Thursday, April 29, 2021

Zero Hour

While helping my wife research a technical detail (did "Tokyo Rose" boast about American ship losses in 1943?), I discovered a world of research on Japanese propaganda in WW2. This thesis is one of the more thorough. They broadcast quite a bit to the US, and one of the curious features of the 1942 broadcasts was a substantial amount of attention paid to "post-war" relations. Leonard Smoll (author of the second thesis) figured that whoever won the war, the peace table afterwards would be decisive. They broadcast messages from selected POWs--some Americans listened and sent letters to the relevant families, to make sure they got the message. This was illegal--it wasn't illegal to listen to Japanese radio, but it was illegal to disseminate it.

Ann Pfau notes that there is a vast descrepancy between what soldiers said they heard (and sometimes wrote home about) and what was recorded/transcribed from the Zero Hour broadcasts and she (and I) suspect that the soldiers' testimony should get more weight than it is currently fashionable to give them.

That first link gives the history of several different Japanese propaganda campaigns, of which "Zero Hour," aimed at American servicemen, is the most famous. It began in March 1942. POWs were invited to help participate (with a warning that their safety couldn't be assured otherwise). They apparently attempted to somewhat defang the propaganda, which had to be sandwiched in with entertainment. First 20 minutes, then 45 minutes, then 75 minutes: "5 minutes of prisoner messages read by Cousens and the fifteen to twenty minute "Orphan Ann" spot, a light music spot for which Iva was the DJ, and read a script prepared for her by Cousens. The "American Home Front News" which followed, was written by Japanese and read by Ince. It was given a five- to ten-minute slot, but frequently there was not enough material to fill the slot and it ended with more light music records."

There were plenty of grievances for the Japanese to try to exploit: India vs Britain, blacks in America, and old American vs British attitudes--and they tried to take advantage of them all. It isn't obvious that they had much luck in the US. On the other hand, every little bit helps.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Sports song

Youngest Daughter asked me if there were more songs about baseball than "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and Centerfield (I never saw the movie). Naturally I completely went blank. (I'm good at that.)

Steve Goodman, of course. Talkin' Baseball. Right Field (my position), and bunches and bunches of others.

Are there football songs (aside from school fight songs: On Wisconsin, etc)? Yes; though I've never heard these. (I have to filter out a lot of soccer anthems.) Google has "You'll never walk alone" classified as a football song; apparently because it is popular with "association football" clubs.


Tennis--The Tennis Song wasn't exactly about tennis.

Golf seems more comic.

Maybe the songs for team sports are less ironic. Score one for team sports, then.

Never stopping for breath

Birds warble without taking breath. They need lots of oxygen to fly--how do they manage?

SciTech Daily has an article which shows how air gets pushed through their looped lungs. ("Rectification" in this case means making things flow in one direction.) "back-and-forth motions generated by breathing were transformed into one-way flows around the loops." This lets them use the whole lung loop efficiently, with no dead air areas.

Eat your heart out, Frank Sinatra...

Saturday, April 24, 2021

A class of dreams

Some people say they dream of being naked in public, others that they realize they have an exam that morning that they haven't studied for. A quick net search suggests that the various "Josephs" doing interpretation don't quite agree on the meaning of these.

I don't generally remember dreams, and when I do about half the time they have more to do with random events from the previous day than any theme.

When there is a theme, it's always the same one. I've a task to do--somebody to pick up or something to deliver--and somehow I forgot the map, or the phone number, or the trunk key. Not to worry--there's somebody I can ask. But they're not in. The situation slowly and steadily unravels: the rental car is towed, the theater closes, now I have 4 people to find, the clock is ticking--and I wake up wondering how to salvage the confusion.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Answer to AVI

AVI posted a question about what things look like in high energy physics and invited me to comment. I can try to explain what I see.

I wish it were otherwise, but I think Hossenfelder is more right than Motls--at least about this.

There are several competing approaches to unifying general relativity and quantum mechanics--string theory being far and away the most popular. One of the implications of string theory as currently envisoned is something called Supersymmetry. (I've joked that it has been a super-cemetery of careers.)

It needs a little explanation.

We have a small suite of fundamental particles, which for these purposes we divide into two types according to spin (an angular momentum that is intrinsic to the particle--you can't get rid of it, just change its direction). It turns out that the smallest unit of angular momemtum you can change is ħ=h/2Pi, where h is Planck's constant. That means that fundamental particles will have intrinsic spin in some units of ħ=h/2Pi. 0, ±ħ, ±2ħ are obvious values, but a little thought will persuade you that another possible set of values is ±ħ/2, ±3ħ/2, etc. (ħ/2 - ħ = -ħ/2).

As an example of the latter, a photon has spin ħ, and an electron has spin ħ/2. If the electron emits a photon, the size of its spin will stay the same, but the direction will be negative to what it was before. You get the same spacing between rungs of the ladder, but the origin differs.

That difference between integer and half-integer turns out to be significant--the two types of particles have a different symmetry. The most famous difference is that there can't be two half-integer (fermion) particles in exactly the same state, while there can be an infinite number of integer (boson) particles in a single state.

In quantum mechanics you must take into account ephemeral particles--a photon flying blythely along may temporarily split into an electron and positron, which recombine to make a photon again. There are differences between the contributions of fermions and of bosons, and some calculations produce infinities. I take that to mean that there's something wrong with the way thing are calculated, but I don't know what.

Anyhow, one framework that lets you do the calculations nicely, and comes up with good answers, requires that every fermion have a partner boson of otherwise similar type, and every boson a partner fermion. That's supersymmetry. I'm told it's beautiful.


If those particles exist, that's fine. Decades of looking have only found limits. One problem is that with so many new particles, you have so many new masses to tinker with as parameters of your theory. If the mass of X is bigger than that of Y you might get X decaying into Y, but if the mass hierarchy is reversed things might go the other direction.

Those masses could range from next-to-zero to almost up to the (unachievable with any foreseeable technology) Planck mass, and the theory offers no guidance.

But some SUperSYmmetry models are prettier than others, and those suggest relatively light particles--which we should have seen. But so far--crickets.

Arguments like the seesaw mechanism say that if we have neutrinos with next to zero mass and another clump of particles with mass millions of times bigger, one should have others way more massive than those in turn. (I oversimplify.) We're not likely to ever see those directly.

Arguments from beauty in the equations suggest we should have lots of those SUSY particles within -- if not easy reach, at least easy effects. Particles too heavy to create directly can still have a detectable impact on lower-energy interactions.

So far, nothing. I'm far from expert in string theory, but it seems like a very promising approach--except that it hasn't worked yet.

Everybody expected the Higgs to be there, and at roughly that mass. There were effects that suggested it was there--sort of like a mountain leaves a shadow far away from it. I was rooting for it to not be there and leave us with some new puzzles--but that's just me.

Many of us were expecting SUperSymmetric particles to appear at Fermilab, and at LEP, and at the LHC--but the limits just got tighter and tighter. There aren't any shadows of SUSY particles showing up. People have been muttering for years now.

And then there's dark matter. Maybe. If so, there are a few possible SUSY particles that might be candidates for dark matter. But we haven't seen them.

Do we keep building bigger machines to keep looking? I'm not involved in the arguments about that, but they get pretty bitter. I remember the howls when LEP was told that their hints for a Higgs weren't going to be good enough to delay the schedule to let them run an extra year. That turned out to be the right decision--the "shadow of the Higgs" they found was a statistical fluctuation and the real Higgs mass was far too large for them to have seen.

The cost of the new machines is far from trivial, and the time required to build one is a substantial fraction of a physicist's career. Nobody wants to waste money and time, and nobody wants to just barely miss the breakthrough--pick one.

UPDATE: "Limits" in this context means "We did not see any sign of particle X, and if it had a mass less than 120GeV/c^2 we're confident we should have seen it, so we conclude that if it exists, it must have a mass greater than 100GeV/c^2. Maybe we can look again with a different experiment." For me "limits" translates to "We didn't find it."

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Notes on power

"He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" "God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline" "for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power in the Holy Spirit" "holding to a form of godliness, although they denied its power"

What is this power--as it applies to us? I gather John thought it could resemble fire.

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. (Farrar)

Resurrection is certainly a tremendous power, not remotely like anything we can do.

Purification needs a form of power too.

How do we walk in the works He created for us without being double-minded?

Jesus spoke of fruitless branches being pruned and of fruitful soils--there's more to the Christian life than going to heaven. There's advantage to living a life with some fruit, not just having a deathbed conversion. That power isn't just the resurrection to new life; it has impact and fruit.

Some fruits of the Spirit appear in action as well as in internal state. Or they appear in not-doing; and some appear in contrast to a particular situation. Patience never becomes visible until there's a need for it.

"You gave me all these talents and warned me that I'd better show some return on using them!"

"You only know how to use them for worldly fruit. You haven't the power. These other things aren't little. They have My power and love."

Joy seems to be a bit of a special case. It doesn't appear much in action, or in inaction, only in our internal state. Is that our hoped-for state when the rest of these are appearing as they should? Maybe we should focus on the rest of the list.

We famously need help in order to show love to some people, and a double helping of power to do so whole-heartedly.

There's a difference between not knowing how disastrous the situation is and knowing and being confident in God. (It seems to be more fun to be panicky and angry.) I don't know about you, but I get distracted away from peace very easily.

Patience is nobody's favorite fruit--except in somebody else. I often could use some input from the eternal to get me through a chunk of painful time.

These don't seem very dramatic. Power isn't the first word that comes to mind with "goodness" or "gentleness", though if I work backwards from "self-control" it is clearer why it's needed.

"One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And one who rules his spirit, than one who captures a city."

It's just not very dramatic.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Chauvin jury

The Babylon Bee: "In Closing Argument, Prosecutor Tearfully Addresses Each Juror By Name, Phone Number, And Street Address"

That's a little too close to the bone to be very funny. If every juror doesn't already know that the media will compete to be first to disclose each one's name if they render the "wrong" verdict, they're probably not smart enough to be jurors.

It's an old problem. Conflict sells, a little wink-wink nudge-nudge will generate some new stories for them.

Simple and robust

The Soviet space program's physics was the same, but their implementation differed from the US's
The launcher used by Russia today appears almost identical to the original R7 and is imbued with Soviet design simplicity. Not least its ignition system.

With five rocket motors and 20 combustion chambers, as well as 12 smaller engines used for steering, it’s essential that all the engines light at the same time. If not, fuel could pour out of an unlit engine and cause a potentially catastrophic explosion.

This synchronicity is achieved by using giant matches. Once the Soyuz is on its launch gantry, engineers place sticks of birch wood with two pyrotechnic electric ignitors on the end into the rocket nozzles. These are bound together with brass wire.

Just before launch, the ignitors fire and the flame burns through the wire. When all the wires are severed it indicates that there is a burning flame within each nozzle and it’s safe to open the propellent valves. The system ensures that fuel is only released when these giant matches are all lit.

Friday, April 16, 2021

University implosion

AVI posted recently on the "lot of ruin in a university", and a fine example popped up this week.

Laurentian university got a judge to declare them insolvent, and cut 69 academic programs and 110 faculty jobs (and 36 administrators--so I think they're serious). "The university estimates that 10 percent of undergraduates are affected by the program closures."

If you want a weepy description "This is Canada's big mining town. Right? This is the mining university for Ontario. And I see that they haven't cut that part of the university." That's supposed to be a bad thing, BTW. and "Francophone students are being told that their education, language and culture aren't worth saving." and "These cuts counter the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's Call to Action #16: 'We call upon post-secondary institutions to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages.'"

The university argued in court filings that its operations are inefficient: There are too many faculty, too many programs and classes are too small. More than half the university’s courses have fewer than 15 students, the court documents say. So almost 1/3 of the teachers are let go, and the U. claims this touches only 10% of the undergrads.

It has debts of nearly \$100-million from a building spree that didn’t produce enrolment gains and it ran deficits in the range of \$2-million to \$5-million a year for several years, according to its court filings. It also spent millions in grants earmarked for research to keep the lights on, owing in part to the practice of having just one bank account where incoming funds from various sources were mixed.

That's a couple of big red flags--I think the latter might be fraud. And when you look at the list of closures it looks like they bit off more than a college of 6000 could chew (Biomedical Physics, three different Environmental programs).

The image of program cuts at the daily nous seems to differ from that above--Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies cut but Equite, diversite et droits de la personne (both languages) stays, as does Criminology in both languages, and Motion Picture Arts goes away. I'm not sure how to reconcile those lists. "Women’s and Men’s Varsity Swimming and Hockey programs will be discontinued", but basketball, soccer, golf, etc remain. AVI found their current undergrad program list. I'm not sure how a few of the Econ courses will be without some math courses to back them up: Mathematical Economics looks like quite a semester's worth.

They had a "tricultural mandate." English, French, and Anishinaabemowin. This sounds spread very thin.

Of course the Prime Minister is talking about this, and I've no notion of how the dust will finally settle. If I were deciding the cuts I'd have chosen differently, ashcanning more of the gender/diversity stuff and trying to keep their famous midwifery program, but I suspect most of these were made with a simple #students/#faculty threshold. That probably hits francophone courses harder. C'est la guerre.

My take-away is that the current administration decided they didn't want to spend years talking to faculty and not meeting payroll, but decided to bite the bullet and see if they could save something from the university, at the cost of some of their semi-sacred cows. They'll get a lot of flack--I wonder if they have the spine to hold on. Either way the result could be interesting. Wild card--how many of the current decision-makers were involved in the misuse of research funds?

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Panic mongering

For today's exercise in looking behind the headlines, consider this vaccine story.


Headline of the linked article "Israeli data shows South African variant able to ‘break through’ Pfizer vaccine"

Subhead: "Strain is more effective than original COVID and the British variant at bypassing the shot, Israeli scientists find, in first-of-its-kind, real-world study"

Paragraph 3-4: "A team from Tel Aviv University and the Clalit healthcare organization sequenced the swabs of 150 Israelis who tested positive for COVID-19 despite having been vaccinated. ...the prevalence of the South African strain among vaccinated individuals who were infected despite their inoculation was eight times higher than its prevalence in the unvaccinated infected population."

Paragraph 5: "we would have expected just one case of the South African variant, but we saw eight". It does not say if they presented with symptoms before being tested--that matters.

Pfizer: "vaccine effectiveness was at least 97% in preventing symptomatic disease" based on Israeli data. "94% against asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2"

Note that the numbers involved in the new study are extremely small and statistical fluctuations can be significant. In addition, there's reporting bias (bad news is news). But just for laughs, take the numbers at face value. And lets assume that this was random testing, and not people presenting with symptoms.

For the original strain, the Pfizer is 94% effective at preventing infections. If you continue to get 8x as many cases with the new strain as you expect, that would mean the vaccine is about 52% effective (plus or minus a large number which we'll ignore for now).

The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is reported to be 66% effective at preventing infection (and "high efficacy at preventing hospitalization and death in people who did get sick". So the Pfizer is slightly worse with the new strain than the J+J is with the old strain. Maybe. If this group of 150 had symptoms the relevant Pfizer number is 97%, and its effectiveness against the new is 76%--better than the J+J.

So walk back up the headlines. The subhead is technically accurate, but doesn't give any idea of the scale ("more effective ... at bypassing shot"). The headline is misleading ("able to break through"). The clickbait headline ("can't stop ... strain") is a lie.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Prince Philip praises

I have been exercising the American privilege of ignoring the UK's royal family, and so know very little of the man. I read a couple of obits, in which he seemed like a good guy with a strong sense of duty and a tendency to rub modern reporters' fur backwards--all pluses.

It seemed that he was most praised for what he refrained from doing--instead exercising a lifetime of self-discipline/self-control. For that matter, when people have written about Queen Elizabeth, she seems to be praised for the same thing. They both took a role and didn't try to extend their power.

The only "public servants" we have of comparable lifetime are judges, and when they haven't gone political their critics usually have, so I don't think we'll be praising any of our leaders in the ways Philip is.

I wonder about the rest of us. Self-control is supposed to be part of our lives, but rarely are our temptations so obvious to others that they'd praise us for not giving in. We mostly don't know each other well enough to do that. Accurate praise might be refreshing sometimes, though inaccurate praise might be problem.

Exploding beer

Those of us who drink beer (I'm not among them) may not be surprised, but beers with extra sugar can continue to undergo fermentation on your shelf.
It takes a lot of additional fermentation for a can or bottle to break its seal and literally explode, and even then the concern is usually more the mess than an actual hazard.

Some breweries that can these beers count on the consumer to understand fermentation science and realize they’ve just bought a four-pack of aluminum beer grenades. Labels usually warn, “Keep cold! Live beer!” — a scientifically sound way of slowing fermentation but an ethically questionable way of passing the onus onto the consumer.


The beer in question is Bernie Brew, a pastry stout honoring U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders that was brewed with Vermont maple syrup and delivered to outlets around the state ....

The morning of April 2, MBC posted a warning on Facebook that it had received reports of bulging cans, unacceptably foamy beer and even one can that “literally blew up” in someone’s kitchen cabinet, ...

To MBC’s credit, by that afternoon, the brewery decided to recall the beer, saying it had heard the sharp questions and criticism in the comments of the post.

That those comments were largely met with hostility by people defending the brewery — some directly invoking MBC’s politics — speaks to what Minocqua has cultivated in Wisconsin and a unique vulnerability to this kind of crisis.

From the start, MBC’s self-distributed drops of “progressive beer” in Madison had the ring of a gimmick. The brewery was selling \$17 four-packs of Biden Beer with the image of a new president — one who famously does not drink alcohol — along with the promise of donating \$5 from each four-pack to MBC owner Kirk Bangstad’s political action committee.

I suspect this news will make the beer more popular, not less--and less likely to be refrigerated.

On the other hand

I suppose design could be worse: It isn't clear if the design of the Brain Health center is meant to encourage the sense that "I must be in trouble--I really need those people" or is an inadvertent warning not to come near.

Two cheers for brutalist concrete

Gov. Tony Evers ordered emergency repair work to Van Hise Hall after concrete slabs broke off the UW-Madison building earlier this week and an engineering company found the building’s remaining panels “pose an immediate threat to public health, welfare and safety.”

Just looking

Odd that I've never seen it before: A chickadee perched on a lattice, bent down under it to sip from a drop dipping below the wire. I suppose the water drop is handy, and drinking while perching lets the bird watch for danger in all directions. The birdbath blocks more of the view.

I guess the natural equivalent would be sipping from water drops on twigs, and those are generally high enough that I can't see what the birds are doing.

Thursday, April 08, 2021


My wife suggested I watch a documentary on the Vasa: later parts aren't ready yet.

The expert said that, lacking calculus and a firm theory of bouyancy, it was customary with new designs that one take a ship out on a trial run, and then bring her back and modify her. For example, if a ship was topheavy, one could "girdle" her by nailing on more planks--increasing the "belly" without increasing weight that much. Or shortening masts, or even, in extreme cases, removing the upper deck.

The Vasa was just an extreme case, only lasting an hour before sinking.

You do have an option that doesn't involve calculus, though it's quite hard--make a scale model. Planing down strips to the right thickness to model planks and making sure you have taken all the other weights (cannons, sailors, etc.) into account would be a long and finicky job, but if you're trying a brand-new design it might save a lot of modification effort. I'm not sure how you'd mock up wind, but maybe just pushing would work.

If the design didn't work, you could scavenge it for part or gussy it up and use it for advertising or sell it.

I wonder if ship designers did make such test models. Search engines get swamped by modern models:

Wednesday, April 07, 2021


You know about the storm surge in a hurricane. The low air pressure lets high pressure elsewhere in the ocean push the water level up within the low pressure area, and the high winds pile it up ashore. The latter causes most of the problem ashore, but the sea level rise matters too.

The atmosphere can sustain huge waves too. We tend not to notice--the scale is too large--but if they go in the right direction at the right speed for long enough enough energy can be transferred to water to make an "earthquake-less" tsunami.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Seasons within seasons

The flowerpots no longer live like cats: wanting to be inside, no, wanting to be outside, no...

And now one risks cooking the lettuce in the coldframe instead of freezing it.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Beware of squirrels

A friend told us tonight that his Easter egg hunt this morning failed. Squirrels had a 2-hour head start at finding the plastic eggs with chocolates inside, and devoured the lot. The play-money auction also failed, because the girls printed themselves more money than the boys did.


The "too proud to take aid" is a famous stereotype, and like many stereotypes has roots in reality. But pride might only be part of it--part might be a folk-memory that aid comes with strings attached.

Maybe the string is as simple as glorifying your patron, or maybe as dangerous as borrowing from the Mafia, or maybe as complicated as a hospital built with American materials and American labor that simply demands that you be able to staff an American-style hospital using all the nurses in the country. These days, read "Chinese" for American.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

A little invention that stayed popular

The water organ, driven by water or by water-compressed air, was invented at least by 220BC, and apparently the use of the machine was never lost, with descendants (via the Byzantines and Muslims) appearing in Italy by the 13'th century. It sounds as though people figured ways of making it auto-play tunes early on.

Thursday, April 01, 2021


Brad Edwards thinks social media are toxic by design, that we need mediating institutions, and that the reason secularism (which he considers a Christian heresy) is growing is that the church, especially evangelicalism, is infected by individualism and had lost a sense of the need for formation. Unfortunately he doesn't describe what he wants here, but Dallas Willard does. The spiritual disciplines don't get a lot of attention as such, and finding ways to make faith tangible is hard. We've had ongoing relationships with some local schools to provide some resources and support, and we try to get the youth involved in annual service days. We're kind of spread out. And you don't hear much about fasting or other disciplines from the "pulpit."

Maybe I need to break out the notes from last time. Maybe I should practice them a bit more first.

Did they read the calendar?

The New York Metropolitan Opera (I keep thinking Texaco) has offered free nightly streams of recorded operas for the past year's lockdowns. This week's theme is "Love Triangle." (This is Holy Week for a lot of us.) Good Friday's evening offering is Werther.

I wonder if the schedulers didn't notice, or if they didn't quite get John 10:18, or if they knew quite well what it would look like.

To be fair, finding appropriate offerings from the standard repertoire might be hard.