The Gods Drive Mad

I am not a fan of air travel. It has all of the joys of traveling on an antiquated shul bus driven by an inebriated deaf mute with the perils of dealing with any avaricious organization. My most frequent metal image when dealing with airlines is an account of the train travel of an Auschwitz survivor to that camp.

I have faint sympathy for the problems that the airlines are experiencing today. Indeed, my only real concern about it is what it does to the CRAF.

But it is with great satisfaction, and a measure of rolling on the floor laughter, to see that a New Yawk lawyer is litigating Delta Airlines, one of those whose nostrils are too good for the air breathed by their passengers, for harassment and the like over a botched vacation trip. [Link]

Now I have almost as little patience for vacation travelers than I do for airlines; their demands for sybaritic treatment are worse than the yapping of lap dogs or the screams of infants, but there is a joy in seeing two acute rectal pains engaging in hair pulling and groin kicking.

Against Stupidity

The fundamental question is whether it is stupidity or just avarice? The matter at hand is global climate change.

Yesterday I received an email from an environmental action center located at an academic institution. I subscribe to this because normally they are relatively urbane. The message yesterday however, which dealt with the administration’s recently released plan on climate change, which does bear a striking resemblance to a band aid sans adhesive, was so strongly worded that I suspect the place will be visited by some form of the Yankee government’s secret police, probably homeland defense or the secret service.

Then this morning I read a polemic in the New Yawk Times [Link] claiming that our manifestly worst weather in the Yankee republic is the direct result of out national contributions to climate change. The only good thing I can say about the tenor of this article is that at least it is secular. I would have expected some mystical blather about our climate sins engendering the wrath of their deity. Said deity of course being masculine.

That there is climate change cannot be argued. We have rather striking evidence of such in the polar regions. It is not yet clear that the worsened weather in the Yankee republic is not due more to other effects; the problem is much more complex than it is portrayed to the public, a matter we suspect more of media and scientist arrogance than anything else. We also need to make note that part of the reason we see the weather as worse in this country is because our weather is so well covered by the nation’s traditional media. Of the triunity of local news broadcasts, weather is first and actual news is third.

This rancor serves us ill, and negatively. We do not need conflict but unified action – if we can rise above our petty self interests to achieve such.

Insight

One of my colleagues, Total Angular Momentum Coupling, and I have been jesting about the “dummy” books for Linux. The source of the jocularity has been my recent efforts to use Ubuntu Linux as a daily OS.

Before continuing with this thread however, I want to digress a moment to talk about textbooks. When I was a student, textbooks were monochrome. Ink was black, pages were white, and emphasis was a matter of font: italics; bold; underlined. When I was a senior I took a course in nuclear physics -really a schedule padder so I did not fall below 24 semester hours of coursework and become too unstressed – and the textbook had an insert in the middle of book with colored (!) illustrations, mostly cut aways of pieces of equipment and graphs.

The big, new thing in those days was boxes. Parenthetical expositions or examples were being put in boxes in the text. I especially recall Reif’s Statistical and Thermal Physics as the first book I noticed this in. In some cases key linear equations were boxed, a practice I regarded as decadent or dictatorial depending on mood. The idea that I should be told that a particular equation was especially important was always demeaning, as if I was considered incapable of making such determinations for myself.

Nowdays, of course, textbook are printed in at least two colors, often several, and have all manner of emphatic constructs from boxes to marginalia, all decrying how stupid and fundamentally incompetent the student is. In such an environment it seems wonderless that students learn nothing and education is one with the water closet.

The point however, for this diversion is the difference between Windows and Linux. My colleague had asked if I had purchased a copy of the “Linux for Dummies” book. I had responded that I had bought several Linux books but not the “Dummy” book as it was a poor investment. Such dialogs are massy; they have considerable inertia. But in the process, I had a bit of an epiphony about what consititues the differences between Windows and Linux.

Simply put, Windows is an appliance that may, with the greatest of effort, be beaten into the occasional use as a tool; Linux is a tool that may grudgingly be temporarily be conduced to be an appliance. If you want to use Windows to compute the energy levels of a hydrogenic monoelectronic atom, e.g., then you have a world of hurt getting a compiler installed and working; if you want to do this in Linux you click to install the compiler from a repository, write the code, and run the program from the terminal.

Part of this was the realization that Linux books – the relatively good ones at least that the editors have only slightly ruined – are monochrome (maybe a bit of gray shading in figures) and largely without boxes. They look like textbooks did in my youth, full of information that has to be drug out and digested. Contrast this to dummy books, which are more than wonderful at telling you how to use an appliance but not at all good at how to use a tool.

Choice of End

I am saddened to note the incidences of suicides among those in the military service of the Yankee republic last year. [Link] I regret the loss of any individual who could have contributed to the betterment of the species. Indeed, the regret is stronger for the loss of those who have already done such sacrifice and duty.

Beyond this, I am dismayed at the absence of meaningful discussion and reportage. I am unsure whether this is due to a profound abhorrence that we exhibit as a society about such thing, in the process giving the lie to our commitment to what democracy is and what human rights are, or some ulterior motive of the traditional media or the military itself. Certainly the military is loathe to discuss such, cloaking their own insecurities of their failure as leaders and humans and the just embarrassment this brings on the organization in the stultified dignity of consideration. The aethical commerciality of the traditional media on the other hand needs no comment other than to note it also serves as a cloaking factor as well.

The fact remains that suicide is a matter of individual human choice, as fundamental in its way as abortion is, and as much a matter of individual decision. Society may offer information and discussion fora for the matter but any coercion is inherently more repugnant and socially debilitating than the action itself. That such exists at all is an indictment of mankind’s addiction to religious superstition and perversions of social control.

Suicide is historically not uncommon in the military. Most are hidden by the actor or his associates as accident or false bravery. The environment of individual suppression and mission obsession is repressive and often devoid of hope. While this does not excuse either the organization or the individual, it does demonstrate that this type of captivity is alien to our basic nature.

Stupidity in Activity

I have been watching some of the commercials put out by people running for the Yankee congress. Given the impending primaries such are hard to avoid unless one turns off the television and just watches YouTube. SO perhaps the young are not too wrong after all.

And as dismal as these commercials are, they are better than some interminable ones, like those cancerous insurance commercials that don’t show the reptile, and the particularly inane ones of distonal pronouncements of wanting money now! Such do instruct us in why the people who think up and make these commercials live in large coastal cities – they need to be able to hide in the crowds to avoid sane people who would visit just retribution on them.

The things I do get from these political commercials is how disconnected they are from reality. The most egregious of these is the solitary woman running whose commercials have evolved into monologues of pure negativity. This is bad, that is bad. Her rhetoric seems more fitting for someone running for president of the shrews club than the Yankee congress.

Then there are those who wrap themselves in religious ignorance and perversion. Since such is the last refuge of a politician one has to wonder what they expect to accomplish if elected? Again however, nothing positive being offered – almost.

The award for lack of relevancy however goes to the retired physician. His one plank platform seems to be health care, and while health care is an issue, completely ignoring the economic situation, especially in a community that lives of cash flow from the Yankee government indicates a serious lack of insight into how the community functions.

The almost incidentally is that all of these candidates make grandiose promises of doing the right thing resoundingly well once elected. One has to wonder if they are deluded or just think the electorate is simple minded. There are more than 500 other folks in the congress who have agendas. Any fool who goes off without admitting that they will have to form alliances and compromise is going to fail and the average citizen is sentient enough to know this.

I have noted a rather modest commercial that does address the economic realitie of the community and refrains from excessive promises. I suspect this rationality will soon fall by the wayside.

But we can be proud that Nawth Alibam has political candidates every bit as corrupt and insipid as those running for the oval office.

Flush

It seems the WC is misfunctional. WC in this case stands for water closet, not a television channel or ant IT term. And what makes this rather difficult is that the WC in point is the one of the International Space Station. [Link]

The difficulty here is what does one do under these circumstances. While one may step outside and perform one’s metabolic business, the trip would be rather one’s last. Nor is this really one of those circumstances where one can use a convenient corner and how the aroma dissipates before anyone else notices. I also suspect old Mason jars are in short supply, to say nothing of Coca Cola bottles – long, I am told, a staple of Southron Ladies’ personal hygiene but somehow the mechanics of usage seem so distressing as to place in the category of questions one does not ask for fear of what the answer might be.

But this may explain why so many astronauts seem to have such a haunted look.

In a similar manner the New Yawk Supreme Court has gotten Dell for fraud. [Link] Seems they did a bit of cone-on bait and switch, offering customers no-interest loans and then hitting them with interest rates of 0.2 per annum. This certainly makes the plucky Texican company look like it has stared at the sun a bit too long. I also note that they have finally shown off their Eee clone. [Link] The box, other than having a shiny candy apple red top is not particularly interest provoking. But then Dell is pretty well the last of the majors – expect IBM – to roll out a clone. And the details are so sketchy that we don’t have much idea of how vanilla this box will be. In fact, we even have to question the wisdom of such a box right now other than organizational pride of place.

Clearly the early adopters sprang for Eees, and the the wait for a known vendor adopters bit when HP rolled out their Mini . So the question is are there enough late adopters and died in the wool Dell devotees left to make this worth while. Or are they counting on the red top to provoke migration?

Meanwhile, we stand, ear cocked, for the sound of water running in an “S” bend.

Speed of Information

How far is Alibam, at least Nawth Alibam, from New Yawk City? The answer is three days.

How do we come up with that? Well, the Huntsville Times published an obituary article of Ernst Stuhlinger, one of the Peenemunde Bunch who came over under Operation Paperclip with von Braun after the Great Patriotic War on Sunday. [Link] Stuhlinger, incidentally, was the boy genius of the group.

The New Yawk Times finally caught up this morning. [Link]

Really makes you feel like a third world country, doesn’t it?

Repetitive Sense

Those bugs are back! Cicadas, not the ones in the movies about aliens and secret service guys. I have not seen any around here but I note an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [Link] on their return. But then I am up on top of Brindlee (one of several spellings for which wide disagreement prevails) Mountain and the local variety seems to be more of a lowlands dweller. But there has been an increase in the insect noise amplitude lately, so I may be hearing them.

I have to admit to having seen very few of the beasts. What I have seen considerable of are their molt skins. In fact, they were the basis of a science fair project back when I was a youngster. My family had retired for two weeks to a fishing camp on Lake Guntersville for my father to recharge himself and for the rest of us to go quietly mad. We were residing in a small cabin that did have electricity and piped water – in and out flows – but lacked any other exceptional comfort. Since my father was either asleep, eating, or out fishing, my mother, my brother, and I were left together all day. I ran out of books to read about halfway through the period and so my only alternative to solitary boredom was to tramp the woods.

As it happened, this was when the cicadas were molting, and I was exposed to the sight of their molt skins. I ran about trying desperately for a couple of days to observe one either pre-molt or better yet, in the process, but to no avail. Finally I combined my search with a collection effort which was made challenging, and thus distracting, by the problem of removing the molt skins intact from the bark of the pine trees they tightly clutched. In all I think I collected several hundred, of which only a few survived the trip back to Huntsville and later incorporation in a kind of pin sticking display to satisfy a then irritating requirement for a “science” project. Since this was at an age when children have neither the knowledge nor the sentience to be trusted with soldering irons or chemicals, the run of the mill of these projects was some plagaristic extract from the encyclopedia.

Not so obvious is a statistic that I noted about flu vaccine. [Link] It seems that such are only effective in producing antibodies in about half as many seniors as younger adults. The obvious conjecture is the the systems of seniors are getting exhausted or otherwise apathetic to such excitations. Such would certainly fit with the general idea of an impending failure of a complex system of systems. If enough of the subsystems fail you expire; hence the idea that the subsystems, like the components of an automobile, degrade or fail catastrophically. This seems more a matter of “graceful” degradation in that the production of antibodies does not suddenly cease but just decreases and eventually falls below an effective concentration. (For more on the mechanics of graceful degradation of systems, see the work of “Griff” Callahan, emeritus professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and retired colonel, Yankee army.)

I also observe that people are becoming less amenable to distraction on the internet. [Link] Seems that by some measures the success rate of avoiding distraction has risen from 0.6 in 1999 to 0.75 now. The reportage is somewhat turgid, unusual for the BBC as compared to American traditional media, and there is no mention of any statistics on those who deliberately get distracted on the ‘net by such appliances as “Stumble Upon”.

What this does tend to indicate is a possible reason for the fall in advertising revenues as noted by Gooey and other search engines. What is not at all clear here, and is unremarked, is the impact on all this of advertisement blocking instrumentalities, such as the banned Ad Block Pro, and the dispersion away from Windows OS and its browser; I know my browsing experience is much more satisfying since I switched to Firefox and installed NoScript. Now I have complete control over bandwidth vampires like videos, at least those that Hardy Heron will even show. But I am not quite ready to accept an epidemic of rationality among users; more likely one of ennui.

And lastly, I see that the Japanese government is warning parents to restrict their children’s cellular phone capabilities and usage. [Link] In particular they are urging that children only be permitted cellular phones with audio capability and GPS tracking.

I have to admit to mixed view here. On the one hand I have to agree with the outlook that children, at least the ones I see here in Nawth Alibam, have phones with entirely too many capabilities that have to be paid for continually. And as far as I can tell text messaging has no positive benefit that comes anywhere near equaling its negatives. The division however is not so much about technology as human nature. I have my doubts that there are very many parents who have the strength of will, and in two parent households the strength of unity, to restrict their children from these fripperies. I suspect the warnings of government will fall in vain as parents opt for the immediate peace of avoiding confrontations over depriving children of what they feel are peer guaranteed rights.

But at least we can give the Japanese government a kudo for being more relevant and realistic (?) than the Yankee government.

Test Optional

I note an article in the New Yawk Times [Link] describing how colleges are increasingly making the standardized tests optional. At one time, every college required one of the two standardized college admission tests.

When I was a student, standardized tests of some sort were associated with rites of passage. When I was a high shul junior I had to go take both of the college admission tests. In those days people did not study or even cram for these tests like they do today. They just went and took them. At least that is the way I recall the activity.

Then when I was finishing my undergraduate work, I went and took the Graduate Record Exam, and to humor my mother, the Medical College Admission Test. Again, the format was the same: large room; number two pencils; multiple choice questions whose primary challenge was figuring out how stupidly one was suppose to consider them. The latter was a new consideration that had crept in somewhere during the college experience.

My next testing experiences, with qualifying exams in graduate shul were entirely different. These tests were not standardized except in the sense that they covered areas of the discipline, but the question of how simple to consider the problem was even more central.

This points up the problems with standardized tests. The primary problem is that it leads to standardized learning, which in turn results in students who are amply trained but woefully uneducated. And the results of the testing increasingly demonstrate nothing more than one knows the answers to the questions on the tests. Because of the problem with figuring out how simple to treat the question, those who are educated tend to make as bad or worse grades on the tests than those who have learned little.

So I am not particularly upset that colleges are abandoning these tests. They do not seem to have very much to do with who is smart but with who is crammed.

Age of Catastrophes

We live in an age of warnings and apparent portents of impending doom. For example, the year 2000 CE, incorrectly deemed the millennium by the maths illiterate (or foolish) and the religiously fanatical, which are not necessarily synonymous despite superficial similarities, was supposed to be a year of catastrophic (in the maths sense) change of a religious nature and was an actual near catastrophe of the informational technology type due to a set of problems collectively called Y2K.

At issue with this was that because of some prodded decisions made without adequate forethought – the product of corporate oligarch managers of conspicuously absent technical knowledge – the means of tracking dates in computer code would crash and burn in 2000 CE. The response of civilization to this was varied. Those with some grasp of what was at stake, including the Yankee republic, executed what amounted to a war-like effort to assure that we did not come to work after New Year’s that year and find useless computers on our desks. (Note that this presumes that they were not useless prior to that date.) Others, who had no grasp of the matter, due to either ignorance or managerial apathy, sailed blithely along.

This gave rise to three types of responses. The first was to fix the problem, either directly or, for purchased software, by intimidation of the originator. The second was to do nothing, the product of apathy or ignorance. And the third was often a blind, religious persecution of the users of unfixable programs.

The latter perhaps deserves some explanation. As a scientist I tend to use a lot of software that is not in common use. Some of it I write myself; some I purchase. And because the vendors of scientific software have a small market base, they are often going out of business. Hence, as Y2K approached I had numerous pieces of software that had not been “fixed”. These fell into two categories: programs I had personally written and knew that if the OS were fixed, the programs would work correctly; and programs I had bought whose originators were no longer in business. The latter could not be fixed but in many cases I was relatively sure that they would still work properly if, again, the OS were fixed.

To the Yankee government’s software gestapo, this was not relevant. There could only be two types of software: that which had been fixed, and that which could not and was accordingly banned. Professional judgment was irrelevant. Unless one had a certificate from the originating organization, for purchased software, that their software had been fixed, that software was banned.

So my Y2K challenge was finding new software that had “fixed” date handling and would do what my old software had done. And figuring out how to pay for this new software. And figuring up how to make up the lost time spent finding new software instead of getting work done.

For may people who ignored the problem however, and this included most of the home users who had little idea of how to even approach the problem, Y2K dawned and some of their software did not work properly. In some cases their machines didn’t work at all; in others, some of their work got sabotaged.

The reason I mention this is that I read this morning [Link] that something like 0.85 of the Internet Protocol addresses have been used. The IP address is a designation of your “identity” on the ‘net. Most ISPs and large organization networks have been using dynamic assignment of these addresses for some time now to minimize the demand, but there are limits to how far that can go.

An IP address right now is a set of four eight bit (a byte) numbers. Since 2^8 = 256, this means that the maximum number of people who can be on the ‘net and have unique addresses is 256^4 ~ 4.3 E+09. The actual number is somewhat less than this in actual practice because IP addresses are assigned by the first two or three numbers. Hence if you have an organization of 10 users and your organization officially “owns” a set of IP address on the basis of the first three numbers, then 246 of those numbers are not used but are not available to be used.

Now when all of these address are assigned, no more assignments can be made and BOOM! the ‘net becomes static. To avoid this, the plan is to go to a new IP ddress scheme with six eight bit numbers: 256^5 ~ 2.8E+14. Now this may seem like a lot of growth room, and it is, but it also the bow wave of a catastrophe and that is why folks have been so slow to get around to implementing it.

The first thing that has to be done is every OS has to be changed or patched to work with this form of IP address. In a large organization this means that every computer has to be touched by the IT apparat. And while theu are doing this they can’t be doing their usual stuff of rescueing damsels and kittens. In the home it means that every computer has to be touched by its user, which measn they have to be educated – or the process be made foolproof.

Then the network routers and switches that have or use IP addresses have to be fixed, changed, or replaced. In the large organization, this is another big thing for the IT apparat. In the home, this means doing things to routers that the average home user doesn’t do, and in practice the company who sold the router doesn’t want to worry about but will happily sell a new router for.

A lot of home folks are not going to either understand this, understand how to fix this, or do anything until they get up one morning and they are stuck because they can’t access the ‘net to get help, contact anyone, whatever. And everyone who has VOIP phone service, doesn’t.

I shan’t even mention the expected time to this catastrophe. But it will be sooner than the Mayan date for the end of the universe.