Flavor

Palmer suggests a 2-dimensional flavor spectrum of fruity/malty  bitter/sweet to characterize beer styles.  Eg pilsner is malty-bitter, while IPA is fruity bitter  Weisen is fruity-sweet and dark beers are malty-sweet.  Kolsch, he put right in the center.  Lots of this is from his gospel, too.

Hops: Certainly I associate hoppy with bitter, but cold hopping (eg after the fermentation break) is a favorite of mine because it gives fruity smell without as much bitterness.  This means in flavor space, the hop vector is a diagonal from [malty sweet] downward towards [fruity bitter] with some variation in proportion based on when you add the hops.  Boil the hops to extract bitterness but lose the aroma, & conversely. 

Tannins: astringent. come from hops, grain husks, wood.  High pH and high temp, canonically > 170 encourage them. They can precipitate out (hence the benefit of lagering).  In brewing pilseners and lagers, low buffering capability of the malt makes tannins a risk. Distilled water is recommended (but we have pretty good water here on the front range.)

Sweet: comes from high temperature mashing, when alpha enzymes randomly chop carbohydrates into indigestible lengths (& beta is deactivated), or especially from caramelized malts.  So for example, to avoid sweetness in pilseners, mash cool and don't use any caramel malts.

Fuseols: taste like "hot" alcohols or solvents.  I once had a beer that tasted like turpentine.  Further conditioning cleaned it up though, as the yeast digested the alcohols.  Caused by exuberant early fermentation, eg overly warm temperatures.

Body: comes from proteins.  Oatmeal (with a protein rest) or from most grains, keep the protein rest short so you don't break down what's left in the grain.

Fruity: comes from esters, from yeast. Ale yeast & warmer fermentation tends to fruity, lager yeast and cold fermentation leans  more to "clean"

Vinegar: Bacteria.


Energy to Burn

A coal train just went by. I've been wondering about some power factoids, so finally looked them up.

  • Boulder  consumed 1,160 million kWhr (in Y2k)
  • 91% from coal power.  I don't know if it's mostly all generated in that one plant or not. 
  • Coal -> steam turbines -> electric generation runs about 35% efficiency.
  • 42 million kWhr from hydro, by the way.
  • we pay $114 million/yr (that's 10c/kWhr? Sounds high...)
  • 100 tons of coal in a RR car, and 1 lb coal/kwHr (nice neat numbers, eh?)
Therefore, Boulder burns 1 RR Car of coal every 90 minutes.
   - various sources

Internet Manifesto

Some of my online goals are broad and socially oriented. That means I like to "discuss" things forcefully. By way of introduction, and admonition to myself, here are the principles behind all this arguing. there’s some righteously impossible stuff in here but hey, it’s a mission statement: you gotta aim high.

Mission: Change things for the better by winning people over to and through reason and empathy, and make life fun and interesting doing it.

Themes:
  • Improve the quality of discourse here and in RL. Be sure to listen. Be welcoming to all but pay more attention to my friends. 
  • Try to address issues as they deserve, atomically vs as an indivisible federated system. (Plank by plank, not monolithic political platform.) A favorite tack is to introduce the schism between a Christian (or secular humanist, take your pick) approach to people, and Darwinistic economics.
  • Language is a tricky sword. We have to communicate in meaning, but we use words. Words carry context, deep and precise, but not the same ones for everyone. Further, you can assert one meaning and access another, sometimes invidiously. I aim to clarify these mistakes of argument, flush them out.
  • Understand confirmation bias and media and social “tribe” participation in that phenomenon. Watch for it in myself and proselytize against it.
  • Attempt to discover “righteous” economic policies, those being ones that are generally good for everyone, long term, and abusive to none.
  • Brew fine quality beers with minimal investment in ingredients, obscene devotion to equipment, slavish investment of time, and barely sufficient patience.
  • Productionize disruptive argumentative technique to improve the reasoning and decisionmaking of all my customers, with the effect of multiplying stockholder equity with justice and improved gas mileage for all.
  • Continually improve this mission statement until it stands as a shining paragon of truth and beauty, with rhetoric surpassing Newt Gingrich, poetry to shame Johnnie Cochran, principle outshining the Constitution, permanance outlasting the Hyundai warranty, moves like Jagger and acumen that breaks the very Speed of Light. Amen.

Some notes from the "all-grain" mash

I just made another beer, and it was a long-hard haul. Let's start with Cliff's notes for the ADD, regarding the mash:

  • Wait to let temp equalize before adjusting, 
  • stir lots (dough balls), 
  • Mash at LEAST an hour, 
  • have a good reserve of sparge water (mash calcs don't attempt to estimate the water absorbed by the mash).  


I'll clean up the post below later,( maybe.) It's pretty rough right now. I'm just trying to get it all down while fresh in my mind...

Why?  Haven't I got this process wired by now?  Well, yes & no.  Some things did go very well, most notably (since the last few) I didn't get tied up by any air lock problems or siphoning failures, or spill over the whole carboy or pop the hose out of a vessel it was trying to fill.

One problem was the temperature of the mash. With 12lb of grain, the cooler was more than half full!  How much water could it hold, could it get and stay hot enough?  It was a bitterly cold day outside, well 20, anyway. This was a big problem for my burner.  Fortunately I had another propane tank because I needed to swap them to get the wort boiling. The first tank wasn't empty just low enough to reduce the flame a little.  I had dressed the pot in aluminum drapes, but a lot more effort would be needed to really cut down the heat loss. I may just be unable to brew on colder days.

Before that though, the tun worked great. I needn't have worried about the cold weather, because it held temperature very well. Also, (this is a lesson I'm trying to archive) it's really important to stir the mash: I did an ok job of that but got some "dough balls" which I noticed later, when discarding the grain. The other thing I need to do is WAIT for the temperature to equalize, including some good stirring.  I ended up thinking it was too cold, too hot, adding snow and boiling water to fix it, and getting a totally full cooler along the way.  I wanted a three step mash (125, 150, 155) but who knows what I did really?  Quantitative planning went out the window. Sigh.

Later, lautering too was a small junk show with me playing musical pots. I had just the tun, the boil pot / hot liquor tank (double duty) and my old 4 gal boil pot. Surely enough? Yes, but only if used correctly. I got the 4 pot bucket 2/3 full before topping off the tun and then discarding the rest of the hot water (so I could move the wort to the boil pot and resume lautering). I should have really filled it because later I had to use perhaps 6L of hot tap water because I wanted to sparge more. My grain filled the tun about 2/3 up and it held a lot of water! So I may need a third pot or something to "gracefully" get all the sparging done.  At the end I squeezed the grainbed and got some more wort out, several cups. I wanted a lot because I figured I'd have to boil a lot & that was pretty true. After 1:30 of desultory boil (all I could manage) my OG was 40. A good outcome but not an efficient mash.

Still confused about Lovibond (darkness) and Lintner (diastatic power).  I used 10lb Colorado 2 row (Lovibond=2) and 2Lb CaraRed. Northern Brewer

Hoist with his own petard

What a great phrase. I've pretty much used it correctly, though I'll always wonder how one (i.e. me) absorbs such colloquialisms. Here's a good link to explication I hope you'll read but basically a petard's a bomb. And another, in redoubtable wikipedia.  It's so excellent an engineer's revenge; somehow playing my heartstrings today.

Cleopatra, a Life

CleopatraCleopatra by Stacy Schiff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Eighty pages in, Cleopatra's secured Egypt's position as a protectorate of Rome. Perhaps not much else was possible, but who would rule Egypt was at issue, as she and her brother were fighting over it when Caesar arrived with an inadequate advance force and in need of an ally. That Cleopatra initiated negotiations by smuggling herself into the palace like Austin Powers to save the day is described as the masterstroke it was. Indeed, political dynamics dominate the book, and one is left only to imagine the daily ebb and flow of court intrigue. Schiff has "tried to pluck the gauze and melodrama" from the story, thusly: "In defiance of the male imagination, five centuries of art history, and two of the greatest plays in English literature, she would have been fully clothed, in a formfitting sleeveless long linen tunic."



Awww...



Put away your libidos everybody, that's a different book. That Caesar got a child in her is mentioned once, about that abruptly, and all detail of the developing relationship is avoided, even deprecated. Oh, the stage is set well enough; with riotous skirmishes in the streets, the opulent barricaded palace sweltering with incense, ships afire in the docks, the brother and nominal consort walking the same halls playing a game of polite diplomacy while his engineers undermine the water supply, one can easily imagine a fantastic screenplay! But the script is absent and Schiff does not stoop to fabricate one. This is not historical fiction.



I sort of wish it were! Unfamiliar with the story, I'm finding enough drama in the bare historical facts to make up a pretty good soap opera in my head. There are vast differences between us and them. It's strange and wonderful to imagine a world so empty that a single city, Alexandria, held the keys to a nation. The Roman legions gouging the world, kings made before they're 20. This is Edgar Rice Burroughs steamy imagination, only for real. (...and you have to BYO lurid details. Maybe I should have another go at Salammbô?)



I think Schiff is working hard to overcome a stereogype of Cleopatra made of nothing BUT sex. Understandable but maybe unnecessary? I like to think that, with all the cultual, scientific & technological differences between us, history played out then with the same raw materials as now, and we are creatures of passion. If anything our modern world seems TOO sterile. On to act II we go!



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The invisible hand fucks up:

Politics and human nature create bubbles of instability in pricing, causing serious harm and specious profits. Worldwide the rice price spiked one summer in the ninties. Boring but important to think about.

It just needs damping!  What if we had big stockpiles of key materials, oil and grain and copper, and these had programmed demand elasticity? They'd be thereby automatically rigged to foil speculative trading.
http://www.npr.org/planetmoney (#320)

Essential equipment.

What are the most important parts of fancier brewing system? Well I guess the next step is to get some actual experience doing all grain brewing, to learn what would be good. Meanwhile I'm thinking about how to make it work well and be slick.  By slick I mean visually appealing (steampunk German submarine is the look, I think) smooth to use & easy to clean.  I've been looking online, but I'm not sure about the canonical 3-keg approach. It still seems too complex and gadgety to me. Also overkill.  With a 5 gal bucket I can make more beer than I can ever drink, so a certain amount of minimalism appeals to me.
So, what's really needed?  Here goes, in the order they're needed.
    • Mash Tun: I really like the idea of using a drink cooler for a mash tun. All the big boys have fancy temperature control with burners and commensurately necessary recirc pumps. But a cooler holds the temp really well without supervision or gizmos!  What the heck do I want a fancy contraption for?  Well, one answer is that calculating the necessary water infusions to hit your desired temperatures is tricky. OTOH, plumbing frightens me, but calculations, not so much:  so I vote for the system with less pipes and maintenance. Maybe I'll get the 10gal version, depending on how tricky the sparging is with the smaller one.
    • Gravity gauge and thermometer.  These are needed at the mash stage, so I list them here.
    • Pump? I'd like to keep everything gravity fed.  I think we can get away with no pumps here, as long as the kettle's mounted high enough to drain into a mash tun or fermentor that's sitting on the ground. (For 15 gal equipment, lifting the weight would start to become a problem.) As mentioned above, using a big steel pot that requires heat and recirculation really drives the need for a pump. With the insulated Tun, we can eschew the pump.
    • Next, the brew kettle.  Ok you need that.   Why, though, do there have to be two of these?  Why not instead use one pot to heat the mashing water, and that same pot to boil the wort?  Ok, you'll need a bucket to hold some water for an intermediate moment. Duh.  My outdoor grill has a burner, but it can barely achieve a boil: in the winter it'll be tough. I wrapped Al foil around mine so it doesn't lose so much heat to the environment. I think this is a piece of equipment to spend a little more on, most importantly a drain valve, so you don't have to siphon. I've bought this now and like it. I'll add that the spigot's got an internal filter as well, which prevents hops & other debris from plugging the (below described) chiller: very key. One trouble with it, the mesh is fine enough that it traps air! Siphoning type problems recur when you can't get air out.  I think bending it upwards may fix that.
    • Spoon marked in gallons for the brew kettle. This is a great piece of simple technology. The kettle's got fittings and filters that make it nonlinear, too.  Another thing for the boil phase is a fine screened strainer, if you want to remove sediment before encanting (?? what word do I want here, for going into the fermenter?)
    • Classic wort chiller? Nothing wrong with that concept. However, as soon as the kettle's got a valve, I like Bobby's plans for a counterflow chiller of a garden hose wrapped around a copper pipe though. That seems easy to clean and use. Ok update: I got the materials to make it. So hopefully ...yep, it's operational! It's more important with all grain brewing because it's a big boil, and you can't dilute the hot wort later with cold water so some kind of chiller is really mandatory. Note: oxygenation will be MORE important, 'cause it will all have been boiled.  Yet another update, I no longer like the counterflow chiller. Makes sense in continuous circulation systems with pumps, but when gravity feed from my kettle (with a pretty fine screen filter) gets very low flow and is susceptible to leaks breaking the pressure head.  An ordinary immersion wort chiller just made from a piece of copper pipe doesn't have that problem.
    • Fermentor. Well, you certainly  need that, with an airlock. Seems to me that except that it doesn't come apart for cleaning very well,a big carboy is an excellent fermentor. I'll stick with that for the near term. It's worth noting that a 5gal "flow rate" through the brewery (tun, boil, ferment, secondary, bottle) seems like plenty.  Doing that on 2 week centers paced by the fermentation is producing a beer flow I probably can't keep up with, and doesn't mandate a huge equipment inventory. Keeping the weight to man-handleable limits will simplify things, too. A thing about the airlock, in the first days so much scum may come out that just a hose plumbed to a water trap is the way to go.
    • Secondary Fermentor.  I'll say yes. I'm a fan because I can make more beer that way. Otherwise the fermentor really controls the pace of the brewery. Less particulates in the beer, too, and some say the primary can damage the flavor after a while. I've heard a lot about oxidizing the beer lately, so plan to use a few dry ice chips to seal O2 away from the beer during the transfer.
    • Some bottling accessories include... High pressure bottle washer (thanks, Jm!) long straight plastic extension with a clip to hold the siphon in place, pressure activated filling valve, capper.
    • CO2 and fermentor caps. These caps have dual "udders" on top of them and that makes a possibility of a pressure assisted siphon.  I do this to move beer from fermenter to secondary, with a pingpong ball's worth of dry ice in each jug, the secondary vented and the fermenter pressurized. This starts and aids the siphon.
    • Fermentor carrier:  I've dropped mine once. Sheesh, for a couple bucks, this is a must have.


        Zymurgy

        This will be a long boring post but useful to me. It's going to be a homebrewing "manual" of sorts, shamelessly copied from various sources, most expecially (so far) Charlie Papazian's Zymurgy teachings and John Palmer's How to Brew site and one more good one.  Also Adam's sort of led this charge with a recipe document (available only to those with whom the doc's been shared, though.)


        So, here are some key topics:
        • Steep about 1lb/batch when making an extract beer..Steeped grains will add from 10-20 gravity points /(lb/gal) Don't get them over 170F or tannins will be extracted.
        • Mashed grains OTOH will reach about 0.03/lb/gal gravity change. Theoretical max around 38. So far I'm getting about 0.023 though. This "mash calcs" spreadsheet describes the temps and H2O quantities needed.
        • Sparging has the potential to generate tannins, especially as temp goes up and pH as well, as the diluted wort loses it's buffering ability. We have good water, so the buffering is far less of a concern here in Colorado. 
        • "Degrees Lintner" is the measure of diastatic power (enzymatic concentration). You need > 30L on average for the mash to complete in an hour. (This is the opposite of Lovibond which basically means darkness from roasting and you need 20 Lovibond or Less to mash.) Anyway, the "grain bill" listing type and quantity of grain to be mashed needs to average out to 30 Lintner, eg 2lb 120L "two row" and 6lb of carmelized specialty grain (denatured by the hot malting). 
        • The "Original (specific) Gravity" you ferment dare not be too high. The incremental specific gravity for added dry malt extract (DME) is about 0.041/(lb/gal) (about10% less for liquid malt extract) and one to 1.5 lb(DME)/gal is a pretty good quantity. OG above 1.06 is very high.   You can expect to yield 30"points"/lb in mashing, (including the sparge). That's dogma: I certainly haven't achieved it, got perhaps 20 points, on my 3rd try.
        • Palmer specifies "...standard mash conditions for most homebrewers: a mash ratio of about 1.5 quarts of water per pound grain, pH of 5.3, temperature of 150-155°F and a time of about one hour." there are multiple temps with different purposes, and higher temps destroy low temp enzymes, so you have to raise the temperature over time. Some good temps and their relevant enzyme are: protease at 130F,  then beta amylase at 145F, & alpha amylase at 157F. An insulated mash tun (drink cooler) will easily hold temp for 45 minutes with just a degree of drop. (Here're two a nice mashing summary videos  from BobbyNJ, who seems pretty expert, and here is linked John Palmer's  mash enzyme chart.
        • Sparge with another .5qt/lb to .75qt/lb, probably shooting for about 7gal of wort altogether. Doing this at 170F denatures all the enzymes & fixes the sugar mix. If you went hot (for alpha amylase) then it's important because otherwise the complex sugars will keep getting cut up until the boil starts. Since that's right away, this doesn't seem a big deal to me but maybe the time variability thus introduced is the problem. Doesn't seem like there's a big difference between English (batch) or German (continuous) sparging. German reputed to have higher yields, which matters 'cause it reduces the boil volume... Avoiding temp above 170 requires some attention. Calculate the quarts of H2O to reach 170F and thereafter dilute the sparge water down to 170F.
        • A starting gravity measurement is good now. Shoot for 7 gal to boil down to 5, thus the gravity is only 5/7 (71%) what it will be after the boil. Elevated temperature also makes the wort seem weak: at 90F, the hydrometer will read 0.0042 light, 006(100F), 008(110F),  01(120F) and 0.02 light at 160F. Tabulated.  This measurement could motivate some LME addition if deemed necessary (eg if something went wrong with the mash.)
        • Boil for an hour to extract hops bitterness. Hops in after the break. No lid: want aromatics to escape. Insulate the pot somehow? (A little Al foil works.)  I'm thinking of straining the break out (not tasty) right before adding hops, and straining the hops out right before the fermenter (plugs the kettle filter).
        • CP recommends boiling all the water because chlorine will mess with the beer.  Using pre-boiled and cooled water to speed wort chilling is a good idea though. This is for extract beers that can be boiled in concentrated form. Grain beers though, have to be boiled down to desired gravity, so dilution cooling's not possible.
        • Oxygen contact with the fermentation will create vinegar or solvent tastes, so prevent that. (dry ice chips in the bottom of the secondary?) Oxygenate before pitching, only! (...but do it very thoroughly then.)
        • you can't pitch the yeast until the wort is truly cooled: I've killed the yeast in the past.
        • Hydrate first, & then grow the yeast in a dilute solution: too much sugar can make it hard for yeast to hydrate and get started.
        • Add airlock and darkness, and wait.
        • Pitch aroma hops after the blow off, or in the secondary. Here again prevent O2 contact, filling the secondary with sterile water, perhaps? ...using CO2.

        Brewery Upgrade!


        Now
        sporting the 5 gallon secondary full of "Norse God," Igloo fermenter (filled right now with fresh "Fizzin' Red Ichor") and storage for 25 liters of bottles, in this case about half that much "Bohagrius Strong Ale," festival pig keg, secret recipe file and not least its iconic namesake, the Pig Stein Brewery is approaching maximum capacity in preparation for the holidays!

        This is set up in the back of the house where it's cool. I'm way too psyched about what's really just a shelf full of crap.  I need some help with the airlock: I've had three batches blow the lid off the cooler, probably because the little airlock gets plugged up when it has a lot of sticky foam (maybe with hops mixed in) trying to squeeze through the tiny pinholes on top.

        And, here's the next beer: It should be done around the mid November. Fun label. Obviously the labels are going to be a lot more collectible than the beer.  This is the wikipedia etching for Odin, or something like that. Obviously the woman must be Frigga, "foremost among godesses" and she's simultaneously swooning, and working on leverage to pry his hand OFF by breaking his thumb.  For his part, Odin's used to getting his way and he's not gonna notice a little thing like a broken thumb, not when his shaft is so hot it can set fire to granite!  Plus, in the end she's bound to fall for the way cool helmet, which I bet he doesn't even take off.  Wikipedia's last word on Frigga is that it comes from Icelandic Frja, "to love" so there's the root of your primary cuss word, folks.  All this embodied in a simple beer, you ask?  But of course!  What could be more elemental?
        Gunnlöd , meaning "war foam"

        A quick review shows she could also be Gunnlöd, (pictured below).  Apparently Gunnlöd traded Odin three nights of passion for three sips of mead, so that's how good this beer is! Or wait: I got it wrong! She had the mead, which she traded for three nights of Odin, so that's how good HE was. Why would he make the trade? Because this mead imbues you with the berzerker rage of poetry or something.  The Vikings were a wee unclear or perhaps casual about the difference between these? (I'm not making this stuff up folks, it's all just a click away in wikipedia.) Anyway the mead was made from honey and Kvasir's blood (hence the red color) and if you drink it you will become intelligent.  I've known this about myself and beer for a long time.

        Fancy Fly-ing!

        Mosquito Haltere (from wikipedia)
        Fantastic talk today, by Itai Cohen, from Cornell's Physics department. He's studied the flight of bugs to distraction, and perfection. This ties into a favorite site of mine, sodaplay, which opines that biological movements can be made, can emerge from simple parts.

        The fruit fly wing, it turns out, operates with nothing but the main oscillatory flight muscles, a lightly damped (stable) pitching moment coefficient and an adjustable bias for the unloaded incidence angle. Those characteristics make it sweep like a fish's fin: the wing inverts on every back stroke. For me it was reminiscent of helicopter cyclic control.

        Even more fun, the prof was able to demonstrate basic lift, propulsion and orientation with his very own home-made man sized fruitfly wings, which he was able (with the studied focus of his enTIRE cerebral cortex) to articulate just as does the bug, thereby spinning himself around on a lazy susan. Here's the fly doing it. I find it interesting that I had a hard time visualizing the motions, too.  There's another way I can do it though, and easily:  think of reorienting yourself while treading water!  If you've spent some time on that, you'll realize you use the same technique, except sculling, meaning you exchange the leading and trailing edges of your hands on the alternate  forward and back-beats of your arms.  Once I realized that difference, it clicked.  I was almost ready to be a fruit fly!  But wait, there's more!

        It gets better: vestigial hind wings (called halteres) wobble and somehow are gyros! "And how does the insect use them in the control loop," you ask?  Why, by driving the GYRO with lead integral loop, of course. Then the attitude control, being servoed to null the gyro, just follows along. Why am I the last person to find this out? It is SO old school: AMRAAM, anyone? I remember Dan and Dick Olerich 'splainin this stuff to me back in the day. (Ok, not Dick, this was way below the sort of problem I dared take to the master.) That's still not even the coolest thing!

        The coolest thing was that they glued a tiny piece of iron wire to the back of the bug and then zapped it with a magnetic field to knock it off course. It's a form of insect spectrometer.  Way too much fun.

        * Wizard of Earthsea *

        A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, #1)A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

        My rating: 3 of 5 stars


        This is certainly good. As usual I'll begin this review when I'm halfway through, and that's now so here goes.

        I've read this before, some years ago, but could not remember any of it. It's funny how things come flooding back, like the next bar in a song, you can't imagine it until it's time and then there it is. The islands, the invaders, fog, getting sent off to wizard's school, friends met there and trouble gotten into, it is all as familiar as an old song.

        The second time around, like a bike ride, it seems shorter!

        This time though, I notice what a rip off the Harry Potter concept is! Or maybe there are only so many thoughts in the world so you're necessarily gonna reuse some if you try to produce anything. You can at least say the UKLeG has foreshadowed much of what we commonly think of as modern culture surrounding wizards and such. She in turn borrowed heavily from the Hobbit of course. And you thought it all came from JK Rowling! (No, of course you didn't. I know.)

        Yet Le Guin's vision is much scarier than the cartoons they serve us up now days in kidlit and movies. The tone of the writing somehow takes itself more seriously, allowing you to empathize with, and fear for, the people in this book. Fantasy should take itself seriously. All fiction is fantastical after all: the events described didn't really happen, those places aren't like that, these people are imaginary. Sticking a dragon in it doesn't make that any different, it just represents the tiger stalking the village, taken to its logical extremity. As such it's a cop out to make it too playful and silly: "just joshing: remember it's all fake" these books seem to say, as when for instance the key protagonists are teens. I think I've found my dividing line between serious fantasy fiction and inane (even irritating) pablum. It's when the author dares to say, "I want you to take this seriously."

        Le Guin is not kidding.



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        Economics of Tariffs?


        ...a link to a g+ post.  Meanwhile, the graphs show how we used to make more substantial use of tariffs, and below that, the impact, in consumer cost.

        Book Review: The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange get Engineered Away

        Brave New Worlds: Dystopian StoriesBrave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories by John Joseph Adams

        My rating: 4 of 5 stars


        First I must tell you of Kwai-Chang Caine, because you do not know him. You have to be like this humble traveler, ancient and wise. Kwai-Chang you see, is from before, not just from before now, but also from far away. He was trained in Shangri-La, by Bruce Lee and Ghandi to be the world's gentlest and most badass man. He walked the earth, through California's blistering gold rush, and he carried a flute.

        Now, The Man ran the railroad, and the saloon, and the ranches, and he did weigh heavy on the souls of little people, of whom gentle Kwai-Chang was one, but his (K-C's) heart was light, and he could bear any oppression, because that sadistic little monk who still reappeared in visions, called our man Caine "glashoppah" and made him lift a brazier of burning hot coals with his lily white forearms. After that, pain don't hurt.

        But sometimes ye Man would oppress an innocent and Kwai-Chang Caine's spirit would be roused to soulful sadness, "good sirs, must you not unhand the lady, so that she can give her lame dog some of that tepid water?"

        "Get lost, chinaman!"

        "But sirs, the mountain cannot stand against the water...?"

        "I kin see I'm-a gonna teach you some manners, slant-o!" (swings rifle butt, aiming to maim.)

        But here gentle Kwai-Chang acts unconsciously and with fluid ease of one thousand such attacks, lifting his shin (which is harder than the rifle barrel) to snap the gun in half, whilst pivoting and gently crushing the man's nose with his palm, simultaneously buckling the whole saloon porch onto the slow-moving ruffian gang by kicking the (8" diameter spruce) supporting timber into matchsticks with his bare foot. Next he helps up poor bloody-nose and gently brushes the cowshit from his lapels.

        "I am sorry, you are truly a mountain amongst men."
        and
        "Maam, allow your dog to drink my water, for I can go a few more days without."
        and walks into the sunset.

        So you see, this was a TV show to give heart to downtrodden nerds everywhere and we never missed an episode.

        Finally, to Brave New Worlds. Around page 200 by Cory Doctorow is "The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away" wherein the story of Kwai-Chang Caine is reprised. It is exact. You have the joy of the simple nerd made hard unto invulnerability by years of training which in this case consists of extreme programming and handball. Like Caine, he transcends his training and is sent out into the big ugly world of which he has no experience, but he, and the Man who oppresseth him, will find out that a decade of monk's training goes a long way when the fisticuffs start. It's Jesus meets Hiro Protagonist and I'm cheering all the way.

        Then, to fit in the dystopia theme (& you had ta' see it coming,) some reality sets in. Our guy does not win, quite, but he does not forsake the Holy Order, either. Caine would be proud. It's a great story.



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        A nice autopilot commendation.

        Couldn't help myself. This post was so positive, I want to save it. Forever.
        ------------------------------------------------------
        Cirrus repair guy & test pilot:

        "Ok... I keep my head down and try to do certification work. I do first flights on new experimental stuff. Xxx Xxx is our production test pilot and does most of our routine return to service flights. He is really good. Masters Mechanical Engineering, Rice. Former NASA engineer. Lots of flight experience.

        But he is on vacation !

        So . . . I get to pitch in and do some flying.

        First aircraft up that needs a "return to service" flight is a Cirrus. Here at TAT for some wastegate work and some tweaks.

        goes out and straps in and about half way to the runup area notices the DFC90.

        Neat! I had never flown one. And, I had never read the manual. But, I don't need the AP for this trip.

        So off we go.

        About 1000 AGL I get bored. Decided to try the new auto pilot.

        Played with it all the way to 17,500 feet and back down - - and around a few times.

        Here is the deal: I get to try out lots of neat new stuff.

        My reaction to a lot of it is - - "OK" . "That's nice."

        But this was different. This autopilot was so obviously superior to the one it replaced - - and so obviously superior in so many ways - - that I was seriously impressed.

        It was intuitive. Several of the enhancements are so transparent to the pilot that they fit like an old soft glove.

        There are clear and obvious safety benefits in some of the features. Real ones. Not just talking points.

        I kept having a conversation with myself. "How on earth could S-tec have failed to upgrade their hardware - - and left the door so wide open for someone like Avidyne to walk in with a vastly superior product? "

        In the grand scheme of upgrades available for your Avidyne Cirrus - - this is one you need to move up your priority list.

        I do not "want" much for our Cirrus. But this I do "want."

        Regards, xxxx

        -----------------------------
        Next guy:

        I couldn't agree more. I have been absolutely thrilled with my DFC90, not only from the operational aspects you noted but also because it solved several problems that I thought were due to other stuff in the airplane. For example, when I used to de-couple my S-Tec I had to grip the controls tightly because it was often way out of (pitch) trim and would "jump" when it was disengaged. I thought it was due to the limit switches on the servo being out of adjustment, but just by installing the DFC90 this problem was GONE. I also used to get porpoising in some conditions when I had the S-TEc and it was GONE when I installed the DFC90.

        You didn't mention doing an approach with it, but shortly after I got mine I tried it on a GPS approach with a T intercept where I had 50 knots of crosswind going into the turn. The S-Tec in these conditions would have put me in the next state (or not, since it was placarded as incapable of such a crosswind), but I let the DFC90 fly that 90-degree intercept and it friggin' NAILED it. I was amazed. With the S-Tec, I hand-flew 3 out of 4 approaches because I got fed up with what it was doing, but with the DFC90 it is the opposite; I let it fly 3 out of 4, and I only hand fly some because I enjoy it and I like to stay proficient, not because I have to to avoid screaming at the AP like I did with the S-Tec.

        Reacting to a philosophy podcast

        Foggy morning drive, and foggy thinking. Today on Philosophy Bites, "consequentialism," which is the same (to my limited powers of discernment) as utilitarianism, namely a judgement that you should do that which creates the best net outcome. Greatest good for the greatest number, ends justify the means, that sort of thing. Now at the other extreme, there's also "primum non nocere," (first, do no harm) and all the way over, "fiat justitia ruat caelum" (let justice be done though the heavens fall). So, what's right?

        Illustrative thought experiments include torturing a man who's certain to know where the bomb is, scapegoating an innocent to protect the many, high value human vivisection, pushing the fat guy on the trolley tracks, and Kant's truthfulness to a murderer looking for your friend.

        The basic question is truth at all costs or ends justify the means?

        The darn guest Philip Pettit took the utilitarian approach, generally, but with exceptions to cover special cases which turned out to be a complete cop-out in my view.  It allows him to decide whatever he wanted. whenever "a red light goes off in my head."  That's rationale I could get behind, that everything could be a special case, except that's really just a smoke screen covering up a fundamental rule of "my (personal) judgement shall prevail." Of course, such a philosophy is no help at all: can we or can we not propose some general principles of behavior to guide us? That's the business we need to be in here as "philosophers" if we have any business being in business at all.  Some of you will stop there (ahh, my friends, I know you write off philosophy as so much mental self stimulation, and this podcast certainly skirts that territory) but I hate to just Give Up!

        So, I think this: We are individuals, not ants, and the solitary difference there is that we should each have some meaning as entities. Inalienable rights, if you want.

        This leads me towards the chivalrous side of the spectrum wherein you might do something glorious and stupid, like charge an overwhelming force to succor one captive knight. This sounds silly to say, but it's basic military ethos and, if unlikely to be implemented in big serious confrontations, nevertheless a powerful idea. Another example would be NOT torturing the bomber as a matter of principle, though many will die. The rationale would be "if we are unprincipled, we have saved nothing." Typing this, I feel a childish shame at how it pulls at my heart. I just want this to be true.  Ants meanwhile are pragmatic utilitarians, "true believers" who will die for their hive, but not each other.

        That is my weak rebuttal to rigorous utilitarianism. If I understand Pettit correctly, all that's been thought of and bundled under the aegis "respect." Pettit would say "respect unless a red light starts flashing" which seems too big a loophole to me.

        Pimpin' my radio show

        This American Life needs no introduction, but every so often a reminder, in case you don't have podcasts automatically pouring into your phone... (and man what a neat feature that is, IYI. Here are droid and iToy recommendations.)

        This week, it's a 9-11 retrospective, something you might be tired of, as I am, and yet they did a good job, in interviewing a few people. The first story in particular will resonate with Afghanistan policy wonks (Dad, Emilie) and is the main reason for this post. Here's a link.

        In there, an altruistic Ivy League grad answers the call & returns to the homeland to set things right, but youth is lost and even a little despair begins to harden as the country unwinds. Powerful stuff.

        It's the dopamine, stupid!

        Lately I like this thought that my emotion is the flavor of a chemical soup in my head. All those hormones and whatnot are released by the lizard brain and glands and organs in response to what I see and eat and smell and think. A big interconnected machine. The usefulness of the metaphor is the unity of the singular soup tureen. My brain can think about different things, but all those thoughts are going to be inappropriately related because they're floating in the same sauce. It's got to be fundamentally hard to be dispassionate about an equation if I'm angry with a broken sprinkler in my yard, or hard to be angry at a frustrating coworker if I just had a great run.

        Thus our perspective on all aspects of life is skewed by the singular emotive state. Real separation of thoughts is not possible. It should be no surprise that my daughter might be yelling at me about something OTHER than the dishes yet somehow it is. Revelatory I mean, to make it explicit.

        How slowly I learn, to be figuring this out now!

        Latest beer


        Shooting for a light pilsner, I think I succeeded. This is a real home-made recipe: pretty proud of it.

        Berry Picker

        Awesome day at the Berry Picker.  1:02, 3.2 mi 2300' vert. Beautiful day and a fun time.

        That's right, it's a "nurse shark."





        We went to "Kinetics" competition which was at Union Reservoir this year. There were about 20 of these vehicles which have to work on land and water.  Everybody has a different theme & I thought this one was best.

        Favorite Quotes


        These are fun.

        "They never 'go bad.' They start that way." -Mom, talking about springerle cookies.

        "Life's about doing things both unwise and exciting ... making a child just to watch it run."  - Gina

        "Yes, Fiats are just like women. They look great from a distance, but just wait until you are married to one..." - Marc

        "Tide comes in, tide goes out: I can explain that."  -Neil deGrasse Tyson, smirking.

        "You dance in my heart where noone sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art." ~Rumi (music)

        "'Quaternion' was, I think, defined by an American schoolgirl to be 'an ancient religious ceremony.' This was, however, a complete mistake. The ancients - unlike Professor Tait - knew not , and did not worship, quaternions. The quaternion and its laws were discovered by that extraordinary genius Sir William Rowan Hamilton. A quaternion is neither a scalar, nor a vector, but a sort of combination of both. It has no physical representatives, but is a highly abstract mathematical concept..."  - English physicist Sir Oliver Heaviside

        "Things came to a head - shoes were thrown.  I had to move." - g

        "Horn broken: please watch for finger."  - awesome bumper sticker.

        "Don't ask whether there really are "imaginary" numbers, but instead, consider whether real numbers may actaully be, ...imaginary."  ~ that's me, channeling the spoon boy.  Also, "There is no mogul."

        "If the glove does not fit, you must acquit." Wizard Johnnie Cochran, demonstrating that we are automata, manipulable through namb-shub.

        "7:00's not a Time. Just say that out loud. See how crazy?" - Miles

        "Ranchers clear up the Amazon Rain forests trees to have enough space to race there cattle." -Anon.

        The conservatism of a religion - it's orthodoxy - is the inert coagulum of a once highly reactive sap. -Eric Hoffer.

        "Or Kevin's proof of (the) perfect girlfriend. She must exist, otherwise she wouldn't perfect. Also, she must be my girlfriend, otherwise she wouldn't be perfect. Oddly enough, I'm married to my perfect girlfriend, so clearly the logic works." -Kevin

        "if you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe!" - Carl Sagan

        "Obnoxious in victory, bitter in defeat!"  ...Pete Mohler (humorously)

        "Ready, shoot....  aim!"  ...me

        Betting against Stephen Hawking "...is like criticizing the Princess Diana" - Peter Higgs, lamenting the lose lose proposition of standing up to Hawking's prediction that the Higgs boson would not be found. (The Higgs has been found.)

        "I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it." -Anon? 
        "First Turtle"  Short abbreviation for the God as first mover argument. - by me!

         "Well, then why can't HE talk?" -John Sabol with the ultimate comeback to the ultimate stupidity on my part.

        "You just have to dig through the topsoil to get to anything worthwhile, your brain doesn't keep the good stuff on top." -Emilie


        Here below is a lesser category: from literature, movies, what have you.  Since these quotes are fabricated,  they are calculated instead of extemporaneous, but still excellent.  Here are some more book quotes from my friends.

        " Now and then goldfish splish and gleam, like new pennies dropped in water."  David Mitchell

        "A rocker rose like Poseidon and flexed his knuckles." -Cloud Atlas  I laughed for hours, till I cried.  The quote can't stand on its own, obviously, but this will serve as a happy reminder to those who've read it.

        From the Baroque Cycle...
        "He's rich," Jack muttered to Eliza...."
            "Yes—the clothes, the coins ..."
        "All fakeable."
            "How do you know him to be rich, then?"
        "In the wilderness, only the most terrible beasts of prey cavort and gambol. Deer and rabbits play no games." - 'Halfcocked' Jack Shaftoe

        Italo Calvino's From  If on a Winter's Night, a Traveler... “He was staring hard, not at his wife and me but at his daughter watching us. In his cold pupil, in the firm twist of his lips, was reflected Madame Miyagi's orgasm reflected in her daughter's gaze.”
         (Now, gentle reader, you must understand that this is equal parts erotica and joke. Maybe more joke: picture the impossible billiards shot that's going on here, how tiny the reflections would be (which he means literally to be implying, trust me).  This is the solitary moment of brilliance in an acclaimed but IMO only cute/tricky, not actually good, book.

        [To all of them, (our competitors)] we're either nonsense or doom.  -Elon Musk

        The Lausanne conference, in view of its origins, was
        bound, to turn into a kind of contest between the great
        powers as to which could be sweetest to the once unspeak-
        able Turk. Naturally this had to be so, since Kemal was
        ready to fight and nobody else was. The British and
        French, those loyal allies, lost no opportunity of intriguing
        against each other for Turkish favour, and it amused all
        beholders to see how, week after week, the British man-
        oeuvred the French out of their initial position of advan-
        tage, cozened and flattered and edulcorated the Turks, so
        that when the conference ended Britain was Turkey’s friend
        and France was only a grudging, half-hearted acquaintance. 
        - In search of History, Vincent Sheean



        Philosophy

        You (and I mean our whole society) are either doomed, jaded, or simulated. So goes the following argument...

        Today on the philosophy bites podcast, they discussed the "Simulation Hypothesis." It proposes that if we don't wipe ourselves out, and don't get bored of video games, then we'll eventually start simulating our ancestors with fidelity sufficient to prevent their apprehending the matrix is there at all. Their world (ours?) will be seamlessly believable, with perfect CGI & so forth.

        I'm perpetually intrigued by consciousness. While they were discussing the simulation hypothesis, I was in the car yelling, "but what if simulation can't create consciousness?" To my pleased surprise, they did raise that point, dismissing it almost immediately: "pretty much everyone agrees consciousness is an emergent side effect of the neural activity, substrate independent."

        I'm not sure *I* agree with that but it's a cool thought. Do I HAVE to agree, else believe in my soul? I do want to think there's something special about me. I DON'T want to believe I'm a simulaion, but rather want to believe that's impossible!

        Do you like it?
        ...one more post to follow.

        ---------------------------------------
        Ok, here's the end of it.

        If you buy into the arguments, then, since simulations will outnumber reality, the probability that you're a simulation is overwhelming, and thus there's a bored guy somewhere watching our Sim with ctl-alt-del power over your life and in fact our whole universe. So behave, and maybe you'll get invisibility or wings or something.

        Gina offered a solution to this, saying it's all just as unfalsifiable as any number of other fantastic hypotheses, so why bother, when there's nothing to choose between them. The unsatisfying part of that, for me, is that philosophy gets again reduced to irrelevancy. That's happening to me more and more.

        Optimists have to be...

        If you'll indulge me today, I have a fun post, in about three parts, that should be fun for you to read and think about.

        It all begins with WoW, as in "World of Warcraft." That's the videogame where you operate a magical warrior in the colorful alternate past, either first person or more typically from a position of close "chase." I eventually got bored which, combined with the collosal waste of time and monthly $15, helped me wean myself, but I do still miss the world of Azeroth.

        My toon was "Yobiche" an industrious elf priest (druid, actually) who worked her way into a pretty high position in society. I attribute her/my success to selfless courage, skill, my friends of course, and countless hours of mind numbing murder, often of dumb creatures. (That's how you get ahead in the (alternate) world.) Anyway, thanks to all that, Yobiche is "up there" in society. She/I can do the usual things powerful people can do: fly, turn invisible, breathe underwater, have somebody hit by a meteorite, bring loved ones back to life, or in an extremity, buy her way out of a sticky situation. Not so different from here.

        So howcome I'm bored? Well, with all that power, what's left to do, frankly? Sometimes She/I (maybe henceforth I'll just call us shi?) would go back to shmy hometown and impress the natives. The same people work in the same stores, and there are new kids everywhere, who are impressed with my prowess at everything. Somehow though I think the old folks don't really care and the kids are just sucking up to get help with their homework: "Thou must bring the scalps of 10 timberwolves." ...shi can do that as easy as pointing hermy finger 10 times, so it's a quick way to superficial stardom. You can imagine it didn't last and so I quit, & my RL mile times are better for it.

        Now though, I have for Blizzard a suggestion that ought to reinvigorate the game. The problem is that one-ness, the merging of our characters. My toon should show some initiative! You know: spunk. Proof that she's not just a computer robot or empty automaton. it wouldn't be too hard to program up an occasional surprise crazy action, like picking an ill advised fight, or getting drunk and clumsy just when I need her to be on her game, or falling for the wrong guy against My Will. Things like that would enliven the feel.

        Oh, and while we're at it, how about some respect? I CREATED Yobiche, she could occasionally turn to the screen, make eye contact and say "thank you." Or even, "Thank you, lord, forever and ever. Amen." I might like that, especially if she was kneeling when she did it. So, off you go Blizzard: for your next upgrade, make me a God.

        ...more to follow.

        Bitcoin, and other monies.

        Bitcoin is internet currency.  It is...
        • distributed: There's no centralized authority (extant or needed!)
        • free: no transaction costs.  However, using regular cash offers the possibility of exchanges without transaction costs, too.  So just as with "real" money, people may offer you financial services in exchange for fees, and you might pay them. It seems possible  the whole parasitic credit industry could arise, phoenix-like, around bitcoin.
        • Transactions are all visible, but users are anonymous: this is seemingly problematic, but the transactions happen over the internet though, so should be traceable with some effort, given just cause to compel the internet companies to relinquish e-mail records.
        • Safe?  Should be.  It's based on the public cryptography (public key encryption, started by Philip Zimmerman is the technology underpinning it.) Zimmerman was the real deal. There is now a very thick layer of corporate bullshit over pgp, cut if you look hard enough you can still get the excellent personal pgp application I think this link works. A public key allows somebody to "sign" a payment. The SW system is under public control (caveat emptor: I don't know this, it's popular hearsay)
        • Stable.  This is the key thing.  the total quantity of bitcoin is more stable than even gold. There's a known quantity, and a known (and decreasing) rate of minting.  This happens through a bizarre, nerdy and somehow quaint process of "mining" which is just setting your computer grinding away at a hard problem of some kind.  If this doesn't seem like a "fair" way to create the new money,  well, just ask how the US government gives out the new money:  I think they basically just give it to bankers! This could also be a key problem. If bitcoins get scarce, they will acquire collector value, and nobody will spend them for fear of losing out on future value.
        • Available on your Android  or i- phones.
        • Here's an Incite video.


        Woooo! I'm a Bitcoin miner! See below for proof of my riches:

        Coin Generations:
        Total payouts generated: 1

        Coin Generation List
        From To Amount Date Message Status View
        Coin generation Me 0.00003102 BTC Jul 15, 2011 11:46 AM MDT Complete

        DFC-182



        So this is our autopilot flying an old Cessna. It's that wire going into the instrument panel: everything else you see is (very) aged avionics doing something else.  Our stuff is in a little pallet of new gear back in the luggage compartment!  It flies great. Someday we'll make this available for everybody to use, in these old airplanes.

        Red!


        View from the porch.


        So, this is the view from the porch at Betty Bear hut. Drive to Leadville, Independence pass, Aspen, Basalt, then back east & then up. We made bows, practiced archery (with real bows, mostly) had pound cake and Brussels' sprouts and pork in adobo. Mark and Miles had an adventure

        Bow Design

        This is a fast index of information from various browsing of websites.

        Beautiful bows, and discussion of some design strictures at Ballistik.
        This guy Dave Canterbury at the pathfinder school shows how to shoot, teaches how to make a bow, and has pretty good physics (in addition to great technique) and beautiful craftsmanship as shown in these quivers and arrows..  Highly recommended, and there's a whole series of them.

        Some terminology follows, not so much for the sake of the words, but the ideas behind them.

        The "shelf" is to rest the arrow on. It's cut out so that the string travel is coaxial with the arrow. If you think about it, a bow without a cutout to pass the arrow simply can't have the string move in the same straight line as the arrow. The rightward translation of the arrow's nock during the thrust phase sets up a flexure that affects trajectory.

        "Center Shot" refers to carving away the center of the riser so the arrow can rest directly in front of the string's direction of travel. This is funny because of the mis-use of that term in the movie Deliverance.

        Brace height is the distance between the shelf of the strung bow and the string. Needs to be ~6", dunno why. Far enough to let the fletching fit, anyway. Not too far though because a longer stroke through the draw means more energy to put into the arrow.  On recurves, brace height will be smaller for the same length bow & preload.  We'll see why bigger is better later, in discussing springs and stacking.


        Stacking is the term to describe increased draw weight through the length of the draw. Minimal stacking is best. A compound bow uses complex geometry to make the force actually go down towards the end of the draw. (I think you could even call that negative stacking, but the terminology is a bit fuzzy, IMO. I think they call negative stacking "let-off" on compounds.) A recurve bow, by flexing to change the virtual attach point, has less stacking  than a traditional longbow and will therefore store more energy (for the same max draw weight). With less stacking, the preload can be higher, so the integral through the draw will be, too. 


        (I was going to post a link to the definitive comparative bow design site, but haven't found it!  Wow, there is a lot of bullshit on the internet about bow design & how to get energy into the arrow. Of course it's an (almost) simple integral of the draw force x length.  Only "almost" because the limbs are also being accelerated, so light limbs helps. Considering a compound makes clear the main elegant idea: there has to be force to deflect the string back, but it needn't be linear and indeed that's bad because your max force capability is at the beginning of the draw. (...and there's an accuracy cost to holding a heavy weight at the extremity of the draw.)  How then to proportionately increase the load early in the draw?  The obvious way is to make the spring physically BIG, so the fractional spring deflection & hence force change through your (fixed) draw length is small. Then biasing the load up is possible: if your draw weight goes from 40lb to 50lb through the stroke, that's a lot more energy than if it goes from 25lb to 50lb.

        We can probably imagine bows as linear springs with regards to bending vs force. How does recurve geometry make this linear spring behave differently? One way to think of the tip of the limb of the recurve is like a sort of big wheel (or cam!) off which the string rolls. This has a tendency, through the early part of the draw, to raise the contact point and thus retard the decrease of the angle between the string and the direction of the arrow. In the limit, you could imagine the string geometry at (say) 4" and 5" of draw being parallel. If you then provide the same force over a longer lever arm, hence greater bending moment, you're doing what's necessary to have deflected the limbs more. Viola, zero "stacking" which is the benefit we're looking for!. Also at the beginning of the draw you are not bending the terminal few inches of the limb: it's purely in compression.  That offers the possibility of variable spring constant as different parts of the wood are successively loaded.  They're all tapered, likely mostly for reasons of bending moment (builds towards center) and speed (heavy limbs absorb energy) but as a possible consideration, softer tips would again reduce stacking if geometry keeps them out of play until late in the draw.  This is all just reasoning so far. As noted, I'm finding zip on the internet.  I've got to think more about this though, to describe it better: maybe later. (comments solicited).

        Fletching needs to pass the bow without strongly disturbing the tail of the arrow. Feathers are designed to collapse when this happens. I like the idea of removing one feather entirely. Per Marv Clyncke, "you can't shoot rubber off the shelf. Has to be elevated." Clyncke by the way is a fantastic guy, local, who sold Kevin & I bows from his phenomenal stockpile of traditional equipment. Here's a short video to give a sense of the guy.

        Cross section (my term) should be rectangular, or even I-beam in shape. Idea is to preclude limb flex in any direction but where you want, towards the arrow's nock. You can imagine a recurve bow is mechanically "unstable" in that it'd like to twist around & unload into it's unstrung shape.

        Finally, this.

        Shop Class as Soulcraft

        Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of WorkShop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford

        My rating: 3 of 5 stars


        Gonna be a good book.
        I've hardly started but lots of positive reaction to this book already.

        Early on we find the thesis, that processs optimization reduces work, especially white collar intellectual work, to mere clerking, removing the brains and the joy from it. This really strikes a chord with me because I've seen it come and go at various times in my career. A fellow described it to me late in my first job, that nobody should be deviating from the process. I was secretly revolted: I used my mind to advance the project: the company benefited from my thinking! I thought to myself. He was a monster. At another job I wrote in my notebook that people were knights, and I knew my boss believed it too. The monster's back. There is a tendency to worship process because it is the thing you can codify and rely on: safer than requiring great men & women to do heroic deeds. As a manager you can predict things better that way. Such managers will want fixed price contracts, whatever the cost, so there are no surprises.

        I could take issue with parts of the book too. One example is the revelation that, with the industrial revolution well along, all manufacturing done on production lines, next brain work is being turned into clerking. Really? Hasn't it always been so? Crawford's choice of the noun "clerk" is strong enough to conjure up archetype Bob Cratchit, an example from the deep past, and it is by abstracting upward and compressing earlier knowledge into processable chunks that we make progress after all. I think we've always been doing that. Is Crawford's lament just one of finding himself on the supporting trunk of the forest rather than the vital growing tip of the tree's leafy extremity? We will not all get to be at the top.

        Still I won't complain much. I can imagine a rewarding smithy, and an unrewarding investment fund boiler room, and I reacted with horror, this very week, when a human inadequacy, instead of being traced to it's responsible perpetrator, was ascribed automatically to imperfect adherence to the supposedly omniscient process, as though that could save us! Highlighting it's massive shortcomings is certain to launch a round of process improvement, instead of demoting the nincompoop who perpetrated the error. I need to think a little bit about how to turn this interaction, and this paragraph, into some more positive outcome.

        I really liked an anecdote on p43 wherein he describes people, doing subsistence piece work at home, were counter-intuitively motivated to work less by increasing the unit price; pre-modern consumers, they didn't want more stuff as much as more leisure. Marketing soon fixed that, haha!

        There's an undercurrent of political tension. On p 45, He notes "liberals" want to reduce teaching to standardized testing; "liberalism is by design a politics of irresponsibility." So there is some partisanship, unworthy of the book, and in this case I'd say just wrong. Political argument is so polarizing and contentious that it risks the thesis to introduce it like this (and there are several examples already.)




        View all my reviews

        Shooting the bow.

        I've started letting the string inside (left) of my shooting eye. Subjectively or instinctively keeping the arrow pointed at the target seems to work; I'm doing ok, laterally. I expected some kind of right/left bias depend on a "strong" eye but maybe not, or maybe I'm just scattering them so much I can't tell yet.  Here's a recommendation to draw it to your nose!  After watching some examples on youtube, a lot of the good shooters seem to do it that way, and anchor under their chins, too. Centering the string on my eye was irritating and was a distracting effort.

        Paying careful attention to the strength of my draw, I notice I tend to let off a little: I could draw more. When I do, it seems worth a foot of drop & I often overshoot the target.  Either way I hit my wrist with the bowstring pretty much every time. As far as range goes, that pretty much eludes me so far.

        Here's another guy shooting with the nock well above his hand, looking right down the arrow.

        Here's me, shooting.  This guy at witchery of archery talks about instinctive shooting a little.
        As She Climbed Across the TableAs She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem

        My rating: 5 of 5 stars


        Terrific. Compelling. True. Sad.

        I'll recommend you try not to read reviews, or even the jacket, because they give away too much. In particular, some of the early vocabulary sets the scene nicely but, armed with unwanted foreknowledge injected by reviews & such, somewhat obviously to me.

        I suppose I will have an interesting conversation with Ben about whether this was scifi or not. I'll say it is because my only prerequisite is a scientifically grounded premise. After that a book can be and this one is, all about people. It's a sad, earnest love story and I read it without stopping.

        ... Spoilers below ...

        Regarding the last pages, I anticipated an alternate ending I'd have liked better, where Philip crawls back OUT, and then the Lack closes with him the only person to claim ever to have crossed over, and even THAT could just be part of his hangover. Thereafter Alice hates him for killing her b/f and it's a sad ending. A stray damp cat footprint could be used to sway our reader's understanding of what really happened one way or another.

        Oh, and under the great quotes section... Italian Physicist Braxia becomes my hero in the book when, quizzed on the metaphysics of the phenomenon, he simply says, "there are no metaphysics."



        View all my reviews

        Why I like "half-cocked" Jack Shaftoe

        Here's an excerpt from the King of the Vagabonds. The scientist-mastermind is talking, just going off on some tangent, in a public square.

        "Dyadic, or binary numbers,... ...But what I take away from the Chinese method of fortune-telling is the notion of producing random numbers by the dyadic technique, and by this Winkins's system could be incomprably strengthened." All of which was like the baying of hounds to Jack.
        "He's rich," Jack muttered to Eliza...
        "Yes - the clothes, the coins..."
        "All fakeable."
        "How do you know him to be rich, then?"
        "In the wilderness, only the most terrible beasts of prey cavort and gambol. Deer and rabbits play no games."

        The thing I love here is not only the last line (which is most excellent!), but how endearingly Stephenson makes us like the protagonist. He's all boy, straightforward to a fault: seeming almost a simpleton at times, unconsciously brave, impatient, and deeply perceptive. The guy is admirable, and all the more so because he does not think himself worthy of anything like that. He is earnestly self deprecatory, because he's unconscious of his merits. It's cute.
        King of the Vagabonds (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1, Book 2)King of the Vagabonds by Neal Stephenson

        My rating: 4 of 5 stars


        To do justice to Neal Stephenson at his best is inevitably doomed to some form of stylistic copying or more ponderously yet, outright quotation. Instead I'll try to be brief. This book is very well written, in a tone I'll describe as Pratchett-Wallaceian, with humor you'll laugh over, poetic description you'll admire and innumerable sly historical tie-ins you'll catch delightfully, but only you're a nerd and that makes it even better.

        Yes history: it's historical fiction, although the emphasis is on the fiction. Suffice it to say there is somehow, in reformation-era Europe, a dose of science, and even heroes thereof, and love and swashbuckling and fantastical romps through labyrinths. You can't beat it, really. Can I even describe it? Here goes:

        Elizabethan era 007 makes reluctant rescues and demonstrates unintentional heroism, saving the future we now know as the past and vanishing without a trace, but he gets the girl so who needs a legacy?

        Well, Stephenson has now given Jack Shaftoe that too. A fantastic read, and no, you needn't complete the somewhat ponderous precursor "Quicksilver" as prerequisite to your enjoyment.



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        Backup for Kaigun: Chickens ARE Dinosaurs.

        I've mentioned that Documentary Heaven is a good website, of movies worth watching. On that site, this show is an hour's archaeological examination of a single fossil. The main point, for my purposes, is the very likely fact that tyrannosaurs had feathers. As a secondary matter, they spent some time solving a mystery with a wind tunnel, using the foregone conclusion that the dinosaur must have flown (this fossil was very much chicken sized, not a t-rex) to ascertain how it's body must have been laid out. That was fun: a paleontological mystery with aerospace engineers cast as Sherlock Holmes.

        The Grand Design

        The Grand DesignThe Grand Design by Stephen Hawking

        My rating: 3 of 5 stars


        First, to my physics friends, apologies for the likely sophomoric butchery that follows.



        The book's about quantum mechanics, some relativity, some cosmology with lots of frosting and little cake. Nonetheless it's very filling and satisfying. That's because this book is written at a good level for me, namely simplistic, lots of analogies, smells of over-simplistic explanations.



        Reading this, I'm made to think that my preferred mechanism for learning is successive passes through material, with ever greater granularity or "pressure" leaving big voids and bumps at first, but eventually smashing everything into flat comprehensibility at the end. Will I ever get there with quantum mechanics? Doubtful, frankly.



        Re-cracking this book (just because I had nothing else to read last night) coincided with a SciAm article on string theory that drew inductive conclusions from linear, imaginary and then quaternion mathematics, citing 16 dimensional numbers as the next step, and infinite universes as a consequence if it's true.



        Since I believe in the manifest and miraculous fact that mathematics actually works to describe the universe in which we find ourselves, I accept the inference, and expect & hope that someday we'll prove these universes are out there. That's really cool.





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        Kaigun: Steampunk chapter 6

        The Curator, 2017, Novosibirsk

        In a dark corner of Kamchatka, in a dark corner of the Museum of Victory Against the Ravening Hun, Sergei Andropov worked alone. Deep in the “Cold War” against the lucky Americans, nobody had money for a vacation to visit the frozen pimple on the bum of Nowheresibirsk. Sergei smiled at his private joke. Nobody would get it but him. Nobody would understand an American pun.

        He sighed. Realistically, he knew nobody would even come, ever. That there was a museum of any kind here was a testament to the grant writing prowess of some long dead overambitious apparatchik, a bureaucrat with a golden tongue and probably good party connections to boot. Not only was Novosibirsk out of the way, but civilization itself seemed to be falling into disrepair. Now his town had a large, bunker-like (as all buildings) unvisited equipment mausoleum which, truth be told, mothballed rather than displayed all these artifacts of earlier wars.

        Quite an exotic collection! Dr. Andropov had trained in history and foreign languages, and had lead the museum’s procurement efforts during it’s heyday in the 1980’s. With a charter to specialize in warfare, and incisive understanding of European cultures, he’d tried to identify things uniquely Russian in design for the museum, an in consequence the collection tended to hyperbolic overdesign, simplicity, impracticality, and a complete lack of any concession to human frailties. There were insanely overpowered piston fighter planes sprouting propellers from both ends, lean ground to air missiles that could suss out the body heat of a chicken, and something describable only as a blunt copy of an American Jeep, over-heavy but with an undoubtedly deadly gatling gun mounted to its rollbar. Sergei was familiar with the American TV show that surely spawned this fighting vehicle.

        There was a beautiful T-58 tank, squat and teardropped, impossibly heavy, like a fat tic the size of a cafe, only it could roll at 50km/hour, and had an elephant’s trunk of a weapon that could fire a radar homing missile or vomit a meteoric slug of spent plutonium a dozen miles into a target the size of a pretty girl’s backside. Mostly of milled titanium, the tank gave off a gray sheen of permanence like fine jewelry, and Sergei worked to keep it that way.

        There was a six pack of suicide submarines, diesel powered with prehensile siphons that featured a flanged cutting bit that could twist and plunge, slowly reaming upward through polar ice pack. Sergei imagined their frozen hypoxic 3 man crews, working the manually actuated mechanism, thrusting at levers and springs in dark desperation, erecting a tube through which life would flow, the very existence of their heirs, the whole line of unborn progeny hanging in the balance, although success would only mean a chance to breathe another day and maybe glorious immolation on an unremarked beach by a Seattle Navy base. Somehow these subs didn’t catch Sergei’s attention here, 200 miles from ocean they seemed out of place and useless; he let them rust, just a little.

        A modern version of one of those subs had actually succeeded, beginning the cataclysm, a war the Americans didn’t really think Russia would want, but they underestimated both desperation and fatalism of a people used to winning wars by starving and freezing slower than the other guys. Russia had lost the war’s first hot round in a sparkle of evaporating cities, but this round would be decades long, bullet-less, and fought each night when, in ramshackle cabins dotted across taiga not worth bombing, lonely farmers, trappers and museum curators boiled tea made from pine needles and roasted marmot over open flames rather than merely laying down to die.

        His grandfather from the infantry would have been proud to see that Sergei continued to do his duty years after the paychecks stopped, the electricity was turned off, and the trains quit coming. He could chop wood, pluck a chicken, keep the museum’s machinery oiled, and had a tiny stash of real tea secreted away in a heavy brass canister, just in case a party official should visit, or maybe a woman.

        Sergei always came to work but he’d stopped doing housekeeping and begin putting his efforts into preservation. The machines liked it better, he felt sure. Growing older and with a wet cough that bothered on cold nights, Sergei spent most evenings amongst his charges, though their cold iron bellies, unfired, gave no actual warmth, he’d sleep inside one or another, on a bed of stiff heavy canvas, his tools at hand, a doctor on call for patients in need only of admiration and rustproofing.

        Tonight he lit a candle and gently patted the curved flank of his favorite, the Sovetski Kaigun. Conceived just before the first war, but then somehow bypassed in popularity by the whining airplane, she was intended to be invulnerable, first of a class of prairie dreadnoughts meant to evoke the Motherland’s supremacy on tundra just as Japan’s seagoing navy laid claim to the ocean. Ten meters wide and more than twice as long, made of walnut, oak and iron, she carried a locomotive’s heart slung low between double rows of overlapping iron wheels two meters tall. A swollen cathedral of timber enclosed it all , protecting the control bridge forward, the captains room in the back, and mess & bunk house for her crew of 20 amidships. Armor plate was fastened over every vulnerable surface with bulbous inch-wide rivets. Below, on either side of the boiler, firemen would feed her maw, consuming in just a few days all the bunker’s store of coal or wood, but, train-like, she could pull a sledge carrying another barn load of fuel, and her natural element, this vast chill forest, would always provide more.

        Left and right in sponsons were the great guns, steam powered rifles he had named Leviathian and Ineluctable, their names stenciled lovingly on the barrels. Each would fire an enormous javelin, a seven foot long cylinder of birch or aspen, 2” across and tipped with a 12km slug of polished bronze or iron. The manual called them “bolts” for some reason Sergei’s mostly encyclopedic knowledge didn’t encompass. Breech loaded, each of the two big rifles could be charged in a few seconds by one man, while another cranked the aiming gears and a third operated the steam launching valves. On firing, the pressure would splinter and swell the last foot or two of the bolt, sealing the barrel and making the launch all the harder and deadly straight. It could shoot 7 miles and sounded like what it was, the bursting exhalation of a mighty steam piston.. With a blunt tip, one of these missiles could make a charging cavalry horse disappear in a red cloud or explode an ancient spruce. With a sharpened iron tip it would pierce a foot of battleship plate armor leaving a head sized hole that looked vaguely molten. (Sergei had learned this in an illicit test he’d allowed himself during the riots after the collapse, before his curator’s urge had reasserted.)

        He loved Kaigun best of all and traced his fingers sensually over her armor plate, checking to assure the red grease covered every inch. She smelled of oil and glistened in the candlelight waiting for him, like a woman coiled around her champagne. Except for the greased decolletage of her armor swelling, she was a prude, this one, draped in oiled canvas with undergarments of waxed butcher paper to keep out prying eyes, moisture, bugs and dust. Wherever it showed, her wooden skin had been slathered with teak oil and then massaged with beeswax until it gleamed. Inside the rich wood and polished brass looked warm and inviting, as though a feast would soon be served. Starving just a little bit, Sergei imagined it. Thick smoked glass covered round plates of steaming salmon and tureens of borscht which during the day ensconsed only steam gauges. Overhead, entrails of copper piping warned “chaud” in black Cyrillic, just as they would on the espresso machine in a trendy St. Petersburg cafe. Sergei thought he could hear the orchestra warming up, and smelled Gruyere and tarragon bubbling on top of a Vichy onion broth. He hiked up the collar of his felted wool shirt, loosened his boots and sat down to make an entry in the Captain’s Log before his candle finally guttered out.

        “May 30th. Machinery checked. No steam or mission orders. Crew, absent, will face strictest discipline.”

        Sergei worried his irony would someday be mistaken for frank insanity, but figured he was safe, nobody would ever read this.

        “Checked the munitions stores, 224 rounds total, 75 flechette, 75 wooden, and 74 iron tipped. 900 javelin blanks and 300 tips also stored in the trailer. Coal bunker topped off. I have copied the manuals against the chance they’ll be needed by new crew. Bound these each in waxed leather and hung close to hand in each crewman’s station, clipped to brass chains to prevent misplacement. The boiler’s been drained to preclude rot, and the captain’s store of wine moved to the firebox, against summer heat. I have sharpened and greased the onceler as well, should be quite serviceable. [“Onceler “was a reciprocating steam saw that hung low just ahead of the front grille, the name another of Sergei’s private jokes.] I have completed all the preparations I can here, and for what? Will she ever make steam? A shame.”

        Kaigun: Steampunk chapter 5

        Outskirts of Novosibirsk
        Walking cautiously, some two dozen people probed the outskirts of town, like a trickle of smoke seeking entry. Three days forced walking had left everyone exhausted.

        Andreii still followed in the back, alone now as the minor excitement of discovering the town pulled people forward. The loss of Anjin had bent something inside him beyond yielding. Nobody could talk to him, about her, or anything else. Mostly he thought about how to beat the chickens, weapons, tactics, defenses to allow towns to be rebuilt.

        Another young man, Dmitri, agreed.  He was one of those who’d been captured by the pirates and then released and he said they should fight back against the giant birds; after all, the land sailors did. It was an example! Man couldn’t just be beaten by a bunch of stupid birds, however big they were. So now Michal had an ally, someone older with a little influence. At night after securing the perimeter, they would draw plans in the dust, mostly whimsical schemes for underground hydroponic gardens, or cannon, or fortified schools.

        It was important, Michal said, to keep teaching the kids, especially reading and math. There were too many temptations to focus on brute power, swordsmanship or stamina.

        “A chickenosaurus has more strength than any man. If we forget our intelligence, we could lose everything in one generation, all the leverage civilization gave us!”

        People nodded, he’d carried the argument that time, but then late that same night the one eyed rooster came again. It tore through the camp, killing the last two horses, eating one and leaving the other for carrion, as if it knew horses were the key to mobility. After that, there was no more talk of schools, the books were left along with everything else that couldn’t be eaten or used to keep warm, and the people had fled the last 60 miles to Novosibirsk like a panicked herd of meat animals, harried by invisible predators.

        Now, it was evening and dispirited people looked through the broken buildings, for survivors, salvage and a place to sleep.

        “There’s nobody here any more,” someone said, “This place is just ruins.”

        Dmitri, though, was still optimistic, “Let’s just find some place defensible to hold up. There will be people somewhere, and we can plan tomorrow.”

        At the North end of the street was a less ramschackle building, larger than the abandoned homes and shops. The door had been forced, but inside was nothing of value. It had been a museum and contained mostly dusty fossils of the aerospace age, hanging from iron rafters like giant tin plated birds. There was no food, but the entrance was too small for a chicken and the building too sturdy for it to easily tear down. Gratefully, the people built a small fire on the marble lobby floor, kindling it with museum brochures and telling wistful jokes about how the Motherland’s Air Force could do battle with chickensaurii, if only it still existed. An impossibly inert figherplane hulked heavily in the corner, like a boxer past his prime, reminiscing over former days of potency.

        Andrei Michal paged through a brochure wistfully.

        “See, kids could come here, just a dozen years ago, and see how great our country was. Look there, that’s a spaceship!” He held up the captioned picture and pointed to the real thing hanging from the ceiling.

        “Nothing will every fly again Michal, unless we live through this night, and the next one. Why don’t you take a turn at watch and keep this fire going.” It was more of an order than a question, and the popular boy spoke for them all. It was a day for perseverance, not exploring.

        “We’ll look at your museum in the morning.”

        Soon everyone was bunked down near the fire, and Michal thumbed the brochure. Computers and Spaceflight, Architecture and Public Works, Anthropology and Archaeology, Rocks and Minerals, the World at War.

        Andrei stared at the words for a moment, then stood and checked the braces on the door. Secure. He flipped to the back of the brochure, the museum floorplan, and spun it around so the “you are here” pointer aligned with the marble foyer where his village now slept. Taking a small torch to light the way through the dusty iron and concrete building, Andrei MIchal began following the map to the "World at War" exhibit.