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...

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Lamotrigine off label

"Scientists switch off autism using lamotrigine" ... well, "Lamotrigine normalized not only the network hyperactivity ... but also several behavioural hyperactivity phenotypes observed in mice."

If researchers mutate MYT1L in mice, they show behaviors like those of humans with autism. Maybe the mechanism is the same in humans, though "the genetic heterogeneity of ASD is enormous, and multiple transcriptional regulators have recently been associated with this group of disorders." as the paper says. The paper is about some mechanisms that might play a role and the effects of lamotrigine on them. If this has similar effects on humans, and if there aren't any unhappy side effects (lots of luck there), and if this represents the important part of the autism impact on humans, and if this works for more than one variety of autism, we've got some interesting progress. But not a "switch".

I suppose it is hopelessly naive to expect headline writers to try to get the facts right.

It is not something I'd try to monkey with, even if lamotrigine were readily available.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Trial balloon

I've been picking up tidbits here and there. Here's my guess. I think the Chinese noticed a hole in our surveillance. It wasn’t useful for offense unless they wanted to start a bio-war, but it was dandy for loitering surveillance. So they did balloons–and our radar, tuned for fast stuff, missed the slow. Somebody eventually spotted one, with the results we know.

In the back rooms some analyst took a hint and started scanning old satellite images, and found that the Chinese had been doing this for a while. Now there are some extremely egg-faced people trying to hide behind the scenes (“You never told us to look for balloons, just nukes!”).

The responsible parties have adjusted their monitoring to spot balloons now, and are seeing lots of things they had been missing before: amateur stuff, research systems where a grad student never got around to filing the flight paperwork, and the odd spy probe here and there.

And to prove that they’re taking the bogeys seriously, they’re shooting them down as fast as they see them. The "never mind" over Lake Michigan suggests that the retuned systems are picking up a significant number of false positives too.

I wondered if the turbulence from a jet, or from its engine, would stress a balloon's fabric inside its lines enough to make major tears, but it occurred to me later that getting that close would put the jet in range of explosives on the balloon; so maybe not such a great idea. But bullets deflate balloons slowly and Sidewinders are expensive--can you think of some better anti-balloon devices? The Flying Ginsu is a bit small, and maybe not great at high altitudes, but something that split up into a whole bunch of short-range flying ginsus might do the job. Or a drone with a retro-rocket in the nose to make a nice blast of hot gas with little burning particles in it to burn through a wider area of the fabric. Proximity detection is a bit of a problem either way.

UPDATE: Chain shot or bolas bursting from the rocket when it got close enough to the balloon would do the job. They needn't be big or strong--given that they have to fall down sometime smaller would be better.

UPDATE*2: The destruction aspect of the problem is easier than a couple other technical aspects: how to home in on and reliably figure the correct stand-off distance on an object that almost isn't there--balloon skin. There's a logistical problem too--we don't generally equip fighters with anti-balloon rockets, so loitering fighters are probably not ready for it.

If you deploy a bola too soon the air resistance on the wire/chain will pull the weights close, losing the wide-cut possibility of the weapon. (From Quora: "Bolo rounds, consisting of multiple balls connected by wire, are sometimes found from boutique ammo makers. They are most effective for separating fools from their money.")

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Chesterton's Fence

Except that I'm sure at least some of those are really not needed.

We take a lot of things for granted

Do you buy medicines over the net? Do you know where they come from, or have the facilities to know what they really are? In Liberia: "When drugs come in illegally they usually find their way to “bucket boys” sellers who peddle medicine from bins in the streets."

I have no way to know what's inside the concrete of a building. In Wisconsin we don't get strong earthquakes: Turkey is another matter "For years, experts warned that many new buildings in Turkey were unsafe due to endemic corruption and government policies." "The BBC examined three new buildings, turned to rubble, to find out what they reveal about building safety." Except, if you read the article, it says nothing about the actual construction--and the reporters were in a position to look at the rubble to count rebar. The tenants who died there weren't. "But the BBC has not been able to verify the construction standards used in this block."

We've an expectation (diminishing, unfortunately) that criminals will be sought and mostly caught and punished. Aside from the connected, that's still mostly the case, though there are plenty of high and low profile counterexamples where criminals go free and the guiltless are punished. But try living in other parts of the world.

And we expect electricity to always be there, or be back soon, and gas to be there, and the stores to have consistent stocks, and the bus to run on time--enough that we get annoyed when it isn't.

We expect most strangers of our tribe to be polite, even friendly.

And we expect that the malicious and pointless destructions of war will never hit our town, our block, our house.

I know plenty of people who think our situation is our natural state, with no sense that gratitude is owed to God or man.

MAID Service

You should read AVI's post. It has a grim graph that shows an ugly rise in doctor/nurse run suicides in Canada.

Yes, I judge that rise to be terrible, in many different ways--and AVI goes over a lot of that, including the "life not worthy of life" (I'm not as polite as he is) aspects.

An unexamined assumption is that you have the right to kill yourself. There's proof of that where, exactly?

The Daily Mail weighed in with an article that includes the news that "Last year, Dr Jennifer Gaudiani, who treats eating disorders, stoked controversy by prescribing lethal doses to three patients with anorexia nervosa". Granted, I understand that the disorder was hard to treat, but disposing of the difficult patients isn't what I'd call a cure either, no matter what it does to your numbers.

And along those lines, one of the arguments I've heard for "gender affirmation" treatment is that the dysphoric feel suicidal. When the hormones and surgeries don't give the relief intended, and the patients still feel suicidal, will doctors suggest "MAID service" to "bury their mistakes?"

Saturday, February 11, 2023


"If there is one thing worse than the modern weakening of major morals it is the modern strengthening of minor morals," ― Poul Anderson

Thursday, February 09, 2023


Chocolate has always been a staple--at least aspirationally. Even things that only distantly resemble it, such as tootsie rolls, those little football eggs that defile Easter baskets, and the 90% cocao tests of fortitude--insofar as they partake of the divine nature of chocolate, they are good.

Long ago, in a Los Angeles far far away, the fanciest chocolate I could find was Hersheys. Not that I could afford it on my allowance, but I could dream and see who was willing to share. (It wasn't until we went to Liberia that I learned of the dear wonders of Toblerone.)

But in the young years, Easter and Christmas were the chocolate times. My sister was terrified of her (foil covered) chocolate Santa. More for the rest of us.

Sometimes chocolate appeared in the ice cream--generally Neapolitan. Vanilla I could understand, but why put that red stuff in there? Make it pure. Make it chocolate.

Lazy Dog

Commander Salamander's post on carrier vs rods from God sent me down rabbit holes again (although not quite as wild an excursion as Lileks' "From Here to There" today--which you should read too).

You know the "penny from a skyscraper" claim--the Lazy Dog project tried it out. Put little fins on a 50cal bullet and drop a whole bunch of them on your enemy's position. Speeds could reach 700 feet per second, which would do a lot of damage--in theory. Apparently there was a surplus of 50cal slugs and a why-not attitude--and they were tested and then tried in combat. reddit's r/WarCollege section (No, I'd never heard of it before either.) has a thread about them. The French tried them against antiaircraft artillery: the Viet Minh didn't offer any reports on how well it worked, but afterwards they "dispersed their antiaircraft batteries." We tried them against an enemy crossing, killed about a hundred, but the enemy got across anyhow. With a fast drop from 75 feet the slugs dispersed to about 8 hits per square yard, which isn't terrible--but that seems kind of a low altitude.

Commander Gary Palmer, who also flew at China Lake (and, like Powell, in Vietnam) said: "We had an idiot concept called Lazy Dog that had 45-caliber slugs with little fins on them. . . . The place we were working [Vietnam] was a jungle. There’s lots of tree branches and stuff. I like things that go ‘boom’ instead of just drop and rain down.".

Ray Powell said "When it hit terminal velocity, it would start tumbling and most of it didn’t even break that plastic [target] panel. It hit flat on it."

Maybe other shapes than those based around bullets would be better--maybe something to spin them a bit so they don't tumble so much? If you want to play with the aerodynamics yourself, DoD released the results.

Improper valuation

Over at Chicago Boyz a post and thread on slavery and the Civil War got me noodling around to see if I had ever figured out how much of the drop in wealth in the South was due to destruction and opportunity cost of war, and how much to the disappearance of the "wealth" value of the slaves. Apparently I didn't, and there's quite a bit of research and back and forth on the subject.

Studies of things like census records suggest that the South had per capita wealth almost twice the North, with claims of less income inequality. Income inequality is lower in rural areas, and the South was more rural than the North, but I'd love to see histograms rather than averages. And to what degree the bigger boys were also more indebted. Apparently Olmstead's observations are not supposed to tell the whole story--though he was there and the new researchers weren't.

Anyhow, a population of 5.5M free (3.5M slave) with a per capita wealth for the free of about 1040, gives about 5.7 billion dollars, and estimates of the value of slaves run from about 3 to 3.5 billion. So that's about a 50-60% drop in net "wealth". A wicked bubble.

An unexpected oddity--I added a LaTeX app to the blogsite so I could write equations more easily, and that turns the dollar sign into math-mode start/stop. Just a heads-up if you were planning to do the same.

Speaking of studies

A new study! There's a diet for brain boosting (or at least not depriving the brain)! Summary--they think we don't get enough choline, and the brain needs it. Though curiously enough the serum choline levels are generally pretty stable...

So, I should get more in my diet, right? What could possibly go wrong?

My brain works well enough to let me know that one attack of gout was plenty, thank you kindly.

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

If it sounds like something your grandmother would agree with

The psychology study is more likely to be reproducible--be right. "Most intriguingly, they found that papers which received more media attention were less likely to replicate. News outlets tend to favor counterintuitive and eye-catching findings." In other words, probably wrong.

The best field for successful replication was personality studies, at about 50:50, while social psychology or behavioral studies were about twice as likely to be wrong (irreproducible) as right.

I don't recall who coined the "grandmother test" (it sounds like something AVI would say), but it goes like this: If she'd say "I could have told you that!" the study is probably right, and if not, be very skeptical.

Monday, February 06, 2023

Artificial um.. intelligence...

NPR has an amusing report on what happened when ChatGPT was asked to explain or design rockets. "ChatGPT – the recently released chatbot from the company OpenAI – failed to accurately reproduce even the most basic equations of rocketry. It wasn't the only AI program to flunk the assignment. Others that generate images could turn out designs for rocket engines that looked impressive, but would fail catastrophically if anyone actually attempted to build them."

The bottom line is that the AI engines are trained to look at correlations between words/ phrases/ shapes/ vectors. (A vector is a set of numbers. It could include a count of bushels of potatoes, Chase holdings of rubles, the number of shark attacks this year, phase of the moon and number of estimated voters in Sierra Leone. It isn't just a direction in 3-space.) The ChapGPT is designed to use words to express those correlations in turn. Others produce images for output.

I think we've been trying to duck philosophical questions about the nature of understanding or learning, and the nature of man. Instead we've used a purely mechanical model, to try to fit in with a purely mechanistic universe. It seems easier than trying to figure out what learning is (e.g. Socrates' Meno)--it just doesn't seem to work very well. Some things are fairly easy to deal with--similar-sounding things aren't, as XKCD notes.

Perhaps it would help if we tried to categorize problems as "tractable using only correlations and statistics" and "not trivially tractable."

You could counter that a dozen years ago we would have classified chess games as an example of the latter, but that using randomly generated games scored by chess's rule for victory, a computer was able to learn to play skillful chess.

Look at the rocket assignment. It was given to an AI which was not trained on physics texts but on more general writing. If you picked a different training set you'd be able to get accurate results. The chess program was trained using a selected set of rules--for chess, and did not include the rules and scoring for Go. To get accurate results from either project, you need humans to select the criteria for the training. Without a standard for accuracy, the rocket chat was taking what people on the net had written (IIRC; could be wrong about the training), which was a mix of sloppiness and precision.

Tests showed that the ChatGPT system as initially offered had some dramatic biases on political topics--whether this was inadvertent (sloppy training set) or deliberate I don't know, though years in academia leave me with some suspicions.

With humans involved you can get invidious biases as well as accurate ones. Without humans involved in the selection you can get rubbish.

If such a chatgpt is going to be accurate and useful on some subject, the training set needs to be appropriate, and the data set either needs to be accurate (on the whole) for that subject, or with clear enough clustering that the system can crank out "there are disagreements, and here they are." It seems you can also create surprisingly good boiler-plate text to go with the text. If you design it to not return certain classes of answers you'll have side effects.

Fresh insight? I haven't seen any. Possibly there are connections that it could find: A relates to B, but also sometimes to C; or A relates to B which relates to C. But I'd have to evaluate the claims myself to be sure. And how does my evaluation differ from that of the correlator?

That's the question, isn't it?

Under what conditions can we use an uninspected data set?

  • If I want to collect information so I can evaluate it ourselves, I could ask the program to give me the associated extra information so I can evaluate the data set too. For example, trying to predict election results based on Facebook "likes" is futile unless you know how people not on Facebook differ from those who are--and how the people who bother with "likes" differ from those who don't (guilty).
  • If my question does not matter, because it is for amusement, or because I forgot a detail and don't care about the rest of the answer.
  • When there are multiple answers all equally valid. (What's the best fruit?)
  • When there is a single universally known answer (Where does the Sun appear to rise?).
  • When the correlations demand no new (to me) insight. I'm not sure how to quantify this one, because some insights are already out there, along with statements of some form of my problem. The AI will scoop them up or not depending on how its internal numbers shake out--not whether the insights are coherent. I suspect this isn't quantifiable at all--it needs real understanding, and not mere correlations, to have insight.
  • I understand my own question. Questions that sound very similar can have wildly different answers. Does the AI have the training to distinguish similar questions, despite their strong correlations? And know when it doesn't matter?
  • I'll be satisfied with an average of what a bunch of people might say.

Going back to my test: write a poem in the style of The Barrel-Organ by Alfred Noyes. The original used long and strongly rhythmic lines--the AI didn't notice. The original flips scenes and meters between the city and the park--the AI picked a single different meter. The original speaks of the individual pains of passers-by--the AI was generic. It did pick up on one of the themes (people react to the music) and added a detail (the player packs up to go home). You could modify the AI to look for these kinds of details and register them--but would it then be suitable for writing a summary of cotton imports in Surinam? (Yes, with epicycles: Keyword "summary" → "discard report format details")

I can see uses for such a system in shaping searches, and apparently the big tech boys see it too ("New Bing", and Google's "Bard"). I assume their tools would be at the disposal of the Chinese government, and any others that care to try to shape local opinion.

High-context language

"Cultivation fiction"/xianxia is a popular genre that I haven't dipped into. Writer Benjamin Cheah is fed up with sloppy pastiches of it. He tries to connect Sapir-Whorf, high-context languages, and Daoism/Buddhism, along the lines that a high-context language tends to demand a more integrated/embedded understanding, with more indirect communication--and that this makes internal-oriented religions easier, and forms the framework for real "cultivation" and "cultivation fiction."

Strictly speaking, Buddhism was devised in Sanskrit and not Chinese, and from the fact that the oldest grammar is of Sanskrit I suspect it is a "low-context" (more explicit) language.

And poetic and mystical forms are, as far as I can tell, found in all languages, so I'd say that "high-context" forms can be used to describe the numinous in any language.

Still, it's an interesting take on languages.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

I didn't know he'd written more

(The lyric transcriber misspelled Andrew Wiles name, unfortunately.)


Our military is supposed to (in between bouts of self-flagellation) make plans for defending against and defeating enemies known and potential. I'm told we entered a world war with a North Atlantic naval plan in the safe to fight Britain, but not Germany. Somebody fell down on the job.

One of my favorite scenes (at the time) from movie Marooned was the supervisor explaining that the checklist was going to take too long to make the deadline, and the manager taking the checklist book from him and throwing it away and announcing that "We're going to find out if the redundant systems work." Or words to that effect; I decline to try to find and re-watch it to get it exact

Since then I've been part of starting complicated systems myself, and seen from afar how regularly NASA hits glitches in its countdowns--not infrequently serious enough to demand delays. No, you can't skip the checklists; and sometimes A, B, and C have to be done sequentially.

Ars Technica has a very interesting article (updated from 2014) on whether Columbia's crew could have been saved by sending up Atlantis.

Maybe. If there were no major glitches (fuel valve issues are what I remember as most common). If the last CO2-poisoned astronauts could have donned the complex spacesuit successfully. If Atlantis didn't have foam damage too. (NASA had had 6 foam incidents before.) If NASA already had a plan in the safe.

For the rest of the shuttle flights (except the last), they did.

One of my responsibilities for some years was the backup of our servers. We spent a fair bit of money on it, and it took a little time, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times we needed the system--and just as many incidents where people wrote to areas they were warned weren't backed up. I also had a role in disaster planning--and of course the disaster we had wasn't one of those we'd planned for (we couldn't afford the necessary redundancy anyway). Disaster planning feels a bit like make-work, especially when nothing bad happens. It's an easy expense to put off for another fiscal year, and "something went weird with the kubernetes servers this morning" too.

I suppose you can fail in the other direction too--creating new bureaucracies to be ready for an ever-expanding list of potential problems. And they'll each itch to justify their existence by spotting their target problem under every rug. Oh well.