THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 637 august 23 - 29, 2010
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August 23, 2010
.We have family visiting this week, so this is going to be thin. The August Mailbag is done and should be posted shortly over at Chaos Manor Reviews, and if you missed it, the August Column is up.
The next version of Medal of Honor from Electronic Arts allows you to play the Taliban, planting IE devices and detonating them with a cell phone. This has generated considerable controversy. One Iraqi war veteran has suggested that they let the game get really realistic by allowing players to bomb EA's corporate headquarters in Playa Vista. I find all this disturbing. Alienating the Legions isn't the smartest notion. Of course it's just capitalism in action; one wonders what the market research for this looked like.
The Legions are already volunteer, and the separation from the citizenry grows as a small class of professional soldiers does all the fighting and takes all the losses. Machiavelli warned that Republics that hire soldiers are in danger. A nation that defends itself -- which is to say uses conscription as a uniting mechanism -- is stronger. It's worth debating. Returning troops say the civilians just don't get it. In the Roman Republic service in the Legions was not voluntary, but it was a privilege.
Interestingly, Charlie Wrangel is in favor of conscription, largely for the nation building aspects.
I note there is another proposal, for an American Foreign Legion, recruited males only overseas, trained overseas, ten years service earns you citizenship. They never set foot in the United States until discharged. One presumes that as citizens they could enlist in the regular forces assuming any would want to. This would of course be even more separated from the nation it is hired to defend, but by keeping them as light infantry and not allowing them armor they would not be dangerous...
We live in interesting times.
The latest Space Access Society bulletin is in mail.
We celebrate the opening of a $578 million Robert F. Kennedy School. Note that price. This is a state that's broke.
Meanwhile the Los Angeles Times has a series about schools: they found, as the Gates Foundation has found, that the school doesn't matter. It's the teachers by an enormous factor. Good teachers get results, and they get them in the awful districts as well as the classy ones -- and bad teachers get bad results, and they get them in the classy districts. And bad teachers collect in the classy districts. Wouldn't you? If you want to retire on salary, you don't want to do that in some horrible place.
The best way to improve the schools would be to fire the worst 10% of the teachers. Everyone knows who they are. That would improve the schools by a factor of two, and probably more. If we terminated "tenure" every five years, the schools would improve enormously.
It won't happen.
The purpose of the public school system is to pay bad teachers. That is its first priority, it's first order of business. Now that isn't what they say their priority is, but if you look at what they do, they will do anything to avoid firing bad teachers.
The Kennedy School will attract "qualified" teachers, with "impressive credentials" and will slowly fill with those who get there through influence, union power, political connections: it's a desirable place to be. You may be certain that the new teaching staff will be "qualified" but that the qualifications will not include any objective measure of success in the classroom. Time in grade and accumulations of workshops and course, no doubt; and it won't hurt to be connected. It's a desirable place to be.
It's on the site of the Ambassador Hotel (remember the Coconut Grove?), which was closed largely because of the riots many years ago. Donald Trump wanted to buy the site to built the tallest building in Los Angeles, but the District went to court, spent millions of taxpayer money, and ended up with the property; and now has spent half a billion dollars to build a school in a district with falling enrollment and about 50% high school dropout rate.
Your purpose is to pay taxes so that you can support bad teachers. The purpose of the school system is to pay those bad teachers and prevent them from being fired. Salve, Sclave!
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August 24, 2010
The August mailbag is up at Chaos Manor Reviews. My son and his family are here for a visit before he is deployed to the Middle East, and I am enjoying my older grandchild. So is Sable.
I got some mail up over in mail (our mail here Chaos Manor Mail is also up).
Does anyone have experience with getting DOSBOX working on the Mac? I am confused as to what mounts to which and how to tell it that.
August 25, 2010
Phillip and family ended their visit just after noon today, and I'll try to get back on schedule, but there's more the rest of the week. Tomorrow evening will be the annual dinner of the Judges and Winners of the Writers of the Future contest down in Hollywood. I always look forward to that as WOTF brings in many of my colleagues whom I only see at conventions and this event, and I don't go to so many conventions as I used to. Meanwhile, there is a heat wave in Los Angeles, and the main effect on me is terminal blahs.
I have more to do to catch up, but I have managed to select some interesting mail to comment on. I'll try to get up some more mail this evening. It's the silly season, so there's not as much to comment on as often. Silly or not, it's a crucial time in the history of the Republic. When the number of people who believe they are ruled by the consent of the governed goes down below 30% -- and that number appears to be about the same among the Legions -- one could say that it becomes an interesting situation.
To this end governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
That is about the only statement of the right to rule that this nation ever accepted. Of course it is no longer taught in the schools. Still the concept should not be hard to understand even to those who first encounter it as part of a poll.
August 26, 2010
It continues hot in Los Angeles. There's a dinner tonight, and some other stuff so it's taking a while to catch up.
Meanwhile, one of the more interesting things to think about is the possible relationship of radiation decay rates to the Sun. From Rutherford's decrees on we have "known" that radiation decay rates are constant. For any given isotope there is a probability that it will decay and emit radiation. There are several kinds of radioactive decay. It's a bit more complicated now than it was when I was in high school physics, but the essentials are the same. The major kinds of radiation are alpha particles -- which are helium nuclei, two protons and two neutrons; beta decay, in which a neutron breaks up into a proton and an electron (and an anti-neutrino); and gamma decay in which things break up and emit x-rays. There are other kinds of radiation discovered more recently. In all cases, though, Rutherford's dictum was that the amount of radiation is dependent only on the number of atoms of the radiating stuff. Over time more atoms pop and do their emissions, so there are fewer of them left to pop, so the total radiation decreases.
We generally express this in "half life": the time it takes for half the radiation in a sample to be emitted, which is to say the time it takes for half the atoms to pop. There are a lot of theories on why a given atom pops when it does, but none I know of that "explains" it, and certainly none that will let you predict when a given atom will pop; that's a random process.
This is mostly confirmed by observation, but there are exceptions. Long term observations of the emissions of some substances like silicon-32 (half life 172 years) show something very strange: the radiation emitted certainly adds up to that expected by a half life of 172 years, but there is seasonal cycle, a wobble, with radioactive output peaking when the Earth is at perihelion and at minimum when the Earth is as aphelion. The closer we are to the Sun, the more radioactive output. The variation is fairly small, but it's there. There are observations of other periodic radiation, some in periods of 7 seconds. Since no one has been looking for any such thing, there's no predicting what else may be found on closer observation.
Understand that it's not easy to observe this. The variations are fairly small compared to the total radiation (which continues to conform to what's predicted by Rutherford's uniform decay rate if you look at longer time periods). You can't study this in stuff with half lives in the millions of years because the total decay is tiny and the variations would be invisible. It's hard to study it in stuff with short half lives because it doesn't last long enough to go through the cycles. You need stuff with half lives in the order of a century, it needs to be pure, and you need to look at it and record the output continuously. Until recently that hasn't much been done.
If proximity to the Sun affects radioactive decay, then presumably so does solar activity. A lot of the Earth's interior is radioactive stuff and its decay is what heats the Earth's interior. Apparently this is another possible coupling of the Sun to Earth temperature. How powerful this influence can be isn't known to me, and so far I haven't found anyone studying it. Perhaps it is not a large enough variation to put into the climate models. On the other hand, we know that climate seemed to be different during the Maunder Minimum (1645 - 1750) when there was very little solar activity (few to no sunspots). We don't have much of a sunspot count before that when the Little Ice Age was forming; but the Maunder Minimum happened during the middle of the Little Ice Age. In 1709 the Rhine froze and wasn't navigable until Summer. Many in Europe starved. After about 1715 sunspot counts rose, and so did temperatures. Whether that has any causal relationship is a matter of debate.
The acceptance of ignorance over what causes radioactive decay has annoyed a number of theoretical physicists. "It just happens that way" isn't very good theory, but our understanding of nuclear forces doesn't really give a better hypothesis. Attempts to quantify and understand nuclear forces including the "strong nuclear" force have resulted in a number of theories, and as I understand it are being revised again in terms of field theories. Let me hasten to say that my understanding is minimal. I wasn't all that interested in nuclear forces in my undergraduate physics courses. and the theory wasn't all that good in those days anyway. What I did learn was that we can't predict when a given atom will pop because we don't really know why it pops. I don't think that has changed much.
It does seem to me that if something as fundamental as nuclear decay can be influenced by solar radiation, this is a significant discovery. Whether it has implications for climate science I don't know, but since climate science has no real predictive power and doesn't seem able to explain things like the Ice Ages in any detail, it may be interesting. Ben Franklin postulated volcanoes shading the Earth could have great cooling effects and cause it to be cold. I'm not sure we have got a lot further than that, and I doubt that's the explanation for the 200,000 year Ice Age cycles. Note that we are in a temporary warm period in the middle of a big Ice Age. Our temporary warming period is about to run out; the best prediction from past cycles is that the ice will come back. That fear was all the rage when I first began writing science fact columns back in the last millennium.
The significance here is that the Rutherford dictum was about as accepted as anything in science ever can be. Now it appears to be in doubt. Science remains exciting, because there's so much we don't know -- but we could find out. If we keep looking.
I have several messages critical of the Space Access Society because it doesn't want to abolish NASA. That seems naive. There is a case for public investment in space; the question is how that should be done. I have always been in favor of X=Projects and Prizes, both of which NASA can do. Space research facilities are expensive; NASA has them; we have a model of governent cooperation with airplane companies during the development of the aviation industry.
NASA has been a good part of the problem and the Standing Army has been one of the major factors; but NASA has done some wonders. It has good people as well as bureaucrats. I'd rather money went to NASA than the Department of Education. In 1980 Larry Niven and Art Dula wrote a paper called "How to Save Civilization and Make a Little Money" for the first Citizen's Advisory Council report. It got critiqued by everyone at the meeting and was rewritten and was part of the Council Report. It gave a good basis for a commercial space policy (Mr. Heinlein was one of those in attendance) and parts of that paper were incorporated into the Commercial Space Act. There are many ways that NASA can be of great benefit to the nation. We need real climate observation data. We need weather observations.
I've been one of NASA's most stringent critics -- I am told that when the rumor went around that I was going to be appointed Administrator there was sheer terror at NASA headquarters -- but I am no advocate of leaving research and development vital to the future of the human race entirely to commercial forces. It is the duty of government to look into the far future long past the time when you can predict return on investments.
(I suppose I ought to have explained: nothing can possibly be brighter than the full moon except the Sun. Mars doesn't get brighter than about magnitude -2.9, while Venus gets to about -4. The full Moon is about -13 at it's brightest. I don't know why included this other than whim. Please don't go out looking for two full moons...)
I think I must have been distracted by a phone call while I was looking for stuff to put up here and this didn't register.
The newer GSM-based Kindles *do in fact* have a telephone number - that's how they work on the 3G network.
Go to a GSM-based Kindle's Settings screen, and then type '611' - you'll get all kinds of information (four pages of it), including the telephone number of the GSM Kindle.
You can try and register it on the MicroCell and see if it works . . . AT&T may disallow the phone number ranges they've allocated for the GSM Kindles, but it's worth a shot, if you've access to one of the newer GSM-based Kindles.
That I will have to try. Thanks!
A civil service worker proposes a corollary to the Iron Law.
I will be much interested in whatever comes of this. My expectations remain low.
And I have posted a lot of mail over in mail today.
August 27, 2010
I've been talking to my physicist friends including the chief scientist of a major space lab about variations in radioactive decay rates, and so far none of them had heard about this. They were all intrigued. We also have some mail on the subject.
Long time readers will recall that back in the last Millennium we all worried about whether the Sun had gone out: that is, the big underground tanks of various fluids that ought to be detecting solar neutrinos were finding about 1/3 the number that the Standard Solar Theory predicted. Eventually the Standard Solar Theory had to be modified. For a readable account with pointers to even more, see the Berkeley Labs post. The point being that we still don't really understand neutrinos very well. Coupling decay rates of radioactive elements to solar activity raises a whole bunch of new possibilities for explaining climate changes; or at least new inputs that models may have to account for. I have still not found a really good account of the interaction of the interior magma and the biosphere. For general principles, there's a good overview by a Tulane professor here.
It's clear that solar activity producing lots more neutrinos would have only a small effect on the Earth's interior temperature -- which is just as well! -- but it's also clear that it would have some effect. I've not yet got a good handle on how much of an effect it would, have, or how much the interior temperature affects global biosphere temperatures. Again it seems obvious that there must be some effect. The only way to warm the Earth is to warm the seas -- they are, after al, 80% of the surface -- and it's pretty clear that if you want to warm a pot of water, you do not first go get the hair dryer and blow hot air across the surface. You'd do better to blow it on the pot and let that heat the water. The coupling of warm air to sea surface turns out to be imperfectly modeled in all the climate models; at least that is what I have been told by a climate modeler who doesn't want to be named for fear of ostracism by his colleagues. The climate modeling experts are afraid they will lose some of their funding as the ranks of Deniers swell. But that's another story.
I have also been asking physicist and scientist friends how they would go about getting a reliable to a tenth of a degree single figure of merit representing the temperature of the Earth for a given year. Just what do you measure, and how do you combine the measures to get a repeatable figure? I haven't been getting much in the way of satisfactory answers.
So I remain intrigued by the possible coupling of solar activity to radioactive decay rates. Everyone "knows" that there isn't enough absolute solar radiation change from times of quiet Sun to times of active Sun to explain climate shifts like the Little Ice Age. That the Maunder Minimum (1645 - 1750) -- a period of minimum sunspots -- happened during the coldest part of the Little Ice Age . (1400-1800 more or less)
There doesn't seem to be an agreed explanation of why a period of minimum sunspots could have a large effect on the temperature of the Earth. Perhaps solar neutrinos acting on radiation decay can have something to do with this. We'll keep looking.
I'm off to go lecture to the winners of the Writers of the Future Class. I am also learning things about self publishing through Amazon and Apple. The publishing world is a-changing...
Something else to worry about:
Apparently agents of the California Department of Consumer Affairs have the power to walk into a retail store, confiscate a piece of furniture, take it to their lab, test it to destruction, and not give the store owner a receipt, nor ever pay any compensation. This appears to be a taking of private property without any process of law whatever.
The story is being told on an afternoon talk show; I find no original report in Google, although I suspect it will now turn up.
Whether there ought to be tax paid agents wandering about taking private property seems not to be discussed, although firing those people as redundant might be a reasonable way of saving tax money. Still, they will probably get pensions if fired. Where is Madame Defarge now that we need her?
Is there any wonder that California is losing businesses as fast as they can pack up and run?
[More: as astonishing it seems, a state legislator has confirmed that state agents have that power. It seems never to have gone to court: the law makes it a criminal offense to "interfere" with the process and that has intimidated the victims.]
August 28, 2010
Happy 60th Birthday Steve Wozniak
I would have a somewhat different interpretation: this isn't Miss Noonan's lack of understanding, but a warning about the Republican Party. I do not think it impossible that a year from now Obama will appear to be the moderate if the Republicans win big in November. I don't think it likely because I don't believe that Obama can do as Clinton did when he lost his Congressional majority. Clinton began triangulation, became the moderate, and took advantage of Mr. Gingrich's mistake when Newt over-reacted to a personal slight and took that as an attack on the office of Speaker. Clinton skillfully played the Moderate and made the Republicans responsible for the Train Wreck, and won re-election. I don't think Obama can do that. He is surrounded by ideological advisors and unlike Clinton, Obama has an ideology. It is not clear that he can play this game with Clintonian charms and skill.
The key paragraph in Miss Noonan's essay is:
It's all true. Even as Gingrich, who is both skilled and principled, could be maneuvered into the disastrous Train Wreck and made to appear to be out in the fever swamps, so can whomever ends as the Republican leader. The Republicans ran the only man Clinton could beat because the Country Club Republicans who controlled the Party decided that it was Bob Dole's turn; Clinton was accordingly re-elected, and the Train Wreck greatly helped accomplish that.
President Obama retains a number of the advantages that got him elected. He is one of the best orators of his generation. He has lost the ability to disguise himself as the honest broker who will bring fundamental change, but he is doing is best to throw all the blame for his failures to bring about the hoped for changes on the Republicans and his predecessor. Bob Dole and his Country Club Republican cohorts were able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It could happen again.
While we are on the subject of today's Wall Street Journal, there's an excellent profile of Peter Boettke, whom some believe to be the successor of Hayek as leader of the Austrian school of economics, that's well worth your attention.
Actually, the Austrian school does have a prescription, and it's one that our proconsul Lucius Clay allowed Ludwig Erhard to apply to occupied Germany. The result was known as the German Economic Miracle. Much of Germany's capital plant was destroyed, the transportation system was in ruins, there was near starvation. That all changed and far more rapidly than anyone supposed it would, largely due to "Austrian economics."
August 29, 2010
.Off to a book signing at Borders on Lake in Pasadena. Niven is picking me up in a few minutes. The Writers of the Future Awards and dinner was last night at the Hollywood Roosevelt. Good show. Had much fun.
Good turnout. Had a chance to look over the new books and what's selling. I used to do that sort of market research a lot, and I probably ought to do it more. Vampire books, teen romances; not the sort of thing I write. But there's sure a lot of that being sold.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 5,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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