Friday, December 30, 2022

Hard times

"Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times..." Bret Deveraux decided to have at that trope about 3 years ago. He looked at the civilized/"barbarian" conflicts in general and then with specific reference to Rome, in a 6-part series, and concluded that the "trope" of the upright outsider destroying the decadent empire was pretty much worthless. Sometimes the "barbarians" won; more often they got whipped. Western Rome was finally knocked out by "barbarians" who had picked up Roman ways.

In particular, some of the more famous "Rome is decadent and about to be destroyed" complaints came just as Rome entered several centuries of expansion and power.

I don't know what the history field is like these days, but his "we don't believe those evil things anymore" asides get annoying after a while, especially when he touches on live issues. Maybe he has to lard descriptions of the past with disclaimers to ward off the evil eye, or maybe he really believes that we're superior now.

Anyhow, he holds that the trope isn't really about the "poorer, harder" people, it's a critique of decadence in the rich society. The poor "Fremen" cultures live in hard lands because they've no choice--they generally can't fight their way into richer lands, or they would have already.

OK, fair enough. Why has this critique been so popular--for thousands of years?

There seem to be two different paths. Consider a family instead of a nation--I'll get into why in a bit. A family can become so rich that they distort the economy and politics of a region, and their wealth becomes self-sustaining, requiring only modest intelligence to manage. Outsiders find it lucrative to participate, and thanks to the political distortions, competitors are suppressed. These can endure for a long time.

Another path is that described by the Chinese proverb that “You can only keep wealth in the family for three generations.” The first makes the business, the second runs it, and the third ruins it. According to the Conway Center for Family Business, 12 percent of all family businesses make it past the second generation, and only 3 percent make it to the fourth generation. That sounds like pretty substantial attrition, though perhaps changing environments plays at least as big a role as deteriorating management.

At any rate, on the micro scale we see something happening that at least superficially seems to deserve the critique--"shape up and get hungry again or the outsiders will eat your lunch." You can probably think of several businesses that were at the top of the world just a couple of decades ago, and just weren't flexible enough to make it.

Of course just being hungry isn't enough to fit you for beating the fat and lazy--it's a necessary but not sufficient condition. But it's easy to see why the trope/critique is popular. It fits, at least if you ignore the hungry failures.

I haven't done a systematic survey, but the "decadence leads to decay" trope seems to fit the smaller upstarts better than the big empires--at least in the histories I've read. Perhaps they're too small to attract outsiders to support them.

I surmise that one reason the "decadent empires" last longer than the three generations is because the empire isn't a single family, but a collection of competitors working within the framework of empire. When one crime family gets sloppy, another starts encroaching on their turf, and the overall structure doesn't change. As long as they don't start dismantling the machinery, if it's big enough it keeps going until bureaucratic friction burns out the bearings.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

These didn't demand a lot of comment

The video Chernobyl mentioned "beta tan", which I'd heard of years ago--beta particles (electrons and positrons) don't penetrate far at nuclear energies, so they give something like a sunburn. Naturally, the first thing that google serves up is a cough remedy.

Supply chain issues get magnified in poorer countries: "the company disclosed that the arrival of jet fuel in Liberia will be delayed as a result of the shortage on the global market." ... "The vessel should have arrived on December 14, 2022. We are now being informed that the vessel will not be in Liberia until January 13, 2023."

Customs change. Used to be that beggars got a Christmas gift from the President. (One year they banded together to buy a goat in thanks, and the donation was reduced!) Now: "Zogos took to the streets after being denied their routine Christmas packages from Finda Bondo, the Chief of Protocol to President George Weah." With cutlasses. Bystanders handled two of them.

Do not get arrested in third world countries

The Baptist War ... Also known as the Christmas Rebellion, it was an eleven-day rebellion that started on Christmas Day 1831 in Jamaica. The harsh repression of it became so notorious that it helped fuel the banning of slavery in England.

I've been looking off and on at radiation tolerance studies: there's a new report about bank voles "Chernobyl fibroblasts had higher total antioxidant capacity than the control cells and were less sensitive to DNA damage induced lethality, both of which processes may explain their increased resistance against radiation."

Patience and encouragement, ok, but what else?

We smile when a toddler walks, and when he falls. He's trying to figure out how his body works. And how language works --we encourage him and try to peice out what what exactly he's trying to tell us ("Ro ae cae!" .... Rover ... ate ... the cake!??)

We're not so patient with clumsy teenagers, who are also trying to figure out how their new body works, and their new roles, and who sometimes find it quite hard to say what they intended to. They have tantrums too, and seem to get more annoyed than toddlers do when we laugh at them.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

I like this one


Eliot probably did it better, but if I'm supposed to worry that others say things better, would I ever say anything at all?

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Various quotes

From a link from AVI's post:
(wrt British Sunday laws) I should have some sympathy with the Jewish Sabbath, if it were a Jewish Sabbath, and that for three reasons; first, that religion is an intrinsically sympathetic thing; second, that I cannot conceive any religion worth calling a religion without a fixed and material observance; and third, that the particular observance of sitting still and doing no work is one that suits my temperament down to the ground.

about pockets

I suppose that the things that I have dropped into my pockets are still there; the same presumption applies to the things that I have dropped into the sea. But I regard the riches stored in both these bottomless chasms with the same reverent ignorance. They tell us that on the last day the sea will give up its dead; and I suppose that on the same occasion long strings of extraordinary things will come running out of my pockets.


Now it is a terrible business to mark a man out for the vengeance of men. But it is a thing to which a man can grow accustomed, as he can to other terrible things; he can even grow accustomed to the sun. And the horrible thing about all legal officials, even the best, about all judges, magistrates, barristers, detectives, and policemen, is not that they are wicked (some of them are good), not that they are stupid (several of them are quite intelligent), it is simply that they have got used to it.

When his cab crashed

But in those few moments, while my cab was tearing towards the traffic of the Strand, I discovered that there is a truth behind this phrase, as there is behind all popular phrases. I did really have, in that short and shrieking period, a rapid succession of a number of fundamental points of view. I had, so to speak, about five religions in almost as many seconds. My first religion was pure Paganism, which among sincere men is more shortly described as extreme fear. Then there succeeded a state of mind which is quite real, but for which no proper name has ever been found. The ancients called it Stoicism, and I think it must be what some German lunatics mean (if they mean anything) when they talk about Pessimism. It was an empty and open acceptance of the thing that happens—as if one had got beyond the value of it. And then, curiously enough, came a very strong contrary feeling—that things mattered very much indeed, and yet that they were something more than tragic. It was a feeling, not that life was unimportant, but that life was much too important ever to be anything but life. I hope that this was Christianity. At any rate, it occurred at the moment when we went crash into the omnibus.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Measurement and management

It seems the famous Deming quote about measurement and management reverses meaning when you include the rest of the sentence: "It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth." (The New Economics)

That's encouraging--the commonly quoted sub-phrase is pretty silly, and it seemed odd that somebody so smart would get it so wrong.

The most common enterprise in the world is families, which are almost invariably managed without statistical analyses. The parents may (should) keep track of the finances, but education and discipline and most of the rest are administered without recourse to spreadsheets.


I have heard several preachers/priests asserting that "there is no such thing as race" and therefore we ought not be racist, because it makes no sense.

There are different families, different tribes, and unless eyes and DNA lie, different races, both in the old "lots of different big tribes" and the more recent "a few really big groups" senses. And it turns out there are some related differences in susceptibility to disease and whatnot that go along with. I'm told even skeletons can sometimes show differences. (No, I'm not bothering about the fuzzy boundaries around the groups.)

The assertion therefore isn't true, and there are plenty of differences between people.

What's the meaning of the differences? The doctors and scientists and technicians can't tell you--"meaning" isn't measurable.

The preacher/priest is the one to tell you that we're all made in the image of God, and that that is more fundamental than family or tribe or race. Or politics or strength or wealth or IQ or empathy. That's not always a welcome message, but trying to hand off the heavy lifting to somebody else is wrong.


First there were a wealth of heresies, some quite weird, others more ordinary-looking--the Arians have counterparts to this day. But one of the big divisions was Christology: what is the nature of Christ? Divisions linger, even after Chaldecon (451).

Another festered for centuries, culminating in 1054, about the locus of authority in the church. Was it the Bishop of Rome or the bishops together? The filioque didn't help, and usages diverged because of the authority question. And, as usual, politics reared its head.

A third biggie was about role of faith and the nature of the church, which we generally date from about 1517, though it began before and lasted long after. The resulting lamentable fragmentation hasn't stopped.

We're about due, I suppose. We had a century or so of schisming over the nature and authority of the Bible, and right now we're dividing over "What is the nature of man?"--possibly as a corollary of the first one. The breakaway faction's stance seems to be that man is whatever he wants to be.

Interesting times. I suppose they always are.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Learning a new instrument

She figured one of the prima domra models had the same fingering as a violin, which she already knew how to play. Her last finger has to strech quite a bit farther, but it works.

Some of the musicians and friends/family went to lunch at Petra afterwards. The restaurant was short-staffed, which meant lots of time for fun conversation around the table. (The food was excellent too.)

UPDATE: The first work was full of crackling from some source--I think a bad cable connector. I reset it to start with a later peice.

Friday, December 16, 2022

I've been urging students do things like this

but can't take credit for this: "My Thesis in Pictures" "Search for Neutrinos from Gamma-ray Bursts using the IceCube Neutrino Observatory" by Kunal Deoskar, Stockholm University.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Apropos of nothing urgent

Breadmaker half whole-wheat bread seems to come out somewhat differently from batch to batch, with the same ingredients from the same bag/bottle/can. Last time's batch was dark and hard-crusted and tasted of molasses (which I use instead of honey), and this time's was light without that molasses taste. KitchenPro. I wonder if maybe the different cook settings are getting confused.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Voices from Chernobyl

by Svetlana Alexievich After watching the series, one has to read the book, right? This is a translation of Tchernobylskaia Molitiva (1997) done by Keith Gessen (2005). It is made of the answers given to interview questions (usually not quoted) by a variety of people: some who never left the exclusion zone, some who have fled to it from war zones, widows, engineers who were set to shoveling, defenders of the establishment, and children.

Don't expect happy endings. If there were some, they probably wouldn't have been included. Most of the people telling their stories don't have clear understandings of the physics or biology of radiation, and neither the author nor the translator interrupts their narration to correct them. If you want details about radiation then and now, look here.

One of the things brought out in the book, though not the movie, is the amount of theft--both of the aid and of the contaminated durable goods. I had forgotten that alcohol was alleged to be prophylactic against radiation poisoning (it is only at a trivial level, and the slowdown in your decision-making would tend to increase your dose). "Liquidators" show up among the dead and sickened more often than I would have expected--maybe a sampling issue. (UPDATE: actually, there were a lot of them) Most of the workers recruited from the army seem not to have been kept track of--I'd expect higher cancer rates for many of them.

At the end of one tour, a man burned the clothes he wore, except for his cap, which his son dearly wanted, and then wore every day. Two years later the son needed surgery for a brain tumor.

Not a happy book, but worth reading.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Price of lies

I don't watch movies alone much anymore, so it took a while to get around to the HBO Chernobyl miniseries youngest son loaned me. It is well made and moving, but is not for someone who'd be too horrified at depictions of radiation poisoning. It made a few concessions to drama that klunked for me: I don't know how reactor workers in the USSR were trained, but to work in much less dangerous environments we were told to plan our work and get it done briskly, not hang around for dramatic effect. And an impossibly supercompetent woman was created to stand in for a large team of scientists and engineers--no single human being has that many details at his fingertips. But all in all, a good depiction.

The overdue safety test (signed off on at the reactor's commissioning but not yet done) was designed without a critical bit of information about a design flaw in the control rods. Because the state could not make mistakes, the control rods had no flaw, right?

We go a bundle on lies in this country too. Article XIII Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution: "Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired."

They promised that pensions would be paid, but never set aside money for it. They lied.

Is there any difference in nature between claiming that the soviet control rods are good because they represent the People's Will, and saying that "indigenous ways of knowledge are as good as colonialist science?"

Many fashionable claims seem like ventures in "How far can we go before they stop believing us?"

Politics is awash with lies--it is harder to find someone telling "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" than the reverse. And since, as usual, the media are involved in politics...

And ever since "You will be like gods" it has been deadly, in the end, to believe them.

“It is not within the power of practitioners of demonstrative sciences to change opinion at will, choosing now this and now that one; there is a great difference between giving orders to a mathematician or a philosopher and giving them to a merchant or a lawyer; and demonstrated conclusions about natural and celestial phenomena cannot be changed with the same ease as opinions about what is or is not legitimate in a contract, in a rental, or in commerce.” — Galileo Galilei

"reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.” — Richard Feynman, in the report on the Challenger disaster.

Wednesday, December 07, 2022


They're big, easy to store, not terribly expensive (more than I care to spend, but that's just me)--what's not to like?

The creepy looking puddle in the lawn you get when the power's off, that's what. The Wicked Witch of the West has plenty of siblings--steam-rolled minions, smashed santas, collapsed chimneys, melted snowmen, godzilla-ed reindeer. When the power's on--green grow the grinches, oh!--but when it's off, what a sad flabby mess litters the yard.

The only upside is that there aren't any inflatable nativity scenes. At least around here.

Uh oh. The grim news from google is that they exist, and somebody buys them. I hope they run them 24/7. It defeats the point of displaying one to leave it empty.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Invisible fouls

Soccer and intersectionality: awash with subjective injuries.

Thursday, December 01, 2022


On the brighter side of the news some tests of an antibody look promising: 54% effective over 24 weeks, or another that can be done with an injection rather than an infusion for 88% over 21 days. There are some questions yet, such as how long the effect lasts, and whether injections can be made effective enough. Infusions are out of the question for the general population.


UN Women made a big push to try to get rid of the traditional practice in Liberia "Liberia is one of just three countries in West Africa not to have made the practice illegal."
Massa Kandakai, the head of over three hundred FGM practitioners in Montserrado County, says she along with her women have fulfilled their part of the bargain with UN Women by closing all bush schools in Sonkay Town and Todee in Montserrado. Kandakai says UN Women should uphold the agreement by continually supporting them – with monthly salaries, access to cell phone networks, fishponds and processors for making Farina or flour from cassava and potatoes. The women say they will revert to the practice if their requests are not met.

“What all they told us, we heard it but what they supposed to do for us, they are not doing it for us,” says Kandakai. “What I want from them to get rid of this thing here is: firstly, my women, let them put my women on payroll, let my women be taking pay.”

Kandakai is also calling for logistical support to enable her to travel to villages where she says the act is still being practiced, to ensure Bush schools there are shut down.

“My women can understand me, I Massa Kandakai, your support me let me go from bush to bush and put stop to them because they can understand me.”

The Poro Society leaders are powerful in Liberia--there's some overlap with government leadership. I gather that the Sande Society leaders are also quite powerful, in less easily visible ways. Legislation keeps getting proposed, but somehow the legislators (almost all men) keep getting persuaded to leave FGM be.

Lethal injection

I have long hated the practice of lethal injection--not because I have an intrinsic objection to the death sentence, but because it demands that healers stand ready to kill on command. A doctor who kills in self-defense or serves in the army is one thing, but to use healing skills to kill is another.

I would not trust a doctor or nurse who did the injections, any more that I would care to get sick in the Netherlands. (Or Oregon)

We don't like mess, and quick kills--thorough ones--are apt to be messy. The injection looks tidy (the link says it isn't as painless as it appears), and Sparky leaves a few burn marks. "The Barber" or a firing squad leaves a mess. Our convenience can be cruel.

Sleeping too much

Is it a cause or effect of dementia? "During an average follow-up of 3.7 years, 97 individuals in a study of 1,982 older adults in China who were dementia-free at the beginning of the study developed dementia."

I'm told that dementia symptoms begin to show up many years before it starts to become incapacitating. I'm not persuaded that 4 years before represents a symptom-free era of life. I will continue my efforts to get a little more sleep.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Hidden faults in houses

The author of Sippican Cottage wrote a summary post explaining how so many things had needed repair in his super-fixup home. "I promise I won't exaggerate, and as I've said a million times before, I never resort to hyperbole. Anyway, here goes: I believe that the recalcitrant sewer line is the entire reason I was able to buy my home for less than 25 grand a few years ago, even though it seemed to be the only thing in the house that functioned, at least a little."

Start with the last post in this series.

Another base curiosity

You learned long ago that representations of fractions can involve repeating decimals, such as 1/7 = 0.142857 142857 142857 ... to infinity.

Not so with non-integer bases. In base 3/2, the representation of 1/2 is an infinite but non-repeating decimal. This is already known, but I thought such a simple example was worth noting.


"But she got her way, and she could bear anything as long as she got her way."

I have merely skimmed Memories of the Future--I was indulging a morbid curiosity about what "futurist" fiction from 1923 would predict for 1938-1940--even if only purely satirical fiction.

It misses fire here and there. "I missed, by doing so, the sight of the Statue of Liberty, which had then only just been fitted with the apparatus which makes its right eye wink on the approach of the traveller."

hyperbaric therapy

I hadn't heard this before. hyperbaric treatment for autism. Seems odd--
One of the well-defined deficits in brain physiology related to ASD is hypoperfusion [15,22] and the consequence of cerebral hypoxia. Based on this physiological deficit, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has the potential to be a beneficial and appropriate treatment to alleviate hypoperfusion [23] and thus improve brain functionality and behavioral outcomes.

After an anecdotal treatment of a girl whose parents claimed improvement ("these aspects were not measured quantitatively and are not presented"), the team picked mice with a genetic defect like that related to autism in humans and

"1-month-old mice for 40 sessions for 2 months, 5 days a week, 1 h a day. A total of 30 mice were divided into 4 groups: ... The HBOT group received 100% oxygen gas in 2 ATA pressure levels, while the placebo group received air (containing 21% oxygen) with 1 ATA pressure levels. ... All mice survived the procedures with no indications of irregular behavior or discomfort."

They see some improvement in their tests for mouse "social and novelty" behavior. I'm a little less sanguine, but it looks like it might be promising. And, of course, there look (to my eye) to be various causes of ASD, so there might not be a single treatment. A larger study is probably in order, and some attempt to see how long effects last.

UPDATE: Before you try "do it yourself", recall that every treatment has risks.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022


From Anecdotal Evidence, a quote about clarity:
Primo Levi: “On Obscure Writing” (Other People’s Trades (trans. Raymond Rosenthal, 1989): “He who does not know how to communicate, or communicates badly, in a code that belongs only to him and a few others, is unhappy, and spreads unhappiness around him. If he communicates badly deliberately, he is wicked or at least a discourteous person.”

Monday, November 28, 2022

Impulsiveness and loyalty

From a Christmas Cracker, about Vincenzo Valdrati Valdre "while at Stowe he attended a wedding and when the bridegroom failed to appear, he was so moved at the bride’s distress that he chivalrously offered himself as a substitute – and was accepted."

You have to look something like that up. The life of James Gandon, Esq

A strong, though rather comical, illustration of his character was given in the mode of his marriage with an English lady some short time before his visit to Ireland. When in a convivial mood, with a few select friends, he was sometimes induced to give the following account of his courtship and marriage:

"With some others, I was invited to a wedding, which was to take place in the neighborhood of Stowe, in Buckinghamshire. When the parties invited on this occasion assembled at the church, one only was absent, namely, the bridegroom! whose presence was, of course, most anxiously required. The clergyman to officiate, and the vigilant clerk, were duly in attendance; minutes passed rapidly away, and the church clock struck an hour after the appointed time. All eyes were directed to the porch of the church, until it became evident that some fatal cause would interfere with the performance of the ceremony--that all was not right with some of the parties concerned."

"The worthy clergyman at length closed his book, in which was fruitlessly deposited a small slip of paper containing the names of the intended bride and bridegroom, then left the church; the bride adjusted her veil with a dissatisfied countenance, and all parties were preparing to depart for their respective homes. Feeling the distressing situation of the neglected lady, I boldly offered my services and offered my arm to lead the intended bride out of church."

"With feelings I felt a difficulty in checking or explaining, I boldly offered myself as a substitute for the absent suitor. Nor was my spirited conduct slightly appreciated--a blushing approval sanctioned my honorable and gallant conduct. The clergyman was overtaken and requested to return, as matters had assumed a new feature. Return he did, but on the explanation of the affair, it became his unpleasant duty to state to the elated and happy pair, `that three successive Sundays must pass over before it would be in his power to contribute to the happiness we so eagerly anticipated.'"

In short, the newly betrothed parties did wait the protracted period. The original truant, the cause of so many variations of the compass, continued absent, we may presume with leave; and his successor, Waldre being a man of honour, a "chevalier sans peur et sans reproche," patiently abided the appointed time, at the end of which the volunteering parties were happily united as man and wife.

I gather that they were married for of the order of 30-40 years until his death (hers followed shortly).

Sunday, November 27, 2022

An aid to retrospection

A man is reviewing what he noted in Bible his mother gave him:
I find that I’ve underlined many verses but otherwise left no marginalia, which suggests an unconscious reverence for the text. Psalms 19:12, for instance, is underlined: “But who can discern his errors? / Clear thou me from hidden faults.” That seems apropos though I’m surprised my younger self was able to recognize such a defect of character within himself.


I recognize some continuity with the younger man who marked these passages of scripture. Nothing underlined come as a surprise: “I agreed / with the young annotator’s every thought: / A clever girl.”(*) None of the marked verses suggest a stupid, disrespectful, argumentative person, which is a relief. In her final stanza, Warren wonders what she and her former self would make of each other. The young man I see reflected in the Bible comes off much better than he and I know he truly was.

Part of wisdom is being on the right path to wisdom, even if you don't have it all yet. My earlier self had a lot of shortcomings, and I knew better than I lived. Thanks to God, I think both knowing and doing are a little bit better than they used to be--which is the right trajectory, anyhow, albeit still off the mark by miles.

Found through a link to a blogroll

(*)Reference to a poem by Deborah Warren

Friday, November 25, 2022

Another sequence

This representation looks utterly useless, but amusing anyway. You can easily see some patterns; there's a reason for them. (I have to do something when walking laps--mulling over crazy stuff works.) (And yes, you can represent all the integers this way.)

hint below

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Street lights

The bright white ones make my eyes ache at night, and the reddish ones leave the streets looking cold even in summer.

The new ones have two bulbs. Each bulb makes its own shadow. Two shadows close by each other make it feel like I'm cross-eyed.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Be a Berean

It's an open secret, which I've seen reported on several times, that getting a fake news story to be trusted is straightforward--just a few mutual citations, and the original source's problems are laundered away. It's especially easy in an environment of like-minded reporters with the same kind of beat--whether it is the latest pop bands or politics. One reporter called it "the rule of 3"--if three different reporters mention it, it's a trend. Even if they all cite the same original story.

You can even hoax the world for years about who invented electric toasters.

As for wikipedia: "The problem with quotes on the internet is you can never trust their validity.--Abraham Lincoln"

It's an awful lot slower to check stories, but at least you (usually) understand it afterwards, and know who not to trust.

Friday, November 18, 2022

The almost right word?

"A televangelist who served as a spiritual adviser to Donald Trump says the former president ..." OK, this is the Washington Post, which I don't expect to have a good understanding of religious matters, but "spiritual advisor" is a term of art that doesn't sound like Robison's description of his role here. And a real spiritual advisor would keep confidences.


It's no skin off my nose--I'm not a huge soccer, Qatar, or beer fan. But I'm curious if Budweiser's sponsorship contract for the World Cup contemplated the possibility that a Moslem country might ban beer.

If not, some lawyers are having a very unpleasant conversation right now.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022


At the Orthosphere: The worst thing that’s happened to science in a century

"The worse thing that happened is that science became high-status."

Yes, one has to have a certain level of intelligence to do it, but the distinguishing feature of scientists was not this but our unusual enthusiasms. Just as some boys became obsessed with video games, military history, automobile engineering and aesthetics, or the minutia of their favorite band, other boys became obsessed with Riemannian manifolds, gauge theories, black holes, turbulence, and dark matter. Such boys were not admired, but we were tolerated.

... "Scientists were often thought to possess a certain moral imbecility that led them to ignore the possible consequences of their research, reflecting the public’s correct impression of science as powerful but dangerous and disruptive." ...

"All of this was very good for science. It kept science filled with the right people with the right motivations in the right subculture,"

The post links to the Head Girl definition and contrast with creative genius--among other descriptions there is this: "The Head Girl is great to have around, everybody thinks she is wonderful. Meanwhile the creative genius is at best a person who divides opinion, strongly, in both directions - at worst often a signed-up member of the awkward squad." Hmm. Rubens, anyone? He was popular and respected enough to be sent out as a diplomat and spy.

Iron ring

I ran across a reference to the "iron ring" today. I expected pop culture, and am happily disappointed to find it is not.

In Canada there's a ceremony called the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer. After the oath a faceted iron ring is awarded. Wikipedia says they used to recite 2-Esdras 4:5-10 but now do Kipling's Hymn of Breaking Strain.

After a while some American engineers decided to do something similar, with a different Obligation of the Engineer. Both oaths have merit, but Kipling's (the Canadian one) has more breadth.

Not as many Americans join the order of the engineers. I gather that it is a big deal in Canada, but some of the reddit commenters call it "cringy." I wonder if there are any oaths those folks don't think "cringy."

Rings are often made of stainless steel instead of iron, and are worn on the little finger of the dominant hand--meaning it hits the paper every time you write. Not quite a phylactery, or a wedding ring either, but partaking a little of the meaning of both.

Some things stay the same

“Whatever is not nailed down is mine. Whatever can be pried loose is not nailed down.”. What does the slogan bring to mind? The early 20'th century robber barons to whom it was initially applied? Apple trying to "trademark" the letter "i"?

Or pop singers trying to trademark "Queen of Christmas"? (I'd have thought the Virgin Mary would get dibs on that name.)

Monday, November 14, 2022

Mummy faces

Egyptian reinterpretation? An Egyptologist with a revisionist book to hawk asserts that since the Egyptians had few mirrors, "they didn't know what they looked like" and therefore " “When people look at a face inside a mummy and say, ‘oh, they looked just like us’, it is just an illusion,”" Why? Because the mummies were being adjusted to be more acceptable to the divine.

Of course that was part of the reason for mummification, but the sine qua non was that the body actually survive, and I've seen nothing in mummies to suggest that the mummy faces were specially redone to look better. They put masks over the body, generally stylized. The dead wanted to "identify" as a god: I gather Price wants to indulge them in their long-dead illusions and have the rest of us join in that attempted deification, looking at the god-face rather than the human one. "no CT scans nor facial recognition imagery will appear in the exhibition" Or perhaps, as is customary, the reporter screwed the story up beyond recognition.


I didn't start a quest to find the most useless functions possible, just got to noodling starting with the prime question a bit earlier. Probably everybody knows the old faithful Taylor series for $e^x$: $\sum_{n=1}^\infty x^n/n!$. That's for all non-negative integers $n$. You know what $e^x$ looks like.

What do we wind up with if we try something similar but with the primes instead? Naturally there are plenty of possibilities. In what follows let $p_i$ be the i'th prime number.

How about just having products of primes in the denominator? $$\sum_i { {x^i} \over {\prod_{n=1}^i p_n}}$$

It falls to a minimum and then starts to rise again as you go negative. It doesn't rise as fast as $e^x$ for increasing $x$, unsuprisingly.

OK, suppose we use factorials instead of just the products of primes. $$\sum_i {{x^i} \over {p_i !}}$$

For $x$ increasing it also doesn't rise as fast as $e^x$, but for negative $x$ it climbs faster than before. Both this and the previous have a minimum: the one about about -2.7 and the previous at about -3.27.

One more, just for laughs. Pick out just the $e^x$ Taylor series expansion terms with prime powers of x.

$$ \sum_i {{x^{p_i} \over { {p_i} !}} $$

It has 2 inflection points, and rises with $x$ increasing and falls with $x$ decreasing--sort of like a cubic would. Curious.(*)

And not obviously useful.

To wrap up, what started the exercise for me was, for $x \in [-1,1)$, $$ \sum_i { {x^i} \over {p_i} } $$.

Naturally this diverges almost everywhere, but it's cute.

If you've wondered why high school graphing calculators haven't changed in 20 years, this is why: it would do most of your algebra homework for you.

(*) It looks like Mathjax fails with this command--it boxed the raw LaTeX instead of processing it. I wonder why. And to make the text fall below the images, I had to add "style=clear:both;" inside the paragraph command.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Census starts

Press Release: "the International Community wishes to encourage all not to politicize or disrupt the ongoing 2022 National Population and Housing Census. We have observed with dismay calls by some elements within the country to boycott the Census."

But who would boycott the census? unpaid census workers.

They planned big: biometric tools and on-the-spot ID card printing. It turns out the firm couldn't provide that, and all I've seen about that since is handwaving. I suspect they agreed to ignore the requirements. And they bumbled the training (more likely someone ate the money), and the census started two days ago (several years late) and is supposed to end next Tuesday. I wonder how long it will really take, and how many of the numbers will just be made up. The bigger the rush, the more imagination...

UPDATE: President Weah just fired a couple of administrators of LISGIS "based on administrative reasons". I wonder if he's a fall guy or got caught.

They declared a National Census Day but didn't quite get the word out.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Testing Mathjax

It's well known that the sum of the reciprocals of the positive integers is infinite. It's less well known (ran across it a couple years ago) that the sum of the reciprocals of the primes is also infinite (Euler, 1737).

The linked article has proofs about the series $1/p_i$, but seems to only say that the divergence of the sum $\sum_{i=1}^{n} 1/p_i$ is greater than $\log\log(n+1)$.

I'd bet that $$\lim_{n\to \infty} {{\sum_{i=1}^{n} 1/p_i} \over {\sum_{i=1}^{n} 1/i} } \to 0$$ it seems obvious -- but I'm not sure how to prove that yet. Euler could probably have done it in his sleep. I'd need to mull over their approaches for a while.

It looks like this works

UPDATE: Yep, it's pretty obvious. The difference between the prime sum and $\log(\log(n))$ is finite, and so the numerator is close to $\log(\log$ and the denominator to $\log$ so the ratio tends to 0. Anyhow, this Mathjax tool seems to pass the initial tests.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

When a child is king

I've a picture of small armies fighting on behalf of rival candidates for the throne--both of whom are little boys.

When incapacitated or even dead candidates win elections, it gets clearer that the candidate is only the emblem of the team.

Even for a candidate with all of his faculties, the job of senator or president is too huge for one man to wrap his mind around. He needs a group to help him, instruct him, direct him.

Unless my eyes decieve me there are three kinds of arrangements: where the candidate manages his own staff and organization, where the candidate inherits the system (Yes Minister?), and where the organization anoints the candidate.

Who is part of the package you vote for/fight for? Who is Fetterman's regent? Who is the power behind the WhiteHouse teleprompter? this month.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Didn't quite graduate to gearhead

AVI has a post about gearheads, and what it brought to my mind was pens. My father liked fountain pens, and when I was in college I tried out a Parker 45, and liked it a lot. It was cheap, easy to write with, and had a nice balance--but the cartridge refills got to be a nuisance, and over the years something happened to the nib. Oh well; in the drawer with it. Replacements cost quite a bit more money than I cared to think about.

I inherited a few pens, and in the process began to learn about what the "hobby" is like now. Paper is a huge deal. Apparently. I found that some of the cheap paper was horrible (bleed-through or feathering all over the place), but almost everything else was fine. I tried one of the wonderful paper brands (Rhodia) and wasn't excited about the difference.

The inherited pens had problems, so I read around a bit and learned that cultures that did a lot of caligraphy had plentiful fountain pens--China and Japan in particular. After arguing with different medium nibs for a while I bought a 5-pack of cheap Jinhao 911 finepoints (and gave most of them away) and have been putting Quink on printer paper and ordinary spiral notebooks and other deprecated media without a regret. Not on checks, of course.

Probably I'm a philistine.

Sunday, November 06, 2022

More trivia

Another rabbit trail question: Why 8 1/2 by 11 for paper size?

It seems that nobody really knows. The 11 inch part seems to have an almost-official explanation: the wingspan of paper-makers constrained the width of the paper frames, which converged on 44 inches wide. Cut that sheet in half twice, and there's your 11 inches. But nobody seems to know about the 8 1/2. That got officially standardized for US government use not too long ago, but that's not an explanation--the size had already existed for a long time.

Legal paper is 8 1/2 by 14 (or used to be), which is pretty close to the golden ratio (a sheet is about 1/4 inch too long), and gold is probably a pleasant thing for lawyers to contemplate while using the sheets.

"Dog my cats"

An afternoon conversation's question: Who said that?

I remembered it from some cartoon, but couldn't remember which one either. (Pogo) And what did it mean? Obviously a dramatic interjection, maybe a "minced oath". If it's the latter it doesn't mean anything exactly, but maybe the first does?

Searching the infalible internet turns up the claims that the earliest known reference is in Huck Finn (or by O Henry decades later, through some amazing time warp).

Suppose the phrase is literal and the key word is the verb "dog". "Follow my cats around" isn't a compelling image. "Latch down my cats" has an arrestingly chaotic feel to it; I could almost believe that one. A random internet-er held that "my great-grandfather said" it was a sarcastic "Sic your dogs on my cats" to someone being too aggressive--um, maybe, but again it doesn't seem compelling.

I suspect the majority is right, and it was a euphemism for "damn my something-or-other". But I like my little folk-etymology.

Friday, November 04, 2022

The infamous "slavery" lesson's upshot

"Dane County Circuit Court Commissioner Scott McAndrew ruled in favor of former Sun Prairie Area School District teacher Mary Headington in a small claims lawsuit against the school district."

It was small claims because she and two others had agreed to quit after a flap when some parents got angry about a lesson plan based on Hammurabi’s Code. The students were given the situation of a Mesopotamian slave owner with a slave who refused to recognize his master--what do you do? (under the Hammurabi Code he was executed) The school district got bent out of shape, possibly from the publicity, and encouraged the teachers to quit--with a separation agreement which the school district then violated. SPASD Employee Relations Manager(*) Isabel Simonetti alleged that the assignment was "racist and offensive to African American students", but admitted "that she never viewed the whole PowerPoint. She received access to the scenarios only from parents’ emails and social media." She had circled on the separation form "that what the employee did was unsatisfactory and had an arrow pointing to giving a “racist/offensive assignment.”".

The Commissioner bothered to read the whole lesson plan, and found for the teacher. A federal court found for the school district when some parents sued about the matter. Words like "offensive" and "insensitive" were used in the opinions, but nothing racist or culpable.

We could do without the "services" of Simonetti. In her official capacity she alleged an offense she never bothered to check for.

(*) The district's web page lists her title as "Assistant Superintendent for Teaching, Learning & Equity" Did I mention that I think they could save a lot of money and improve the social climate if they let go everyone with "equity" or "diversity" in their job description?

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Messier 77

It's about 47M light years away, has an active black hole at the center, and gamma rays from the activity seem to be absorbed on the way out. But the absorbtion may enhance the emission of neutrinos. IceCube spotted them. This isn't the first time IceCube spotted a source--that would be TXS 0506+056--but it is the nearest.

Information on more sources is supposed to be released shortly--I'll update with the link when I get it.

UPDATE: Personal. I'm retired and not in the loop anymore, and I got the information pretty much when everyone else did. I have several questions--what sort of activity do other candidate galaxies show, are the other candidates different in gamma emission, are the rates consistent with the diffuse background (Olber's paradox--there should be lots more galaxies out there, and even ones we can't see should contribute some chance of neutrinos) (I didn't remember Edgar Allen Poe's contribution to astronomy.) And how much gas and dust does one need to block or transmute the gamma rays while not also blocking the high energy neutrinos--which interact much more strongly than low energy ones from the Sun or reactors?

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Halloween Hitler

A man went to the State Street Halloween gathering dressed as Hitler. It made news around the world.

You might ask, what kind of idiot would do that?

Statements from the Children's Museum and Madison police said the man has cognitive disabilities.

"His work with the museum over the past 10 years has been closely supervised, coached, and supported. It is our understanding that he believed his costume to be mocking Hitler," the museum said in the statement.

So, of course, he was fired, but the museum says "its staff still hopes to engage him in a restorative justice process "that would redress the harm done to the community while allowing him to understand the effects of his actions and accept accountability.""

If the description of the man is accurate and he really didn't understand what reactions would be, I think restorative justice requires that the museum quickly re-hire him. It is too much to expect media and foundations to issue clarifications.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Do you feel comfortable driving?

One of the Mercury 7: When asked what he was thinking when he was inside their Mercury spacecraft sitting atop a live booster waiting to launch, his answer was: "This was put together by the lowest bidder."

Testimony about 2005 Camry software and a PDF of the slides: Information about the details (like the number of Toyota divided the work into) was considered proprietary and scrubbed from the slides and the transcript (which has some weird systematic typos, like "parody" for "parity" and "cull" for "call").

Reading that the operations and the monitoring of the operations were both done within the same task should make your hair stand on end. Raising warnings is one thing, but you also want to know if the task is still running, and if the dead task is supposed to sit up and tell you that it's dead--I know tomorrow is Halloween, but even so...

Saturday, October 29, 2022

The Isthmus

The local free "alternative" newspaper is The Isthmus. I used to pick it up, as I once did the Chicago Reader, partly to see what wasn't getting reported in the main papers, and partly to see "how the other half lives"--kind of morbid curiosity. Sometimes they did report interesting things that should have been picked up elsewhere, and sometimes their article provoked a "you're nuts." For a while they carried Dan Savage--once again, I read from morbid curiosity, though not infrequently the answers were along the lines of "you're being stupid/greedy/lazy; shape up". It slowly dawned on me that I knew more about sex than he did--I knew how it worked, and he knew how it didn't work. connaitre instead of savoir

They had a great photograph the weekend after a very warm snap one winter: a lady sunned herself in a bikini on the beach while an ice fisherman walked across the still-frozen lake behind her with his fishing tackle.

As we quit watching TV its listings were less use, and most of the movie and arts scene was uninteresting or unreachable (babysitting and funds needed), and the sporadic investigative articles sat in a sea of hard left takes on local events. I picked it up by habit for a while, and then trailed off. I check it now and then when I need inside details of a leftist group. If I can predict the content, what's the point? The only reason I can think of is to immerse myself in its ideas and attitudes to make them more a part of me--why I read the Bible. The Isthmus doesn't resemble holy writ--at least for me.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Wuhan Institute of Virology

I'd have thought that if you want to work with biohazards like the big boys, you'd fund your facilities to operate like the big boys. But maybe you just build the facilities and check for political reliability instead. Vanity Fair has a report on the Wuhan facility and others in China. If true, they were much worse than I expected. "when Chinese officials “describe the solution to a problem, that’s how you find out what went wrong.”"

I didn't know that stainless steels were readily corroded by cleaning agents. I'd never heard of pishi before either.

stoves and furnaces

It feels like someone's doing battle-space prep when I read about how natural gas carries pollutants: "even low-level gas leaks from kitchen stoves when they are off can generate benzene concentrations in homes up to seven times California’s recommended exposure limit."
Last month, California air regulators approved a first-in-the nation commitment to phase out the sale of gas furnaces and water heaters by 2030—a move that will transition millions of homes to electric alternatives, such as heat pumps.

Never mind that gas is more efficient than electricity, and cooks better too.

The study itself cites others which found (in California) that only 30% of the methane leaks were from the pilot lights--which surprises me. CA's benzene limit is 0.5ppb in air (reduced in 2007 from 2.5ppb in 1990--a factor of 5. The old limit is about the same magnitude as the highest enhancement cited above. I don't know about your home, but in ours the furnace and water heater exhaust outside, and we generally run the overhead exhaust fan when we cook. This doesn't sound excessively risky. But I have friends who will take the report as proof that de-carbonizing is super-urgent.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

18 months

Quilette reviews a rather grim memoir of what happened to a marriage when a man decided he was a woman. It's her telling, of course, but I've no reason to believe it isn't largely true. "You’re polished like a doll, now veiled like a widow, perfumed like a corpse."

I'll probably not look for the book. Reading about it is hard enough.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

polarization oddity

If you apply an electric field to a chunk of metal, electrons will tend to migrate to one side, leaving it more negative and the opposite side positive--polarized. A proton is made of charge quarks (and neutral gluons and various virtual particles), which under an electric field should also, on the average, migrate to one side or the other. I say "on the average" because they don't stay put anywhere, but move quite rapidly.

A Science News article on "Protons might be stretchier than they should be." points to a Nature research paper about an anomaly in the polarizability they calculate for the proton.

They look at the reaction: electron hits a proton to produce an electron plus a proton plus a gamma ray. In short, e+p→e+p+γ, where the γ goes somewhere undetected. Because they measure the momentum of the electron and proton they can reconstruct the missing mass and select the events with missing mass near 0 to pick those events with a photon. There's a much larger set of events set where the third particle is something else (e.g. a pion). So far so good. They can predict the photon's momentum, and that quantity squared is handy for calculations--that's what you see in the plots in the second link.

A photon has (is) an electric and magnetic field and that field interacts with the proton. They claim that the interaction is higher than expected for a photon energy of about .59 GeV, or a q^2 of .35GeV^2. Everybody expects a smooth curve--they see a bump (as others did before). It's not as big a bump as the older experiments, but their measurements are a bit more accurate.

What does this mean? It could be that the proton has some unexpected structure, and at certain electric fields it reacts more strongly than at higher or lower fields. That sounds like some kind of resonant effect, and by an opportune pun there are particles called "resonances" that might be relevant.

For example, if you bounce a pion off a proton you'll get an interaction rate that varies smoothly with energy, until you get close to a center of mass energy of 1440 MeV/c^2. Then the interaction rate jumps, and the jump is due to creating a new short-lived particle.

You might expect something similar here, like p+e → N + e → p + γ + e. The unknown "N" would have a mass somewhere around the proton mass plus the photon momentum--and there's a resonance near that. However the cross section for the 1520 resonance decaying to p + γ is quite small (110MeV width * .004 branching fraction = 0.4MeV), which means the production rate is going to be quite small also, so it probably doesn't contribute much, unless I shouldn't have ignored the phase space factors.

Very odd. I wonder if the different groups use related monte-carlo programs.

UPDATE: If they looked at the reaction rate while requiring the missing mass to be that of a pi-zero, they might see a bump in the rate at that q-squared.


I've read, though never personally heard, people asserting that Trump was divinely anointed to be president, to defeat the forces of evil threatening our nation and the world. As far as I recall these supporters did not include any major denomination leaders, though some may have been preachers of one stripe or another. I confess to not paying a great deal of attention to the matter.

Their rhetoric wasn't far different from calling him "a fighter against the Antichrist", but nobody of stature comparable to Patriarch Kirill has said so about Trump. Or called him "chief exorcist"--though I wonder if that's really a good translation of what Kirill called Putin.

Putin says the West is serving Satan. It seems a bit rich for Putin to be using that kind of language--if he's serious about Orthodoxy and Jesus he hides it well. But I'd be unsurprised to hear the accusation from Kirill, or from a scholar at Al-Azhar. From their standpoint the West endorses seducer/deceivers trying to pull people from the true path. (I had some impractical ideas about the "war on terror" about being proactive about that--oddly enough the Trump administration almost pulled off what I thought was the hardest part.)

That "chief exorcist" phrase is interesting. In the Orthodox church exorcism is possible for laymen at a lesser level: "the whole Church, past, present and future, has the task of an exorcist to banish sin, evil, injustice, spiritual death, the devil from the life of humanity." There are prayers to help. The language of the church involves phrases like "the demon of greed". Of course the official exorcists are a clergy-level office. They were originally supposed to prepare each catechumen to be able to renounce Satan.

So a layman is supposed to be the chief?

I'm trying to imagine Putin fasting and praying to drive out the demons from the West. You can't imagine it either?

We're always tempted to hope for spiritual victories though secular means. Given his history, I don't think Kirill is serious about his claim. I hope Putin isn't.

Monday, October 24, 2022


Liberia has been preparing for a census, and planning big. The winning bidder claimed to be able to use biometric tools and print ID cards on the spot. (Turns out they couldn't do the printing, and I'd be astonished if the biometric stuff worked anywhere but the city--and probably not there either.) They started training some of the census workers--and "forgot" to pay or feed them.

"... some of the teachers are already regretting their decision taken to temporarily drop the chalk to serve as enumerators for the census." I invite you to think about that for a bit.

"Authorities of LISGIS, who have been consistently accused of substituting the names of those who qualified and attended the training in the various counties for others, now face a serious task of reconciling the listings for payment."

Doesn't that inspire you with confidence in the upcoming census? They can't keep track of their own trainees. Could there be a reason for the discrepancy? Wonder no more.

The lack of foreign-direct investments under the administration of President George Manneh Weah compels the score of government officials as well as hierarchies within the ruling party to implore I think he meant "explore" strategies or means to provide job opportunities for their immediate family members, friends, loved ones, and supporters.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Training for futility

AVI has had a morphing post about Tinder up for a few days--if you haven't read it recently you'll probably find more there now. The links at the end of the Day 8 section testify to some odd side effects of the tool and its algorithm--few find long-term relationships, and a surprising number are already married.

Genes/gifts provide us with a framework and the power to do things (sing, run races, find a mate) but the culture and our training shape the result. I was born with an aptitude for analytical thought, but I'd mostly be flailing around if I hadn't been trained, and some ways of training would be less than useless.

"You fight the way you train." You love the way you train too.

Tinder seems to help train its users for futility, if the links in AVI's post are true. A large fraction seem to end up concentrating on superficialities (not very stable) and practicing extremely short-term relationships (insofar as rutting with strangers is a relationship). Many claim they are trying to find a life partner. Clearly the Tinder training doesn't seem to help; if the stories are true it seems to make it worse. "Why" is another question, though some of the issues seem obvious enough.

The numbers for users "in a committed relationship" suggest that Tinder's attraction doesn't have much to do with finding a life partner. They already have one, and are looking for something else, and Tinder promises it--though maybe not explicitly.

Halloween Carols

A lunch table discussion: which is more suitable? When the Night Wind Howls or The Church's One Foundation?

Saturday, October 22, 2022

The dedication is obscure

The Man Who was Thursday is a wonderful and mysterious book, and its dedication (to his friend Edmund Bentley) likewise mysteriously hints at youthful struggles against the spirit of the age (I think). And the spirit of our age.
Round us in antic order their crippled vices came—
Lust that had lost its laughter, fear that had lost its shame.
Like the white lock of Whistler, that lit our aimless gloom,
Men showed their own white feather as proudly as a plume.
Life was a fly that faded, and death a drone that stung;
The world was very old indeed when you and I were young.
They twisted even decent sin to shapes not to be named:
Men were ashamed of honour; but we were not ashamed.
Weak if we were and foolish, not thus we failed, not thus;
When that black Baal blocked the heavens he had no hymns from us
Children we were—our forts of sand were even as weak as we,
High as they went we piled them up to break that bitter sea.

If you haven't read the book, do. I'm re-reading, and realizing I'd skipped the dedication. I had to look up some references. He called it a nightmare, and yet a nightmare that finds light despite overwhelming darkness isn't quite a nightmare.


After the past post I wasted some time with songs from Goldilocks (*), including I never know when. It's not great poetry, but "My dreams all bore me now" is a good line. Been there, done that.

It's a useful time--so long as you work to find out what the dreams were missing, and don't slide into aimlessness.

And no, most retirement dreams haven't bored me.

(*) Leroy Anderson wrote the music. Light--songs like "No One'll Ever Love You (like you do)"

Friday, October 21, 2022

Gone With the Wind

In an auction: "A Gone With the Wind presentation script signed by cast members, given to the mayor of Atlanta in 1961" It is signed by many familiar names, and
"Ogden Nash" [the humorist whom Selznick was considering to write the book for the planned Gone With the Wind musical], "Leroy Anderson" [one of America's premiere composers with whom Selznick was discussing the musical]),

Apparently they collaborated on a few songs: This Lovely World "This lovely world in which we slumber..." Ogden Nash was good at bittersweet as well as humor: Speak Low from One Touch of Venus.

And Leroy Anderson could do more than just short peices--though I'm not terribly keen on his symphony.

But I'm having a bit of trouble imagining those two doing a musical of Gone With The Wind. I don't think of either of them in terms of drama--light music and humor/introspection, yes. Some parts of the story they'd be fine with. "Frankly, my dear, ..." not so much.

But maybe I don't know them well enough. Selznick thought he did.

UPDATE: Ogden Nash wrote some things that might be surprising. One verse's lyrics bother me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Reporting priorities

LA Times: "Parents want more school security, but student activists push back." "As a group, Black students were less supportive but not strongly anti-police... Support for school police was higher among school staff and higher still among parents."

The usual ideologues are making the usual assertions. There's a claim that police in schools reduce overall achievement--which seems counterintuitive. I'm trying to parse the research paper on the subject and not finding some data I'd hoped for--I may report back on that later.

The question that bothers me is: Why does anyone care what students--teenagers with little experience and notoriously poor judgment--think about school policing policies?

nordstream video and guessing

My first naive thought was outside explosion, but I gather that internal issues can cause RUD too. Unfortunately the first publicly released video is short and doesn't show much. The top of the pipe shown is dented down, but that's not proof of an outside explosion. If you've broken a pipe you'll have seen that the last bit to fail is at the top, and the twisting around that last bit is apt to push the last contact point down into the pipe. My intuition could be wrong applied to such large pipes embedded in a trench, but it looks sort of like what's left after the previous chunk of pipe was wrenched up and away.

50 meters seems like a lot of pipe to rip away. There was a lot of gas pressure inside that thing, of course, and the sections looked about 12 meters long in the construction video (and in an estimate from the length and numbers, assuming by line they mean one of the pair). I'd guess that the pressure would blow a damaged section out of the way. One from each end, and one or more destroyed by the explosion, and we could account for the absent span.

So what would we expect to find? The continual blowing would have stirred up no end of mud (probably why we haven't seen images before now(*)), and rolled away some of the smaller debris. Unless you can find and sort-of reconstruct the pipe fragments from the point of the explosion it'd be hard to tell if it blew from the outside or the inside. They should be nearby somewhere.

The surrounding area might be partly protected from the blowing by the pipe being in a trench, which would help deflect force upward. If the water flow is largely upward, that might pull mud and debris in towards the pipe.

Let's see how well my intuition works. If the explosion were a high speed slug of hydrite ice bursting from the inside of the pipe, I'd expect the bulk of the pipe fragments to be distributed in a "cone" along the pipeline in the direction of the slug's motion, with some chunks ripped out by the initial pressure near each of the open pipe ends. Near the open pipe ends there shouldn't be much mud. (Video suggests there isn't a huge amount, but it's hard to see.) As some pointed out, there might be a secondary explosion as the hydrites evaporated on impact, which would make the debris field a little more symmetric.

If it were an external explosion (or some kind of weld failure), you'd still get chunks ripped out near each of the open pipe ends, but the main explosion point's debris would be more symmetrical, with more chunks still at the explosion site.

I wonder what they'll find.

(*) I'd be astonished if there weren't submarines from several different navies on the spots within hours of the explosions, but whatever they were able to see is probably classified. The blowing would have stirred up too much mud for video, but I assume there are other ways to inspect, but how and with what kind of resolution would be secret. Sonar might pick out the big chunks, but the noise from the pipes would be a huge background. I'm sure private exploration was deprecated until the gas dispersed.

UPDATE: Swedes say sabotage--they detected explosive residues. So everybody's first thought was right. I really really really hope it wasn't our official doing. If it is, the disconnect between the actors and what the country as a whole wants and would benefit from is so huge that I'd worry about our stability. Best case is that it was a private party, and everybody starts looking to harden their infrastructure, and nobody starts a war.

Sunday, October 16, 2022


Saul had to wait 3 days blind in Damascus. The disciples had to wait 10 days after the ascension before the events of Pentecost. And those are some of the shorter periods of waiting.

We honor people who jump at opportunities, hit the ground running, and don't dawdle around when given instructions. Rightly so. (I'm afraid I'm given to second-guessing, and don't jump that fast.) There's something obviously muscular about acting immediately. Waiting doesn't seem to show strength--putting it mildly.

After today's sermon I tried to put myself in Saul's place. He'd just had a vision that turned his world upside-down; everything was in flux. Maybe it took a few days for things to settle down, for the shattered parts to come together in new ways, for new bones to start to grow. God seems to value perseverance and patience as well as action--so long as they're obedient. Maybe there are two kinds of spiritual exercise--immediate actions (pray now, help now), and waiting for however long that particular trial or that Sabbath lasts. Muscle and bone.

May I tear my hair a little?

Milky Way’s Graveyard of Dead Stars Found – First Map of the “Galactic Underworld” "A new study creates the first map of our galaxy’s ancient dead stars." OK, it's a Halloween themed clickbait headline, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised, but when I see the word "found" I expect some data. Nope, it's a model--"Here's where we expect to see old black holes and neutron stars" My first clue was the images of the Milky Way: edge-on and face-on. Neither of those exist; we just have models. Bummer. I expected better from scitechdaily.

Taken for what it really is, it's an interesting prediction of what the distribution should be--but unfortunately they predict that the relics would be spread out over an even larger area than the visible Milky Way, so they'd be harder to find that we might have hoped. It seems that a supernova that produces a black hole is apt to give it quite a kick--one was observed going fast enough to escape the host galaxy entirely.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Making videos

I downloaded Kdenlive and found its controls extremely confusing. Does anybody have experience with using OpenShot?

I'm trying to make some math animations and then dub them, but maybe I need to create the audio first and fiddle with the animation timing to fit.

I have a feeling I'm going to need some cuter animations than manim can create to keep my target audience's focus. A mascot owl or a chimp? I don't know how to animate either one, and I really don't want the project's scope to get out of hand.

UPDATE: I don't feel like monkeying with FUSE libraries. OpenShot doesn't even start without and earlier version of FUSE.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

near Horicon

Goose Haven Gun Club

public blind rentals

Monday, October 10, 2022

black frogs of Chernobyl

Frogs seem to prefer to be darker in Chernobyl now. We all know melanin helps absorb UV and protect inner tissues from its damage, but radioactivity is quite a bit more penetrating--except for alphas, and they'll leave a trail of damage no matter what they're bulling through. So why would melanin be preferred? Fungi appear to be darker in high radiation environments: "the tantalizing possibility that melanins have functions analogous to other energy harvesting pigments such as chlorophylls." (Some chemical processes go faster).

I don't think of frogs as benefitting from chlorophyl (though some people have been experimenting with tadpoles), so I guess the benefit to frogs lies elsewhere. So, end speculation, and read the article.

"In addition, it (melanin) can scavenge and neutralize ionized molecules inside the cell, such as reactive oxygen species." That I'd not heard of before, but it would certainly make for more radiation resistant skin. How much more would need study.

Looking further through the links: "Melanization has also been associated with protection against diverse biotic factors, for example, host defense against pathogens, as well abiotic factors, including heat and cold, and osmotic stresses. The immune systems of some insects and nematodes is based on melanin, and some microbial pathogens use melanin to evade host immune defenses." It's complicated: "Melanin is recognized as an amorphous polymer of high molecular weight. Although it is known that melanin is formed by the polymerization of phenolic and indolic compounds, the detailed structure of melanin remains undefined. These polymers form graphite-like planar sheets that aggregate in a hierarchal fashion to form a colloidal particle."

This isn't what I meant by breeding for radiation tolerance. I was thinking of adding redundancy--this is cheaper, though not as thorough.


I've had an interest in cold fusion ever since I read Jones' paper (in a fax of a fax of a fax). Pons and Fleichmann's work sounded exciting until you looked at it closely, and it proved difficult (impossible) to reproduce. (I reviewed a more recent work claiming it could happen inside the Earth.) And experiments that seemed to almost get extra energy were already high temperature and pressure experiments that got maybe an extra degree or so out of the apparatus--not something you'd get good heat transfer out of.

Sabine Hossenfelder has a nice overview of the situation, including some updates I'd missed. No magic power breakthroughs seem to be on the horizon, but one hears "That's funny.".

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Love of liberty

"What has most harmed modern government, including what we call representative government, is a certain quality that is seldom mentioned, though I think I have mentioned it, for I think it very serious. It is the loss of the old ideal which associated a love of liberty with a scorn of luxury. The first and best of the democratic idealists were always definite on this point. They demanded that a republican senator should show a republican simplicity." Chesterton

Chicxulub again

The Deccan Traps eruptions were roughly contemporary with the Chicxulub event; enough that there has been a lot of argument about which caused the extinctions, and I'd wondered about whether the latter could have triggered the former, as the shock waves refocused on the other side of the planet. It seems not, though the shocks seem to have triggered extra eruptions along the way.

The latest tsunami model displays, among other things, the estimated position of India at the time. The latitudes match (20N vs 20S), but their best estimate for the longitudes doesn't have India and Chicxulub on opposite sides, by about 60 degrees. A little more evidence against my theory.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Oklahoma City National Memorial

The Oklahoma City National Memorial is a beautiful park--a reflecting pool with tall black walls on each side, a field of named chairs (some appropriately child-sized) that are illuminated at night, a 'survivor tree' that used to be in the parking lot for the Alfred P Murrah building (it caught fire that day, but was rescued, and volunteer teams prop it up every ice storm), a plaza and a museum next door, and across the street a "And Jesus wept" statue facing a wall with little candle-sized niches for all those killed. Parts of the old building are still there.

There's even a marshal there to explain things to people--like the meaning of the numbers on the black walls on each side. It's beautiful, and there's lots of emphasis on the people who died--and a list of names of the people who survived, too.

I'm torn. It's good to commemorate the lost. They do tend to be forgotten. But doing it without memorializing the crime and criminals...

It feels a bit like that time back in 2002 when we were lowering flags to half staff to honor the servicemen killed in Afghanistan. That was wrong--"raise it high and promise to avenge them" would have been right.

This park doesn't seem to have enough of a "We won't let this stop us" feel to it.

Granted, the situations were different, in that one was a war and the other wasn't (AFAIK--I've heard doubters but don't know the details well enough to sort real from speculation).

But there's something to be said for inspirational, even heroic statuary--even if it would have embarassed the subjects. We can be too fastidious.

We can be too mournful too, and too superstitious.

There was a mass murder in a McDonalds in California, and the building was razed afterwards. That makes a kind of sense. Even if there was "closure" over the deaths, there'd remain a perception of risk ("It happened here: why was this place picked and is it still a reason?") and reminder of mortality in a "happy place." The store would have probably gone broke if it tried to stay (it opened a new store not far away).

But is there any land on Earth outside of Antarctica where some Abel's blood doesn't cry out? We just don't remember whose.

A death isn't a finite loss. Hope of the resurrection can help, but until the resurrection it doesn't cure. We have to honor the dead. When a man fell from a balcony at the NY Metropolitan Opera they cancelled the opera that day(*). But not the next. To everything there is a season. And closure, either by ritual or the death of those who cared. And there's a place, and a style for mourning.

A grave is one thing, a pyramid another. The scale changes the meanings.

If we want a large place, maintained in perpetuity, it should have additional purposes--to warn, to inspire.

What do we want people to remember or learn?

Learning who the dead were is important at first, but inevitably it becomes no more than names, as those whose lives mixed with theirs also die. We can "tell their stories", but are the stories true, and who has the time to write or read them?

We can learn the circumstances of their deaths. But why? It's legitimate to make people angry, but what goal is that emotion supposed to serve--to emulate the dead or to avenge them?

The Vietnam veterans memorial seems to be a giant tombstone, and that's all. There's no hope or inspiration or urge to revenge. Somebody decided there shouldn't be, and thereby got a lot of people mad, but most of them seem to have reconciled to a tombstone. Or the complainers died, and those who came after didn't care so much.

The OCNM has been a great expression of what people cared about 27 years ago. What will visitors 27 years from now now think of it? They'll have fresh tragedies of their own.

(*) Would it have made a difference if he was obviously a suicide? I'm not sure, but I think it would, and the show would go on. It's not as though opera is a "happy place" all the time.


As the sun begins to appear above the horizon, the low fog fills in between the hills, except where the wind turbines sit in divots in the mist, looking like unshaven whiskers sticking up out of follicles.

And at night before one is high enough to see the outlines of the city, it looks like white and red and blue gems scattered on black velvet.

Chesterton again

While I transcribe my handwritten notes; a little more Chesteron: The Glass Walking Stick.

For "gentleman" below, read "cosmopolitan" or "Davos-ite":

I have said much against aristocracy and shall continue to do so, but I will never deny that aristocracy has certain queer advantages, not very often mentioned. One of them is that which affects European diplomacy: that a gentleman is the same all over Europe, while a peasant or even a merchant, may be very different. A Dutch gentleman and an Irish gentleman stand on a special and level platform; a Dutch peasant and an Irish peasant are divided by all dynastic and divine wars. Of course, this means that a peasant is superior to a gentleman — more genuine, more historic, more national; but that, surely, is obvious. Nevertheless, for cosmopolitan purposes, such as diplomacy, a gentleman may be used — with caution.

He will doubtless annoy a great many people...

For it must always be remembered in this connexion that masculine costume is different at root from feminine costume — different in its whole essence and aim. It is not merely a question of the man dressing in dull colours or the woman in bright; it is a question of the object. A Life Guardsman has very splendid clothes; an artistic lady may have very dingy clothes. But the point is that the Life Guard only puts on his bright clothes so as to be like other Life Guards. But the artistic lady always seeks to have some special, delicate, and exquisite shade of dinginess different from the dinginess of other artistic ladies. Though gleaming with scarlet and steel, the Life Guard is really invisible. Though physically, no doubt, of terrific courage, he is morally cowardly, like nearly all males. Like the insects that are as green as the leaves or the jackals that are as red as the desert, a man generally seeks to be unseen by taking the colour of his surroundings, even if it be a brilliant colour. A female dress is a dress; a male dress is a uniform. Men dress smartly so as not to be noticed; but all women dress to be noticed — gross and vulgar women to be grossly and vulgarly noticed, wise and modest women to be wisely and modestly noticed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Nord Streams

You know about the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines: we can safely conclude they were sabotaged. Commander Salamander discusses it, and in the comments one finds that many people blame the US--not surprisingly, given Biden's -- shall we say ill-considered? -- remarks.

Trying to figure out why is a bit harder.

Russia already had them shut down, so what could they gain by breaking them? They could get credibility as a "we can do more than just this without going nuclear" as someone suggested at that link above, or demonstrate a bit of Stenka Razin-esque resolve (I won't let any benefits or joys distract me from the fight!)--but only if it is known that they did it.

I don't quite see how the US benefits, though there are factions here or in Germany eager to make permanent dents in hydrocarbon use--it's really scary if they've run amok. The pipelines aren't that deep; non-state actors could have done it. But I don't think Biden's handlers would let him actually damage the pipelines.

Ukraine, to try to damage Russian interests long-term--but these things can be fixed, and on the time-scale of the war would be if Russia cared to.

I'm missing something here. Maybe the internal factions have more freedom of action than I suspect.

UPDATE: The pipes involved are fascinating.

UPDATE2: I was out of town for a bit when this came up. An unmaintained gas pipeline with dropping pressure on one side can be a time bomb--and tinkering with it carelessly can trigger problems. So, maybe we can't safely conclude sabotage.


I mostly read things I've not read before, but now and then I re-read something for fun. The last four books I re-read for fun were Treasure Island, Descent into Hell, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and A Canticle for Leibowitz. I wonder if that reveals anything profound about my character. Does your list?

Monday, September 26, 2022

Curious results

I asked Amazon for "domra instrument". Of the first 19 entries, one was a decal of a domra player. OK. I was also offered a blue kazoo, a bongo drum set, a harmonica, a jaw harp, an Otamatone, a "wave bead ocean drum", a portable analog synthesizer, six kalimbas and five steel tongue drums. The next page includes more of the same, a Tibetan singing bowl, a percussion box (the wooden one you sit on), and some sheet music for a domra--which is at least within shouting distance. Asking for "alto domra" gets me sheet music, recordings, and blood pressure meters.

It's hard to believe the algorithms are that wild. They can't be blocking Russian-related vendors, can they?

Nope; asking for a balalaika returns an offer for a violin kit, followed by several for balalaika prima (and that blue kazoo again, and a ukelele). I guess the domra is just not weird enough for quick recognition, so it isn't so popular. Or that sponsored offers are shoved in anyplace they might be remotely relevant. But I still don't understand the blood pressure meters. Maybe they figure you'll need them after the interminable search for what you want.

UPDATE: "domra folk musical instrument" finds one, mixed in with with the kalimba and flute and wave bead ocean drum.