Search This Blog

Friday, November 17, 2017


I'm not sure how I feel about all the recent groping and sexual assault allegations, from G.H.W. Bush to Al Franken to Roy Moore to most of Hollywood and beyond.

First, I wonder if I had been a very public figure for my 58 years and constantly photographed and imaged, if due to sheer bad luck, one of my hands was caught in a possibly awkward position on camera. I don't think so, but I really don't remember where my hands have been for every second of my life. It wouldn't've been intentional, but I don't know absolutely for sure.

And during my career, I've been alone with a woman (and also a man for that matter) one-on-one more than once. They could accuse me of doing anything during those times, and while not true, it might've been thought plausible, especially by enemies (if I had enemies).

Once, I texted my wife "I love you!" (plus some heart emoticons). A not uncommon thing to do. Unfortunately, I had selected a female employee's text address instead of my wife's and the text went to the female employee. This particular female employee thought it was hilarious (especially my obvious and extreme discomfort with the whole thing). But a different female employee could potentially have made life very difficult for me, even if she eventually lost any lawsuit (which she probably would have because it was pretty obvious I was trying to text my wife).

In court in a criminal case, something has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt for the defendant to be convicted. In the court of public opinion, especially the opinion's of one's ideological opposites, the merest hint of impropriety seems to be enough to convict and destroy the life, or at least the career, of the accused.

And are women really so fragile? A hand brushing against a buttocks or breast is a life-long traumatic event? Or even a single forced kiss (like Franken is accused of)? Isn't that reason enough by itself never to hire a woman - because she's too fragile and easily traumatized?

And then there's Hollywood. As a parent, a common complement to the parent goes something like, "Your child is so beautiful - she could be an actress!" And I used to think, "Oh my god, I hope not!" And why did I hope not? Because it's always been common knowledge that an awful lot of actresses and models have had sex with an awful lot of casting directors and agents for the purpose of getting work. This is nothing even vaguely new. What seems to be new is that a woman can use sex to get herself a role and then accuse the casting director of sexual harassment after her work finishes.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think the any of the above is right or moral or ethical. But the zealous fervor that's bringing down all these people also doesn't seem quite right or moral or ethical to me. But I'll admit, I'm not quite sure why.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Leaps in Artificial Intelligence

One of the holy grails of Artificial Intelligence research has been to understand how the human brain works. The idea is that if we knew how the brain works we could simulate its processing using computers and those computers would then be intelligent. Alas, remarkably little is known about the brain.

In the last few years, AI researchers have tried a different, but related approach. They've simulated neural network topologies in a computer that are sorta based on neural connectivity in a brain. The idea is that even though nobody knows how those neurons in the brain work when connected like that, perhaps those topologies will do something useful anyway.

And much to my utter amazement, that approach has made some really jaw dropping (well, my jaw, anyway) breakthroughs in a wide range of areas from vision to self-driving cars to emerging intelligence to self-directed learning and more. There's not time and space for me to get into all of these areas, but I'll touch on a couple.

The first is image recognition. A huge goal of AI has been to be able to have a computer look at an image and tell you what's in the image (for example, a car or sword or shark or poppy or fighter-jet or ...). And since a human can distinguish between hundreds of thousands of different types of objects, wouldn't it be nice if the computer could also distinguish between that many different things as well.

As of 2010, that level of ability for image recognition by computers was a pipe dream, and nothing more. As of today, a mere 7 years later, computers are now really good at that. Not quite as good as humans, but rapidly closing in as shown by the following graph:

Some background is required for the graph above. In 2006, some researchers got the idea to create a database of 14,000,000+ images (they hope to have 100 million images eventually) of tens of thousands of different objects, each image labeled with the object(s) it contains and bounding boxes of each object. With this database, neural nets can be trained to recognize the objects. Then, when shown an arbitrary image, the neural net will identify the objects in it.

The database is called ImageNet and was first ready for use in 2010. A contest was created to see who, if anybody, could create and train neural nets to distinguish between the tens of thousands of objects in the database. In 2010, the results were dismal with most contestants guessing right less than half the time. But, by trial-and-error and building on the best successes (evolution?), each year the results got better - a lot better. To the point where if you show one of the better nets a picture (and the picture is reasonably clear and a few other minor caveats), it will correctly identify the main object(s) (again, out of tens of thousands of possible different objects) in the image the vast majority of the time. And anyone can download these trained nets and utilize them with open source software such as Google's TensorFlow. While it takes weeks and weeks of cloud computing to train these networks using 14,000,000 images, once trained, a typical desktop can recognize the objects in an image in a few tens of seconds and in less than a second if it has a sufficiently powerful GPU (it turns out that graphics cards happen to be nearly exactly optimal for processing neural nets).

These image recognition nets are called "deep learning convolutional nets" and nobody really knows how they work, only that they do. Sorta like how we don't know how the human brain works - only that it does. Some modifications of these nets has enabled a lot of different applications to be addressed. For example, a while back, an AI beat the worlds Go champion. Ho hum, chess had already fallen to computers, so not a big deal, right? But it got a little more interesting a few weeks ago:
A new paper published in Nature today describes how the artificially intelligent system that defeated Go grandmaster Lee Sedol in 2016 got its digital ass kicked by a new-and-improved version of itself. And it didn’t just lose by a little—it couldn’t even muster a single win after playing a hundred games. Incredibly, it took AlphaGo Zero (AGZ) just three days to train itself from scratch and acquire literally thousands of years of human Go knowledge simply by playing itself.
Self-learning artificial intelligence. Pretty nifty.

Many of these techniques (and many more) are used in self-driving cars. They will soon teach themselves to drive really well - "literally thousands of years of human" driving experience. Bigger nets will be able to incorporate millions of years of human driving experience. It may take years to train them, but once trained, they can be downloaded to all cars. Humans may bested by AI in wide range of applications in my children's lifetimes, not just relatively trivial things like chess and Go (which only 10 years ago were not considered at all trivial).

I'll leave you with what I think is a very interesting video. I'm sure you've all seen faces morph from one person to another, but I think you'll find that the morphing is qualitatively different starting at the 1:50 mark on the video. All of those faces are simulated by the neural net which has been trained to "know" what a face is. The morphing from one face to another, even radically different faces in different poses, tends to stay pretty realistic throughout the transition. And the scene morphing, also completely simulated, maintains a surprisingly realistic rendition even when changing between radically different scenes, for example the bedrooms just after 4:00. Enjoy!
More information on the video is here.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

More crazies, more shootings?

The only point in the gun debate that looks to be agreeable by both parts is that crazies are to blame. To the pro-guns, they are the main source. To the anti-guns, a contributing factor.

I was then surprised to read today that:
It’s a common misperception: Mass killers are mentally ill. In fact, fewer than 1 in 6 has been diagnosed as psychotic, according to a 2015 paper. Past violent behavior, a history of animal cruelty, childhood maltreatment, access to guns, or being young and male are more reliable indicators. So when President Trump portrayed last Sunday’s church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, as a mental health problem – the killer had escaped from a mental health facility in 2012 – he was really pointing to an exception rather than the rule. [...]
[...] Of 88 mass shooters – those who had killed four or more people in the US – since 1966, only 14.8 percent were diagnosed as psychotic, according to 2015 paper by Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, a gun violence expert who maintains a database of indiscriminate mass shootings. 
As the article goes, it doesn't make much of a strong case, since its main point looks to be that not all mentally ill should be viewed as a source of doom. 

Yet, I wonder, are we all settling for too comfortable an answer? The Sutherland Springs shooter is an easy case of mental disorder, but it is hard to forget the Las Vegas one, whose perpetrator looked to be smarter than everyone in this blog - if we judge so only by financial achievements.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Step One

The essence of clear thinking is the ability to state the views of those who disagree with you in a way they would find accurate and fair.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Another One Bites the Dust

[Updated to correct errors even superficial proof reading would have revealed.]

Way back in the day, 13 years of days, to be brutally honest, the Post Judd Alliance took refuge at The Daily Duck and Thought Mesh. Then the crowd consisted of David Cohen, AOG, Brit, Duck, Oroborous, Peter, Harry, Ali Choudhury; erp joined not too long after.

Since then, Oroborous and AOG just up and vanished. Ali stopped stopping by, but he pops up in Facebook regularly (in Spain this week, BTW). And like Howard, we lost Duck. Brit finally got fed up with Harry's bilious hatred that he left us, never to return.

Now Harry has stomped off, in his typical spittle-flecked and truth impaired style. In putting this post together, I had been looking at some of the longer threads over the last half dozen years. It has been a very long time, indeed, since he made an enlightening or substantive comment. So, on the one hand, his going doesn't seem much of a loss. Despite that, though, his presence here did give the rest of us exposure to progressive thinking.

During my forays into progressive blogs, I was astonished to discover that Harry isn't alone in his thinking, but rather that he is emblematic of progressives: riddled with hatred and factually challenged.

Per Harry: I quit Good [sic] Guys because of your [my] and erp's racism and fascism.

Leaving aside whether his statement has any factual basis, this raises a couple issues. First is the incontinent spewing of racist/fascist/misogynist/Islamophobe/homophobe (to avoid tedious typing, I will refer to such accusations using this ugly portmanteau acronym: RAFAMIHO) et al in response to any statement that departs from progressive pieties.

Unfortunately, that goes beyond merely amounting to "Shut up, the progressive explained." Remember Damore, the Google engineer? Progressive hatred cost him his job. When challenged, progressives had absolutely no idea what the Damore actually said, yet were perfectly happy to trash the guy.

More recently, a Boise State University professor wrote an opinion piece about the goals of radical feminists. In response, the school's Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion, Francisco Salinas wrote a litany of accusations unburdened by a single quote, and which would surely have cost the professor his job if he didn't already have tenure.

A couple quotes:

[Professor Yenor's] piece is easy enough to dismiss on logical grounds …" (which Salinas never actually bothers to attempt)

Not every person who agrees with Yenor’s piece is likely to become an espoused Neo-Nazi, but likely every Neo-Nazi would agree with the substance of Yenor’s piece.

In other words, shut up, the Director explained. Using words and fact free assertions that could have come straight from Harry's keyboard.

Which is what made Harry's presence here useful. Progressives, it seems, are astonishingly self-similar. So having one around provided an opportunity to attempt to understand progressive thinking. Unfortunately, I don't think that is possible, because there doesn't seem to be much actual thinking going on. No thinking person would recognize Prof Yenor's writing in Salinas's characterization of it, anymore than an objective observer would find anything even remotely racist or fascist in what erp or I have ever wrote.

Not that easily observable facts are any deterrent to what is, to the extent it is untrue, a vicious insult. Nor will Salinas, or Harry, wonder whether the incontinent spewing of RAFAMIHO renders their own characters suspect.

The other issue is this: what constitutes saying something RAFAMIHO?

Further down that Restating the Obvious thread I linked to above, Clovis said:

I don't think Erp is racist, but only because I met her in person. My interactions online with her in past, many times, gave me the impression of someone with racial prejudices on the other side.

I don't remember having similar impression about you in terms of race, but you are demonstrably prejudiced against Muslims.

Aside from the rather obvious problem that it is a nearly futile exercise to attempt an empty charge, what does it mean to be "… demonstrably prejudiced against Muslims"?

Sometimes, the answer is obvious. A statement such as "… Muslims in general and Arab Muslims in particular are incapable of popular self-government." clearly fits the bill for being not only anti-Muslim, but racist on top of it. Never mind being drenched in irony.

But Clovis takes the concept further: observations about Islam that lead to negative judgments about some muslims prove that I have a blinding prejudice that makes me attribute to an individual the properties of the collective.

Even if did such a thing, the conclusion doesn't follow.

No one would bat an eye if I suggested that, on observing a group of people walking down the street wearing Nazi regalia that I could reach some likely very accurate judgments about each member of that group. Similarly, if I see obviously pious muslims, I reach the very likely accurate conclusion that they believe in the divinity and inerrancy of the Quran, and, therefore, have beliefs that are antagonistic towards the individualistic, Enlightenment derived, beliefs I hold. Or, conversely, their seeing me wearing Levis and having dinner with a much younger woman who is not my wife or daughter (but happens to be my co-pilot on this trip) means they can safely conclude I hold beliefs deeply incongruous with their own.

The charge that someone is anti-Muslim (or, looked at the other way, anti-post Christian) is practically vacuous, in that it completely voids the capability to draw any conclusions with regard to certain groups, while simultaneously allowing such conclusions about other groups. That is post-modernism run amuck and self contradicting at the same time.

The same argument can be made against nearly all invocations of RAFAMIHO. They are nearly always wrong. Damore made an evidence based argument that Google's employment policies were doomed to expensive failure. That doesn't make him a misogynist, any more than noting that men are overwhelmingly responsible for violent crime makes me a misandrist.

If his evidence is fairly chosen and accurate, that makes him correct. If it isn't either or both, that makes him wrong, and better evidence will make that clear. The conclusions I draw about some Muslims based upon the evidence as I understand it provided by Islam doesn't mean I harbor some profound character flaw. To the degree my understanding reflects Islam's objective reality, my conclusions are correct. To the extent my understanding doesn't, then improved understanding should change my conclusions.

Only when I refuse that opportunity does it become possible to throw down the RAFAMIHO.

Remember, to call someone a RAFAMIHO is to charge that person with a grave moral defect. Doing so with all the incontinence of a goose having just consumed bad oysters, whether it is Harry or Keith Olbermann, on any of a nearly endless parade of examples from the left is to put oneself in the same league with those who denounced their neighbors to the KGB.

Recently, Peter said "I'm intrigued by the role ubiquitous social media is playing in the current American political distemper and its destabilizing influences on political dialogue."

Social media may well be contributing to American distemper, but not nearly so much as the vile accusations that emanate primarily from the left, and that almost never earn the disdain they so richly deserve.

Perhaps if progressives like Harry, Keith Olbermann, Francisco Salinas and ad infinitum started hating less, and thinking more, our political fever would go down.

Yeah, like that is going to happen.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Yearning to Fly

Tom Petty's passing had some impact on me lately.

I know that, being the younger generation in this blog, I have not many rights to nostalgia, but that's how I have been feeling. Every music I hear from the 80's makes me go back to my infancy, and I have been feeling older than I actually am.

Petty was inspired by the first Iraq war when composing this piece. I still remember the night shots from the cockpit of the US fighters, the green letters from those old screens they had, the missiles being shot. To think Hey Skipper was actually one of those guys up there...

I once wished to learn to fly, but I ain't got wings. I feel soon I won't have the age too. I am 36 years old, and I know part of my blues comes not from missing the past, but anticipating the future. Soon the 40's will come, and any claim to youthfulness I once had will be gone. You guys who have been through that road, pray tell me, how hard is it? Petty was 40 in the video above, and now he is gone.

Tomorrow I borrow a couple of wings, I am going to America again. Taking the kids to Disney the first time, will do lots of pictures and videos, so they can look at them 40 years from now and feel, too, how time goes by.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Tale of Two Countries

"A Likely Young Negro Wench, who is a good Cook, and can 
Wash well is to be disposed of. Enquire of the Printer hereof." 

"To be Sold. A Likely young Negroe Wench, about 18 
Years of Age, speaks good English, and is fit for either Town 
or Country. Enquire of the Printer hereof." 

"To be Sold. A Likely Molatto Girl, aged about 16 Years, 
has had the Small Pox, is fit for either Town or Country, to 
be disposed of very reasonable, enquire of the Printer hereof." 

"To be Sold, A Likely young Negroe Fellow, about Twenty- 
six Years of Age, suitable for any Farming or Plantation 
Business, having been long accustomed to it and has had the 
Small- Pox. Enquire of the Printer hereof." 

"To be Sold. A Negro Man Twenty-two Years of Age, of 
uncommon Strength and Activity, very fit for a Farmer, or a 
laborious Trade, he understands the best methods of managing 
Horses, and is very faithful in the Employment : Any Person 
that wants such a one may see him by enquiring of the Printer 

"To be Sold. A Likely Negro woman, with a man-child, fit 
for town or country business. Enquire of the Printer hereof."

"To Be Sold, A Lusty, young, Negroe Woman, fit for 
Country Business, she has had the Smallpox, and Meazles. 
Enquire of the Printers hereof.”

"To be Sold. A Prime able young Negro man, fit for labori- 
ous work, in town or country, that has had the smallpox : As 
also a middle aged Negro man, that has likewise had the 
smallpox. Enquire of the printer hereof: Or otherwise they 
will be exposed to sale by publick venue, on Saturday the 
tenth of April next, at 12 o'clock, at the Indian-king, in Mar- 

The Printer of the newspaper The Pennsylvania Gazette, and also the salesman of the ‘Negroes’ above advertised, is none other than Benjamin Franklin, the eldest and wisest among the Founding Fathers of the USA.

Being a printer and publisher for most of his life, Franklin was also a jack of all trades, buying and selling whatever could land him a profit, like the slaves above (the ads probably run circa 1740s).

P. Leicester Ford, one of his biographers of a century ago, tells us that:
Some of these slaves he procured from New England, where, as population grew in density, the need for them passed, leading to their sale in the colonies to the southward; and there was not always a profit, for Franklin, of one purchase of husband and wife, wrote to his mother : "We conclude to sell them both the first good opportunity, for we do not like negro ser- vants," with a result that " We got again about half what we lost." In spite of this prejudice, Franklin took with him two negro servants to England on his second visit, with slight benefit, for one, who "was of little use, and often in mischief," ran off within a year, and the other behaved only" as well as I could expect, in a country where there are many occasions of spoiling servants, if they are ever so good." "He has as few faults as most of them," the philosopher observed, “and I see with only one eye and hear only with one ear; so we rub on pretty comfortably." 

Franklin, as he grew in years, came to disapprove  heartily of the whole slave system, and he expressed  satisfaction " that a disposition to abolish slavery prevails in North America, that many Pennsylvanians have set their slaves at liberty, and that even the Virginia Assembly have petitioned the king for permission to make a law for preventing the importation of more  into the colony." When the initial abolition society in 
America was formed, he became its president, and his  name was signed to the first petition for the abolition  of the slave-trade ever sent to Congress, an act which 
resulted in his being personally vituperated on the floor  of that body, less than a month before his death. The  debate on this petition drew from him the last public 
paper he ever penned, in which, with his usual "Socratic " cleverness, he took all the arguments advanced by the favorers of slavery, and by putting them into the mouth of an Algerine, as reasons for continuing the holding of Europeans in bondage, made each one become a reason for ending the system. 

Though Franklin sometimes took a loss, as described above, slaves turned out to be an excellent long term investment, as another Founding Father found out:

The critical turning point in Jefferson's thinking may well have come in 1792. As Jefferson was counting up the agricultural profits and losses of his plantation in a letter to President Washington that year, it occurred to him that there was a phenomenon he had perceived at Monticello but never actually measured. He proceeded to calculate it in a barely legible, scribbled note in the middle of a page, enclosed in brackets. What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest. Jefferson wrote, "I allow nothing for losses by death, but, on the contrary, shall presently take credit four per cent. per annum, for their increase over and above keeping up their own numbers." His plantation was producing inexhaustible human assets. The percentage was predictable.   […]

Jefferson's 4 percent theorem threatens the comforting notion that he had no real awareness of what he was doing, that he was "stuck" with or "trapped" in slavery, an obsolete, unprofitable, burdensome legacy. The date of Jefferson's calculation aligns with the waning of his emancipationist fervor. Jefferson began to back away from antislavery just around the time he computed the silent profit of the "peculiar institution."

And this world was crueler than we have been led to believe. A letter has recently come to light describing how Monticello's young black boys, "the small ones," age 10, 11 or 12, were whipped to get them to work in Jefferson's nail factory, whose profits paid the mansion's grocery bills. This passage about children being lashed had been suppressed--deliberately deleted from the published record in the 1953 edition of Jefferson's Farm Book, containing 500 pages of plantation papers. That edition of the Farm Book still serves as a standard reference for research into the way Monticello worked.

Not to mention his turning of Sally Hemings, a fair skinned slave who was also a younger half-sister of his first wife, into his sexual serf since she was a teenager. 

Taken together, the historical snippets above still resonate with present day America, a country which, notwithstanding its past, strives like no other to be a better place for minorities - the ‘Franklin side’ - versus the country that still elects someone like Donald Trump - the ‘Jefferson side’.

Friday, October 13, 2017

And The Disintegrating State of Brazil

Split as the US looks like these days, I still immerse myself into American news as a getaway from my own reality. When the nation of Trump still looks like a model of peace and union, you get some idea of what we've been through down here.

As I tried to point out in previous posts, my country is being run by a mafia whose members, like our own President - accused of multiple types of corruption schemes numbering hundreds of millions - are step by step 'evading' (notice I am being generous with the choice of words) the Justice system. After successfully delivering a few big shot (leftist) politicians to jail, the 'Lava Jato' operation hit the rocks, and it is by now clear it won't go much further.

A good deal of the actors behind the initial thrust against corruption are by now in retreat, either due to cold calculation (they already have someone in power aligned with their interests) or due to the stones getting too close to their glasshouses.

The results the 'Lava Jato' delivered are a double-edged sword. If it took a few big corrupt pols out, it also made the checks and balances system of the Republic even more unhinged than before. In a place where almost every player is compromised, the Judiciary may end up being not a filter to clean out the system, but a King Maker.

A recent anecdote illustrates the system we end up with. One of the key Federal Police (our 'FBI') deputies of the 'Lava Jato' operation was reassigned to another state, for reasons I can only guess. Lacking now the power to go after the big shots of yore, and the spotlights it rendered, she decided to go big against a Dean of the Federal University in the new state she was placed in.

A low level scheme, related to the misuse of a few federal scholarships in that University, was being investigated. The new Dean, having barely a year in the post (and no relation to the investigated misused funds), was accused (behind doors with talks to the feds) by a university clerk of trying to hinder the investigations. That Federal Police Deputy, losing no time, got the Dean in 'preventive prison', subjecting him to things like an 'anal search'- well, just because she could. She also convinced a judge to deliver an order keeping the Dean away from the University. He couldn't get back there even to talk to his graduate students.

As it turned out a few days later, the accusation that he hindered internal investigations was baseless, there were extensive records of him assigning probes to ascertain the facts. The clerk who accused him, who believed he was targeted because he lost a salary supplement, was among a hundred other workers who also lost it due to budgetary reasons.

The Dean, who was a lawyer from the Law Department no less, was freed from prison a day after his detention, but the headlines all over the country took a hit on his morale. Two weeks later he committed suicide, with a note on his pockets protesting the injustice.

Before the 'Lava Jato' operation, and the witch hunt atmosphere that came with it, a Fed Police Deputy would hardly be able to destroy a reputation so easily. But right now, we live in a place where the Justice system won't touch a President (and his aides) involved in millionaire scandals, but will easily trash the little people out there, and even the not so little people, if it renders newsworthy headlines.

Bad as it is, the election of someone like the man mentioned in my link above will only make this farcical police state worse. That's why I will keep posting about Trump, and the easy life my American friends have with politics.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Disunited State of America

I can't really understand half of what this guy says. To be fair, that's probably true for all his other works, though I won't know, for I rarely paid attention to them (not my kind of music).

But anyone of my generation, even the ones not much into Rap, will recognize his name as iconic.

I once remarked on this blog: "The last two weeks of the news cycle have been spinning ever so fast about Trump 'scandals', I wonder how are people of different opinions interacting. Or am I the only one being unfriended?"

Even though the divide seen since his election is pretty obvious, and Eminem doing a rap calling all sorts of names is unremarkable, I believe he still set a new bar, one I consider symbolic of our times:

- "Any fan of mine who's a supporter of his, You're either for or against. And if you can't decide who you like more and you're split, On who you should stand beside, I'll do it for you with this", followed by expletives.

So his main fury is directed not at Trump, but to any Trump voter who may also appreciate his own work. He unfriended them all.

OK, I get he hates Trump, but to risk setting a pile of money on fire to show for that?

Friday, September 15, 2017

What The Heck Is That?

Consider the gizmo in my hand below. It's called a vortex tube and is around 4 inches long and weighs maybe half a pound. I had never heard of these until recently. Had you?

There are no moving parts. You connect the inlet near my thumb to an ambient (room) temperature air supply. Really, really hot air comes out the end near my forefinger. Really, really cold air comes out the other end near the base of my palm. That little orange label says "CAUTION: Hot and cold surfaces" and it's not kidding. If the air supply is 8 cubic feet per minute at 100 psi, the hot end is over 100F hotter than the input air temperature and the cold end is over 100F colder than the input air temperature and can provide over 500 BTUs of cooling.

That's a pretty neat trick for something with no moving parts. Another neat trick is that until recently folks were still debating the physics behind how it works:
...for a long time the empirical studies made the vortex tube effect appear enigmatic and its explanation – a matter of debate.
In fact, the science wasn't totally settled until 2012:
This equation was published in 2012; it explains the fundamental operating principle of vortex tubes. The search for this explanation began in 1933 when the vortex tube was discovered and continued for more than 80 years.
So I don't feel bad that I'd never heard of it and had no idea how it worked. And I'll admit when I read the explanation that I still only have a vague notion of how it works.

Why did I discover it now? We have robotic machines that work in agricultural environments. Those machines have computers. We use computers and systems that can withstand up to about 105 (Fahrenheit). 99.8% of the time, the ambient temperature is below that. Unfortunately, 0.2% of the time, it gets hotter than that but the crops still need to be tended to and the machines fail and even die if they're run at a temperature hotter than 105. Yet for 0.2% of the time, it's expensive, bulky, and makes the system less robust due to complexity to add cooling via air conditioning to every single computer cabinet.

On the other hand, putting a vortex tube in each system isn't expensive, bulky, or complex. On those days when it's really hot, the grower can just attach an air supply from a compressor to the vortex tube and voila!, they can run our systems even when it's ridiculously hot. Most growers have compressors available, but even if they don't, it's straightforward to rent one on short notice. Problem solved!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Ho-hum San Diego Sunset

Now that Irma (and Harvey before her) have dissipated, we're back to what I lovingly and jokingly call "ho-hum sun in a clear blue sky sinking into the ocean sort of sunsets."

They're beautiful, for sure, but not the knock-your-socks-off jaw-dropping sunsets that we had during the hurricanes.

Don't worry, soon I'll stop spending so much time watching sunsets and I'll write a real post for this blog.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hurricanes and San Diego Sunsets

Hurricanes are natural disasters and I certainly don't wish there are more of them. But my experience is that every time there are big powerful hurricanes, especially in the Gulf, we have the best sunsets in San Diego:

Usually our sunsets, especially in fall, are just ho-hum sun in a clear blue sky sinking into the ocean sort of sunsets. It's not bad, of course, but nothing like the sunsets above (taken from my upper deck) with fast moving low violet-grey clouds zipping past a brilliant yellow, orange and red high cloud 180-degree background panorama (my phone camera just doesn't come close to doing it justice).

So I guess this is the silver (or yellow/orange/red) lining to the hurricane cloud.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017


If you were a tiny secretive country, with a wrecked economy run by semi-slaves, and no influence whatsoever beyond your disputed south borders with your far richer nemesis, how would you keep up with the mighty pressure of the most powerful country (and military) the world has ever seen?

Well, you buy insurance, and a nuclear one at that. Kim Jon-un, though relatively young, witnessed in his lifetime what happened to Iraq, Libya and Syria after they gave up their nuclear ambitions. So, contrary to the assumptions in part of the media (‘crazy fat boy’) covering the North Korea imbroglio, Mr. Kim is acting, up to now, as a very rational player.

China, confronted by Mr. Trump to provide a solution on North Korea (NK) - i.e. going against a State it sees as a buffer and ally - while at the same time being challenged over its South China Sea expansionism by the USA, is also acting as a rational player, and doing not much beyond theatrical concessions. 

The USA, apparently, is the only country ignoring basic game theory and asking for denuclearization of North Korea as a pre-condition to any further talks, which the chance of happening is the same as hell freezing over. 

From the point of view of Mr. Kim, the most pressing objective is to maximize its insurance policy. Not only against the USA and South Korea (SK), but also from any possible betray by China.

In this context, I offer the speculative idea that Kim’s ballistic display of force is not only a theater for foreign and internal observers, but also a ruse. 

Kim knows that, when push comes to shove, his atomic arsenal means the chances of a powerful nuclear attack wiping NK out of the map is, now, much higher. The fact that his conventional force is also a great threat to South Korea, given the proximity of Seoul to the border, only adds to the chance of an overwhelming attack, of Fire and Fury, being mandatory if any escalation ever happens. 

What’s a small dog going to do in such a big league fight? 

Kim knows that every surveillance satellite, stealth wing (drone or airplane) and spy is mapping out the main sites to be nullified in the event of war. I don’t think he hopes to ever deliver any ICBM he may have, as well as a good deal of his conventional arsenal. 

So Mr. Kim, if a rational player, can only expect his insurance to hold if he can assuredly deliver a blow even if he is killed by bombs or a China backed coup, and if his weapons and territory are neutered. And that asks for more cunning strategies. 

I place at a high probability that, by now, Kim may have smuggled, by land or sea, a few of his former weaker bombs (in the range of 5-10 kilotons) to hideouts in South Korea, a task far easier than building reliable ICBMs. That, and a few elite agents with trucks, is all he needs to make the threat of nuclear retaliation credible, even after his complete defeat.

A surface detonation of a couple of 10kt bombs, in the middle of Seoul, may instantly claim 100.000 lives, possibly 2 or 3 times that after a few days, and economic devastation of a very rich metropolis. 

There is nothing new in such strategy, as the nuclear-armed B-52 continual flights the US kept up in the 60’s (in order to assure mutual destruction to the USSR before better ICBMs were in place) tell us. The difference being that, in the Koren case with contiguous borders, it makes all the sense NK should have nukes implanted inside SK.

Maybe a few of those showy missile tests were aimed at covering for a submarine/ship landing in a far away and lonely shore of SK, with a precious load to deliver to a small truck driving out of the shadows.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Martyr in the Making

Joey Gibson is the founder of Patriot Prayer:
Patriot Prayer is an American right-wing advocacy group, whose stated aim is to support free speech and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The group is known for organizing rallies and protests in predominantly liberal areas. Some of the rallies have drawn controversy due to the attendance of white nationalists, though the group's founder Joey Gibson, a Japanese-American, has disavowed them and denounced racism. [...]
The Southern Poverty Law Center does not list Patriot Prayer as a hate group, nor does it regard Gibson as an extremist;

He also seems to want to be a martyr. Via the Weekly Standard, his story is told, including a recent beating. The following is a video of that beating where he and two associates are peacefully standing, unarmed, with arms in the air in gestures of submission and surrender. They say nothing at all (or at least nothing that could possibly be heard). They are nonetheless mercilessly attacked by the crowd and Joey is hospitalized from the resulting injuries.


His primary motivation seems to be to make Antifa look bad. Watching this video, he certainly succeeded in my eyes. While we don't see what happened directly before the video started, it certainly looks like a mob attacked three peaceful men without any sort of provocation other than their mere existence.

I find the video sickening to watch. To me, the attacking crowd makes humanity look really bad. Those not actually physically attacking the three men are egging the attackers on. Nobody seems to even entertain the thought that attacking peaceful unarmed people in a public park is wrong. Nobody even thinks to intervene in any way.

Even police allow criminals to surrender by holding their hands over their heads. Even armies in war allow the surrender of the enemy. The behavior on the video is pre-civilizational, the behavior of barbarians. Oh sure, I get that mob violence happens and this is just one instance. But what makes it different to me is that there was no incitement: no weapons, no violence, no speech, no nothing.

Joey is never violent and that fact is well known. His colleague "says Joey never, ever fights back." What non-violent person would repeatedly put himself in a position where he'll be beaten and probably eventually killed? One who wishes to be a martyr. When asked what the objective at the park was, Joey responded.

"Not dying."

If so, I think he needs to run his life a little differently.

Monday, August 28, 2017

New Place

After nearly 29 years in the same home, I've moved. In order to make the transition a more positive experienced, I've splurged and rented a nice place for a year, after which I'll find something more permanent.

The following picture was taken yesterday at sunset from the deck off of my new living room.

As a bonus, and one of the reasons I rented this place is it's less than a mile from my younger daughter's high school. She's a senior and it'll make her commute really short - she can even walk in a pinch.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


"Homophobia" is an interesting word and in my opinion has evolved in a way that muddies the relationship in society between gays and non-gays. Let's start with phobia:

1.a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.
"Phobia" is derived from Phobos, the Greek god of fear, and virtually every phobia definition defines some fear. For example, acrophobia is "a pathological fear of heights," nothing more, nothing less.

But homophobia is doesn't fit the pattern:

1.unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward homosexuals and homosexuality.
Suddenly "antipathy" is added to "fear" and the British definition from the same page pushes it further: "intense hatred or fear of homosexuals or homosexuality" with "intense hatred" coming before "fear." It's probably not uncommon to hate that which one has a "pathological fear" of, but it's far from inherent and that brings me to today's story.

Once upon a time, long ago (summer of 1980) and far away (in Boston, Massachusetts), when I was still in college, I was invited to a party with free beer, and being a young college party animal, free beer was a huge draw. The party was thrown by the friend of a girl friend of one of my friends. That's pretty indirect, but there was free beer. The party thrower was one of five housemates. Two of the housemates were gay males, the other three were not and it was planned as a party mixing gays and non-gays with free beer. So, enticed by free beer, a group of seven of us decided to attend.

At the last minute, the three non-gay housemates pulled out of the party, making it a gay party. Or more accurately, a party with 80 gay guys and the seven of us non-gay, intrepid, free-beer seekers. Since we had absolutely nothing against gay guys, we decided to go anyway. Did I mention free beer?

We went to the party and we talked to various gay party goers for a while and we eventually retreated to hanging about the keg. The keg was at the edge of a dance area. As the party progressed, the gay guys started dancing and it was no big deal. Then they started slow dancing. Then, while slow dancing, they started kissing and grinding and fondling. And two guys at a time would head into a bathroom at the edge of the dance floor for a minute or two before emerging with smiles on their faces.

Suddenly, I had a overwhelming panic attack and found myself literally running out of that house. I couldn't stop to tell any of my friends I was leaving nor could I stop to say goodbye to the hosts and thank them for the free beer. There was no hate involved. There was simply overwhelming fear - in other words, a phobia.

I found what happened next quite interesting. There I was, quite surprised at my reaction. After all, I had intentionally gone to gay party because as far as I knew, I had no problem with any aspect of homosexuality. "All sex is good sex" had been one of my frequent (and apparently naive) sayings up until that point.

So there I was, miles from home, in the days before cell phones so I couldn't let anybody know that I left, my ride was still at the party and as a poor student I couldn't afford a taxi, so I was readying myself for a long walk home.

I looked up as I was getting ready to walk, and there were two of my friends on the sidewalk who had left the party before me. The same thing had happened to them - they had also completely freaked out and exited the party at a rapid pace without telling anyone else. We were trying to decide what to do when out of the door came two more of our friends with panicked expressions on their faces (it was comical) and fortunately one of them was our ride. We exchanged our embarrassing stories with lots of nervous laughter (ok, I'll admit it, we were giggling like junior high girls) and decided to do "rock, paper, scissors" to determine which two of us would somehow find our courage to go back inside to the "scary gay party" (yes, we knew how unbelievably ridiculous that sounds) to let the last two of our friends know that we were leaving and if they wanted a ride, now was the time to say goodbye to the free beer and the rest of the party. Fortunately, before we even finished "rock, paper, scissors" the last two friends exited the party. They weren't particularly panicked but admitted to "significant discomfort."

Seven out of seven.

Seven out of seven guys who intentionally went to a gay party because they were completely confident that homosexuality didn't bother them at all had negative reactions ranging from "significant discomfort" to complete panic. Maybe the two with merely "discomfort" wouldn't qualify as homophobic, but at least five of us were clearly homophobic. And this was a self-selected group that was willing to go to a gay party. Seven out of seven in this self-selected group indicates to me that our reaction isn't terribly unusual or abnormal. I believe that the majority of homophobia is simply like that which happened here.

There was no hate. None of us hated gays. I don't hate gays now. I just panic or feel fear when seeing gay physical intimacy. At this point, I've been sensitized, so I feel mild panic when I see a couple of guys with arms around each other or even holding hands. I realize that's totally my problem just like my fear of heights (which isn't quite a phobia - I go rock climbing for example) is my problem.

It's moderately popular among some groups to hate homophobics. They think that they're hating haters, an attitude which I think has some problems anyway because it legitimizes hate. But I'm not a hater and I have no more control over my reaction to homosexual physical intimacy than gays have control over being gay. Yet I'm supposed to support them, but they and their supporters are supposed to revile me. And when I tell this story to those that revile me and those like me, they simply call me a liar and continue their hate.

Ah well, nobody said life was fair.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Individual Versus Collective

When I was 16, I was a communist, or at least very impressed by communism (I never signed on to a communist party or organization). I still consider "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" to be the single most powerful non-religious idea of all time and it's very simple and easy to understand as well. Over time, as I observed the world, read more about economics and politics, and interacted with others who had communist leanings, I started to become disillusioned with it. In 1983, I visited Czechoslovakia and Hungary (while still communist), and my disillusionment became complete (the folks in those countries were clearly very, very miserable). Talking to socialists and seeing communism in action were great cures for any affinity I might have maintained for that ideology. It was both the utter lack of opportunity and the completely lack of freedom that I found overwhelmingly problematic. Marxist communism is a very powerful idea, but it turned out to be a powerfully bad idea.

Since then, I've been "libertarian leaning" as libertarianism directly addresses both the opportunity and freedom issues of communism. Over time, interacting with libertarians, for example at Cafe Hayek, my enthusiasm for the libertarian ideology has lessened. I've concluded that I'd probably like all of these ideologies a lot better if they didn't involve people - people just always ruin everything! :-)

Communism is a form of collectivism, where collectivism identifies the collective as the entity of primary importance and the individual having less importance and perhaps way, way, waaaaay less importance.

On the other hand, the libertarian holds the individual sacrosanct and the collective as non-existent other than a simple, but utterly unimportant, grouping of the individuals. Because of this, the State/government are considered to be necessary evils at best and more often as unnecessary evils foist upon the unsuspecting masses by corrupt and power hungry politicians and bureaucrats. From this perspective, most actions of the collective and State are held to be morally wrong. Since the individual is sacrosanct, anything he produces is his so taxation is theft or taxation is slavery. Almost all restrictions on individual behavior, for example trade, are considered abhorrent, leading to slogans like protectionism is robbery.

My flippant response to the libertarian slogans above is that if taxation is theft or slavery and protectionism is robbery, then theft, slavery and robbery must not be inherently immoral so I ought to start engaging in such practices more often. Slightly less flippant is that there's a reason we have separate words like "taxation"; trying to equate them with words whose definitions they possibly have something in common is, to me, an attempt at a sort of Orwellian double-plus-good libertarian Newspeak. I mean, okay, but just trying to redefine words isn't particularly convincing to me.

But it is partly a matter of perspective. If the individual is sacrosanct, then it does seem to lead to slogans like taxation is slavery.  Since such slogans seem absurd to me, I've concluded that the principle of the sacrosanct individual is also absurd.

My 17-year-old daughter is extremely tenderhearted - scarily so some days. For example, if she sees an ant walking across the counter, she'll catch it, bring it outside, and release it. I haven't had the heart to break it to her that an individual ant cannot survive (and certainly has no purpose) without access to its colony and by removing the ant from the ant trail it's on, it has been effectively removed from its colony and is a dead ant walking. I'm afraid if I tell her that, she'll stress out every time she sees an ant inside the house; she doesn't like bugs so she won't want to just let it be and she won't want to cause its death by removing it from its ant trail. Yup, life has many tough dilemmas.

An individual ant can't survive without its colony. Can an individual human survive without a collective? If you were dropped off in a random wilderness area with nothing (perhaps not even clothes) and you weren't allowed to interact with any other people or utilize anything made by anybody else, how long would you survive? Even if you had extensive survival training? How long until you cut yourself and the infection killed you? How long until something you drank or ate made you so sick that you died? How long until a series of storms caused hypothermia? Etc.?

Personally, I'd be dead in short order. I've done enough wilderness camping to know that even with modern gear, it's not trivial surviving for moderate to long periods of time. My guess is that maybe 1% of people could survive a year with training, maybe 1 in 1,000 could survive 10 years. Eventually, one of the many things that could go wrong would catch up to almost everybody. There's safety in numbers and there's support in numbers.

But now let's add the last wrinkle. Not only do you have to survive, but you have to have a mate and have at least two children and have the children survive until adulthood. Without any help from anybody else. Ever. All I can say is "good luck with that!"

In other words, just like an individual ant isn't really something independent, neither is an individual human. Humans evolved while being part of collectives (tribes in primitive times). Humans' ancestors evolved while being part of collectives (tribes and packs). A few humans might be able to survive as completely independent entities but it is, at best, not optimal.

Humans are more complicated than ants, and, as a result, our collectives can be much more flexible and varied than an ant colony. We can have tribes and nations and states and empires and commonwealths and subcultures and all kinds of political and economic structures and structures within structures and each individual can be part of numerous collectives and those collective can be overlapping. The possibilities are endless and dizzying. And fortunately, unlike the ant that can only belong to one specific collective, humans can, to some degree, pick and choose which collectives they wish to belong to.

We're all part of collectives. Within each of our collectives we are bound by loyalty, contract, agreement or something like that to others in the collective to some degree. By definition, we are "bound" by "bonds" and "bondage" is composed of a set of "bonds." Furthermore, "bondage" and "slavery" are very closely associated.

It's not taxation that's slavery, but rather the circumstances of human existence that requires us to be bound to others in what might actually be slavery (slavery/serfdom has been one of the most common forms of human existence for all of history and prehistory) or what in a free(ish) society might be termed co-slavery where we're bound to each other, where I own you (you have obligations to me) and you own me (I have obligations to you) though indirectly through the collective.

To me, this makes the collective primary and the individual secondary. My starting point is that the largest and most powerful collective of which we are part actually does completely own us and has the right to all of our output and the right to control each and every aspect of our behavior and lives. I'll get to why this isn't nearly as abhorrent as it sounds in a bit so please don't freak out quite yet. Well, you can freak out a little, but please keep reading. :-)

With the collective owning us, taxation is neither slavery (we're already owned by the collective) nor is it theft. In fact, what isn't taxed is basically given to us by the beneficence of the collective. Protectionism isn't robbery at all but rather some non-protected trade is allowed due to the kindness and lenience of the collective.

While I'm serious about taxation not being slavery using the logic above, I am kidding about the collective having "kindness" or other positive human attributes. A 300,000,000+ person collective cannot have human attributes such as kindness - at least not in any way that an individual human can understand.

But a collective does have one attribute that is understandable by humans - Will to Power.
Each form of life has a particular constitution, with its instincts having different strengths, such that certain conditions will favour its form of life. This brings different types of life into conflict with each other, as each wants different conditions to prevail: ‘life itself in its essence means appropriating, injuring, overpowering those who are foreign and weaker’ ... though this language suggests that such activity is immoral, when it is simply a function of being alive.
A collective is a life form, though not one comprehensible to the individuals who make up the collective (similar to a brain being incomprehensible to a neuron). Its "instincts" will push it to evolve in order to adapt so that "certain conditions will favour its form" enabling it to succeed at "overpowering those [collectives] who are ... weaker." There are some subtleties, but this is very similar to survival of the fittest applied to collectives instead of lifeforms as described by Nietzsche. In other words, collectives compete and evolve. This has certainly happened throughout history and isn't much of a surprise.

How does a collective succeed in surviving and exerting its Will to Power? How does it manage to fend off and even "overpower" competing collectives? Well, that's the rub. It depends on the collective and the environment within which the collective exists. Evolution doesn't have a direction but is really always co-evolution, with each entity evolving relative to the current state of all other entities. Even worse, except for some very small and very well defined collectives (for example, a company that operates a restaurant), the collective and the environment within which it operates has complexity far, far, far beyond the capability of human understanding.

The collective that we call the United States of America is one result of billions of years of biological evolution and tens of thousands of years of cultural and political evolution of homo sapiens in the context of uncountable events around the world and the context of its North American location. It could not have been designed by people and people could not have and can not, from a blank start, design anything better.

Given that I believe that the collective that is the United States owns us and has absolute power over us, why do we have any freedom at all? One answer is that while the collective owns us, we also own the collective and can therefore influence it. However, I don't think that's the main answer.

The main answer is simply that collectives with free(ish) individuals in today's global environment end up being the most powerful collectives. Across the globe, freedom and power per capita are closely related. Within limits, freeing individuals to do what they think best seems to allow for innovation and productivity and those two things are an important part of the basis of increasing power.

Our prosperity and our rights have evolved to this point primarily for that reason, in my opinion. Not because of some intangible moral arguments about peace and love and non-aggression and what's right and what's good. Not because the individual is sacrosanct or because of god given human rights. While there is feedback (the ideas had to come from interacting individuals) and it is a bit of a virtuous cycle, ultimately we have our rights and freedoms because they brought us power and those opposing collectives who didn't give those rights and freedoms to their members lost in the battle of Will to Power. Are there other factors? Of course, but I think this is a very important one.

For additional power and sustainability, should the collective allow more freedom or less freedom? More regulation or less regulation? More rights or fewer rights? I have my guesses but I don't really know and I think I'll leave those guesses for other posts.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Free Market Morality

In a column for The Stone ("[An NYT] forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless), philosophy professor Amia Srinivasan posed a set of questions for free-market moralists.

She prefaces them by juxtaposing John Rawls A Theory of Justice" against Robert Novick's subsequent Anarchy, State, and Utopia.

At the risk of doing unintentional violence to both arguments, here they are in summary:

Theory of Justice: Hypothesize an original position which requires devising principles of justice from behind a "veil of ignorance". That is, no foreknowledge of one's place in society. Because of that ignorance, subsequent principles anyone derives will be inherently fair, because the veil of ignorance prevent privileging any class of people.

Because there is no way of knowing a priori one's position in society, such principles of justice will recognize the risk of ending up badly on the other side of the veil: each member has an equal claim on societies goods; natural attributes, because they are down to luck, do not change this claim; therefore, the only allowable inequalities are those benefitting the worst-off members of society.

In reaction to Rawls, Novick argued for a minimal state (minarchist libertarianism) limited to protection of private property and mutual individual liberty. Such a state, by definition, could not extend to the sort of redistributionist policies inherent in Rawl's theory. According to Nozick, "[any distribution of wealth] is just if it arises from a prior just distribution by legitimate means". For our purposes, all voluntary exchanges, are, by definition, legitimate.

Consequently there is no a priori pattern (e.g., Marx's "from each according to ability, to each according to need") to which a just distribution will conform; whatever distribution results is just to the extent that it results from voluntary exchanges. Yes, there will be people who inherit wealth they didn't themselves earn, just as there will be those born into penury through no fault of their own, just as some will be born with more talent than others — which is really inheritance in a different form.

Moreover, because talents and motivations vary so much between people, no Rawlsian patterned principle of justice will persist without the state continually interfering in individual decisions.

Now, having walked the tightrope, probably falling off both sides, between tl;dr and summarizing Rawls and Nozick beyond recognition, here is the gist of Srinivasan's article: refuting Nozick through four questions:

1. Is any exchange between two people in the absence of direct physical compulsion by one party against the other (or the threat thereof) necessarily free?

2. Is any free (not physically compelled) exchange morally permissible?

3. Do people deserve all they are able, and only what they are able, to get through free exchange?

4. Are people under no obligation to do anything they don’t freely want to do or freely commit themselves to doing?

I'm going with yes, yes, yes and yes, her ill-considered hypotheticals — which would be an insult to any serious forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless, although The Stone has never shown any sign of being such — notwithstanding.