Monday, February 4, 2003Character in Cryptonomicon Identified
If you've read Neil Stephenson's grand, sprawling, gargantuan novel, you know that there are some real people in the story - Alan Turing, for example. There are also characters based more or less loosely on real people. I've identified one of them. It is a peripheral character in the book, but one who played an important part in the history of World War II that runs through Stephenson's story.
Even if you haven't read the book (or haven't finished it), I think you'll be fascinated by his story. Along the way, there are more trails to follow, trails that lead to cryptology, mathematics, a little WW II history, and places yet to be uncovered.
The first installment, identifying "Mr X", will be posted within a few days. There are a few more trails to mark.
posted by Mike 10:45
Thursday, Sept 19, 2002Democrats attack space
A lively little site, democrats.com, which bills itself as The aggressive progressives, takes time out from its usual Bush-bashing to take on the non-military uses of space.
One wonders, since they're opposed to the non-military (in other words, commercial) uses of space, if they must necessarily support the military ones.
The subject of intense scrutiny from these progressives (for the meaning of "progressive", see here, here here, and especially here) is TransOrbital, a company which has just won approval to explore and land on the Moon. (I leave it to others to debate why somebody needs government approval to go to the Moon.)
Their first launch is scheduled for June 2003. It will be a lunar orbiter, to take photographs and make maps of the Moon's surface. After that, it will land on the Moon. (I suspect it will be a very hard landing.)
Part of Transorbital's mission statement says:
What democrats.com claims
Over time - millions of years - considerable mass has already been added to the Moon - and to the Earth as well. Every one of those craters you see up there was caused by a meteor crashing at high speed onto the Moon's surface. The largest crater is about 200 km (about 125 miles) across. I leave it to you to consider what a 125-mile wide meteor, travelling at thousands of miles per second, might do to the Moon's surface, or to its orbit. It would certainly have been a grand sight, from the Earth. But the "delicate gravitational interplay" they worry about is just another charming fiction they've dreamed up.
democrats.com charges blindly on, heedless of fact:
Now let's try to find the part about "displaying commercial messages on the surface of the moon". Makes you think of giant flashing lights, perhaps spelling out
(If you're in MSIE you're missing the delightful blinking effect.)
Here's what TransOrbital really says:
First, they get the web host wrong: Artemis says
So, what does this "rghtwing front site", Artemis, tell us?
For one thing, the founder is Gregory Bennett. A reasonably thorough Google search fails to turn up any sinister right-wing connections. Or left, for that matter. He's a busy man. He's a VP at Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas company specializing in the commercial development of space travel. He also owns Budget Suites of America. He's a science-fiction writer. And he's been in the aerospace industry for about 30 years.
Artemis is connected with The Moon Society. Once again, no right-wing connections. These people just want to put Man back on the Moon. We've been away now for about 30 years. It's time we went back.
I haven't read all of the rest of democrats.com. What I have read makes my head hurt. Their writing is not that good. It reminds me of a first-year journalism course. They rely more on character assassination and innuendo than on logical argument. Since they're so wrong about TransOrbital, I can only conclude that the rest of their site is a farrago of jejune babblement.
posted by Mike 15:38
Tuesday, Sept 17, 2002Aldrin biffs bozo
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin was in the lobby of the Luxe Hotel, in Beverly Hills, CA, on Sept 11. He just finished an interview with a Japanese TV crew (or may have been lured there under false pretenses). The bozo in question, one Mr Bart Sibrel, accosted him and asked him to swear on a Bible that he really did walk on the Moon. Sibrel also told Aldrin that he was a thief because he was taking money for an interview about something he didn't do.
Sibrel is 37, and hails from Tennessee. Down there they have some sort of old saying about catching flies more easily with honey than insults, but Mr Sibrel apparently hasn't heard of it. According to the news report, Sibrel is 6' 2", 250 pounds. Probably not all muscle, though. Aldrin is 5' 10", 150.
After considering Mr Sibrel's request, Aldrin gave Sibrel a good right hook.
Sibrel evidently makes a hobby of this sort of thing. He's made that same gambit to as many other astronauts as he can get close to. He's even pulled that one on Aldrin before.
Aldrin is 72 (born January 20, 1930). His mother's maiden name was Marian Moon. His father was a student of Robert Goddard. In 1951, Aldrin graduated 3rd in his class at West Point. He flew Sabre jets in the Korean War.
After that he attended MIT, earning a PhD in astronautics with his thesis, "Guidance for Manned Orbital Rendezvous." This work became the basis for the techniques NASA now uses for spacecraft to hook up while in orbit.
On July 20, 1969, he and Neil Armstrong landed on, and walked on, the Moon, in the Apollo XI flight.
After retiring from NASA, he took command of the Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB in California, from 1971 until 1972, when he retired from the Air Force.
Evidently Mr Sibrel makes his living trying to convince people that the Moon program never happened, that it was all an elaborate hoax by NASA to cover up the fact that they just couldn't do it.
Mr Sibrel is considering suing Aldrin. I hope it goes to court. Can you imagine a jury deciding against Buzz Aldrin?
The evidence against Sibrel
Some people give Sibrel the benefit of the doubt, saying that he really believes this nonsense, and is just a man with a cause.
I think I've found something that negates that argument.
According to his own site, Sibrel has
Now look at one of his claims: The photos taken on the Moon didn't show stars in the dark sky.
That's the clincher. Here's a guy who is an expert videographer, and therefore understands how light and video - and film - work. He knows full well that stars will not show up in a fast shutter speed photograph.
The photo of Aldrin or Armstrong in a space suit on the Moon is a photo of an object in direct sunlight. Any first year photo student will tell you that the standard exposure for such an object is f/16 at a shutter speed of 1/(ASA of the film).
They were using a special Kodak Ektachrome film, most likely with an ASA of 25, to get the finest detail possible. 1/25 second is a little long for a steady hand-held exposure (the cameras were actually fixed to the space suits), so we convert that to 3 stops faster, 1/125 (the closest to 1/100 on the camera), and adjust the aperture accordingly, to f/8.
At 1/125 second, you don't get stars, even in a dark night sky. And Sibrel knows that. Therefore, it must be Sibrel, not Aldrin, who is (to paraphrase Sibrel)
Is Sibrel a plagiarist?
Sibrel's video is titled A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Moon.
This site tells of a report from 1997, titled A Funny Thing Happened On Our Way to the Moon, by Ralph Rene, described as "a brilliant lay physicist".
This site tells of Bill Kaysing, "head of a technical presentations unit at Rocketdyne's propulsion fuel laboratory in Los Angeles from 1956 to 1963". Kaysing wrote a book titled We Never Went To the Moon, America's $30 Billion Swindle
Both these people put forth the same types of argument that Sibrel does. The difference is that their conclusions are more or less freely available; Sibrel wants $19.95 for his video.
There seems to be a small, but thriving, cottage industry in the Moon-hoax sector.
The camera was a Hasselblad, the Rolls-Royce of cameras. One of those cameras is still up there (they left it behind to save weight for the take-off). Quite a souvenir, if anybody finds it.
That camera site is the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal. It's a treasure-chest of history and images from the Apollo programs (Apollo 11 through 17).
Transterrestrial Musings has a hard-hitting expose debunking the Aldrin-Simbel punchout - it's a hoax!! It's definitely worth reading.
There's at least one site that does a thorough fact-checking of the hoaxer's claims. If you're interested in the hoaxer's backgrounds, in the sorts of things they claim, and how every one of their misconceptions is turned to dust - Moon-dust - take a long look at the excellent Moon Base Clavius site.
There are quite a few people besides Sibrel who think it was all a fake. The Hare Krishnas are another group. According to their site,
They outdo Simbrel. They don't even bother to resort to science:
The moon's surface according to Vedic conclusion, common sense, and scientific reasoning is made of a reflective substance; why then are there shadows in the video?
...we have information from a very reliable source, the Sanskrit Vedic scriptures, that
the astronauts never actually went to the moon.
The Vedic account of our planetary system is already researched, concluded, and perfect. The Vedas state that the moon is 800,000 miles farther from the earth than the sun.
...according to the Vedas, each planet has its particular standard of living and atmosphere, and no one can transfer from one planet to another without becoming properly qualified. This means that if someone wants to go to Mars, for instance, he has to give up his present gross material body and acquire another one suitable for life on that particular planet.
...they cannot go to the moon planet, which the Vedas describe not as a lifeless desert but as a heavenly planet of extraordinary material pleasures. Where the astronauts actually went, or how this fabrication of lunar visitation will one day be exposed to people in general, are not part of our present discussion. But the Vedic teachings warn us that the manned moon landing is certainly an empty bluff.
The effects of strongly-held, unquestioned beliefs are strange indeed.
A thousand years from now, when the Moon is a thriving colony and jumping-off point for Mars and beyond, the Vedas will still say that the Moon is further from the Earth than the Sun. That's the difference between revealed religion and science. Science is revised whenever new facts contradict old theories. Religion almost never changes its holy texts.
posted by Mike 15:38
Monday, Aug 19, 2002The Keystone Mullahs
Monty Python, eat your heart out. The Goon show might have been able to come this close to real-world farce. From Thursday's BBC: Waiting for the fatwa
There's a small, radical Islamist group in London called Al Muhajiroun. They called the Press to attend a meeting in which they were going to announce a fatwa. In the group were 4 of the most radical speakers of the "hardline fringe", including Yasser al-Siri, who was recently released from an English jail after England decided not to extradite him to the U.S., where he might have faced trial.
The press arrived at the hotel, and were told that there would be a £30 charge (about $45). The press told them where they could shove it. The spokesman told the press that they should be glad to pay to hear "Muslim leaders from all over the country". The press was Not Amused.
The reporters milled around outside, and asked the spokesman how he thought they expected to get their message out if the press wasn't going to get in.
Conference back inside.
He said that if any of the reporters declared the Muslim faith, they could get in.
It is not reported how that went over.
After a little while, somebody wheeled out a cart of books that the reporters could buy. There were apparently no takers.
Around noon, the leader of the group, Sheikh Omar Bakri, left. His parting words were, "No fatwah today".
Somewhat later, the rest of the group left, in a scene best described as total chaos.
Much later, the group sent out a fax announcing the fatwa, saying that an attack on Iraq was an attack on all Muslims.
Legitimate British Muslim organizations said that this group was a bunch of misfits who couldn't make it in life. That seems a pretty apt descrtiption.
The problem is that these misfits carry guns, bombs, and grudges against Western Civilization. In many cases, they have the ear and the cooperation of thousands of supporters. This is the part where it stops being funny.
posted by Mike 4:38 PM
Wednesday, August 14, 2002Aristotle's Law at Berkeley
Conceptual artist Jonathon Keats is gathering signatures in Berkeley, California, proposing that the city adopt Aristotle's Law of Identity.
Briefly stated, this law says that anything there is, is identical to itself.
Here's the sfgate story, which you've probably all read by now.
This may not seem like a great step forward in the history of thought, but remember, this was about 2300 years ago, and we were still trying to sort things out, especially, difficult concepts like that.
To be fair to Aristotle, that wasn't his One Big Contribution to the history of thought. For his time (about 350 BC), he was one sharp cookie, and his works and thought have become one of the pillars of Western civilization. There's a good short bio of the old guy here.
This quote, from one of the biographies, stands out:
He thought about, wrote about, and taught in every branch of knowledge that was known at the time. He was among the first to bring order out of the chaos that clouded much of the way people saw the world in those days.
Unfortunately, the Greeks believed in the supremacy of Thought over Experiment. That worked really well for Euclid, who invented geometry as we know it today. But Aristotle couldn't keep his mind off physical phenomena, or physics (which was called "natural philosophy" up until just a few hundred years ago).
Aristotle taught that things fell faster, the heavier they were. This was most likely from observing nature: the stone falls faster than the leaf. It may be that the Greeks thought that actually doing experiments with their hands was beneath their dignity as Philosophers; it may be that it just never occurred to them.
He also taught, along with Ptolemy, that the Earth was the center of it all, and that everything else we see up there was carried around on immense crystalline spheres.
Because he thought and wrote about so much, and because almost everything he wrote about turned out to be true and useful, he was considered the Final Authority on just about everything known to Man. Later on, the Church adopted Aristotelian thought, and to argue that Aristotle may have been wrong about something was to risk getting burned at the stake.
Which is partly why Galileo got himself into so much trouble back in 16th and 17th century Italy. He threw stuff off the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and showed that heavier things did not fall faster than lighter ones. He invented (or at least improved on) the telescope, and saw things that convinced him that the Earth wasn't the center of everything. When the Church found out about his irreverent actions, they threw him in the clink (much like the U.S. wanted to do with Phil Zimmerman).
But enough about Aristotle. Back to Keats.
Jonathon Keats seems to be a pleasant fellow, unfettered by any distinguishable talent. According to that news item:
So he set up in Berkeley, gathering signatures on a petition to make Aristotle's Law of Identity a city ordinance.
It's a good thing Berkeley isn't a university town, or he'd be laughed off the street.
[aside: What's that? It is? Good God.]
Anyway, he seems to be gaining some support:
Though not overwhelming:
Eugene Volokh, who noted the news article earlier, points out that there are a few other laws in force in Berkeley, even though they may not be on the books, among them:
The problem with the Aristotle/Keats ordinance is that it's very hard to break, and very hard to detect violators. I suppose this could bring about a corps of Identity Police.....
"Is this really you?"
"And are you, in fact, you?"
"Very well, then, you may proceed."
It's easy enough to detect light-speed law breakers: they could set up radar speed traps on the main thoroughfare.
Catching them, though, seems to be a bit of a problem.
There are grounds that this law may be discriminatory: one day, there may happen to come into the city a certain barber, who only shaves those who do not shave themselves. But that's a topic for another day.
The city of Berkeley really shouldn't be wasting their time on this thing. They have a lot of more serious ordinances on their books, such as those against loitering (this draconian ordninance was later overturned), against politically incorrect coffee, and laws boycotting unwholesome organizations (a move that was less than enthusiastically appreciated by the rest of the country).
posted by Mike 2:00 PM
A recent article in the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger helps explain, among other things, the high costs of healthcare.
Background: Dr Kirk Kooyer came to the Mississippi Delta in 1994. That's a poor area. A doctor doesn't go there to get rich and camp out on golf courses.
He managed to do a lot for the community:
Soon after he got there, he ran into the System::
Doctors aren't miracle workers.
Last fall, he was sued again, for prescribing Propulsid (heartburn medicine, linked to 80 deaths nationwide).
A woman "read the drug might cause harm" and stopped taking it.
But because she had taken the drug, she said she thought she could join a class-action lawsuit "and I might get a couple of thousand dollars."
The last thing she intended, Norton said, was for Kooyer to be sued.
Anybody want to guess where she "read about it" and how she found out about the class-action lawsuit? (Hint: think "lawyers advertising".)
Plain and simple case of lawyers looking for easy money.
She went instead to an Arkansas physician, who gave her the drugs, and she was given $125,000 in a lawsuit settlement for alleged heart damage, he said.
The patient came by his office and showed him the check, he said.
"I told you about the damage, and you decided to get the drugs anyway. It doesn't seem fair for you to be accepting that check," he said he told her.
A different fen-phen patient was also paid even though she had nothing wrong with her, he said. "She called her settlement a blessing."
There is no right or wrong for some - for far too many - people. It's just a matter of "my lawyer can beat your lawyer".
Meanwhile, doctors are leaving Mississippi:
Kooyer sums it up:
posted by Mike 9:00 AM
Wednesday, July 17, 2002Friends don't let friends...
Apparently, the primary concern of a friend is to keep his friends from doing the wrong things (sometimes known as "falling into error"). This seems to be a deep-rooted duty in our culture; a Google search for the phrase "friends don't let friends" returns over 21,000 hits. Many of these are bound to be duplicates, but that still leaves a lot of things to keep friendwatchers busy.
The range of things to watch out for covers just about everything, from the sublime to the ridiculous, profound to silly, serious to whimsical. This is a collection of Web sites dealing with this crucial issue.
I don't know when the term originated, but I suspect that "...drive drunk" is one of the earliest.
Almost all of these sayings are epigrammatic, and many make their way onto bumper stickers and T-shirts. I sometimes wonder about the advisability - or propriety - of proclaiming your views, sandwich-board-like, on your clothes. Did Jefferson have a T-shirt that said "I am a Jeffersonian Democrat"?
To save space, I've left out the string "friends don't let friends" in the links below. When you read them, be sure to add the "don't" back in, otherwise, you're likely to end up doing all sorts of wrong things. This will probably get you a lot of attention, not necessarily appreciated, from your friends.
Also, a few headlines appear in more than one category.
Disclaimer: Inclusion of sites in this list does not imply either my endorsement or disapproval.
There are a lot of links here. That is, after all, the point. Some of them are bound to be so fascinating that you're likely to wander off, and may end up gone for days. That is, after all, the point of the Web.
I left out two or three that turned up in the search, on the basis of extremely bad taste.
Many sites deal with computers, and what you should or shouldn't use.
Some of them are pretty esoteric.
When there are many sites with the same philosophy, the number of sites is in parentheses after the title.
use AOL (191)
And here's one from ZDNet News, about the Pentagon's take on "a growing electronic menace: the PowerPoint briefing".
The Fortune article has an example of how not to use PowerPoint: the Gettysburg Address, if Lincoln had had our advantages.
use dial up
Some warn against a particular product, or endorse some other:
drive Fords (163)
Based on the ratio of Ford/Chevy, it looks like Chevys are way ahead in popularity.
I like that one.
This topic wouldn't be complete without the political:
Those two seem to have the bases covered. Nobody seems interested in
keeping their friends from voting Libertarian or Independent.
Like the Ford/Chevy split, Democrats seem to be more outspoken than Republicans.
On the serious side, there are the friends who don't want their friends to hurt anyone:
Naturally, religion plays a part:
The popular "drink and drive" prohibition gets a lot of coverage. Here are a few representative sites:
This guy does not advocate drunk driving. But, the consequences can be quite harsh, and as there are always borderline cases, he maintains that if you do go there, you'll need the best defense money can buy. Either way, it's going to cost you a bundle.
Then there are the odd ones, some serious, some not, that just don't fit into the broad categories:
dial and drive
drink and play
go to law school
invest and drive
shop and drive
pay sales tax
Ride what, then? Skis (as this one suggests), and bicycles
NotesMy two picks for the Most Esoteric Prohibition are:
I found this in a signature line on a message board posting. It is
attributed to Kevin Harris.
su is the Unix command that gives you full control over a computer. Once you successfully su, it and all its files are yours. If you're drunk, you might suffer a momentary lapse of judgement, and delete all the files. I'm told that this happens, but rarely.
The (1) indicates the section of the Reference Manual that describes su, and it's probably unnecessary, as su only appears in one section. The (1) does make it clear that we're talking about Unix.
Reveal codes are little formatting codes used by most word processors to specify how a document is formatted: paragraph breaks, lists, numbered sections, etc. Word thoughtfully hides these from you, which can be annoying at times. If you're revising a long, complicated document, it's a lot easier if you can see the codes on the screen. That entry is by a lawyer, which is interesting because there was once a very good word processing program, XyWrite (this was in the Old Days, when companies other than Microsoft were allowed to write applications). It was much used by the legal profession, and one of the function keys let you toggle the reveal codes on and off.
posted by Mike 5:38 PM
Tuesday, April 23, 2002Speaking of Words:
Someone proposed a rule to cover the "I before E" (or vice versa) thing:
I before E, except when it's not.
That should completely eliminate any confusion.
posted by Mike 6:58 PM
Monday, April 08, 2002
Words are the bricks and mortar with which we build our sites. The key thing about people who like to write is, that they like to write. If Hougton-Mifflin won't buy their work, and the New Yorker won't print it, that's OK - they'll write anyway, and put it up on this, the world's biggest town square bulletin board.
As in all human endeavors, some are better than others. In this corner, I'll try to point out what I think is "good writing". This is partly a subjective issue - there's no one standard of "good writing", at least not as far as the words themselves, taken individually, like links on a chain.
What sets good writing apart from the rest, is the expression of ideas, the construction and layout of a good, convincing argument, the marshalling of facts to support a stance. When good ideas are handicapped by bad grammar and spelling, there's a problem. Readers have to trip over debris to get at the ideas.
MINING FOR GOLD
There may be a count of active blogs; I'd guess somewhere around 100,000. A Google search for "blog" shows 823,000; "weblog", 992,000. MIT's Blogdex shows 14,214 sites and 1,092,797 links. (In proofreading, a day later, the Google "blog" count went up to 859,000; 'weblog", to 1,050,000. I'll check back in a week or so.)
Probably not more than a handful of us read all of them. There's probably a parallel between blogs and specialty-interest magazines. The last time I looked, there were about 10,000 specialty-interest magazines, most with small circulations and dedicated readers. Many great bloggers go for months with fewer than 100 readers. More than once or twice recently, I've read bloggers write, "Wow! Where did all those hits come from?". In at least one case, he followed up and found out: The Tipping Blog.
There seems to be a dozen or so people now whose blogs have attracted significant attention (and that number is most likely off by a factor of 10 or so (which isn't at all bad in cosmology)). You know who you are; you know who they are. I'll put in links, and I'll tell why I think they're good writers. (I don't want people to get the idea that I'm linking to good sites so I can bask in their sunshine, and pull in a few links myself.) If I don't mention somebody's site, it's just because I haven't seen it yet, or haven't read enough to make a call. (As if anybody would be depressed if this uppity newcomer didn't gush over their site.)
Some, like Andrew Sullivan and John Derbyshire, are working journalists whose business - and life - is writing. Others, like asparagirl and The Last Page work in other fields. (IT seems to be a good source of bloggers.) But they all write, most because they want to, a few because they're driven to.
My first example of "good writing" comes from John Derbyshire. This appeared in his NRO review of The Time Machine:
posted by Mike 3:04 PM
Sunday, April 07, 2002
LAST WEEK'S LOGGINGS
Korean Airlines flight crews get Tasers. They've already gone through martial arts training. UAL is said to have bought 1300 Tasers, but the FAA hasn't approved their use.
Washington Post 4/5/02
Argenbright is out of almost all US airports. In the Washington area, they're replaced by Globe Aviation Services. We can all feel safer now - except that almost all of Argenbright's laid-off screeners are applying for jobs at Globe.
Washington Post 4/5/02
The air space around the White House, the Capitol Building and the Naval Observatory [note 1] is a Prohibited Area for all aircraft. Since 9/11, airplanes have drifted into this space almost 600 times - about 3 times a day.
[Note 1: The Naval Observatory is the traditional home of the Vice President. There are 4 other areas: 2) The Bush ranch in Texas 3) the Bush home in Maine 4) the nuclear plant in Amarillo, TX (thanks, guys - it's nice to finally know where that one is), and 5) George Washington's home in Mt. Vernon. (Well, maybe it's hard for him to sleep with all that noise).
China's space program: Shenzhou III launched March 2002; astronauts early this century (by 2005); a manned space station soon; Beijing builds a space industry, aiming for a manned moon mission.
Times of London 4/4/02
The EU imposes a "green tax" of up to 50 pounds ($65) on London-LAX flights. Norway imposes a CO2 tax on all their flights.
Houston Chronicle 3/15/02
Russia pumps up the space tourism industry: They're aiming for 2005. Trips are expected to cost about $98,000, which buys you a 60 to 90 minute flight that gets you 63 miles up (probably a conversion of the Russian's 100 km), where for about 5 minutes you'll be weightless and extremely airsick.
posted by Mike 8:23 PM
Wednesday, March 06, 2002Since the term "illegal alien" has been replaced by "undocumented worker", I don't think we should stop there. Let's keep going, and make these substitutions:
"thief" or "robber" will be "undocumented property transfer agent"
"car thief" will be "undocumented automobile repossessor"
"murderer" will be "undocumented mortician".
posted by Mike 9:24 PM
Reported in today's WSJ. It's not online; here's a summary.
After Mad-Cow Scare, German Pigs, Farmers 'Enjoy' More Quality Time
The government of North Rhine-Westphalia is trying to counter the mad-cow scare. They figure that farmers can improve the quality of their pork by improving their quality of life.
In typical German fashion, they proclaimed a decree (not just a guideline)which says, in part:
Needless to say, the farmers are Not Amused.
Later on in the story we see the source of this Great Plan:
Gotta watch out for those Social Democrats.
At a state-sponsored agricultural center, one engineer seems to have a faint grip on reality:
posted by Mike 10:49 AM
Tuesday, March 05, 2002Election day in CA. More later.
posted by Mike 10:26 PM
posted by Mike 10:03 PM