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Showing posts from June, 2019

Book Review: Black Hole Blues

I bought my copy at a public lecture by the author, Janna Levin.  She cuts a striking figure on stage,  trim and athletic looking in a black leather suit above dramatically high heels, pacing restlessly as she speaks.  Her story is dramatic: the first direct detection of gravitational waves.  Face to face, she is a tiny image of concentrated energy.  I find it easy to imagine that one career is a bit too small to contain this astrophysics professor, author and artist.

Einstein's paper predicting gravitational waves was published in 1916, but their first direct detection needed to wait almost exactly 100 years.  Black Hole Blues, and Other Songs from Outer Space, is mostly the story of the building of the giant instruments that aimed to find Einstein's gravitational waves.

Why did it take so long?  Because gravity is a very weak force - the electrical force between two protons is about a trillion-trillion-trillion times as strong as the electrical force between them.  As a resu…

US 2 - France 1

I really hate the rope-a-dope defense the US spent much of the game in.

Although they couldn't manage to finish, I thought the French played better overall.

US defence was pretty good though, and the US goalie got lots of practice in.

Group Stage B: Promises, Promises

OK, I only made it through the first 90 minutes of the debate so far - I'm old and need my sleep.

Most annoying thing - candidates blabbing endlessly after their time is up.  My cure - either shut off candidates mike after their time is up or allot each candidate the same time at the beginning and shut off their mike after they used up their time.  Also, just shut off Chuck Todd's mike.

Overall impression: see title.  Much is promised, details obscure.

Kamala Harris and Bernie probably the most effective, but I don't trust Harris and hate the thought of Bernie being the candidate.  Joe wasn't terrible, but he and Bernie are too damn old.

Williamson was actually interesting, and Mayor Pete was more concrete than most.  Yang had an interesting point about jobs and robots but was otherwise the invisible man.  He and the others can go home - don't call us, and don't expect us to call you.

The Worst Thing About Women's Soccer

The soccer hooligans.

Or holliganettes, as they are more technically known.

After England's devastating 3-0 win over Norway, drunken mobs of moms and preteen girls took to the streets of Le Havre, burning and looting wherever they went.  Some were armed with Nerf versions of baseball and cricket bats and plastic water bottles.

The local gendarmerie were overwhelmed.  Some were seen bloody and weeping in the streets.

A few old timers said that it was the worst thing they had seen since the war.

Locals blamed the Brits.

Spit and No Polish

I almost felt sorry for Eric Trump, who got spit on by a waitress.  I don't approve of spitting on people, public figures or no, though I do sympathize with the motivation.*

But Eric, come on!  He's practically the most obscure Trump, and certainly the most picked on by the likes of Colbert.  There have to be more deserving Trumps.

*Full disclosure:  I did once spit at a parked (and empty) car with an offensive bumper sticker.  No harm was done to car, bumper, bumper sticker or street, but I do feel some shame about the whole thing.


Dem Debates: Group Stage A

I've now looked at a few of the reactions by the media and am totally unimpressed.  In my opinion, nobody looked great and nobody looked very bad, except Tim Ryan, who got gutted by Tulsi Gabbard for his ill-considered blather about needing to "stay engaged" in Afghanistan.  His weak comeback that if we let the Taliban thrive, they would fly planes at our towers again was destroyed when Gabbard pointed out that the Taliban didn't attack us, it was al Qaeda, and they came from Saudi Arabia, not Afghanistan.

Nobody in the media elite seemed to find this interesting in the least.  The questions the moderators asked were not as stupid as those we have seen in past debates, but they weren't very pointed either.  Washington Governor Inslee, running on climate change, was challenged by somebody who pointed out that carbon taxes had failed in his state as well as in France and Australia.

Nobody talked about the cost of any of the extravagant programs proposed - probably …

Football: A Modest Proposal

It's World Cup time, so it's time for the next edition of CIP's ideas for fixing soccer.  (Actually the games I've seen have been very exciting).

1)Keep the damn time on the scoreboard clock.  I mean really.

2)Replace the ridiculous penalty shot shootouts with a seven on seven overtime.

3)Get rid of penalty shots altogether.  Replace with hockey style time in the penalty box.

4)Experiment with replacing the throw in with a kick in.  (Pele's suggestion).

5)Replace the stupid group and knockout system with a seven round Swiss System tournament. This could eliminate the need to play off ties.  Each team plays seven games and winner has highest score after seven rounds.

Not Enough Guns

The Golden State Warriors started the playoffs with three of the greatest shooters in the game.  This tended to obscure the fact that they didn't really have any others who could consistently hit the open three.  Once their number one scorer went down they struggled but battled their way into the finals, with Klay and Steph consistently doubled.  Even when Klay went down, they were in the game until the final seconds.

Toronto had at least seven guys who could shoot, and six who were hitting threes.  In the end, they had more strength in numbers.

Next year looks tough for the Warriors, even if both Klay and KD sign up for more.  Both are likely to miss much or all of next season.

They badly need a quality shooting guard or two and a stretch 4 who can hit the corner 3.  A center who could put up big numbers would also be nice.

Dynasties tend to be brief in today's NBA.  Free agency, the salary cap, and the wear and tear of 100 plus games combine to bring down the mighty.

Edward O. Wilson

I recently wrote a review of Wilson's latest book, Genesis, here.  Wired has a new interview with Wilson, which discusses his life and work, and Genesis in particular.

The centerpiece of Genesis is Wilson's theory of group selection.  In the interview, Wilson makes a point of the validation of his model using mathematical modelling.

The interview is highly recommended.

Book Review: She Has Her Mother's Laugh

by Carl Zimmer.

Lee recommended this book to me, and it is really excellent.  It took me a while to read it, since I was busy with other things, and because I like to take time digest what I've read.  I have taken three graduate/undergraduate courses in evolution and human genomics in the last couple of years, but I was very gratified that Zimmer still had a lot to teach me.

It's aimed at a popular audience, but it is wide ranging and admirably documented with hundreds of endnotes.  Zimmer is a talented writer, and he knows how to tell a story and how to explain the sometimes complex workings of heredity.  He does an admirable job of explaining both the history and the latest (up to 2015) developments in this rapidly developing field.

If you take a biology or evolution course you will get a kind of cartoon version of Mendel's and Darwin's work and thought.  The reality is considerably more nuanced, and Zimmer will explain it, as well as the many steps that led to the m…

Your Genome is a Mess

Your genome, and mine, are cluttered with trash.  Some of it is mostly just useless, only occasionally becoming dangerous, like the one million plus Alu units in your genome.  These Alu units each consist of about 300 base pairs each, interspersed at random places in the genome, and have no known function except propagating themselves - classic junk DNA.  Every time a cell divides, your body wastes a lot of energy duplicating these 300 million base pairs.

Each of us also is likely to be packing around a number of dangerous recessive alleles - gene copies which don't do much damage unless you inherit a copy from each parent.  These are a good reason to avoid excessive inbreeding.  Overly inbred populations like Ashkenazi Jews, many Arabs, and some Indian Jati have a heavy load of genetic disease in consequence.

Gene copying in humans is a rather precise process, with only about one mutation in ten billion base pair copies, but with 3 billion base pairs to be copied in every cell di…

Fixing The Court

Republicans have made a multi-decade project of peopling the federal courts with anti-abortion and pro-business ideologues.  Mayor Pete has an idea for fixing this - he wants the Supreme Court to have 5 Republican and 5 Democratic party appointees plus 5 supposedly non-partisan justices appointed for one year terms by the other ten.

This is a pretty terrible idea, based on the number of problems I can see in ten minutes contemplation.  What if, say, the Republican Party is burned to the ground as justice and common sense dictate, and is replaced, say by two parties?  How much of their time will the ten spend wrangling over what other five to appoint?  Will they need to hire and supervise investigative staffs.  This would also be a pretty major wound to the Constitution.

I have a proposal which, IMHO, is both better and simpler.  Require all judges to be confirmed by a supermajority of the Senate, say 2/3 or maybe 3/5.  This should ensure that no extremists get appointed, or at least t…

Emerson wrote...

"...When you strike at a king, make sure you use a milkshake."

OK, I'm pretty sure that is not what he really said, since milkshakes probably hadn't been invented yet.  This latest fad in political pseudo violence strikes me as a pretty bad idea, even it was mildly amusing the first time it happened.

It can be a cheap laugh at already ridiculous figures, but mainly it just makes their supporters mad - and they are already mad enough to be very dangerous.  Calmly pointing out that their ideas are bad is less satisfying, but who knows, it might even work sometimes.

Cracked

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I remember my first portable computer.  It was only slightly smaller than a D6 Caterpillar tractor, and it weighed about the same, but it did have a nice nine-inch monochrome screen with green letters on black.  You had to dial a number on your old-fashioned landline phone and then place the screeching headset into the double cupped receiver to connect by 300 baud modem.  If you whistled while you worked, it would probably crash.  I believe that was before my back surgery.





I read recently that 86% of women devalue a date who has a cracked cell phone screen.  Not so terribly long ago I paid good money for Pixel 2 XL, which, despite the XL was fairly thin and light - until, that is, I let them sell me a screen protector and a massive rubber case.  It is still slightly smaller and lighter than a Bobcat S70 skid loader.



Which would be OK except for the fact that my screen is cracked.

Or maybe it's just the screen protector.  I'm afraid to take it off for fear the whole thing will …

Wolfram on Gell-Mann

Lubos has posted a great reminiscence of Murray Gell-Mann by Stephen Wolfram.  It's one of the best things I've read on both the man and his science - both sympathetic and deeply insightful. 

Highly recommended.