This is a continuing journal to try to understand the rudiments of cosmology. I'm not organized, so ti may be jumpy: no apologies, this blog is my scratchpad! (Maybe I should use google docs for this instead.)


1/Ho =13e9yr, they say.
Cephid variable stars pulse in proportion to their luminosity (so the latter is easily known). These luminosities then can be used to calculate range. Velocity of course is known from redshift, and thus we can correlate one to the other. Range x Ho = V. A good (terse and childish) explanation of the universe's age is here, at the WMAP satellite site. WMAP calls the universe 13.7b yrs old.

Nucleosynthesis in the early universe considers the relative expected proportions of elements as a function of how hot it was. ("Hot" being the relative proportion of energy to mass in the early universe.) This plot, from about 3 minutes? shows the ratio of He to other elements eg Li, we find now, & thus calibrates the early energy density. They believe all the heavy elements were formed in stars or supernovae.

The Inflaton Field Theory supposes something more violently expanding happened right at first, as an answer to the problem of relics (where are the magnetic monopoles a hot cosmic soup would have created?) and the problem of flatness (some stars look older than 1/Ho)

Just some numbers...
  • Critical density is 5 protons / m^3, and we are nowhere near that: where is it all? This is the motivation for the search for dark (unseen) matter & energy.
  • Planck density = 10^93gm/cm^3
  • Age of universe 13.7b yr
  • Age of transparency 350,000 yr. (? ...from memory)
  • Black hole density= (1.8x1016 g/cm3) x (Msun / M)2 ,usually M is 10x solar masses.
  • Schwarzchild radius= (3x105 cm) x (M / Msun), this, from here.

THE horizon.

This is going to be a cosmology post. It will take a while to get up.
First some credit to Ned Wright, prof of Cosmology at UCLA. I'm mostly just trying to understand and interpret his excellent tutorial web site.

Ok, here we go. Beginning with a picture from the tutorial...

What we see above is a pitcure of the universe! Time is the up-down dimension and distance is the right left dimension. Each of the (almost) straight black lines is for a different observer, at a different place in the universe. Each of the different observers is moving away at a different speed, harking back to the big bang at the bottom when they were all colocated.
"Moving away from where?" you can ask, and the answer is "From me!" ...or from anyone. All viewpoints in the regularly expanding universe are equivalent. He shows that by skewing the frame of reference in this picture. The observer at "A" feels he is unmoving, so his line of position over time is straight, whereas the line showing "us" has relative motion.

There's a lot more to say by way of explaining this diagram, and I will try to get to it soon, but want to get my questions down first.

1) If it's the same for all observers, then everyone should see the same thing, right? That means both we and A should see the same CMB radiation, though we have dramatically different velocity. It is tempting here to say different absolute velocity but is there such a thing? If there's absolute velocity vs CMB, then there's a center: a preferred location in the universe and the point of this diagram is that that's not so. But (here's the question at last) if there is no preferred center, then there is no absolute velocity, and then seemingly none should be measured, by anyone, vs the CMB. Yet there is a dipole! Why? I think this has to be due to a recent velocity, an acceleration that has us moving relative to our local chunk of space. If it were secular (for all time) then we'd be in a different chunk of space (and seeing uniform CMB).

2) The picture shows "light cones" as little triangles along everyone's timeline. That's how fast a signal would travel if you emitted it. You could imagine adjacent societies communicating by radio, with delays for their successive messages (light cones) to reach each other. This elegant picture shows how the light from the big bang can reach us, after a long journey and an uphill race against the expanding universe wherein it actually loses ground before finally approaching us. That's the red pear shape. This explanation makes perfect sense to me if I think of it as an explosion in air. Everywhere, sound moves at the speed of sound, but the air through which it travels moves at different velocities depending on which part of the explosion each pocket of air is located in. As such the sound speeds up or slows down (in a coordinate frame fixed to the location of the original explosion). This all works perfectly for air, but air is the aether through which sound moves. Is there then aether for light? What if there is nobody there to measure the light as it travels from its source to us, through the intervening universe? Is it still doppler shifted along the way, or is it meaningless to talk about a doppler without an observer? Does it arrive along the same trajectory, covering the same distance in the same time?
I think the answers are: the light behaves the same whether there's someone there to see it or not, there is no way to define redshift without an observer to be shifted "relative to" and so, yes, it covers the same trajectory. This is clearly about relativity, wherein the photons, and their speed, are invariant. The doppler changes depending on who (at what velocity vs the emitter) is observing at any given time. Again I'll mention the sound analogy works well (for me at least), so long as you assume that each timeline on the picture represents a different hunk of air.
Another way to learn something from the sound metaphor is to picture the interaction from the transmitter's perspective. We can speak (continuously!) to a nearby observer who, at the bang, suddenly begins travelling away at a huge speed. Thereafter, they and we hear each other with a huge redshift. We would both be speaking in ordinary time at ordinary rates but not just pitch but (consequently!) the time of arrival of words and sentences would be greatly stretched out. To each observer, the other appears to have slowed down. We can know this 'cause we can observe everyone's lips move at the speed of light. However in space, when the redshift is itself that of light, there is no meaning to the idea of the 3rd party observer in absolute or unmoving space. Also, I can be moving far faster than the speed of sound vs the transmitter, but the sound waves speed up as they refract through intervening blocks of atmosphere, each of which is successively travelling faster, with it's local bits of embedded shrapnel & flotsam. From the listener's perspective (measuring the sound pulse approaching via some kind of laser rangefinder) the sound is speeding up: you may think of the doppler as being applied incrementally and it IS, by the incremental delta velocities by all the air pockets. In space we don't know anything about the intervening observers (they may not be there!), but we "see" the light's redshift (as we would hear the doppler shift of sound) and so time at the observer seems to have been slowed down.

Ok, I love this song. "Furr" by Blitzen Trapper

Everybody seen this show on NOVA? Surpassing Newton & Einstein with 11 dimensions, gravity radio between alternate universal branes (excellent, we can TALK to them by shaking an apple!) and the long struggle to squeeze the universe into one set of equations. I'm a little uncomfortable about how badly we seem to want the un...iverse to unify itself "just" to fit OUR need for order. The freaky-cool thing is that bits of pond scum can actually begin to understand the heartbeat of the big implacable pond. Gives me chills. Gotta look past the glossy popularization though: it takes a LOT of "dumbing down" to render these ideas for TV, and boy do they ever.

track, and bike crash

Well, I'm really enjoying track right now. Once a week for sure, maybe a bit more, and working on about a 1:15 pace (for 400m). This is a speed I can maintain for 6 or8 laps on long rest intervals, like 3 minutes. I can string together 1:30s and will shoot for a 6 minute mile soon. Long term goal is to get more comfortable at 1:15, where I'm very badly out of air, right now.

But, I realized after starting this, now it the right time to write something about the bike crash, so I can remember it later.

It was three weeks ago today, the CU Buffalo Bicycle Classic, a 100 mile ride to Ft. Collins & back. Steve and I were going to do it. I couldn't believe he could just pick up cycling and do 100 mile days, and I was a little apprehensive! Then Steve's knee got worse, or an order not to make it worse maybe, and I was gonna do this race alone. I almost didn't go, just out of boredom, but it is a great course and I thought it looked like good weather so I went. I cruised out of town in the chilly morning, gradually picking up speed as I warmed up. It's all uphill out of Boulder along Hwy 36 until you get to St Vrain road which is a downhill tear all the way to Hygiene. By now I was going pretty fast and had caught up with a pack made up of about 3 really strong guys and a bunch of hangers-on. I took a couple of pulls sort of to show I was able to keep up, and generally settled in towards the front of this group. The pack kept breaking up when someone would fall off the front few guys so I would have to pull back up which was no problem, just explaining that it wasn't a pace line so much as a few of us taking turns and a bunch of people barely sucking along. I remember thinking I'd have to be careful because these guys were not all that experienced, and getting tired. It would be a very different group after another hour, I thought. How true. We were approaching Hygiene.

The ambulance had a guy in it, sitting at my left, asking me impossible questions like what day was it, and where was I going and so forth. I don't remember much more than thinking it was hard and I wasn't answering his questions very well, and that it didn't hurt much.

Next is the hospital, same drill, except it's a couple of ladies asking the questions and Sue and the kids are there and I got two CAT scans and some very fluffy bandages on my knees. Then I was done, we drove to CU to get my bike and I rode it down to McGuckin's, loaded the car and drove home.

I told it that way because that's how I experienced it: in a couple of flashes with a ton of missing time. On the phone a week later, some dean from CU (who's responsible for the race, perhaps) offered condolences and a free entry next year and said he saw me laid out on the side of the road. I should've hit him up for a couple of jerseys! Steve & I didn't even get t-shirts out of it. So anyway, I learned I was unconscious for a while. It's interesting how the memories are gone, even from BEFORE the crash. Near as I can guess, there was from 5 sec to a half minute before the crash where I have no memories. Can't visualize the rear wheel that (I imagine) swiped across my front tire and wiped me out, or the tumble, or the asphalt, or laying there. Nothing.

The next remarkable thing was all the gyro failures. I couldn't call it dizziness, but that's the nearest thing I guess. Sometimes I'd turn my head, and the world would turn but then Just Keep Turning, never stopping. though I'd gotten off a merry-go-round. So I guess that is dizziness. Anyway that kept up for weeks. It became a morning phenomenon. Monday, 15 days after, was the first time I woke up and could walk without lights on or holding on to something. Then yesterday (20 days after) the last of the saucer sized scabs on my knees peeled off. Those hurt a lot & still do. My knees continue to weep blood and pus and I can't wear long pants because of it. That's irrelevant though. My wrist feels sprained, or lower part of my arm maybe, so there are some things like dips and pullups and pushups I can't do yet, but that'll all heal soon enough I suppose. It is good to have it over with. I haven't gone back to "full" workouts yet, mostly because I'm daunted about starting up swimming again: even a 3 day layoff makes swimming hard again. As far as the bike? Well, I haven't had the urge.


The loudspeaker blared, “All hands for Ves-3 please report to the cafeteria deck for final briefing at 14:00.”

It was the usual pre-drop announcement, Cindra had heard it a before, three times, but never before like this. This time it was for her. Tomorrow at 14:00 some 6 dozen colonists would be jam packed into reentry capsules along with 5x their mass of support gear (just about anything anybody wanted, subject to the weight limits) the mothership would drop out of hyperspace, and they would be dumped into a hyperbolic orbit guaranteed only to impact the atmosphere at just thus and such an angle. They would all de-orbit together, or perhaps go up in smoke together, if the lander didn't work.

Meanwhile, there would be one final briefing, half review, half goodbye, half ceremony. Sometimes Cindra thought it was how the rest of the crew got to closure on what was basically the same thing as losing 20% of all the people they knew, forever. There had been three groups dropped already, and there would be three more, before this ship continued, empty, on whatever irrelevant ballistic trajectory remained to it before it plowed into some gravity well out there.

The USS Niven was a colonization "seed ship," launced from earth along with 8 others in the last extremity, in the twilight of civilization, and they, Cindra and her peers, were the seeds. People all over the earth could tell that the clocks were running down: out of fuel, out of air, out of ozone and clean water and arable land and trees to cut for shelter and oil, there was nothing left but solar power and the foamed concrete eeked slowly thereby, as though from the sun's very furnace. Precious fuels and metals were squandered on these 9 colonization birds, each the same, each with about 450 souls aboard, and 5 to 8 stops to make seeding hopeful star systems before beginning a final irrelevant leg of their endless journeys. Each ship was named after a fanciful sci-fi author.

Tomorrow they would go down. Cindra's group had drawn a very fertile, friendly planet. It might have fauna and certainly there were a lot of plants: that much was apparent from the telescope surveys conducted from earth. Not much would be needed to eke out a living on the surface. But there was more: long studies had been held to try to give the 60 new societies the best possible toehold in their new worlds, to create, as much as possible, a new world in the image of but better than, the old one. The group would have some special advantages, she thought hopefully of these while drifting off to sleep.

Next day passed quickly, checking and rechecking hear she'd stowed and made sure of a dozen times already. In no time it was 2:00PM and time for the meeting. All the colonists sat together in the front of the caffeteria, wearing dark green acceleration suits they'd not take off until they had landed, while most of the rest of the crew clustered around to hear the last speeches.

First there were the obligatory goodbyes and pronouncements of high hopes and expectations. Soon, their leader, Captain Thomas, took the podium, wearing her own green jumpsuit, and began announcing a private catechism Cindra and her peers already mostly knew.

“As you know," she said, "our group of colonists is not taking piles of lasers and microcomputers with us to the surface. We have the lowest gear mass allotment of any group on the ship, something I expect you all to thank us for while you're eating that extra ration of chocolate ice cream you got budgeted into YOUR drop shipment!” A pause here for applause was effective, though sardonic: groups with higher mass allotments generally had harsher planets to deal with, such as those without oxygen, or worse: nobody was actually dropping with chocolate ice cream, although there was plenty shipboard, and Thomas took a healthy lick as she said this, to dramatize it the fact.

“Instead, we are taking something special, something that will make us only marginally human, really, a tiny improvement.” Thomas was on a roll now. People settled down to hear the rest of her talk.

“The whole idea came from studying Neanderthals, our distant distant dumb stepbrothers. Or so we like to think. Archaeological evidence actually seems to suggest that they were bigger, stronger AND smarter than we were. That's something you may not all know. Why then, (our scientists put themselves this question, I'm told...) were WE the evolutionary winners instead of the Neanderthals? Well the more recent evidence has given us some exciting clues to ponder about this.”

You could've heard a pin drop as Thomas paused to emphasize her grip on the audience.

“The Neanderthals, it turns out had a disadvantage, and it was one you wouldn't thinkof very highly: they were fertile.”

“Fertile? How does THAT get to be a disadvantage, you want to ask! Well consider this: we have a species that is getting successful, and one of its key characteristics is how it cares for its offspring, how WE raise and nurture our young, to make them all they can be, help them even at our own expense. The Neanderthals were this way too. Take this burgeoning success and this devotion to offspring, combine them with fecundity, and what do you get? Overpopulation, that's what. A characteristic that's helpful to a butterfly who simply leaves her young behind becomes an actual burden to a cavemother who absolutely won't. Put it together, imagine having babies every nine months like clockwork, and trying to get all those kids fed, and sheltered, and moved to the new hunting grounds! You get the picture. Add to that that half the people, the women would be incapacitated half the time and nursing the other half, and you get a species competing at half power. Maybe it would work if you lost two of every three kids to the dinosaurs, but add successful nurturing to the recipe, and you've got hardship resulting from success. That's the unfair catch-22 the Neanderthals struggled with.”

“Meanwhile, our ancestors had a relative advantage: sparse fecundity. As you all know all too well, we (well those of us who are female) are fertile just a few days each month and noone can tell (without very close inpection indeed) whether we are or not. A baby's not certain every time you dive under the bearskins, and if you're nursing it's highly unlikely. This fact has not only made it quite easy to tame the less intelligent portion of the species (plenty of guffaws here) pretty handily through sexual manipulation, but reduced the popluation pressure our tribes felt when we were a young species. The low birth rates also equalized a physical disadvantage, and made us really partners with our men. I'd like to think that partnership had something to do with beating the Neanderthals, but the reproductive dissimilarity certainly did. With less kids to take care of, we did better as a species.”

“You could argue the whole thing played out again in the 21st century back home, only cultural preferences and birth control created the advantage when even LESS fecundity was needed in the face of longer lifetimes, greater educational burden and more population pressure. That social pressure worked against those who felt it most though, because others of the same species were meanwhile breeding to beat the band, and that put pressure on us all, arguably the very reason for these seed ships we're riding in now. How can we break that cycle in our next try? This was the problem our planning group chose to focus on.”

“The solution is clear with hindsight: we will take our advantage over the Neanderthals and multiply it. In particular, we will genetically alter ourselves, in fact HAVE already altered ourselves to bear less children. Each of the women you see before you is reproductively fertile only for a few days a year, and only she knows approximately when. This change makes us (we women) more nearly equal in our ability to contribute, we've been chosen for size and strength too, but most importantly, we should bring our tribe an immeasurable benefit, that of not facing an overpopulation problem of our own making!” There were some shocked gasps: this aspect of the fourth drop team's mission had not been overtly known.

“Now you may ask 'why now, in the fragile first stages of colonization?' and my answer would be that you are right: there's no place in the first several generations for limited growth, and in fact for just that reason we have thousands of doses of fertility drugs, which WE must take in order to approach the monthly fertility YOU all take for granted. But those drugs will run out in a few generations, and then we will have our new, utopian society to nurture. Then too, like all of our groups we are preponderantly women, for obvious reasons: we want to breed successfully and often at first (Thomas paused here for lusty cheering from the men and boys) but generations hence our growth will taper. Our computer simulations promise good outcomes from this strategy. Now is the time for you to wish us the same, as we take our turn to try to establish a beachhead for humanity on this new earth, here around the star, our Sun, the star known back home only as VES-3!”

Cheers all around, some light drinking, and Cindra went to bed to await the drop.

be still

A month. That is a long enough time, in summer, to grow a healthy plant. I write to remind you, (you know who you are), that you are alive just like one of those plants, and the sun is out, and you should get out there and sweat under it, smell the air and the dirt.
Be still. Feel pain and sun both. Grow towards good things.
Time will whorl scars into hard knots and burls that can endure
...or not; we shall see.


I'm off for a risky ride: weather's dicey.

Slashes of sunshine spray my neighborhood, but the sky is hunkered off to the West, growling. Still, if there is to be any time for a ride today, this is it.

Saddled up I head for the mountains, chatting with a couple at the intersection, then I'm gone, alone. The bike is very smooth, I am going uphill towards 36 and there's a tiny headwind but I feel good, have to keep a lid on it so that I won't get tired before the Bolder Boulder tomorrow. Everything is gray-green, and it is raining, but not enough to stick. The road's dry although I feel a drop now and then, and the air feels thick and chill. I turn up the power half a notch to stay warm. How fast, I can't say, the speedo still needs a new battery, but today at least, I'm passing everybody. Feels good.

Turning onto 36 to go N, I'll ride up to the house, then home on Nelson or something, but it is starting to rain lightly now, and there is a big peal of thunder. I turn up towards West Fork, but another belt of thunder, more rain and a thought that "there's probably nobody there anyway" combine to turn me around. I would have stayed though, if it were me, after moving my stuff in, to watch the rain and lightning. I would have a bottle of wine and sit under the shelter of the upper deck, and watch the patterns of light on the fields: I always loved that. Then, because it's on a hill overlooking the plains, you can see sometimes oceans of clouds and the whole world is gone, just you in the incredible sunlight and yellow-white waves breaking against the prow of the hillside.

But not today. Today it will be clammy and uncomfortable, so I turn around.

Grinding up the shallow hill to Nelson, I roll over a lone rider, and then overhaul a faster tandem, barely. Going uphill they cannot match me but now we will descend and I will get my ass kicked. I taunt jokingly with something like, "I'll never stay ahead of you now!" as I go by, and sure enough in a minute I feel them coming over my shoulder, impossibly fast. I put on a surge and catch his wheel. We are probably doing over 30, but with his draft, I rarely have to pedal.

The hill flattens, maybe even ascends for a moment, and I can lead now. I power by, coast for a few beats so he can gear up, and then pull like hell, knowing he'll be doubly fast when drafting. We trade pulls the whole way along Nelson, never dropping out of top gear, me taking my pulls on the uphill, and the tandem on the downs, when their ballistic coefficient makes them more than a match for me. Awesome. I'm stroking in the 160s and realize I'm singing, Born on the Cusp to myself, which somehow matches my breathing pattern though it's a slow song. Eventually they peel off and I continue on 75th, headed home, rocketing through hard rain now, hunched over the bars and feeling like blasting.

There's a peal of thunder. It growls all the way from South to North, then turns behind me, circling around, and back to the South, like a RING of lightning must have just discharged up there in the clouds. I think of humpback whales, of nets they make from bubbles, rising in a silvery ring to trap the fish. Am I a fish trapped in a gray ring of rain, the water falling down instead of the air falling up? That thunder will split the clouds. Why do I think that? Anyway, I do. I am safe from lightning though. Or maybe not. Does it matter? I look down, my legs are shiny-wet, pumping over the midnight river of smooth road. Featureless, it glides blackly by so fast as to appear not to move at all, mocking my hammer pulse. I love this road. Every step I travel how far - a dozen yards? More? It's like running on the moon. Now, saffron highlights run up and down my calves with every stroke; a car's coming and it's headlights throw a yellow cast.

They saw me and so I'm safe, again. Turning now to the last climb up Niwot road, I decide to stay on the big ring and stand the whole way. I have no heart left, but my legs are good. I realize I'm smiling. If I keep doing these simple things, I should be ok.

postscript: Thankfully, my daughter had an off day and I got to coast the BB on a 10' pace with her.

Rip in Heaven

This is the beginning of our Boulder CD Mix Exchange.

I got April by default, by taking the longest to join in, yet I am hardly a pathfinder in this very musaical group. So, what can I bring you? I have decided to go with a particular genre and epoch, namely, "Songs by which you were conceived" ...implying, not to put too fine a point on it, that THIS is the kind of music I was listening to at the college party when everyone (else) was - well, you know, looking for a couch.

So, like a deadly frozen space alien, or an ancient French wine, I will hope these artifacts will come out of hibernation as potent as they were when new, and will serve their purpose again!

Moreover, I can go back even further. Reaching all the way back to the misty past, to my mom's beehive hairdoo, cateye glasses, and avocado polyester miniskirt, I see an orb of obsidian spinning in an oaken coffin I'm not allowed to touch. Sounds come out, primitive pulsing compulsion, and somehow I know the singer is talking about my Mom and Dad and I'm uncomfortable because something inappropriate is going on, but I don't know what 'cause I can't translate the entendre's! That was me, hearing what could have been the soundtrack of my own creation! Eeww. So, you got THAT track coming to you, as well as many other artifacts. It's supposed to be like a party tape, happy overall with a beginning warmup, a frenetic dance phase in the middle, a sexy hookup phase after that, and some soft music for cuddling at the end, or walking around at 2:00 AM cleaning up, depending on which group you find yourself in.

Happy listening.

Matt has kindly provided a link to sample my retro mix, and also the path to the google doc that forms our manifesto, I guess.

Here's the track list. The idea is supposed to match a party, going from soft (preparation phase) to very happy, to frenetic, to silly, to love songs, then sad ones, and finally something quiet for falling asleep. The last track is a little out of character, an acoustic piano cover of the best song ever, the cure's Just Like Heaven. Done slow with heavy percussion, it loses it's joy and becomes the after-party musing.


Diplomacy is a board game involving dealmaking, surprise, treachery, and world domination: in short, the techniques of Diplomacy. In anticipation of a dinner party, here is the short version of the rules (according to me) as well as a stern recommendation to get out there on the internet and read up: this is not a trivial game. However, with some effort, the rules can be condensed as follows:

  1. Just one unit (Army or Fleet) in any province at a time.
  2. Some regions, equipped with a star are supply centers, and will support (feed and equip) an army or fleet. You pick. Obviously, control lots of these to have lots of armies.
  3. Armies or Fleets can occupy coastal land, but ONLY armies inland or fleets at sea (duh).
  4. Game sequence is a) diplomacy -> b) write orders -> c) reveal & resolve. During diplomacy you make deals with each other. Writing orders is done by secretly specifying, for every unit that is to act, if & where it will go, and what it will do. Then everybody throws down at once and all work together to figure out what happened.
  5. Bad or illegal orders devolve into orders to Hold position.
  6. Orders you can give are Hold, Move(& thereby possibly Attack), Support or (if you're a fleet) Convoy. These are your only "verbs" in orders.
  7. In all engagements, might prevails: the most units wins. If equal forces meet it's a standoff, and everyone holds.
  8. Even friendly units can't swap position: borders between regions can "handle" only one unit across their borders per turn. A Convoy operation can literally circumvent this stricture.
  9. To win a battle, Support either a Hold or an Attack (and you must specify which you intended.)
  10. You cannot successfully Support if you find yourself Attacked from the flank.
  11. Losers are dislodged, (after rendering any support they may have been called on to provide).
  12. Fleets in ocean (not coastal zones) can convoy 1 Army across the water, and with multiple fleets, any oceanic distance may be traversed in a single turn.
  13. A standoff occurs when equal forces attack/support a single (possibly empty) province.
  14. Dislodgement of any unit conducting a Convoy operation causes the transport to fail.
  15. After losing, dislodgement means you must write a retreat order and carry it out immediately, and you may not retreat to (a) your attacker's land (b) any occupied territory (duh) or (c) empty region that experienced a standoff.
  16. Every two turns (winter and summer are the metaphor here) you disband or add units according to the starred provinces you control.
There are some other rules, one of my favorite being, An army with at least one successful convoy route will cut the support given by a unit in the destination province that is trying to support an attack on a fleet in an alternate route of that convoy. Bone up on that one before the game, please, because it comes up kind of a lot.

Chicks Rule

A minimal ruleset was sought. We got it down to 10.

1) Play with a Tarot deck, and 4 or 6 players, in teams of 2, with partners sitting opposite one another.

2) Deal all the cards down, with the extras left as a "kitty."

3) Play for tricks, where the high card of the suit led (or trump card) wins each hand, and the winner leads the next hand.

4) If (and only if) you cannot follow the suit led, you may play any card in your hand.

5) A Tarot deck has a fifth suit ordinarily called trump. (...or the "major arcana," if you're majorly into Tarot) Chicks Rule has a variable trump suit that changes from hand to hand, so for clarity we simply renamed the fifth suit "bettys" to distinguish it from trump.

6) Before play begins, players bid, naming the quantity of tricks, and the suit they'd declare as trump. Suits are (in order) bettys, spades hearts, diamonds, clubs and "no trump." There is a suit order (only) to distinguish between two numerically equivalent bids: 5 no trump is an incrementally higher bid than 5 clubs.

7) The bid winner picks up the kitty, and discards an equal number of cards from her hand. No one else sees these cards.

8) Chicks rule. (Meaning, in this game, the Dame or Queen card outranks the Rex or King)

9) A Tarot deck has a card called the "fool." In this game, it is renamed the Nymph, and is the top trump: the most powerful card in the deck. If the hand is being played with "no trump," the Nymph reverts to a betty, albeit the highest one. (If your deck has a "universe" card and it has a chick on it, you can use that one for the Nymph instead of the Fool.)

10) If the team that won the bidding takes as many tricks as they proposed to, they score that many points. More tricks don't add points, (so it pays to bid all you can) but if too few tricks are taken, the opposing team accrues the value of the contract. To save time, teams on the defense can confer openly and elect to simply concede the balance of a hand.

History of the Game

"Chicks Rule!" was developed in a single night of extreme frustration in Los Barilles, Baja California. With no wind, numerous injuries and too much alcohol, a small team of engineers turned to nonstop cards to pass the time. After Bridge, Tarot, Rook, Hearts and War were exhausted, we tried to come up with a game that did not contain arbitrary rule baloney of Tarot, or the scoring complexity of Bridge, but retained team play and complex bidding strategy. Additional commentary on the rules is solicited (mailto: but please keep in mind our intent to keep the rules very simple. Chess has simple rules with complex and interesting consequences, we hope this game does, too, and will try to keep it that way. This is the only legitimate source of adjudication for Chicks Rule, and all changes are subject to editorial review by the founding team of Marc, Guy, Trina, Peter, Robert and Mark. If you like Chicks Rule!, please send $10,000.00 to Mark, c/o Blue Spruce Designs.

Some simple notes on the Tarot deck for the uninitiated:

a) There's no Ace. There's a one, but it's low.

b) The "face cards" sometimes have letters to identify them: V,C,R,D (Standing for the words Val-yea, Cheval-yea, Rex and Dame, with aplogies to whatever the actual French pronunciation is supposed to be. Or, in the vernacular of the game, chump, chump on a horse, dude and Chick.)

c) Keep in mind the major arcana suit (the one with all the pictures) has 21 cards in it, instead of 13, so if that suit ends up trump, it's a long one.

d) It's easier to play if you write the numbers on the upper left corner of each card. Or, buy a more "conventional" looking deck that's laid out that way. (Impossible in Boulder.)

Nationalize It?

Two industries came up for nationalization last week, one was banking. The interesting and kind of scary thing about bank nationalization was that some guy from the IMF was on the radio being interviewed and it was his JOB to provide infusions of cash for failed foreign economies, in exchange for which gift they basically took the ill managed banks of these countries, recapitalized them, fired all the executives, nationalized them. It's precisely the same medicine he prescribed for US banks, but said we couldn't do it because the entrenched power structure had too much to lose. In marking bad assets to market value, the presumptive capital of the banks is wiped out, so the supposedly wealthy shareholders take a bath. That's too unpleasant for them to contemplate: certainly nobody can be expected to bring that kind of lightning down upon themselves, eh? Such a move would have to happen suddenly (this guy said) 'cause else all the OTHER bankers would pull their alleged capital OUT in fearful anticipation they'd be next. This would leave the bank balance sheet even more impoverished.

I think it's interesting to try to assign "blame" and ask, in the wake of that, whether the bank or the homeowner should be recapitalized. In the latter case, at least we (the taxpayers saddled with this) have a paying tenant, right?

Housing Bailout

Is the Obama housing bailout a good idea?

First what is it? I heard it's a plan to incentivize loan rate reductions, half a % to be paid by the bank and half a % + the documentation fees paid by the government. Clearly this plan will "work" in that it will have takers. People want to refinance (heck, I did) so if it gets easier to do so, more will. If the Govt were to just pay the 1/2%, I would expect market forces would drive housing interest rates down that much, right? It is a little hard to see how the bank is motivated to kick in thier 1/2%. Maybe I'm missing something? (There are other disjoint parts of the plan, but I want to think just about this single factor for a bit.)

Also, I had a little bit of "isn't this how we got into this mess?" reaction to the plan. The lower the interest rate, the more you can borrow. But maybe the problem isn't the principal but rather the fixed expense the loan introduces into the family's budget. People need to get themselves into less trouble, by aiming lower, not accepting high payments. Maybe the loan criteria should be stricter: payments =20% of monthly income, instead of 30%. THAT way you'd be giving out loans with less risk, right? More later, sorry for the half baked thought.

Also, how can we enforce bank participation? They're supposed to contribute 1/2% but in the ongoing re-evaluation of market demand and setting loan rates so they can cover their risks and make a profit, it seems the 1/2% will just vanish in the bookkeeping.

Finally, lets remember, as a transition to and motivation for my proposal (following) that this is essentially America (meaning you and me) taking on additional debt liability in the form of T-bills, to pay for somebody else's mortgage. I think the guys who got in too deep should participate personally in the solution. Here's how:

Consider solving the problem by lowering everybody's payment 10%, and extending their loan commennsurately in duration. It would immediately alleviate the homeowner's cash crunch, and shouldn't cost us (taxpayers) anything other than the additional risk of covering the defaulters. Of course there would be some of that, but this does not amount to a free giveaway, so it's a tiny fraction of the loss. How could it work? Well, this thought stemmed from a discussion about the spread between Tbills and home loans. Currently I understand that to be about 5%. I pay 5% for my home loan (about the best you can get) and I heard our debt is being snapped up for ZERO percent interest right now. Parenthetically, that means that in these hard times, US currency is still viewed by the rest ofthe world as a great deal. Why is that spread so big? Hey, I wannna sell a T-bill to china for 0% and finance my house for nothing! Where does the money go? The answer is middlemen's profits (salaries for the bankers) and to cover the risk of defaulting. Well, let's eliminate the middlemen and since we (the Govt) are forced to cover this risk anyway, let's not let somebody ELSE (the bank) book it as risk and bank it as profit. Essentially we are self insuring, for better or worse, across the spectrum of these loans.

Mechanically it works like this: Say you're in a dire cash crunch annd considering bankruptcy and defaulting on your house loan. You'd have an option where the government pays off 10% of your principal, and your payment drops about the same amount. I'll add some specific numerical examples later. You don't get the money for free though, it's a loan from America, a second lien on your house. When you finish paying off your home loan, your govt subsidy loan comes due, and you start paying that. All the while it's been accruing at the same low rate (ZERO!) the government had to pay to borrow the money from China. Maybe we can even add a point or two: it will still be a great deal (compared to a 5% bank loan) and, while you have to work longer to get out from under your house, so to, do I, to pay off all the additional debt the nation is incurring to fund Chrysler's bailouot, and Citibank's bailout and etc. This is an appropriate shared liability.

Further, anybody could take advantage of it. Heck I might! Since I can make my present house payment, the reduced principal would let me pay the house down faster, and I'd finish off the whole loan with less total outlay. It's like my house got busted into two loans, one still at 5% and the other fraction of the principal at 0%! Of course I pay off the expensive one first. Good deal for everybody.

Some security strings could be attached to this funding. Since a key problem is our propensity to get too deep in debt, perhaps in exchange for access to this money, you must agree not to increase your debt to income ratio. So you can't take the extra $100/month and run out and get a car (loan). The idea here is to become more like the Chinese and LESS like, well, ourselves!

What do you say?

Bankrupt Arguments

I have heard three times in as many days, expressions of grave dissapointment and dismay at the proposed financial recovery plans coming out of the democrats. This has driven me to a real anger, to the point that I feel it's unhealthy to politely pretend there is no such thing as politics, just for the sake of maintaining a nice friendly exterior. Our friendships, I hope, can withstand some frank conversations.

Here are the three arguments.
  • "Oh my God, he thinks he can borrow and spend our way out of this." This congressman expressed absolute horror at the concept of the (second half) of the bailout, after voting for the first half of it.
  • "I've been burned by this, err, by the current administration once, <> so now I can't be fooled a second time <>"
  • And finally, this last a very loose paraphrase, but as accurate as I can make it, an argument that we shouldn't select infrastructure projects as a way to apply stimulus because "that's thesame thing we did in Iraq with Halliburton and look at all the corruption and opportunities for fraud we have uncovered there!"

In reverse order, my rebuttals are...
3) Isn't it a little late for the pot to point at itself and say "you're black as sin!" and, does Cheney's pet company and the money wasted thereupon necessarily imply or even suggest that some other companies would be equally guilty? Fundamentally, the solution is to carve out the rot. It is logically corrupt to visit the sins of the father upon the son. Furthermore, the gentleman entirely misses the point that money spent on Halliburton ends up in their corporate accounts or Iraqui infrastructure, often employing foreigners. From our perspective, it is money destroyed, entropy. A school or road built HERE has lasting benefit. A bomb exploded in the desert is eventually filled in again with sand, a complete and utter waste of the sweat that built that. It's the fundamental difference between destructino and construction. I understand Halliburton is not directly involved in the exploding part of the Iraqui enterprise, but inasmuch as they reconstruct infrastructure we priorly disassembled with explosives, it is part of the overall equation, which, let's not forget, has been > $100B/yr

2) The senator's Freudian gaffe at the beginning almost makes my case for me. Again, we have a very clear case of simply turning the argument around because of political partisanship. It couldn't be any clearer. Sir, I've been burned once before too; I used to be a republican.

1) Let's ignore for a moment the recurring theme of immediately changing one's mind about policies the very day the presidency changes political parties, although that alone should destroy this guy's credibility. Lowering taxes is the form of borrowing cited here, and tax relief is a very big part of the bailout plan. (ok I guess we have to ignore that the diatribe was always tax and spend," right? It's Republicans who borrow and spend, right.) It changes the budget balance. The essential question each year is how much defecit to accrue, and where to spend the money. In lowering taxes (and that's proposed, for pete's sake!) you elect to broaden the defecit in hopes of alleviating the individual financial pressures that constrain spending. There is the further distinction of where in the income histogram (down at the subsistence level, up in the wealthy level) to apply the benefits or extract the tolls, and that is a fundamental republican/democrat schism lately. As one of the wealthy ones, and in particular a principal at a corporation strapped for credit and at risk, I feel qualified to offer that I think I have more than enough money, and less than enough security. Those of you secure in your wealth had better not offer that the rich are being taxed too much, and had better remember that families making under $200k will receive tax cuts. If you are making more than that, and you want to complain, I have no ears for you.

I am very interested, and will not delete, your arguments. If you want to reply privately, I will honor that privacy. But I will not spare you the full force of whatever arguments I have. I am very very sick of this shit, and not interested in another fatcat trying to win arguments with tricky emotional arguments. I understand English very very well, unfortunately for some of you senators. My main hope is to educate enough children to a clear and concise method of parsing what is said rather than listening to the jeering and snorting, to run you bastards out of office forever.



  • Democrats are more fiscally conservative than republicans. I was carefully raised to think otherwise, and probably it wasn't always so, but here is an astounding summary: From 1946 to today, Democratic presidents pushed the deficit up by 3.2 percent per year. Meanwhile, Republican presidents increased the budget deficit by 9.7 percent. In other words, since 1946, Republican presidents have outspent Democratic presidents by almost 3 to 1. The reference needs validation, and I will try to find some. Subjectively, I think NAFTA is the largest conservative activity of our time and as we recall, that's Clinton's. Meanwhile, the Fed housing give-away/bubble is a consequence of Republican policy years. How does pundit thinking assess the connection between low interest rates and high home prices: surely they are coupled. Was that good policy?
  • In partial support of the above, Gina provided this link which identifies numerous economic indicators such as GDP, disposable income & deficit, including assessments assuming various lag times (assuming a president doesn't instantly affect the economy). It's well supported in terms of identifying references (which look good to me) and critiques. In summary, I believe the "tax and spend" mantra is propaganda, and insupportable.
  • Besides just spending, and possibly way more important, is what you spend it on. Military (and space, I gotta admit) investments (beyond those needed to stay sovreign) reduce money to entropy, while school, infrastructure, technology investments leave something tangible in their wake. Both stimulate the economy. In the long run, the military method is worse.
  • We should lower military pay until we're short of soldiers, then start a draft. Our mercenary army removes the compulsion to be damn sure we really really want to have a war. (Obviously we need very strong legal setup to avoid a silver spoon draft: preventing people at the top (like me) from finding a nice safe field hospital for their special progeny. My suggestion is that the decisionmakers in our society must have their progeny at risk. I do not say we should drift to a mostly conscript army: our military is the most professional, humane, effective because of professional soldiers, but there should be an element of conscripts, just to force us to remember we all must share their risks in a very real way.
  • Income is unequally distributed (no surprise, and I am not suggesting inequity). The wikipedia article has a pretty good graph used to showing a growing spread, but the importance is not the time trend so much as the vertical distribution: roughly half the income is distributed amongst the top quarter of the households. While your reaction to the data is your own, the information is not good or bad, it is just unvarnished fact. Do we want it that way? What, if anything, should we do about this? Again, the trend is growing. Economic and taxation policies affect the curve: income EARNED is not the same as income KEPT after taxes & you should properly imagine that factor flattening the curve. I suggest, (and this is not a new argument) that where the government takes action, it should inject stimulus near the bottom. Living with less margins, those people will have to spend. Bubble up instead of trickle down.

Unusual workouts

I want to come up with a bunch of unique & fun training events for this coming year. Here are some ideas I haven't done yet.
  1. Funny walks: lunges & such.
  2. NCAR repeats.
  3. Water running? Vertical kicking, certainly.
Well, that's a lame start. gonna be a challenge...

Here are ones I did...
  1. Backwards! Running, bike trainer, hills & stairs.
  2. Ergometer with the aft end elevated a few inches (to work hamstrings).
  3. Snowboarding (counts 'cause of extreme unusual pain: that's the criteria after all.)
  4. towing loaded snowboard.
  5. Running up Scott Carpenter hill (sometimes backwards) at a dead sprint. (30 reps).

New Year's Resolutions

This is a little more private than facebook, so I want to put the resolutions here. I'm going to be terse...
  • Never lose my temper. This is especially true at work.
  • Expand workout scope significantly, and time in small ways. This means ~7hr to 10hr/week, and (this is the fun part) at least one hour should be unique or different, make some new muscle group hurt. I'm not going to do Tri, but will keep the big 3 in high abundance. Also strength and some cross training though. 178 lb average, touching 175. (Today, was 185, but have averaged 181 over December, so that's my "real" starting point.)
  • Organize the HELL out of my HDD. I think this is a form of gardening: good for the soul and produces a nice liveable environment.
  • Write, write, write. On paper and on the computer. A novel, and a daily log. (like, a half a page a day on actual papyrus!)
  • Solve relationship problems.
  • Speak less, so as to be less boring.
Facebook? E-mail? Blog? Too many modalities. Bear with me. This (the blog) is obviously more ego centric: my input goes on the top, you only get to comment. It's a place for me to write publicly. Who knows if I will, or how much? Recent new year's resolutions now stipulate that I must, but most of that will private. (I said I'd write a book, not let anyone read it!)

Meanwhile, I like the egalitarian, synapse like stew of facebook: it is very immediate. That is it's benefit and downfall all at once. Somebody wrote me (within the facebook context) something like "what's up lately?" which on facebook should be an oxymoron on par with sending an e-mail reading, "sorry I missed you, e-mail me back," this harking to the voice mail of equivalent content I get all the time. Clearly social patterns outlive their usefulness: we execute them automatically.

So here is a "blog" and doubtless the letter format, which I have consciously slipped into, is not the best or most natural use of a blog format. I am going to be experimental about all this, and see if something "optimal" arises. Certainly the rules of the site form the skeletal architecture that controls how these beasts move and heave, eg again Facebook seems to encourage bursty sound bite stuff, the scrim and froth floating at the top, the last 10 minutes of life. Silly stuff, SO relevant now, and equally irrelevant next week. Thus, I am conscious of the pace or permanence of these different tools as something that at least 'feels' different from one tool to another. The blog feels like a longer timeframe, that it should contain something of more intrinsic worth than, "what's going on this weekend?" We shall see.

Most of this I've thought before, and am writing now just because I'm fresh from the resolution and Must write SOMEthing, however stupid. Perhaps one more simple modification to the promise: I won't bother the whole planet with my next vapid outburst: the writing helps me, helps me think, is fun, etc etc. But it is mostly stupid and would spare you the time spent getting this far and me some embarrassment if I keep it mostly to myself!

Well. That post rerquires one of these, I believe: :) ...they're used to erase whatever significance the reader may have mistakenly placed in the foregoing, right? Hahahaha!