Saturday, December 30, 2023


From Roger Angell, a famous sports writer:
Sports are too much with us. Late and soon, sitting and watching - mostly watching on television - we lay waste our powers of identification and enthusiasm and, in time, attention as more and more closing rallies and crucial putts and late field goals and final playoffs and sudden deaths and world records and world championships unreel themselves ceaselessly before our half-lidded eyes.

Dance and drummer

I wrote about a Gbande man's book in which he said that the dancers follow the drummers rather than the other way around.

This is contradicted by the singer/dancer Madam Yatta Zoe, who said the drummers gave subtle cues to the dancers. I defer to her expertise in the matter, though perhaps the Gbande sometimes do things differently.

"A chat with Madam Yatta Zoe" is a bit hard to follow sometimes--she switches languages from time to time. One of the songs is in English but the meaning is incomprehensible without knowing what "lasso" is (and I didn't). It turns out that the admonition for young women to "not drink lasso" is actually telling them not to poison themselves after they've been unlucky in love.

The interview was done on a porch, and the rain comes and goes in the background.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Before you ask

I wouldn't know either of them from Adam's off ox. I vaguely recall something about the Hartley episode, but didn't make the connection with UW. I had almost no dealings with the LaCrosse branch of the University. In fact we rarely even drove near the city; there were other camping areas we liked better.

Chancellors don't have a lot of contact with most of the staff. Which, under the circumstances, is a good thing.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Santa Claus Boys

Santa Claus looks a bit different in Liberia. The Poro and Sande societies have associated mask and raffi-covered “devils.” Many of the societies delegate certain of these to go (with burly assistants) into the villages to requisition provisions for the village youth currently sequestered in the bush school. On the other hand, some “devils” are entertainers—their musicians play and they dance, sometimes even on stilts. They don’t entertain for free.

Somewhere along the line, possibly in the 40’s from American servicemen working in places like “Smell no Taste”, some tribal Liberians heard of Santa as a magical being. A spirit going around to homes giving things to children didn’t quite make sense, but they figured out a logical category for him, and ever since, in December, the Santa Claus boys go about.

A collection of boys follow a figure completely hidden in rags, and they sing and play improvised drums and kalimba while “Santa” dances. One of the boys sings the situation (abbreviated here):

“Santa Claus was flying on a 707 from New York to Paris, but the plane broke and he fell into the ocean. A fishing boat helped him out, but it sank at Freetown. He swam to shore and took a bus to Monrovia, but the bus went off the road to miss a snake and lost a wheel at Zagbo. He waited by the road, and a generous taxi driver stopped and gave him a ride to Gbangba Town. The poor man has walked all the long way from Gbangba Town, and he needs small small money to get to Robertsfield, and small money to get a plane to go back home.”

At this point one rattles a tin can suggestively.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Happy Holy Days!

I hope to be otherwise occupied for a few days--though there's a point or two I've been puzzling over and if I get inspired I'll post. Staring at a screen can get tiring, too.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Kingdoms of the world

Remember the story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness?

"showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You"

"I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish."

I notice that Jesus doesn't bother to refute the devil's claim that he has the power to give the kingdoms of the world to whoever he pleases. We are confident that God can work everything for good for those who love Him, of course (well, we're supposed to be confident).

The supposition that the devil has a hand in selecting rulers and officials has a certain explanatory power for understanding history and current events.

UPDATE: Note that this applies to your guys as well as the ones that don't like you.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Judges gone mad

I'd heard about Judge Clark some years back. There's a book showing what happens when unlimited power joins with utter ignorance.

One could easily list other examples.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Satanism and the Iowa Capitol

You've all read the story that "The Satanic Temple" was allowed to put up a shrine to Baphomet in the Iowa Capitol, in order to not discriminate against religions. And that the statue was damaged by a Mississippi man who had posted earlier comparing the removal of a statue of Thomas Jefferson to the erecting of one to Satan.

On what grounds does the state decide that some belief is a religion, worthy of respect by others even if those others do not believe it? Because this represents noble beliefs of some large group of people who try to live their lives by it, benefitting all of us thereby? Because a lot of people give money to the founders to be purified using primitive lie detectors? Because I had a dream and really really believe that the First Potato is the sacred source of all existence?

We're remarkably generous in defining religions in the US. Some places are more skeptical.

There was never a reason to put the shrine up in the first place. A religion defines what is the most important thing in the universe--the thing from which all else depends. Perhaps it is a god; sometimes it is a principle (e.g. Theravada Buddhism). The emblems are of the "most important thing" or aspects of its action (e.g. no images in Islam, but words are OK). If you're polytheist you might have a problem picking one, but generally there's something believed to be behind them all.

If the group actually worshipped Satan--Satan doesn't make sense outside of a Christian context, in which Satan is not the most important thing (though he may be the most important thing in your life). In that case the image is not of the most important thing in the universe, and there's no reason for non-co-religionists to offer it any respect.

If, as this group claims, they don't believe in god and use Satan as a symbol of their rejection of religious rules--once again, there has to be a something for Satan to reject, and the symbol again fails to specify something primal.

The state is a human institution, no matter what delusions of grandeur its directors may develop. It won't always recognize truth, and there are not infrequently good reasons to oppose some aspects of its mandates. But rule rejection as a principle isn't good, and should not be honored with a shrine in a public building.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Wooly dogs

I'd done a cursory search on Indian dogs a few years ago. Updating: one group bred dogs for wool, and apparently kept the strain separate from the rest of their dogs. The lineage is pre-colonial.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Watching sunsets in a time of war

when her brother had remarked that "Sybil seemed very mopy". She had been shocked when she heard this by a sense of her disloyalty, since she believed enjoyment to be a debt which every man owes to his fellows, partly for its own sake, partly lest he at all diminish their own precarious hold on it.

Charles Williams, The Greater Trumps

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Judgment Day

is only a lifetime away.

Why argue calendars?

Saturday, December 09, 2023

One use of terror

Absalom staged a coup against his father David. Once David and his family and friends were on the run, Absalom asked the smartest guy he knew for advice. From 2 Samuel 16:
Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your advice. What shall we do?” Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house; then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father. The hands of all who are with you will also be strengthened.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.

Absalom's message to his supporters was: "If things get tough I won't cut a deal and hang you out to dry." To those who didn't support him, it was: "Fear me. I stop at nothing."

That may sound familiar. In the more recent events another factor applies, which wasn't so relevant to Absalom/David: "The measure of their violence was taken to be the measure of the injustice done to them": they wouldn't do such horrible things if they hadn't been even more horribly mistreated.

The core message seems the same as Absalom's: "I mean there to be no possibility of compromise; nothing will be forgiven on either side."

Friday, December 08, 2023

When in trouble...

A poster quoted Robert Frost "the best way out is always through" (kind of a grim poem; never saw it before, and Frost isn't obviously endorsing the sentiment). I've heard "When you're walking through Hell, don't stop."

Sometimes. I think there's a time and place for repentence, though. I remember trying to follow directions after dark to a party outside Gex, and miscounting the number of exits a walled roundabout had. Ten minutes of following directions later I turned onto what surely was the driveway I sought, but eventually proved to be a cowpath--luckily not populated at the moment. I suppose I could have tried to "go through," but I think slowly exercising the reverse gear while trying to miss trees was the right choice. And then finding a random bar with lights on and asking for help in miserable French. pre cell-phone days..

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Kings and wanna-be's

History is a popular hobby in our household. My wife is far better at remembering names, so her description of an event is more fun to listen to, though I flatter myself that I'm more efficient at conveying the core. It turns out that's not the summum bonum of conversation, though.

She, while listening to a program on some Tudor archaeology, mentioned to our daughter that "The Stuarts and Tudors are my favorite soap opera." I told her they represented my favorite reason why households should have battle rifles. Some societies are best viewed from a safe and well-defended distance.

Modern food

Is modern food lower in nutrients?

Too big a question, impossible to answer. Try again.

Is modern wheat grown in England lower in certain nutrients?

That, thanks to a 180-year-old project, can be sort of answered.

Yes. High yield wheat strains grow more carbs quickly.

"The increase in carbohydrates dilutes other grain components, including minerals. So although we see higher yields, the grains themselves are poorer in micronutrients: average concentrations of zinc, copper, iron and magnesium in the grain of the newer varieties were 19–28% lower than those of the older ones."

So the same pound of bread, presumably made from larger but fewer grains, has less magnesium. It shouldn't bother the wheat any--a seed should still have all it needs, it's just bigger these days.

So a second slice of toast is indicated.

Monday, December 04, 2023

Making progress?

I spent very little of the day out of bed. When you can't sleep for coughing, and you can't concentrate enough to read, and you haven't the strength to do any of the growing list of chores, what do you do?

I finally managed enough energy to finish watching a youtube series I've been watching(*): unfortunately he's only about 3/5 done with it.

I think it was Erma Bombeck who wrote that being pregnant was like taking a cruise in at least one respect: you might just be sitting in a chair watching the ocean, but you're making progress.

As long as I sleep a little longer, and cough a little less, I suppose I am.

UPDATE: My teaching daughter said 2/3 of 3'rd grade was out sick yesterday.

(*) Including "the square root of a vector". The series is much more accessible than the titles suggest, though you do need to have a little matrix theory under your belt. He repeats everything, and uses simple examples. It's nice to see an explanation of Clifford algebras, and how spinors can be represented in them, but it isn't transparent what gain we then have in comprehensiveness, new physics, or simplicity.

Sunday, December 03, 2023


The problems spiked today, so I took the advice of the on-call folks and went to ER. (They were swamped, and stayed so.) I was pretty sure I knew what it was, and that's what they told me: bronchitis. Except that the take-home packet didn't say "bronchitis", it said "chronic bronchitis." Of which this is a flareup. It makes sense, I suppose; I've gotten it over and over for years, and my O2 levels are traditionally a bit lower than normal.

Breathing exercises, I suppose--and no mountain climbing.

Friday, December 01, 2023


I figured a week of not getting better (for my wife it has been 10 days) was enough to merit a call to the doc.

Reception wanted me to take a Covid test and they'd get back to me. I asked if they were understaffed; she said no, there were just lots of people with this bug. I suppose the Covid test requirement gives them a plausible reason for not calling back quickly, but they could really be swamped. Something has been going around.

I don't know what it is about 2 in the morning to bring on a few hours of coughing. Maybe some med or another wears off.

Monday, November 27, 2023

More C.S. Lewis

If you've read The Pilgrim's Regress you know C.S. Lewis wrote poetry. Or if you read AVI.

And he has some narrative poetry (e.g. Dymer) that I never got into.

His short work was collected.

Yes, of course I picked up a copy. He played with lots of different styles, and wrote from many different moods, and hit the mark a lot.

The Prudent Jailer

Always the old nostalgia? Yes.
We still remember times before
We had learned to wear the prison dress
Or steel rings rubbed our ankles sore.

Escapists? Yes. Looking at bars
And chains, we think of files; and then
Of black nights without moon or stars
And luck befriending hunted men.

Still when we hear the trains at night
We envy the free travellers, whirles
In how few moments past the sight
Of the blind wall that bounds our world.

Our Jailer (well he may) prefers
Our thoughts should keep a narrower range.
'The proper study of prisoners
Is prison,' he tells us. Is it strange?

And if old freedom in our glance
Betrays itself, he calls it names
'Dope'--'Wishful thinking'--or 'Romance',
Till tireless propaganda tames.

All but the strong whose hearts they break,
All but the few whose faith is whole.
Stone walls cannot a prison make
Half so secure as rigmarole.

Or in a lighter mood:

Lady, a better sculptor far
Chiselled those curves you smudge and mar
And God did more than lipstick can
To justify your mouth to man.


"I suppose there are two views about everything," said Mark.

"Eh? Two views? There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there's never more than one. But it's no affair of mine. Good night."

In math that's not always strictly true. In arithmetic, yes; but sometimes objects of very different types turn out to be equivalent to each other. A proof may be quite hard within one system, but in the equivalent class of objects in a different system may be quite easy. Relatively speaking, of course.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Writing tropes

The pre-lunch conversation worked around to a complaint that villain monologues at the captive hero are frequently boring "these days".

I have nothing to say about that, not having read/watched a lot of villain monologues in the past few years--nor composed my own. Item 6

Such verbal gloating was a sign of vulnerability, of weakness. The villain needs something from his victim, some sign of pain or despair. Some writers give the victim (before the climactic table-turning later) a way to thumb the nose at his tormenter, to frustrate him. Some of the most notorious real villains didn't bother confronting those who are about to die to gloat or anything else. They didn't need any confirmation from their victims.

It's harder to show a hero's courage and defiance without such scenes, though.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

GPS Spoofing?

I was pointed to an interesting article which, if true, says that GPS (GNSS) on airplanes can be spoofed to drive planes off track. One wild oddity is that it reports that the backup Inertial Reference System was sometimes confused too. One would hope that a backup system runs independently of the primary one, but apparently sometimes the IRS is updated from the GPS.

Navigational errors make a big difference if you are flying near hostiles. And says GPS is easy to spoof, because the signal is unencrypted.

I remember trying to follow directions to a party in Gex, and not recognizing an exit from a roundabout as a real exit (it was night, and the road was tiny). That exit miscount, followed by precise adherence to the subsequent turns, ended up with me having to back the rental car up out of a cow path in the middle of nowhere, France. Cell phones were not a thing back then. Paper maps are your friend.

Just a smidgeon more research

BBC has a puff piece on using bamboo in construction in Europe. Why isn't it used more? The article says a big reason is that we don't know how--what are the load characteristics, etc. A quick google search finds that it has durability issues, and needs chemical treatment to keep it from rotting easily or being eaten by beetles. "Treated bamboos must not be burned; the gases of such a fire are toxic. Bury them in the ground, away from wells."

Wednesday, November 15, 2023


"I give you great thanks. I cannot, indeed, understand the way you live, and your house is strange to me. You give me a bath such as the Emperor himself might envy, but no one attends me to it: a bed softer than sleep itself, but when I rise from it I find I must put on my own clothes with my own hands as if I were a peasant. I lie in a room with windows of pure crystal so that you can see the sky as clearly when they are shut as when they are open, and there is not wind enough within the room to blow out an unguarded taper; but I lie in it alone, with no more honour than a prisoner in a dungeon. Your people eat dry and tasteless flesh, but it is off plates as smooth as ivory and as round as the sun. In all the house there is warmth and softness and silence that might put a man in mind of paradise terrestrial; but no hangings, no beautified pavements, no musicians, no perfumes, no high seats, not a gleam of gold, not a hawk, not a hound. You seem to me to live neither like a rich man nor a poor one: neither like a lord nor a hermit."

I like this passage from That Hideous Strength: it illustrates the absolute and relative aspects of "rich" nicely. "Absolute:" surplus tasty food, useful medicines, comfort, amusements, recreation time. "Relative:" servants, people who envy you or honor you, more stuff than people you know. "When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on?"

"Relative" wealth: "To reign is worth ambition though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n."

"Relative" wealth: Aesop: Avarice and Envy

Since money is a promise, how do you prove to yourself that you have money? Is it numbers on a page, or the stuff and services you get when the promises are redeemed (or dangled)?

For money I suppose you can also read "power," except that there's no balance sheet to measure power--but the action of it is similar. You get people to do what you want.

Inflation robs us all, but hits the "absolute" wealth harder--possibly one of the reasons the powers that be aren't generally worried about it.

Either category can make a needle's eye for us to go through, but I suspect the "relative" is more dangerous.

Monday, November 13, 2023

Dark matter resolution?

SciTech Daily has an article on ALMA's work trying to locate dark matter. The Figure 1 doesn't seem to appear in the paper itself. The figure looks very odd. The caption says it depicts calculated fluctions in dark matter density--it looks grid-like. I assume there's more elsewhere. The figures in the paper don't look quite so regular. Regularity like that of Figure 1 makes me suspicious--is it an artifact of their procedure?

Unfortunately I'm not familiar with the tools described in the paper, so I can't guess.

If their work pans out, they're getting much better resolution than before thanks to a more sophisticated analysis. I'll bet a number of the MOND people are already all over it, so we should find out soon.

For fun

"don't spoil the denouement"

Ogden Nash. There's a slight typo in the web page's version.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Parody of a parody?

We went to a high school performance of Game of Tiaras last night. It is Game of Thrones acted out by nominal Disney princesses with a bit of King Lear to touch off and motivate the action. I hadn't seen half the princess movies (e.g. Frozen), and seen neither the Game of Thrones series nor Martin's novels, so I had to guess at most of the references. But, apropos AVI's note on Stationary Bandits, what I know of the Thrones plotline suggests that it is a non-comic parody of history, exaggerating the violence and backstabbing to the point where I'd think underlings would be reluctant to give the last full measure of devotion. Can somebody who has seen it tell me if I'm wrong?

Thursday, November 09, 2023

Outreach efforts

CERN has expanded their science outreach facilities. It's a lot bigger now than when I was last there--I visited the Dome a long time ago. At the time they had a manned exhibit on superconducting magnets--it needed at least three people to make sure no kids stuck their hands where they oughtn't. The rest of the Dome was meh. This looks a lot fancier. Not a travel destination, but if you're in the area...
Previously, most of the visitors who came to CERN were already familiar with the lab. They were interested in touring its experimental areas. “They wanted that authentic ‘behind the scenes’ CERN experience,” Sanders says.

But Sanders is hoping Science Gateway will become a tourist destination for both dedicated science fans and more casual visitors. “A lot of our exhibits involve play,” she says. “That’s a valid goal: to make a place where families can have a fun day out. If kids have fun at CERN, that’s an important first step in engaging them with science.”

I like that "authentic 'behind the scenes' CERN experience." Authentic involves trying to find the leak.

Wednesday, November 08, 2023


At least the skeletons and spiders are almost all gone--and the strings of orange lights too. Mostly. The stores are spreading Christmas gear, but we've a little breather around people's yards.

In some fiendish lair, brainstormers are trying to figure out what color of strings of lights go with inflatable pumpkin pies and pilgrim hats. Perhaps something that flickers the colors of a flame in a fireplace would complement the ten-foot high turkey? The decorations need to incite the neighbors' envy while not giving passing drivers the mistaken impression that they advertise a restaurant.

Tuesday, November 07, 2023


I read decades ago that the use of the term "anti-semitism" spread as a euphemism for "hatred of Jews." It was a less "in your face" term; abstract and verging on respectable. I haven't tracked down a source for that claim yet, but it seems plausible. Hatred is personal, while being "anti-"X could mean you've a scholar's thorough understanding of why X is bad.

NJOP says the term was coined by Moritz Steinschneider, writing against Ernest Renan's "jews are an inferior race" claims. (Renan seems to have changed his mind, or nuanced things considerably. The NJOP article's claim about Wilhelm Marr's repentence is disputed.)

At any rate, when you read a news story about demonstrations on campus or the state house, mentally replace the euphemism with the phrase it replaced, and see if the result describes the actions and attitudes more clearly.


I should ask somebody why Christ Lutheran has lutefisk and meatball dinners.

Thursday, November 02, 2023

Some things don't change much

From Description of Greece, by Pausanias (approximately 110-180 AD):
The popular belief has prevailed almost universally that Theseus played into the hands of the people, and that from his time they remined under a democratical government, till Pisistratus rose up and became tyrant. There are other untrue traditions current among the mass of mankind, who have no research and take for gospel all they heard as children in the choruses and tragedies.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

ancient magic

I was curious about a reference of Grim's: an ancient Icelandic spell book.

From the Galdrabok: Spell #8. To win a girl’s love

"Likewise, you should, while fasting, make the second helm of awe with your saliva in your palm when you greet the girl who you want to have; in such a case it should be in your right hand."

Does one shake hands afterwards?

It includes a psalm, and incantations which mix Christian, gnostic, demonic, and scandanavian god names.

This one seems untestable--who'd have time to do it? "31. Against troll-shot: If any kind of shot flies toward you, then read this verse right away: BUMEN SITTIMUS CALECTIMUS ME TASUS ELI ELOI SIEBAHOT ELEM VEAO NAJ" (or is is "ELOE SIEBAHAT" (spell 39)?

I picked up some history, and I took away a few things for a story I'm working on.

Sunday, October 29, 2023


The name Matthew Perry sounded vaguely familiar, so I indulged the first article on BBC to figure out who this was. I'd never seen Friends.

The article described the familiar "clown with a broken heart" and "trapped by drugs" themes that seem to haunt entertainers--possibly because we know their stories better than that of the fellow on the next block. He seemed t have a hopeless view of himself. I don't say "low self-esteem," which is too much of a protean phrase.

One phrase stood out: "a string of glamorous girlfriends." That word glamorous--glamour means illusion, trickery, unreal.

After a few such friends, I'd think he'd notice that something was wrong, but perhaps he blamed himself. I wonder who the glamour is supposed to fool--the mate, or the rest of the world (arm candy)?

The glamourous are an extreme case--the pros--at something we all try to do at some level. I want to be better than I am, and I start by trying to look better than I am.

"Ginger or MaryAnn?" If somebody had asked me at the time the show aired, my answer would have been "Yes." The characters are fictional and incapable of surprising you, but sticking to the rules of the question, my adult answer is "No to illusions; no to high maintenance."

Cultural Imperialism

There's a difference between the confidence that our culture is the best, and the hubris to believe that our culture will and must dominate the world. The Almighty didn't make our culture.

Friday, October 27, 2023

True riches

"Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?"

The verse always seemed a little odd--don't you generally earn the wealth, whether unrighteous wealth or other? We went over the section this week, and a couple of more or less ordinary examples came to mind. In Luke this comes after the parable of the prodigal son--aha. A son who isn't trustworthy with a little won't be given a lot, and a son or daughter fills the bill for someone to whom "wealth" (relative to the parent's means) is given.

Another is dating. The woman might ask of the prospect "Is this guy faithful in the little things, or does he trade on his money/good looks/audacity? Is he worthy of the gift of me? (Do I want the gift of him?)"

Or promotions. Or. The "true riches" are responsibilities, not merely resources.

I don't know how I missed that. Maybe the contrast with the parable of the unjust steward overshadowed it.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Face to face

Our zoom-life made it pretty clear that face-to-face interactions communicate more than electronically mediated ones (or interactions mediated by letters, if you want to go back that far).

Doing something yourself involves more of you than hiring it done, or pressing keys to trigger it.

It involves more of yourself to bayonet a prisoner than to pull the lanyard on a big gun. The latter might kill more people, but the killers are disconnected from the dead. They pretty much never see them.

The artilleryman is a bad example, since most of the time he's shooting at people who are trying to kill him or his friends. It may not be easy, but it is self-defense. Instead of him, think of men who plant bombs to kill random people who are not trying to kill them. In this particular case the brothers hung around to enjoy the carnage, so their victims were people bleeding in front of them, not abstractions. But some stay away from the scene, presumably for safety's sake.

I can see an argument that remote murder, especially random remote murder, could be more heinous, in that it makes murder easier by removing the need to think of the other as subhuman, and in that it makes it impossible for victims to do anything differently to avoid being murdered, and so is a crime against the whole society.

But whether that is true or not, to murder a man face to face is going to stain more of you in the process. When you went into the house you had murder in your heart, which God already judges, but when you cut off the baby's head you put thorough-going murder in your hands and arms and eyes and ears. It will take a miracle to cleanse you; you are stained in a way the distanced killer is not.

Israel sowed the wind and reaped a whirlwind, but Hamas has sown the whirlwind.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

What was physics like?

When I started there were about 24 people on my thesis experiment. It was a follow-on experiment, using almost entirely apparatus from an earlier one. I didn't do any experiment or detector design, though I helped build drift chambers. A lot of the software was there already, but needed redoing, so I worked on simulation and analysis; and of course running the system, where I wound up having to do some data-acquisition development too.

When I ended my career I'd drifted into IT (funding issues) for a big collaboration, but I'd spent most of the intervening time on really big collaborations--so big that the people who designed CMS weren't always still around when it started taking data. There were information silos all over the place--and management knew about that and was trying to make more connections. (It wasn't quite an N! problem, since some of the silos were related and had some communication with each other.)

A much younger researcher got burned by this.

The process of doing research, getting his PhD, and doing more research, was so organized and regimented that he missed out on practice in "ask a question", "talk it out with colleagues", "design a way to answer the question". I'm old enough that I got a little of that, and I've had the opportunity to hang out around some people who were really good at it. This guy felt like he was a cog in the machine: "We want to look at this, so you go run those programs." I grumped that a lot of LHC grad students never got to do anything except develop and run simulations, since the machine wasn't even going to run for a few more years. It hadn't occurred to me that analysis might wind up being plug and play for the students, after the initial development.

He was on Atlas, and I on CMS, so I probably didn't meet him the times I was over there.

Friday, October 20, 2023


Costco has been selling gold. The story says the bars generally sell out within 2 hours of each online announcement. I'm not a member--perhaps this isn't out of the ordinary for them and I just didn't know it. I was surprised.
"As soon as you purchase these gold ingots. You're already down 5, 6, 7, percent, which is the cost you pay over this the fair value, the spot price of gold. And then, if you have to go sell later on, then you're going to lose a similar percentage."

That doesn't make it sound like a great investment when the economy is more or less OK. After a crash, do you propose to buy eggs and milk with a bar of gold? Not quite as versatile as cheaper precious metals...

OTOH, their expert's advice seems risky. "If you want to invest in gold, Royal suggests buying into a fund that owns physical gold instead." If the economy is more or less OK, that might be an OK investment, and of course after a crash your peices of paper are worthless. But: Who guarantees that the fund actually has the gold it claims to? And even if there hasn't been double-counting between firms, recall Executive Order 6102.

Gold seems like a bet that the economy is going to go poorly, but not really all that badly. Gold funds seem like the same bet, with the additional requirement that there's no funny business with the funds.

If you gave me some, I wouldn't turn it down. I just wouldn't buy it as an investment.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Unexpected harvest

For the curious: the giant puffball is edible when its flesh is white, before it reaches the gills and spores and fun stage. We were given a 15" wide one the other day. They do not keep long, so you have to deal with them quickly.

Basting a slab with olive oil and garlic and a few other seasonings and grilling it like a steak works ok, though the result is much like eating tofu. I would think sauteeing thin slabs in butter will be good, but it's a bit late to try since we dehydrated the rest already, resulting in several quarts of mushroom powder. I'm told the powder works very well as an ingredient for stock.

Our neighbor's parent's farm produced a lot of them this year.

UPDATE: A word to the wise: my daughter put the dehydrator in their garage for this exercise, since the mushroom aroma was intense.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

"If that's real, I want one"

After a fall-colors visit to Horicon(*) and Kettle Moraine we went to Hamburger Haus in Campbellsport for burgers and icecream. For desert I had their single cone: three stacked large scoops of vanilla sticking 5" above a waffle cone (about a pint's worth). The toddler in a family coming a bit later watched me receive what must have looked like the archtype of icecream cones, and the wide-eyed expression on his face was wonderful as he inarticulately but whole-heartedly requested his own. I don't think he'd ever seen one that large before.

It's an outdoor restaurant, and they close for the season this Sunday. The cone pictured at the link is their "baby cone."

(*) Horicon is more famous for the birds: sandhills, geese, a cormorant, a heron, grebes, swans, pelicans, and gadwells today.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Election Shenanigans

They can look different in other places. "Polling staffs and poll watchers from different political parties including other NEC officials fled the scene abandoning ballot boxes when series of controversies ensued, especially after the appearance of a ‘Country Devil’."

upshot: "We call on NEC to continue the process in a transparent manner and to ensure that incidents like the incident in Nimba where the Country Devil came out and ballot boxes were missing, then retrieved with 1 box still reported missing"

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Creating the Qur'an

A Historical-Critical Study by Stephen J Shoemaker.

I've reported on books by Shoemaker before: early Dormition traditions, early Marian devotion, and the death of Mohammed.

The subtitle tells what he's doing. The official Muslim story is that Abu Bakr (1st of the rightly guided caliphs) noticed that lots of the people who knew what Mohammed had said were dying, and so he had Zayd assemble from recordings on palm branches, stones, camel bones, and "the hearts of men" a version of the Qur'an. Uthman (3rd of the rightly guided caliphs), noticed that different versions of the Qur'an were circulating, so he had the versions reviewed and a definitive version circulated and other versions destroyed.

Modern research into Islam generally accepts this as correct--though Shoemaker points out that this is thanks more to political correctness than to scholarship, since there are a number of equally ancient stories of how it was created, which differ substantially from the canonical version.

Shoemaker offers as evidence for his theory that Ad al-Malik was the definer of the Qur'an:

  • Uthman, who died in a revolt against him, wasn't in a position to enforce a uniform Qur'an, whereas Ad al-Malik was--though not being one of the rightly guided caliphs it wouldn't do for him to try to define the Qur'an, hence suggesting that Uthman did it/started it.
  • During al-Malik's reign references to Muhammed and the Qur'an start becoming common.
  • Earlier non-Muslim descriptions of Islam don't mention Muhammed or any holy book
  • Early Shi'ite sources claimed that Ali had first collected the Qur'an (in a longer version)
  • Early (short) citations, as in the Dome of the Rock, differ slightly from the received Qur'an.
  • John of Damascus, who as a civil servant for the caliph (as part of a family of such), would have been quite familiar with Muslim documents, shows familiarity with the sura Cow, but claims familiarity with another called The Camel of which no trace survives.

That seems pretty plausible to me. And I don't think it treads heavily on Muslim toes if it was al-Malik rather than Uthman.

But wait; there's more!

Shoemaker contends that the evidence says that oral cultures, such as the LoDagaa of Ghana, do not treat even sacred texts as immutable. The Bagre "is an extended religious poem that is recited in rhythmic speech primarily in a liturgical context and the contents of which provide the basic structure of the LoDagaa's social and religious practices." Goody found out that there were not only significant variations between different speakers, but even by the same speaker at different times. "Goody found that some of the elements that he initially considered most essential to the narrative were simply dropped from other versions." The claim is that, as far as we can tell (since except for studies like that of the Bagra, there's no way to know what was told the previous generation), oral cultures are worse at transmitting exact information than literate ones--and may not even value exactness much. Often, he claims, even the gist is lost.

This unreliability agrees with claims I mentioned about effigy mounds: elders claimed that they were recent, carbon dating says they aren't. OTOH, sometimes the gist is transmitted well enough to be verified by archaeology.

He relies on Close's work to say that Mecca wasn't a major trading center (other people assert that it was a cross-roads of trade routes), since, among other things, at the time much of the traffic would have gone by the far-away sea. Therefore Mecca was a small and rather simple town, with essentially no literacy. Muhammed is traditionally believed to have been illiterate.

Without literacy, he predicts, given the limitations of human memory (he devotes a chapter to research on this), that the stories people remembered Muhammed telling would have been retold with subtle and then less subtle variations, until a majority of the story was inaccurate. At best, the gist would remain, but not always that.

Now he is stomping on Muslim toes, hard. He brings historical-critical discussions of the Bible up as evidence for his assertions, together with the claim that the gospels were written late. This is a rather feeble reed: literacy among first century Jews was relatively high (I presume at least the tax collector Matthew could read/write), and literary evidence dates the synoptics earlier than the destruction of the temple. (Can you imagine someone quoting Jesus predicting the temple destruction without at least interjecting a hint about its demise? Unless you are forging the whole thing, it just isn't happening. And yes, interjections exist)

At any rate, he doesn't bring this part off well--too many assertions.

He addresses the radiocarbon dating of some early copies of the Qur'an that were recently found, which seem to predate al-Malik. Radiocarbon dating is good for the century, but the error bars are too large to date something to a few decades--so most of them could actually be later. He points out that some manuscripts predated Muhammed! Either the parchments were kept around for up to a century before being used (imaginable, if not probable), or there are systematic errors in the carbon dating. Dating methods were recalibrated back in 2020, and he notes that there are known to be northern/southern hemisphere differences and that there are alleged to be differences from zone to zone as well.

The Qur'an references things like fishing on the Sabbath, which isn't something you'd expect residents of Mecca to relate to very well. It offers a nativity story of Jesus that reflects the rituals of the Kathisma church, with details not found elsewhere. The Qur'an is described as being "in dialog" with Christianity at a level not to be expected in an illiterate backwater town in a region with no known Christian activity. (Christianity was found around the edges of the penninsula, but isn't recorded in the interior this early.)

So, maybe it was partly written in the Levant. The references to Christianity seem to have Syrian Christian details. (I go by what Shoemaker wrote here; I haven't looked this up.)

On the other hand, the Qur'an claims that some Christians were early converts. (Shoemaker thinks that's a later addition since Mecca wasn't a big or important place and there wouldn't have been any Christians there.) So knowledge of Christianity might have come from them.

On the third hand, militating against significant knowledge of Christianity (certainly not "in dialog" with it), is the howler in Sura 5:116, in which the Trinity is supposed to be the Father, Jesus, and Mary. There's an ancient Eastern Chuch document reference to an extinct group that thought this, but the chances that any survived to talk to Muhammed seem negligable. It's the kind of misunderstanding you'd get if you looked at the icons in a church without actually talking to any of the Christians.

With respect to literacy: There are references in the early stories claiming that several different people had copies of Muhammed's addresses, including one of his wives and Ali. There were scribes in the era. Also, one of the points he brings up to assert lack of literacy is primitive graffiti--he says it represents people learning by imitation but not able to write much. I think it suggests that even the illiterate wanted to show off what knowledge they had, which meant literacy was honored.

Other little details: there are parts of the Qur'an which early commenters couldn't figure out--words that they didn't know the meaning of, and even suras that couldn't quite be nailed down. The most probable of the options he suggests is that these are pre-Muhammed quotations.

Some parts are repeated, with slightly different wording. This is something a compiler might do when faced with two different versions and no clear way to pick one. He didn't give examples of repetitions that change the gist, but says they're there.

Overall, his model is that the Koran is composed of reconstructed versions of more or less what Muhammed said, sometimes with adaptations to the local Levant culture. He doesn't go so far as to say the latter are what Muhammed "would have said if he'd been in Syria", but he hints at it.

Over and over he says that texts are fluid--to the point of annoyance. When the texts have similar themes, I don't think they're as fluid as all that. The variants he lists side-by-side are in different order but are otherwise pretty much the same.

Each chapter is argued separately, but they often refer to the same things, which adds a degree of repetition to the text. He argues that the historical-critical approach is separate from but not antithetical to the traditional Muslim approach of believing the text--but it isn't true here any more than it is when applied to the Bible.

I learned a few things. I think he's right about al-Malik being the standarizer. I think some things were transmitted accurately--like the howler. I satisfied my " 'satiable curtiosity" to some degree, but I'm not convinced of his model. If this sort of historical argument intrigues you, read it, otherwise I hope my summary gives the gist.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Early version

Back in the 80's, we had occasion to visit a friend of my wife's in Milwaukee. Elis was revamping an old meatpacker's mansion that had seen better decades and many students when it was divvied up into small apartments. (An owner had painted over marble.) He was a skeletal type already, and sometimes had fun standing by the highway from Illinois at night in a black cloak with a scythe--Illinois had a higher drinking age at the time.

He had gone to a con dressed in one of his inimitable outfits, but his prop was his pride. He'd programmed a chip to generate random numbers, which induced switches to turn on different colored lights in the top of what he called his "Arcturian stop light." It was simple, so in a few hours the patterns would repeat. Apparently people had fun with it.

Pity he didn't try to patent the idea. We went to this year's Gleam show at Olbrich Gardens, and random light changes were everywhere there--everybody does them now. Some of the best exhibits were simple: firework-style lights over a reflecting pool, or color changing floods on flowers in the conservatory.

Elis' housemate was wrapping up a degree in herpetology, and had several snakes (some hot) and a large snapper in the basement, together with a most-of-the-time secure mouse colony to supply them with food.

We lost track of Elis some years back. Kids' needs and activities tend to fill the calendar.


We were getting 100% coverage by clouds today, but a few minutes ago there came a brightness outside while I sat at the kitchen table. A break in the clouds? I'd mislaid my "eclipse glasses" but figured I could improvise something, and maybe wake up my wife if it worked.

No, it was a break in the lower cloud deck only. I squinted, but the sun was too bright even through the upper cloud deck.

I watched the reflection of the eclipse in the bird bath. I could make out the gnawed shape just fine, in between wind gusts that rippled the water, for the 30 seconds that the lower clouds parted.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

And after victory, what?

Psalm 59 (or Psalm 58 in the DR) seems straightforward enough, except for verse 11. "Do not slay them, or my people will forget;"

He's talking about his enemies: "God will let me look triumphantly upon my foes." And the reason he doesn't ask God to slay his enemies for him isn't because he is merciful and hopes for reconciliation. There's no hint of that. It's so that "my people" don't forget.

Forget what? I'm not perfectly sure, but easily forgotten things in time of peace are that a) you had and have enemies and b) God delivered you. Having weeping scattered enemies around might help remind people. Or not, if the enemies were thoroughly beaten enough.

Jesus warned that there would be wars and rumors of war, and also that there'd always be poor with us. Wars too, it looks like.

Maybe, in the background, the verse also recognizes that wars are rarely over forever. Sometimes the best a victory will do is kick the can down the road for a few years.

Sometimes, for instance if they're allies against a common enemy, you can get reconciliation--for a while. We have had the good fortune to live through a time when most of Western Europe was at peace, even trying to form a kind of union. But sooner or later you get a new king who doesn't know Joseph, and the interests of the nations (aka the interests of the powerful) diverge.

Sometimes the differences are irreconcilable, and you'll fight the same war again and again. Sounds futile--but there's no earthly way around it.

And victories can be odd things sometimes:

This is one of history’s delightful little jokes: about fifteen minutes before the Arab conquest, the Eastern Roman Empire had finally and utterly destroyed the power of Persia, after seven centuries of constant rivalry and war. It was really the Empire’s most magnificent single accomplishment, but no one remembers it, because the Byzantine conquest of Persia lasted for about as much time as it takes oatmeal cookies to bake. Then the Arab conquerors swept into the defenseless, demoralized, and disorganized Persian Empire and made themselves at home.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

War Objectives

And Israel goes to war again. I wonder if Hamas expected that.

I wonder what Israel's objective will be this time? I don't think they'll reciprocate Hamas' goal of extermination.

Short of that, three other goals come to mind; maybe four. None of them are more than short-term solutions, of course. It is pointless for the Israelis to worry about PR downsides, but they probably will anyway.

  • Wipe out all of Hamas' leadership and capability and withdraw. Two problems jump up from this: Knowing who's who, and the fact that to do this you have to occupy the place, which lets the locals get up close with "lone wolf" attacks.
  • "Rip them a new asshole" and back off. This could be done without occupation. It could be modified by seizing a few miles of border and fortifying/mining it. Cue the chorus of "proportionality." I know proportionality is part of Catholic just war theory, but I'm not sure that it was entirely thought out.(*)
  • Occupy and govern. This one has a lot of long-term pain as the Gazans do the "lone wolf" thing. The Gazans would no doubt be materially better off, but still feel themselves second-class, and they take their religion seriously; I don't think they'd all let themselves be seduced by the secularism of the Little Satan or the Great Satan.
  • Occupy and expel. This has a lot of short-term pain, and really bad optics, and nobody wants the Gazans. The only place that would seem to be a plausible relocation spot is the West Bank. I doubt that Jordan would be happy with that, and it would probably just make the problem bigger down the road.

At least, I hope they have a goal. It's kind of hard to win a war without one. Just ask the USA.

(*) UPDATE: The comments pointed out that I used an interpretation of the theory rather than a reference to the theory itself--mea culpa. The statement from the Catechism is reasonable--though still subject to subjective interpretation: how heavily does one weight potential woes? Still, I should have checked the original before publishing.

Lost sheep

I remember thinking about the parable of the lost sheep that it didn't seem quite right. Why should there be more rejoicing in heaven about a rescue? It seems like an all-too-human fascination with drama.

It's because it's a bigger miracle than a creation. It's a resurrection.

“Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; He did not come to improve the improvable; He did not come to reform the reformable. None of those things works.” — Robert Farrar Capon

It's spelled out in the prodigal son parable--"He was dead and is alive." (And a son that treated his father that way would probably have been considered dead to his family...)

Sunday, October 08, 2023

Entertainment or Exercise?

I remember hearing some mild grumbling when "The Passion of the Christ" won no Oscars: "Hollywood hates Christian things." The complaints seemed muted, possibly because tainted awards are hardly things to covet.

I thought at the time that although Hollywood undoubtedly does loathe Christian themes, they were right to give the movie a pass, despite its huge box office. Many of the attendees weren't going to be entertained, but to use it as part of a religious exercise.

Since then, I've wondered a bit about whether I was right. Are there other movies (or books, or songs) to which we go in order to "afflict ourselves" to prepare ourselves for communion with something greater than us?

People sometimes go to movies to "cheer themselves up" being reminded that there are good things despite the disappointments of the day--entertainment with a psychological purpose; utilitarian art.

Others seem to want to go to be reminded of how patriarchal and white and bad they are and how good they are to have noticed this--which seems like a gnostic religious exercise.

It's not as crisp a distinction as I thought.

Saturday, October 07, 2023

Tribal land

"John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!" Attributed to Andrew Jackson, who may not have actually said it, though in a letter he says something similar. The decision was Worcester v Georgia. Oddly enough, given Jackson's record in the subsequent Cherokee eviction, the matter at issue was "Did a State have the right to pass a law requiring that a non-Indian visiting tribal land had to get a permit from the State first?" The law aimed at protecting the Indian tribes' rights, and the Supreme Court ruling removed that protection.

The Court's decision was almost certainly right--relations between nations are what the Constitution envisioned, and a State doesn't function as a nation. The Feds didn't prove more honorable than Georgia, though.

Friday, October 06, 2023

I get it now

A recent post of Dr. Boli's included "City police remind residents that tap-dancing lessons are now mandatory for all citizens between the ages of 10 and 65". The spotted lanternflies show up everywhere, sometimes in dramatic numbers. And they're sensitive little beasts. If you're tentative about your smash, they'll be elsewhere with a click.

We took the car for a wash after leaving Pittsburgh. No doubt the lanternfly will reach Wisconsin eventually, but not because of us. Though since they are especially fond of tree of heaven, maybe they would kill the neighbor's stand of them. Tree of heaven turns out to be toxic.

We're putting my national parks pass to use this year: Indiana Dunes National Park and Cuyahoga National Park for a few hours each. Maybe next year we'll get farther afield.

Sunday, October 01, 2023


The USS Cod is interesting. Each sub is restored slightly differently. This one doesn't have big cutouts for tourists to walk in conveniently. You have to climb in the way the sailors did. Don't slip; you can wrench your shoulder. Don't ask how we know.

Ice cream machines were a much-coveted item. This one apparently was acquired through proper channels back in the day, and not via "midnight acquisition."

See it if you're in the area, but beware: Cleveland drivers seem to include as high a proportion of rude drivers as Chicago does.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Gardener

Jesus told the parable of the gardener: “But the gardener answered, ‘Leave it alone sir, for this year too; until I dig around it and put in fertilizer, and if it bears fruit …’ “

I’ve heard it used to explain God’s patience with us, and that’s certainly part of it. But it also warns against inferring things from prosperity. Maybe if everything’s coming up roses for you, it isn’t because God’s so happy with you, it’s because the gardener is giving you one last chance.

Monday, September 25, 2023


There seems to have been a little teapot tempest about how much men (compared to women) think about ancient Rome(*). I haven't bothered to investigate (life is short and I've been busy with non-Rome related things) but in order to make up your quota here is a video on the 1'st Punic War, which includes some surprising strategic implications of the economics of their warships, and a series from A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry starting here on the subject of the Middle Roman Republic. Yes, I learned a lot, though as usual I will promptly forget all the names.

(*) I almost wrote "how much men think about ancient Rome compared to women," which wouldn't quite be the same thing. Word order matters in English--not quite like Latin. Oops, there goes the Ancient Rome bit again...

Models and meaning

I was in a little discussion at Grim's Hall about mathematical models of the physical world, and asserted that in a good model, aspects of the mathematics related to aspects of the physical world.

For the honor of truth, I must admit that in quantum mechanics, the physical meaning of the wave function is a bit hard to pin down. If it were easy, there wouldn't be so much disagreement among very smart characters. Follow the link for discussion.

I'm not fond of "shut up and calculate", and I hanker for a clearer theory (although quantum mechanics works extremely well), but possibly the world is a bit stranger than my mind. If an electron slung out of Alpha Centauri interacts with an apparatus in Earth orbit designed to react differently if the electron's spin is + or -, is that apparatus part of the boundary conditions for the electron's wave function and if so, what does that mean for it's state however many years ago when it was created?

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Were those really part of the shipment?

The Customs Department of the Liberia Revenue Authority has seized and transferred three boxes of confiscated narcotics drugs and 13 pieces of guns to the appropriate government entities.

Those look like home-made shotgun-shell-shooting pistols. The contents of the plastic bags in the right side of the picture seem fibrous--marijuana or khat? But those pistols: it looks likes there's a cottage industry churning them out. I wonder what the trigger mechanism looks like. I also wonder if those are the pistols that LRA found in the shipment, or something LRA already had on hand. If I had the money to smuggle lots of drugs, I'd smuggle some better weapons along with them.

UPDATE: not-homemade, Grim identified them. Still, they look like substitutes.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023


An ELCA priest confessed his infidelity to a fellow priest, who promptly told his bishop, who called the fellow's wife. I do not know the details well enough to know if there were any loopholes in the definitions or procedures that would authorize those reactions, but on the face of it they seem deeply improper.

The original priest betrayed his promise to his wife (the story says they are reconciling). If the story is true the second priest, and the bishop, betrayed their duties to the whole church--who will ever trust them, or possibly any priest, to hear a confession again?

Monday, September 18, 2023

Devil in the details, milk jug edition

For those gardeners who make their own manure tea, the obvious thing to decant your 5-gallon pails into is old plastic milk jugs. They're free and easy to store, pour from, and cap off.


Look closely at the jug. Is it made from two peices of plastic sealed together? Remember, your garage will get hot and the pressure inside the jug will rise. If there's a weakness in the seams anywhere, the liquid will find it. Half the jugs sprang leaks. This isn't a dry ice bomb class failure, fortunately. But it is a mess.

I'm trying some old injection-molded round gallon jugs--no seams.

FWIW, for homeschool science class I'd made a couple of robust screens of different mesh sizes to illustrate sorting by "particle size" in soil. They've been kicking around unused for a while, until I needed something for making the "tea."

Sunday, September 17, 2023

neutrino interactions

I saw article claiming that low energy neutrinos (low is a relative term here--these are nuclear energy level neutrinos) could have large interaction rates in a magnetized plasma. I have to--rather grumpily--admit that I'm having a bit of trouble following the paper and won't have an immediate critique ready. X is true therefore we can assume Y--wait, what? And the coupling constant is proportional to 1/B?

Neutrinos at low energy are tough to spot. I tried to figure a way to use a cold crystal and detect phonons from neutrinos collectively scattering from the array of nuclei (instead of from a single nucleus), but it would have been extremely wavelength specific and since the neutrino wavelength wouldn't match the atomic spacing (it would only be commensurate) the result would have been pretty muddy at best, and likely not much more sensitive than the detectors we already have. Oh well.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Weapon efficiency

In terms of energy delivered to Japanese cities as a fraction of the energy put into the devices, the atomic bombs were about a few percent efficient. True, there was lots of energy available in the uranium, but it was hard to purify the isotope they needed. (It's easier now.) For the energy in the device to go bang there, you have to pour even more energy into it here--true for chemical explosives as well.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023


When monarch butterflies leave Wisconsin, they fly to a valley they have never seen before in Mexico. They were born in the USA. There seems to be some kind of hereditary memory involved. I've no idea how this works.

I wonder how long it takes for such a hereditary memory to develop.

I suspect that in the past four years the butterflies have learned that wherever you see this sign, someone with white fluff on a long stick is going to snare you, grab you, and poke a sticker on your wing, and then all the other butterflies will laugh at you.

They have been extremely skittish this year.

UPDATE: But seriously: "When applied as directed, the tags do not interfere with flight or otherwise harm the butterflies." But if mates are looking for symmetrical wings, the tagged ones (the not-so skittish ones) may not mate as often.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Lanchester's Law

I learn something new every day. I wasn't familiar with Lanchester's Law: the relative capability of two forces attriting each other during combat goes as the difference of the squares of their numbers. With, of course, some caveats--it doesn't take mechanized systems into account (machine guns, artillary, gas, disease, etc).

Sometimes it works. Sometimes--"Attempts have been made to apply Lanchester's laws to conflicts ... with chimpanzees and fire ants. The chimpanzee application was relatively successful; the fire ant application did not confirm that the square law applied."

The quality of the forces matters and is included--though how this gets "measured" isn't obvious.

"The Helmbold Parameters provide quick, concise, exact numerical indices, soundly based on historical data, for comparing battles with respect to their bitterness and the degree to which side had the advantage." One of the results of that approach is an estimate of the "defender's advantage", which "While the defender's advantage varies widely from one battle to the next, on average it has been practically constant since 1600AD" I wonder if that date is because earlier data is less trustworthy. The Helmbold source isn't in the UW library.

Of course there are cases where the square isn't the best model. Mechanization, terrain, etc, etc.

It's easy to guess how seductive a simple model could be. But your mileage will vary.

Saturday, September 09, 2023

Great antiquity

It's straightforward to try to evoke antiquity in a story--describe the ruins of something majestic. Ruin and decay are pretty straightforward--the trick is getting across the majesty. You can throw canned phrases at the problem, like Lovecraft at his worst (which was all too often), but try to do better.

The subject of Bombadil came up at the table (wrt movies), and what use he was to the story. I hadn't known where Bombadil came from--AVI notes that Tolkien was good at revising and repurposing.

Bombadil may be the clearest example. Suppose you think that the oldest thing in the universe isn't majesty but joy. That's not the way most of us think, though there's warrant for thinking so. How do you convey that sense of joy so old and strong that the moment's circumstances don't dent it? Tolkien tried hard--maybe the text was more compelling for him than for us. (Some things I've written have turned out that way.)

I'm glad Jackson didn't try to put Bombadil in--I don't think he'd have caught the sense at all. (Not to mention time constraints.)

Thursday, September 07, 2023

"I'm not myself"

In a writer's group meeting tonight, one member shared a journal entry she made during chemo. The key for her was the sense that "I'm not myself." I'll not share details of the situation or her interpretation; that's for her to do. But the sentence says something important. I've been there a few times. (luckily not right now)

When the body won't work right and the mind won't work the way it used to and the emotions are random or out of control, it seems to hammer home just how contingent we are. I might not have existed at all, and I might be very different than I am (or seem to be). "Nice mind you have there. Are you sure you'll get to keep it?" "This must be somebody else; I don't react this way."

The "First Things" for me in the morning is "me waking up", aka "Everywhere I go, there I am." If the fundamental pillar of my world--me--is shaky, my whole universe is.

Some change we're made for, and prompted about, and sometimes supported in--puberty, for example. We're not doing well with the support part lately, but that's another story. But when you can't seem to even think anymore--it's easy to say that the fundamental pillar of your world ought to be God, but it turns out to be hard to make that happen. Your habits are against you. Maybe sometimes we need a shakeup.

Of course in another sense I'm already not myself. There's human nature as designed and human nature as found, and restoration to "factory defaults" is hard and costly. Fortunately most of the cost is borne by someone else.


I suppose the obscured headline on the magazine in the rack was supposed to read "Greatest of All Time". Those who know me can predict that I would take it as "Latest of All Time."

I hate the breathless narrators who puff up this critical event or that as something that "changed history forever." (or "changed his life forever")

Ok. Name three monarchs from the Indus Valley civilization. Just the names; I don't need to know what their great accomplishments were.

Yeah. Forever turns out to be a pretty long time, and even whole civilizations that are only 5 thousand years old can vanish from memory. Western Civ will leave a lot more relics than the Harappans did, but given enough time it could fade. True, we leave lots of writing around, but how many civilizations have cared to try to understand the history of other people's ancestors? Yep, Western Civ. With no Western Civ, who will care?

Half the time I've seen "Greatest of All Time" the writer's scope was pretty limited--"one of the best known recently" would have been more accurate. Most of the rest of the time the comparison is tricky: was Euler a greater mathematician than Erdos? (How would I know--they went after different problems in different eras and they're both way out of my league?)

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

A pier collapsed at UW-Madison Union Terrace

I've never seen it that crowded. I'm not a big "crowd" fan--the only time I've been on that thing school was out and the pier was empty. I was curious what the view was like. No risk of losing a cell phone that long ago--long enough ago that the pier was wood. And none of those kids was even born yet.

UPDATE: FWIW the pier was scheduled to be removed the next day. I wonder if the students knew that and were either a) taking one last stand on it or b) trying to help with dismantling.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

"Ignorance is bliss"

After prayer meeting this morning I brought up the question about why would God need to test us. Doesn't He already know what's in our hearts? Is it because I have to know it? Maybe because testing makes it real, not just potential.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Drone wars

Why Drones Have Not Revolutionized War is a useful read. The authors conclude that drones don't "level the field" that much--the already powerful have the technology and training to leverage the tools better in attack and defense.

On the other hand... Some of the drone attacks on Russia have seemed to push the limits of how far drones can travel, and I've read speculation that some of the drones are launched and controlled from inside Russia. I'm not sure active drone control is a safe thing to do inside Russia, but fire and forget might work.

Damage to factories in the homeland, power lines, fuel depots, bridges--they can be as useful to your adversary as damage to your tanks, though the effect takes a little longer to percolate to the battlefield. They need to be able to supply their infiltrators, and provide training and up-to-date ways to counter your countermeasures.

Some countries would seem more vulnerable to this sort of attack than others: most obviously those with open borders and large foreign populations. Dispersed production is more resilient and harder to defend while centralized production, though you can concentrate your defenses, has more catastrophic consequences when attacks get through (as they will). I don't see how just-in-time systems could stand up to damage well.


I never quite figured out what he thought he was doing, or what would lead him to trust Putin. None of the scenarios people were tossing about seemed to make sense. If it was he aboard the plane, I thought he was supposed to stay in Belarus? It's probably safest to assume that nothing he or Putin said was true.

It would make things nice and lively if the air defense system was supposed to let the plane go through, but somebody had, in the drone vs countermeasures race, figured out how to spoof the system to make it think the plane was a drone. (fast drone, if so) I doubt that many Ukrainians are crying about the results. I'd read that Ukraine had figured out how to make an empty field seem like a drone-controlling station, inducing the Russians to waste a few missiles. Sort of like the doorless microwave in a field the Serbians used against us to the same end.

“There’s a Bene Gesserit saying,” she said. “You have sayings for everything!” he protested. “You’ll like this one,” she said. “It goes: ‘Do not count a human dead until you’ve seen his body. And even then you can make a mistake.”

Whether ghost or in the flesh, he's unlikely to show up on my doorstep, so my confusion doesn't seem to matter much. I'm fortunate to be far enough away.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

War Crimes Court

"First time voters overwhelming back a war crimes court" in Liberia.
Advocates of a court have long argued that justice for war crimes is essential if Liberians are to regain trust in government.

“If a war crimes court comes to Liberia, nobody will steal our country money,” said Amie Y. Wilson, 20, in Joe Bar, Paynesville.


“Justice is good for Liberia’s future because, during the war, some people just decided to hold guns to be firing people. They were killing innocent people so I believe that when they bring the court in this country it will be better for us,” said Oretha Kangomah, 18

My take on it from 13 years ago is that this is eye-wateringly naive.

For many years opponents of a court argued that a court would reignite fighting. That fear was cited by some older generations of Liberians interviewed by FPA/NN over the years. But many first-time voters surveyed said a court was needed to deter future warlords.

The warlords are still there. So are the weapons. Their command infrastructure will have deteriorated over the years, but I'll bet the warlords are making sure their loyal retainers stay bought. Sure, you can offload the actual trial somewhere else, as was done with Charles Taylor, but the US isn't going to send troops to arrest warlords. Actually, I can think of some people in DC stupid enough to try...

Human justice isn't going to prevail here. Maybe in another dozen years you could get away with something like a war crimes court, when it is largely moot. Right now I don't sense that they're as stable as they think they are.

Sunday, August 20, 2023


AVI’s post touching on how much early and middle life matters compared to the end got me wondering about hope.

National Geographic, writing about an Inuit group, described a young man who had killed a polar bear by himself. This is a great accomplishment, one of the greatest available in the culture. Shortly thereafter he killed himself. The journal suggested, based on I know not what personal evidence, that this was in part because he had nothing more to look forward to, that everything in life after this was going to be anticlimax.

It seems a waste of time to try to define hope in some non-circular way–I’ll take it as understood. The object and ground of hope vary.

If your hope is in personal accomplishment, as defined in your culture, what remains for you if your pinnacle is in your youth? You can rest on your laurels, but not hope. Or suppose some impediment prevents accomplishment forever. You need a different target of hope–easy to say, not easy to manage.

My career in physics is over, as far as I can foresee. I cannot hope that what I have helped do will endure, for in large part the results we found are already superseded by more complete studies. I’m hardly alone in this–the same is true for police or soldiers or doctors. Whatever you have done, there will be new crimes, reenergized enemies, fresh diseases. Somebody else has to deal with those. You can hope that they will cope, but that depends on them. You can hope you’ve prepared your children for what lies ahead, but that too depends on them.

There’s hope that depends on my accomplishments, and hope that depends on others’.

There seems also to be another hope–a hope in the graces for the next day. “Graces” because I don’t, or only partly, earn them. It’s a more humble hope–that even if there is nothing I can do or say, I can still enjoy a new day. It’s a humble trust that what I do and trust in will be met with grace. Both my parents died of dementia, which doesn’t augur well for my future, but both seemed to rejoice as best they could in each new day they had, whatever the pains that came with it might be.

We don’t do much without hope. Discouraging reasonable hope in children is a crime. Some hopes are unreasonable–the third son of the peasant is not going to marry a princess–but we tell stories about them anyway, maybe because sometimes their hope shouldn’t be unreasonable. (I don’t remember nearly as many stories about the simpleton marrying the princess, but they’re there too. Wicked hopes are to be defeated, of course.)

unexpected effect

I've had general anesthesia surgery twice before. All I remember of tonsilectomy is a sore throat so bad I did not even want any of the promised ice cream. The shoulder surgery was merely and clearly painful and awkward.

But the torso has many active parts. Is the discomfort from the sutures, from bruising from the inflation they used, from muscle complaining about the alien mesh it has to meld with, or something significant in one of the other organs?

I didn't expect the confusion.

Saturday, August 19, 2023


A federal judge on Friday upheld a finding from the U.S. Copyright Office that a piece of art created by AI is not open to protection. My first reaction was "Good!"

On reflection, there are some complexities here. If you are trying to do your own book covers, you might find these web posts useful. Cover art and More midjourney

Are you back from the rabbit hole yet? Two things stood out:

  • It generally takes some skill and practice to make the AI do something actually useful. That is human ingenuity at work. The AI itself doesn't actually do work in any deep sense: the programmers and the program's users do. Who gets the copyright for this effort? Nobody. (Assuming there is some significant effort. Maybe a generic landscape is all you need.)
  • As illustrated in this link, "None of the images are perfect. They need work before being used." The initial image is not copyrightable, per the copyright office and now the judge, but when you maniplate it with GIMP in some non-trivial ways to make it suit your purpose, you possibly do have something copyrightable. But how much effort is required to make it yours, and how do you then distinguish yours from someone else's who used the same base image?

I think there are still some worms left in the can.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Studies in Words

I referenced this book by C.S. Lewis in the previous post. He meant it as a textbook for literature students. It has moments of his trademark insights and wit. Examples of his broad and detailed reading appear in almost every paragraph.

The book is about the development of the meanings of several words, some of which were used radically differently in other eras, e.g. nature, sad, wit, free. He ends with a chapter on criticism that's worth reading by itself.

I had just enough curiosity about the words and the examples to make it through. I wasn't cut out to be a linguist. If you are, read it. Otherwise just read the last chapter.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

To Lose a Battle

France 1940 by Alistair Horne (orig 1969, updated 1990 with Ultra material).

Why did France collapse so quickly when Germany attacked?

He describes lots of reasons, including bad luck and bad weather, but the critical parts were

  • Lack of preparation:
    • Communists: generically against capitalists at first, then once the USSR allied or close enough to it with Germany, actively sabotaging things
    • Politicians who hated each other more than outsiders were unable to cooperate on programs with no instant political reward
    • Political military leaders. One unexpcted side effect was multiple lines of authority. Another was lies about the true situation, and pretending you knew something when you did not.
    • Trust in their Maginot shield
    • Nowhere nearly enough R&D in aviation, nor capacity to build their own
  • The lowland nations were terrified of seeming non-neutral, which meant they didn't fortify adequately against the Germans, which required battle plans that stationed lots of Allied troops ready to move into an unfortified northwest
  • Lousy communications, with apparently little thought for resilience. During the battles, army groups couldn't communicate with their constituents nor with commanders at critical times
  • Trench-warfare mentality. In a critical moment, when faced with Panzer attack, a French armored division had its tanks split up to cover a front rather than concentrated to counterattack. This seems to have been the default attitude for strategy as well as tactics--with some exceptions.
  • Deception: The German attack through the Ardennes was covered by a "feint" in the northwest. The "feint" was a major attack in its own right, and successfully drew the reserves that way. The Germans broke through in the battle there as well. They feinted at the Maginot Line, and German propaganda threatened to come through Switzerland as well. The French left divisions guarding these that could have been better used elsewhere, though admittedly they weren't the best.
  • Lousy morale.
  • Few people had any clear idea about what tanks and dive bombers could do, especially together.
  • Lack of practice with maneuver, making new air fields, and other such exercises

The German attack through the Ardennes was audacious and risky, and the drive west even more so. Near the end of his life Manstein, the inventor of the Sicelschnitt plan, said "The hopeless French reconaissance won us the Battle of France; just that."

Could be. The Germans had a better organized system, with coordinated air strikes and local air superiority. They might have won in the end anyway.

And Ultra didn't help. The Germans had changed codes, and at the start of the Ardennes strike were using land lines to keep anybody from eavedropping, so there was no way to warn of the start of the invasion, and by the time Ultra messages were getting decoded they were generally not timely, and communications were so poor that sometimes they never got through at all.

In short, the book explains what you probably learned in school, though in school we didn't learn about the mistresses. For a day by day coverage, with background, it's worth reading. Some of the points of failure have parallels today (e.g. political military leaders); some not so much.

It's useful to remember that however powerful you think your army is, somebody has a plan to bring it down--that might actually work. And that your leaders--civilian and military--are just men too, and therefore idiots. And that sometimes a genius one day is a fool the next.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

WW-2 drones and a rabbit hole

We all know about the V1's. Youtube's algorithm threw a peice about WW-2 pilotless planes at me: mostly the TDR-1. It was slow and guided by a "mother ship" flying out of sight behind it. The mother plane monitored where the drone went using a TV camera in the drone's nose.

It wasn't on anybody's short list--cranking out lots of ordinary planes came first, and when we had enough spare capacity it wasn't so vital anymore. And the things were pretty slow and vulnerable to flak. But in their final mission, 31 of 50 drones hit their targets--often by being crashed into them.

The rest of the air force wasn't that accurate, was it? 60% is pretty good! UPDATEOr 46 and 21=45%?

The United States Strategic Bombing Surveys say no, they weren't that good.

Conventionally the air forces designated as "the target area" a circle having a radius of 1000 feet around the aiming point of attack . While accuracy improved during the war, Survey studies show that, in the over-all, only about 20% of the bombs aimed at precision targets fell within this target area. A peak accuracy of 70% was reached for the month of February 1945.

That's hitting within 1000 feet. I don't know if the "hit their targets" metric for the drones was that loose, but the video suggests it was at least sometimes much better

I should not indulge this sort of research when I have to get up early. A few quotes from the report:

Germany was scoured for its war records, which were found sometimes, but rarely, in places where they ought to have been ; sometimes in safe-deposit vaults, often in private houses, in barns, in caves ; on one occasion, in a hen house and, on two occasions, in coffins.

and a note about industrial capacity

Because the German economy through most of the war was substantially undermobilized, it was resilient under air attack.

wrt steel: Germany didn't have to build up as much as fast as the US did, so steel shouldn't have been a bottleneck, but

Although steel was considered a bottleneck by the Germans, a detailed examination of the control machinery together with interrogation of officials in the Speer ministry and its predecessor organizations, reveals that the trouble was partly an inefficient allocation system and partly, in the early years of the war especially, an unwillingness to cut out nonessential construction and civilian consumption . German industrialists were also found to have had a marked propensity to hoard steel.


German steel producers were required by the government to keep records of production losses and their causes. These records show that air raid alerts in 1943 were a more serious cause of the lost production than the actual damage from the raids.

Another oddity: Japan lost 50,000 planes, 60% of them to "training, ferrying, and other noncombat losses". The USA lost 27,000, of which we lost 70% to non-combat losses.

Kamikaze missions had an 18.6% hit rate--we got better at stopping them. Probably the Japanese would have gotten better at stopping drones too.

10.1 millon tons of Japanese shipping was reduced by 8.9 million tons by our actions; about 55% due to subs, 30% to planes, 9% to mines and less than 1% to surface gunfire--the rest to accidents.

And I had not heard before that thanks to disruption of the nitrogen fixing plants, Germany was so low on explosives that they were adding rock salt to shells.

Monday, August 14, 2023


Room temperature superconductivity sounded great. I read the paper, and decided I couldn't comment. Some of their measurements sounded interesting, but the critical bit was a plot of voltage and current--and it didn't look flat in the central region. Almost. Was that because bits of the sample had gone superconductive and other bits in between hadn't? That demanded some experimental work, and I have neither the domain knowledge nor the facilities.

As you all probably know by now, the answer is that nobody's been able to verify it. Too bad.

The high pressure superconductivity looks interesting, though not yet very useful. The pressures required are comparable to those at the Earth's core. I wonder, might the core of some cold moon superconduct as it cooled down? If it had a magnetic field, and if the outer part of the core cooled below the critical temperature while the inner core retained its magnetic field, the Meissner effect would try to expel the field from the outer shell (probably in patches at first)--what would that do to the currents in the inner non-superconducting part of the core?