the north side, is the tomb of our Lord, hewn out of the same rock, seven feet in length, and rising three palms above the floor. These measurements were taken by Arculf with his own hand. This tomb is broad enough to hold one man lying on his back, and has a raised division in the stone to separate his legs. The entrance is on the south side, and there are twelve lamps burning day and night, according to the number of the twelve apostles; four within at the foot, and the other eight above, on the right-hand side. Internally, the stone of the rock remains in its original state, and still exhibits the marks of the workman's tools; its colour is not uniform, but appears to be a mixture of white and red. The stone that was laid at the entrance to the monument is now broken in two; the lesser portion standing as a square altar, before the entrance, while the greater forms another square altar in the east part of the same church, covered with linen cloths.

Matthew doesn't describe it; just calls it a tomb. Mark implies that the tomb was big enough to enter; so do Luke and John. Mark used a different Greek word, that seems to include monument as a connotation. So not much there, except that it sounds rather more like the pictures than what Arculf describes.

But chiseling out rock isn't easy or cheap, even the kind of mediocre stone in that outcrop. Why waste effort? Maybe what Alculf was describing was more of a family burial area, with niches carved for the individual tombs. That seems more practical, and explains why the tomb is described as "broad enough to hold one man".

I don't get the "raised division in the stone to separate his legs" bit though. I can't think of a good reason to wrap the legs separately, and a good one not to (easier to carry the body). The shroud of Turin certainly has them tight together.

I am disinclined to believe that what he saw was the Lord's cup, or the place where His last footprints are to be seen in the dust, or that there was a 700-year-old fig tree from which Judas hanged himself. But I'd think the tomb location might have been remembered a while, and the identification stands a chance of being accurate. Maybe it wasn't quite finished? Or quite smooth, and he misinterpreted... I trust his observations, but not the interpretations.

FWIW, the translation in Project Gutenberg omits things like "relating a miracle concerning the sudarium or napkin taken from the head of our Saviour (which has not been[xiii] thought worth retaining in the present translation)."

On Mount Sion, Arculf saw a square church, which included the site of our Lord's Supper, the place where the Holy Ghost descended upon the apostles, the marble column to which our Lord was bound when he was scourged, and the spot where the Virgin Mary died. Here also is shown the site of the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

Three sites so close together (plus a pillar taken from elsewhere)? I know Israel is small, but that's quite a stretch.

By all means, read the report. There are others at the link too

Short tenures

At the time Edigi was the Chief with the power to elect or depose kings in Tartary. From The Bondage and Travels of Johann Schiltberger, a Bavarian who at the time was a slave of Zeggra:
Then Edigi elected a king named Polet, who reigned one year and a half.

Then there was one named Segelalladin, who expelled Polet;

and after this, Polet’s brother was king, and he reigned fourteen months.

Then came his brother, named Thebachk, who fought with him for the kingdom, and killed him, and then there was no king.

But he had a brother called Kerumberdin, who became king, and reigned five months.

Then came his brother Theback, and he expelled Kerimberdin and became king.

Then came Edigi and my lord Zeggra, and they drove away the king, and Edigi made my lord the king as he had promised. He was king for nine months.

Then came one named Machmet, and he fought with Zeggra and with Edigi. Zeggra fled to a country called Distihipschach, and Machmet became king.

Then came one named Waroch; he expelled Machmet and became king.

After that, Machmet recovered, and he drove away Waroch and was again king.

Then came one named Doblabardi, who drove away Machmet and became king, and was king for three days only.

Then came the same Warach, who expelled Doblabardi, and again became king.

Then came my lord Machmet, and he overcame Waroch and again became king. After that, came my lord Zeggra, and he fought with Machmet and was killed.

Something new every day

There's been a sharp rise in auto theft this past year, and also in "drag racing" / crazy-fast driving. These may be connected.

You probably know that most police departments no longer do high speed chases. They can follow for a while, but then drop out. Suppose you have a cargo of drugs. Are you being tailed? One way to find out is to drive crazy-fast and see if anybody behind you is doing that too. If not, you're safe--find a place to slow down and rendezvous in the back of the back parking lot of Walmart or something. If so--you're being followed. Speed up and wait out the chase and try again another day. Who cares if they read your plates? The car isn't yours anyway.

True, sometimes they can tail you from the air, but they don't have a lot of planes and it takes time to get it in position--even longer if it is on the ground.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Private police?

A private police force in Atlanta, for the Buckhead neighborhood?

The obvious question: "Why not hire more police?" I assume the answer is that that would be politically unfashionable.

The second question: "Will a private force have different "rules of engagement?"" Will they be like a private security team, who call in the cops when there's trouble? If so, the plan is better than nothing, but not exactly ideal.

If not--if they will be a parallel police force--they, and we, have big problems. Thugs and protestors may believe one can "defund the police," but there will always be a need for law enforcement. Private enforcers put us back into the chaos of competing barons that the Magna Carta addressed (or should have) long ago. Or, perhaps worse, they become a political police. I think that's the intended end-game for the leaders of the defunders, but they may want separation instead.

There will be something.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Antibiotics on the farm

We now know that antibiotics were overused and that we're suffering because of it. When I first heard of their use, I wondered why farmers wanted to be so pro-active. Why not just treat them when they get sick? I was disabused of that misunderstanding.

The antibiotics promote growth in livestock. The headline in that article says "fatten" but the growth gave less fat and more protein. Nobody knows why.

Maybe it does something to the gut bacteria -- for mice low antibiotic doses make them obese, and a microbiome transplant from the obsese mouse to untreated ones makes them obese. But that "obesity transplant" can happen with people in other situations, so it may not be directly related.

Directly trying to directly measure the gut bacteria of steers doesn't show very much--probably because they only look at a few strains.

Maybe fewer bacteria in the gut means you get more of the nutrition yourself. The second link has a list of 11 possible mechanisms people have investigated.

Maybe, as the first link suggests, it might not be important anymore, thanks to better overall nutrition any hygiene for hogs. Or maybe a 16% average weight gain is important enough that farmers are still using them, despite the rules against it.


It's supposed to be 20/20. After scanning the paper's "year in review," I'm certain the saying isn't true. In fact, I think much of this past year won't be seen clearly for a decade--and by then a lot of details will fuzz away. I didn't make any predictions last year; just had a hope that I'd do better doing what I ought. Without going into details--I did nothing dramatically better. Maybe a little better, here and there; maybe a little worse, here and there.

Cut off from a lot of people, not serving in church anymore, worse health--on the other hand my commute to work is a hundred times faster these days.

I've no idea what next year will bring, except that "if you had known what would bring you peace" seems to apply, and the various flavors of tribal madness show no signs of remission. I think it is safe to predict that there will be squabbles about the vaccines--some saying they are being treated as guinea pigs, some complaining about distribution, and some searching for who to blame for the inevitable failures and side effects.(*) And the newsertainment outlets will continue to peddle the exciting rather than the true.

In other words, what passes for normal in our fallen world.

And I can dust off last year's hope for the next year. It's still timely.

(*) There always are--it's a tradeoff between the large fraction who die from a disease and the small fraction who are injured from the vaccine or who don't get the immunity after all. I learned that in elementary school. True, Mom was a nurse, so my education may have had points of difference with most's.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020


They landed on D-Day
Bing and the other dogs proved to be very useful, especially for locating mines and booby traps. "They would sniff excitedly over it for a few seconds and then sit down looking back at the handler with a quaint mixture of smugness and expectancy," he wrote, noting that the dogs would then be rewarded with a treat. "The dogs also helped on patrols by sniffing out enemy positions and personnel, hence saving many Allied lives," he added.

However, in addition to being saviors, the dogs were also victims. Monty was severely wounded on D-Day, while Ranee was separated from her battalion shortly after landing in Normandy and never seen again. But they were later replaced by two German shepherds who had switched sides and soon became friends with Bing.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Letter 1

Dear Grimwad,

Congratulations on your new assignment! You will find this very challenging, thanks to your predecessor's grotesque incompetence. He sends his agonized regrets.

You must act quickly to prevent further catastrophe. Several points in the patient's dossier suggest promising directions, but all demand your utmost vigilance.

Yes, the patient is a Christian. He has the enthusiasm of a new convert and is trying to do those exercises he thinks a Christian ought to. Unfortunately, he is largely correct.

You cannot directly stop him from his good intentions. But you can finesse them.

If he insists on reading his Bible, suggest a chapter a day. When he bogs down, make sure to keep distractions nearby.

The first time he forgets he'll resolve to do better. Go all out with distractions the second day. Make sure these are plausibly important ones, to give him good excuses. Then, at night on the third day, as he tries to catch up, he'll fall asleep.

You will take the obvious precaution of having him do his devotions at the end of the day.

Without much effort, you can persuade him that he needs to start over from the beginning. Never let him dream of starting anywhere else, or come near the idea that some parts might be more important than others—make him think that blasphemous. He should "do it right this time." And the next time.

Then, by the Rule of Frustration, a habit of failure will turn into a habit of aversion.

Sadly, discouragement at this level isn't a sin, but if it cuts off this bit of access to the Enemy, it will serve us.

Be delicate about this. Any familiarity with that horrible volume is dangerous. Even some scholars we had well controlled slipped away when the Enemy took a verse they'd parsed down to dry bone, and made it come alive again.

For some patients, making him a connoisseur of translations can instill pride and a critical eye instead of a receptive heart, but yours hasn't that literary bent. A pity.

Your patient is rich beyond the dreams of those worms from only a few centuries ago. Don't let him suspect that. He mustn't dream that perpetual entertainment is not normal, or is anything less than his birthright.

He wants to surround himself with Christian songs. Very well, surfeit him.

The risk is obvious. What he is immersed in will affect him. If he develops attitudes of reverence or gratitude he's lost. But we can use weaknesses of the vermin to win.

Our goal with this surfeit is two-pronged.

First, hearing the same songs over and over often deadens their ears to the meaning. If you are cautious to keep entertainment always present, after a while he will feel (not think, mind you!) that hymns are another kind of entertainment, will cease to notice the meaning of the words, become bored, and change the channel. He will come back again, but insofar as he uses hymns as entertainment, they become much less dangerous.

This will blunt their attack from that direction and give us a breathing space to work on him. It may take a very long time to wean him off the Enemy's songs. Even when you succeed, you must beware, since the Enemy calls using songs from genres you might think were safe. Never forget that music is _his_ invention.

In the second prong of our counterattack, we will fill his all time with sound. Let there be no quiet. When he goes for a walk, have him bring his music. When he drives, have him turn on the news. Whisper to him that he will sleep better with music. Let him always hear the sounds of man.

If he has a taste for the discordant and ugly, so much the better, but for now let him never be still.

In silence he might hear his own heart, and be afraid, and turn back to the Enemy. Worse yet, he might hear the Enemy speaking.

Keep him away from his cousin as much as you can. His cousin's file says he likes fishing in quiet mornings. You see the danger there.

Fortunately, your patient is a talkative sort, and already finds silence uncomfortable.

We can salvage this situation yet. I will write about prayer in my next.

Your mentor, Baldagon

Letter 2

Dear Grimwad,

Arrange with his cousin's tempter to make sure that he never gets invited again, since his continual yacking scares the fish. And you have to make sure your patient takes offense at that. This should not need explanation!

Nobody cares whether you could help it or not. The fool has found that he likes peace and meditation. Therefore, starting yesterday you must make him busy. Make him think that quiet times are a luxury, and not an explicit command of the Enemy.

You don't dare let him work in his church right now. He still thinks of himself as a learner, and the church is a dangerous place for the humble. Later, when he is surer of himself, though feeling guilty about not volunteering, you can arrange with Megloth, the secretary's tempter, to select a job for him. When the job proves inconvenient and he finds himself taken for granted, he'll drift out of it and be safely unwilling to work in the future—if you play your cards right.

But in the meantime, keep his occupations as secular as possible. Politics is always a good choice for sidetracking enthusiasm. Is there some local project he can oppose or demand, on nominally Christian grounds? His file says he's a poor writer: try to get him writing posts and letters. He will feel ridiculously self-righteous, waste a great deal of time, and then feel put-upon when other writers object to his arguments or mock him. All of this is delightful, but more importantly, it keeps him away from his duties.

As for prayer: you won't be able to make him stop—not directly. So make his prayer complicated.

Encourage him to think that memorized prayers are mindless or "vain repetition," -- that he must always compose an original prayer. These will always be slower and more forced than either a memorized prayer or simply talking with the Enemy.

In addition, while he is composing a prayer, his focus shifts from the Enemy and whoever he is praying for, to include much more of his own mind. Afterwards, when he is approachable again, you can suggest a little pride in his compositions.

Your patient is distractable. The memorized prayers can become pure rote, but even so they are not harmless—they can "un-distract" him. For him memorized prayers are too great a risk. Don't forget to encourage him to look down on the poor souls who only know how to recite canned prayers and are not "praying from their heart" the way he does.

Don't let him dream that many of the given prayers and songs and psalms are aspirational. If he doesn't happen to _feel_ like praising, make sure he insists on being "authentic" and skipping that part.

You have been careless about his prayer time. I told you his devotions must come at bedtime. In the morning, he must think himself too busy with the day's work to spend time in prayer. Only at night, with the work done, should he feel he can devote himself to God.

Instead of asking for grace to deal with the day, he'll be asking for forgiveness at the end of it, and generally falling asleep before he's done. Yes, it is too painful to stay near him during prayers, but trust me, this is how it works.

He knows he must pray for his enemies—and he has two that afflict him regularly. Try to keep him vague about those—tell him that thinking about his enemies puts him in an un-worshipful frame of mind. If he insists on praying for them, encourage him to pray for their conversion, that they will become better people, the kind who won't afflict him anymore. Don't let him pray for their health or good fortune.

To answer your question: no, I did not ask for you to replace my worthless ex-apprentice. The Lower Marshall made the assignment. I assume you got on his bad side somehow. You still have a chance, if you salvage this operation.

Your mentor, Baldagon

Letter 3

Dear Grimwad,

No, do not attempt to persuade him it was all illusion! He isn't as excited as he was, but the memory is too fresh, and the feeling will come and go. You'll waste a powerful weapon if you deploy it now. Save that attack for when he has grown reattached to the world.

So he has heard of fasting and wants to try it. Discourage him if you can; it develops self-control and other vices.

But if it must be, persuade him that he already knows what that means, and that a hard fast is the only "real" kind of fast. If you guide his diet the night before he'll be especially hungry.

When he becomes hungry during the day, urge him to try to push the hunger out of his mind with will power. Focus hard on that. Don't let a hint enter his mind that he should pray. Bring to his mind the food waiting for the end of the fast.

Overindulging in water to deal with his hunger can have pleasing effects too. Then, when you remind him that fasting is bad for the sick or old, he will have reason to feel himself excused in the future.

I must repeat: make it a matter of pride that the only fast he attempts is the hard fast. Keep him from learning how much of his life runs without conscious thought. I knew a patient for whom standing in the doorway listening to the rain, by unconscious links, led to lust hours later. Your patient's habit of comfort-eating under stress will be very useful to you, if you can make sure he never learns of it. Fasting could lay that link bare.

Yes, having him agitate for creating a ballfield for the young creatures is a good plan. It doesn't feel like a great accomplishment—where is the great sin in it?—but it reduces him from what he was. The _direction_ is good.

The more abstract his plan is, the better. The wretch doesn't actually know what games the young play today. He remembers his idealized past. Objections to his arguments will feel like personal attacks. Make sure his letter emphasizes his Christian care for the deprived. That should annoy his readers, and escalate bad feelings. Find out who is likely to respond, and have her tempter make sure her reply mocks his poor grammar. Attention to detail wins the game, my apprentice.

Yes, absolutely you must involve him in attending to the nightly news. Weren't you briefed on the available tools for this zone? We have trained them to think it their responsibility to keep abreast of the latest gossip (never called that) and the terrible events they cannot do anything to help or worsen. It tickles their little minds with trivia, excites their little emotions over ephemera, and trains them to be passive. And for many of them, overextending their sense of compassion numbs it.

If your patient wants to pass judgment on the people he learns of, so much the better. Self-righteousness grows well in that kind of soil. And he will learn of, and by habituation start to think normal, their fashionable Balaam-Christianity. If he starts to be shocked, remind him of "judge not" and let immersion take care of the rest.

This ties together very well with our goal to involve him in secular pursuits, and it ties up more of his time.

You have a long way to go yet. Do not be careless. And you are wrong, I will not be blamed along with you if you fail.

Your mentor, Baldagon

Sunday, December 20, 2020

In the gate

It isn't a major detail, but in the story of Esther, Mordecai seems to be some kind of official. He is entitled to walk around in front of the harem building, and sit in the king's gate, where he's able to overhear plotters. In at least the Levant tradition the gate was a place where officials sat and public business was transacted (Gen 19:1, Ruth 4, Ps 69:12, Deut 21:18-20, 2Sam 19:8, 1K 22:10) Daniel 2:49 uses a different word that usually means court, so maybe this is wrong, but being able to maintain contact with the queen seems to suggest that he had some status.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

If I Could

Surprises come when you don't read the liner notes. I never did like the lyrics much. I get it about sparrows and snails (the sparrow eats the snail), and hammer and nail, and forest and street, but the fear of being tied down didn't seem quite fitting. And, of course, the English lyrics had nothing whatever to do with the originals.

I was curious and watched a couple of videos about ragas and swaras (it looks like Indian music has complicated sharps and flats), and Youtube decided I wanted some Eurovision--hence the above. (In addition to lots of meditative raga music...)

One of the other offerings was "Des Ronds Dans L'Eau", which translates more or literally as "Circles in the water". It turns out Sonny Miller adapted it: Now You Want to Be Loved which amplifies one theme from the original to fill the whole song.

Translation can be fascinating. To me, anyway.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020


Ann Althouse has a post about Sven Sachsalber's death. I'd never heard of him before (surprise), but one of his oeuveres was "performance art." "In another performance, he ate a species of poisonous mushrooms to experience the particular and unique effect of his vision turning green for two days. And in a performance that became a video work, Sachsalber spent 24 hours in his bedroom with a cow."

I think I can live a contented life without becoming more familiar with his work. I have an almost instinctive aversion to "performance art," but on reflection, the idea doesn't seem entirely crazy.

Lord Byron wrote She walks in beauty, like the night, which is poetic art, but perhaps the lady was an artwork herself. He wrote as though she was. Some of us can write a glorious novel, and some of us seem to live through one.

If you'll excuse the metaphors and stipulate that living is a kind of art, what is the difference between that kind of art and picking through a haystack in a museum looking for a needle? If everyday life can be performed beautifully, are those individual actions, stripped of context, fairly called art?

Maybe my reaction to "performance art" is due to its purpose. The performer isn't kicking the can down the road for the joy of it, or to see which of his buddies can kick it farther. Those are, for want of a better word, "organic" to the performer. But is trying to impress a classmate different in nature from trying to impress an art critic? Perhaps it has to do with the latter being unhindered by any rules.

Maybe I'm wrong, but so far I still think that children kicking cans down the road for fun is a good performance, and an artist doing it for £12,200 is bad art.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020


Despite what Tilton and Osteen and Roberts may say, prosperity sometimes points to the parable of the fig tree.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Money and blood

When Youngest Son was in Civil Air Patrol, I hung out with some of the adults of the group for a while. One of them asked, "What keeps a plane in the air?" I figured there was a trick to the question, and there was. He went on: "Money."

Yes. That. That's what keeps a military running too, and has done so at least since the Crusades. I'm assured that amateurs discuss tactics and strategy, and professionals discuss logistics. That makes sense; if your men and stuff aren't where they need to be or when they need to be, or are stepping on each other, your tactics don't matter much.

Your logistics demand money.

It isn't just a matter of making the materials you need for war. (We already have people whose job is to worry about strategic materials and strategic industries.)

The money that keeps the military going comes from taxes, and if businesses are closing because the war cut off imports or too many workers got drafted, some of that money dries up. A command economy doesn't work terribly well for very long, even in wartime. Managers aren't that smart.

We've tried to trade money for blood. We don't just train our fighters, we equip them with gadgets to make them more effective, and provide expensive coordination tools (close air support, etc). Fewer soldiers do the work of more--at least in some battlefields.

Less money => more lives lost.

You need a strong economy to pay for readiness, and to keep the number of gold stars small in war. I assume we have people dedicated to figuring out how to degrade an enemy's economy--for just that reason. What do we call people who worry about our own economy's effect on the military? We do have them, don't we?

Related considerations apply when you're talking about non-human enemies.

Friday, December 11, 2020

"The good nazi"

We're coming up to a evil anniversary: a great deal of evil and a surprising light.

John Rabe allied himself with a grotesque organization of racial superiority, but when people were being slaughtered around him he risked his life to save strangers of other races, then and later. Which was the deeper part of his heart?

I hope we can honor that. We seem to be losing the capacity to honor--except, ironically, along racial lines.

I wonder how I'll act when my test comes.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

You keep using that word

Q5: Does this mean that CentOS Stream is the RHEL BETA test platform now?

A: No. CentOS Stream will be getting fixes and features ahead of RHEL. Generally speaking, we expect CentOS Stream to have fewer bugs and more runtime features than RHEL until those packages make it into the RHEL release.

In other words, this new operating system called "CentOS Stream" will be getting new software features and new attempted bug fixes that aren't yet in the official "RHEL" release. That's how a beta release works.

For the curious: RHEL is Red Hat™ Enterprise Linux, intended to be a stable platform which industries can rely on being solid and reliable for a guaranteed number of years. CentOS is/was a free version of these produced by a consortium of Linux users including CERN, that lacks RedHat support. IBM bought RedHat, and appears to have leaned on the CentOS consortium to change their model.

I'm trying to picture the geometry

"16 year old male with a gunshot wound to his head in the parking lot of the Palace Cinema Movie Theater ... the 16 year old male accidently shot himself". (He survived.) Followup to the story 20 days later: "he accidently shot himself in the head when he was passing the stolen gun (stolen from a vehicle in Sun Prairie) to a rear juvenile passenger while sitting in the stolen vehicle."

Somebody probably wasn't a Boy Scout.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Police-free school planning

Madison mulls safety plans for police-free schools, including student-led oversight panel
The proposed committee would have six youth advocates who have been disenfranchised by discriminatory discipline practices in the past, led by a member of Freedom Inc. and supported by two district-designated and funded staff members.

Under Freedom Inc.'s proposal the committee would have complete decision-making power over school safety and accountability policies within the district; oversee all district investigations of student, parent or family member complaints against school staff; and establish a process to protect students against retaliation after filing a complaint, among other measures.

"disenfranchised by discriminatory discipline practices" sounds an awful like: "Got arrested for misbehavior"(*) and "led by a member of Freedom Inc" means Freedom Inc (the plan proposers) want control.

What could go wrong?

True, the schools of my youth didn't have police presence, but then neither did they have frequent fights either. (Even Little Rock Central High didn't.) Madison's do.

If they mean literally "disenfranchised", that means the person is in prison or on parole or extended supervision.

videos of smoking guns

You may have heard of, and perhaps seen, the Fulton County video presentation in which it appears that observers and media were asked to leave (according to affadavits), after which the count continued using containers of ballots sequestered under a cloth-draped table.

The Board of Elections discussed the video and then certified the election because of course they did. At least one of the members admits that he hasn't seen the video in its entirety (14 hours), and urges an investigation--later.

It seems to boil down to he-said:they-said. One could always make the count look worse, but it would take a little effort.

I still suspect that mail-in ballots are and were a much more fruitful and less detectable source of fraud than discovering them in trunks Minneapolis-style. Some states seem have had a bi-partisan lack of interest in election integrity for a long time now, though perhaps it's just that those who care were cowed by slogan threats and court challenges.


The University Russian Folk Orchestra gave an online concert yesterday. The conductor, Gorodinsky, is a showman with a comic flair, and at one point he sat down to listen for a while. I remembered the Soviets had experimented with orchestras without conductors for ideological reasons. Lully's death demonstrated how dangerous the profession could be, but I didn't know much about the history of the job.

Obviously in small ensembles one of the musicians can direct--in some African musical performances the drummer gets his cues from the dancer. But when the ensemble gets too big...

There's always handwaving. With finger gestures to tell the notes. Cheironomy sounds like it could do not just tempo and volume control, but also compensate for the lack of sheet music. Wikipedia claims versions go back to Egypt, with church singing using it by the 5'th century.

Conducting with a dedicated conductor isn't all that old, apparently.

How about outside Europe? China had some very large ensembles, but that looks like it was associated with temple worship and the court. (Confucius thought that sort ennobling, and pop music corrupting.) From the description, it sounds like it was standardized enough that maybe a conductor wouldn't be needed for the performances, though maybe for practices one would. Though--maybe Confucius would have found it uncongenial if it didn't have a director. He didn't seem like a man to go a bundle on spontaneous social organization.

Chinese musical notation didn't seem to have paid a great deal of attention to tempo, leaving that to the preferences of the musician. (and followup).

Quick searches don't suggest any remnant of ancient North or South American orchestral customs--all I know of is small ensembles.

India has several traditions: the Hindustani encouraging improvisation, which would seem to favor small ensembles without a conductor. "personalization" is alleged to be one of the more important characteristics of Indian music.

So--mostly for Western music?

Friday, December 04, 2020


We listened to Bethel college's Christmas concert tonight--a friend of one of my daughters was conducting.

A caveat: they need more microphones in the auditorium, especially when people are so spread out. Masks, and horn masks, do seem to impair sound quality a bit, but I think that was a lesser issue than not getting a clean mix now and then.

It was good to watch.

Handbells seem to be tricky things. I didn't know they could do some of the things the performers made them do. But all my life handbells have always seemed like a strange fit into the music. They tend to come out at Christmas--maybe they aren't ideal for the timing of choral-derived works, or maybe the precise deadening of them takes more practice than a once-a-year instrument gets. The smaller/higher bells don't fill the note very well--for my ear, anyway. The tubular bells seem to sound better, but it's harder to get them to shut up when the note's done.

Which sends me off on a rabbit track, of course. I assume somebody has already tried to put a piano-type action on a set of tubular bells--it would be easier than a carillon system and those aren't uncommon. It would be bigger more delicate than the bell set, since you'd want the bells exposed and that would expose the hammer and damper assemblies too.

Following the rabbit a little farther maybe solves my original puzzle. Maybe I'm hearing (with untrained ear) the difference between strike note and resonance and how they fit in the mix. The tubular bells are designed with clear pitches; the handbells inevitably provide several notes. I like bells; they just seem a bit out of place in some works.


A useful rule of thumb with news stories, from the Wall Street Journal to the Daily Mail and NYT: when you read an exciting story, poke it with a long stick before you try to pick it up.

Reporters love the myth that they're diligent seekers of truth, unafraid to talk truth to power. I wonder if that's ever been broadly true. Partisan misrepresentation seems to go back as far as newspapers, and avoiding troublesome investigations seems to have a long history too--with a little more justification in times and places when it was easy to suppress newspapers.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Background for reading science news stories

Way back when I was an undergrad and dinosaurs lurked in the forests, we were warned that for every measurement you had to have an error estimate--no credit without it.

A naive first year will think "Well, I can sort-of interpolate in between these two tic marks, so my error is half a Volt."

Ahem. "Everybody set the apparatus up the same way, didn't they? Look at those measurements. What's their standard deviation? Have we learned anything from this little exercise?"

Oops. It turns out that inconspicuous changes in the procedure can mean noticeable changes in the measurement--more than the difference between a couple of tic marks on the meter. If you make enough measurements with the same apparatus, you can often figure out the true value to better than the "tic-mark" resolution.

If you don't know the error, you don't know the measurement.

As you make calculations with that measurement, you have to carry the error along, where it joins with other lovely errors. ("The speed of sound depends on temperature? I didn't take the temperature, but it must have been about 22C. Plus or minus 2. And my speed of sound has an error estimate now.")

So far, so painful. That little plus-or-minus at the end is acting like a katamari ball.

It gets worse. Your calculation, whatever it may be, is based on a model, and that model has some limits. For example, electric currents in a circuit seem like straightforward things to calculate, and even AC circuits aren't too bad. But each wire can be an antenna, sending and receiving. At low frequencies, the effect of that is too small to worry about, but at higher frequencies not all the energy is going through the wires. If you use the simple model rather than the hairy radiowave-included calculation, your result will have some model-dependent error--systematic error.

Most people keep that "systematic-error" separate from the "statistical error." The final answer looks something like

3.14 ± .05(stat) ± .025(syst) radians/second

It can take as long to figure out what the uncertainty on a measurement is as it does to make the measurement in the first place.

This doesn't show up very often in popular science reporting. It needs to.

That single measurement may be exactly what you want and need, but very often a distribution tells you more.

I took the very first computer-programming course our university offered: they didn't even have a textbook ready. It was FORTRAN, of course, via punched cards into an IBM 370. Both the business and engineering schools decided to require it.

The course grade average was somewhere around 80, so you'd think the course and grading were well-designed. Except--if you looked at the grade distribution, there were two "bell" curves--one centered down in the 60's and the other flattened out in the 90's. One group was ready for the course--it was perhaps even too easy--and the other was missing some training and found it hard to keep up.

For another example, I remember a school meeting in which the principal was comparing test averages among the area schools and taking great pride in a few tenths percent difference in average score. I knew roughly what the distributions looked like--pretty much the same everywhere in the area. Having a handful of students at a school with learning problems could change the average. It could easily be just the luck of the draw; there was no way to deduce how well the teachers were doing. Using averages hid that.

For something like the mass of the Sun, show the error estimate. For something like the recovery time for COVID, please show the distributions. There will be more than one. Distributions for different age ranges, distributions for different comorbidities--ideally the n-tuples would be available so we could examine it ourselves and look at recovery times for 30-40yo male smokers. (The statistics peter out when you put too many requirements on the search.) But anything would be a good start.

"Mathematicians are a species of Frenchman: if you say something to them they translate into their own language and presto! it is something entirely different." Goethe

Goethe was unfair. It's easy to be fuzzy with ordinary language--poets love to be able to say two or three things at once. But "How often are foxes rabid?" is very different from "How often is a rabid creature a fox?"

More topically, consider a possible cure X for COVID. "Am I 90% sure X is a cure for COVID?" and "Am I 90% sure that X is NOT a cure for COVID?" sound like the same question, but they aren't. It is perfectly possible for the answer to both to be No. The key to understanding why is that uncertainty I mentioned at the start. I made it explicit in these questions, but news reports very rarely do, and headlines never--they trumpet "Vitamin D no use on COVID!" without any qualification. Maybe it is and they just can't prove it yet.


  1. What is the uncertainty?
  2. Is there a distribution, and what does it look like?
  3. What exactly is the question being answered?

Education and discipline

His education had been neither scientific nor classical—merely “Modern.” The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by: and he had neither peasant shrewdness nor aristocratic honour to help him. He was a man of straw, a glib examinee in subjects that require no exact knowledge (he had always done well on Essays and General Papers) and the first hint of a real threat to his bodily life knocked him sprawling. - C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

Thinking of high-school, perhaps one might add music and team athletics to the possibilities. Both demand a lot of personal discipline and duty to the team. There are standards to meet. The unsuspecting student may find himself cultivating self-control, loyalty, and an appreciation for skill, and perhaps other virtues as well. When I was in school I, good at neither instruments nor sports, thought them extraneous to education. I've changed my mind since.

I only just noticed: in the story Mark (the character described above) is given a job as a newspaper columnist--a position whose practitioners often seem to know even less than reporters.