Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Flattering my ego

Every real rainbow I see is a halo around the shadow of my head.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

If you were curious about nephilim interpretations

A rabbit trail led to a podcast from Ancient Faith that looked too odd to skip by: Land of Giants. "But the Orthodox Church takes giants seriously." Well, one of the fathers explains that the Orthodox Church has few actual dogmas, and that their particular interpretation isn't holy writ, and I gather one can be a lifelong faithful Orthodox without giving a moment's thought to the nephilim.

I had no fixed idea of what in the world Genesis 6:1-4 was about--neanderthals, maybe?--but it wasn't and isn't important so I was OK with "idontknowbut" about it. The podcast above offers a take that's new to me, which I neither accept nor reject. Somebody might find it interesting. Since the podcast is quite long, without any obvious 1.25x speedup tool, I'll summarize. You're welcome.

Og had an iron bed 9 cubits by 4 (14 feet by 6 or thereabouts). A bed like this has been found, and another is attested as being at the top of a ziggarut where it was part of a place where a select woman would conjugally meet with one of the gods. Such unions no doubt took place (as they did in many other parts of the world--like Japan), and the likeliest understanding of them was that the already semi-divine representative (the king, or somebody like that) would be ritually infused with the god being called on.

Some texts have Gilgamesh as 2/3 divine and 1/3 human. The arithmetic doesn't work on that, unless you count the king and the god as two parents, and the woman as a third (purely human).

OK, so far you have evidence for a ritual in which a god and demigod join to impregate a woman--in Sumer, and quite possibly in Bashan as well. (Japan is a little different, in that the emperor doesn't get pregnant. The Aztecs had Toxcatl, but it isn't obvious what happened to resulting children.)

So far so strange. (I somewhat rearranged the order they presented things in for simplicity.)

They riffed a bit on "giant" having some additional connotations or even denotations revolving around power. Not nice giants... Maybe so nasty that they don't need to be oversized...

OK, suppose the god in the equation is a demon (1 Cor 10:20)--invited into the ritual in order to produce an exceptional child. Exceptional as intended by the demon, of course. Demonized, not just possessed.

Assuming this to be possible, a society that goes in for this sort of thing is going to have what will become an elite of really nasty characters. Why not Sumer? is a question I'd have liked to ask them. What is to be done with such a society? The same thing that happened to the Anakim?

I do not care to try to guess whether their speculation is justified, though we can think of a few historical figures (and criminals) that make you go "Hmmm." But that the early church fathers (later ones doubted that demons could reproduce) understood the giants as the mating of demons and women is illustrated by this from Irenaeus:

18. And for a very long while wickedness extended and spread, and reached and laid hold upon the whole race of mankind, until a very small seed of righteousness remained among them and illicit unions took place upon the earth, since angels were united with the daughters of the race of mankind; and they bore to them sons who for their exceeding greatness were called giants. And the angels brought as presents to their wives teachings of wickedness, in that they brought them the virtues of roots and herbs, dyeing in colors and cosmetics, the discovery of rare substances, love-potions, aversions, amours, concupiscence, constraints of love, spells of bewitchment, and all sorcery and idolatry hateful to God; by the entry of which things into the world evil extended and spread, while righteousness was diminished and enfeebled.

Their speculation gets around the problems with angelic reproduction and explains the weird 2/3 divine business too.

Yes, the alleged book of Enoch ties into this, though perhaps more as a witness to what Jews believed circa 200BC-100AD.

I'm not sure this was a good use of my time--it makes no difference in my life beyond writing a blog post--but I was curious what people thought. And before you ask me, someone asked them, and they averred that even the demonized had the possibility of repentence available to them.

Friday, May 26, 2023

African Music Theory

An untrained ear such as mine misses a lot of detail in the overall impressions.

The article explains a book by John Collins. "The agbadza ... is a recreational dance of the Ewe people and emerged in the 1920s out of much faster traditional war dance."

The author explains the parts of the agbadza as contributions within a 12-beat measure, in which no single instrument plays every beat. Even with the explanation I have trouble following the music. Perhaps someone can tell whether this Ghanaian performance matches the description.

Bethel Revival Choir does an Agbadza gospel medley, on non-traditional instruments.

Or an older recording... I can at least tell that some of the rhythms aren't quite as simple as the article describes.

UPDATE: Wikipedia has me in way over my head very quickly. I'm a fan of examples...

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

American grapes

I don't remember hearing about grapes when we went to Cahokia, but they, and many other tribes, used grapes. Raw, dried, as jam, as medicinal tea, a drink thickened with cornmeal--one variety even was used for a snakebite remedy and an emetic. Another was supposed to strengthen women and increase fertility.

One familiar use is not in the list.(*) I'm not sure why--perhaps the North American varieties didn't have enough sugar to make it easy. Some people make wine from American heirloom grapes, but I notice that they include as "heirloom" the crosses between the Old World Vitis vinifera and the American varieties. I suspect they would maybe be a bit more selective if the native varieties were as good.

Idle curiosity--I'm not into wine myself.

(*) The Zuni made wine from grapes. (The Kwakiutl made an alcoholic drink with elderberries, molusks, and tobacco. Yikes.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2023


I saw the movie in elementary school in LA during a heat wave. The auditorium was the only air-conditioned space, so they stuffed us all in there and played a movie. At least, I’m pretty sure it was Dumbo; I don’t remember much about it. I didn’t think the weather was all that hot, but I was just a kid. I didn’t mind not being in class: a boy’s natural habitat is “anywhere but class.”

Somehow or other, around that time, I acquired the conviction that Disney animations were kid-stuff, childish and beneath me. No, I don’t know why–maybe it was being crowded in with all those really little kids, or maybe I picked up on some older kids’ blase attitudes. Just guessing, since I remember neither.

It didn’t matter much, because shortly the scene changes to Africa. At that time the theaters were about an hour’s drive away, and we didn’t see a lot of movies anyway. When we did, it was generally something my parents thought they might want to see and didn’t suspect would be inappropriate for us. (The trailers were not matched to the current movie ratings, and I suspect they regretted some of the trailers.)

With very few movies and not much TV as alternatives, I read a lot. We had a set of the Book of Knowledge, which at that time mixed art, poetry, story summaries and science and history and all, all together in each book. You had to use the index to find a topic you wanted, but at the end of an article you probably found something else completely different but interesting. Kind of like the internet...

We also had the Britannica. One of the volumes had a special illustration page–it must have been a serious extra cost to produce–that showed how animators created an image based on layers. Transparent layers lifted off to show the various cells that made up the final image.

It was fascinating. I’d take it out, lift off the layers, and let them fall one by one to make the picture. I went to it dozens of times.

The image was Dumbo.

I was fascinated, but I didn’t want anyone to see me looking at a kid’s cartoon. When once or twice someone did, I acted like I’d been caught looking at porn. (Which I wasn’t familiar with–my mother’s medical books were decidedly not erotic, though many parts were interesting, even bizarre.) It wasn’t that it was wrong, just unworthy.

I suppose the same sort of thing happens now, if I follow a link to a link to a reference to a reference and wind up looking at something that isn’t really part of my interests–and someone looks over my shoulder.

Curiosity is too strong a word for how I got to where I was, and it’s embarrassing to realize how far drifting will go. No, I’m not really interested in horse breeds, or obsolete Japanese calibers, and the steps for how I got from Haydn to here is one of shameful unthinking “a-musing”.

UPDATE: On the other hand “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” ― C.S. Lewis Still, drifting is not a noble use of the mind.

Thursday, May 18, 2023


Most of the time I compose on the computer, but sometimes pen and paper are what's handy (and they have no email or other distractions). Poems I always write on paper first. I don't know why that's different.

I like the feel of writing with a fountain pen, but it's lousy for composing. When I'm trying to think of the next bit, as I silently stare off into space, the pen is not idle. It diligently makes a bigger and bigger blot on the page. That symbolizes my current thoughts very well, but it has its downsides.

Stopping to recap the pen breaks the flow, of course.

Saturday, May 13, 2023


I'm not quite sure why "Sing" wound up fixed so indellibly in my memory. I wasn't exactly in the Sesame Street cohort, and the Carpenters recorded in in '73. Maybe it played in the dorm at college?

At the time I didn't think much of the metaphor. What did that have to do with physics research? Some decades later, I notice that life (even in the lab) has had a lot of rhymes and rhythms to it. Granted, I've been off-key a lot, but "song" doesn't seem as inapplicable as it used to.

If life is a song, it's a canon, with new generations of voices starting up the melody and the old voices dying away.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

De Santo

Grim's Hall had a post about Nicholas De Santo, so naturally Youtube took the hint.

He illustrates why having everybody hate you isn't proof of your virtue, and then explains where, appropriately enough, the attitude came from.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Bears and rabbit holes

My daughter was listening to an analysis of Tim Treadwell. Naturally that reminded me of Waltzing with Bears, and while I was poking around on that I learned what everybody else probably knew already: Seuss wrote Uncle Terwilliger Walzes With Bears first, and when he declined to have others cover it, Herdman came up with her own version. It is derivative, but I think Herdman's version is better.

Of course there's a book, though it isn't about the songs: Waltzing With Bears: Managing Risk on Software Projects, in which one learns that the infamous Denver Airport automated baggage handling system (so late and buggy that it delayed the airport opening!) was a project nobody wanted to touch, and "When the DIA board of governors first put the [Automated Bag Handling System] out to bid, nobody was willing to submit a bid for the scheduled delivery date... Eventually, the airport engaged BAE Automated Systems to take on the project on a best-efforts basis."

I have something I should be working on instead of going down rabbit holes. Prov 17:24--"the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth." Back to the chores...

UPDATE: See Douglas2's comment.

Monday, May 08, 2023

Study war no more?

" I think our current generation in Washington has hardly any experience in war and, yes, there is an urge to be close to violence."

I think that hits part of the situation. It certainly ties in with David's thoughts about victory: "Do not slay them, or my people will forget". Our elites, unaccustomed to war, have nonsensical notions about what matters, and an urge to get involved despite their ignorance.

I think "an urge to be close to violence" includes "an urge to prove yourself in an important struggle." If there is no existential or even merely important struggle at hand, you'll find or imagine one. We need to be needed; need to be important. We'll exaggerate the threat (words=violence!) until we matter--or until life hits us with a clue-by-four.

Thursday, May 04, 2023


One of the aspects Jackson brought out in the book I just wrote about was the different view of gifts and charity.

A benefactor's clients owed gratitude and support to him. Apparently in Roman times benefactors could be choosy about who they gave to. The benefactor could lose face if his clients were unworthy--they were now associated with him.

In modern Korea (from the book):

An American couple slowly became suspicious as a Korean they knew showered them with gifts and treated them to luxurious restaurants. They finally discovered why. After spending months attempting to establish guanxi ("relationship"), she hoped to obligate them to teach her son English. Reciprocity is a natural part of relationships.

I have never found the article from years ago which claimed that when "The Best and the Brightest"™ devised the fundamentals of the modern American welfare system they didn't bother to talk with the mere religious folks who'd been doing the heavy lifting for years.

One of the side effects of the system is that, because it is merely a bureaucratic machine, there is no relationship between benefactor and client. It is impersonal, which is isolating and bad enough, but also, in our individualist society, evokes nothing from the recipient--not even always gratitude, since the gift is often seen as entitlement.

As quoted above, reciprocity expectations can and will be abused, but in charities their lack--if it doesn't actively divide us, it fails to unite.

I'm not proposing any cures or improvements. I doubt there are any. But I wish TBATB had listened first.

Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes by Jackson W

Honor and Shame in Paul's Message and Mission

Jackson (a psuedonym) says that an individualist reading of the New Testament misses aspects of the meaning that are clearer in an honor/shame perspective. The reverse is true also--but we already use an individualist model.

He begins by justifying his use of "Eastern" as a shorthand for honor/shame, and then explains how "face" works in practice. A key point is "imputed" honor and shame, acquired from one's family, or office, or friends. He then wrote an exegesis of Romans looking for aspects which differ when viewed from an honor/shame/collective perspective.

Perhaps I was reading too late at night, but I kept drifting off. With that understanding, I thought this a very interesting and useful book. Evangelists in China who try to use "crime"-based descriptions of sin run into unnecessary resistance. Jackson has a take on one aspect of it that seems interesting: We are God's creation and representatives in the world, and what we do reflects on God, and when we sin we make God lose "face".

One aspect of the faith which is pretty explicitly explained in scripture but I haven't heard a lot of focus on, is that a Christian is now a member of a new family, with family-related obligations and sharing in the honor ascribed to the Father. Perhaps you, by leaving the religion of your ancestors for the true God, are not so much bringing shame on your family as you are able to share your new imputed honor with your family. Perhaps--I'm not expert on the details of the cultures.

Since a good deal of the early writings of the church were within honor/shame societies, one should also be able to find aspects of this in the church fathers. Most things are the same under either viewpoint, of course.

Faith of a few close friends

We've all read the story of the paralytic let down through the roof, and Jesus' reaction: " Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”"

Naturally that sort of thing sounds presumptuous; the religious leaders objected, and got shown a miracle to validate Jesus' authority.

What did his friends think? No doubt they were ultimately delighted to have him healed, but in the meantime, it's easy to say "You are forgiven," because who's to know? The Pharisees knew that it is harder to honestly say that--Jesus' words might have sounded different for the two sets of people.

Then, once Jesus showed that He is entitled to forgive sins--did the paralytic's friends wonder if they could get forgiven too? "Friends, your sins are forgiven you?"

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

Haitian resistance

The gangs are out of control in Haiti; the government is useless and people are fighting back--machetes, stones, gasoline, road blocks...

The gangs started launching attacks outside Port-au-Prince, and at least some of the people have had it, and are taking matters into their own hands. You may have seen some of the pictures of suspected gang members about to be killed and set on fire. I'd guess that most of them were easily identified outsider gang members, and richly deserved what was coming to them.

I skimmed some of the comments on the article. The ones dealing with Haiti (and not drawing conclusions about matters elsewhere), seemed to be of three kinds:

  • "Good for them!" I agree that this is the right thing for the villagers to do. They owe it to their families and neighbors to fight anarchy.
  • "Beware. Vigilantes turn into gangsters themselves." Quite true (happened in Chicago)--less of a risk if more of the people are involved. Probably the best outcome here is for the local resistance to become very broad and then to become the local government. The worst is more of the same with different gangs.
  • "The UN needs to intervene." No. Very little good has come from outsiders intervening in Haiti over the years, and a lot of trouble. I think Haiti's solutions will have to be homegrown, and this sort of grass-roots resistance may prove the seed of something durable. Or it may not.

There's a lot of pain in the offing, no matter what. The gangs have modern weapons, and are malicious and vindictive.

UPDATE: So far so good as of 27-May

Mars (voyage) needs women

Should a voyage to Mars be all-women? Women (on average) are smaller, eat less, use less O2. "A 1,080-day space mission crewed by four women would need 1,695 fewer kilograms of food compared to an all-male mission." That could be a lot of fuel savings, or alternatively a lot of reserve fuel and supplies. The article goes on:
“Statistics show that all-woman groups are far more likely to choose non-confrontational approaches to solve interpersonal problems, and most definitely are more likely to deal with a situation without resorting to violence, which could be a big problem on a Mars journey, where the crew must live in close quarters for 2-3 years,” Landis wrote. “Numerous sociological studies have shown that women, in general, are more cooperative, and less given to hierarchical social structures.”

I assume that one vets the team members and tests the team to make sure they work together well.

All male expeditions, at least those that demand a lot of physical effort, are known to work successfully: until they don't.

But I seem to remember reading (I obviously wasn't involved) about bitter jockeying for status among junior high and high school girls. It isn't obvious that an all-women crew will be more peaceful. Less violent--probably, though catfights are not uncommon in the high schools. But pathologies ("I'm not talking to her!") could be just as problematic.

I don't think there's a magic bullet for staffing. For a voyage to Mars you want methodical risk-takers who respect each other.

Monday, May 01, 2023


An archaeologist on a video I was watching explained how very many pottery fragments they found, and how big the village was, and I thought "That's about a bowl a month per household gone smash!" We break cups and plates around here too, but not so many as that.

OK, our china is probably more robust than their pottery. The shell bits and other stuff in the pot below are for tempering so it doesn't crack in the heat when you hang it over a fire. It doesn't look terribly robust.

But look at it (late Anglo-Saxon, British Museum). Imagine trying to scrub it clean if something gets caked on. I suppose if it got used every day you wouldn't get strange things growing in it, but it doesn't seem altogether appetizing to be eating "Pease porridge in the pot nine days old". And if it was as fragile as it looks, cleaning it would be a daily risk.

Maybe a bowl a month is about right.


The youtube video "The Origin of Black American Culture and Ebonics" by Thomas Sowell asserts that the foundations for much of modern "ghetto black" language and culture are traceable to the ScotsIrish culture of the American South (also see Albion's Seed), and thence to their aboriginal cultures in the British Isles.

My first thoughts were that I'd already noticed some cultural similarities (and important differences--modern "black ghetto culture" is orders of magnitude wealthier than the old backwoods white South and Central USA), but that the language seemed only sort-of related. But I know little about dialects.

My second thoughts were wishing he'd given some numbers for the achievement statements he'd made, but realizing that they probably aren't there.

I don't have the years needed to answer the question: At the time of the Civil War, what was the African ethnic background of blacks in the various parts of the country (and territories)? Fischer's African Founders notes that some people wanted Igbo slaves and others wouldn't have them. That sort of preference would make for initial regional differences in ethnicity. If there was a founders' effect in slave culture, or if the descendents of those slaves stayed in the same region, you'd expect some differences from region to region.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

I'll pass

A penny-farthing (somewhat modernized) on back roads and back trails. I'd not be comfortable walking that last one.

People race them too.

Maritime oddity

Today's Maritime traffic has a very odd feature: from about Ecuador to French Polynesia is a purple column of what is mostly classified as "Pleasure Craft" (without a name). One suggestion I heard was "Maybe a race?"

UPDATE: Douglas2 found the answer, in the comments below. Thanks!

Friday, April 28, 2023

"Don't just do something, stand there!"


So you have a theoretical amelioration for putative global warming. Great. Are you sure there are no side effects? Warming is potentially good for some areas; did you ask them about your plan?

Thursday, April 27, 2023

The Provincial Letters

I'd read Pensees, but not The Provincial Letters. It seems some things don't change much. A sample:
"Do not flatter yourself with that," said the father; "there are still such things as mortal sins- there is sloth, for example."

"Nay, then, father dear!" I exclaimed, "after that, farewell to all 'the joys of life!'"

"Stay," said the monk, "when you have heard Escobar's definition of that vice, you will perhaps change your tone: 'Sloth,' he observes, 'lies in grieving that spiritual things are spiritual, as if one should lament that the sacraments are the sources of grace; which would be a mortal sin.'"

"O my dear sir!" cried I, "I don't think that anybody ever took it into his head to be slothful in that way."

"And accordingly," he replied, "Escobar afterwards remarks: 'I must confess that it is very rarely that a person falls into the sin of sloth.' You see now how important it is to define things properly?"


AVI has some musings on history and what is possible and what isn't.

My wife was listening to a youtube series on Gettysburg places and museums, and the obvious question came to mind--When they reconstruct a site, what time do they reconstruct it to? Day 1? Day 2? When the house was a home, or when it was a sniper roost, or when it was a field hospital?

Or perhaps reconstruct it as it was when the new owners brought home their twins, or when the daughter of the house accepted the proposal, or when the materfamilias died--maybe thousands of significant events in only a century and a half.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Church Fathers and the Babylon Bee

From Tertullian, via Pascal:
If the reader has met with passages which have excited his risibility, he must ascribe this to the subjects themselves. There are many things which deserve to be held up in this way to ridicule and mockery, lest, by a serious refutation, we should attach a weight to them which they do not deserve. Nothing is more due to vanity than laughter; and it is the Truth properly that has a right to laugh, because she is cheerful, and to make sport of her enemies, because she is sure of the victory. Care must be taken, indeed, that the raillery is not too low, and unworthy of the truth; but, keeping this in view, when ridicule may be employed with effect, it is a duty to avail ourselves of it.

To treat them seriously would be to sanction them.

From the same letter: "according to St. Augustine, "charity may sometimes oblige us to ridicule the errors of men, that they may be induced to laugh at them in their turn, and renounce them"

But.. "the same charity may also, at other times, bind us to repel them with indignation"

Yes. I'm afraid so.

Friday, April 21, 2023


I had no idea so many old images of Constantinople existed. Or that a serpent column (a bronze column topped with snakes) made as a votive for Apollo would wind up moved to Constantinople and used as a Christian monument. (Good grief! Amazon wants 104.5 for that book!)

The author's research appears on another site as well, which includes a section on the additional fathers: writings of the Church Fathers that aren't in the usual collections. You can spend a lot of time exploring...

Thursday, April 20, 2023

An Oversight

When I was young I was "the cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me." Or at least that was my bent; in practice I did like sleeping in a bed, and liked other things I took for granted.

But somehow or other I overlooked one of the more obvious characteristics of cats: napping.

I am trying to correct the oversight.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Speculating beyond the author's intent

The last line of the Bergmans' song "What are you doing the rest of your life?" runs "All I ever will recall of my life is all of my life with you"(*)

It's not perfectly precise. I do in fact recall some of my life before I met my wife. It's hazy, but lots of things in my past are. But it does feel like the most significant part.

Perhaps our life with the Spirit of Christ will have a similar retrospective. Will the Spirit transform everything, or only what we let Him?

(*) Quite a contrast from the almost cowardly line "I don't want to change your life" from the song "I'd really love to see you tonight."

Friday, April 14, 2023

Ancient steel

AVI sent me a link about an iron chisel (900BC) from Rocha do Vigio (Portugal), which possibly was effectively tempered steel.

The paper has more details about the chisel (they were able to do studies on the haft, but because they are destructive, not on the tip) and their attempts to reproduce the stelae that seem to date from that era also: plus or minus a couple of centuries (some say 1300-800BC, others 1000-600BC). The rocks were of an extremely hard varieties of quartzite and quartz-sandstone. They tried stone chisels, which worked about as well as you'd expect. They tried replica iron chisels made using the processes they knew were in use--some hardened by heating and quenching, and one left unhardened. The unhardened one didn't do much of anything. The hardened ones did, though they had to be resharpened every 5 minutes, and re-hardened after a while too. And:

Specimens in four representative binary alloys with 10, 12, 14 and 16% tin have been cast by Bastian Asmus, ... The unambiguous result on the quartz-sandstone was that none of the bronzes could penetrate the surface

I'll get back to that in a moment. It does sound like the sculptors needed something better than one of the out-of-the-box iron chisels of the area.

The iron chisel they found was in spectacularly good shape--when they did a section of it the bulk of the artifact was uncorroded. They could determine the chemical makeup of different regions of the chisel. It looked rather as though an inhomogenous bloom was hammered into a blob that was made into a chisel. Some sections were high carbon, others not so much. Maybe they paid better attention to the tip, but if the haft makeup is any guide it seems as though they weren't being systematic with the iron makeup.

I suspect that a lot of technological progress now and in the past has come about when men were "just playing around." You can come up with a just-so story or three for discovering what can happen (if the iron happens to be the right makeup) when you quench red-hot iron. And if the overseer is curious about why some rods got tougher and others didn't, he might come up with some rough-and-ready tests for what "good" iron tips should look/taste like. Then everything depends on how secret he wants to be about it. "Gorri made really good iron, but his apprentice's stuff is mediocre."

Usually I put in a phrase like "what jumped out at me was", but several things did this time--mostly to my admiration. I liked that they tried to cut stone with stone; covering all the bases. But they said their bronze chisels "have been cast by". Bronze was hammer worked for maximum hardness, and the result is supposed to be about as hard as unhardened medium steel. One variety of bronze can be hardened to 95 HRb, which is comparable to some low end steels. I wonder if the test was quite fair--if the bronze was merely cast and not hardened.

And, btw, high carbon steel rusts faster than iron does. We're less likely to find steel artifacts, and might draw the wrong conclusions from the absence.

For the curious, Neil Burridge offered one of his bronze swords for destructive testing. It doesn't hold up to modern steel swords, but other experiments say it would have been a match for old iron swords.

Thursday, April 13, 2023


I've been dubious of cryptocurrency.

Aside from its volatility--which makes bitcoin pricing unpredictable ("Nope, the price is now .00457 bitcoin. Plus the tip.")--it wasn't obvious that the tools for manipulating things were either as bulletproof or as anonymous as advertised. The link doesn't quite describe how the feds rolled up bitcoin networks, or under what circumstances they can trace transfers now, though it says some private companies can do some of the work.

But I wonder what happens if some obscure number theorist (e.g. working for the NSA) discovers a new algorithm that, as an unexpected side effect, makes blockchains easier to maliciously manipulate.

If our government endorses a cryptocurrency, I'll be certain that they have backdoors to it. Why would they otherwise? Seriously. The value of the dollar is in the monopoly of its production by and the trustworthiness of the US government. Without ways of verifying that monopoly, it loses a good deal of its value.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Inside an LED bulb

Their light isn't as nice as that from incandescents, but they are good for science demos (diffraction grating slides are unbreakable, unlike prisms) and they last. Usually. This one was in the same fixture as an incandescent which has lasted for quite a few years.

It isn't easy getting everything in focus at once, but the ugly solder blobs ar attached to a bit of printed circuit board that almost looks like it is delaminating, although poking it with a knife didn't break it. There are spatterings of solder on the board nearby, and that white stuff on the edge of the solder is some kind of powder. Osram brand, made in China. I suspect the soldering job was manual.

Saturday, April 08, 2023


To keep seedlings from growing leggy and spindly, it helps to provide them with a gentle breeze. We have acquired some small fans.
  1. This product is not a children's toy, for children under 10 years old, please use under the supervision of a guardian.
  2. Please do not knock this product, otherwise it will cause internal damage.
  3. Please do not occupy this product in a fire to avoid the risk of explosion.
  4. If the product becomes abnormally hot or deformed during using, please stop charging immediately.
  5. Please do not use this product in a twisted environment (such as a bathroom) to avoid short circuit damage.
  6. If abnormal phenomena are found (such as burnt smell or abnormal sound, etc), please cut off the power supply immediately, please do not disassemble or modify it without authorization.
  7. Please do not put the product into the fire to avoid the risk of explosion.
  8. During the operation of the fan, do not insert your fingers and sharp objects into the mesh cover to avoid personal injury or damage to the fan.

It has apparently similar instructions in other languages, and yes, the French version expects the bathroom to be "twisted" as well. I am trying to picture that.

Thursday, April 06, 2023


Our Bible study wrapped up a study of Jeremiah, and one of our men joked about Accentuate the Positive. We got a good chuckle out of that, though it is good to remember Who ultimately wins here.

Of course it isn't always in us to be positive about a situation, and it isn't always something to strive for anyway--Jesus wept.

And we have hope. Given Who promised, it can be joyful hope. So, at least in theory, we can, paradoxically, mourn in joyful hope.

It makes "Accentuate" sound kind of tinny by comparison.

Speaking of tinny, at Christmas we hear "A thrill of hope--the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn", and, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas just like the ones I used to know, where the treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow." The one acknowledges pain and hope, the other is a curated memory.

Monday, April 03, 2023


I've seen enough rusty rebar inside spalled concrete to have wondered if there's something better than iron rebar. Concrete is good under compression, but has poor tensile strength--metal is pretty good at the latter, and can help provide residual cohesion and strength even when there's been earthquake damage. interesting article on tradeoffs, read it Most concrete lets air and water in, and the rebar rusts, swells, and bad things happen. I'd figure that differential thermal expansion wouldn't be good either (leading to cracking), but the sources I've perused haven't mentioned that as a significant problem.

Of course the first thing I didn't think of was stainless steel, which holds up to corrosion a lot better, albeit at quite a bit more expense. For the rebar, that is.

I wondered about non-metallic rebar, but didn't have wide enough experience in materials science to guess at good alternatives. How about rebar made from basalt melted and spun into fibers mixed with resin? You can guess at some downsides (no sharp bends, more expensive, transverse strength is low compared to steel), and there's some degradation of tensile strength if it gets hot.

Something new every day...

Saturday, April 01, 2023


"Sometimes people ask me how I know all the random s-t I know (with varying degrees of politeness and belief in its veracity), and all I got is 'I have ADHD, an internet connection, really good research skills, and zero self-regulatory mechanisms' " @rahaeli on r/adhdmeme

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Differences and data displays

Grim's recent post included a "heatmap" data plot showing the differences between what conservatives and liberals value (as measured in the Nature article.

It's pretty dramatic--it suggests political groups are living in almost completely different psychological worlds.

However, there are other ways to display the data, as seen in Figures 1 and 2 from the same article:

The heat map doesn't emphasize the commonality between groups. Even when the differences are huge, there's still a background love of the local or the distant in both.

He got half of it

For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.

At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own.

He underestimated what could be doubted, and overlooked the possibility of a reaction in which some are instead persuaded that their transient fashions are the immutable law of god, to be rigorously enforced on all doubters.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

A few curiosities

Recent reading turned up a number of odd, and not always very nice, characters.

Harold Davidson, the "Prostitute's Padre", was killed by a lion. He did a great deal to help young women trapped in prostitution and otherwise isolated and poor, but was, let's say, eccentric, and not very good at "avoiding the appearance of evil." Retrospective analyses propose that he was actually well-meaning and not molesting anybody, but his superiors didn't think so at the time and he was defrocked.

To pay his resulting legal bills he went back into show business with gimmicks like "being roasted in a glass-fronted oven while a mechanised devil prodded him with a pitchfork". His "Daniel in a modern lion's den" went awry one evening.


J.F.C. "Boney" Fuller was a British theorist of armored warfare: his "ideas on mechanised warfare continued to be influential in the lead-up to the Second World War, ironically less with his countrymen than with the Nazis". He had strong Nazi sympathies, but apparently was able to persuade the authorities that he was nevertheless a patriotic Brit--he wasn't imprisoned. "Fuller spent his last years believing that the wrong side had won the Second World War... he announced his belief that Hitler was the saviour of the West against the Soviet Union and denounced Churchill and Roosevelt for being too stupid to see so".

I could almost see somebody thinking that early on in WWII, before the Nazi mass murder machine got into high gear. After the war, though... Bottom line was that the Nazis attacked the West, so it's kind of hard to see what other choices the West had.

He was also heavily into the occult (that seems to go along with Nazis for some reason), and wikipedia says that his most useful military theories "originally derived from a convergence of Fuller's mystical and military interests".


Maurice Hankey didn't think the Allies had the right to try German and Japanese leaders for war crimes. He believed this so strongly that he lobbied on behalf of the Wehrmacht generals, helping to create the myth that the army wasn't involved with (and by extension the German population was kept in the dark about) the crimes and exterminations.

Since the West faced an enemy almost as deadly as Hitler, higher-ups went along with it because we needed Germany to help resist the Soviets. Yes, it's a bit more complicated. But Hankey wasn't a Nazi sympathizer--more of a realpolitik type who seems to have really thought that soldiers shouldn't be blamed for political directions. Just following orders...

Sometimes history turns on, or is written by, some strange people.

Note about links

I've always had a taste for providing surprises--from the jack in the box toy to replacing the LP in the sleeve of my sister's favorite album with one my father and I liked, which he was reluctant to have stopped.

Sometimes I use web links the same way, though I sometimes try to leave clues that the link might not be entirely serious. Unfortunately undependable web sites sometimes mutate the links into "double-blind" surprises. Please accept my apologies in advance for any confusion.


I'd been demonstrating fluorescence using a UV flashlight and a Walgreens eye drops bottle, when it occured to me that the same phenomenon has to occur at other frequencies too; ones we can't see. How about infra-red?

Yep. Visible light can be absorbed to spur IR emission (so can UV, of course), and if you filter out the visible light you can see the IR fluorescence. It turns out to be useful in identifying certain pigments like Egyptian Blue.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, one common chemical that absorbs visible (blue and red) and emits infrared is chlorophyll.

If you want to get into the infrared game, you can modify your camera.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Questions before dinner

led to another rabbit hole: The Great American Novel seems like a concept designed to keep critics employed. Our effective motto seems to be e pluribus rixae(*), from the Albion's Seed era through today. External enemies unite us for a while, but not very long (I remember the 60's and 70's)--too many people see advantage in leveraging divisions, and quite a number of us find joy in being against things. It's fashionable to be against the fashion? Popular media don't seem quite the uniting force either--as soon as people found ways of getting non-monopoly news they did, and how many channels of music does siriusxm carry?

I have no clear idea what "American" means in this context."

Of course great art can be universal, but then how is it specifically American--aside from its provenance? Is Don Quixote The Great Spanish Novel?

(*) So says google translate.

Headlines mislead

"Police Use Tear Gas to Disperse Members of CDC Youth League in a Bid to Stop Them from Registering in District 10"

The third paragraph explains it:

While parading through the main streets on the Old Road, around the Total Gas Station, the police ordered that the group be dissolved to avoid a clash with supporters of Yekeh Kolubah, a lawmaker of the district.

Invidious reporting isn't just an American thing.

Jesus of Nazareth, Vol 1

After Benedict died I decided to read his trilogy on Jesus. So far I'm just through volume 1. I recommend it. I learned quite a bit. I had no idea that one Jewish tradition at the time held that though Elijah had escaped the murder that was the fate of so many other prophets, when Elijah returned he would have to endure martyrdom.

Bear in mind that Benedict XVI was a scholar, and he analyses a number of different interpretations. This may confuse the careless reader. (Amazon says "Reading age: 1 and up" Must be a very precocious 1)

Benedict was also the Pope--but there's little or nothing in the book that a Southern Baptist (of the types I once knew) would object to. For example, he doesn't bring up the Council of Trent's definitions when talking about the Eucharist--he keeps it Jesus-focussed. He assumes, of course, that Peter had a special ministry. The book ties together themes in Jesus life and ministry--up through the Transfiguration--in ways simultaneously logical and mystical.

Friday, March 24, 2023

The history of a project

Way back in grad school, when I was learning about Clebsch–Gordan coefficients and the finite tools used to study continuous groups, I wondered if there was a symmetry that went the other way: could one find continuous symmetries from mixing the elements of a finite group? And could one use the mixing field theory formalism we were studying to represent particle interactions as a finite group?

I gave it a try, and after an embarrassing false start, found that there could be. More detailed inspection showed that it wasn't a very plausible physics model, but there was something interesting (to me) going on. I managed to publish what I had, but I had enough on my plate to make essentially no progress for years. The question I wanted to answer was: given a finite group, can I predict what its continuous symmetries (of this obscure type) will be?

In one of my spurts of activity, I found that another grad student had a textbook I wanted for the study, and went to buy it. He insisted on selling two books as a bundle, so I wound up with Theory of Group Representations as well, which I hadn't wanted. Worse, the book I did want didn't help me much.

The project lay idle again for a while, until I decided to BFI tackle a simple family of groups in a systematic way--and I got a result. I wrote it up, but wanted to supply some tools for study to go with it before I tried to publish it.

Back burner again.

So I retired, and had some free time. I created the tools for finding the interesting quantities given a finite group, loaded them into GitHub, and did a deep dive literature search one more time--reading years worth of abstracts and skimming a promising paper now and then. I didn't find anything--was this really a new result? That would be cool.

But that day I noticed something for the first time--the symmetry I described was actually much more general than I had been claiming--it was an isomorphism of a group algebra onto itself. No way this was unknown--this is the sort of thing mathematicians are always looking at. And, in an ironic loop back to the begining of it all (Clebsh-Gordon coefficients arise from group representations), I realized I should have been looking at the group representations.

And so, "the stone the builders rejected", Naimark and Stern, Theory of Group Representations page 97, Chapter 2, Section 2.9, Theorem 1, Corollary 1. "The group algebra of a finite group is symmetrically isomorphic to the direct sum of complete matrix algebras."

If I had attacked the problem harder earlier, I'd have learned the answer to my question decades ago. So no, there's nothing new in my work. And no, $SU(3)\times SU(2)\times U(1)$ doesn't pop out.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Non-state tribunals

First Things has an article on the conflict between "Jewish" and "democratic". It says a new proposal expands "the reach of the country's religious tribunals".

The devil is in the details, but from the linked site:

It is proposed to stipulate that rabbinical courts will have arbitration authority in a civil matter on which an agreement can be reached, if the involved parties have expressed their consent to this. As part of exercising its authority, the rabbinical court is entitled to hear [the cases] and rule according to Jewish law

At first glance this seems rather straightforward, but three issues come to mind--a lawyer might think of more.

  • Can all parties consent? If a city ordinance says I can't rent or buy without pre-consenting, I haven't really consented; I'm compelled.
  • Does this give a blank check to the tribunals: rule as you please and we'll send policemen to enforce it? What exactly will be a "civil matter"?
  • Who determines when a tribunal has become corrupt and is perverting their own law?

Will they continue on to the rest of millet system, and provide for Christian and Muslim tribunals as well?

If their jurisdiction is restricted, and there's no compulsion, it seems a relatively harmless approach; little different from submitting to binding arbitration. I gather that is already the case at some level, so--the devil is in the details. It probably needs a lawyer trained in Israeli law to tell.

Heroes and Villains

God doesn't seem to always draw from the same group when He sends His reformers and prophets and saints. I suspect He doesn't want any group to start assuming that their power is from themselves and their wonderful paradigms and organization. If you church is a hand this year, it may be an ear next decade. A hero in one era, a villain in the next.

At one point monasteries were funded and controlled by the local nobility, and made into comfortable homes for retirement or superfluous heirs. Other revenues for abbey or church were often taxed away--no doubt originally on reasonable grounds (common defense in dangerous eras) but eventually taken as a customary entitlement.

The abbey at Cluny spearheaded reforms (esp independence of church institutions), but after a while they got rich themselves: so that Matthew Paris could write "The above-mentioned special clerk of the lord king, whose wealth attained to episcopal heights". Francis and his example helped reform some of the greed of the church of his era, but the Franciscans have been involved in some deeply uncharitable quarrels.

Last century some of the more--shall we say--conservative churches in the US had little interest in helping deal with the invidious discrimination suffered by blacks in the US (some did), and the most well known Christian civil rights proponents were more theologically liberal. Some of the churches had accomodated themselves to the spirit of the age(s)

This century saw almost the opposite (neither conservative nor liberal seem to have had great success in persuading the youth of the value of chastity), as the liberal churches have welcomed abortion and tried to normalize perversion, while the conservative churches continue to call these evil. (On the whole; exceptions are easily found.) The paradigm of "rights" helped stop unChristian prejudice, but the same paradigm now promotes unChristian sexual immorality and killing.

The above introduction will doubtless annoy some readers.

In the early church the pressure to burn incense to the genius of the emperor could be intense, and a number gave in. When they wanted to return to the church afterwards, Novatianists said no, the lapsed members were barred. The Church said yes, they could return. The Donatists went farther later, and created their own purer bishops--creating a kind of rival denomination. Eventually they compromised, but the split endured for over a century. At least it eventually ended.

Almost a hundred years ago there developed in Germany a "German Christian" movement, accomodating the racial (decidedly non-catholic) spirit of the age, and in reaction a "Confessing Church" which opposed Nazi control of the church. (The majority didn't take either side.) I was told that at some point there were meetings of repentence and reconciliation, but I haven't found anything that clearly supports the story--all I have seen is stories of direction from outside. That's disappointing. I'd love to read that the majority church repented of their go-along and reconciled, and even more that the "German Christian" groups repented.

I suppose that once there has been a division, even after the reasons are gone, mundane concerns (like new bureaucracies) militate against reuniting--even though we praise unity. Especially if each group has historical reasons to despise the other as unfaithful to the faith.

Even having a common enemy, such as the Soviet authority, didn't seem to encourage a lot of long-term reconciliation between different denominations--although perhaps it looked different on the ground, as opposed to in the hierarchies.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

No confidence

"It was found that the democracy could not always be intimidated even by the threat of consulting them about the choice of a Government." A "no confidence" vote in Britain shakes things up a smidgeon(*). I wonder how we could construct one in the US: chuck everybody and make them all stand for re-election. Combine it with a binding < A HREF="https://idontknowbut.blogspot.com/2003/08/none-of-above-thereve-been-several.html">None Of The Above slot for extra fun. It'd be easier to try on the state level first.

(*) The unelected are, unfortunately, still safe.


At this time of year the neighborhood bulletin boards accumulate posts of "When the snow melted we found X. Does it belong to you?"

Probably hurricane-prone regions have their own versions of this.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023


"He never insisted on seeing facts wrongly, though he did a busy best to persuade the facts to arrange themselves according to his personal preference." Charles Williams

Sunday, March 19, 2023

0 G

We wondered what could be different about dance in 0-G. You don't get more than about 90 seconds for a routine (I don't think the space station has room, or priority), and you'd have to practice in water, which has very different viscosity from air.

Of course whatever we wonder about, somebody else has already tried.

Eventually dancers will want to use fans for maneuvering, especially for non-solo routines. This looks fun (aside from the racket), but not a lot like dance.

Friday, March 17, 2023


It's 25F with a damp breeze, and every scraped windshield is framed with frozen slush. Their bumper-sticker reads "Life is better outdoors."

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Return of Don Quixote

"I say," she said rising in wrath, "that I never met a man who saw both sides of a question without wanting to clout him on both sides of the head."

I'd read The Return of Don Quixote so long ago that I'd forgotten all but the gist of one scene--and certainly didn't remember some of the now-coarse language of the intro and early chapters. It isn't Chesterton's finest. It feels a bit disjoint as it follows the different characters, and the Arbiter's judgment, though expressing Chesterton's judgment quite well, runs a little long for the humorous situation. And many of the topical themes may not seem as dramatic as they once did.

Give it a whirl.

"A taste for low company doesn't make people thieves," said Murrel, "it's generally a taste for high company that does that." And he proceeded to decorate a vivid violet pillar with very large orange stars, in accordance with the well-known style of the ornamentation of throne-rooms in the reign of Richard the First.


I heard decades ago that there had been a kind of reconciliation between the Confessing Church and -- either the silent rest of the church or the German Church (the ones that were all in for Mein Kampf on the altar). It sounded powerful, and a few days ago I started looking around for descriptions of this event/process.

Um. So far I haven't turned up much that matches that description, but I did find this about Karl Barth:

"in April 1940, at the age of 53, Barth enlisted as a soldier in the Swiss armed auxiliary; he refused office duty because he desired to serve his nation as any ordinary Swiss soldier, not as a protected, famous theologian, and he volunteered to stand watch along the Rhine in defense of Switzerland"

He lived in Germany during the Nazi years, and wrote against it from the start. After the war, trying to justify not reacting to Communism with equal strength, he wrote this about Nazism:

what made it interesting from the Christian point of view was that it was a spell which notoriously revealed its power to overwhelm our souls, to persuade us to believe in its lies and to join in its evil-doings. It could and would take us captive with ‘strong mail of craft and power.’ We were hypnotized by it as a rabbit by a giant snake. We were in danger of bringing, first incense, and then the complete sacrifice to it as to a false god.

Some of my readers will see parallels to modern Christian Nationalism (No doubt it is around somewhere, but I haven't seen it myself. Maybe I just hang out with a different crowd-- Rushdoony is not on our radar.) and others with those preachers revising morals and paradigms to match the elite culture.

I'm wondering about that reconciliation. Did it really happen?

Tuesday, March 14, 2023


I don't think it is just a "presentism" bias; it seems as though I interacted with more reckless drivers this past year or so--and I'm driving less (except for the trip south we just came back from). I recall back in mid 2020 that the roads were about as empty in the daytime as they'd been before at midnight. Perhaps some people learned a casual entitlement about traffic control that was almost appropriate when nobody else was visible for blocks, and are having problems unlearning it that now that the roads are full again.

Or maybe some people are taking a kind of revenge on the world for the diffuse oppressiveness of the pandemic years...

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Cold fusion

Some years ago I read an overview of cold fusion research. It gave the history and the various experiments current and completed. Some were variations on the "try to dissolve deuterium in palladium", while others used different metals--in one case powdered nickel. That wanted high temperature, with a small amount of heat released--which would result in a quite inefficient heat engine. (The survey was pre-Rossi and his infamous E-CAT.)

I wanted to see what more recent work said, and began poking around. After a while I noticed that I'd have to write a brand new survey myself to cover the material, and I think I'll leave that to experienced nuclear physicists.

There's not a lot of evidence for the $d + d \rightarrow He^{*}$ reaction. The Navy funded $d + Li$ research, but I didn't find any results published. (Why $Li$? Because it was present as a hydride to introduce the $d$ in some of the experiments.)

Some fancy schemes have been invoked--to try to see if the effective electron mass could be increased so you could get something akin to muon-catalyzed fusion. Atomic physicists have looked at how much hydrogen actually dissolves deep into the metal and how much is superficial, and into ways of loading more hydrogen in, and so on. I wondered if $d + Pd^{n} \rightarrow p + Pd^{n+1}$ would work, but that would probably produce $\gamma$'s also (2?) from excited $Pd$--not detected, and anyhow the potential barrier is higher than for $d + d$.

Doing the experiments right is hard, and some give tantalizing results. Some see neutrons--at energies that don't make a lot of sense, except that: well, it turns out that when you dissolve hydrogen in palladium, certain preparations are susceptible to cracking. Cracking can produce microscopic local high voltages, and those can accelerate $d^{+}$ to high enough energies to dissociate the deuterium on collision and release neutrons. Not many, but detectable. Who'd have guessed? FWIW, one survey article (on the positive side) claimed that the non-cracking preparations of palladium were the ones that provided anomalous energy.

I don't believe in cornucopias, but you can get room temperature fusion with $\mu^{-}$ particles, and I won't swear there aren't other ways. I'm not convinced any of these other things are the hoped-for fusions, but there are certainly some odd things going on. And, I'm afraid, there's some carelessness, and dishonesty (Rossi).

UPDATE: Remember that lightning can produce antimatter.

The unofficial DMV

in California: rely on your tribe to survive.

Early intervention

I'm pretty sure that Head Start doesn't do much of anything to improve academic performance.

But do such interventions have any other benefits? Suppose they encouraged students to stay in school, and not get involved in crime? From 2001:

" children who participated in the preschool intervention for 1 or 2 years had a higher rate of high school completion (49.7 % vs 38.5%; P = .01); more years of completed education (10.6 vs 10.2; P = .03); and lower rates of juvenile arrest (16.9% vs 25.1%; P = .003), violent arrests (9.0% vs 15.3%; P = .002), and school dropout (46.7% vs 55.0%; P = .047).

Not exactly a silver bullet, but if this reproduces (and since this is a longitudinal study that takes time), it would help. It's 20 years old, with hundreds of citations.

Another group used their data to study the effect of "Adverse Childhood Experiences" (they make things worse), and 37% of these high-risk youngsters had none from birth to 17. (Things like abuse were measured from police records, not self-reporting.) Somehow that number seems both horribly low, and surprisingly high.

I wonder what sorts of facilities would be required to do this sort of early intervention on a large enough scale. In a big enough district you could set aside whole buildings for the project, but in a small one you're duplicating a lot. If you got rid of a lot of administrators and consultants you'd get some of the way to affording it--and that's not happening. Maybe there are some non-public options.


"The discovery makes it possible to translate any word written in Sanskrit."

That's a provocative headline. What does it really mean? "Rishi Rajpopat decoded a rule taught by Pāṇini, an Indian grammarian" of the 5th century BC.

Rajpopat decoded a 2,500-year-old algorithm that can accurately use Pāṇini’s “language machine” for the first time. Pāṇini’s system consists of 4,000 rules and is detailed in the Aṣṭādhyāyī. Considered his greatest work, Aṣṭādhyāyī is believed to have been written around 500 BCE. It is meant to work like a machine, where the base and suffix of a word are fed in and a step-by-step process should turn them into grammatically correct words and sentences.

"Pāṇini had a metarule to help the user decide which rule should be applied if a rule conflict occurred, but it has been misinterpreted by scholars for the last 2,500 years. ... Rajpopat argues that Pāṇini meant that between rules applicable to the left and right sides of a word respectively, Pāṇini wanted us to choose the rule applicable to the right side."

Rajpopat found the ancient scholar’s language machine produced grammatically correct words consistently and with almost no exceptions.

The headline was clickbait--people had been reading and writing Sanskrit already; this just had to do with being machine-like systematic about it.

But I'd bet that the ancient system was at least partly aspirational rather than descriptive, and that the ancient Sanskrit wasn't as systematic as the "language machine" describing it. (4000 rules?!)

Sunday, March 05, 2023

Acts warnings

In Acts 21 Paul is warned several times that going to Jerusalem will be terrible for him. But Paul believes that he is supposed to go, no matter what. Was the Spirit warning him not to go through the voices of the people, or were the people warning him not to go in light of what the Spirit had revealed? I think our preacher missed a bit: John 16:4: "I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them."

I gather from Ephesians that Paul could do with a little encouragement himself now and then, and knowing, when the disasters hit, that it was part of the plan and not a screw-up on his part, was probably encouraging.

Still true

"All political parties die at last of swallowing their own lies." John Arbuthnot (thanks to Anecdotal Evidence)

Saturday, March 04, 2023

Long yams

Dr. Boli mentioned that the Metropolitan Museum of Art was making some of its coffee-table books freely available. In the book on art of Oceania, page 65, it says: "The Abelam recognize and cultivate two distinct categories of yams, a small variety used as ordinary food and long yams--massive tubers that commonly attain lengths of six to nine feet and, in exceptional cases, can be up to twelve feet long. An Abelam man's social standing is determined not only by his abilities as an orator and, formerly, a warrior; it is also, quite literally, measured by his success in growing long yams."

UPDATE: For more details there's an Abelam culture web site.

Grimm's Law

Is there an analog to Grimm's Law in Chinese language families?

Ask and you shall receive: kind of. " The application of a Grimm's-like law comes later and differently in different languages, e.g. where the -p -t -k endings became -ʔ in Wu and -ø in Mandarin, or the /g/ initial was palatalised in certain situations so what in Korean is /ga/ is likely /tɕiɑ/ in Mandarin."

Don't ask me what those sounds are, but people seem to have noticed sound shifts in the languages in question. "But there's no single rule to explain all of them. They each developed in different ways."

It is fascinating what sorts of answers to random questions are easily available to us these days. Of course the answer has nothing to do with my life, and too much 'satiable curtiosity can get your nose pulled...

Thursday, March 02, 2023

Fun little oddity

I was doing a literature search and my eyes started glazing over. I took a break by skimming through a journal I'd never heard of before: Elemente der Mathematik "publishes survey articles and short notes about important developments in the field of mathematics; stimulating shorter communications that tackle more specialized questions; and papers that report on the latest advances in mathematics and applications in other disciplines. The journal does not focus on basic research." In other words, suited for both more applied and more random stuff. The discussion section is in German, unfortunately.

"The irrationality measure of $\pi$ as seen through the eyes of $\cos(n)$. A student asked: "What's the limit of $\cos(n)^n$?" Since it's always less than 1 in absolute value, as n becomes large, the result should go to zero. Except it doesn't. In fact, it "oscillates", because larger and larger fractions come closer and closer to approximating $\pi$. They go on to discuss qualitative irrationality, but that's more for specialists.

I suppose one conclusion to draw from this is: pay attention to student questions. Sometimes there's something weird hiding that nobody noticed before.

Drat. The article is too recent to qualify for the open access. I could read the paper in the library, but not from home. In order to cut down on the number of points, I didn't draw anything with abs() less than .01--pretend there's a line across the middle. Done with python, and I'm trusting that their $\cos$ function handles large numbers well.

You can't unsee it

Naomi Wolf says the old gods have returned. It has been accelerating lately, but I've seen signs of this for more than the three years she thinks--Moloch has been feeding since '73, for example. But there is a greater power than the old gods.

Mental diabetes

We have at our fingertips food enough, easy to prepare and digest enough, to push a number of us into diabetes. We have at our fingertips amusements enough that even ancient emperors might have been satiated: 24/7/365/umpteen channels/feeds. Two hundred years ago if you wanted music, you made it yourself or asked a neighbor to join, or once in a while went to the fair or a show.

There's an obvious analogy here, though endorphins don't work quite the same as insulin. If we try to process too many jokes at a sitting, the incremental funniness decreases--and so on, you can fill in examples as well as I.

So, before I tried to write up the idea, I checked to see if somebody else had already done it. Yes. Oh well. Bottom line: is the latest national news going to make a difference? Or the clickbait video? No? Abstain for a while and do something you might actually look back on with satisfaction. And when you do sit back for an amusement, you'll probably enjoy it more.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Who is she referring to?

Reading Luke 1: I think we can assume that when Zacharias went home, he wrote down what had happened to tell Elizabeth why he couldn't speak and what the angel had said. When Elizabeth mets Mary later, she blessed Mary and Jesus in v42, and then in v45 says "blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord." Is she talking about Mary again, or using a circumlocution to talk about herself and what Zacharias had told her he had been told?

Changing my routine

I'll wipe down the equipment at the athletic club twice now: before and after. I watched a man lick his fingers before grabbing the bar on a machine.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Names of God

Arthur Clarke wrote "The Nine Billion Names of God" seventy years ago--its thesis is that the universe exists to pronounce all of God's names. Once done, it's done.

Cute premise, but a little simplistic. Presumably the "names of God" partake somewhat of His nature and are eternal--perhaps never known before, but known now. The proclamation of the Name would seem to partake of that as well.

Be that as it may, each of us sees God in a slightly different way, colored by our lives. That's not to say that every view of God is valid--a lot of views seem to be more like glimpses of the devil.

But I've noticed that each of us in Bible study seems to have something different to contribute--some aspect of faith or practice that the others didn't notice. We see as if in a cruddy bronze mirror, but one day face to face--and even there I suspect that what we each see will not be quite the same--giving us something to share. And with our name call on His name.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Another trireme effort

Chasing rabbits again: from an essay on "Could Napoleon have won?"(*) I ran across the tidbit that Napoleon III had indulged an interest in archaeology and had a trireme built. His son had a toy one.

Finding non-paywalled information was a bit hard. The Christian Science Monitor said it was used for target practice. There's a brief description of the project in French, and a much longer analysis (also in French) at academia.edu. (For more information about the 1980's Greek efforts with the Kyrenia II, this is succinct. I tried a rough translation of a few lines in the academia.edu paper. I fear my French is somewhat like that of H.G. Wells: "the strange dialect which I have inadvertently made for myself out of French, a disemvowelled speech of epicene substantives and verbs of incalculable moods and temperaments"

Jal and Dupuy de Lome each seem to have thought they were directing the project. Jal was a historian, and was accused of treating ancient authors' descriptions with a less critical eye than he applied to more recent authors. de Lome seems to have wanted to make something better than the ancients had.

On 9-March-1861 it was launched for two days of tests on the river.

After the two days of tests, neither Jal, nor Dupuy de Lome, nor the emperor seem to have wanted to continue the program. Perhaps this was due to simple disinterest, a sign of hidden difficulties, or having seen an unacknowledged check. No document tells us. In June 1861 it was towed to Cherbourg and "disarmed"; in August 1863 it was beached, and 26-April-1878 it was decided to demolish the trireme. (Jal had been dead for 5 years, Napoleon III was not only not emperor anymore he was also dead. de Lome was now a senator.)

I found no details about how it was "demolished" but wikimedia seems to think it was dismantled instead of blown up. I wonder if people took souvenirs.

I've written about that ancient technology before here and here. It doesn't inspire enough curiosity for me to make it a hobby, but I notice it when it appears.

(*)Spoiler: yes, if Napoleon and the generals had adapted their technology and tactics to match their enemy's instead of sticking with the same old stuff.

Sunday, February 26, 2023


We know wisdom ≠ knowledge. We have some ideas (and an Everest of worthless fashions) about how to teach knowledge, but nothing reliable for teaching wisdom. "You can lead an ass to water..."

Socrates said he was the wisest because he alone knew he was ignorant--and his dialogues with his pupils generally started by proving that they didn't know what they were talking about. Of course his pupils wanted to learn from him and be wise--they were a select set.

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." "Search for wisdom as for hidden treasures" "Do not be wise in your own eyes" "such a man as tourists think simple because he is honest and neighbours think ‘deep’ for the same reason."

I can't think of any kind of curriculum that will reliably impress these on a youth. They have to grow from inside. We can try, however hypocritically, to encourge the virtues--"Do as I say, not as I do." "Hypocrisy is a homage that vice pays to virtue."

We can, perhaps, if, maybe, per impossibile--try to refrain from teaching folly. We have industries largely devoted to encouraging foolishness. (Buy it now! just because) The classical virtues are out of fashion, and the lesser ones magnified into weirdness.

What sort of bottom-up things can we do? ("Fish rot from the head down.")

It starts with me, of course. How can I live more wisely?

Friday, February 24, 2023

Remembering college

Some of what I learned in college I remember, because I used it. And I remember a few other bits and peices, but mostly, 42 years after I earned my last degree, I remember frameworks of knowledge, not the details themselves. Some of those frameworks are obsolete (genetics has undergone a revolution) and others were incomplete to begin with. I noticed the effect before I'd graduated; wrote a poem about it to mark graduation.(*) I gather from others that this is normal, colleges are for forgetting. Unless you found your spouse there. (I didn't: she and I were in the same icecream store in a Chicago blizzard. That I remember.)

One of the things I do remember was the habit of trying multiple hypotheses on an observation: What confounding factors are there? Once you get in the habit it is kind of fun, though it can make you a bit of a nuisance sometimes. And it probably gets in the way of making prompt decisions. And it opens you to squirrel attacks when you're trying to work through a problem from beginning to end. At least I think that's what those squirrels are planning. Oh look, another one!

I think some of the "creativity exercises" do pretty much the same thing. You don't need four years for them, though.

(*) No. Be grateful.

Twain on plagiarism

Helen Keller had been accused of plagiarism, and Twain wrote to encourage her. He adds: "a grown person’s memory tablet is a palimpsest, with hardly a bare space upon which to engrave a phrase" which is certainly a good description of my memory sometimes. I remember the grocery list, but then I notice the road work and think about the detour and I can't remember if we needed carrots.

Given Twain's endorsement, I will keep on writing, though others said the things better before--and will after.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

CERN and war

CERN has Russian and Ukrainian physicists; how do they acknowledge the war?
But in March 2022, the number of new research papers by the LHC experiments fell to zero. The reason: a lack of agreement on how to list Russian and Belarusian scientists and institutes, if at all. The temporary compromise, in place up to now, is not to publish.

A Russian physicist says: “We have Ukrainian collaborators for whom this question is naturally extremely painful. [But] most of my Ukrainian colleagues do not extend responsibility for the invasion to their colleagues from Russian institutes. I would say that some of my EU colleagues are much more radical.”

In my not-so-humble opinion, the impact of such boycotts on the war will prove utterly trivial.

The closing line of the Guardian's article says "as Fedoroff notes: 'During the so-called cold war, interactions among Russian and American physicists and between the physicists and their respective governments were credited for keeping the war cold.'"

I don't believe that either.

Insofar as the research we are doing is good for everybody, I see no reason not to declare it off limits to politics, and leave off trying to influence politics or society. We're not a church to be a source of moral authority, but scientists trying to collaborate. The science and engineering are hard enough, and that's what the people funding us want. In the end nobody cares what we say about invasions or diversity, and they'll discount whatever we say about budget priorities since we're interested parties.

Not everything in the world is political, and trying to force it to be is perverse.

Individuals can say what they please, but CERN, lay off the virtue signalling. If individuals can't get along, they can go home.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Older monks

It hadn't registered with me that before there were Christian monks, there were Jewish contemplatives living in the Egyptian "desert".

Philo wrote about them: it isn't a long work, and there's quite a bit of description of how other people live for contrast. Ascetic, but not flagellant. Not solitary--for safety's sake. Men and women had walls to separate them, but weren't far apart. "And the interval between morning and evening is by them devoted wholly to meditation on and to practice of virtue, for they take up the sacred scriptures and philosophise concerning them, investigating the allegories of their national philosophy, since they look upon their literal expressions as symbols of some secret meaning of nature, intended to be conveyed in those figurative expressions."

But they also composed songs and hymns of praise to God, and their sabbath feasts included these.

And after the feast they celebrate the sacred festival during the whole night; and this nocturnal festival is celebrated in the following manner: they all stand up together, and in the middle of the entertainment two choruses are formed at first, the one of men and the other of women, and for each chorus there is a leader and chief selected, who is the most honourable and most excellent of the band. (84) Then they sing hymns which have been composed in honour of God in many metres and tunes, at one time all singing together, and at another moving their hands and dancing in corresponding harmony, and uttering in an inspired manner songs of thanksgiving, and at another time regular odes, and performing all necessary strophes and antistrophes. (85) Then, when each chorus of the men and each chorus of the women has feasted separately by itself, like persons in the bacchanalian revels, drinking the pure wine of the love of God, they join together, and the two become one chorus, an imitation of that one which, in old time, was established by the Red Sea, ... When the Israelites saw and experienced this great miracle, which was an event beyond all description, beyond all imagination, and beyond all hope, both men and women together, under the influence of divine inspiration, becoming all one chorus, sang hymns of thanksgiving to God the Saviour, Moses the prophet leading the men, and Miriam the prophetess leading the women.

The monks had given up their wealth and families to become poor/unattached, but it seems as though it was a life for the educated.

Philo used allegorical interpretation a lot and may have magnified his report of its use among the "therapeutae" (the idea was to heal the soul). His description of drunken dinner parties seems a little exagerated: some do require an ambulance and the police, but most don't, and I doubt the ancients were that much worse. I could be wrong

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Hawthorne effect

Never mind the fashionable accusations: this article from McGill is interesting.

From 1927 to 1932 the Hawthorne Works tried varying conditions in its factories to see what would improve morale and increase productivity. They found that any sort of changes made for brief increases in productivity, presumably (so said our textbook) because workers felt that somebody was taking an interest in them.

So goes the story. Or one variant thereof. It turns out that "A 1989 study of 86 studies that tried to isolate this Hawthorne effect found no evidence for it." That I hadn't heard before.

The raw data were found on fiche not long ago, and re-analyzed. There were several different studies, most quite sloppy. One tidbit: lighting changes were done on Sunday when nobody was at work. Was the Monday productivity increase similar on other Mondays? Not noted.

One study involved women taken off the main factory floor for study in a smaller and more easily modified room.

They were less supervised than the women in the main room and they were consulted with regards to how their conditions would be changed. Some of them were interviewed fifty years later: they had been working so hard because they did not want to be returned to their former department, where their supervisor was said to be very harsh. Also, when asked what they had liked about being in the test room, one of them immediately said, “We made more money in the Test Room.”

Thursday, February 16, 2023


AVI is correct; one does need to break up the monotony of text a bit. He selected something from his past. This episode predates my listening quite a bit but...