Wednesday, March 30, 2022

no more sea

"Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea."

That's a bit of a puzzler, if reading commentaries is any guide. Quite a few of them note that the sea was a place of chaos and danger in Jewish imagery. I'll take their word for it. This ties the "no longer any sea" together with verse 4: "'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

That's plausible: "Dear God, be good to me; the sea is so wide, and my boat is so small." Breton fishermen's prayer.

And yet some people love the sea. I love to sit by the ocean and watch the waves come in; others love to surf, or swim, or sail, or dive.

Maybe it ties in with verses 22-23 instead: "I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp." Maybe there's no more sea because what we love in the ocean is available even better in something else.

It seems that in sailing we make the grand chaoses of water and wind serve us; similarly with surfing or swimming--we finess otherwise unhelpful forces for our own use and pleasure.

Divers see hidden things, and visit with creatures we don't meet with otherwise.

And me? The powerful waves crashing up and down the beach combine rhythm and variation--perhaps they're a kind of music.

We're warned that trying to imagine heaven is futile, but maybe there's something(s) that fulfill what we distantly find in the ocean now.

I know, the Beatific Vision fulfills them all. But the orthodox claim is that the resurrected have bodies, and presumably do things with them. So, unless the passage is simply symbolic, we can ask "What is it we love in the ocean, and where else might we find that?"

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Big screen lyrics

Providing slides with the lyrics to hymns is good for getting people to sing with their heads up, and you needn't haul hymnals in and out when you rearrange the seats. But sometimes it would help to have the music to go with the lyrics, especially when introducing a new song. I've tried to figure a readable way to add that as an option, but it needs more time and tinkering that I've devoted to the problem.

Managing the number of lines on the screen is a minor but pesky nuisance--sometimes the ratio of characters to syllables in a line is large enough to demand wrap-around. You want to break at at a vocal pause so it looks natural. Not a big problem--in English. I'd hate to try that in German.

Do German singers ever have to pause for breath in the middle of a word? Messiah seems to demand that in some places--or at any rate I don't have the lung capacity to hold out long enough. And there's the extended gloria in Angels We Have Heard On High. But it doesn't happen often. We generally don't overfeed English words.

Plastic in the blood?

he headline seemed nuts: Scientists find microplastics in blood for first time. The image associated with the article shows mm-size bits--which is even crazier. Never mind the picture--how do you get bits of plastic into the blood? My intuition says this is hard--otherwise we'd have all sorts of stuff getting into the blood.

The actual report is at Science Direct. It starts out talking about particle sizes, which explains why the summarizer at thought of larger bits. But read on.

When you get down to the Methods section, it looks a little different. They describe careful methods to avoid contamination, how they tried to denature and digest the proteins, and then filter the resulting blood samples on a 25nm glass fiber filter (mesh size 700nm).

The next steps had to do with baking the result and testing for chemicals baked out.

The compounds that are desorbed in the first run (‘shot’) are molecules that are volatilized between 100 and 300 °C and can include unpolymerized monomers, additives and other sorbed chemicals. Polymerized target analytes such as polystyrene, EPS, ABS, PP, PE, PMMA are physically unable to volatilize in the ‘first shot’ because the maximum temperature of 300 °C is too low (therefore they are retained for the second shot).

Why the distinction? Because you could have chemicals from your body's trying to digest plastic in your blood, or from inhaling gases from soft plastics, and so on. These are presumably not good, though whether they are actively bad isn't quite proven.

They find chemicals at the right point in the procedure to have been driven off of small particles, but they don't know the size, or if these are new combinations of polymer chemicals and something else. They don't actually see the particles.


The human placenta has been shown to be permeable to 50, 80 and 240 nm polystyrene beads (Wick et al. 2010) and likely also to microsized polypropylene (Ragusa et al. 2021). In a study of acute lung exposure to nanopolystyrene spheres (20 nm) in rats, the translocation of plastic particles to placental and fetal tissues was demonstrated (Fournier et al. 2020). Bioaccumulation of small polystyrene micro-particles in the liver, kidney and gut was observed after oral administration in mice in vivo

And they mention drug delivery in nano-sized plastic particles--and reference something odd in which chronic exposure to "polymeric nanoparticles" in the blood results in clearing the particles out more quickly.

How does this stuff get in? "Mucosal contact"--skin is pretty protective. Really fine stuff (<.1micrometers) can be inhaled. Plus "PE in toothpaste, PET in lip gloss, dental polymers": "even tattoo ink residues."

My intuition was wrong. Partly. The bits have to be very small.

Thursday, March 24, 2022


Every now and then something reminds me of a chunk of my life I'd forgotten, and it's as though a peice of me was lost and is found--for a while. There was a Delta-88 the same color as the N'th hand one we graduated to when we first had to drive 7 around. I didn't want it (they make cars better now), but I wanted ... maybe the best way to describe it is that I wanted my participation in it again; I wanted that part of me and my history that was gone.

The souvenir helps put you back together, in a sense.

Not completely: my memory isn't complete even when I'm reminded. In God's economy the past isn't past or lost; maybe I need to trust that more. But I want to be back together again.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

a heads-up

I needed a red laser for a science demo this past Wednesday, and found that I could buy all three colors for the price of one. They were marketed as an animal toy.

5mW lasers, used against a posterboard backstop, while I'm careful to contain reflections--no problems. I practiced the layout and my motions to make sure.

When you buy a laser, check it. The labels all said < 5mW, but the green laser was easily 10x as bright as the one I already had. That isn't safe for use around kids, and is stored safely away, without batteries. I need to make my own label for it.

I hate to imagine some poor cat running into the beam. They blink fast, but even so...

How did I know how bright it was, since I don't have a power meter? I already a green laser and knew the new one was brighter, and when I shone the spot on a slanted surface (non-reflective!) the image spread over 10x the area was still brighter than the old laser, though comparable. But if I didn't already have something to compare it with, I could look at the beam spot projected on the wall for a moment. If the afterimage lasts more than a few seconds, it's dangerously bright. With a 1W laser, just looking at the image on the wall can cause permanent damage to your eyes--the powerful ones aren't toys.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Men of "destiny"

This image came up with Kaiser Waltz in a playlist I was listening to. Something about the way these men wanted to be seen fascinates. Am I projecting back into the picture what I know they did later, or can you see something of it already?

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

What's behind the curtain?

I notice that reporting on BLM malfeasance is now allowed, though so far it is restricted to reporting on financial improprieties. I guess they came out underdogs in some covert contest. I'm not versed enough in the American version of kremlinology to know who came out on top.

Parsing out who's who can be complicated. BLM was nominally about blacks, but if you looked at who was running it, and what sorts of materials they offered to schools, it was clearly more about changing sexual mores. (I read their web info about dismantling the family before they realized it was bad PR and scrubbed it, read the resumes of their local leaders, and read and skimmed the materials they offered last year.)

It feels like conspiracy theorizing. I like having clean data to work with. But lockstep reporting, questions that are answered with "Shut up you epithet-du-jour", and the obvious lies leave me wondering what's left out. Whether coordinated or emergent, the reporting has direction and shape. So, I don't know, but...

Perhaps the struggle is within BLM--it always seemed a strange marriage. Homosexuality wasn't widely applauded in the black community--though maybe that changed in recent years.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

It makes sense, but not what I was expecting

For parts for a simple optics demo, I searched amazon for lead glass. The first thing that came up was lead glass glasses--to protect eyes from x-rays. It looks like a good pair with .75mm lead equivalent is about $200--well worth the investment if you deal with x-rays a lot.

You'd not think you could see through lead, but lead glass can have a surprising amount of lead in it and still be quite transparent--36% of lead oxide was traditional, 40% possible. By mass. Bricks of lead glass were used in physics experiments back in the day--gammas and electrons would interact with the lead, producing showers of particles, which would produce Cerencov light in the high refractive index glass--and you could just glue a light guide and phototube on the end, because little light would be lost.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Not-my-tribe is fair game

"The Chairman of the All-Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship (ALCOD), Emmanuel S. Wettee, has been duped in land sale in Duazon, Lower Margibi County. ">

He bought a couple of peices of land, started building, and then found that they'd been sold to someone else. The same Probate Clerk and Registrar signed off on both land deeds, though the judge was different.

According to neighbors, the grantor of Bishop Harris’s deed and Mr. Tarplah, knowingly sold the same land to both parties. Neighbors are saying the practice of family members knowingly selling identical land(s) to more than one person is normal.


“They are saying it without any remorse, that selling land(s) purchased by a Diaspora Liberian to another person is wealth distribution or redistribution. The problem of double land selling is a national concern and normal without any easy solution in Liberia,” he said sadly.

Good news front

An American of Ukranian ancestry was visiting family, and wound up impressed into the militia. His cousin told us his story--a bit of an adventure, but since others may want to use the same methods it's probably best not to discuss them just now. He's still pretty shaken--in a few years this'll be something to tell the kids, but not just now.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Banter and pots

AVI was dissatisfied with some of the history/archaeology podcasts he had been sampling: "I care about archaeology, not archaeologists." Overloading the episode with banter ... "What I dislike about these podcasts may be what most people enjoy, the group-belonging feeling."

My wife was watching a TimeTeam episode last night, and it struck me that the banter was focussed. They might rib each other about things, but the interest was the bit of pot or which opportunity they had to take and which to let slide. It was the banter of friends: "Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest." ("The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends.")

I do not know what inspired others to study math or physics--I never asked. Both are fields with lots of abstraction--ignoring the individualized bits and looking at the common relationships left over. I was good at that, starting pretty early. And there were explanations that I could understand (though it often turns out there were subtleties that I didn't), and puzzles I could solve or understand the solution of.

The names of the scientists and mathematicians were typically quite exotic and pictures were scarce. There was never a sense of "People who look like me can do physics", but instead of "Hey, I can do this!" Those simple introductions were about the subject, not the people--except for the stories about perseverance (Madame Curie). If I couldn't understand the explanations, I probably didn't have the talent for the fields anyway.

I suspect that much of the "how to get more minorities into science" plans are based on principles of glitzy advertising instead of showing the puzzles and letting that fascinate them. I'm pretty sure most of the "group-belonging feeling" is a side effect. When it's the main event, we sense that something is missin.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Ethnic Integration Policy

Singapore has an ethnic integration policy in place. It sounds a bit like the one Oak Park used (quite illegally) to block the block-busting back in the day: only so many of each specified minority in a given block.
In the 60s and 70s, the government had undertaken mass resettling exercises, taking pains to ensure an even distribution of races. But by the 80s, this was no longer possible, since much of the land had already been developed into occupied residential estates. The EIP was thus put in place to counter the formation of ethnic enclaves during a time when certain neighbourhoods were starting to be dominated by one ethnicity or another.


If you are a Singapore citizen or Malaysian PR buying a resale flat from someone of the same race, you do not have to worry about the EIP or HDB quota, as the transaction would not change the racial makeup of the neighbourhood.

For all other transactions, you will only be allowed to buy the flat if the quota for your race has not been exceeded.

Singapore is not noted for liberty, and I gather that elections tend not to shake up the establishment.

Monday, March 07, 2022

Potato research

The Max Planck Institute anounced that they've sequenced the potato genome. This was tricker than usual, because the potato is tetraploid, with two pairs of genes coming from each parent. "efforts to breed new varieties with higher yields have remained largely unsuccessful to the current day. ... four copies of each chromosome also mean four copies of each gene, and this makes it highly challenging and time-consuming to generate new varieties that harbour a desired combination of individual properties"

Some unknown breeders managed long ago. "Today you can find over 4,000 varieties of native potatoes grown in the Andean highlands of Peru." I don't know how many of these are bred varieties, but it suggests that a little field work might help introduce some of the genetic variety the MPI is worried about.

The news and your mental health

The BBC reports on "How the news changes the way we think and behave". I've long said: "What you immerse yourself in affects you." I gather that research agrees with me (which should probably make me reconsider my views, but I'll go with it anyway).

News is "bad things happening all over" (also me, circa 10-years-old), and that bias in your inputs changes your perception of risk, and if excess news induces worry and stress, can affect your health as well.

The article opens with the Boston bombers:

It’s intuitively obvious that being physically present for – or personally affected by – a terrorist incident is likely to be bad for your mental health. By chance, there were some people in the study who had first-hand experience of the bombings, and it was indeed true that their mental health suffered. But there was also a twist.

Another group had been even more badly shaken: those who had not seen the explosion in person, but had consumed six or more hours of news coverage per day in the week afterwards. Bizarrely, knowing someone who had been injured or died, or having been in the vicinity as the bombs went off, were not as predictive of high acute stress.

Almost none of the news has to do with things that I can have any impact on, so it's more like entertainment than a tool--an entertainment with gladiator-real blood and guts. We're superb at simulating violence in movies--we can supply it 24/7 better than the Romans ever could--but there's no substitute for knowing that somebody really died right there.

And fear--of course there's a chicken and egg issue: do you fear more because you watch more TV, or watch more TV because you fear more? Risks you see illustrated in front of you seem larger: "Long Covid will rot your brain, cripple your children, and shrink your penis!" Those are from the 3 top recommended articles I see at the BBC site and the latest scare story.

And I'm old enough to have seen how fast our media can stir up hate, and the Trump years showed how long it can be sustained.

I gave up on the TV news decades ago. I read the paper, and read some online news actually quite a bit of online news; maybe I should reconsider my Lenten observance. It's under my control; I choose what to read next. I presume that has some bearing, for good and bad. Perhaps in consequence, I've concluded that the world is going to hell. This agrees with what I learn in church, though the faith tells me that there's hope for people. Not hope for things or institutions or ideologies or nations--but for people.

I try to be grateful that the disasters aren't here, and come up with alternatives in case X or Y happen.

And then I tend to forget the problems--not because I've saintly confidence, but because I tend to be distractable. I suppose sometimes that's a blessing. Squirrel!

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Song tangles

I'm not terribly fond of songs where the drumset drowns your own voice, and somewhat monotonous repetition. If you take a random song from the hymnbook that I've never heard before and sing a line, I can generally predict the arc of the rest of the song (generally). It's probably my lack of familiarity with the genres that makes it harder for me to do this with praise choruses, though sometimes it seems as though melodic line is an optional feature.

Some praise song theology is a bit on the incomplete side, but that's true of the old hymns as well. It was quite a few years before I realized that a large fraction of the songs are aspirational rather than descriptive. And the ancient fad for trying to make English verse behave like Latin had repercussions that lasted a long time: Yoda's hymn from 1739, for example. The song has noble ideas, but it's not trivial to parse. (I try to make sure that the slides have appropriate punctuation and quotation marks--I remember being utterly confused as a child by lines like "my sin oh the bliss of this glorious thought")

When I try to look at hymns (old or new) as if I were an outsider, unfamiliar with Christianity or not very experienced in the language, they sometimes look very odd--topsy-turvy and misleading.

Topsy-turvy: I like some of Browning's work, but he had the same unhappy habit of practicing complicated knots with his sentences (at least he didn't put them in a blender). A little involution is forgiveable, and can sometimes add a tang to the verse, but too much doesn't seem respectful--to the language or the reader. Kipling generally wrote a clean strong line--it's possible to do.

The psalmist wrote of God putting a new song in his mouth--maybe he wasn't satisfied with the old ones either.

I grouse, but I love them.

Saturday, March 05, 2022

Kids and adults and language

Why are adults so bad at learning new languages? It would be flattering if accurate--the article claims that adult mature executive function (good old prefrontal cortex = PFC) gets in the way of picking up language patterns (though it helps with the discipline required to memorize vocabulary lists). And it seems kids learn the same way google translate does. Ummm.

"How can I turn off my PFC?" Note that this prescription is only for languages. "For example, listening to music decreases PFC activity and has been shown to benefit language learning. Alcohol consumption is another way to reduce your cognitive resources. This might be reason to join a language class that meets over happy hour drinks ... Another promising possibility is walking."

Perhaps I should be suspicious of a report that flatters me and seems to suggest that the best way to learn is to walk to the bar to study.

Friday, March 04, 2022

Rewriting press releases

MIT researchers allegedly came up with a way to reduce bias in machine learning. Something called "Partial Attribute Decorrelation" which seems to be training a neural net on the "biasing" attributes and then "decorrelating" that metric with the full one. I don't know what that means exactly--a naive "subtraction" of the coefficients in one neural net from another would seem prone to weird behaviors.

Anyhow, I started casting about for the original paper, and found that site after site had copied the press release verbatim, or after only changing a word here or there. However, some got creative.

One sentence from the original read "The researchers’ solution, called Partial Attribute Decorrelation (PARADE), involves training the model to learn a separate similarity metric for a sensitive attribute, like skin tone, and then decorrelating the skin tone similarity metric from the targeted similarity metric."

"The researchers’ answer, referred to as Partial Attribute Decorrelation (PARADE), entails coaching the mannequin to be taught a separate similarity metric for a delicate attribute, like pores and skin tone, after which decorrelating the pores and skin tone similarity metric from the focused similarity metric."

I assume an algorithm was used to substitute equivalent words here and there. For some definitions of equivalent.

Found the paper and will be reading it--some cruft on MIT's web page obscured it.


Freed slaves arrived in Liberia from the USA in 1822, and the country is having a year-long celebration. The BBC has brief report--this line could have used an editor: "Celebrations are happening as hospitals run out of drugs as well as fuel to power the generators that are needed to deal with frequent blackouts."

Speaking of blackouts: "Members of the regional parliament attending the ECOWAS Fifth Legislative Parliamentary Seminar and 2022 Extraordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament were forced to call off the session on Thursday due to the sudden breakdown of the generator supplying the Ministerial Complex electricity." They had requested that Liberia host the session as part of their year-long celebrations.

The issue of power supply at the Ministerial Complex has been one of an embarrassment, some employees there said. Most of the ministries at the Complex do not work on some days due to lack of electricity.

“What is happening here is that some almost all of the ministries here have their own small generators that can supply at least two offices and the rest of the offices remain off. People come to work and they cannot work because there is no electricity, so, we come, sign in, sit and do nothing until it’s time for us to go back home,” an employee with one of the ministries there said.

This is the dry season, and the Mount Coffee Hydro station doesn't get as much water through it.

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

The box matters

Natalie Wolchover explains an interesting problem and one possible solution: looking at smaller and smaller scales as though they were unfettered results in predictions that are loopy (a cosmological constant very many orders of magnitude larger than it seems to be), or apparently not true (there should have been some new physics--new particles--at around the Higgs mass, but there's no shadow of them). I invite you to read her explanation of "naturalness" and how it successfully predicted charm, and what the "ultra-violet" and "infra-red" limits mean. (They're metaphorical)

Some researchers have done some work on the constraints on small scale behavior that you get from large scale structure: for instance, just being inside a box limits the number of quantum states available to a particle. A free particle has an infinite number of possible states; a particle in a box only a finite number. "They then realized that if their same bound applies to our entire universe, it resolves the cosmological constant problem. In this scenario, the observable universe is like a very large box. And the number of high-energy particle states it can contain is proportional to the observable universe’s surface area to the three-fourths power, not the universe’s (much larger) volume."

Boundary conditions matter. (I'm not going to go into the "holographic universe" notion that the boundary encodes the contents as a kind of dual to the 4D universe--I'm not persuaded it's a useful exercise.)

If somebody can work quantum gravity into the picture, that'd be very interesting indeed. And no ugly supersymmetry around...

It might be interesting also to think through the limits of the Pauli Exclusion Principle too: if the (e.g.) electrons are separated so far that light hasn't made the trip yet their wavefunction overlap is 0, but once they do...

Armless--or nearly so. Why?

They've found another tiny-armed dinosaur, one of the Abelisaurus-types

Majungasaurus crenatissimus skeleton.jpg

Those arms are relatively smaller than T-Rex's, and T-Rex's arm's look pretty useless.

When I looked at the illustration of a Carnotaurus at the first link, my first thought was "vulnerable belly."

Suppose the thing ate large critters. I don't see attacking with a biting or slashing head attack as wise--though it does have plenty of place to hang strong neck muscles on. If it's close enough for that, it's close enough for the target to get a side swipe at its belly, which might be a tad uncomfortable. It could slash with its feet, sure. Batter with its tail, sure--that'd be a pretty deadly club. But attack with its head?

This dinosaur model seems to have been a popular and successful enough that there's probably a way to use the head without risking too much, and make it a three-threat predator. The neck is long, which helps--suppose there were something like heavy scales or keratin layers on the belly. It would slow it down a tad, but ... T-Rex had "gastrailia" which they think might have helped Sue breathe, but maybe they also helped with stiffening the flesh to hold the "armor". Bone plates would be way too stiff and heavy, but "leather belt armor" might work to stave off "mule kicks". And if slashing kicks from prospective victims were a regular risk, Carny would have two options with his arms--make them big and strong enough to hold their own, or small enough to be out of the way.