Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Despair and purpose

The hymn had the line "threatens the soul with infinite loss." When do we see that infinite loss?

Despair testifies to that loss. Nobody cares if a leaf blows. If the stakes in our lives were as trivial as that, mere chance or determinist, why would we care? If there were no purpose, if nothing mattered, winning and losing would be so much dust, of no more account that yesterday's breakfast.

But despair says that the significance of success or failure in life is greater than the life itself. Some despair that there is any purpose in life, their pain testifying to how important a purpose would be.

Despair doesn't see the whole picture, of course, and so it expedites the very infinite loss that it dreads.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Kilauea caldera collapse

A time-lapse from the USGS:

For Memorial Day

see this post on poetry and the aftermath of the Civil War. (Ambrose Bierce would have had crisp words for some Madisonians.)
While Bierce, as a veteran, urges the nation to honor all of the American dead, North and South, Melville the civilian promotes a larger reconciliation between the former antagonists, with the goal of preserving the Union.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Teaching algebra ideas in elementary school

Back in the 90's I offered to help at the local elementary school, and somebody took me up on it. They assigned me a half dozen 3rd grade TAG students and gave me a package called Hands-On Equations, in which students use marker and number manipulatives to get a feel for how to manipulate equations.

The theme of the system is a balance scale, and the balancing rules are made easy to visualize. Once you're set up, both sides of the scale always have to balance. You can add numbers to both sides, split into groups to show division, and get a feel for what it means to have a name for an unknown. The video shows a newer version, in which the cubes have actual numbers. I like the older approach better: if you want to represent 12, you count out 12 cubes onto the workpad. It makes numbers easier to visualize, and to separate into groups (divide), or to combine groups (multiply). Since you don't have to do the translations (a 10 cube is the same as a 5 and a 5), the lesson is simpler to visualize.

The kids learned the material quickly enough, and the last lesson had a sneaky problem or so that would trip up kids who were guessing their answers. I thought it was a clever approach. There was one more day than lessons, so I ended by giving them a little explanation of clock math and triangle math, not as parts of a field of study, but as examples of mathy things that didn't work like the usual counting numbers.

Advice to analysts

"What I Learned in 40 Years of Doing Intelligence Analysis for US Foreign Policymakers" by Martin Petersen: From September 2010.
During one of the most challenging times in my analytical career, I worked for the finest analyst I ever knew. In the middle of the Tiananmen Crisis in 1989—when everyone’s hair was on fire—I found him late one afternoon going through a stack of musty old reports. I asked him what he was doing. He said, “I am looking for things that did not make sense then, but do now.” He found some, and it profoundly affected our line of analysis.

The article ends with this:

The colleague who teaches the Kent School’s Art of Review Seminar with me tells a story about Abraham Lincoln, who in one of the darkest hours of the Civil War attended a Sunday service in that little church that still stands across from the White House. On his way back, he was asked by a fellow parishioner what he thought of the young reverend. Lincoln replied that he had a strong voice and clear message, but that he failed to do one thing; he failed to ask us to do something great.

It's a pity the agency deteriorated so badly. We could use some intelligence.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Kill switch

"ASML and TSMC Can Disable Chip Machines If China Invades Taiwan" "Firms can remotely shut off advanced EUV chip-making machines"

Oh joy. I assume that mainland Chinese industrial espionage made those firms a target years ago, if only to be able to duplicate the work themselves sometime. I think I'm safe in further assuming that they were largely successful. If so, what are the odds that the mainland Chinese now have the ability to shut off those machines themselves?

Wednesday, May 22, 2024


Putting your processing "in the cloud" has some nice scalability features. For example, the student registration program needs only a few CPUs most of the year, but for a few weeks it's nice to have a few hundred instances running, without having to have those systems idle the rest of the year.(*)

Putting your data "in the cloud" has nice redundancy: it can be in several different datacenters. If an earthquake takes out one, there's another datacenter that has it too, or maybe a third. Yes, you pay a bit more than managing your data yourself, but the tools are there to access your data from anywhere.

Until it isn't there. It seems Google deleted the account of an Australian pension fund, and all of its records went poof. No backups--pointers to backups went poof along with the account.(**)

an inadvertent misconfiguration during provisioning of UniSuper’s Private Cloud services ultimately resulted in the deletion of UniSuper’s Private Cloud subscription. This is an isolated, ‘one-of-a-kind occurrence’ that has never before occurred with any of Google Cloud’s clients globally. This should not have happened. Google Cloud has identified the events that led to this disruption and taken measures to ensure this does not happen again.

Until it does. Luckily, at $135 billion, "UniSuper (is) a big enough company that, if something goes wrong, it gets the Google Cloud CEO on the phone instead of customer service."

Fortunately a wise planner at UniSuper spent the extra money to have a backup cloud service from an independent vendor, but for a couple of weeks they weren't able to send out pension checks. (I hope that wise planner wasn't fired for spending too much money.)

(*) You pay extra for speed. If you want your calculations done sometime this year, the CPU time is cheap. If you need to crunch a lot of numbers for results in time for the conference next week, expect to pay more.

(**) That is a security feature. If you could get access to data that used to belong to somebody else's account, you could do nasty things with that information. So, no account means no access. A new account will almost certainly not be exactly the same--I wouldn't design it like that, anyhow.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Transporting heavy blocks of stone

Rivers meander sometimes, and the Nile valley is wider than the Nile, which seems to be a bit to the east in its valley. Archaeologists have wondered how the stones for the pyramids got to where they are now, and hypothesized that the Nile used to run more to the west--closer to the pyramids--than now. Bringing them downriver by boat makes excellent sense, but why drag them miles across the land to the west side of the valley?

Nature has a report from a group that combines "radar satellite imagery, in conjunction with geophysical data and deep soil coring," to "identify segments of a major extinct Nile branch" which ran at the western edge of the valley, where the pyramids were built.

The dating seems to be consistent with the era in which the pyramids were built. It's not a gigantic surprise, but it's nice to see it verified.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

The Farmer's Journey

I heard a talk on applying "the hero's journey" to memoir writing, as a framework for telling the story. I can see that for some life stories, or adventures, but there are other callings. The contortions to make my life story fit the hero's journey would stand out among side show grotesques.

My story's more like "the farmer's journey," where what is required of the hero is perseverance and faithfulness and working with what he's been given. Not that I'm an exemplar of those virtues; I've often been more of a "Look! A squirrel!" sort. But that seems more like the theme of my life. This incident or that can be shoehorned into the HJ model--I gather most stories can. But seriously...

The "farmer's" decisions are significant, the task takes effort, there's strain and pain sometimes--but they are spread out over years. I don't say one calling is better than the other (that's God's call about His callings), though one makes a livelier story than the other. Frodo would have starved to death long before Mordo without faithful farmers.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Inkling Variety Hour

I found the their Podbean site from their Youtube channel. The former is updated, the latter not. Interesting, but time consuming.

A cure brings its own issues

A link from AVI's page points to the Orthosphere, where today you find a post on Lewis Carroll and formality in worship. I admit that when I read the Sylvie and Bruno books I paid little attention to the prefaces, and Carroll's complaints. Have a look for yourself. A necessary correction to irreverent informality brought the risk of superficial formality. "a liturgy that requires the congregation to kneel in prayer is a liturgy that will teach many in the congregation—especially the children—how to pretend they are praying."

In the books referenced, Carroll tried what I take to have been a novel blend of the surreal and natural, in which fairyland intermittently overlaps our world. I recommend the books, with the caveat that I found Bruno's lisping accent gratingly precious. Sylvie and Bruno and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded

But take my literary recommendations with a grain of salt; I also like Pippa Passes


Somehow, at the end of the day, I can't find any of the time all those timesaving shortcuts accumulated, much less find any accrued interest from it in the time bank.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Rand sacrifice

I ran across one of those Ayn Rand memes on sacrifice the other day, and remembered how I'd reacted when I first read about it fifty years ago. Contra Rand, a sacrifice isn't giving up a greater value for a lesser, but exactly the opposite: giving up a lesser value for a greater. A mother giving her child the last bread in the house isn't doing it because she values the child less but more. You sacrifice the party night to study for your electrodynamics exam because you value passing the course more.

The conflict comes when you value the lesser good more than the greater one--you don't love having good lungs better than you love cigars, or you don't love God in your neighbor more than your entertainments. The glory of the sacrifice comes from the glory of the higher good involved.

In her view, enlightened self-interest will always pick the greater value--but who enlightens that self? Someone who explains that good lungs are a great lifetime value, and that the world is wider and deeper than the simply physical universe--someone who does the sort of thing she complains about. Unless you are born and grow with perfect wisdom and enlightenment, you need someone to teach you. And WRT her strawman, I don't know anybody who says you should love a stranger more than your family--except politicians and Marxist theorists.(*)

She had a pretty fair understanding of what the socialist state involved, and what sort of people were attracted to it (she'd observed for herself) but I don't put any trust in her diagnoses and her prescriptions.

(*) Elisha asked a widow to feed him first in honor of God, but then he backed it up with a miracle. We might be in a better place if we applied the rule about what to do with false prophets...

One aspect of being human

"He was made man:" Not separable, but both truly God and truly man. He was subject to our natural limitations--only two arms, only two eyes that don't see when it's dark ... and subject to the Dunbar number limitation.

"But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you." The Spirit living with us is not subject to the time and space and "number of friends" limits that a man is. The Spirit of God is not less present than Jesus was, just differently present.

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Complicated job?

The other Sunday a gentleman stepped over to the corner where I was running the sound and slides, and noted with a little awe that the system was complicated. The sound board looks daunting, and the cabling behind the scenes certainly is, but I let him in on the secret. The experts set it up the day before; I just tweak the thing. (In a pinch I can add microphones, but the infrastructure is given.) And the slides and video and slip-stream video--likewise. (In a pinch I can make some changes, but they upgraded the software and a lot of the stuff I used to know, I don't.)

No great skills are required for the job. The only gift needed is the spiritual gift of showing up. And paying attention.

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Neutrality forbidden

The political economy of Solon’s law against neutrality in civil wars, evaluated in game theory.

I posted about Solon's counterintuitive law that punished people who refused to take sides in a civil strife. The paper linked at the top begins with a little history of arguments about Solon's law--quite a number of people living 2600 years after the event are certain that a report written only 200 years later must be mistaken. Would a wise lawgiver put in a clause that might cause his laws to be overthrown?

The authors apply some game theory to the Athenian situation (whose population was legally divided into classes by wealth), assuming that revolts would be driven by rent-seeking high-status leaders. They find that the rule requiring everybody to join the melee tends to suppress the inclination of the wealthy to try to corner the whole pie.

It isn't obvious, and I suspect the origin of Solon's law might have been more emotional, driven by exasperation, instead of decided by calculation.

It might be instructive to game this out in modern America. We have had fringe revolutionists for a very long time, with such luminaries as Charles Manson, Bill Ayers, and the current pro-Hamas occupiers. The sociopolitical system we have works for most of the people. In a conflict with no neutrality, the revolutionists would be terribly outnumbered by the people with something to lose. The only way for the revolutionists to survive would be to battle from underground, robbing banks to get funding (as many of them did), and hope for the "best" (aka chaos they could exploit). It seems Solon's rule wouldn't change much.

OTOH, powerful and better-connected people who want more power and more complient plebs (you can think of a few on the opposite side from you, and an opponent think of a few on your side, and both of you be right) are able, now perhaps even more easily than in Solon's time, to persuade masses that their cause is existential. Without neutrality, they'd have to persuade more than a plurality. Would that reduce the risk of civil war?

No. The powerful aren't any wiser than you or I, and self-deception is just as popular a pastime with them as with us. And once a war gets rolling (or even just the pre-war posturing heats up), especially if it involves populations larger and more diverse than a mere city-state like Athens, there's no predicting the direction.

It doesn't look like a silver bullet to me. It might help with the fringe revolutionaries, but they're arguably cultists, and game theory considerations don't enter when you're talking about ultimate values.

UPDATE: Of course, forbidding neutrality is stunningly arrogant. Looking at warring factions, a legitimate option is "A plague o' both your houses!"

Aircraft carrier

I'd not heard before today that the first aircraft carrier served in our Civil War. It was a modified steam tug.

The picture above is of a different, just slightly later, machine.

The balloon service was important in reconnaisance during the war. Which hill did the other guy put his cannon behind? Are your shots getting close?

Not that the brass used the balloon intelligence well...

Friday, May 03, 2024

TRC or War and Economic Crimes

The Liberian president has, by executive order, established a War and Economic Crimes Court. Plenty of people got away with murder, and plenty of other crimes, during the civil war.

I had thoughts about this 14 years ago, and I haven't heard anything to change my mind. The buried weapons may not be so accessible any longer, but they're easy to come by, especially if you make common cause with one of the regional terrorist groups. It wouldn't be wise, but politic calculations aren't famous for wisdom.

I think this is dangerous.

Thursday, May 02, 2024

Exceeding authority

In Fremantle's diary he describes a prisoner handover:
When I arrived I found that General Hardee was in company with General Polk and Bishop Elliott of Georgia, and also with Mr Vallandigham. The latter (called the Apostle of Liberty) is a good-looking man, apparently not much over forty, and had been turned out of the North three days before. Rosecrans had wished to hand him over to Bragg by flag of truce; but as the latter declined to receive him in that manner, he was, as General Hardee expressed it, "dumped down" in the neutral ground between the lines, and left there. He then received hospitality from the Confederates in the capacity of a destitute stranger. They do not in any way receive him officially, and it does not suit the policy of either party to be identified with one another.

Odd. I hadn't remembered Vallandigham at all, though I must have seen the name before. During the Civil War he was a leader of the Copperheads (sympathizers with the rebels): "Vallandingham wrote that he knew his public opinions and sentiments aided the Confederate war effort, raised public skepticism against the Lincoln administration, raised sympathy for the Confederate soldiers, and encouraged Northerners to violate the wartime laws of the Union."

He complained that the federal government was usurping power, which was true enough, as demonstrated when he was arrested and given a military trial (Lincoln had been allowed to suspend habeas corpus). Lincoln had him "sent through the enemy lines to the Confederacy", where he said "I am a citizen of Ohio, and of the United States. I am here within your lines by force, and against my will. I therefore surrender myself to you as a prisoner of war."

His biography is fascinating--including how he died. He was brave--he had that going for him. Also an anti-abolitionist, even pro-slavery. You could almost overlook the abuse of power used against him.

"Vallandigham's deportation to the Confederacy prompted Edward Everett Hale to write "The Man Without a Country."" (The story has a good scene or two, but it is painfully unrealistic, and the inspiration seems strained.)