Sunday, April 21, 2024

Blogging as essay format

"For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you're taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay-writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays." The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis

I wonder what he'd have thought of blogging. He wrote a pretty fair number of essays himself, many still eagerly read.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Magic servants

If you didn't have electricity, or natural gas/oil, or gasoline, how many servants would you need to maintain your current lifestyle? (Setting aside things like e.g. air travel) There are lots of things that we don't have to do ourselves because our magic servants do it for us.
Cooking?Somebody needs to chop the firewood, and maybe cook for the others
Hot bath?Chop wood, heat water and bring the water to you
Washing clothes?Part time washer, maybe more to wash for the others. Hot water needed too
Driving?Somebody to maintain the carriage, take care of the horses, clean up
Internet?Somebody to run to the library to ask your questions
Warm in winter?More wood chopping, and you might a lot of it if your house is big. Also extra cleaning because of smoke residues
Cool in summer?Need a big house for tall rooms, big windows, which implies extra cleaning from critters and pollen getting in
Phone calls?Messengers
Water the lawn?Fetch lots of water from the well

At first it looks manageable--you don't need a full-time wood chopper in summer--but washing and cleaning time adds up, and since you're providing lodging for them you need more servant time to take care of the others. Maybe you and your neighbors could board horses in a single neighborhood facility and split the costs, but your current lifestyle presumes the convenience of instant use of a vehicle.

I'm guessing at least 3.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024


A cousin spent some time digging around her family trees. The oldest record she found was a court record from England several centuries back. An (probably, records aren't always reliable) ancestor of hers had blocked off a public road and was charging tolls.

I just paid the second of the Houston toll bills. We've been using I-Pass, but Texas doesn't recognize that, and Houston has at least two independent toll systems.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Self sealing fuel tanks

I'd read about them in WWII history. Here's a history.
One of the chief difficulties encountered in cooling gasoline by dropping dry ice into it lay in the fact that as the dry ice extracted the heat from the gasoline, gaseous carbon dioxide was liberated and in the process caused heavy boiling of the gasoline. While we could reach the desired temperatures very quickly by using adequate amounts of dry ice, we were limited to the amount which would not cause all of our gasoline to bubble away and be lost. ... This same effervescing of the carbon dioxide from the cold gasoline caused us no end of trouble in keeping filling connection caps on the tanks during gun-firing tests.

Yes, they had to test the self-sealing in cold as well as hot; rubber gets brittle in the cold.

The British shot down so many German airplanes over England that it is reputed that they were in a position to supply the Turkish Government with spare parts for the airplanes which the latter had procured earlier from the Germans.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Teaching mathematics

"Every working mathematician knows that if one does not control oneself (best of all by examples), then after some ten pages half of all the signs in formulae will be wrong and twos will find their way from denominators into numerators." version

(The Cours de M Hermite so highly praised here seems not to be in English.)

Prince Caspian

While checking a pacing question, I read a bit of Prince Caspian last night(*). It was never my favorite--the kids didn't have much to do except issue an improbably accepted challenge, and the long flashback was offputting the first time I read it. This writer explains more precisely. It's better than the movie, which is a low bar. I get the attempt to illustrate "You need not fight in this battle; take your position, stand and watch the salvation of the LORD in your behalf" sort of ideas, but it doesn't make for a very interesting story.

At any rate, the answer to my pacing question is that I have a bit of revising to do.

(*) Bronchitis makes composition, or much of any creative work, hard.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

When fighting starts

Buffet said that when the tide goes out you discover who was swimming naked.

I've not learned much in the past few years to encourage great faith in our upper level defense establishment. I'm not a prophet--I don't know how wild this is going to get--but I suspect that if things get bad we're going to learn some unhappy things about our military. (Including the "even if you have overwhelming force stashed somewhere, it takes a long time to position it" law that lots of us civilians forget about.)

We've some nice hardware, but Ukraine should have warned us that a war runs through supply really fast. The Houthis were running through some of our ships' defense material pretty fast--can we resupply quickly?

I wonder if we'll learn the right lessons. Screw-ups and heirs-of-screw-ups are generally good at plausible excuses, if nothng else.

I wonder if Arthur Clarke's short story Superiority is required reading in military colleges.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024


I missed last totality--my wife had had knee surgery and couldn't travel comfortably. We showed the partial off to people around us last time, in 2017. It seemed odd to me that in downtown Madison, there were adults walking about who had no idea what was going on that day, and who were astonished and pleased to be able to see it through a pair of those goggles.

My wife's experience was different. She was working with an ESL student, going over some exercises and helping keep the lady's daughters entertained by looking at the eclipse from time to time. Other kids came by. "Kids under 11 thought looking through the glasses was cool. Girls over 11 thought looking through the glasses was cool. Boys over 11 looked at their Big Bug to make sure looking would be cool, and when he demurred, they went on their way. 15 minutes later one of the boys showed up alone and begged to look, and 10 minutes after that a second one came."

This year I was the sick one--nasty persistent cough. However, I noticed that it was worse when I lay down and better sitting or standing, so we headed for Taylorville Sunday afternoon (and got there rather late). We got up at 5 to leave at 7 for the revised destination of a state park south of us, realized it was not quite in the centerline (and some of it was closed to boot!), and went back to our original target of Olney. Traffic proved quite light. In town one Baptist church advertised an "Eclipse party" but we stuck with our idea of trying a natural area so we could hear the wildlife, so we went to the wildlife refuge at the east edge of town. So, over the course of the day, did a number of other Wisconsin-ites, and Champaign-ites, and Decatur-ites. I'd picked Olney as a big enough town and roughly equidistant from metropolitan areas, and it seemed to work out fine.

There was a bit of a line for the restroom, but not terrible, and plenty of room to spread out--though latecomers had to park on the road. As occultation began we carried our chairs into the woods to a clearing where Merlin had ID'd a dozen birds, and we'd seen a few silent ones (e.g. a heron) as well.

The light changed, and my wife got pictures of buds and sunning turtles and trees in different lightings. When it got too dark the flash went off for her picture and the turtles scampered into the lake.

It's funny how much we count on some things just being there: it feels like a more profound loss than just light as the "wolf eats the last bits of the sun". What would we do without it? The shadows on the clouds moved in. (There was a light haze above us.)

A friend said he felt a little breeze as totality began; we didn't. He said the birds went silent. Most did, but the tufted titmouse didn't miss a beat. It makes a huge noise for such a little bird. (We used the Merlin recording feature to hear the birds before and during totality to be sure.)

And we got to see the Sun with her hair down, and a couple of little pink pyramids of light just above the Moon's surface. I was awed and fascinated enough that I forgot to take pictures--it would have seemed like a distraction.

Afterwards we hung around town for another hour, and then went to the town park to see if we could see the famous white squirrels of Olney (my wife knew about them; I didn't). We spotted a few draped on branches high above the recent infestation of dogs and urchins in the park.

The traffic back home was mostly not terrible (except in a few places), but not good either, and we didn't get to bed until 1:30. The cough is worse, unfortunately, so I think I'll post this and go back to bed again.

And yes, somewhere across the lake it had sounded like someone was firing a shotgun to scare away the wolf eating the sun. I guess they succeeded.

A not-so-good example

I've heard the wheelbarrow story for ages. You know the one: a tightrope is stretched across Niagara Falls, and a daredevil walks over and back with a pole. Then he does it without a pole. Then he does it pushing a wheelbarrow. Then he does it balancing the wheelbarrow on his head. Then he does it pushing the wheelbarrow full of a couple hundred pounds of bricks. The crowd cheers each time. He asks the crowd, "Do you believe I could push a man across the falls in this wheelbarrow?" "Yes," is the answer. He addresses the nearest man who said yes: "Get in the wheelbarrow."

The lesson drawn is about faith, and the difference between thinking something and being willing to follow through.

OK, ok, but look at it a different way. What's the benefit? The daredevil gets acclaim when he pushed the bricks across the falls--"What a wonderful man to be able to do that!"--but nobody cares about the bricks. If you get in, the daredevil gets the glory, and you get the "He's a very trusting soul" reaction. And the downside is that every now and then you get a wind gust, and a very intimate view of the falls.

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Looking backward

I cleaned up a shelf of accumulated documents yesterday, and among the items I found a 50-year old notebook of mine, with essays on this and that, a talk I was going to give, the beginnings of a few stories, and some math problems that amused me at the time.

We've a grandkid almost as old as I was when I wrote that.

I was struck by a few things--how much better my handwriting was then, and how pompous some of my phrasing was. I'd write on those topics much better now--and did, sometimes several times. I was young enough to know everything, I guess. The story fragments weren't memorable, and I know how organizations work much better now. And the math problems were going at them the wrong way.

It feels strange; would I have liked the old me if we met now? I didn't care for his work; trashed it.

Thursday, April 04, 2024


The World War 2 Museum in New Orleans was worth visiting. Yes, it took more than a day to cover. If it had told the viewpoints of more countries it would probably have taken weeks.

I gather that they have a large collection of personal stories--many of which are integrated into the displays. We didn't see all of the displayed ones. I should contact them and see if there's internet access to their archives.

In one auditorium they ran video distillations of interviews with concentration camp liberators and inmates. Horror and anger and disbelief on one side, and joy, numbness, and disbelief on the other. One stuck with me:

An American told a hungry Jewish prisoner that he was free to leave the camp now, and that he'd be happy to take him to get some food. The man thanked him, and in the interview told us the rest of his story, as he explained it to his liberator. (My quotation will not be perfect.)

Here I was a slave. Not a Jewish slave; a slave. If they gave me non-kosher food, I had to eat it or die. If they said work, I had to work or die. If they said work on Shabbat, I had to work on Shabbat or die. But you have come, and now I am a free man. It is Shabbat, and a free man does not have to travel on Shabbat. I will stay here one more day.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

'as I have loved you"

"This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you."

We look at this in retrospect, knowing how Jesus showed His love next. No doubt He meant them and us to look at it that way thereafter, and that's the most important aspect to meditate on. But... how would they have herd it then?

How had He loved them so far?

He condescended. That's not available to us, since we're equals. Last time I checked, I wasn't God. But I can try to give up some of my pride.

He was patient. He reproved, but didn't give up on the disciples. We can try to do this, too, though within the church sometimes we have to exercise some discipline.

He protected them. We usually don't have that requirement or option.

He taught them. Teachers among us do so, but most of us are not in that kind of position vis a vis each other. I've taken the approach that everyone has something to contribute sometime or other in Bible study, and most everybody does eventually, but it's easy to spot the teachers.

He shared with them--apparently others provided most of the time.

He encouraged them ("You will see greater things than this", "I will make you fishers of men"). We don't read of many examples, but they act as though He was encouraging them, along with the recorded rebukes. We can do that.

He offered fellowship to Judas one last time, and the advice not to dwell on what he was about to do and deepen the sin. We can, when it isn't damaging the church.

He called them from many jobs, not just religious ones, and called them friends. I think we can handle this one too.

Looking at the list, I think Jesus was referring to love shown in unrecorded incidents; the kind of environment of little things that makes such a big thing.

And then there's Good Friday, which overtops them all.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Naming my designs

I was seven when National Geographic printed an article on the X-15. That seemed the coolest thing ever, and I promptly got pencil and paper and made a drawing of my own rocket airplane. With the naive confidence so cute in little boys (and so horrible in politicians and generals) I figured that the only thing it needed now was a name in order to be a complete design. The "X" series was in use already, so I picked "V" and explained to my father that this was a picture of a "V-1." I didn't quite follow all his earnest explanation, but I gathered that the name had already been used, likewise the "V-2", and that it would be much better if I didn't try to use anything in that series of names.

I mulled this over for a moment. "Y" just sounded weird, and "Z" too final. I asked if "W-2" would work as the name for my rocket plane.

My father was working as an accountant at the time. I don't remember if he laughed.

Monday, March 25, 2024


The penny finally dropped. I'd wondered why DEI seemed to be such a cult, overriding any human or observational law and even laws of logic. (In my defense, I never took Latin.)

Friday, March 22, 2024

Muddy speakers

I have heard muddy PA announcements too often. Sometimes it has been a lousy speaker, but often these days it is the room response doing strange things with the frequency mix. High frequencies may get absorbed, low ones echo, and the distortion makes it hard to distinguish words. The room response varies from place to place, and on how many people are in the room, which complicates matters, but for the moment just consider the average.

Suppose you could measure the room response, and use a "smart" speaker that included a correction for that. You send a digital signal, a chipset uses a programmable correction template and produces an output that would sound OK for that room. People will measure your room response for you. Invert that distribution (with cutoffs) and download it into a smart speaker, and you should get clearer messages. The only thing missing is the smart speaker technology--doable, but is it doable cheaply, and is it durable/robust over time and voltage spikes?

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Code of the Street

by Elijah Anderson (1999) This is ghetto Philadelphia from 25-30 years ago. Does it still apply? Probably, the situations and attitudes are self-reinforcing. Is it worse now? The trends were bad when he wrote it, and the politics of race turned pretty bad in the intervening years.

The labels the people in the area used were "decent" and "street," with meanings you can guess easily enough. The "street" boys and young men (growing old can be a challenge) live and die by respect and lack of it. Always being ready to violently defend your status puts a strain on everyone, including the "decent" kids who have to live in the mess--and who have to "look the part" to avoid being preyed on. It isn't entirely "all against all"--sometimes your family members will come out to avenge your injury or death, no matter the facts of the case. The dead are eulogized--everybody pretends they were good people.

Of course the more girls you get to have your babies, the higher your status is--among the other young guys on the street. The girls tend to get pregnant early, unmarried, and very often never-to-marry. Having a baby puts the young woman among the adults--whether she likes it or not. This was at a transition time of "welfare to work," and the welfare check expectation was changing--Anderson didn't know what was going to happen.

There is/was some respect for the older "decent" men who took no nonsense from their families or the street, but not enough to protect them. The "Grandmothers" still have some power--they can coordinate support from family members. However, with the increase in crack addiction, many of the grandmothers are also snared and useless.

At the time crack was a huge problem. I assume new stuff has taken its place. The appeal of the fast life as a dealer is huge, and some even retain a glimmering of a conscience--some dealers were known to return half of a woman's money when they found she'd spent the kids' food money on drugs. Most don't, and try to get anybody, even family members, hooked.

Most decided that the police don't care about investigating crimes--they have to fend for themselves. Given that they also don't talk to the police (as a rule), it's not surprising that the police don't bother wasting their time.

Outsiders have no idea who is "decent" and who is "street", and who is straddling the border of the categories. Not unexpectedly, they don't want to hire "street" and will write off anybody who looks the part or has a bit of a record. Since carrying a gun there is probably wise whether you're "street" or not (I would), it's easy to get snagged by unlawful carry laws and wind up with a record.

As an aside, several police departments have gotten rid of their gang registries--which seemed utterly mad when I first heard of it, and seems even crazier after having read this book. Most people don't cause problems--even in the ghetto. It would be nice to be able to sort out who's who after a stop.

He includes a number of individual stories, generally sad.

The "decent" folk concentrate on individual responsibility. Anderson brings up economics (almost no jobs available) and racism. He touches briefly on how those problems are fed by the crab-bucket "street" culture--nobody wants to hire "street", and the quickest ID is "black with street accent/clothes". And the price of expanding a business in the city being astronomical, businesses move to where the land is cheap and the taxes not so high--tough if you can't catch a bus to get there or need a second car.

OK, nothing unexpected in the book. I borrowed it precisely in order to learn about who, besides the most short-tempered thugs, the street respected, and how: The old heads and the grandmothers. That was interesting, though the trends were discouraging. He claimed that the framework for being hair-trigger, once understood/internalized, helped keep the violence lower than you'd expect. However, "an armed society" doesn't have to be a "polite society."

I was also hoping to learn if there were rules for courtesy. That didn't seem to be a focus of the book.

Naturally one wonders if the material is dated, or biased in some way. I looked around a bit to see what people thought of it. So far it seems to have held up well, though there are some subtleties about women and violence that didn't appear in the book--if they're real.

Monday, March 18, 2024

math creativity

Most mathematicians, like chess players, do their best work young. Not always, though. Claire Voisin describes mathematical creativity.

And yes, sometimes time at work is spent beating one's head against the wall in a fog, and clear thinking comes when you're walking or doing something completely different. I've had lots of great ideas come while I was in a worship service. I don't know if that's supposed to be a gift or a distraction...

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Poor Irish immigrants

But not always, apparently. Tyler Anbinder got ahold of bank records, which included quite a bit of info about the people who held the accounts. "four in 10 day laborers could end up in white-collar jobs"

What winds up in a jewelry box

Some jewelry, of course, including some necklaces that seemed like a good idea at the time but didn't get worn. Mali beads. My father's ruptured duck. And some coins.

These were easy to identify, except for the Louisiana public welfare tax token. Apparently those aluminum coins were for paying sales tax on small purchases where the sales tax was less than a cent. I'd not heard of them before, but my father must have used them.

And a couple of replicas of a bronze coin from Bar Kokhba, though I suspect these are replicas of a coin minted late in the war when they needed lots of money and weren't so careful about the dies.

Several daughters make art, and we have some African friends who might enjoy some of the necklaces. I gather that certain colors and styles go with different face shapes and hair colors and outfits, though I never got the hang of how that works.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

16 days early?

Platinum-crystal hydrogen fuel cells work more efficiently with caffeine. At least on the P(111) and P(110) crystal faces; on the P(100) face the caffeine molecules attach with a bad angle.

The coffee jokes write themselves.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Unexpected finds

We opened her car's hood so I could help youngest daughter replace a headlight bulb. Over in the opposite corner, near the A/C, we found wedged the bulk of a sandwich roll (one chunk soaked with water, the other parts dried crispy). The last oil change was a few months ago, but the bread wasn't moldy at all.

I hope this didn't reflect a culture of over-rushing work at the repair shop. I wouldn't care to eat while working on an oily car.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Naval Traditions

I'd heard of pollywogs and shellbacks. Apparently there are more traditions than the crossing the equator one: "blue nose", "red nose", and "Sea Squatter", among others. The opening paragraph about "rum, sodomy, and the lash" probably couldn't be penned today: it talks about vices.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Emblems of Texas

I gather that visitors to Texas are required to make a pilgimage to the Alamo. I was AWOL on that one. Another, possibly more important requirement, is to visit Buc-ee's. This we did. My impression was of a bigger and more open--friendlier--Walmart, but with a startling amount of "cult" merchandise. My wife got sensory overload quickly; neither of us having quite this reaction. The restrooms were as clean as advertised.

I wonder if the Texas enthusiasm will translate to Wisconsin--they're planning to build one in DeForest. That's not a huge trek, but Walmart and Target and Kroger and Menards and Woodmans and FleetFarm(*) are all closer to me. Midwest practical ... a "one stop for everything" has its appeal, but several of the listed places try for that title too.

(*) Not the same as Farm and Fleet, a similar but unrelated store not much farther away.

Monday, March 11, 2024


The trip reached everyone we had scheduled to meet and a few relatives we hadn't, and almost all the proposed sights along the way. Pretty much all trip's the surprises were pleasant--except for discovering that the A/C+heater system in the car suffers from a common problem with the Caravan/Voyager line--one of the internal control doors won't budge from the "full hot" position. We had to drive with a window open to keep from roasting. Testing the A/C isn't something you usually do in wintertime...

It gets tiresome only meeting distant relatives at funerals. This was a happier occasion.


The sermon was on the bronze serpent, about how the serpents weren't elminated, but their effect was made easily healable. I got the idea that this was set up in the center of the camp--which is perfectly logical, and would even carry a message to these not-quite-yet-monotheists: "The center of the camp is where God is, and the bronze serpent reminds us of Who sent this plague (and why) and that if we turn and look to where He is He'll freely heal us."

Well, it almost certainly was set up there, but I made the mistake of checking it out before commenting. I will in charity decline to link to numerous sites that interpolate "in the middle of the camp" when quoting Numbers, but Blue Letter Bible seems to indicate that that phrase isn't there.


Thursday, March 07, 2024

Thanks to first responders

Like Grim. Traffic was stopped for an hour and a half on I65 north at about 318 last night with a 3-vehicle accident: a semi smashed the guard rail on a bridge to flinders. Then the fire and rescue truck that showed up to help was hit by a car. No injuries, but it emphasizes that those guys have a risky job.

Sunday, March 03, 2024

A few thoughts on lesser aspects of the Transfiguration

Why Moses and Elijah? Why not others--Abraham, or Isaiah?

In one sense Abraham and Isaac are present already--in their descendants. In another sense the Father and the Sacrificial Son who are present remind us of Abraham and Isaac who so distantly pre-figured them.

Moses brought the Law, Jesus fulfilled it, embodies it.

Moses had no known grave and Elijah of course had none--both were taken from human knowledge and are returned here together, the resurrected and never-dead together.

Elijah was to be the forerunner of the new representative of God that Moses prophesied. He appears here to salute the new Law and new Lawgiver--and also the little christs who would go on to spread the word and become the new humanity--the church.

This church is represented by 3 men--one who is killed young, his brother who lives a long life and dies naturally, and a third who was executed later after having had a great deal more apparent influence than the one who died young. I have no hard knowledge, but all three were sent, and all three seem to have been largely faithful. Peter had an early dramatic example of not being faithful, and of being forgiven. I suspect all of them benefitted from similar forgiveness later in life as well, as we also hope to.

Peter reflects us and our usual response--make a memorial to capture the uncapturable event.

A word to the wise.

It may be overcast, and be early March, but you can still get sunburned sitting hatless through the 20'th birthday party of an 80-year old submarine. And get mosquito-bit watching for aquatic birds afterwards. (The party was a couple of days late and was an unexpected surprise during our visit to Galveston.) One does not generally get mosquitoes in Wisconsin in Feb/Mar

Friday, March 01, 2024

Houston Space Center

The Space Center at Houston is worth visiting. I’d never seen a Saturn V in person. It’s amazing. It’s also sad to see the corroded electronic cards and chassis; you start to wonder if we could ever do it again. Well, Artemis/Orion has launched once, but there’s not the same drive or, I fear, vision.

We had an overhead tour of the training area. One section of the floor had gratifyingly cluttered benches and desks, but quite a bit of the area’s desks were clean. The spiel of the guide on the tram included the cheerful assertion that the goal was to have a woman person of color on the Moon.

NASA has a bit of a history of trumpeting its "firsts", no matter the details or the significance, so this kind of foolishness has some precedent. But in an era of greater budget squeezes and no great obvious public enthusiasm for the project (or, I'm afraid, clear science or exploration objectives), it seems remarkably stupid to advertise a science/technology project as a social engineering project. The people most interested in "diversity and reparations quotas" would find this a rather inefficient use of money–much better if the money went to projects easier for them to govern.

On the brighter side, there must have been about 400 youngsters there from schools in Texas and several nations south of the border, in brightly color-coded shirts, apparently having a blast. The James Webb lecture was a LCD talk, but with some gorgeous before and after photos. There were lots of hands-on things for the kids, and some of the grownups, and tons of artifacts.

One thing they can do better is the signage. What’s there is OK, but if, for example, alongside the "this is a rocket nozzle from a Saturn V" they had a second poster with a line drawing of the nozzle with important parts labeled, that would satisfy the “general interest” people, but also give more explanation for those who are curious how the thing actually worked. (They often has a provenance explanation.)

Come to think of it, a display of how a rocket motor works is something I didn’t see there. It would best be shown with an animation–several stations for the different kinds of rocket. Maybe I just missed that section–it’s a large place. "How a simple rocket works" could be another display–like a water rocket. It might be too mechanically complex to be a reliable exhibit, though. But…

You’d need a clear plastic rocket (replaced regularly thanks to fatigue), captive to a guide rod. (Or maybe inside a clear pipe? Wear would make the pipe less than transparent after a while). At the bottom something presses it down (a hold-down) onto a plug that corks the bottom of the rocket. Through the plug run two tubes, one long and reaching almost to the top of the inside of the rocket (for air), and the other just inside the bottom (for water). Open the air valve to let air escape, and force water in at the bottom. Then shut the water valve, and force air in until the rocket is pressurized. Release the hold-down, and the air forces the water out and the rocket flies up to the top of the exhibit.

The constraining device would wear (or the rocket plastic distort), and eventually the rocket wouldn’t fall exactly back down where it ought to–so you’d need some guides at the bottom of the system to encourage the rocket to land properly. And some sensors so you don’t have to rely on timing to bring the hold-down into action (suppose wear on the constraining tube makes the rocket fall too slowly). And if this can be cycled once a minute, that’s about 600 launches a day–which is likely beyond the endurance of the toy models. NASA has bunches of engineers–or used to, anyway--so this should be solvable.

Another thing that cried out for explanation was why the instrument panel control switches had guards around them. Adults can guess, if they didn’t know already, but a sentence to explain it to the kids would be nice.

Also, a cartoon of what banks of instrument switches were for what would be nice for adults too. When you can’t read the labels it looks like this.

The atmosphere was upbeat–no mentions of why things failed when they failed, unless it was accompanied by a description of how they managed to fix it (e.g. the solar panel on Skylab, or the CO2 scrubber on Apollo 13.

I’m glad we went.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

They that make them will become like them

Kristor at Orthosphere has a series of posts on “Anselmian Skeleton Key”, in which he attempts to demonstrate the existence or at least plausibility of a god along the lines of the Christian understanding of God.

His problem is that a demonstration is not convincing, since to be convinced requires assent by the “convincee”.

If the “convincee” thinks the price of changing gods is too high (it might include admitting that he was wrong!), or the risk too great, his “most important”/”greatest thing in the universe” won’t change.

What does it mean to me if I believe that something is the most important thing in the universe? On reflection, it needn’t mean anything unless it is also the most important thing in “my universe.”

I could claim, for instance, that the most important/greatest thing in the universe is Cygnus X-3. It’s the center of the universe (so is anywhere else, of course) and a thing of immense power–nothing in our galaxy comes close. Yet I cannot even see it; nothing it is doing has any bearing on me (yet!), nor does anything I do have any bearing on it. It makes no demands of me, offers no benefits. It is King Log–or perhaps I should say “God Log.” In “my universe” the Earth and Sun are more important–I rely on them every day–as are other things like my wife and home and even my library.

I could claim that the deist god is the ultimate. The Watchmaker non-interventionist god makes no more demands on my life than does Cygnus X-3, though it does help my mind understand the world better, and begin to understand understanding.

In a purely materialist universe I have no reason to claim I truly know anything–I react in certain ways, and that’s all one can say. A deist can point to an origin in order and reason, and to some degree share in that. A deist has a different (I would say higher) conception of himself because he has a different (higher) conception of his god.

Unfortunately the term “Greatest” or “Most important” is a bit ambiguous in “my universe.” Theory and practice diverge. I may say that (e.g.) my wife is the most important thing in “my universe”, and even be willing in a pinch to give up my life for her (giving up everything else in the process), but have little reflection of this value in day to day decisions or attitudes.

Alternatively, I might say that I valued God more than anything, and am committed to my religious duties–unless there’s a game on. Or that all fellow believers/worshippers are my brothers and sisters unless one expresses a political view I don’t like.

In both sets of examples my nominal values conflict with my values as expressed in action. The inconsistency might be due to indiscipline, or there might be an unacknowledged greater value. One, or perhaps both, of those values is an idol for me. (You can easily devise other examples–a good Volk-worshiper who believed the Nazi party was its prophet who nevertheless out of compassion fed strangers without asking if the fugitive was Jewish.)

One can make a test out of this: “By their fruits you will know them.” Do I get more riled when somebody insults my favorite candidate or when someone insults my God? (I can make the excuse that God can take care of Himself but I have to look out for the reputation of my fellow-human. It would even likely be true for insults to family.) Does that tell something about what the real god of “my universe” is?

It might. We have it on good authority that it can be a useful way to find out what somebody else’s real god is too. But it might be merely the result of a sloppy life, or not having worked through the details yet. We’re good at giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt–except for those of us who are skilled at looking for worst cases in ourselves.

Take it a bit further. The work I do demands concentration on the thing more often than the purpose. That doesn’t necessarily mean I value the thing more than the purpose–though that is a risk–but how much should the purpose be part of my mind as I work? Am I working as if for the Lord if I’m thinking entirely about how to get this next leg attached to the chair?

I think the answer might be yes. Obviously that would make the test even less clear-cut that it already is. I suspect we need to be careful judging others, and also be careful judging ourselves. But not complacent. There are plenty of idols around, and plenty of people who are unquestionably idolaters. Greed amounts to idolatry, and we’re a-swamp in that–as usual. I could go on listing other idolatries to which I am not greatly tempted, but I think I’ll stop here.

But what my god is shapes what I choose, and shapes me.

Sunday, February 25, 2024


A resident tells me that there appears to be an unwritten rule that any vacant building must be turned into either a marijuana dispensary or a "prompt care" medical center (not necessarily with equipment like X-ray machines).

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Important things

Years ago I ran across Murphy's Laws, and a little afterwards found a collection called "Murphy's Laws of Combat." ("Friendly fire isn't", etc)

Three of them jumped out at me as good descriptions of Christian life.

  1. The important things are always simple.
  2. The simple things are always hard.
  3. The easy way is always mined.

It is a good thing to know the nature of prayer. The important thing is to do it, and the knowledge of it (connaitre) will rise from that.

Yes, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." Eventually.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

The Assassins

by Bernard Lewis.

This is the history of the Assassin sect: a branch of Ismaili which are a branch of Shia. Thumbnail: Ismaili followed the disinherited Isma'il, who they regard as the correct 7'th Imam. There came to be two branches: Old Preaching and New Preaching. The New Preaching was most prominent in Persia, and the adherents showed two political distinctives: concentrating on acquiring or building castles in mountainous regions, and creating loyalists who were willing to stab those their Imam declared to be enemies--and die in the effort.

Their skills at infiltration must have been terrific, because they were quite successful for a while at making it dangerous for rulers to oppose them. Their killers seem to have limited themselves to daggers, and not used poisons or ranged weapons. And for a surprisingly long time (especially since the Crusaders turned up during their heyday), their enemies and usual targets were Sunnis.

When things started getting hot in Persia they sent missionaries west to Syria, where the "castle in the mountains" approach didn't work so well.

He cites a story, possibly even true, about an Ismaili messenger requesting a personal meeting with Saladin. He was searched carefully, and allowed in, where he said he had a message for Saladin alone. Everybody left except Saladin's private bodyguard.

Saladin said, "I regard these as my own sons, they and I are as one." Then the messenger turned to the two Mamluks and said "If I were to order you in the name of my master to kill this Sultan, would you do so?" They answered yes, and drew their swords, and said "Command us as you wish."

Saladin was impressed.

After a while they decided Crusaders were legitimate targets (or else it was politically appropriate--other times they allied with them), and started killing some. They found that the Hospitallers and Templars were tough, and one of the Ismailis explained why they didn't assassinate many of them. Recall that many of the Middle East rulers held power through personal loyalties, and these didn't always survive their deaths. The spokeman said the Hospitalars would just replace a murdered ruler with another one just as good, so the Ismailis would lose assassins and not achieve any useful objective, so they decided to leave them alone. Another possibility that occurred to me is that Hospitaller security was better (less interest in buying local status luxuries?), making it hard for Moslems to worm their way into proximity--and the Ismailis would never admit that since it would be giving away trade secrets.

At any rate, the Mongols were the last straw for the Persian branch, and their castles were taken from them or destroyed, and in Syria they lost too many local conflicts. The remaining Ismailis seem to have been peaceful--or as peaceful as any other group in the region. Their "force-multiplier" (they were a minority group) assassin corp is long gone.

At the end Lewis found it necessary to cite other scholars' ideas about why the Ismailis went the assassination route--mostly economic. The economic reductionists should get out more.

If you're curious, read it. Lewis writes well.

Monday, February 12, 2024

On reflection

This week I was reviewing a decade-old unpublished math note.

I'm glad I didn't try to publish it. I scribbled corrections all over the thing. How did I come to that conclusion; it's just wrong!

I hadn't taken the time to make notation consistent either (it had grown over the course of several years). It's better now, though not good enough--an interesting approach, but it doesn't go enough of anywhere to call it useful.

Now that I have more leisure to go over things carefully, it's amazing what I find.


Dr. Boli has a site devoted to quotations.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Best laid plans

"Put not your faith in princes" Or in "the people", or in parties, or in plans, or in procedures.

Judas always has a seat at the table.

Who? Jesus' disciples, obtuse though they often seem, had the wit to ask "Is it I?"

Saturday, February 10, 2024

The simpler proving the more profound

I see a bit of a parallel between Martha's talk with Jesus about resurrection and Jesus' interaction with the paralytic brought down through the roof.

In the former passage, Martha hints to Jesus that He can raise her dead brother (though she falters in that belief later), then Jesus reminds her generically of resurrection, which she recognizes as the general resurrection on the last day, then Jesus explains that HE is resurrection--the most important thing, and then He proves it by doing the "simple resurrection"(*) Martha hinted at at the start.

In the latter passage Jesus approves the faith of the man's friends by forgiving his sins, then meeting the scribes' objection to this by asking which is harder, announcing forgiveness or healing (obviously the doing of forgiveness is harder though healing is easier to demonstrate), and then demonstrating his authority to do spiritual healing (or spiritual resurrection?) by doing the physical healing.

It seems like the same general arc: someone wants a physical miracle, is offered a greater spiritual one, and then is given the physical one as proof.

(*) Not that there's anything simple about it. Maybe "preliminary" is better, or "temporary."

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Forest detectors

The forest as a neutrino detector: "We explore in this article the feasibility of using the forest as a detector. Trees have been shown to be efficient broadband antennas, and may, without damage to the tree, be instrumented with a minimum of apparatus. A large scale array of such trees may be the key to achieving the requisite target volumes for UHE neutrino astronomy."

Your first impression might be to wonder what the author's dreams are like.

However, the idea isn't completely crazy. Presumably because of fluid in the living trees, they conduct electricity at some level. Therefore they can act as antennas for radio waves, and in fact this was studied by the military at one point. They tried driving nails into the tree and hooking receivers to wires attached, and also tried winding coils of wire around the trunk. Both actually worked, though the latter worked better.

OK, now the next question is why one would care. Answer: At high enough energies neutrinos do not zip through everything almost without interacting--they actually do interact, generally creating a lepton in the process, which does interact, generally with showers of other particles. Lots of them. Enough that their current, in the Earth's magnetic field, produces radio waves. You can detect those radio waves, and with an array of antennas figure to detect their timing, you can figure out the track of the shower--and therefore the initial cosmic ray.

Getting an idea of where this is going?

There are some technicalities--you want to detect showers that seem to be coming up out of the Earth, or out of a mountain, to try to filter out things other than neutrinos interacting very near the surface. But the general idea is that the patterns of radio waves corresponding to such particle showers can be pieced out of the general radio background. This is already being done successfully in several different experiments.

The bulk of the hardware cost of such an experiment is in the radio antennas, the electronics to read them out, and the labor to do it. If the antennas are already standing around, there's some savings already. Plus, trees are tall, so they'd help pick up lower frequency radio waves.

Another advantage to using trees is that you don't need to find a bare spot to put up your antennas, so you've got more choices for locations. And you don't have to lug a lot of heavy gear around to places that may not always be easy to get to.

Downsides... The electronics costs the same, and is a substantial part of the total. One guy said it cost more than the antennas--he was probably thinking about short antennas, though, not tree-sized. Also you can predict the sensitivity of a steel antenna--how do you calibrate the radio wave sensitivity of jackpine number 88-K?

And, we wonders, aye we wonders, what the wildlife will think of tasty wires strung here and there in the woods. In the planning for the SSC designers realized that fire ants would colonize their electrical distribution boxes, and nibble.

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Experiencing God

I've heard several people counseling us that we should not want God's gifts so much as God Himself. This seems true enough, and that union with Him would be the goal and summit of life. (In a way wanting to obey is Martha, wanting to be with is Mary, Jesus said the latter was better. Except that we need both--it's hard to be with Him when we disobey.)

There are some subtleties, though--or perhaps I'm obtuse or inexperienced.

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can, I say my [daily prayers], I fast a little, I pray and meditate. I live in peace as far as I can. I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up, stretched his arms towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you want, you can be all flame.”

Moses was warned that he could not see God and live, and pagan stories recognize this too. The finite, and even the infinite, cannot experience God as He is in Himself. The experience won't fit in our minds, our hearts, our nature. God gave Moses an experience of Himself that would fit in his mind, and He gave us a living image of Himself in Jesus.

How far can we go in union with God?

And since the mystery of our faith is directed toward a God of utter transcendence, the direct experience of His energies leaves the theologian with an awestruck recognition that God’s essence lies yet beyond those energies, and that the theologian is forever unable to experience it. Thus he is left not only negating correlations between his experience and nature, but also negating correlations between his experience and God’s essence.

We're assured that heaven is not imaginable. Even so, it would seem that the experience of God, however infinite, will be consonant with our nature, and so be limited by our nature. Other created things may experience aspects of God that we won't. That wouldn't make our experience wrong or incomplete, of course. It wouldn't even make it finite.

But. Would my experience be limited not just by the shape of our common human nature, but also by how I have failed to conform my life to Christ here?

UPDATE: Dante seems to have thought so

Saturday, February 03, 2024

Currency defacement

Can you guess what this was about? Nollywood star sentenced for stepping on naira notes. "A Nigerian actress has been sentenced to six months imprisonment for tampering with the currency after she was filmed spraying and stepping on newly issued naira notes last year."

"six months imprisonment with an option to pay $250 fine"

I wonder what would have happened if she'd lit a cigar with a 1000 niara note.

From a Nigerian source: "It was at a time there was a severe scarcity of Naira notes following the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s withdrawal of old 200, 500 and 1000 Naira notes from circulation and replacement of the affected currency notes with newly designed versions which were hard to come by at the time." I'm guessing that flaunting wealth that way when the economy was in a mess from lack of currency was what led them to charge her with currency defacement. Not because she'd done anything substantively wrong, just that she'd angered a lot of people...

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

A Father's Legacy to his Daughters

by John Gregory

His wife had died, and he had reason to believe he would die soon himself, so he wrote up advice for his daughters, under headings of "Religion", "Conduct and Behaviour", "Amusements", and "Friendship, Love, Marriage". And "Introduction".

It would not suit modern Harvard tastes, either in language or sociology, but by and large the advice, or the principles behind it, is sound. His approach to religion struck me as rather more secular than devout. It wouldn't be a "read once and done" book for a young girl; she'd have to re-read it every so often in order to recognize the things in her life and society that John was writing about.

The Harvard book-reading feature is a bit finicky on my machine.

Identify Friend or Foe

The current story says that the drone that hit our troops in Jordan wasn't recognized as a foe. Trent Telenko suggests that it followed a US drone in, and that "the trailed US drone had no IFF transponder at all, as the MX12B micro Mode 5 Identify Friend or Foe (IFF) transponder was only certified in 2021."

To complicate things still more, I assume some of our drones will be duds. Will the transponders be salvageable, and re-used in enemy drones?

Friday, January 26, 2024

art lawsuit

Althouse noted that one of the "performers" in an old exhibit at MoMA was suing. I'd heard of the exhibit some time ago--it sounded "modern art" level stupid. A gallery door was partly blocked by a naked man and naked woman, and visitors had to "squeeze" between them to get in. There was another entrance to the gallery, but I assume there was social pressure to "experience the art."

The man is suing the museum on the grounds that they did not protect him from groping--sexual assault. 14 years after the fact seems a little late in the day to complain, of course, and thus there seems to be reason to doubt his sincerity. But there might be another way of looking at it.

Just as clothing communicates things to other people, adults being naked outside of specific circumstances (doctor's office, group showers, etc) communicate sexual interest. So the situation is intended to be a sexual one, albeit with some implausible deniability ("This is ART, you fool!"). And if the man and woman are so close to the visitors that one has (remember the social pressure) to make contact with them, this seems a bit like unwanted sexual contact: a sexual assault.

It seems a bit unusual for an "assault-er" to complain about reciprocation. Although active groping does ratchet it up rather more than a notch.

Top Buck and Flock Queen

Goat herd behavior: I'd not heard of this before. Goats have never been much in my orbit.
If you are responsible for feeding your herd, they will associate you with the Flock Queen. The herd may attempt to follow you wherever you go and may be in a state of confusion when you are not around.


If you move your herd by driving them from the rear, they will come to think of you as the Top Buck. ... If you hold this position, you may have trouble handling the other bucks in the herd who are constantly challenging your authority.

different imagery

Sons like plants and daughters like pillars

Perhaps what comes to your mind is different, but the pillars for a palace makes me think of "beautiful strength", and the grown plants reminds me of fruitful trees. You'd maybe think that social era would imagine blessed daughters as embodying beautiful fruitfulness and blessed sons embodying strength, but the psalmist didn't look at it that simply.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Plastic nuts

Soft water is nice to have for appliances and what-not, but for cooking we wanted unprocessed. That's the way the cold water in the kitchen was set up anyway, so no modifications were needed.

The problem with hard water is that when it seeps, the minerals get laid down wherever the water went. Those nice plastic nuts that hold the kitchen faucet in place? They're easy to spin on and hand tighten, even when there's a sink basin in the way. But taking them off a few years later? When the mineral glue has had time to spread and harden? No way you're getting a big enough wrench in that tight a space; you have to break the nut to get it off.

Or cut it. I used what I had handy--a Dremel. That tended to "smear" the plastic rather than grind it, but whatever, it eventually got the body of the nut away, and a final hand twist "peeled up" rather than "unscrewed" the nut and thus broke it loose to the point where unscrewing was once again an option. The astute observer will notice that my elbow slipped a time or three.

Funny how it only takes a few seconds on the videos. In between re-stuffing rags so the edge of the cabinet didn't dig my ribs loose, and wedging my head in among the pipes, and standing the flashlight in place again, and reaching the tool into position--each iteraction of preparation took longer than the video.

This is the second I've done this winter. It's enlightening but not pleasant to spend time under the counter--you notice other things that are going to need attention pretty soon--like the rusty bracket that is holding up half of one sink. The Sippican Cottage guy knows what he's doing. I wish I did--time for more research...

Monday, January 22, 2024


The word on the street is that if you want to publish fiction, you'd better have 3 books in the can with a plan to write more. One book by itself shivers with little attention, but each in a series advertises the others.

So. Unfortunately I'm not sure how to solve the problem I dumped on the hero.

Thursday, January 18, 2024


The famous Uncle Screwtape said: "Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle’s question: whether “democratic behaviour” means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same."

This afternoon I was listening in on a discussion about recommendations for Multi Messenger Astronomy.(*) The authors recommend a fair bit of boilerplate (cooperation between NASA and NSF, etc).

However, one of the things they note is the problems and risk that results from data acquisition or analysis or simulation software that is custom made for an experiment, and supported by maybe one grad student. He wrote it, and other folks used it, and now he finds himself called on to support it over changes in OS and bug fixes and whatnot for years after he got his degree--and maybe left the collaboration. Support dwindles, though use may increase!

What the scientists value is doing the analysis and finding the physics--not supporting the software. Since the experiment will not succeed without good software, somebody with domain knowledge needs to write and support it. But that luckless person, not so tightly involved with analysis, is not so valued when it comes to new jobs or promotions. So the software support gets short-changed. (Thus the quote above.)

Some experiments hire professional programmers to develop, in cooperation with the scientists. This helps, but is more for the larger groups with more flex in their budgets. It is hard to sufficiently emphasize how vital software is for experiments with large detectors. Even something as simple as archiving, isn't simple.

Researchers from small institutions have less flexibility in working on an experiment than those in large ones, where (for example) teaching duties can be shuffled around more easily--and (dirty secret time) sometimes almost completely shuffled off. Hence "the rich get richer." This issue turns up in the section on "Inclusive Workforce Development", along with the boilerplate about women, black, indigenous, and PoC. The first context for that boilerplate is a fairly strange claim that aggressive people tend to be favored in juicy research roles, while these others "face greater social pressures deterring aggressive or assertive behavior." Do I have to note that the majority of those "pushed aside" are not from minority groups, or is that sufficiently obvious from the definition? It suggests mitigating this with a Code of Conduct "outlining expections regarding data sharing and co-authorship in a public document." The first big problem with this is that everybody gets their name in the paper anyhow; and who actually did the analysis is going to be the key thing other scientists pay attention to--the suggestion is facially stupid. The second is that we all know the CoC will have nice ambiguous language that will be selectively interpreted against politically unpopular individuals. Maybe that will be the jerks, but likely it won't. (not necessarily national politics here) Why? Because the jerks are often useful for getting the grants that make the experiments run.

Several of the recommendations turn into "you have to budget more money for important stuff like software and archiving." Yep. Very very true. However, getting money to the budget for that isn't easy--sometimes you get a bare bones grant that doesn't cover everything you need to do. And "sometimes" is optimistic.

(*) Astronomy is done with different "messengers": light, radio waves, xrays, cosmic rays, gravity waves, and neutrinos. If something interesting appears in one detector (light from a supernova, a burst of radio waves, a neutron star merger), you want to notify the others quickly to make sure they're looking in that direction, and quite a bit of work has gone into communication systems. Part of the report has to do with making it easy to compare events in different types of system--the systematics are always very different.

Monday, January 15, 2024


AVI has been thinking along similar lines.

There's an apparent paradox here. Most of the greatest joys in life come from being able to use the gifts you've been give to serve people you care about.

Nobody likes being treated as a servant.


"And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family?"

I've seen this quoted quite a bit, along with confident assertions that "X won't happen in the USA." While a disarmed population would certainly be candy to the powers that be, who could thereafter safely ignore one of the founding documents of the country, I submit that disarming isn't necessary for control, and night-time arrests are straightforward enough even with an armed population.

In fact, we've long had problems with gangs intimidating armed populations. They have asymmetrical information--they know where you are, you don't know where they all are--and they operate by defeat in detail and surprise. A gang might have difficulties if you and your neighbors stood up to them, but at 3am it's just you against their team, and you're half asleep. Or three cars converge on yours when you park, and six guys with guns at the ready start shooting at you from three sides.

I hope nobody takes offense at my comparison of an unjust government with gangsters: it's a venerable observation.

What have people done against the gangs? There doesn't seem to be a sure-fire cure. A few were dealt with through law enforcement, but lots haven't been. Organizing your own gang to counter them has temptations and pitfalls that not every group escapes. I hope it is obvious that expanding police powers is not a solution.

Likewise there doesn't seem to be an easy cure for unjust government.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Isotopic differences

It's no secret that deuterium instead of H1 isn't good for proteins, but apparently a certain percentage of it is not just tolerated but expected, with not-always benign consequences if it isn't there. Not what I would have expected...

A major deuterium-depleted water (DDW) phenomenon is the depressed growth of cancer cells, which is currently being exploited in a clinical trial. Previously, while studying the antiproliferation effect of DDW in human lung adenocarcinoma cells, we determined that DDW induces mitochondrial redox imbalance that leads to oxidative stress. In general, deuterium concentration between 80 ppm and 300 ppm (the natural value being ∼150 ppm) is found to be a cell growth regulator.

So what happens if you purify media (they call it Depleted) of the heavier isotopes of carbon and oxygen and nitrogen?

Well, e-coli grow faster, some proteins become more active, and other technical variations appear.

An M9 minimum media based on 13C-depleted glucose and 15N-depleted salt dissolved in D,18O-depleted water (Depleted media) was formulated. E. coli bacteria grow faster in Depleted media compared with isotopically natural media (Normal media). In addition, four different enzymes recombinantly produced in Depleted media showed faster kinetics compared with the enzymes produced in Normal media.

Found via SciTechDaily

Illiterate Digest

I hadn't thought of Will Rogers in years. Here he is helping Ziegfeld Follies girls do their income taxes; one of the articles he wrote for the Illiterate Digest. I'm not fond of trying to parse his dialect, but if you read it as though spoken he has some good lines.

Some of it slides past me, as it references events of the era. "I am following the Kaiser, who rewrote his life after it was too late."

"Please don’t consider these as my memoirs. I am not passing out of the picture, as men generally are who write those things."

Friday, January 12, 2024

Requiem for Battleship Yamato

by Yoshida Mitsuru (translated by Richard Minear)

Yoshida was one of the few survivors of the Yamato (the world's largest battleship, not a spacecraft). In 1946, shortly after the end of the war, he wrote a memoir, which the censors didn't allow to be printed. He tinkered with it, and various versions were published after the end of censorship. This translation is based on the last, from 1952.

Yoshida was a junior officer, not from the naval academy, who wound up spending most of the battle on the bridge. He survived thanks to a series of coincidences and lucky timings (e.g. the whirlpool from the ship's sinking was dragging him down, but the second magazine explosion changed the water flow and pushed him up).

It is written in present tense, but his memories may have the benefit of years of contemplation. The original work was shorter, and allegedly more antagonistic to the Americans and in solidarity with the dead--I'd be interested in reading that one too, but I gather it hasn't been translated. FWIW, he converted to Christianity in 1948, in between editions.

The sailors all knew this was a "special attack" and that they were going to die. A great deal of the book is what this knowledge means to him and to the others he knew, and about the conflict between wanting to live, wanting to die nobly, and wanting to at least accomplish something. And what does it mean for one to live and another to die? He records some mental arguments with a judge. He also describes some of the people he knew onboard (not all died then), and sometimes what he knows of their families.

FWIW, a subordinate who does not immediately salute is supposed to be punched in the head.

I'm not sure he cites the rebelliousness of some of the trainees in school accurately--or perhaps there's a translation problem. But then, perhaps utter obedience isn't incompatible with a semi-anonymous "This is stupid" note.

Read it.

UPDATE: A couple of things I didn't know: The captain had leeway to change the mission to fit the circumstances, and, though it was a closely guarded secret, the Yamato had enough fuel to return from Okinawa if the captain chose. And, when the ship's list was obviously fatal, the captain issued "all hands on deck" instead of "abandon ship". More might have swum to safety if they had known to get off right away.

Not important

While trying to get to sleep last night, the solution to a 50-year-old mystery struck me. I never mastered the front crawl--I kept drinking my bow wave. Why? Years before I annoyed my driver's ed instructor. He wanted me to turn my head when backing up; I kept turning my whole body to look backwards.

My neck doesn't turn very far. Never has.

No, I don't think that's what the Bible means by "stiff necked."

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Sloppy language--I think

A few blocks from me a tax prep place has popped up (it's that time of year), with a big banner titled with "MAX YOUR TAX". I don't think I'll be doing business with them.

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

Is somebody playing pranks?

At Rice University: AfroChemistry

When I was in high school I remember reading of Russian course on Soviet Mathematics, where the focus was on the victory of the proletariat and not on theorems. I thought the notion obscene. I still do. I hope somebody with a sense of the absurd is playing pranks. If not, I have to question the integrity of those running their chemistry department. A scientist needs some smarts, but without integrity that's worthless.


I ran across this today about the AWOL Secretary of Defense. It hadn't crossed my mind that continuity of government plans would involve 24/7 monitoring of all the cabinet and next level positions, but it makes excellent sense (Lincoln was just one of the targets of Booth's conspiracy).

So if Austin did command people to stop tracking him, and that didn't raise alarms, then this probably wasn't an unusual request. If that in turn is true, I wonder how effective this CoG effort really is.

Saturday, January 06, 2024

Complex ordnance fail

Dud rates for various ammunition calibers from a USAEC report: From 0 to 11.7%, average about 3.45%. This was part of a paper about a model for ground water contamination from unexploded ordnance. Conceptual Model for the Transport of Energetic Residues from Surface Soil to Groundwater by Range Activities

Back in World War 1 from 10-25% of the explosives failed to detonate. (One source suggested that the British dud rate went up to as much as 30% when a manpower shortage required that they draft more of the craftsmen at home.) In the American civil war duds could be 50% of a batch (not sure about statistics batch to batch).

Rifle ammo is quite simple, and except for rimfire rounds, quite reliable. Artillery isn't quite so simple, as the higher failure rate attests. How about anti-aircraft or anti-missile missiles? Several sources have informed me that these much more complicated systems were used with a "fire two to be sure" philosophy in naval operations, and that sometimes they had to "float test" a missile that didn't launch--though I can't speak from any experience myself, and dramatic incidents tend to stick in the memory more than "no problem" ones. But you might guess what sort of "dud" rate that entails.

I'm not sure how many missiles Iron Dome uses per intercept. A wikipedia image shows 6 trails, though there's no way to see how many targets there were. If anybody knows how many missiles they use (it might vary depending on the percieved risk), I'd be interested in knowing. I'm pretty sure it doesn't average more than 3, from reported cost estimates.

Of course that's not a perfectly fair way to evaluate their dud/miss rate. For an existential threat, firing more than once isn't a bad idea.

I wonder about ICBMs. I assume the details about ours are classified, so don't get me in trouble here.

Some of Trent Telenko's twitter threads are about comparing complex turnkey weapon systems with cheaper systems (not just individual weapons), and the drone/communications arms race in progress right now in Ukraine. (I'm not as sanguine as he about Ukraine's chances for victory.)

Take a machine with a million parts, each of which can wear (even computer chips wear out over time), be distorted, corroded, or just out of tolerance to begin with. Which failures will cause the system to fail to work precisely as you want?

Epstein documents

I assume some of the names (e.g. Hawking) were brought in as bait ("Look who you get to hobnob with!") and others for attempted compromise. I'm more interested in who they succeeded in compromising and for what than I am in the details of the honeytraps. What were they trying to use a hold on Prince Andrew for? Or perhaps he was "bait" for others, or perhaps both.

"Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me."