Hammer Fall

Thursday is hammer day. After all, it is named for that Scandinavian deity who settled his disagreements with a hammer. So much for negotiation? Or is it just a Teddy Roosevelt thing?

Anyway, the gym was at its ebb this morning for occupancy during my regime, and few of the weight bouncing asentients were present, nor even many of the teacher taliban and their loud stridencies. The podcast today was the BBC’s “In Our Time” and the episode was “The Whale”, which started out with the ubiquitous references to Moby Dick and then transformed into a discussion of the evolution and molecular biology of cetaceans. Aside from the intriguing comparisons between Melville and Darwin the individuals, the key thought I emerged from the discussion with was the question of whether land whales chewed a cud. If not, then whale is definitely not Kosher.

Other thoughts in and around:
Is the Iranian election thing about whether they want to be a medieval state or a modern state, a theocracy or a consumerocracy?

St. Barak and the Fly: there goes the Jain vote and with it any hope of a second term. The associations here are massive. Especially if one is made between Bernard and Barak. After all Bernard can be given responsibility for the revival of Donatism as well as Manichism in Europe. What will Barak be given responsibility for?

And a study of medical intercessory prayer by researchers at Brandeis U indicates that the studies tell more about the mysticism of the researchers than about any efficacy of the activity. [Link] Hmmmmm. That may be about all that one can find from such studies since they clearly are not and cannot be experiments.

On a dissonant note, it seems that the Eddie Bauer corporation has filed for bankruptcy. [Link] It is not at all clear that this is anything more than the recession intensifying the effects of indecisive management. Of course, some of the problem is the deepening disconnection between humans and ‘nature’. That makes it hard for any corporation that ostensibly sells stuff for the ‘outdoors’.

I personally mourn still for the demise of Willis and Geiger, and Atlantic Rancher. They were early victims of this disconnection and perhaps goods of a quality and price too dear for MalWart consumers. I shall refrain from saying anything nasty about Land’s End; they did the deed for good management reasons but I still have a sour taste in my mental mouth for them. And I enrich Orvis, where some of the W&G staff went, in preference to them.

But I am not sure I will cry too hard for EB. As an outside supplier they have been schizophrenic, unable to decide whether they produce consumerist drek like Land’s End – that’s a nasty comment about their goods, not their management – or stay an outdoor supplier. If anything they seem to have been trying to simultaneous compete with both LE and Abercrombie and Fitch, which abandon its outdoor supply tradition to be the clothier of bog college students long ago.

The management mutters are that EB will not go away but streamline and maybe make up its mind what it is going to purvey. Sounds familiar, like Yankee car manufacturers parasitic to the public weal. I suspect that economically this will be much more successful although I doubt my business with them will increase. Unless they rediscover quality over facade, which seem unlikely these days. But that probability is still an order of magnitude higher than for GM.

Cartoon Nonviolence

Powerpoint (or any other slide presentation client) is a ‘Listerine’. That is, it’s a love-hate relationship that one uses all the time. With Listerine, one hates the taste but likes and appreciates the maintenance of one’s teeth – having is better than not having especially when one wants to make input to the gastro-intestinal system.

In any activity where visual communication is central, some form of ‘slide” client is a necessity. Back when I was in college, we used 35mm (real) slides to make presentations. Latency was large, as much as a month between beginning the construction of the presentation and actually being able to present the presentation. (And yes, I do know that is a repetition but all the other forms I can come up with are even clumsier.) At least half of this time was getting the slides made. That was because you had to get the slide masters done on (about) 8.5 x 11 in^2 paper, photographed, and then developed as slides. This not only involved you putting the information together, but a draftsman to make the masters and a photography technician to photograph the masters and make the slides.

Add more time if mistakes were made. And the draftsman had an error fraction of about 0.1. That is, 1 out of 10 masters had an error so bad it had to be fixed, master redrawn, slides reshot and made. And more time.

When I got into the workplace and doctoral research the slides were replaced with viewgraphs. This sorta had an advantage. For important presentations one still had to do the draftsman-photographer thing; the only difference was that the slides were bigger. But for less important presentations you made your own masters, Xeroxed them, and made your own viewgraphs on heat sensitive plastic sheets. (Physics alert! The black letters, formed by depositing carbon on the paper, had higher heat capacity than the white paper so if the machine was adjusted right you got good contrast on the plastic.) Once you got good at such things, those unimportant presentations could occur in a week.

The next step was a desktop computer – I used an HP 9845 that cost us about 1.5E5$ – with an X-Y plotter. Then you used a graphics client to make your viewgraphs directly. Time for any briefing now about two weeks. Draftsmen and photography technicians now not a good career choice.

The big breakthrough was desktop computers and HP laser printers. Not only could you do nerd manuscripts, but viewgraphs as well.  My client of choice was a program called VISIO which has since been bought by MegaHard and turned to stercus.

The attraction of PowerPoint? Simple. It’s easy to put in figures, graphs and equations. Especially equations. PP was the first client to make that easy.

But one of the rules of nerd briefings is that copies of the slides get left behind for the folks in the audience to take away. That’s what they will remember and refer to, so you build your slides for both presentation and later reference. Nothing on the slides that violates either.

It’s amazing how many honor graduates of management shuls like the PM course at Ft. Belvoir can’t learn that. And all too many presentation gurus miss it as well. (One that doesn’t is “The Extreme Presentation”. [Link] Shameless plug but there are too many presentation gururs out there who meet Sturgeon’s and da Vinci’s criteria. ) Anyway, it now emerges that not only is the take away ruptured by video, so is the presentation. [Link] So unless your purpose is the put people to sleep and have them forget what you said, don’t put movies in your presentation.

Tyranny Truffles

Tuesday is a good day at gym. I usually get my ‘stride’ back on Tuesday – 13 Yankee miles today, bicycle and ergometer – and I get to listen to science podcasts. Unfortunately today’s episodes were a bit flat except for the Sigma Xi contribution to “The World” science podcast. From that I learned not to let bees sting the inside of my nose and that dark matter changes the mass of gravitational singularities.

Now the former tidbit actually came from a vignette on elephants but I identify with them from my undergraduate days, from going to MalWart and observing the demographics of their customer base, and from not liking to run. But the latter was a bit of a palm on forehead moment in that I hadn’t thought about that aspect.

But the rest of that episode and the others were a bit lacking in attention bonding – more like antibonding in fact – so I cast a bit of that available attention towards the television in front of the bicycle I was on and got to witness that irish fascist O’Reilley having a set to with some midwestern print journalist of several opposites from him. As is usual in such televised situation, especially on the opinion uber alles, facts be damned networks, each was talking something different from the other. That seems the face of contemporary politics in the Yankee republic, and perhaps the world?

A bit of reflection on the nature of such led me to the hypothesis that the popularity, for they have to be popular to survive in the market environment of consumerist television, of such lies in the entertainment value. The discussion changes no one’s opinion; those who agree with each side listen to only that side and fell enlightened and elevated and those who are undecided are bemused by the ineptitude of the debate. So having thought on that I tried to consider the news in such a context. This led me to a set of observations and insights:

Observation: China – Green Dam software
Insight: diao chuang-huh [1] Make the transformation PC -> FC [2] Did someone mention that the software only works on MegaHard boxes? And only filters out caucasian porn?

Observation: Iranian Elections
Insight: Organized religion is a sham as well as a tyranny.

Observation: Current Yankee government administration/politics
Insight: DIRO (democrats in, republicans out, both modern by inherency) administrations are more entertaining than RIDO administrations. In the former, the democrats are calm and confidently try to fix everything by exterminating taxpayers and the republicans’ insecurity explodes; in the latter the republicans’ insecurity emerges in repression of taxpayers and the democrats conduct musicals of their Coleridge nightmares of utopia

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t use Windows
  • Avoid fascist organizations
  • We need a DORO administration.

[1]  My apologies to people who actually know the language. Also for romanizing and dropping the diacriticals – my fonting skills are limited by the editor. And using inproper singular form. Anyway, in old confederacy Alibam – ‘drop window(s)’.
[2]  FC = ‘free computer’

Grad Hygiene

I have made some comment on the subject of personal grooming in graduate shul, but the “PhD” cartoon [Link]

recently restarted memory chain traces.

I should commence by noting that during my college years there were major differences from campus to campus as well as from region to region. For example, the party shul of the campus of the Black Warrior was in general neat and fashionable. There was a dress code, along the lines of everything strategically reproductive covered plus feet. Women could wear sandals in the summertime but the practice was frowned upon since hose were de rigeur. In fact the dress code was stronger on women: blouse and skirt or dress, hose, shoes, no slacks or pants or shorts except when on the way to PE class or in transit to/from home. Men were required to cover chests except during athletic activities and shoes were required. Socks were optional as a fashion statement except in laboratory. Fungus was rampant. Oh! And everyone had cut, combed, even styled hair. The women rose every morning two hours before first class to lacquer their hair and struggle on foundation garments (not sure if they were required or not – ask not the question if you can’t handle the answer.) Most men got haircuts from the barber shop in the Union building next door to the book store. Only don’t try on Tuesday or Thursday mornings; the queue is long of ROTC students getting passable for drill.

As a nerd I got to do some things differently. For one, I wore socks – I knew all about foot fungus, and I wore Hush Puppy suede loafers – gray when new – instead of polished Bass Wejuns or tassel loafers. As the year progressed the shoes got lots of little black dots on the front part – drops of acid burned nap. When the sole wore out in the middle and the upper got too thin, I had to buy a new pair. Pants and shirts, and underwear were cotton and worn straight out of the laundry bundle. In the warmer half of the year a lack of ironing was unnoticeable after a couple of hours.

When I went off to graduate shul at the campus of the Boneyard I found out about cold. And living on a teaching assistant stipend. So my cotton pants got swapped for wool and my Hush Puppy loafers for Hush Puppy boots. And I got a double wool coat. And haircuts decreased to twice a year to keep me warm in the winter and save on money. I got a new understanding of the Russian invasion of Finland.

But the campus had a different code as well. So far as I could tell, there was no dress code for women. With co-ed dorms (alternating floor by gender then as a sop to parental Puritanism) the whole thing made little sense. Besides all that mattered in winter – the six months of the year when the ground was grey with snow and ice – was warm. So everyone looked that way, even the fraternity/sorority types. No bare feet in tassel loafers here. But I shaved every morning. That was a wake up treat, using boiled water from the stove. It made up for the floating ring of ice in the toilet – don’t be so asleep as to sit down with the seat up!

Then back south to the campus of the Tennessee. This made a big change because full time employment went with this move. The dress code was that of the nerd workplace so my enhanced salary went to suits and ties and boots with zippers on the side. Gave me an abiding hatred of ‘professional dress code’ and an abiding love of comfort. But anyway, as a result no slacking of grooming when it came dissertation time. The only slack off there was the commutes between typist and committee. This was before word processors of any form other than human. If I were doing all that today in LaTeX I would consider laying off the hygiene, to annoy the committee into speeding up, if nothing else.

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Stochastic Astronomy

Changing azimuths a bit, the evening was clear enough to permit a bit of observation of fusion nodes around the waning fullness of Luna. Amidst my snared RSS feed nuggets, I note [Link] that the folks at the Paris Observatory have alerted us to the danger of a collision between Tellus and its outward neighbor wanderer Mars. It seems that there is a probability of approximately 2E-12 per year of this event occurring.

Will the event be heralded by the arrival of tripods full of hyperchondriacs  or just of red and green skinned warriors?

On another note, we may express a deep gratitude to Gerrit Blank. [Link] It seems that Herr Blank has become the second person in recorded history to be struck with a meteorite. The other is an Alibamian from Sylacauga, which has since enjoyed notoriety and tourism, to say nothing of popularity amongst the thieves government in Muntgum, for this chance event.

On which note, we are now in a position to make a rough estimate of how often Tellus is struck by meteorites. The two events occurred over a period of 55 years. The total area of the planet is approximately 5.1E8 km^2 and the approximately human population of the planet is 5E9 (sorta averaged over the period.) If we take the average collision cross section of a human to be ~ 1m^2, then we may estimate the probability of a human being struck given a meteorite hitting the planet as approximately 1E-5.

Alternately, that means that 1E5 meteorites must strike the planet for a human to be struck, so if the period between such is ~ 55 years, something on order of 2E3 meteorites strike Tellus every year.

So it doesn’t have to be death rays or Barsoomian broad swords, chunks of hurtling junk will do just as well. Wear your safety glasses when you look up. Helps during bird migration season as well.


Yesterday was a smooth day. FD SCP and I managed to get our rear-end-of-SUV load of electronics: monitors CRT and LCD (the latter dead, the former still capable and thus a pain to part with after good service, archetypes of human affection for material things, sedentaryness and civilization, even our sweet-and-sour love-hate relationship with change and stagnation, growth and deterioration;) an old printer of the daughter’s, who from our perspective has the technoambivalence of the young, consuming and discarding without thought or feeling and apparently achieving nothing but self-gratification at the expense of humanity and society; odds and ends of wireless networkage; telephones that still have wires; and old CD and DVD drives whose McGiverness is inadequate is hence dated.

Our reception upon arrival at the drop site was definitely joyous. In retrospect we arrived at that happy boundary between wondering if anyone will come and the whole matter being reduced to drudgery and wonder of when will our time be up? What had taken me the better part of an hour to waddle out to the vehicle, mostly because of the bulk of monitors and staircases that challenge my inner ear, were removed in something like two minutes: many hands not yet cleansed of eagerness by too much of the same. Even my offers to pay television fees for my monitors – are tuners really the seat of toxicity?  – were cheerfully declined.

We drove off to MalWart with the aura of content that comes from the perception of doing good for the species and the nagging fear that the moment is already shattering. The latter was not far off. As we entered the parking lot of Greater Metropolitan Arab’s temple-of-Mammon, the skies congealed and desultory rain began. We quickly puddle plopped into the  squeaky linoleum mausoleum and did our dirt: vitamin C; potting soil; assorted foodstuffs ranging from dinosaur descendant stem cells to the marvel of vegetable pseudo-lactation. I marveled at the cosmetic engineering of vegetarian mamalianness and the asentience of my fellow citizens, of how many people can be simultaneously ugly, tattooed, and obese, and judging from their behavior and converse, deficient in intelligence as well. Da Vinci and Sturgeon would both have been at ease in this marketplace, no matter what fears we may have of culture shock.

Out again among the drops and off to the emblem of Yankee government steadfastness, the local seat of the USPS, sometimes pronounced to associate we-the-people and urine and thence past the recyclage point at one of the city’s citizen amusement edifices to note the presence of two large rental transporter truck being unloaded of hundreds of commercial electronics boxes and the already bedragledness of those manning the position. The reality of Amerika had not be slow in intruding on our technological idyll and I motored down the street happy to return to my personal “protection against the envy of less well favored nations.


The weather has been a bit strange this week. Rather nasty midday thunder storms. The sort of thing one would expect with excess thermal energy in the atmosphere! But, of course, this cannot be the result of global climate change.

Anyway, the rains started early yesterday and this morning and today is electronics recycling day in Greater Metropolitan Arab. Evidently the nerds of the community, assisted I am sure by the heroic mediasts of the Arab Tribune, have managed to force a token compromise from the growth and real estate graspers who comprise the government of GMA. This token, to be performed once and then transformed into a dismal failure for future effort but a shining example of the good governance of the community – a prevarication so important for enticing more suckers here as part of the BRAC relocation – is a community electronic turn-in downtown in a location where traffic is assured to be knotty and congested, at least as much as such gets in GMA other than at the high shul football stadium on game night. Also conveniently timed to permit folks whose analog televisions no longer give them titilation after last night to turn them in, for a disposal fee, and proceed to MalWart to purchase a digital replacement.

Accordingly, I have the back end of a SUV packed with old electronics, mostly computer stuff that I have been unable to entice the capitalist recyclage contractor to take and I am unwilling to consign to the land fill and hence the water table, to turn in and I suspect pay the television fee on my old CRT monitors.

So happy trails for now and blogging may be a bit slight untiul I can get back and vent my spleen at the ineptitude of our city conscript parents.

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