Isolation Skills: How to Make Sourdough Bread

Homemade, Sourdough-Risen, Caraway and Onion Rye.

Today, President Trump extended the federally recommended period for isolation against the Wuhan virus until the end of April. In light of that extension, I’d like to share some personal, practical knowledge with as wide an audience as possible.

Ten years ago, I actively sought out a low-tech, hands-on hobby – something that I could do to fully unwind from a stressful day working in I.T.. I eventually settled on baking bread. Two years into that hobby, I grew and used my first sourdough culture. I have never looked back.... [Read More]


Bankruptcy Socialism: A Dystopian Tale

Bankruptcy SocialismIn September, 2008, with the financial crisis of that year triggered by the collapse of the mortgage-backed securities bubble shaking the foundations of financial institutions world-wide and an election in the U.S. looming which had the prospect of electing the most explicitly left-wing president in the country’s history, I wrote a Gnome-o-Gram titled “The AIG Takeover and Bankruptcy Socialism”, in which I introduced the term “bankruptcy socialism”.  I have appended that original article, unmodified, to this post so you can see what I was thinking at the time and how things evolved subsequently compared to what I envisioned.

Although I wish for nothing more earnestly than the kind of optimistic outcome from the present disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic and the measures taken to deal with it, such as those sketched by TKC 1101 in his post “So What Is the POTUS Strategy?”, I also believe it is wise to look at other, darker strategies which may be put into place by those with agendas very different from the swift and complete recovery from the present troubles for which I, and most people, hope.... [Read More]


Saturday Night Science: Introduction to Probability and Statistics

DiceCalculation and Chance

Most experimental searches for paranormal phenomena are statistical in nature. A subject repeatedly attempts a task with a known probability of success due to chance, then the number of actual successes is compared to the chance expectation. If a subject scores consistently higher or lower than the chance expectation after a large number of attempts, one can calculate the probability of such a score due purely to chance, and then argue, if the chance probability is sufficiently small, that the results are evidence for the existence of some mechanism (precognition, telepathy, psychokinesis, cheating, etc.) which allowed the subject to perform better than chance would seem to permit.

Suppose you ask a subject to guess, before it is flipped, whether a coin will land with heads or tails up. Assuming the coin is fair (has the same probability of heads and tails), the chance of guessing correctly is 50%, so you’d expect half the guesses to be correct and half to be wrong. So, if we ask the subject to guess heads or tails for each of 100 coin flips, we’d expect about 50 of the guesses to be correct. Suppose a new subject walks into the lab and manages to guess heads or tails correctly for 60 out of 100 tosses. Evidence of precognition, or perhaps the subject’s possessing a telekinetic power which causes the coin to land with the guessed face up? Well,…no. In all likelihood, we’ve observed nothing more than good luck. The probability of 60 correct guesses out of 100 is about 2.8%, which means that if we do a large number of experiments flipping 100 coins, about every 35 experiments we can expect a score of 60 or better, purely due to chance.... [Read More]


Ali on Rush

I was a new engineer at a consulting firm in a Midwestern city. I joined them in 1991. I became good friends with an engineer named Ali, an immigrant from Turkey and a damn good engineer.

Ali had a curious habit. He would pack his lunch from home. At lunchtime, he would go sit in his car and listen to the radio. One of the guys mentioned it. It was a mystery in the office. Ali was not listening to music. They wondered if he was listening to a Turkish broadcast, but nobody had wanted to probe about what Ali was listening to.... [Read More]


Saturday Night Science: Sonic Wind

“Sonic Wind” by Craig RyanPrior to the 1920s, most aircraft pilots had no means of escape in case of mechanical failure or accident. During World War I, one out of every eight combat pilots was shot down or killed in a crash. Germany experimented with cumbersome parachutes stored in bags in a compartment behind the pilot, but these often failed to deploy properly if the plane was in a spin or became tangled in the aircraft structure after deployment. Still, they did save the lives of a number of German pilots. (On the other hand, one of them was Hermann Göring.) Allied pilots were not issued parachutes because their commanders feared the loss of planes more than pilots, and worried pilots would jump rather than try to save a damaged plane.

From the start of World War II, military aircrews were routinely issued parachutes, and backpack or seat pack parachutes with ripcord deployment had become highly reliable. As the war progressed and aircraft performance rapidly increased, it became clear that although parachutes could save air crew, physically escaping from a damaged plane at high velocities and altitudes was a formidable problem. The U.S. P-51 Mustang, of which more than 15,000 were built, cruised at 580 km/hour and had a maximum speed of 700 km/hour. It was physically impossible for a pilot to escape from the cockpit into such a wind blast, and even if they managed to do so, they would likely be torn apart by collision with the fuselage or tail an instant later. A pilot’s only hope was that the plane would slow to a speed at which escape was possible before crashing into the ground, bursting into flames, or disintegrating.... [Read More]


Saturday Night Science: The Simulation Hypothesis

“The Simulation Hypothesis” by Rizwan VirkBefore electronic computers had actually been built, Alan Turing mathematically proved a fundamental and profound property of them which has been exploited in innumerable ways as they developed and became central to many of our technologies and social interactions. A computer of sufficient complexity, which is, in fact, not very complex at all, can simulate any other computer or, in fact, any deterministic physical process whatsoever, as long as it is understood sufficiently to model in computer code and the system being modelled does not exceed the capacity of the computer—or the patience of the person running the simulation. Indeed, some of the first applications of computers were in modelling physical processes such as the flight of ballistic projectiles and the hydrodynamics of explosions. Today, computer modelling and simulation have become integral to the design process for everything from high-performance aircraft to toys, and many commonplace objects in the modern world could not have been designed without the aid of computer modelling. It certainly changed my life.

Almost as soon as there were computers, programmers realised that their ability to simulate, well…anything made them formidable engines for playing games. Computer gaming was originally mostly a furtive and disreputable activity, perpetrated by gnome-like programmers on the graveyard shift while the computer was idle, having finished the “serious” work paid for by unimaginative customers (who actually rose before the crack of noon!). But as the microelectronics revolution slashed the size and price of computers to something individuals could afford for their own use (or, according to the computer Puritans of the previous generations, abuse), computer gaming came into its own. Some modern computer games have production and promotion budgets larger than Hollywood movies, and their characters and story lines have entered the popular culture. As computer power has grown exponentially, games have progressed from tic-tac-toe, through text-based adventures, simple icon character video games, to realistic three dimensional simulated worlds in which the players explore a huge world, interact with other human players and non-player characters (endowed with their own rudimentary artificial intelligence) within the game, and in some games and simulated worlds, have the ability to extend the simulation by building their own objects with which others can interact. If your last experience with computer games was the Colossal Cave Adventure or Pac-Man, try a modern game or virtual world—you may be amazed.... [Read More]


Book Review: The Sword and the Shield

“The Sword and the Shield” by Christopher Andrew and Vasili MitrokhinVasili Mitrokhin joined the Soviet intelligence service as a foreign intelligence officer in 1948, at a time when the MGB (later to become the KGB) and the GRU were unified into a single service called the Committee of Information. By the time he was sent to his first posting abroad in 1952, the two services had split and Mitrokhin stayed with the MGB. Mitrokhin’s career began in the paranoia of the final days of Stalin’s regime, when foreign intelligence officers were sent on wild goose chases hunting down imagined Trotskyist and Zionist conspirators plotting against the regime. He later survived the turbulence after the death of Stalin and the execution of MGB head Lavrenti Beria, and the consolidation of power under his successors.

During the Khrushchev years, Mitrokhin became disenchanted with the regime, considering Khrushchev an uncultured barbarian whose banning of avant garde writers betrayed the tradition of Russian literature. He began to entertain dissident thoughts, not hoping for an overthrow of the Soviet regime but rather its reform by a new generation of leaders untainted by the legacy of Stalin. These thoughts were reinforced by the crushing of the reform-minded regime in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and his own observation of how his service, now called the KGB, manipulated the Soviet justice system to suppress dissent within the Soviet Union. He began to covertly listen to Western broadcasts and read samizdat publications by Soviet dissidents.... [Read More]


Chopin, Home for Christmas, If Only in His Dreams

Lulajże, Jezuniu, “Lullaby, Little Jesus” is a traditional Polish Christmas carol dating from the nineteenth century, or who knows, perhaps earlier. Here is a lyric in original and in translation; very homey, yes?

Lulajże Jezuniu, moja Perełko,
Lulaj ulubione me Pieścidełko.
Lulajże Jezuniu, lulaj, że lulaj
A ty go matulu w płaczu utulaj

 ... [Read More]


Book Review: Three Laws Lethal

“Three Laws Lethal” by David WaltonIn the near future, autonomous vehicles, “autocars”, are available from a number of major automobile manufacturers. The self-driving capability, while not infallible, has been approved by regulatory authorities after having demonstrated that it is, on average, safer than the population of human drivers on the road and not subject to human frailties such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, while tired, or distracted by others in the car or electronic gadgets. While self-driving remains a luxury feature with which a minority of cars on the road are equipped, regulators are confident that as it spreads more widely and improves over time, the highway accident rate will decline.

But placing an algorithm and sensors in command of a vehicle with a mass of more than a tonne hurtling down the road at 100 km per hour or faster is not just a formidable technical problem, it is one with serious and unavoidable moral implications. These come into stark focus when, in an incident on a highway near Seattle, an autocar swerves to avoid a tree crashing down on the highway, hitting and killing a motorcyclist in an adjacent lane of which the car’s sensors must have been aware. The car appears to have made a choice, valuing the lives of its passengers: a mother and her two children, over that of the motorcyclist. What really happened, and how the car decided what to do in that split-second, is opaque, because the software controlling it was, as all such software, proprietary and closed to independent inspection and audit by third parties. It’s one thing to acknowledge that self-driving vehicles are safer, as a whole, than those with humans behind the wheel, but entirely another to cede to them the moral agency of life and death on the highway. Should an autocar value the lives of its passengers over those of others? What if there were a sole passenger in the car and two on the motorcycle? And who is liable for the death of the motorcyclist: the auto manufacturer, the developers of the software, the owner of car, the driver who switched it into automatic mode, or the regulators who approved its use on public roads? The case was headed for court, and all would be watching the precedents it might establish.... [Read More]


College Football 2019 – Going Bowling!

The college football postseason has finally arrived! Beginning this Friday, December 20, 2019, teams from coast-to-coast and border-to-border will face off for championship glory. I wish my Texas Tech Red Raiders were playing, but they have not played in a bowl since 2017 and haven’t had the pleasure of winning one since 2013. But at least Mike Leach and the Washington State Cougars are playing the Air Force Falcons in the Cheez-It Bowl. Go Cougs!

So, what teams will you all be rooting for over the holidays? Good luck to all, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and keep calm and cheer on! 🎄 😎 📣... [Read More]


Book Review: How to Judge People by What they Look Like

“How to Judge People by what they Look Like” by Edward DuttonIn The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde wrote,

People say sometimes that Beauty is only superficial. That may be so. But at least it is not as superficial as Thought. To me, Beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.... [Read More]


Saturday Night Science: The Evolutionary Psychology Behind Politics

“The Evolutionary Psychology behind Politics” by Anonymous ConservativeOne of the puzzles noted by observers of the contemporary political and cultural scene is the division of the population into two factions, (called in the sloppy terminology of the United States) “liberal” and “conservative”, and that if you pick a member from either faction by observing his or her position on one of the divisive issues of the time, you can, with a high probability of accuracy, predict their preferences on all of a long list of other issues which do not, on the face of it, seem to have very much to do with one another. For example, here is a list of present-day hot-button issues, presented in no particular order.

  1. Health care, socialised medicine
  2. Climate change, renewable energy
  3. School choice
  4. Gun control
  5. Higher education subsidies, debt relief
  6. Free speech (hate speech laws, Internet censorship)
  7. Deficit spending, debt, and entitlement reform
  8. Immigration
  9. Tax policy, redistribution
  10. Abortion
  11. Foreign interventions, military spending

What a motley collection of topics! About the only thing they have in common is that the omnipresent administrative super-state has become involved in them in one way or another, and therefore partisans of policies affecting them view it important to influence the state’s action in their regard. And yet, pick any one, tell me what policies you favour, and I’ll bet I can guess at where you come down on at least eight of the other ten. What’s going on?... [Read More]