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Pure geekery

August 20, 2016

I had an e-mail recently from my alma mater and it mentioned Bill Hammack, who makes videos uing the handle EngineerGuy. (Check his site.)

Mr. Hammack made a series of videos about Albert Michelson’s Harmonic Analyzer, which was a mechanical computer for doing Fourier analysis. Here’s the first of four clips describing how the Analyzer worked and how to operate it.

There’s a book about the machine if you’re interested. And it’s also available in PDF at no cost.

Machines like this have always amazed me when I think of the mechanical creativity their designers showed. Nowadays you can do Fourier analysis with MS Excel but not that long ago (100+ years) just performing the calculations was such a tedious, error-prone task that people invented purpose-built machines to do it.


But the icing on the cake was that I came across Hammack’s video adaptation of one of my favorites, Faraday’s lectures on The Chemical History of a Candle.

Here’s the first of five videos (not counting Hammack’s introductory clip).

As with Michelson’s Harmonic Analyzer, Hammack and his collaborators wrote a book about this too (also available for free in PDF).

Or if you prefer the old school, here are Faraday’s lectures in PDF.

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Who knew about microbeads?

August 19, 2016

Not I. But when I checked our current tube of toothpaste, there they were.

This is a preliminary study so bear that in mind.

Microbeads could be turning the fish we eat toxic, study finds
Sashimi, please. Hold the plastic.

Scientists have found worrying evidence that fish are becoming toxic, as their environments are being polluted with billions of microbeads – the tiny plastic particles commonly found in face scrubs, body wash, and other cosmetics.

Several governments, including the US and Australia, are in the process of phasing microbeads out, but based on their findings, researchers are pushing for an immediate ban. […]

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A silver lining to the Trump cloud?

August 19, 2016

Here’s an interesting column by Nick Gillespie at Reason’s blog. I’m not sure that I agree with it, or with Lisa De Pasquale’s column.

Why Libertarians (and Other 3rd Parties) Should Thank Donald Trump
On substance and style, he’s a dumpster fire on steroids, with a hit of crack. But he’s shown how easy it is to destroy a major party.

With just three months to go before the long national nightmare that is Election 2016 transmogrifies into a either a Hillary Clinton or a Donald Trump presidency(!), let’s take a late-summer moment to squeeze some lemonade from lemons. Whatever happens in November, all of us who have political perspectives that are routinely discounted or dismissed by the Republican-Democratic duopoly should thank Donald Trump for creating a blueprint to power for us. […]

The simple fact is, as conservative commentator and Finding Mr. Righteous author Lisa De Pasquale, writes,

There has been much hand-wringing among the right on where Republicans go now that Trump has “destroyed” the party. They complain that the Republican Party has left them, while millions of Trump voters and libertarians believe party leaders and professional pundits left them decades ago. Regardless of whether the #NeverTrump crowd has valid points, it is clear that Trump has done libertarians a favor in busting the Old Guard of Republican kingmakers. The Old Guard isn’t mad that Trump doesn’t represent their principles, but that they no longer hold any power in picking the top of the ticket. The proof is that rather than get behind Gary Johnson, they’d rather trot out a candidate with zero name recognition or campaign infrastructure.

[…]

“A dumpster fire on steroids, with a hit of crack”… Heh!

The problem I have with Ms. De Pasquale’s argument is this: how many reasonably libertarian figures have Trump’s name recognition (or decades of self-aggrandizement)? I can’t think of any, aside from Penn Jillette. And offhand, I don’t think Penn has the personality to be a successful politician.

But maybe what Trump has done proves me wrong. Need someone who’s outspoken and has opinions not generally accepted by establishment figures? That’s Penn, idnit?

Hmmm… I’d probably vote for him. And Teller’s a pretty committed libertarian too… That’s it: Penn/Teller in 2020!

I got $100 says they’d win both Austin and Anchorage.

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A few interesting essays

August 8, 2016

I found all three of these to be pretty interesting reads. They’re loosely related. Since they’re too long to excerpt in a way that does them justice, I suppose you’ll have to take on faith my recommendation that your read them. (Then again, you can stop reading at any time, right?)

From The Breakthrough, a forecast for world population:

The Politics and Ecology of Zero Population Growth

Having calmed down from the overblown twentieth-century fears of overpopulation, the world has yet to grapple with the end of population growth–and even de-population–that will occur this century. As Paul Robbins observes, global population growth rates peaked in the 1970s, and if current trends continue, some countries could see their citizenries substantially depleted in the coming decades. As native populations in Germany and the United Kingdom dwindle, replaced by immigrants from rapidly growing countries in Africa and Asia, a surge in nationalism and cultural upheaval is already apparent. What comes next depends on how governments and civil society this radical new order of things. […]

At The American Interest, Jonathon Haidt writes about nationalist movements. It reminded me a little of what Matt Taibbi said about Brexit: “The reaction to Brexit is the reason Brexit happened.”

When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism
And how moral psychology can help explain and reduce tensions between the two.

What on earth is going on in the Western democracies? From the rise of Donald Trump in the United States and an assortment of right-wing parties across Europe through the June 23 Brexit vote, many on the Left have the sense that something dangerous and ugly is spreading: right-wing populism, seen as the Zika virus of politics. Something has gotten into “those people” that makes them vote in ways that seem—to their critics—likely to harm their own material interests, at least if their leaders follow through in implementing isolationist policies that slow economic growth. […]

Finally, Jonathon Rauch writes at The Atlantic:

How American Politics Went Insane
It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.

It’s 2020, four years from now. The campaign is under way to succeed the president, who is retiring after a single wretched term. Voters are angrier than ever—at politicians, at compromisers, at the establishment. Congress and the White House seem incapable of working together on anything, even when their interests align. With lawmaking at a standstill, the president’s use of executive orders and regulatory discretion has reached a level that Congress views as dictatorial—not that Congress can do anything about it, except file lawsuits that the divided Supreme Court, its three vacancies unfilled, has been unable to resolve.

On Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan resigned after proving unable to pass a budget, or much else. The House burned through two more speakers and one “acting” speaker, a job invented following four speakerless months. The Senate, meanwhile, is tied in knots by wannabe presidents and aspiring talk-show hosts, who use the chamber as a social-media platform to build their brands by obstructing—well, everything. The Defense Department is among hundreds of agencies that have not been reauthorized, the government has shut down three times, and, yes, it finally happened: The United States briefly defaulted on the national debt, precipitating a market collapse and an economic downturn. No one wanted that outcome, but no one was able to prevent it.

As the presidential primaries unfold, Kanye West is leading a fractured field of Democrats. The Republican front-runner is Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame. Elected governor of Louisiana only a few months ago, he is promising to defy the Washington establishment by never trimming his beard. Party elders have given up all pretense of being more than spectators, and most of the candidates have given up all pretense of party loyalty. On the debate stages, and everywhere else, anything goes. […]

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Why are people fed up with political correctness?

August 6, 2016

This article by Noah Feldman appears at Bloomberg.com. The EEOC complaint he describes is practically a reductio ad absurdum of political correctness, IMO. Where does this stuff end?

When a Flag Crosses the Line to Harassment

Is it racial harassment in the workplace to display the yellow “Don’t tread on me” flag? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that it could be, depending on the context. The commission acknowledged that the Gadsden flag, which dates back to the era of the American Revolution, did not have racist origins. But it called for a careful investigation to see whether recent uses of the flag have been sufficiently “racially tinged” that it could count as harassment.

A strong argument can be mounted that this EEOC decision is a threat to the First Amendment — and that’s exactly the argument made by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh on his blog, the Volokh Conspiracy, in reporting on the commission decision. But on closer examination, I think the commission got this one right. When it comes to the meaning of symbols, social context is everything. Even symbols that have no direct historical connection to racism can change meaning over time. And if we’re going to have laws against workplace harassment, we have to prohibit all harassing behavior — including harassment that’s overtly political.

The Gadsden flag […] is said to have been designed or at least promulgated by Christopher Gadsden, a politician and patriot from Charleston, South Carolina. He was a member of the Marine committee of the Continental Congress; the newly formed Marines were reported to have used some version of the image and logo on their drums in 1775. […]

Gadsden made his money as a merchant in South Carolina, and both owned and sold slaves. As it happens, in common with other slaveholding members of the founding generation, he also sometimes spoke against slavery. In a 1766 speech, he referred to slavery as a “crime,” while observing that “slavery begets slavery” and predicting that South Carolina would see more of it.

But there seems to be no dispute that the flag, as used by the Marines and others in the Revolutionary War, was a message to King George, and had nothing to do with slavery or racism per se.

In his complaint to the EEOC, the anonymous writer objected to a co-worker wearing a hat bearing the flag “because the flag was designed by Christopher Gadsden, a ‘slave trader & owner of slaves.’”

On its own, that’s a pretty weak argument. The fact that a slave owner created a symbol doesn’t mean that symbol is racist. The Constitution itself, after all, was designed in large part by slave owners.

Needless to say, I disagree with Feldman’s conclusion (my emphasis above) and I agree with Eugene Volokh’s opinion; Volokh’s post is worth reading.

If we accept Feldman’s conclusion, where’s the stopping point? If the goal is to eradicate any historical reference that over time may be seen as racist in some social context, then there’s no limit to it. Will somebody, somewhere, someday be offended by something innocuous? It’s a sure bet.

Now… who wants decisions like those made by EEOC bureaucrats in Mr. Trump’s administration? Raise your hands.

Gadsden-flag

My suspicion is that maybe the complainer associates the Gadsden flag with the Tea Party and this is really an attack on what the complainer regards as offensive political speech. See this story from 2013. In that case, the EEOC’s decision is even more troubling.

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Go to bed with Karl

August 2, 2016

…and wake up with Uncle Joe. Here’s more news about the devolution of Venezuela. I wonder if Maduro et alia have come up with a catchy name for this, like China’s Cultural Revolution or Russia’s Five Year Plans.

Maybe they’re sticking with CLAP.

Venezuela to reassign private, public workers to agriculture

Caracas (AFP) – Venezuela said private and public companies will be obliged to let their workers be reassigned to grow crops, in a dramatic move in the middle of the country’s crippling economic crisis.

The Labor Ministry announced the measure as part of the economic emergency already in effect; it will require all employers in Venezuela to let the state have their workers “to strengthen production” of food.

President Nicolas Maduro’s government is fighting for its life amid staggering inflation and shortages of everything from food to toilet paper, diapers and shampoo.

Maduro, like his predecessor Hugo Chavez, has increasingly moved the country towards taking over parts of the economy.

Now, Venezuela’s state-led socialist government has said it is ready to take the next big step — giving itself authority to order individuals from one job to another.

It was not immediately clear when the temporary measure will kick in, or for how long workers will be sent to the fields. […]

Regardless of what they may call it, $100 says that the usual privation and misery will be the result.

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I wish it was going to be painless

August 1, 2016

These are from Dan Mitchell’s International Liberty blog.

Uncle Sam, 2016 presidential race, Trump, Hillary, political cartoon

Gary-Johnson-humor-2

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