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Rated: 18+ · Book · Personal · #1196512
Not for the faint of art.
Complex Numbers

A complex number is expressed in the standard form a + bi, where a and b are real numbers and i is defined by i^2 = -1 (that is, i is the square root of -1). For example, 3 + 2i is a complex number.

The bi term is often referred to as an imaginary number (though this may be misleading, as it is no more "imaginary" than the symbolic abstractions we know as the "real" numbers). Thus, every complex number has a real part, a, and an imaginary part, bi.

Complex numbers are often represented on a graph known as the "complex plane," where the horizontal axis represents the infinity of real numbers, and the vertical axis represents the infinity of imaginary numbers. Thus, each complex number has a unique representation on the complex plane: some closer to real; others, more imaginary. If a = b, the number is equal parts real and imaginary.

Very simple transformations applied to numbers in the complex plane can lead to fractal structures of enormous intricacy and astonishing beauty.

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December 5, 2023 at 8:14am
December 5, 2023 at 8:14am
No journey is without its pitfalls, or, in my case, rockfalls. I don't even know when it happened, but somewhere in Wyoming or Utah, something smacked my windshield, cracking it.

Not a big deal, usually. These things happen, and it's one reason to have insurance and such. Certainly better than the last time something smacked into me on a road trip. The crack's not even on the driver's side, so not really interfering with my view or anything.

But the crack keeps spreading. Slowly. Relentlessly. Like the doom you know is following you everywhere you go; you try to ignore it but every time you glance over, there it is, looming. Looming doom. Gloom.

So when I got to Reno, the crack (it's actually a double crack looking a bit like the Tigris and Euphrates) creeping across at its less-than-a-snail's pace, I stopped at the Subaru dealer/service. This, incidentally, is one great benefit of modern technology: On the way in, I simply asked my friendly navigator, Google, to find it for me and direct me there. Let's see a paper map do that, Luddites.

Now, to be clear, this is not something I'd worry about too much back home. Make a service appointment, get it taken care of. I don't think it even takes all that long to do. But the thought of driving back across the country with the growing crack didn't fill me with much confidence.

Unfortunately, they can't get to it until next week, at the earliest. Not because of a wait time, but because they have to get the glass in. I wasn't planning on being in Reno next week. I was hoping to be in Vegas, with my visit to California over the weekend.

But, unexpected change is part of the adventure of travel. The only thing that pisses me off is the cost. It's just enough more than my insurance deductible that it might be worth filing a claim for the difference, but then I don't know if insurance will use it as an excuse to raise my rates, negating the benefit of using it.

And if they can't get to it next week, I'm screwed.

Either way, it's a gamble but, behold, that is what I'm in Reno for.
December 4, 2023 at 1:19am
December 4, 2023 at 1:19am
Quick update today because, after a few days in Utah, I'm getting back on the road.

It occurred to me that some people might wonder what the hell I'm doing in Utah, considering how that state's reputation is at odds with my hedonistic, alcohol-positive lifestyle.

Well, one, a good friend lives here who I hadn't seen in years, so that was reason enough.

Also, that reputation is maybe a bit exaggerated, especially in the SLC area. True, laws surrounding delicious fermented and/or distilled beverages are kinda strange here, but no more so than some other states. Just in a different way. Since the last time I visited, several years ago, a lot more craft breweries have appeared, and I visited a bunch of them.

There's not much else to do around here, besides hiking and skiing, both of which are outdoor activities (and often cold ones), which are therefore anathema to me. But if I did do outdoor activities, this would be a good place to do them. Seriously great scenery in Utah, though most of the surrounding states can say the same.

Next stop: Reno. Fewer breweries, but I'm certain I can find something else to do there, like, I don't know, maybe follow in the grand tradition of writing depressing song lyrics about the place.
December 3, 2023 at 12:05am
December 3, 2023 at 12:05am
As I am not yet ready to let this blog go, I switched to a Premium Plus membership, thus buying more space in here. Well, storage space. The maximum number of entries doesn't change, but I won't hit that cap for over a year at the current rate.

Bonus: more email space, so I can continue procrastinating cleaning up that mess.

Anyway, just because I'm traveling (Salt Lake City right now) doesn't mean I'm skipping leg day. Er, I mean, archaeology day, where I dig up a past blog entry at random to see if anything's changed.

Today's excavation uncovered this one, from early last year: "The Attempted Resurrection of Words

The linked article   is still there, too.

Usually, I can think of something to say, or at least point out where I made an embarrassing typo or other error. Maybe my attitude has changed over time, maybe I've learned new stuff, something.

Alas, maybe because I'm damn exhausted, I got nothing. However... this was long enough ago (hell, one month is probably long enough ago) that I'd forgotten about the entry entirely, so I got to learn new words all over again. Still mostly useless, but words.

That's right; I still don't see the need for these words, apart from, as I wrote then, "...in some of those writings you see where the author just has to show off his or her enormous vocabulary."

I guess that makes me one of those authors.
December 2, 2023 at 9:40am
December 2, 2023 at 9:40am
Last one of these, for now.

Where should I go?

Anywhere you want.

I often select destinations at random, because it truly is more about the journey than the destination. This may be too much uncertainty and not enough planning for some people, but you can always do a mix, or select the random destination six months in advance if you need to plan your trip down to the microsecond.

Most of my travels have been within the contiguous US. This is not because I don't want to visit other places, but doing so doesn't usually work well with my preferred spontaneity. Besides, the only really viable way to leave the continent is by airplane, and they've made air travel so awkward, inconvenient, and uncomfortable that I hate it.

I don't, however, fear it. Lots of people conflate hate and fear into a -phobia word, but they don't necessarily have anything to do with each other. For instance, I fear bears because bears are big monsters with sharp, pointy teeth, razorlike claws, and an attitude. But I don't hate bears; they look so cute and cuddly. I hate flying with its unreasonable restrictions, cramped spaces, and crowds, but I don't fear it; it's probably safer than even staying at home.

I'd consider a cruise, but that takes even more planning. So, by car, my destination choices are rather limited: mostly the contiguous US, Alaska, Canada, and Mexico. And I don't like crossing borders because the agents there always treat me like I'm trying to contaminate the purity of their countries by smuggling deep-fried mayonnaise out of the US.

I'll fly again eventually, despite my utter contempt for the whole process. Meanwhile, I'm fine with being on the road.
December 1, 2023 at 12:43pm
December 1, 2023 at 12:43pm
When traveling, it's important to be aware of local customs. For example,


When traveling around the US, you need to be aware that, often, place names aren't pronounced the way you'd think based on the usual rules of English. For example, there's a town near where I live called Staunton. You'd think, looking at it, it's pronounced stawn-ton, right? No, it's pronounced che-vee. Okay, no, just kidding; it's stan-ton, with an a like in hat.

Worse, though, are places that are pronounced like you'd expect in English... but they're Spanish or French. Like, if you pronounce Versailles, Indiana, as if you'd just stepped off the plane from Par-ee, the locals will kick your derrière all the way to Illinois (a state whose name is pronounced like the French would).

But you just never know, so unless and until you're absolutely, 100% certain of something's pronunciation, usually by hearing a local speak the word, it's best to not mention the name at all. Some folks don't take kindly to strangers, and their best way of identifying a stranger is by their mispronunciation of the local town, street, or dive bar.

Like, in my hometown, we have a Rio Road. I can always identify the tourists because they pronounce it like Rio de Janeiro or Rio Grande. But no. It's pronounced like rye-oh. Don't ask me why; I just know we use it as a shibboleth so we know who to send to the more expensive restaurants.

As I said, though, you never know. You could have a place in the US named some common, easy-to-pronounce English words like, I don't know, New Haven, and it'll turn out that Haven is pronounced like havin'. As in, don't bother me, I'm havin' lunch. As far as I know, that's not the case with the one in Connecticut, but you know it could happen.

Or, like, I can see myself visiting a small town with a common name, and someone asks "How do you like it here so far?"

I'll be like "Oh, it's nice. I really like Riverside."

And their face will immediately close up and they'll look sideways at me with great suspicion. "It's 'reverse-a-dee.'"

Look, I'm just saying I wouldn't be surprised, okay?
November 30, 2023 at 6:58am
November 30, 2023 at 6:58am
(I'm going to recycle these into a Comedy newsletter, because I'm lazy, so consider them rough drafts.)

My next bit of sage wisdom (because it's thyme) seems like it should be obvious, but with many obvious things, there's always a twist.

Be Prepared.

The twist is that whatever you prepare for, something else will go wrong.

A few years ago, I spent a week in Seattle. Being aware of the city's climate reputation, I brought an umbrella and a raincoat. Not a cloud in the sky all week.

I didn't bring that stuff to Las Vegas, because it's in a desert. Rained the whole time.

Pack for cold weather, and you get hot. Plan for heat, and it'll freeze. So you figure, "Better plan for both," which is when you get a tornado.

It's good to be prepared, anyway. But it's impossible to always be physically prepared, because the universe has a sick sense of humor. So mental preparation will have to suffice, steeling your mind to accept that when things go wrong, they will do so in the weirdest way possible, and whatever material you brought with you will be useless to the task.

This is why I don't go hiking, by the way. Well, one of the reasons. I'd have to bring along too much stuff for every eventuality: a snakebite kit to ensure a snake won't bite me; a splint to prevent me from twisting my ankle; food and a portable stove so I don't get hungry; a sleeping bag so I don't get lost (if I don't get lost, I'm not hiking long enough to need to sleep), and so on. Lots of stuff to lug around, stuff that will never get used, but if I don't bring it, I'll wish I had.

And bear spray, of course. Which will keep me from seeing any bears, but I'd fully expect to get bit by a shark.
November 29, 2023 at 6:35am
November 29, 2023 at 6:35am
As a seasoned traveler, I have a duty to share some of the knowledge I've gleaned from hard experience. I mean, I could have learned from others' advice and mistakes, but who the hell reads other peoples' travel advice?

So, today's tidbit:

Never ask the hotel front desk for a dining recommendation.

There are several good reasons for this, which in hindsight are obvious, but I had to learn the hard way.

First, regional tastes vary widely. Be wary of weird dishes with unnatural ingredients, especially when traveling in the American Midwest.

Also, even if the locals eat something approaching normal for you, the receptionist will inevitably be trying to help out their cousin's ex-spouse's kid from a previous marriage, who runs a nearby restaurant, and runs it badly.

Every time I violate this rule, thinking, I don't know, maybe the previous dozen instances were anomalies, I regret it.

One time, for instance, I got directed to the only Chinese restaurant in town, which had the distinction of being the absolute worst Chinese food I've ever eaten. Which is an accomplishment, I suppose.

Another example, from central Missouri (pronounced "Misery"): "You're in luck! There's a truly excellent diner just a few doors down!" So I go to the diner, and it's clean enough, and the workers are really pleasant, but when I got my food it was half undercooked and half overcooked, and how does that even work?

Or last night, when I got sent to a sports bar that wasn't supposed to close for another two hours, but they acted put out by taking my order and, as I was eating, destroyed my senses of smell and taste with industrial-strength cleaning fluid while doing their closing chores. Well, at least I knew they took cleaning seriously, which is more than I could say for some restaurants.

So instead, just do what normal people do and consult Google. Sure, it can lead you astray, too, but it's more reliable than hotel desk clerks.

Or, I suppose, you can just find a nearby chain restaurant, but then, what's the point of traveling?
November 28, 2023 at 12:58am
November 28, 2023 at 12:58am
I'll be on the road for some unknown amount of time tomorrow [edit: I meant today. I'm writing this before I go to sleep, so tomorrow is today and today is totally tomorrow, while yesterday is but a fading memory as usual], stopping who knows where, so I figured I'd get in this last entry before traveling.

Speaking of traveling, here are some places none of us will ever go (probably):

    In the Milky Way’s Stars, a History of Violence  
Our galaxy's stars keep a record of its past. By reading those stories, astronomers are learning more about how the Milky Way came to be — and about the galaxy we live in today.

The amazing thing is that we can figure any of this out at all. It's been barely a century since we learned that there's more to the universe than our familiar galaxy, the discovery of which leads the linked article.

Late in the evening of October 5, 1923, Edwin Hubble sat at the eyepiece of the Hooker telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory, atop the mountains overlooking the Los Angeles basin.

Visiting that telescope was the highlight of my trip to L.A. last year.

One might think, "What use is a telescope in L.A.?" Well, one, it's on a pretty high mountain and, two, I don't think the area was quite as smoggy or light-polluted a hundred years ago.

With the cleaving of the cosmos into a home galaxy and a larger universe, the study of our finite home — and how it exists within that universe — could begin in earnest.

I mean, sure, it was a paradigm shift much like the heliocentric model of the solar system centuries earlier, and a Big Deal, but it's not like we hadn't been studying the stars.

The latest results, amassed over the past four years, are now painting a picture of our home as a unique place, at a unique time.

To recap, the history of our thinking about our place in the universe went something like:

1) We're special and everything revolves around us.
2) We're not that special and not the center of the universe.
3) The universe is unimaginably big, and we're a rounding error.
4) Wait, maybe we are special.

We have been lucky, it seems, to live near a particularly quiet star on the calm fringes of a middle-aged, oddly tilted, loosely spiraling galaxy that has been largely left alone for most of its existence.

As regular readers know, I'm not discounting the power of luck, but if those conditions hadn't been relatively stable, we wouldn't be here to congratulate ourselves on our luck.

From the Earth’s surface — if you are somewhere very dark — you can only see the bright stripe of the Milky Way’s galactic disk, edge-on. But the galaxy we live in is so much more complicated.

It's getting harder and harder to find a place where you can see that. Oh, incidentally, it's called the Milky Way because of its appearance to the eye: a pale streak, like a road ("way.") It's translated from Latin's "via lactea," which, like a lot of things in Rome, came from Greek: galaxías kýklos. Hence "galaxy." Point being that the word, now applied to collections of stars all across the universe, shares a root with "milk" words like lactose and lactate.

I mention this simply because I find it amusing, if horribly mammal-centric.

A supermassive black hole churns at its center, surrounded by the “bulge,” a knot of stars containing some of the galaxy’s oldest stellar denizens.

Good to know it's not just middle-aged people who develop a "bulge."

Another digression: black holes have a scary reputation, like they're going to eat everything around them. And they do, but only up to a certain distance. Past that distance, they work just like any other massive object; you could orbit a black hole for a very long time, in the same way the Earth has been orbiting the sun for a very long time without showing any signs of falling in.

Next comes the “thin disk” — the structure we can see — where most of the Milky Way’s stars, including the sun, are partitioned into gargantuan spiraling arms.

One thing I've never been really clear on is how the spiral arms formed or are maintained.

While the article doesn't shed much light (pun intended) on that, it does go into the latest observations and theories about our galaxy's structure and how it got here.

And it's all very fascinating, at least to me, but I don't have much to comment on the rest of the article except to note that, given all the paradigm shifts we've already seen in cosmology, I'd expect more. And I look forward to it.
November 27, 2023 at 9:16am
November 27, 2023 at 9:16am
Here's a link from a source I don't think I've ever featured before, The Collector.

    What Happened to the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World?  
Ancient authors speak of seven incredible feats of human achievement which we call the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but what happened to them?

Ancient Western authors, so the list was necessarily limited in geographical scope.

I'm going to abbreviate them as SWAW sometimes, because I'm lazy.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were a collection of buildings admired as feats of beauty and human engineering.

"Human engineering" could mean two different things; in this case, probably "engineered by humans" rather than "making it so humans do what you want them to do."

The list includes the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, the Statue of Zeus from Olympia, the Colossus of Rhodes, Alexandria’s Pharos or Great Lighthouse, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

I think it's also important to note that "ancient authors" made little distinction between fiction and truth, much like postmodernists today. If some old Greek dude said that there was a giant statue of Dionysus straddling the strait between Italy and Sicily, that needs to be backed up by archaeological evidence, or at least a couple more primary sources.

Pretty sure most of these are thus confirmed. Most.

1. The Great Pyramid of Giza: The Only Ancient Wonder Still Standing

One advantage of a pyramid is low center of gravity: hard to topple. Still, the pyramids are pale shadows of their original forms.

The Pyramids are the crowning glory of the Giza Necropolis and originally gleamed in shining white limestone with golden capstones. They served as tombs for the Pharaohs and were invested with intense religious symbolism, although the exact nature of that symbolism still divides scholars, and acted as a statement of the Pharaoh’s power over the materials and manpower needed to create them.

This uncertainty has led to all manner of wild-ass speculation, most of which has no basis in reality. Perhaps the worst such speculation is that aliens built them, because some people seem to have to believe that humans aren't capable of such feats.

2. Mausoleum of Halicarnassus

This is the one I always forget when someone pop-quizzes me on the SWAW. Probably because "Halicarnassus" is a mouthful.

The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was built at the city of Halicarnassus on the Western coast of modern-day Turkey in the mid-4th century BCE for the Carian king Mausolus and his family.

Oh... so that's the etymology of "mausoleum."

As will become a trend with the wonders, we do not actually know how it fell to ruin. It was still standing in the Roman period, but at some point in the following millennium it fell into disrepair. No sources describe how or why this happened.

Entropy wins. Entropy always wins.

3. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

Artemis was the Greek goddess of the hunt and had strong associations with the moon and female youth, which earned her high regard across the Greek world.

The lunar association came later, I think.

The Temple of Artemis was actually three temples built and destroyed at separate times. The date of the construction of the first temple is unknown, but we do know that it was destroyed by a flood in the 7th century BCE. It was rebuilt larger with slight design changes soon after, only to burn down in 356 BCE due to arson by a man named Herostratus.

Calls to mind Swamp Castle from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

You'd think that they'd learn something from repeated destruction of a temple. Possible lessons:

a) the gods exist but don't care;
b) the gods exist and hate temples being built to them; or
c) the gods don't exist.

In any of those cases, why build temples and such?

This was around the time of the birth of Alexander the Great in Macedonia and Plutarch relates one story that said the temple burned because the gods were distracted by his arrival into the world.

But no, we just continue to make up stories and reasons.

4. Statue of Zeus at Olympia

From the drawing of this in the article, it seems like this was the main inspiration for the marble Lincoln in Washington, DC.

The statue was made of wood covered in gold and ivory plates and stood at 14m tall, although it must be noted that Zeus was seated on a similarly massive throne, so the figure itself was considerably larger than the height suggests.

"We don't have the budget for a solid gold statue. You think Zeus would notice if we used gold-plated wood?"

It’s as if the Statue of Zeus simply faded away into history and historians are still at a loss over what became of it.


5. Colossus of Rhodes

I'm not certain if this was the explicit inspiration for the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, but Emma Lazarus made the connection.

This was a massive 33m tall bronze statue of the traditional Greek god of the sun and patron of Rhodes, Helios, which towered over the harbor of the maritime nation.

People like to compare the heights of everything to said Statue of Liberty (yes, I know that's not its official name), which is 46 meters, plinth to torch. While it's not surprising that an industrial-age construct could be bigger than one in ancient Greece, well, like I said, just making the comparison.

In 226 BCE, just 54 years after its completion, a devastating earthquake sent the Colossus toppling to the ground. Despite being offered help to rebuild it by the Ptolemies of Egypt, Rhodes interpreted its destruction as a sign of divine disfavor and never repaired it.

See? Rhodes (a tiny island in the Mediterranean) figured it out.

Like the other ancient wonders, there was no definitive final moment, but a slow death as the once-great icon of Rhodes became too unimportant to even warrant a clear record of its fate.

Another metaphor!

6. Lighthouse of Alexandria (Pharos)

Situated on the island of Pharos, which is also the ancient name of the lighthouse, it was perfectly placed to serve Alexandria’s bustling maritime industry.

The French translation of "lighthouse" is Phare, which apparently traces its origin to Pharos. What's not clear to me is if there's a linguistic connection between Phare/Pharos and Pharaoh. The latter is usually translated as "great house," so... maybe? I can't be arsed to look into it further today.

The soaring 100m tall structure...

So, just over two Statues of Liberty.

It was one of several incredible monuments that defined the city, including the famous Library of Alexandria and the Tomb of Alexander the Great.

Still salty about the destruction of the former. As for the latter, well, one shouldn't treat Marvel's Moon Knight as historically accurate.

7. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Remember I said something up there about having to be supported by archaeological evidence?

Lastly, we have the most challenging wonder of all: the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Why are they a challenge? Because they might never have existed in the first place.

The article explains this in further detail.

Therefore, we cannot say anything concrete about the Gardens or what befell them.

Get it? Concrete?

Babylon’s fall from a mighty ancient city to an insignificant village so minor that its location was considered lost for centuries echoes the same theme as the fate of the other wonders: no matter how wonderful, elaborate, or famous something is, time will lay it low.

Ozymandias nods knowingly.

Attempts have been made over the intervening centuries to compile new Seven Wonders, because seven is, I don't know, numerologically significant? Or at least historically.

We'll see if any last as long as the Pyramids (sort of) have.
November 26, 2023 at 10:14am
November 26, 2023 at 10:14am
Today we look at something from four years ago: December 1, 2019. Some context: I'd just had a very productive November blogging with 30DBC, and this was me going back to my default format of looking at some kind of link. After that December 1 entry, I would go on to write four more entries, then take a nine-day break while traveling—which was, though I didn't expect it at the time, or plan for it, my last break so far. That's right; I'm only about half a month away from four years of daily blog entries. I'm traveling again soon, but this time, if I miss a day without warning, that means something terrible, awful and/or horrible has happened to me, and you should mourn and/or celebrate. (Though keep in mind that an entry could happen at any time during the day, and it might be a short one.)

Enough context and digression. Here's the entry: "So Much Winning. It's commentary on an article that asserts that it turns out money can indeed "buy happiness." The linked article, from Vox, is still available.  

Over the last four years, I've addressed the concept of happiness a few times, and, at least once, I've tackled the persistent myth that big lottery jackpot winners necessarily become miserable. I won't be digging those up today, so it's possible that I'm repeating myself, as is common because I never really remember what I wrote or when I wrote it.

First: I note that no one "liked" or commented on that entry, though I know people saw it (page views are provided to writers here). The surrounding entries received some responses; it was just this one provoking radio silence. I'm not salty about it, and I'm not complaining; I appreciate feedback, but I don't beg for it, and I don't get depressed if I don't get any. Just stating facts. And that's not going to stop me from writing about it again today.

Second: As noted, it's been four years, and there was at least one society-altering event between then and now. So my views have changed somewhat.

As it doesn't seem to be a popular topic, I'm only going to look at a few brief excerpts from that entry.

Gosh, when your sample set includes a significant number of people who are, by definition, not good with money, maybe there's some implicit bias going on?

In retrospect, this looks like I'm ragging on lottery players. I gamble in other ways (pretty sure I hared off to Vegas shortly after writing that), so no, I'm not ragging on lottery players in general. Being "not good with money" isn't meant to be an insult. I think I was just trying to point out the selection bias in studies like that. If you're not good with money, that doesn't make you a bad person, but getting a large windfall isn't going to suddenly turn you into someone who is good with money.

In my defense, I did note this in the following paragraph.

"Money doesn't buy happiness." "Money isn't everything." There might be grains of truth in such sayings, but mostly these homilies and others like them are designed to appeal to people who don't have a lot of money, and to keep them from rising up in revolt against the rich. We'll see how long that'll work.

At least four years.

And I maintain that anyone who seriously thinks that money doesn't buy happiness hasn't experienced the joys of drinking really good whiskey. That shit is not cheap, but it is a font of happiness.

I think my current iteration of this sentiment is: "Anyone who thinks that money doesn't buy happiness has never had really good scotch." Which, of course, is a personal thing for me; not everyone likes scotch.

That bit leads me to some musings about "happiness" in general, because what makes me happy isn't necessarily going to make you happy, or vice-versa. Happiness studies, in my view, have some major inherent and inescapable flaws.

One flaw is that they're either objective, or subjective. I know I've been saying life isn't binary, and it's not, but consider this:

An objective study has to use some metric to define happiness. But, newsflash, people are different, and any such metric would have to take that into account.

A study with some element of subjectivity would, perhaps, ask people to self-report their level of contentment with their life situation. Like a doctor's 1-10 pain scale, only for not-pain. Perhaps 1 is "completely unhappy" while 10 is "absolute nirvana" or whatever.

The problem is that, say you find two people in similar socioeconomic circumstances: same marital status, similar earning power, same number of kids (0 is a number), roughly the same level of health, etc. One might report a 3 because they've fallen from a higher standard of living, while the other reports an 8, as their situation represents several steps up from the hellhole in which they spent their early life.

As a further complication, some people simply cannot be happy unless the people around them are miserable, or at least, they can't consider themselves as having "won life" (ugh) unless other people lose at it.

Happiness, then, is subjective, situational, and personal.

Consequently, I don't know how you'd design a happiness study whose results would apply to everyone. Interview people in a bar, and you'll find that happiness is proportional to access to booze. Sample church attendees, and you might conclude that religion makes people happier (I'm sure it does in some cases, but not in others). Introverts are going to give different answers from extroverts. Ask married people, and... well, okay, in that case, you'll probably get a wide range.

Bottom line, in terms of today's featured entry from the past, is that a windfall will increase happiness for some, and decrease it for others. I just don't see how you can make broad, sweeping generalizations about what any given individual needs to do to help themselves find happiness.

So my last paragraph still holds true:

I do know that I wouldn't mind being a test case. You know. Just to be sure. I just can't bring myself to play the lottery with any kind of regularity (it's been many years since I actually bought a ticket), so I'll never find out.
November 25, 2023 at 10:04am
November 25, 2023 at 10:04am
Destiny, fate, and doom are roughly synonymous with each other. Only doom, however, conveys the appropriate sense of impending ruination.

I used to think that "doom" was etymologically related to "damn," but this is why we look things up instead of going with our initial guesses.

Not only is dangerous sea level rise “absolutely guaranteed”, but it will keep rising for centuries or millennia even if the world stopped emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow, experts say.

Oi! You're not supposed to tell them that. It makes people wonder why they're bothering to do anything.

Rising seas are one of the most severe consequences of a heating climate that are already being felt.

Okay, but at least we know where that impact will be felt: near sea level. Other consequences can and will (and do) hit anywhere.

To stop the acceleration of sea level rise over the past century, Bamber says, we would have to go back to pre-industrial temperatures.

And the only way that's going to happen is if humanity gets (at least mostly) wiped out. Which, despite the confident claims of people even more pessimistic than I am, climate change probably won't do that by itself.

“The thing about sea level rise is that it is absolutely guaranteed,” Bamber says. “If you warm the planet, sea level is going to go up, period, no caveats. The oceans warm up and the ice melts. It’s an absolute given of global heating.”

Simple solution: build a space elevator. Better yet, build two, one in each of the major oceans. Use them to suck up the excess water and release it into space. As a bonus, Earth will finally get that set of rings it's jealous of Saturn for having.

The impact is hard to gauge because the ocean does not rise at the same speed uniformly, it’s not like a bath. For one thing, Earth is not a perfect sphere; temperatures are also different across the planet, and are affected by ocean currents.

This sort of thing, which I found out about long before reading this article, took me a while to wrap my head around. I mean, sea level is sea level, right? Sure, tides, yeah, but you can average those out and the result should be the same datum for every coast, right?


I think, but I'm not completely sure, that I came to this realization while learning about the Suez Canal. What? Don't look at me like that; I'm a civil engineer and, for once, I was learning about something actually related to my career. Apparently, originally, the Suez Canal flowed one way in summer and the other in winter, due to seasonal differences in sea level between the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

Point is, as the article notes, many different factors contribute to sea level at any given location.

So how bad could things get? Again, it’s hard to predict exactly, but the IPCC has tried its hand at modelling different scenarios for how high sea levels will rise by 2100, based on how well humanity succeeds in mitigating the climate crisis.

I'll make a prediction, too: I predict that, in 2100, if things aren't as bad as the worst-case scenario, some people will gleefully point at the prediction from 2023 and say, "See? Look! Things aren't nearly as bad as they predicted. We did all that for nothing!" And then they'll book themselves a scuba trip to the ruins of Old New Orleans.

“[Where] it’s going to make a huge difference [is] not for us, but for our children’s children. That’s the difficult thing to get your head around.”

And that's why we won't do nearly enough: the people who can actually make a difference only look at quarterly earnings over the next year or so, or the next election in 2-6 years.
November 24, 2023 at 8:37am
November 24, 2023 at 8:37am
Today's article isn't going to turn anyone into an expert. Perhaps it provides more approachable metaphors for concepts entirely alien to our experience. From Scientific American, though I'll note it's "opinion" and not "fact:"

On the face of it, however, the quantum realm is extraordinary: Within it, quantum objects can be “in two places at once”; they can move through barriers; and share a connection no matter how far apart they are.

What someone needs to do now is write a quantum romance novel. "Edith, we share a connection no matter how far apart we are." "Katy, I would tunnel through a barrier to reach you." "Now that I have the quantum power to be in two places at once, I can have my Kate and Edith, too!"

Sigh. I guess that someone will have to be me.

Compared to what you would expect of, say, a tennis ball, their properties are certainly weird and counterintuitive.

The truly weird and counterintuitive part is that those properties are (as far as we know) the fundamental reality, while our balls possess emergent properties that we've evolved to be able to understand. This doesn't make macroscopic reality an illusion, however.

But don’t let this scare you off!

Nah, it's usually the math that scares people off. Fear not; there's none in the article, or in this entry.

Much of quantum physics’ odd behavior becomes a lot less surprising if you stop thinking of atoms and electrons as minuscule tennis balls, and instead imagine any “quantum object” as something like a wave you create by pushing your hand through water. You could say that, at small scales, everything is made of waves.

One emergent property seems to be stuff. Matter, I mean. Which doesn't mean quantum physics doesn't matter.

Imagine throwing a tennis ball. If we wanted to, we could track the ball’s exact position and velocity throughout its flight.

Not only that, but we can predict its path to any accuracy we want, using classical (Newtonian) physics. Well, at least, assuming it's a perfectly smooth and symmetrical sphere, moving through a vacuum. But who plays tennis in a vacuum?

The issue with subatomic particles isn't a matter of having to deal with difficult factors like air density or wind, though.

Strangely enough, if we were to shrink the ball down to the size of, say, an atom, this kind of tracking becomes impossible.

This is metaphorical. Despite what the MCU would have us believe, we can't shrink a collection of atoms down to the size of a single atom.

This limitation is called Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

And it led to one of my favorite puns: A plaque on a wall reading "Heisenberg may have slept here." I'm still salty that Breaking Bad ruined that pun because no one thinks of the physicist when they hear that name.

The article, of course, explains uncertainty with some certainty.

A quantum object can “be in two places at once” by being in a so-called superposition of states. Thinking about waves, this is no surprise. A wave can be in two places at once. If you send a wave down a forked channel, it will easily split and flow through both channels at the same time.

I'm not certain this is a helpful analogy. We think of such waves as separate entities after the split. Still, I'm no expert, and I understand they're trying to illuminate the counterintuitive. Just so long as we don't consider this an exact analogy, it's probably fine in terms of how to think about it without using math.

Again, more detail at the article, along with a nice salad dressing recipe.

Another seemingly peculiar feat of quantum objects is that with some probability they can pass through barriers. This is called tunneling.

I've known about this property for some time, and even done some of the math involved. What I'm not clear on is this: using their favored tennis ball analogy, what you have is a tennis ball and a wall. Both are macroscopic objects, made of matter, pretty much solid in our perception, each containing an incomprehensibly high number of atoms. But if you zoom in to atomic scale, you not only can't think of the atom as a tennis ball, but you can't think of the barrier as a collection of even smaller atoms making up a solid wall. I guess it's something to do with energy levels, but I could be wrong.

But physicists aren't unclear on this stuff. Just me. As before, it's an imperfect analogy.

In some cases, a water wave can move through a barrier just like a quantum particle, something you can demonstrate in your bathtub. To do so, build an underwater wall in the tub, one tall enough that it almost touches the water’s surface, but not quite. If you send a wave at this wall at a glancing angle, it will always bounce back from the wall. This is analogous to so-called total internal reflection of light rays.

I have better things to do in the bathtub.

Incidentally, however, this is part of the physics behind fiber optics.

The same phenomenon of “broken” total internal reflection, but with light rays instead of water waves, is used in certain types of touch screen displays.

And those.

Anyway, the last bit of the article talks about one example of this analogy not working. But to break your mind even further, when physicists talk about waves at the quantum level, it's my (limited) understanding that what they're really talking about is a probability wave.

Which goes back to mystifying the whole thing.
November 23, 2023 at 10:04am
November 23, 2023 at 10:04am
Inspired again by "Andre The Blog Monkey's Banana Bar [18+], because, here in the US, whatever else is commemorated today gets overshadowed by a national holiday, I wanted to highlight a few other observances that fall on November 23 every year, or happen to fall on November 23 this year.

First, let's get the turkey in the room out of the way:

Unthanksgiving Day   and Turkey-Free Thanksgiving.  

The first link, there, provides a good bit of detail about Unthanksgiving. In brief, it's also known as The Indigenous Peoples Sunrise Ceremony, and it takes place on Alcatraz on the fourth Thursday in November. Now, I can't claim Native American heritage, and it's against my principles to do anything but sleep at sunrise (especially in that time zone, which, if my luck holds out, I'll enter in a couple of weeks), but I appreciate that it happens. The history of it is absolutely worth reading.

In contrast, no information is provided for the second link, except for its name and that it also coincides with US Thanksgiving. There's another link to follow in there, but I can't be arsed. My only comment on it is that if you're thinking "tofurkey," please stop that.

Some of these "holidays" for the year seem to be made up by kids. In the case of Wolfenoot  , it actually was made up by a kid. It's always on November 23, so it won't always coincide with US Thanksgiving; nor was it, as you might infer from the name, created in the US. According to that link, "Wolfnoot[sic] is a 'celebration of canines, kindness, and humans who embrace both.' Showing kindness to animals, especially to wolves and dogs, is an important part of the day."

I mean, technically, wolves are lupines, but even I tend to cut 7-year-olds some slack when it comes to technicalities. I'm more of a cat person, as you know, but I still like the idea of this holiday. Except for the social media aspects, as detailed at the link.

Another one always observed on November 23 is Eat a Cranberry Day.   I'd love to, but sadly, Dolores O'Riordan   is no longer with us. Nootch!

Confession time: I'd originally thought to make this entire entry about Fibonacci Day.   Like Pi Day (3/14), it's a mathematical pun, and we all know I can't resist those; it's right there in the name of the blog. Instead, I'll keep it brief in the interest of keeping people reading: The Fibonacci Sequence (or Series), which is important in the branch of mathematics known as number theory, begins with 1,1,2,3... And since today is 11/23, well... you know. You get the next number in the series by adding together the previous two; hence, the next number in the series is 5. So maybe I'll raise a glass in celebration at 5pm. Or maybe not; more likely, I'll be napping then.

There are other observances this day, but the last one I want to highlight is of great personal relevance to Me, which makes it the Most Important: Doctor Who Day.   It, too, always takes place on November 23, because that's the Gregorian calendar anniversary of the airing of the first episode, back in 1963. Math-inclined readers may notice that this year's is significant because it's the 60th anniversary. Even more astute readers will note that the first episode aired the day after JFK was assassinated; somewhat famously, that first programme (look, it's British, so I'll use their spelling) was interrupted by ongoing coverage of that event, a big deal even in England.

The personal relevance, though, is only that I was introduced to the show, in syndication here in the US, when I was a kid, and immediately loved it. And still do, in all its regenerations. Not as much as Star Trek, maybe, but one must remember that, at the time, the only Star Trek was reruns of the Original Series, and a few episodes of the possibly non-canonical Animated Series (which is severely underrated). Apart from the movies, new Trek wouldn't come to be until 1987, so I got my SF fix from Doctor Who in the meantime. (The BBC missed a grand opportunity by not making "Doctor Who: The Next Regeneration." Don't look at me like that; they pun more than I do.) Like many people around my age, to me, Tom Baker will always be The Doctor—though I appreciate what other actors brought to the role, especially Tennant.

So of all the things to celebrate today, for me, I think it's going to be that one.

November 22, 2023 at 10:00am
November 22, 2023 at 10:00am
Today's entry isn't random, but inspired by "Andre The Blog Monkey's Banana Bar [18+]... today, the day before Thanksgiving in the US, and two days before Black Friday, we celebrate:

What's Blackout Wednesday? Well, you could just click on the link to find out. But for lazy folks:

Blackout Wednesday, sometimes referred to as Drinksgiving, takes place the night before Thanksgiving Day, and in some parts of the United States is one of the biggest drinking and party nights of the year. Many college students come back to their hometown for Thanksgiving, and go to bars the night before...

So, considering all the posts I do in here about fine fermented and/or distilled beverages, one might be forgiven for thinking that this is my kind of holiday.

It is not.

Not that I have any objections, mind. While I'm not above being a hypocrite, just like everyone else, I do make a conscious effort not to be. I remember college drinking culture (which probably means I didn't participate in it enough), and if I say I've never been blackout drunk, a condition I have labeled "danchu," which turned out to be a Mandarin Chinese word for "fade to black," as in a movie, I'd be lying.

I'm not above lying, either—I am, occasionally, a fiction writer—but I take drinking too seriously to deliberately make stuff up about it in nonfiction settings.

All of which is to say that I'm not judging anyone (unless they drive drunk, which I do get judgemental about), but Drinksgiving just isn't my thing.

There are several days on the official calendar—as opposed to the unofficial and mostly promotional calendar that I've linked to a few times this month, including today—that are devoted to drinking. These include such celebrations as St. Patrick's Day or Cinco de Mayo, as well as the more universal New Year's Eve.

I call them "amateur nights," and try to stay off the roads. Not because I'm drinking (necessarily), but because amateurs are.

And Drinksgiving is the ultimate Amateur Night; as the link demonstrates, it's all about college students (most of whom are still too young to drink legally in the US, but that's another issue and one I'm not getting into right now) coming home and drinking together. It's one thing to be a middle-aged occasional binge-drinker; it's quite another to have little to no experience with alcohol's effects.

Like I said, though, I was once one of those college students, so I understand, just like I understand why little kids play pretend or vroom model airplanes around.

Hell, I'm also a gamer, so I might even understand those things better.

It's widely known that with adulthood comes responsibility. While I, personally, avoid that as much as possible, college students are in that liminal space between other people being responsible for them, and them being responsible for themselves and others. Also, taste hasn't been altered by adulthood, yet, so there's less emphasis on what you're drinking than on simply getting danchu.

For instance, I had not yet developed my snobbery about drinking quality beverages; for my 21st birthday, I did 21 shots of Jose Cuervo, which is technically tequila in a way analogous to how Coors Light is technically beer—that is to say, it meets the arbitrary requirements, but still sucks.

As an aside, when I was in college, fermented beverages were legal for those 19 and older; they passed the law raising it to 21 on the day I turned 19 (and it didn't take effect until that July), so I was grandfathered in on beer and wine. Hence my 21st birthday hard liquor celebration.

I'm rambling, though, and I haven't even started drinking yet. My real point, here, is to dispel any misunderstandings about why I drink. Creating a really good beverage—that is, beer, wine, tequila, gin, or cocktail, e.g., is an art form, and I appreciate the art. Getting danchu is a bit like running a race through an art museum: you miss out on what is, to me, the best part of the experience, maybe glancing at the paintings and sculptures but without the time or inclination to really appreciate them, in favor of crossing that finish line.

I've noted before that many people, especially Americans (the only nationality I have great familiarity with, being one myself), don't have a middle ground. Either something is awesome, or it sucks. You either refrain from smoking weed, or you're a stoner. Either you're a teetotaler, or you're an alcoholic.

I reject that binary and live in the middle.

That is what I refer to as an alcohol-positive lifestyle: to acknowledge the downsides, while still enjoying the benefits. I guess that's part of the whole "responsibility" thing.

So, in brief, no, I won't be celebrating Drinksgiving or Blackout Wednesday or whatever you want to call it. But I'm also not going to rail against it. And I do have some fine craft beer to drink this afternoon... in moderation.

Not going to stop me from polishing off that entire bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau tomorrow, though. So in celebration of Thanksgiving, allow me to trot out my now-five-year-old Thanksgiving-themed poem:

Alcohol, Hookers, and Blow  (18+)
A Thanksgiving thanks giving
#2175291 by Robert Waltz
November 21, 2023 at 9:35am
November 21, 2023 at 9:35am
Three randoms about luck in a row. Must be a lucky streak.

    How to Get Lucky: The Secrets to Creating Your Own Good Fortune  
Think getting lucky is all about, well, luck? Think again. Those who appear to “run lucky” just might be engineering fortune in their favor.

This one's from GQ, and I have some issues. Wait, no, I don't have any issues of GQ. I mean I have complaints.

Some guys seem to have all the luck. A perfect career, a perfect partner, a perfect life.

"Seem to have" is the key phrase here. You never know what inner battles he's fighting. (I excuse the gendered language because the outlet's target audience is men. I think they switched to GQ because it's no longer quarterly, not because "gentleman" is offensive. But I'm not sure.)

When they’re not sitting next to a book publisher on a flight, they’re discovering a vintage Burberry trench in the thrift store around the corner from your apartment. It’s unbelievable. It’s annoying.

The only thing annoying here is "your" jealousy and "your" need to compare yourself to others.

Their luck seems random—and these days, thanks to social media, it seems like everybody’s getting lucky but you.

Again, "seems" is key. In both parts of the sentence. The article is from 2018, but social media is still here, and on it, there's a selection bias whereby you mostly see the awesome stuff (unless they have a GoFundMe they want you to contribute to).

That’s because luck isn’t something that happens to you; it’s something that happens because of you.

And this is where I lose my shit.

"Why? Isn't that affirming? Isn't that good news to us unlucky schlubs who can't seem to catch a break, to know that we actually have the agency to become lucky?"


Because 1) it's not true and 2) the corollary to "luck is something that happens because of you" is "if bad things happen to you, it's your fault."

Say, for instance, your spouse cheats on you. What would you rather hear? "That sucks," or "You could have been a better partner?"

Your leg gets run over by a truck. Wrong place, wrong time? Or was it your fault for not choosing a better place to be?

Mind you, I'm not saying we can't stack the deck. You can be pretty sure you won't get killed by a shark if you never go near the water (your chances of being killed by a shark on land are low, but never zero). Hygiene and grooming go a long way when it comes to making an impression on others. And you can certainly plan for certain eventualities, like being sure to have roadside assistance lined up before going on a road trip, just in case.

In other words, your house burning down is bad luck. You having insurance so you can rebuild is planning... but even that requires that you be lucky enough to live in a place that offers that, have the means to pay for it, and have it available.

Let's look at one more passage from the intro:

Make a few tweaks to the way you approach opportunities that arise in your daily life and you too can become one of the savvy and brave people capable of making their own lucky breaks happen.

And then, if you don't get lucky, we all know you just didn't try hard enough.

From the interview portion of the article:

GQ: You’ve written that there is a “physics” to luck, since all of life is a matter of cause and effect. What do you mean by that?
Tina Seelig: We live in a world where every single choice you make has consequences.

Invoking physics into this is an insult to actual physics.

So what are those behaviors you can practice to attract luck?
One is showing appreciation.

That's not attracting luck; that's getting on others' good sides.

The other is taking risks. Go up and say hello to somebody you don’t know...

One wonders if this interviewee has ever been approached by someone who doesn't know her, say, on the NYC subway.

And finally:

Right. I also think it’s really important to distinguish between fortune, chance and luck. People don’t distinguish between them.

That's because they're actually synonyms, though it's true they can have different connotations. For example, "a fortune" is not the same thing as "fortune," though most people with a fortune are considered fortunate, but you don't have to be rich to be fortunate, and someone reading your fortune might note that you'll never amass one.

Fortune is things that are outside of your control, things that happen to you.


That is what luck is.

Chance is something you have to do; I have to take a chance.


Chance is accident. You find a $20 on the sidewalk by chance (though you did prepare for that by looking down instead of up). You run into an old friend at a bar in another town by chance.

Luck is something where you have even more agency. You make your own luck by identifying and developing opportunities in advance.

And absolutely, positively, NO.

So, okay, is my basic objection to the thrust of this article based merely on a semantic argument?

No, I don't think so. However you want to define your terms, there are some things we simply don't have agency over. While it's probably true that you won't win a lottery jackpot if you don't buy a ticket (as with shark killings on land, chances are low but never zero), if you do possess a ticket, you have absolutely no control over the winning numbers. You have absolutely no control over the genetic hand you've been dealt. You have absolutely no control over what your early upbringing was like. You *do* have at least the illusion of control over how you play your cards, and that can make a big difference in your life.

Let me close with an example from popular culture: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Of course it's a story and it proceeded as the writers wished, but consider it a parable of sorts.

As you know, Wonka hid Golden Tickets in candy, the winner of which would get a tour. Now, there's some debate over whether the tickets were truly distributed randomly, or, like McDonald's Monopoly pieces, predestined. But everyone assumed it was random and acted as such, so from their point of view, it might as well have been.

I'll just focus on two of the approaches used to acquire the coveted Golden Ticket: First, Veruca Salt, who demanded that her father buy every available Wonka bar and have his horde of employees peel them looking for the ticket. This is the "hard work" mentality, the idea that the more you do, the better your chance of reward. Sure, Salt had minions doing the actual work, but the result is the same.

This is, absolutely, a valid way to go about it from a mathematical (if not humanitarian) perspective. The more candy bars you buy, the better your odds of winning the prize.

Of course, you're not supposed to like Veruca Salt, because she's a spoiled brat. (I met Julie Dawn Cole a few years ago, though, and she was a thorougly pleasant person.)

You are supposed to like Charlie Bucket, who lacks the resources of Salt and the work ethic of her father's wage slaves. And because Charlie's featured in the movie, you know he's going to end up with a ticket, but his approach is: buy the one bar you can afford, and hope for the best.

Thing is, moral lessons aside, both methods—hard work, exemplified by the army of minions peeling bars, and blind luck, exemplified by Charlie's fortunate find—worked equally well. And yet, we're supposed to hate the one who did the hard work (okay, she made others do the hard work, but it was still hard work) and root for the one who just got lucky. Which is utterly backwards from the narrative we usually get fed.

Even the hard work involved an element of luck, because unless she purchased every single chocolate bar, there was never a guarantee, only better odds. Higher probability. Not to mention she already got lucky by being born into a wealthy family.

Didn't stop her from getting incinerated, though. And that bit really was her own fault.
November 20, 2023 at 9:11am
November 20, 2023 at 9:11am
I'm linking this article from Psychology Today mostly because I appreciate the author's choice of role models.

     The Great Resignation of Engagement  
5 lessons we can learn from The Boss

By The Boss, he means, of course, Springsteen.

If in doubt that we’ve become less engaged at work, consider a recent Gallup survey of almost 15,000 U.S. employees...

Note to writers: I find that leading off with statistics, polls, or other numerical data is a good way to lose readers. I'd have stopped there if I wasn't promised a Bruce connection, and I'm a numbers guy.

A few weeks ago, I found an answer in the unlikeliest of places: at Circo Massimo in Rome. This answer doesn’t come from the boss in your organization or another. It comes from The Boss—Bruce Springsteen—who my wife and I saw, along with 60,000 other people, at his recent concert near our home in Italy.

Springsteen's maternal grandfather was an Italian immigrant to the US, so I'm willing to bet Italy was a pretty awesome concert. Oh, what am I saying; they're all awesome concerts. I'm way past the "be part of a crowd of 60,000," though. Hell, that's more people than the population of my city.

Here are five lessons I learned from The Boss that I’ve already started applying to become more engaged...

1. Allow your passion to evolve with you. What stood out for me the most at Circo Massimo is that Springsteen is 73 years old and still has his passion.

74 as of this writing. Now, my inner cynic (who takes up most of the space in there) objected to this with "yeah, right, pay me like Springsteen and I'll be passionate." But for once, I squelched the bastard. I'm sure the guy's acquired enough assets to have comfortably retired, and never have to work again, unlike, say, Leonard Cohen, who had to tour in his old age because his financial advisors "lost" all his money for him.

No, remember what I said about luck, yesterday? He knew what he loved early on (music), he possessed the talent and drive to pursue it (I love music, but I have no talent for it), and he was in the right place at the right time to capitalize on that.

Yet, for most of the first two hours, he played more recent songs from his vast catalog, from the past 15 years when the popularity of his albums could not really stand up to the massive response to his earlier work, and not that many people at the concert seemed to be familiar with them.

But his first two albums were commercial flops at the time. When he exploded into world consciousness with Born To Run, that was not the result of evolving passion so much as a deliberate stylistic change to appeal to a wider audience. I remember reading in, I think it was Dave Marsh's biography of Bruce, that he set out to write "the greatest rock and roll album of all time." Once firmly set in fame and fortune, he was able to pursue more personal projects, ones which didn't have the same mass appeal.

Point being, no, I don't think this is good career advice for working stiffs. (What's that, Inner Cynic? Oh, yeah: "Give the people what they want, get rich, and then do what you love.")

2. Don’t go through life—grow through life. “Have you ever seen someone play for three hours like this, without a break?” I asked my wife this as we were driving home from the concert.

Long sets are a hallmark of a Springsteen concert. Three hours means he's definitely slowing down. In the glory days (pun intended) of the 1980s, I attended a couple of 4+ hour shows. Even the concerts I went to in the noughties were quite long, though I didn't time them. Point being, how is that "growth?"

3. Show up as you are. Springsteen did a prelude to his song “Last Man Standing” in which he talked about George Theiss, who was dating his sister and invited him to audition for his band. Bruce went out, at 15 years old, and ended up playing with the Castiles for three years.

I'm not sure this section is very coherent. Also "show up as you are" might work for rock and roll or IT positions; the rest of us have dress codes and such.

The rest of the article continues along the same track.

In terms of role models, we can do worse. I'm just not sure this professor (that's a pun, too, because the author is a university professor, and Springsteen's longtime keyboard player, Roy Bittan, was nicknamed "The Professor," and now that I've explained it, it's lame) is drawing the appropriate conclusions.

We can't all just "do what we love" through life and be successful. If you can, if you have, well... that's luck.

And, lucky for me, it worked for Bruce.

And I had some victory that was just failure in deceit
Now the joke's comin' up through the soles of my feet
I been a long time walking on fortune's cane
Tonight I'm steppin' lightly and I'm feelin' no pain

Well here's to your good looks baby now here's to my health
Here's to the loaded places that we take ourselves
When it comes to luck you make your own
Tonight I got dirt on my hands but I'm building me a new home
November 19, 2023 at 8:56am
November 19, 2023 at 8:56am
It's time travel time, and the random entry I'll feature is from August of 2020: "On Merit

The article I discuss therein   is still up, from Aeon, apparently published in early 2019—the Before Time. It discusses how belief in meritocracy is not only false, but dangerously false.

And I don't think my views on the topic have changed in the past three years. What has happened in the intervening time is that I found, read, linked and commented on other articles that touched on the role of luck (as opposed to merit) in an individual's level of success. Though, as the article points out, "merit" is itself a product of luck: someone was born at the right time, with appropriate talent, and was raised in an environment that promoted use of that talent.

So what I want to say today comes from an experience I had yesterday evening.

Yesterday was quite pleasant for mid-November around here. Relatively warm temperatures continued on into the early evening, so I took my laptop outside to enjoy what's surely the season's last gasp of habitability outdoors. Thing is, I live about a mile and a half from UVA's football stadium, and it was Saturday, and there was a home game.

I know this because I heard pretty much every word the announcer said, every cheer, every drumbeat.

Now, if I made sustained noise that could be heard a mile and a half or more away, I'd be visited by cops. Understandable? Sure. Fair? Not so much.

Honestly, the noise didn't bother me that much. It's the principle of the thing that got me wondering. We put up with a lot of things to support Sacred Sports that simply wouldn't fly in other circumstances.

College athletes, from what I understand, don't get paid directly, though some go on to the NFL or whatever and pull down salaries that most of us can only dream of... all because their talent, experience, and physical parameters fit the needs of the sport. Work and practice are involved, sure, but almost every occupation requires work and practice.

But a belief in meritocracy might cause someone to believe that, by virtue of these elements, the athletes are more deserving of this measure of financial success than, say, math teachers. And the proof seems to be right there: athletes get paid more than math teachers, so their contribution to society must be proportionately greater. This is a circular argument.

"But, Waltz, a football player only has a decade or two to make bank, while math teachers can do their thing well into middle age and often beyond." Okay, fine, forget athletes; consider, instead, movie actors, rock stars, or some other profession of limited use to society compared to, say, teachers, civil engineers, or firefighters. I'm not knocking the individuals, here; you have the talent and experience, I don't blame you for squeezing every last dime out of leveraging your abilities. I don't follow sports, but I do get entertained by movie actors and musicians, and I appreciate their work. No, I'm questioning the idea that people get rewarded in accordance to their contribution to society.

Because they obviously don't.

And that's not even getting into systemic barriers to entry in many fields, with more opportunity still going to those groups who are historically privileged. I'll say this for sports: it's one way for someone without many other opportunities to achieve some measure of success.

There are, of course, other ways of measuring success besides money. But it's pretty damn obvious (from this and many other examples) that, in the world we live in, financial success isn't a measure of one's value.

Or, to quote from the original article one more time,

Although widely held, the belief that merit rather than luck determines success or failure in the world is demonstrably false. This is not least because merit itself is, in large part, the result of luck. Talent and the capacity for determined effort, sometimes called ‘grit’, depend a great deal on one’s genetic endowments and upbringing.

Another way to get rich is to win a lottery jackpot. We tend to view such people as "lucky," but it's just as lucky to be born into a place and time when your abilities are in high demand, and thus rewarded more.

In short, no, the world isn't fair. If it were, though, I'd be worried. As it is, we can work to make it less unfair, but I agree with the point made in the article: belief in meritocracy only makes it less fair.
November 18, 2023 at 8:49am
November 18, 2023 at 8:49am
Sometimes, science progresses because of happy accidents—scientists not intending to find something, but finding it anyway. Penicillin, for example, or X-rays.

But then there are the... not very happy accidents, for which Cracked has us covered.

Obviously, the upside is, if you can crack the case, you’re likely to have your name etched into the history books. The downside is, depending on your particular area of expertise, that same mysterious field of research might be destroying your body in ways you haven’t even learned about yet.

Oh, sure, that's great comfort as you die a painful death from something we didn't even know existed.

The usual disclaimer: I'm too lazy to fact-check these, but they track with what I already knew. Don't get your science (or history) from a dick joke site alone. Or from me, for that matter.

5. Louis Slotin

Remember that "upside" I quoted above? Well, I didn't know this guy's name, and science is something of an interest of mine.

Louis Slotin was one of the world’s top experts on nuclear weapons and the associated risks, having been a contributor to the Manhattan Project.

And it's not as if I hadn't heard of other people working on that. No, I didn't go see Oppenheimer. But I doubt anyone's going to make a movie called Slotin.

Slotin was working with a 14-pound hunk of plutonium that’s since earned the nickname “the demon core” due to its death count.

I'd even heard of the "demon core."

Already, it sounds like something you’d make sure to have the proper equipment for. Instead, when Slotin lowered a beryllium tamper over the core, he elected to prop it up with a flathead screwdriver.

Now that I think of it, I have indeed heard mention of that particular incident. Just not Slotin's name. I believe he was referred to as "some idiot." After all, it's not like they didn't know plutonium was somewhat hazardous (that's an example of understatement), or what would generally happen if neutrons couldn't escape confinement.

Over the next nine days, Slotin died a slow and horrendous death from acute radiation poisoning, including radiation burns covering his internal organs.

Idiot or not, no one deserves that. Well, almost no one, but politicians don't generally handle plutonium. Hopefully, his demise was documented and added to the corpus of knowledge surrounding "how people die from radiation."

4. The Fluorine Martyrs

Nobody would be surprised that people messing around with plutonium might have ended up six feet under. But in this case, we’re talking about an element that, in some form, is added to most drinking water and toothpaste: fluorine.


There are enough people running around spouting unfounded conspiracy "theories" involving fluorine. The stuff in your toothpaste or water? Fluoride. Fluoride is a fluorine atom with an extra electron, usually borrowed from some atom on the other side of the periodic table to make an ionic bond. In that form, it's both safe and beneficial, in pretty much an analogous way as sodium chloride is necessary for our health, while pure chlorine gas is poison.

The linked article kind of comes at this sideways. I just don't like adding fuel to the conspiracy "theory" fires.

Thus, the nickname for those who were poisoned, blinded or killed by their work with fluorine: the “fluorine martyrs.”

Unlike "some idiot" above, the full extent of the potential hazard wasn't likely known. Hence, martyrs, not idiots.

3. Carl Scheele

So what’s the unfortunate bit? Well, Scheele famously had a particular penchant for a certain test on any substance that came his way. A procedure that you’ve probably performed on a carton of milk before: the sniff and taste test. Scheele treated his chemistry lab like a Baskin Robbins, and though the exact effect of his forbidden treats isn’t recorded, he likely had a less than stellar bill of health while cycling heavy metals through his stomach.

And yet, if you look up most any naturally-occurring element in reference material, you'll sometimes find notes about its smell and taste. Those aren't theoretical. To use the fluorine example, Britannica   states: "At room temperature fluorine is a faintly yellow gas with an irritating odour."

Somehow, that bit's left out of the Wikipedia entry, maybe because "irritating" is a bit of an understatement, much as how I described plutonium as "somewhat hazardous." Or maybe because Wiki gets more views, and they don't want the liability when someone inevitably goes, "Hm, I wonder if it really smells all that bad."

Point is, someone had to be a self-selected guinea pig for that kind of thing. Someone like Scheele.

2. Galileo

Beyond any doubt, the most famous person on this list. But he really doesn't belong here.

I'm sure everyone is aware of his offense: contradicting the Catholic Church's dogma. However... it wasn't exactly accidental, and his punishment wasn't "unimaginable horror" but, as the article notes, house arrest for life. Other Church victims fared far worse. Giordano Bruno,   e.g.

That’s like discovering hot sauce and being sentenced to eat nothing but unflavored oatmeal for the rest of your life. It’s also a pretty backwards punishment for someone that you’re worried is thinking too much: “Your ideas are too crazy and threatening! Go home and do nothing but think for the rest of your life!”

My parents, too, thought "go to your room!" was a legitimate punishment for me, an introvert, and I tried really hard not to disabuse them of this notion.

1. Thomas Midgley

This one is less pitiable and more infuriating, as the person in question didn’t experience any of the horrors he’d discovered. He died in 1944, probably with a smile on his face, thinking about how much everybody loved his excellent inventions.

I knew about this guy, too. The only defense I can muster for him is he couldn't have been aware just how potentially apocalyptic his two most famous inventions were: leaded gasoline, his solution for stopping engine knock (premature ignition of the gasoline/air mixture in an internal combustion cylinder); and CFCs.

The former worked, but put enough lead in the atmosphere to poison the entire world. The latter worked, too (its thermodynamic properties makes it a very efficient coolant for heat pumps such as refrigerators and air conditioners), but also punched a hole in our protective ozone layer.

Oh, and the F in CFC? Fluorine.

Of course.
November 17, 2023 at 6:42am
November 17, 2023 at 6:42am
After a bunch of wine celebrations, finally, a day about a beer.

Gose, pronounced GOZE-uh, is a tart wheat beer of German provenance.

It disappeared for a while, from what I've heard. Died out, ceased production, joined the choir invisible. Didn't get resurrected until people started drinking real beer again.

This German sour beer is customarily made with coriander, which gives it notes of flowers and citrus, and with salt, so it is usually quite salty.

"But what about the well-known German beer purity laws?" Gose was an exception, and besides, one needs to be very, very careful when promoting anything that has the words "German" and "purity" in it.

Lactic acid is often added, which makes it even sourer.

This is not nearly as disgusting as it sounds. Gose may not be my favorite style, by far, but it's not like it's fermented goat's milk or anything.

But the popularity of gose and International Happy Gose Day is not limited to Leipzig or even to Germany. The beer has been gaining in popularity in the United States in recent years.

Sour beers in general (there are other styles besides gose) have taken off. I suspect it's at least partly a backlash to years of bitter, overhopped IPAs, which themselves became popular in a backlash to mass-produced, flavorless, rice-adjunct lagers.

Americans, it seems, don't seem to believe in middle ground. Gotta take everything to an extreme.

I remember the first time I went to a brewery that specialized in sours. They offered a sampling of their entire tap list, 12 beers arranged in 3-ounce tasters on a platter, like a clock face.

When I was done, the tap lady asked me what I thought. I was just drunk enough to tell the truth: "Sorry, I like my beer to taste different going down than it does coming back up."

Harsh? Sure. But that's how I felt about sour beers at the time.

Since then, I've found some that I actually like, including a gose here and there. My favorite local brewery, for example, makes a good fruited one.

I don't know why they call today International Happy Gose Day. It's not even a pun. If it were Happy Gose Lucky Day, sure, I could get behind that. Or Day Gose By. Or Gose Fishing. Okay, I'll stop now.

And the article speaks of toasting with "Goseanna!" which I've never heard of before, and so I'm going to assume they're trolling until I get confirmation of that.
November 16, 2023 at 9:51am
November 16, 2023 at 9:51am
Once again prompted by "Andre The Blog Monkey's Banana Bar [18+], I present yet another wine-related celebration, one that I look forward to every year.

Unlike some of the other observances I've noted, which are international or US in nature, this one's French. Or, at least, it's French the way Oktoberfest is Bavarian: no one's stopping us ugly Americans from celebrating.

There's a bit about Beaujolais Nouveau at the link above, but, naturally, I'm going to say my piece (actually pieces) about this utterly delightful wine.

The "Nouveau" part of the name means, it doesn't take four years of Duolingo French lessons to know, "new." But it's not like it's a new product; no, I think it's "new" in the sense of "fresh." The "Beaujolais" part is a place name, like Bordeaux or Champagne. Apparently, according to that link, the capital of the region is Beaujeu, which might translate to "beautiful game," which honestly would be really cool if so.

But I digress. This is a "new" wine, meaning the time from harvest, through fermentation, to the important part (drinking it) is very short. This results in a clean, crisp, fruity wine, without many of the more complex flavors or profound textures of the slower reds.

It is also, unusually for a red wine, best served chilled, like a white.

Another digression: it's well-known, even outside of wine circles, that most reds aren't served chilled. But this does not mean they should be served at room temperature (around 20C). Same goes for many dark beers. No, these heavier fermented beverages are at their best at cellar temperature, which is around 13C, though there's some leeway there. Owing to its status as a young wine, Beaujolais Nouveau is, instead, served cold like a white, or that better-known French product, champagne.

As delicious as the wine is on its own, there's a special, serendipitous connection for those of us in the US: Beaujolais Nouveau Day is, as is also noted at the link, celebrated on the third Thursday of November.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it's because Thanksgiving is celebrated over here on the fourth Thursday. And yes, Beaujolais Nouveau is, normally, available in the US. Today is the day I usually make a pilgrimage to the grocery store (as opposed to ordering a delivery therefrom) to pick out a bottle. Might have to be tomorrow, though; I have a beer dinner to attend tonight and I need to make sure I'm well-rested for that.

And I can tell you this from experience: there is, quite simply, no better wine to accompany a traditional Thanksgiving feast.

Like I said, it's not a complicated wine. But usually, one of the distinctive fruity flavors it fronts is that of cranberry. And what better accompaniment for turkey than cranberry?

So there's that linking the two countries, as if the Statue of Liberty, the design of our capital city, and, you know, the entire concept of representative democracy weren't enough.

"But, Waltz, the Pilgrims didn't have French wine to drink." Okay, fair. And Beaujolais Nouveau hadn't even been invented yet, not to mention the refrigeration that would keep it at its ideal temperature. But if you think your Thanksgiving feast is a perfect reconstruction of what the Pilgrims ate, or, more appropriately, what the settlers at Jamestown managed to scrounge up, think again. I don't know; maybe you try to do that, keeping it all to truly native American harvest foods. If so, great. You do your thing.

As for me, while I have no intention or desire to be part of a crowd at Thanksgiving, I may give the holiday a nod by warming up a frozen turkey pot pie.

It will be accompanied by a nice, cold bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau.

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