Supersonic Man

September 6, 2018

the last SLR holdout

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,Photo,the future! — Supersonic Man @ 11:41 am

Mirrorless cameras are officially taking over; everybody wants the slim camera bodies and short lens registry distances that are made possible by electronic viewfinders.  Nikon has come out with a new Z mount and almost simultaneously, Canon has come out with a new RF mount (which looks to me like it will be a real “RF” of people who bought into their smaller and older EOS-M system, as it is not at all compatible, and it might not even be possible to make an adapter to mate them).  Meanwhile, in the medium-format world, Hasselblad also came out with a mirrorless camera sporting a new short-flange lens mount a while ago — I think they call it XCD — and Phase One put together a mirrorless bodge setup branded as Alpa, which must have something that counts as a lens mount.  This means that almost every camera company that didn’t already have a short mirrorless lens mount (Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, Leica, and formerly Samsung) has now added one to their product line.  As far as I can see, there is only one holdout which still offers only a long-flange lens mount and traditional SLR cameras: Pentax.  As it happens, I’ve got Pentax.

Does this mean that Pentax needs to do a me-too and come up with their own short mount, to keep up?  It does not.  There are lots of reasons why it might make perfect sense to offer a mirrorless camera without changing the mount.  They’ve already updated their existing mount so it can operate in a fully electronic fashion with no legacy mechanical linkages.  Lenses made for mirrorless use can still have their back end close to the sensor; they’ll just have the mounting flange further forward, with some of the glass hiding inside the body of the camera.  This will create a pancake-like appearance for lenses that are not actually thin.  Another possibility is that filters can be placed into the gap.  Or the protruding barrel can be a place to mount a control ring.  I think it’s a perfectly viable way to do mirrorless, though for some it won’t win aesthetic points.

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August 3, 2018

ethnicity of presidential names

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,Rantation and Politicizing — Supersonic Man @ 3:24 pm

For a country which is built on immigration and (usually) welcomes exceptional ethnic diversity, the United States of America has tended to be very narrow about what sort of ethnicity it looks for when electing a President, even beyond the fact that all but one of our presidents are white males.  For most of its history, America chose people whose last names originated either in the British Isles or in Holland, or failing that, had been well assimilated into a British-sounding form.  The first president to break that pattern was Dwight Eisenhower, and Barack Obama was only the second.  Even within that group, names from England were heavily favored over those from neighboring countries.

There have been 44 presidents, with 39 distinct last names.  (If you think there were 45, you counted Grover Cleveland twice.)  The high number of repeats counts as a statistical anomaly in itself.  Let’s tote up their ethnicities:

ENGLISH:  Washington, Adams (2), Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, Harrison (2), Tyler, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Lincoln, Johnson (2), Grant (could be Scottish), Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Truman, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush (2), Clinton.  That’s 26 names — two thirds of the total.

SCOTTISH:  Monroe, Polk, Buchanan (Scots-Irish), McKinley (Scots-Irish).

IRISH:  Hayes (anglicized), Kennedy, Reagan.

DUTCH:  Van Buren, Roosevelt (2).

GERMAN:  Hoover (anglicized), Eisenhower, Trump (anglicized).

KENYAN:  Obama.

Some other statistical biases we notice by looking at the list of presidents: most are taller than average, and very few regularly wore eyeglasses (just Bush the elder, Truman, and Teddy Roosevelt when he wasn’t avoiding them purely for vanity).  And as has been noted elsewhere, nowadays it seems like about half of presidents are southpaws.  In fact, we recently had three in a row: Reagan, Bush the elder, and Clinton were all left-handed.  So were Hoover, Truman, Ford, and Obama; that brings the total since 1929 up to 7 out of 15.  But before then, only a single leftie is known: James Garfield.

But the most important statistical anomaly may be the frequency and clustering of cases where the electoral college managed to reverse the outcome of the popular vote.  It has now happened four times (not counting the four-way election of 1824, which was decided by the House of Representatives): 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016.  In all four cases a Democrat convinced more voters but a Republican won the electoral vote.

In the first case the result was the end of Reconstruction and the start of the Jim Crow era in the south (a price demanded by southern Democrats in exchange for conceding).  In the third case it was the invasion of Iraq, and arguably the September 11th attack preceding it.  In the fourth case it’s been a nationwide revival of nativism and fascism, with additional horrors no doubt to come.  The second case, though, turned out well: Benjamin Harrison admitted new western states, created national forests, modernized the Navy, passed the Sherman antitrust act, fought for education and voting rights for minorities, and raised a budget surplus.  Oddly, it was the latter point which led his party to defeat in the following elections: raising and spending a lot of money was unpopular, even though the means by which the new revenue was raised, namely protectionist tariffs which were denounced by his opponent, was exactly what had convinced people to vote for Harrison in the first place.

June 21, 2018

hydrogen economy? how about methane instead?

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,science!,the future! — Supersonic Man @ 4:52 pm

Ever since the seventies, there’s been an idea floating around that someday, in order to replace fossil fuels, we’d start using hydrogen as our main chemical fuel.  We’d have hydrogen tanks instead of gasoline tanks, and hydrogen pipelines instead of natural gas pipes.  The hydrogen would be produced from water with either renewable or nuclear energy sources, and then whenever we needed a chemical fuel, we’d use hydrogen.  And wherever we needed a portable source of electric power, we’d use hydrogen fuel cells.  Our cars might be fuel cell powered, for instance.

Since then, fuel cell cars have advanced pretty well, and building a fleet of electric cars which get their power from hydrogen fuel cells looks fairly doable.  There are even some demo filling stations which allow you to fill up a fuel cell car with hydrogen, if you have one of the test vehicles.

So that part is doable, though nobody’s sure if there’ll be any need for it.  Cars might do just as well by simply using batteries, and plugging in to charge, as many people do today.  Making a new network for delivering hydrogen to cars might be an unnecessary expense.

But what about all the other things we use fossil fuel for, besides transportation?  What about heating our houses, and fueling our stoves and ovens?  Could we, for instance, substitute hydrogen for natural gas?

I think the answer is that we could, but maybe we shouldn’t, because there’s a better idea.  An approach which lets us keep using the natural gas infrastructure that we already have.  Switching to hydrogen would entail replacing most of it, because a pipe or a valve that safely contains natural gas can easily fail at containing hydrogen.  Since it is the lightest of all gases, one of its properties is that it can find its way through leaks which, to any ordinary gas, aren’t leaks at all.  Every piece of every pipe, and every valve in every appliance, would have to be either carefully tested, or replaced.  Also, the pipes would either have to be expanded for a larger volume, or operated at higher pressure.

We can avoid all that with one simple step: taking the hydrogen we produce and converting it into methane.  Natural gas is 95% methane, and if we make it artificially, it could be used as a direct replacement for gas.  And the way we’d do that is with a process called the Sabatier reaction.  In this process, hydrogen is combined with carbon dioxide by means of a metallic catalyst.  The oxygen is stripped off of the carbon atoms and hydrogen takes its place.  The result is methane, plus leftover oxygen.

The best part is where we get the carbon dioxide: out of the atmosphere.  At first, we could take it directly from the smokestacks of industries which still burn fossil fuel.  (Steelmaking, for instance, might have a hard time using anything but coal.)  Later, as the scale increases, we could just separate it out of regular air.  This makes your home’s existing stove and furnace and water heater carbon neutral.  And even your car, because existing piston engines can be modified to run on methane, which might help ease the transition to the time when we all go electric.

With some further chemical processes we could probably convert the methane into longer chain hydrocarbons, producing oils and so on — substitutes for things like butane or kerosene or diesel or gear oil… or even gasoline for classic car enthusiasts.

Between battery cars and methane conversion, maybe there wouldn’t be all that big a market for straight pure hydrogen.  It would definitely have some uses, but I don’t think all that big a part of our energy supply would be used in hydrogen form.  We might, however, use hydrogen to store solar energy from midday for use at night.  Such hydrogen might be produced directly by vats of algae, then fed to stationary fuel cells as the sun sets.

If a big methane convertor works, we should of course encourage its use.  We’ll have tax credits for making carbon-neutral methane, and penalties for fossil fuels.  The rival approach of getting gas by fracking might even be banned outright, because of its harmful side effects.  This assumes, of course, that at some point we overcome the reactionary political forces who want to prop up the oil and coal industries, and would let all the profitable advances in renewables be done overseas.

One cool thing is that methane making machines are being developed right now, as part of the space program.  Not NASA’s space program, but SpaceX’s private program.  They’re building it for future Martian explorers and colonists, so they’ll be able to make their own rocket fuel for flights back to Earth.  Who knows, maybe at some point they’ll use the machine to fuel rockets here as well  so they can say they have carbon neutral satellite launchers.  Both of the major reusable rocket companies say methane is the fuel they want to use… and there’s no denying that a lot of older rockets are terrible polluters.

Of course, some other rockets will keep on using hydrogen, which when practical is still the cleanest option.

June 3, 2018

Trends in rocketry

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,science! — Supersonic Man @ 11:07 am

I’ve been taking an interest in the space industry and orbital rockets — a field which is evolving very rapidly nowadays.  So far this year we’ve seen the debut orbital flights of the Electron, the Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9 Block 5, and seen a new record set for the smallest rocket to put up a working satellite.  In the remaining months, we’re expecting the maiden flights of the LauncherOne, the Kuaizhou 11, the Vector R, and the Starliner and Dragon 2 crew capsules.  We just might see one of those capsules take live astronauts to the Space Station by the end of the year.  And the next couple of years will have plenty of action too, with several lunar landers being sent up by different countries, and more new vehicles making their debut: the SLS, the Vulcan, the New Glenn, the Dream Chaser, and more.

With so much short-term activity, it may be hard to spot the longer term trends, but I think I can lay out a few here: (more…)

May 10, 2018

if the solar system fit in a stadium…

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,science! — Supersonic Man @ 12:00 pm

(I wrote a post about this a few years ago somewhere else, but now I can’t find it, so I am redoing it here, and expanding it.)

How big is the Solar System?

Let’s start by assuming that we have some general idea of how big the Earth is.  If we fly from coast to coast in the United States, we’ve gone one eighth of the way around it.  A long day of driving in a car, say 500 miles, goes about one fiftieth of the way around.  So the Earth is very large compared to your local town or neighborhood, but it’s of a scale that can be grasped and managed with common means of travel, such as cars and planes.  Even preagricultural people sometimes traveled and traded over distances of a thousand miles or more, and that’s not tiny compared to the size of the Earth.

The Moon is a good deal smaller than the Earth, but quite far away from it.  It takes well over one second for a beam of light to travel from the Moon to the Earth.  The distance to the Moon is enough to wrap around the Earth nine or ten times (the Moon’s distance varies over that range during each month).  It’s the sort of distance that a junky old car might accumulate on its odometer after twenty or thirty years of driving — over a quarter million miles when the moon is furthest out.  People are capable of traveling such distances over many years, or in just a few days with our most powerful rockets.

To appreciate the scale of the rest of the solar system in comparison to this, let’s imagine a scale model, sized to fit into a big football stadium.  The scale of this model will be 1/100,000,000,000 of life size.

Let’s look at how each part of the solar system would appear at this scale.  The Sun, which hangs over the middle of the fifty yard line, is a bit over half an inch across — about 14 millimeters, to be more exact.  It’s the size of an olive.  Mercury, the innermost planet, has an eccentric elliptical orbit around it which is eighteen inches (46 cm) from the sun at its closest, and twenty-seven and a half inches (70 cm) at its furthest.  The planet itself is a practically invisible speck, only one five hundredth of an inch across, or a twentieth of a millimeter.  Venus, the second planet, circles our olive-sized sun at a distance of about three and a half feet (108 cm), so its orbit crosses the 49 yard line on each side. The size of the planet is about 1/200 inch, or an eighth of a millimeter, a speck which is probably big enough to see if you get close enough.

The Earth’s orbit is found at a distance of a bit under five feet (150 cm) from the sun.  And the orbit of the Moon makes a little circle around the Earth.  The distance from the Moon to the Earth, which in real life is up to a quarter million miles, and is the farthest distance that any human being has ever voyaged, is only about 5/32 of an inch, or 3.9 mm, in this scale model.  The entire circle traveled by the Moon around the Earth is barely half as big across as the Sun is.  It would fit inside a pea.  The distance to the Sun is almost four hundred times as large.  The diameter of the Earth itself in this model is about 1/200 of an inch, the same as Venus, and likewise would be a barely visible speck.  The Moon, being smaller than Mercury, would be very difficult to see.

Mars circles seven and a half feet out (2.3 meters), and is about 1/400 inch or 1/16 of a millimeter across — a dust speck.  The asteroid belt spreads in a hollow disk around the sun, with the bulk of it starting about ten feet out, and then it thins out at a distance of around eighteen feet (3 to 5.5 meters).  None of the individual asteroids are big enough to see.

Jupiter, the largest planet, sits a little over 25 feet (7.8 meters) out from the Sun.  Its orbit crosses past the 42 yard line on each side of midfield.  The planet itself is plenty big enough to be more than a speck: it’s 1.4 millimeters in diameter, or somewhat under one sixteenth of an inch — the diameter of the head of a pin.  If the Sun is an olive, Jupiter might be a large poppyseed, or a small millet grain.  It has a number of moons, the four large ones being Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.  The orbit of Io sits about 5/32 inch (4 mm) from Jupiter, and the orbit of Callisto is about 3/4 inch (18 mm) out.

Saturn is 46 feet (14 meters) from the sun.  Its orbit crosses the 35 yard line.  It’s smaller than Jupiter, but if you include its rings, it looks bigger.  You might model it with a small flat sesame seed.  Its major moon Titan sits half an inch (12 mm) out from the planet.  Uranus is much further out, 98 feet (30 meters) from the Sun, so it nearly reaches the 17 yard line, and on the sides it spills over the out-of-bounds line into the sidelines.  Its diameter is half a millimeter, so you might represent it with a grain of fine sand.

In this model, the orbit of Neptune, the most remote true planet, has a span that just about reaches the one yard line, but can’t quite reach the goal lines, orbiting 148 feet (45 meters) from the sun.  Its size is about the same as sand-grain Uranus.

From this you can see that the Solar System is very empty.  Besides the olive-sized sun, everything else on the field is just some specks which, all added together, wouldn’t amount to a grain of wheat.

Now the Sun and all the planets pretty much fit onto the playing field, but that’s not the whole Solar System.  Beyond all the planets are a number of icy bodies, large and small.  They constitute a sort of second asteroid belt.  It’s called the Kuyper belt.  Pluto is one of these icy bodies, and it isn’t even the biggest one.  As far as we presently know, it’s the second biggest.

In our scale model, the Kuyper belt fills the rest of the stadium, beyond the playing field.  Pluto is down in a good low seat right near the sidelines, and some of the others are way up in the cheap seats, hundreds of feet from the field.

The light of the Sun doesn’t reach up there very well.  It casts a good bright illumination in midfield, but the goalposts are pretty dim, and in the top row of the seats you can’t see much when you look away from the sun.  If I have this figured correctly, at this scale, it puts out about five thousand watts of light.  But don’t compare that to a 5000 watt lightbulb — your ordinary traditional bulb puts out mostly heat, so the 100 watt lamp in your living room is only emitting about ten watts of actual light, and if you use a modern bulb such as a compact fluorescent, it will say “100 watts” on the box while only actually using about 25 watts.  The Sun puts out at least three quarters of its energy as visible light.  Think of it more as a 5000 watt welder’s arc than a 5000 watt lamp.

One thing this idea of an arc lamp in a football stadium fails to convey is how slow the light is.  You have to remember that the light from our tiny Sun takes minutes to reach Earth just five feet away, hours to reach Neptune, and most of a day to reach the upper seats.  If there were a snail crawling around on the grass, it might well be moving at several times the speed of light.  And the fastest rockets never approach even a thousandth of that speed.  (The fastest moving objects we’ve ever launched into space, or will launch soon, are solar probes that drop inside the orbit of Mercury.  That inward fall can give them a speed dozens of times faster than, say, the Apollo moon rocket.)

There’s more stuff beyond the Kuyper belt, also consisting mainly of icy bodies.  But I don’t really count this as part of the solar system.  This is where long period comets come from (short comets, such as Halley’s, come from the Kuyper belt).  This zone is called the Oort Cloud.  It’s found out in the stadium’s parking lot, and some thin parts of it probably extend out into the surrounding city, perhaps miles from the stadium.  While the Kuyper belt is similar to the asteroid belt in that it mainly lies in the same plane as the orbits of the planets and rotates in the same direction that they do, the Oort cloud is spread in all directions, and appears to have no net orbital direction shared in common among the various objects.  For all we know this spread of icy bodies may extend throughout the space between the stars, and not constitute a part of our own solar system at all, except to the extent that the Sun’s gravity causes a thickening in nearby parts of it.

Speaking of other stars, how far away is the nearest other solar system?  It would be about 250 miles away at this scale… about the distance you might find between your hometown football stadium and that of a rival team in the next state.  For instance, the distance between Cleveland and Cincinnati, or Green Bay and Minneapolis, or Chicago and Detroit.

As an afterthought…  What if we changed scales in the opposite direction?  What if we magnified everything so that a football stadium engulfed the solar system?  How big would individual atoms be then?

As big as a house, it turns out — unbound hydrogen atoms would be around twelve meters across, carbon atoms about seventeen meters…  Counterintuitively, heavy metals aren’t much bigger than light elements: uranium is just a bit bigger than carbon, and gold is actually smaller.  The stronger the positive charge of the nucleus, the more densely the electrons pull in around it, so the overall size has remarkably little variation.

Green light would have a wavelength of fifty kilometers.  One of your intestinal bacteria would stretch from Columbus to Pittsburgh.  A red blood cell would sprawl over several midwestern states.  If you have a good thick head of hair, your individual hairs might be as big around as the Earth.  A flea would reach halfway to the Moon.  And if you stood on the Sun, your head might reach past the orbit of Earth.

April 11, 2018

What do Nazis have in common with pickup artists?

Filed under: Rantation and Politicizing,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 12:11 am

When the Nazis came to Charlottesville, one thing I noticed in the news coverage was that some of them were using the jargon of the “red pill” movement — a jargon which originated in the world of pickup artists.  How did that happen?  I decided to look into the connections, and learn a bit more about the hidden history of these new reactionary movements.  I ended up learning more than I wanted to know about today’s young racists.  Here’s what I’ve managed to put together. Surprisingly, a key figure linking the two groups is professional troll Milo Yiannopoulos — not someone I ever thought would do anything consequential.

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November 14, 2017

do the ten commandments model virtue?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Supersonic Man @ 1:44 pm

The appalling Roy Moore, the teen-perving judge who made a name for himself by defending the presence of the Ten Commandments in the courtroom, has been in the news a lot lately. And this makes me think… are the Ten Commandments even a good model for virtuous behavior?

Let’s lay out a list of virtues and see which ones are and are not supported by the Commandments.

This list is a combination of virtues enumerated by various sources, from the Catholic Church to the Boy Scout Law and Oath to various self-appointed virtuists such as the hypocritical scold Bill Bennett and the off-grid inventor Jaimie Mantzel.

A virtuous person is, we suppose (in no particular order):

a. Honest, Trustworthy, Honorable, and Truthful
b. Fair and Just
c. Prudent and Temperate
d. Humble and Modest
e. Generous, Charitable, and Helpful
f. Diligent, Industrious, and Productive
g. Responsible and Self-Reliant
h. Courageous and Steadfast
i. Healthful, Fit and Strong
j. Alert, Attentive, and Engaged
k. Imaginative and Creative
l. Purposeful and Goal-Oriented
m. Dutiful toward community obligations
n. Dependable and Loyal (when appropriate)
o. Friendly, Courteous, and Considerate
p. Hopeful and Cheerful
q. Kind, Compassionate, and Empathetic
r. Loving
s. Obedient to law and applicable rules
t. Patient, Forbearing, and Tolerant
u. Clean, Decent, and Inoffensive

I need to add a couple more — some virtues which those who compile virtue lists always manage to omit:

v. Intelligent, Knowledgeable, Intellectual, and Thoughtful
w. Skeptical, Critical, and Questioning of dubious ideas

We often act as if intelligence, knowledge, and intellectuality are accidents which people are blessed with at random. They are not. Having a strong intellect is not much more a whim of chance than having strong biceps is. We all differ in our innate gifts, but in the end, you are the one responsible for developing and maintaining both your mental strengths and your physical ones. And the same goes for avoiding being gullible and recognizing the smell of bullshit.

So which of the above virtues do we find in the Commandments?

I, other gods:  n and w, but only for a special case
II, graven images:  (none)
III, name in vain:  maybe d and u, a little
IV, sabbath day:  (none)
V, honor parents:  m and n, but only for a special case
VI, killing:  b, c, q, s, and t, but only for a special case
VII, adultery:  a, c, n, r, and s, for a different special case
VIII, stealing:  a, b, c, g, m, and s, for another special case
IX, false witness:  a (fairly full support)
X, coveting:  g (fairly full support), also some b, e, and f

So the only virtues on the list which the commandments strongly model are honesty and self-reliance. Several others get partial support, a bunch more get some tangential implicit support related to a special case, and some get nothing. Which virtues are entirely unmentioned in that list, having not even the thinnest of connections to the Commandments? That leaves h, i, j, k, l, o, p, u, and v. Many of these are valued elsewhere in the Bible, but not here.

And really, only six of the ten commandments are relevant to good ethical behavior: the first four are just for maintaining conformance to dogma and orthodoxy. I do not consider such conformance to be virtuous.

August 27, 2017

Downsizing, into a larger home

Filed under: life — Supersonic Man @ 11:51 am

So it looks like we’re going to be moving soon from a house to an apartment.  And this is going to require some downsizing, and letting go of a significant number of physical possessions… even though the apartment has more square feet than the house did.

This is because in the apartment, everything has to be indoors.  This is not one of those complexes which offers people a storage closet down in the parking garage.  Imagine if all the stuff you keep out in the garage, in a shed, or just outside in the back yard had to come inside and fit in your closet space.  That’s what we’re facing.  Or rather, what I’m facing, as most of this junk is mine and not hers.  The only major bulky item that’s more for her than for me is a hammock frame.

There are some things we’ll be glad to get rid of, like our old clapped-out washer and dryer, and our window air conditioner.  We might get a few bucks for these.  Our little microwave too.  The patio table can go, along with the hammock, and maybe someone will pay a bit.

After that, I start realizing what I’ll have to give up… and it’s not that the stuff is very important or valuable, it’s that it represents capabilities and options.  If you have tools and junk, you can use handy-man skills to make things and accomplish stuff which are otherwise out of reach.  I value having the skills and inventiveness to make some good use out of tools and junk.  But the older I get, the less real use any of this comes to, and the less economic value this stuff is likely to hold for the future.  And that means there isn’t a good case to make for keeping this stuff around, competing for valuable closet space with all the stuff which is just as important in an apartment as in a house: the folding chairs and sewing machines and snowshoes and toolboxes and bicycle racks and ice chests and etc that have to be put somewhere.

So what I want to do in this post is just make myself a list of some of the stuff that I probably need to let go of, and have a little moment of sadness over the capabilities which I will be giving up, letting myself depend on the services of others in cases where I would formerly be able to do for myself.

One annoying thing is that we might live in a place with a yard again in the future, and at that time, we’ll want some of this back, and will have to buy it new.  But the cost of that is not enough to justify renting storage for years.

Some “garden” items might be able to hang on in our little porch/balcony… a stone Buddha, a colorful chicken-shaped flowerpot… and there’s a little handmade outdoor table we could keep… but probably won’t.

On to the list:

Long-handled gardening tools.  A shovel, two rakes, a hook, a “hula ho” weeder.  Some of those are quite worn, but the hook tool is almost new.

A big wide push-broom, and a telescoping paint-roller pole, which had uses well beyond painting.

An electric string-trimmer (weed eater).  Maybe the 75 feet of extension cord to power it.

Midsize gardening tools: loppers, shears, and a couple of one-handed digging/chopping tools, one with a telescoping handle.  It might be possible to store these away without taking up too much space, but they’ll have competition.

Lumber.  There isn’t very much of it, but it feels disempowering to have none.  Likewise for scraps of pipe and odd bits of plumbing supplies.

A shop-vacuum, and a couple of extra attachments.  It’s a very small one, but no less useful than a big one.

Jack stands and ramps, for getting under cars.  No more changing my own oil or brake pads.

A come-along winch.  Admittedly I got no real use out of this.  The same goes for the stationary bicycle stand I recently obtained, which is redundant as the new place has a gym.

An ugly plastic bird-bath, with gravel in the base for weight.  And a plastic flamingo if anyone wants it.

A 25′ drain snake.  This, unfortunately, has gotten some use.

A filtering water pump that has been used with a hot tub.

Assorted chemicals for outdoor or automotive purposes.  These will have to be culled.

Not an outdoor or garage item, but there’s a terrible battered old electric guitar that ought to go.  I have affection for it because it’s “so bad it’s good”.  Or wait, did I already get rid of that?

Then there’s the crappy telescope.  I can let that go if needed.

A pack frame.  I’m very unlikely to ever backpack again, and even hanging on to tents and sleeping bags may now be getting marginal as something we can justify.  And a barely used bear-canister.

A bookshelf, for paperbacks only, that I made from scratch out of cheap unstained pine.

Then there’s stuff which I definitely want to keep, but may require defending if someone hard-headedly practical challenges them… things like saws and hammers, old electronics supplies, a bass guitar, an ancient Amiga, LP records… I’ve already culled my books, and hope to hold the line there.

We’ll buy a few new things also, such as an upright vacuum and a small desk.  We might buy an easy chair, but only if we lose a couch.


[update] Arrgh, looks like it’s time to give up my big stereo and excellent Infinity speakers… if I can find a buyer for them. Shedding a small tear for the speakers.  Also the karaoke machine that we got for free and used only a couple of times.  There’s a glut of those, it turns out.  There’s some stereo equipment which I could keep but won’t, just because it’s not in good condition anymore: a turntable and a pair of nice bookshelf speakers.  Both have succumbed to a decay of their soft parts.

One couch is going.  The so-bad-it’s-good electric guitar appears to have disappeared in the previous move.  But on the other hand, we decided to play it safe and keep the drain snake.  Whee.

[update 2]  Ordered a recliner.  Keeping the good speakers after all, but selling my synthesizer keyboard, with its stand.

[Update 3]  We ended up backing out of the first rental lease and signing a different one.  The new place is smaller, but does come with a 5×7 foot storage locker.

August 25, 2017

ten percent of our brains

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,science!,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 9:40 am

If it were really true that we use only ten percent of our brains, then being granted the ability to use all one hundred percent wouldn’t really make a dramatic difference. It would be like comparing a desktop computer from 2017 with one from about 2005. Sure, the new one is better, but definitely not as much better as you’d hope it would be. They still both do basically the same things, and they’re both still probably hampered by running Windows.

I think there’s some metaphorical truth to the idea for a lot of people, though, because if they don’t get a good strong educational start, the majority of people don’t really have any chance of developing the intellectual side of their innate capabilities. I’m pretty convinced that most of the differences we see between people in “intelligence” have nothing to do with one person being born with a better brain than another. If you’re going to develop into a brainiac, you need to start very early and you need support for it, and most people around the world simply never get that opportunity. It’s only when drawing comparisons between people who have had those advantages, and are already part of a privileged minority, that you can even start looking at innate differences in talent.

August 20, 2017

“Everyone is a little bit racist.”

Filed under: Rantation and Politicizing,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 3:19 pm

You may have heard that quote. I am quoting it because I believe it’s true.  There is no dividing people into two groups, one racist and one not.  It’s a spectrum, and what matters is not what feelings or assumptions you start with, but what behavior you end with.  Let’s look at some sample points on this spectrum — some levels of racism:

Level 0: innocent.  This is where small children start out — unaware that race is a problem.  Maybe it’s possible to maintain this into adulthood in circumstances of major social isolation, but I don’t think I’ve ever personally seen an example of that.

Level 1: responsible.  We are all liable to sometimes forming snap judgments based on first impressions, and race is often a factor that plays into this.  But we can compensate for this by taking a moment for a second thought, to double-check our initial thoughtless reaction and make sure we’re being fair-minded.  This may not sound very impressive, but for most adults, this is about the best you can expect.  People in this category may be “allies” of minorities, or not.  Some may have come a long way in overcoming bad ideas from their upbringing, while others have had no need to.

Level 2: in denial.  This is probably where the majority of people fit, on most days.  This is where you land if you react to prejudicial snap judgments by rationalizing them instead of reconsidering.  Frequently accompanied by the idea that racism is largely historical, or confined to a few extremists — that it’s a distant external problem.  Racism at this level isn’t going to burn crosses, but it can produce frequent calls to the police about “suspicious” characters, or some extra strictness from the police themselves.  This mild racism can be enough to make a big difference in how difficult it is for some people to land a job or rent a place to live.  So even though the acts committed by any one individual seem minor and excusable, they can add up to a large negative impact on the lives of minority citizens.

Level 3: asshole.  This level is for people who sometimes show active racist behaviors, such as taunts and trolling and harrassment with racial epithets.  Generally these are people who are habitually unpleasant or obnoxious in other ways as well, or who have long lists of people whose lives they disapprove of.  Most often, such people are still in vigorous denial about racism, despite having numerous examples readily visible in the mirror.

Level 4: deplorable.  Finally, we come to those who have adopted racism as a guiding philosophy, and who actively evangelize it as an ideology: the Nazis, Klansmen, Neo-Confederates, and other racial separatists.  Many are fanatical True Believers, and as such, are capable of horrific violence for their cause.

Again, the point is not that people are divided into groups, who fit one label or another.  Any one person can and does slide up and down this scale, plus or minus a space over the course of a day, or larger shifts over months or years as they are exposed to different ideas.

And note that one’s position on this scale may have very little to do with the intensity or severity of their prejudices, particularly in the middle part of the scale.  Some can have major race-based fears and handle them well, and others might have minor ones but handle them badly.

The most important factor for affecting how a person moves forward or backward in their behavior is probably the social expectations of the people around them.

But don’t take this to mean that the way to make someone act better is by lecturing them.  If you really want to bring someone to see another point of view, it’s important to listen to them more than you talk to them, and let them express the feelings or anxieties or bad experiences they may be carrying on the subject.  And when you do speak, you want to be offering them an option, rather than making a demand.

Because when social pressure comes in a hostile form, it’ll probably have the opposite of the desired effect.  If you do listen to people at level 2 or 3 talk about race, one thing that often comes up is how much they dislike and resent hearing the word “racism” brought up as a belligerent finger-pointing accusation.

I don’t personally know who’s doing this kind of accusing, but some of my friends see it happen, and they affirm that yeah, it ain’t helping.  Maybe that behavior arises from having one foot in the responsible level and the other in the denial level, so you want to project and externalize the problem.  That’s just my guess, I can’t say.

As for the level 4 deplorables, I don’t think there’s much point in listening to them or engaging with them.  They’ve created a fantasy world where they believe each other’s made-up stories, so that’s all you’re likely to hear from them.  They’ve embraced evil, and there aren’t really very many of them, so socially, we can just write them off.  If you’re trying to bring back someone important to you, I wish you the best, but for the rest of them, I think the best form of communication would probably be for them to be hit in the face by Captain America’s shield.

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