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[ 20030829 ]


Blogging will resume upon my return, anticipated for late Tuesday the 9th. I will be spending much of the time between now and then at this secure, but not undisclosed, location, which has a line-of-sight view of McDonald Observatory.

Jay Manifold [3:32 PM]

Mars Opposition Roundup

Alan Henderson provides the definitive account.

Jay Manifold [1:36 PM]

Quote of the Week

By John J. Reilly, New Jersey's answer to James Lileks, Harry Turtledove, and Richard John Neuhaus:

"The NASA that guided Columbia to destruction ... had all the daring and flexibility of a social welfare agency under investigation for the death of a foster child."

(Permalink to column will eventually be here.)

Jay Manifold [1:22 PM]

The Explanation

-- for this (and this) may be found here.

Jay Manifold [1:00 PM]

I Am Dismayed

Lileks, of all people, says "a disinterested" when he means "an uninterested." It's a dark day in the blogosphere ...

Jay Manifold [6:14 AM]

[ 20030828 ]

I Told You So (I)

I'm in a slightly snarky mood. So let's begin with this quote from small business guru David Birch, interviewed by Justin Martin in Slump? What Slump? (FORTUNE Small Business, Sun 1 Dec 02):

One thing I'm getting involved in is the future of the American city. I'm not so sure it's very bright. I've talked to an awful lot of people who don't want to locate a business anywhere near the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower, the Transamerica building in San Francisco, or anything that's more than 40 stories high. I think there's been a fundamental shift in where people want to do business.

There's plenty of room out here, folks.

Jay Manifold [3:57 PM]

I Told You So (II)

Via Glenn Reynolds and Tyler Cowen, a new book from RAND; from the summary:

... the authors note that the United States has not seen improvements in its performance of post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction missions commensurate with its experience to date (six major such missions in 12 years) or with the dramatic gains in warfighting capabilities its forces have registered over the same period. They suggest that such improvements can only come if the State and Defense Departments include nation-building among their core missions and make the longer-term investments needed to improve not just present but future performance.

That DoDFES is looking like a better idea all the time ... ;)

Jay Manifold [3:56 PM]

[ 20030827 ]

Hypotheses Non Fingo

-- is a new (to me) blog, co-written by, among others, Dr. Timothy Scott Hamilton of NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. It has fresh commentary on the Columbia accident report, which I do not expect to comment on for a couple of weeks due to an imminent vacation. Anyway, check it out.

Jay Manifold [4:15 PM]

Our Allies the Pakistanis

-- have been helping the Iranian regime get the Bomb:

While Iran has not yet identified the source of the foreign help, evidence collected in Iran by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency implicates Pakistani companies as suppliers of critical technology and parts, officials familiar with a U.N. investigation of Iran's program said yesterday. Pakistan is believed by many proliferation experts to have passed important nuclear secrets to both Iran and North Korea. Pakistan has denied providing such assistance.

Pakistan has never acknowledged providing uranium-enrichment technology to Iran. One of only a handful of countries that remain outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Pakistan technically is not bound by many of the international restrictions on the export of nuclear technology.

The possibility that Pakistan could be implicated in Iran's nuclear program presents a diplomatic challenge to the Bush administration, which has been reluctant to publicly criticize Pakistan because it has provided crucial assistance in the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan.

Time to grab the Pak nukes, W.

Jay Manifold [1:24 PM]

[ 20030826 ]

Mars Observing Resources

Generate a star map here, then graze on over to the ALPO Mars Section for lots of goodies, including an ephemeris and map. To calculate the Central Meridian, that is, the longitude at the center of Mars' disk as seen in a telescope, graze over here -- but remember that UT is (for example) 5 hours ahead of Central Daylight Time, so be sure to enter both the correct time and date for when you'll actually be observing.

For example, on Saturday night I was looking at Mars (along with a few hundred other people) at 10 PM CDT on the 23rd, which equates to 0300 UT on the 24th. The Central Meridian was right around longitude 50°.

Now turning to the map (which you should print out), we find that what I was actually seeing was not Syrtis Major et al, but rather the area around Aurorea Sinus.

Jay Manifold [8:04 AM]

[ 20030825 ]

An Evening at Powell Observatory (IV)

Continuing a series ...

Once again, I volunteered to assist at a public observing night on Saturday. When something like this is going on, the result is not so much a public event as a sociological phenomenon. So while my telescopic observing was severely limited (as noted in #8, below), my observations of the 500+ people swarming all over the site were rather more varied:

  1. Astronomical events definitely have a "for the children" aspect -- the vast majority of adult attendees had kids in tow, and there were entire troops of Scouts present.

  2. Notwithstanding their parents' fond expectations, a large minority of their offspring could not appreciate what they were seeing. Some were simply too tired. The notorious perceptual problems of Mars observing prevented others from enjoying the experience -- they just saw a big orange (or even plain white) dot.

  3. A significantly more child-friendly observing session could take place in a couple of weeks, when Mars will be well above the eastern horizon by 9 PM, and only 0.01 AU farther from Earth. A suggestion for parents is that children younger than about 7-8 are much less likely to understand what is happening.

  4. I hasten to add that there are always exceptions. I set my telescope up at a church in Plano, TX, for the lunar eclipse of 28-29 Nov 93; one of the most appreciative attendees -- both in the sense of understanding the event and of thanking me for helping him get a good look at it -- was a 4-year-old. At Saturday's Mars observing session, several quite small children reacted while at the eyepiece in a manner unambiguously indicative of, well, getting it.

  5. The crowd was somewhat diverse -- certainly more so than the average club meeting of amateur astronomers. One of the more enthusiastic attendees I spoke with was wearing a T-shirt from here, and the clergy from here showed up again. There were a few African-Americans and hispanics, and I noticed several family groups of relatively recent immigrants, including various orientals and (I think) Russians.

  6. Even with several large telescopes available -- besides the 30" in the main dome, and the LCT, ASKC member (and former club president) Scott Kranz brought his 20" Starmaster, which he hauls around on a trailer with a large ladder and lots of other equipment -- the lines were long, probably 20+ minutes. For all that, the spectators were patient, partly because one or two club volunteers circulated through the crowd, pointing out constellations, named bright stars, the Milky Way and Cygnus Rift, etc, with laser pointers.

  7. The most difficult people weren't necessarily the less-disciplined children, even though everything short of a telescope actually getting knocked over happened not just once, but many times. No, the problem people are the guys who know just enough to be dangerous and start long conversations at the eyepiece, or just after stepping away from it. I found that simultaneous interaction with them and other people in line or looking through the 'scope to be just about impossible.

  8. In general, we needed more telescopes and more volunteers -- mostly more volunteers. The quality/quantity tradeoffs were severe; there are dozens of impressive, easily-found deep-sky objects in the summer sky. Nobody in line at my 'scope saw anything but Vega, Albireo, and Mars.

  9. At one point, club member Gil Machin wandered by, and we reminisced about the 24 Sep 88 session where several of us spotted Phobos in his 'scope, which has now been donated to the Charles Douglas Memorial Observatory (that's Gil, with his former 'scope, in the third picture). I had forgotten that there was a full Moon that night; it was by its light that we read the ephemeris in Sky & Tel that proved we were seeing Phobos. For an idea of the level of detail that was visible, see this picture. But that was a night of exceptionally, and I mean once-in-a-lifetime exceptionally, good seeing (I posted something I wrote about it here).

  10. Saturday was not so exceptional. But it was worth all the trouble to hear a startled "Ooo!" or see the person at the eyepiece jump just a little as they realized what they were seeing, and that yes, they could see the South Polar Cap or Syrtis Major. There's seeing it yourself, and then there's getting to share it with people who don't, as it were, get out much. I got to do a whole bunch of that this weekend, and it felt great.

Technical details: I was manning the smaller of the two telescopes that comprise the LCT, a 12.5" f/4.8 Newtonian reflector on a Dobsonian mount (specs here; page down). Focal length 1525 mm; almost all of my observing was conducted with a 26 mm Super Pl?ssl eyepiece, yielding 59x. No filter -- all of the ASKC's filters except for one green one have mysteriously disappeared in recent weeks. Grrr.

Central Meridian was around 320° at 10 PM CDT, so visible surface features included Syrtis Major, Mare Sirenum, Meridiani Sinus, etc (map).

UPDATE: Wildly incorrect CM and surface features; see next post up for correction and procedure.

UPDATE II: New Millennial-generation slang, synonym for "cool," is "tight." Mars was assessed as "tight" by several non-ethnic observers whose age was not out of single digits. ;)

Jay Manifold [4:45 PM]

[ 20030822 ]

Cascading Failures and Politics

Back on the 14th, during the power outage in the Northeast, Glenn Reynolds pointed to, via Crooked Timber's Kieran Healy, a paper from the CNES, which I've been meaning to comment on. Now, reading Seth Schiesel's NYTimes piece, In Frayed Networks, Common Threads (registration req'd), we find:

"The whole advantage of a network is that you can now go to anywhere in the world with one or two connections," [Darryl] Jenkins[, director of the Aviation Institute, a unit of George Washington University,] said. "The problem is that any time you have a glitch anywhere in the network it effects the entire system. If there is a thunderstorm in Chicago, all the flights in New York are held up."

"You now don't have any small delays," he added. "You either have no delays or you have massive delays."


In the sense of risking physical damage because of an overload, power networks may most closely resemble early railroad networks. When standardized track widths finally allowed the creation of a true network in the 1880's and 90's, they were accompanied by a big increase in deadly accidents, according to Mark Reutter, editor of Railroad History, a scholarly historical journal.

This accords nicely with Watts' findings in the paper (124 kB *.pdf), especially as illustrated in Figure 2b on page 14 (zoom to about 300% to get a good look at it); and turning to page 7, we find:

... when the connectivity of the network places it inside the cascade window but to the right of the peak in Figure 2b, then any increase in the connectivity has an ambiguous effect on the system's stability. On the one hand, cascades will become less frequent; but on the other hand, when they do occur, they will be larger. Hence the system becomes at once more robust, yet also more fragile; a feature thought to be endemic of complex, engineered systems.

So the early "true network" of railroads was like the middle portion of Figure 2b, that is, lots of big accidents. The same may be true of the Internet today. More mature systems, like the power grid, experience far fewer failures, but when they do happen, they're just as big (I therefore disagree somewhat with Schiesel's assessment, which characterizes the power grid as immature). Small or low-connectivity systems have few and relatively small failures; but of course the tradeoff is that they don't affect -- or accomplish -- very much.

Now, here's the important part: every large system, social or technological, is going to go through that rough patch in the middle of Figure 2b. In the absence of widespread public appreciation of this phenomenon -- though it is somewhat intuitive, thus clichés and truisms such as "getting the kinks out" and admonitions not to buy the first model year of a new type of car; the notion of "growing pains" in an otherwise successful business enterprise -- and in the presence of an interventionist political climate ("there oughta be a law!"), there is a terrible, lurking potential that promising new innovations will be strangled in the crib by opportunistic politicians.

Getting back to the electricity grid, it could be argued that this is what happened to nuclear power. But what-might-have-beens don't make compelling examples, at least by comparison with systems that narrowly escaped and are now part of our daily lives, like this one:

When credit cards were new, critics tried to stop them. Wright Patman was among the most powerful and vocal. A determined foe of shopping innovation during his long tenure in the House of Representatives, Patman had also attacked chain stores in the 1930s. In the late 1960s, he wanted to ban credit cards. Nor was Patman alone. Americans, numerous critics predicted, would become addicts, "credit drunks," unable to manage their financial affairs.

And the introduction of credit cards wasn't very pretty. Banks lost millions of dollars in bad loans. Theft and fraud boomed. Some people couldn't handle their newfound access to credit. It took years of experimentation before the banks and the public made the system work smoothly -- a classic example of how truly original inventions require a startup period of risk and imperfection.

"Most credit card veterans now view the late 1960s as a time of madness, culminating in staggering losses to the banks, public embarrassment, and federal legislation," writes Joseph Nocera in A Piece of the Action, a fascinating history of credit cards and mutual funds. But they also now believe that the madness was necessary. From that chaos emerged the electronic credit card system that now exists.

Or, as Virginia could have written if she wanted to be inexplicably incomprehensible, large networks N with vertices influenced by heterogeneous thresholds f(f) and mean connectivity z dominated by the presence of a few highly connected nodes exhibit great instability with respect to random shocks.

Present-day examples abound. A moment's casting about for struggling-yet-promising ideas and technologies quickly brings up e-mail (struggling with spam and viruses); passenger transport to low Earth orbit (struggling with technical problems and bureaucracy -- thanks to Rand Simberg for both links); and, perhaps, nation-building. Readers are invited to send in other ideas.

Jay Manifold [10:25 AM]

[ 20030821 ]

California Recall

Hey, it's like a really bad car wreck -- I've got to take the occasional peek, no matter how gory it gets. Anyway, the SacBee's Daniel Weintraub takes note of some numbers:

Is anyone paying attention to that huge turnout number that keeps showing up in the polls? If actual turnout is anything like what people are saying, the elections system is probably going to be overwhelmed. Also, a turnout of 60 percent would bring 1.5 million more people to the polls than voted last November. It would then take about 39 percent of that vote to equal Davis’ raw total from 2002.

Nothing like digging into the math to get the real story ... it certainly makes this cartoon seem appropriate.

UPDATE: For a truly painful experience, read this (hat tip: VodkaPundit).

Jay Manifold [5:23 PM]

40th Anniversary

Prompted by this reminder: what I said in January.

Jay Manifold [9:13 AM]

[ 20030820 ]

More Joy of Sets (I)

(Newer readers may wish to read this before continuing.) Recently tied at #11 on Blogdex, writing in the Atlantic, David Brooks describes some of the effects of self-sorting:

It's striking that the institutions that talk the most about diversity often practice it the least. For example, no group of people sings the diversity anthem more frequently and fervently than administrators at just such elite universities. But elite universities are amazingly undiverse in their values, politics, and mores. Professors in particular are drawn from a rather narrow segment of the population. If faculties reflected the general population, 32 percent of professors would be registered Democrats and 31 percent would be registered Republicans. Forty percent would be evangelical Christians. But a recent study of several universities by the conservative Center for the Study of Popular Culture and the American Enterprise Institute found that roughly 90 percent of those professors in the arts and sciences who had registered with a political party had registered Democratic. Fifty-seven professors at Brown were found on the voter-registration rolls. Of those, fifty-four were Democrats. Of the forty-two professors in the English, history, sociology, and political-science departments, all were Democrats. The results at Harvard, Penn State, Maryland, and the University of California at Santa Barbara were similar to the results at Brown.

What we are looking at here is human nature. People want to be around others who are roughly like themselves. That's called community. It probably would be psychologically difficult for most Brown professors to share an office with someone who was pro-life, a member of the National Rifle Association, or an evangelical Christian. It's likely that hiring committees would subtly—even unconsciously—screen out any such people they encountered. Republicans and evangelical Christians have sensed that they are not welcome at places like Brown, so they don't even consider working there. In fact, any registered Republican who contemplates a career in academia these days is both a hero and a fool. So, in a semi-self-selective pattern, brainy people with generally liberal social mores flow to academia, and brainy people with generally conservative mores flow elsewhere.

My neighborhood, incidentally, appears to be among the most diverse: close to half-and-half white/black, modest median income but with several obviously prosperous households, and a reasonably wide range of occupations, based on conversations I've had at neighborhood meetings and picnics. According to primary election returns, however, it is 95% Democrat, but hey, that's Jackson County, Missouri, for you.

But I digress. Perhaps Brooks' most important statement is: "Within their little validating communities, liberals and conservatives circulate half-truths about the supposed awfulness of the other side. These distortions are believed because it feels good to believe them." Thus the popularity (with some Republicans) of the idea that liberals are always picking on them, or getting away with things that Republicans can't. Thus the popularity, also, of the conspiracy theories running rampant on Democratic Underground and Democrats.com.

One of the results of this is the occasional collision with reality. Brooks considers that "[i]t's appalling that evangelical Christians are practically absent from entire professions, such as academia, the media, and filmmaking." But -- in my experience, at least -- most of them either have no interest in such things, having other (and arguably better) priorities, or would, less admirably, rather stay in their own subcultural ghetto. So when something like this happens, it tends to be misinterpreted by everyone in sight. A bit of diagnosis, then, is in order. So proceed to our next thrilling installment ...

Jay Manifold [6:08 PM]

More Joy of Sets (II)

The Van Impes run a modestly efficient charity and a bizarre television program. After their announcement that the White House was asking them for "advice," apparently in the form of the continually updated eschatology (sample weird prediction here; sample failed Y2K prediction here) that keeps their viewers tuning in so as not to miss the end of the world, various bloggers and commenters thereon speculated at length about why, or if, this is really happening.

I see five possibilities:

  1. The whole thing was completely made up.

  2. Van Impe didn't lie outright, but he did drastically misconstrue some kind of communication from the Administration.

  3. The Administration wants to keep current on the latest ideological trends in "set A," which is, after all, the plurality religious community in the US (and the majority in the South and Midwest).

  4. The Administration is doing some damage control.

  5. GWBush sees himself as hastening the Apocalypse and wants a (to coin a phrase) road map.

Hysterical or susceptible persons at political extremes may desperately want to believe #5, by way of convincing themselves that W is either incomparably wonderful or incomparably terrible; but some combination of #2-4 is far more likely.

David Brooks offers some tips on how to avoid hysteria and susceptibility:

If you live in a coastal, socially liberal neighborhood, maybe you should take out a subscription to The Door, the evangelical humor magazine; or maybe you should visit Branson, Missouri. Maybe you should stop in at a megachurch. Sure, it would be superficial familiarity, but it beats the iron curtains that now separate the nation's various cultural zones.

The Door, definitely. Branson? To quote Mad, yecch (but, in a way, that's the point). Megachurches are an acquired taste -- I enjoy them, but She Who Must Be Obeyed does not -- but are nonetheless a phenomenon of some interest.

Separately, Nicholas Kristof writes (registration req'd):

One of the most poisonous divides is the one between intellectual and religious America.

I'm troubled by the way the great intellectual traditions of Catholic and Protestant churches alike are withering, leaving the scholarly and religious worlds increasingly antagonistic.

I think Kristof's analogy to the Islamic world, like all such purported parallels between Christian and Islamic fundamentalism, is nonsense -- see, for example, Rod Dreher's test. But his article is well worth reading in its entirety.

Jonathan Gradowski read it and noted an overlap, which he calculates at 11%. But if the conditional probability P(A|B) is 1, the overlap would be, well, 28%. Eleven percent is the lower limit, which means that P(A|B) > 0.39. Simply multiplying 83% by 28% yields 23%. The right answer, I suspect, is somewhere in between, say 17% -- roughly one-sixth of the American population with both somewhat definitive Christian faith and respect for institutions, in this case the scientific establishment.

I wish there were more of us.

Jay Manifold [6:07 PM]

Mars Corrections

I like to think of myself as a good observer, and do enjoy planetary astronomy most of all; but we all make mistakes, and I made a few in An Evening at Powell Observatory (III). Previously unknown reader (the best kind) Michael Rosolina, who may have grazed in from West Virginia, seems to have found this, posted over on Astromart by previously unknown reader Robert Young. Michael complimented me, then pointed out (but refrained from calling it) a rookie mistake:

One note since Mars is going to be what people want to look at -- the bright polar cap that you see is the South Polar Cap [my emphasis - JDM]. It's on top in the inverted view of a Newtonian [that would be my rookie mistake - JDM]. There is a bluish haze over the North Polar Region called the NPR Hood that usually appears in most views -- you may have seen it as well. You are correct that M. Acidalium is in the N Hemisphere but except for Syrtis Major, most of the other dark albedo features you will see in this apparition are in the S Hemisphere. Get hold of some filters if you can to enhance the view. Wratten #21, 23, 25, and 80A are all useful.

I'm pretty sure that the ASKC has a box of filters stashed in one of the cabinets in the lecture room and will make darn sure that I've got a couple of them out and ready next Saturday night. Meanwhile, since I had my hemispheres mixed up, let's take another look at that map; seems that the surface features I was seeing were those in the general vicinity of Pyrhale Regio.

Jay Manifold [4:45 PM]

Results of Latest Survey

Currently tied for #13 on Blogdex ...

Militant Vegans, Parents who bring squalling brats to R-rated movies
Circle I Limbo

General asshats, Scientologists
Circle II Whirling in a Dark & Stormy Wind

PETA Members, Gray Davis
Circle III Mud, Rain, Cold, Hail & Snow

Qusay Hussein
Circle IV Rolling Weights

NAMBLA Members
Circle V Stuck in Mud, Mangled

River Styx

Uday Hussein
Circle VI Buried for Eternity

River Phlegyas

Circle VII Burning Sands

Osama bin Laden
Circle VIII Immersed in Excrement

Saddam Hussein
Circle IX Frozen in Ice

Design your own hell

Jay Manifold [5:00 AM]

[ 20030818 ]

Perception vs Reality

Over on FOXNews.com, Radley Balko draws some historical comparisons that don't get nearly enough attention:

In fact, you could make a convincing case that President Clinton was in fact more conservative than President Bush has been so far, which makes the intense loyalists and detractors of each all the more perplexing.

On free trade, President Clinton wooed union leaders and union members while simultaneously opening huge new channels of free trade (through NAFTA and GATT), which unions vehemently opposed. President Bush talked free trade up in his campaign, but has largely been a disappointment, having signed a disastrous farm subsidies bill, and upheld protectionist tariffs on steel, lumber, catfish and computer chips.

In his first two years in office, President Bush has increased federal spending considerably more than President Clinton did in his first two years, even after adjusting for defense and homeland security.

President Bush talked much in his campaign about education choice, but in the end, signed an education bill President Clinton would have been proud of -- one that increases, not decreases, federal involvement in primary and secondary schooling.

On civil liberties, President Bush has certainly upheld his conservative credentials. But even here, it's hard to see where he's been that different than President Clinton. One can't imagine former Attorney General Janet Reno -- architect of the Waco disaster -- showing any more post-Sept. 11 deference to the Bill of Rights than Attorney General John Ashcroft has.

Radley also maintains this fine public service.

Jay Manifold [6:55 PM]

An Evening at Powell Observatory (III)

(Previous post in series here.) I learn more every time I volunteer to help out -- not so much about observatory operations as about how to handle the public. Saturday night was no exception. Here's how to do it right:

I was once again on the Louisburg Community Telescope (actually two telescopes stored onsite in a steel-frame shed with a roll-off roof), and was allowed to run the larger instrument, a Meade Starfinder Dobsonian 16. Aperture roughly 400 mm; divide by 7, quotient is about 57; square 57 to get 3,249. So the quick version is that this telescope is gathering over 3,000 times as much light as your eye. That gets us down to magnitude +14.5 or so, though it might be necessary to shut off all the lights in KC to get the best possible result. Say "fourteenth magnitude" and you're close enough. The 16" is an f/4.5 and the default eyepiece is a 40 mm, so that gives roughly 1800/40 = 45x. Street price is around $1200.

Since the crowd last Saturday night was actually a bit smaller than the one the week before, and also since the Moon wasn't interfering early on, the people lined up at the 16" got to see a few things besides Albireo. Be warned that first-timers can find it difficult to appreciate galaxies, globular clusters, and planetary nebulae -- people who aren't used to looking through a telescope won't perceive as much. Sometimes if they see anything at all, it just looks like a smudge. So I included one non-smudgelike object, namely M39, a fine open cluster in northern Cygnus.

I didn't have all the information available that I would have liked to impart, but on (for example) M13, I was able to rattle off the facts and figures: 25,000 light-years away, a little ways outside our galaxy, hundreds of thousands of very old stars in a big ball that all formed together and are held together by their gravity; fraction of a light-year apart at the center, much more tightly packed than stars in the solar neighborhood. And in the 16", people could actually see quite a few individual stars, so it wasn't just a big fuzzy thing.

Mars, of course, is a special case right now. After it got far enough above the eastern treeline to see, I switched to a slightly higher-power eyepiece -- the 26mm that comes with the telescope when you buy it; this yields just over 70x. But I didn't have a stop-down mask (piece of cardboard covering the front of the telescope with a big off-center hole cut in it), nor did I have an appropriate color filter, so there wasn't much contrast in the image. It was big, and bright (uncomfortably so), and most people could pick out the northern polar cap and some dark markings in the northern hemisphere. But I could have done better.

I could also have done some homework so I'd know what part of the planet we were seeing. Consulting an ephemeris discloses that the central meridian was (at 11 PM CDT, ie 0400 UT Sun 17 Aug) around 0-10° Martian longitude. Looking at a map, we find that those northern-hemisphere markings were indeed Mare Acidalium -- one of the most easily-found surface features on Mars -- and the surrounding areas, including Cydonia (of "Face" fame) and Chryse (Viking 1 landing site). Sweet.

Jay Manifold [12:34 PM]

[ 20030815 ]

KC Terror Follow-Up (II)

(Ref this earlier post and the one immediately below it.) Previously encountered reader Karl Hallowell passed along several risk-management tips:

Actually, given the predominant political ideology in Israel, which is virtually Naderite, I think it's a wonder they've done as well as they have. Probably an indication of the even less realistic politics of the Arab world. Karl's comments, however, nicely illustrates some of the tradeoffs we have to consider.

Anyway, onward, to previously unknown reader (the best kind) "admin@alanlittle.org," who writes:

Regarding your recent comments on terrorist tactics - using bombs or bomb threats to "herd" people is old hat - Irish terrorists were doing it in England ten years ago.

They let off a relatively small bomb in Manchester city centre, right outside where I was working at the time. I wasn't at my desk when it went off; the guy at the next desk said he actually saw the big plateglass window next to our workplace flex with the blast, but it didn't break so he's still alive.

Then, as that part of the city centre was being evacuated, the scum set off a bigger bomb right next to one of the evacuation routes. Two of my colleagues lost hearing in one ear from being too close to the blast.

I don't see how the "pack-not-a-herd-principle", however sound it may be as a general principle, is relevant against this kind of attack using timed or remote-controlled bombs. It's not like hijackings, where the terrorists are conveniently there to be mobbed.

An American example is of course the handiwork of Eric Rudolph: "January 16, 1997 - Explosion at the Sandy Springs Professional building draws authorities to the site where the Atlanta Northside Family Planning Service offices are located inside. A second bomb detonates shortly thereafter, injuring seven." This was a deliberate attempt to kill law enforcement and emergency medical personnel responding to the first bomb.

I don't know how "a pack, not a herd" could work in a situation like that, either. Maybe it can't. But if it can, we're going to learn how.

As always, thanks for writing. I know my response time is less than wonderful, but I try to do right by my correspondents.

Jay Manifold [6:02 PM]

The Dark Side of Model Airplanes

The indefatigable Bill Walker sends this and comments cryptically: "GPS + model plane + Q fever = trouble."

A 5-kilogram (fully fueled!) model airplane flew over 3,000 kilometers in 38 hours, most of it at an altitude of 270 meters. Since the 3,000 km in question stretch from Cape Spear, Newfoundland, to County Galway, Ireland, this entailed crossing the Atlantic Ocean (yeah, I know, Rand linked to the story).

OK, I'll take the bait. Turning to the relevant CDC webpage, we find:

The organisms are resistant to heat, drying, and many common disinfectants. These features enable the bacteria to survive for long periods in the environment. Infection of humans usually occurs by inhalation of these organisms from air that contains airborne barnyard dust contaminated by dried placental material, birth fluids, and excreta of infected herd animals. Humans are often very susceptible to the disease, and very few organisms may be required to cause infection.

Only 1%-2% of people with acute Q fever die of the disease.

Chronic Q fever, characterized by infection that persists for more than 6 months is uncommon but is a much more serious disease. Patients who have had acute Q fever may develop the chronic form as soon as 1 year or as long as 20 years after initial infection. A serious complication of chronic Q fever is endocarditis, generally involving the aortic heart valves, less commonly the mitral valve. Most patients who develop chronic Q fever have pre-existing valvular heart disease or have a history of vascular graft. Transplant recipients, patients with cancer, and those with chronic kidney disease are also at risk of developing chronic Q fever. As many as 65% of persons with chronic Q fever may die of the disease.

Coxiella burnetii is a highly infectious agent that is rather resistant to heat and drying. It can become airborne and inhaled by humans. A single C. burnetii organism may cause disease in a susceptible person. This agent could be developed for use in biological warfare and is considered a potential terrorist threat.

Vaccines are available -- but not in the US. A search at fda.gov indicated, to put it politely, a lack of a sense of urgency. There is some good news; this site says: "Person-to-person transmission is rare. Patients exposed to Q fever by aerosol do not present a risk for secondary contamination or re-aerosolization of the organism."

Q fever aside, the more general case of small radar-invisible aircraft capable of being developed and launched by a handful of people, traveling intercontinental distances, and striking within a few meters of a designated target, is obviously problematic. Massive nuisance attacks using swarms of such aircraft could erode a city's infrastructure to the point of collapse, disabling utilities and traffic arteries.

Eventually, of course, we'll have active shield defenses against these types of things. But such technologies may be twenty years away. Until then, we'll have to either 1) get lucky or 2) manage the risk with more-or-less conventional methods. One more reason to hunt down the bad guys now.

Jay Manifold [5:40 PM]

Cleveland Water

-- or, what I find to be the most interesting infrastructural aspect of the blackout: a metropolitan area of 2.3 million people, largely deprived of potable water. A day (or five) without electricity is one thing, but a day without water is something else. I have no doubt that recovery will proceed expeditiously, just as it did here after last year's ice storm, but in the meantime:

A major concern in Cleveland is water. The outages have affected four Lake Erie pumping stations. The Ohio National Guard has been deployed to Cleveland, to distribute drinking water.

Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell says suburbs to the east and west are without water. Pumps are working again, but a city spokeswoman says it could take days to get water back through the system. City officials urge residents to boil water for 24 hours after water returns.

Another water concern is affecting the Cuyahoga River. Raw sewage is flowing into the Cuyahoga because sewage treatment plants have been down.

The otherwise unimpressive website of Cleveland's water provider does have an overview that's well worth reading. About the only Cleveland-area blog I've been able to get to is Brewed Fresh Daily.

UPDATE: The latest as of midafternoon today.

Jay Manifold [9:27 AM]

Obligatory Blackout Post

Living 600 miles or so west of the westernmost affected area, I didn't notice much. ;)

Anyway, there's been tons of great blogging already done on this; I'll note only two things:

  1. Read this (85 kB *.pdf; 2 pages) for historical perspective.

  2. Watch for social pathologies (ie looting), or the lack thereof. Indeed, cooperation seems to be the order of the day.

Yes, there are lessons to be learned about physical security, the regulatory regime, etc, but I think the big lesson is about people's ability to react appropriately.

Oh, and congratulations to NYC residents for getting some observing in:

While New Yorkers poured out of immobile subway cars, emerged from stuck elevators, began long walks home or rested in local establishments, one unidentified man saw beauty.

"You can actually see the stars in New York City," he said.

UPDATE: Here's another observing report (registration req'd):

Debra Nuss of Garden City, N.Y., was stranded at Mustang Sally's at Seventh Avenue and 28th Street.

"I'm standing here in New York and I have no way to get home," she said. "It is really disturbing." At one point, she looked at the starry sky and said, "That is amazing. It's something you just never would dream of seeing in New York."

Jay Manifold [6:42 AM]

[ 20030814 ]

Gamma-Ray Weapons

Via EurekAlert! and New Scientist, an explanation of a remarkable potential new explosive that "blurs the distinction between nuclear and conventional weapons":

Scientists have known for many years that the nuclei of some elements, such as hafnium, can exist in a high-energy state, or nuclear isomer, that slowly decays to a low-energy state by emitting gamma rays. For example, hafnium178m2, the excited, isomeric form of hafnium-178, has a half-life of 31 years.

The possibility that this process could be explosive was discovered when Carl Collins and colleagues at the University of Texas at Dallas demonstrated that they could artificially trigger the decay of the hafnium isomer by bombarding it with low-energy Xrays (New Scientist, 3 July 1999, p42). The experiment released 60 times as much energy as was put in, and in theory a much greater energy release could be achieved.

Production is severely constrained by the requirement for a nuclear reactor or particle accelerator, and the materials involved are being fabricated in less than milligram quantities. But they may be available in gram quantities within five years. And when they are, look out:

One gram of fully charged hafnium isomer could store more energy than 50 kilograms of TNT. Miniature missiles could be made with warheads that are far more powerful than existing conventional weapons, giving massively enhanced firepower to the armed forces using them.

How does this compare with space-based kinetic-kill weapons? Quite favorably; a projectile traveling at orbital velocity (7.9 km sec-1) would have to mass 6,800 g to equate to 50 kg of TNT (KE = 210 MJ). Though if the "smart rock" were made mostly of steel and had a bulk density of 7 g cm-3, it could take the form of a cone only about 12 cm (4.7") across at the base and 24 cm (9.4") tall.

Some follow-on questions, however, immediately suggest themselves. Which type of system would be more difficult to develop? Which would be easier to control, in both the positive and negative senses (making it go off when you want it to, keeping it from going off when you don't want it to)? Which would be easier to securely store?

So even though I'm not buying the arms-control concerns, I think that orbital "smart rocks" are better than Earthbound mini-nukes.

Jay Manifold [12:38 PM]

[ 20030813 ]

An Unoriginal Idea

But somebody had to think of it, so I did.

California budget deficit: $38 billion (source).

California gubernatorial special election filing fee: $3,500 per candidate (source).

California gubernatorial candidates required to erase deficit: 10,857,143

I note that this is less than one-third the population of California, which is approaching 36 million (source), so this seems like as feasible a solution as anything coming out of Sacramento recently. ;)

Jay Manifold [1:44 PM]

The Real Meaning of "No Child Left Behind"

-- besides "no child ever denied a high school diploma for any reason," that is, may be discerned here (registration required):

Some compare it to working under the old Soviet system of five-year plans. In January, just before the scandal broke, Abelardo Saavedra, deputy superintendent, unveiled Houston's latest mandates for the new year. "The districtwide student attendance rate will increase from 94.6 percent to 95 percent," he wrote. "The districtwide annual dropout rate will decrease from 1.5 percent to 1.3 percent."

A shortage of resources to track departing students? No "unknowns" allowed? What to do? "Make it up," Dr. [Robert] Kimball [, an assistant principal at Sharpstown High School,] said. "The principals who survive are the yes men."

As for those who fail to make their numbers, it is termination time, one of many innovations championed by Dr. Paige as superintendent here from 1994 to 2001. He got rid of tenure for principals and mandated that they sign one-year contracts that allowed dismissal "without cause" and without a hearing.

On the other hand, for principals who make their numbers, it is bonus time. Principals can earn a $5,000 bonus, district administrators up to $20,000. At Sharpstown High alone, Dr. Kimball said, $75,000 in bonus money was issued last year, before the fictitious numbers were exposed.

A letter to the editor in today's KCStar by Margaret A. Hogan of Kansas City, MO, however, piously assures us that "there's not enough money in schools to be corrupt with." I'll post the link when it becomes available -- it's priceless.

UPDATES: Link; page down to "Insults Teachers." Actually, she may be right about administrators. But public money can be immensely corrupting.

Separately, Kevin Munden writes: "Sharpstown HS is a perfect illustration of the futility of trying to solve our educational problems bureaucratically.

"Both my brother and sister were SHS grads, I would have been, but went to the local Jesuit school. Sharpstown is an inner ring suburb of Houston. Back in the 60's and 70's it was suburban middle class. But as the city expanded, the middle class migrated further out. The socio-economic status of students has been declining since the mid 70's. So the principal who gets stuck with SHS will be doing an exemplary job just to keep the numbers even. To expect them to improve the numbers, in the face of declining SES, is to invite cheating of some sort.

"In another 10 to 15 years, the process will reverse itself, as the creeping gentrification of the 610 (inner) loop area expands towards the beltway (second loop)."

Jay Manifold [12:04 PM]

OK, Just One More

Via Aaron's Rantblog ...

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

You belong in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

You value freedom above all else. You would fight and die for your family and your home.

Which Heinlein Book Should You Have Been A Character In?
brought to you by Quizilla

(Speaking of Aaron's Rantblog, this is a must-see.)

Jay Manifold [5:47 AM]

Observing Report

Even with a just-past-Full Moon, I saw about 20 Perseid meteors in an hour and a half (4:00 - 5:30 AM CDT), most of them large and bright, with glowing ionization tails that lasted at least a few seconds. Several appeared reddish or yellowish, but this may have been an artifact of summer haze (which is still present at night).

A bonus was the very impressive conjunction of the Moon and Mars, which were just a few degrees apart in the southwestern sky. Saturn was rising in the east and forms an interesting asterism with Orion -- follow the diagonal from Rigel to Betelgeuse the same distance onward to the north-northeast, and there's Saturn. In the telescope, the rings are still nearly wide open; Titan was easily seen, and there were hints of as many as 4 other satellites. The usual 3 are Tethys, Rhea, and Dione, and I may have glimpsed Enceladus as well.

I saw only one artificial Earth satellite, moving south to north in a near-polar orbit, rather slowly -- it must have been at a relatively high altitude.

Jay Manifold [5:26 AM]

[ 20030812 ]

The Two Cultures

Over on Transterrestrial Musings, Rand brought up this topic -- not a new one, as it dates to the Rede Lecture given by C.P. Snow in the year of my birth.

In the comments, "Fred K" perceptively notes:

What is the intended message [of] this anecdote? And, perhaps more tellingly, what is the message conveyed to the average non-science educated reader?

Undoubtedly, the writer (in this case Diana Hsieh, but these comments are intended toward a broader scope) is expressing mild scorn at the science education level of the artsy-type in the story.

I think the average reader would find this tone to be haughty and holier-than-thou. Certainly nothing in the anecdote attempts to educate the reader. This, I maintain, is a primary example of the negative atmosphere of distrust between the present day arts and sciences, a symptom of which would be the lack of artists in science classes.

The anecdote itself may be an urban legend, but things almost that silly do happen on a regular basis. I remember my physics major buddy Bob Johansen telling me a story about a U of C lecturer in (of course) sociology using the phrase "atoms of tableness" while attempting to refer to the molecular structure of wood, as part of some fractured analogy. I myself heard a sociology prof assert that all knowledge, including the laws of physics, was transitory and changing -- on timescales of generations to centuries; perhaps the first time I encountered such a baldly post-modernist assertion (this would have been about 1978). So before I continue, I'm acknowledging that yes, there's a real problem here, one that makes hard-science majors want to slap some sense into liberal-arts types.

But that doesn't make it a good idea, as the following lengthy excerpt from Jerry P. King's The Art of Mathematics (pp 256-259) illustrates:

... I sat at lunch in the faculty dining room. By random choice my luncheon companions were two assistant professors: a young woman from sociology and a young man from physics. We talked about Three Mile Island. I told my story of the newsbreak and the coincidence of first hearing about the accident when I was exactly over the Susquehanna River. I did not tell them about feeling helpless. Grown-up men of my time and place do not acknowledge helplessness. Not out loud anyway.

When I finished, the sociologist spoke. She referred to the accident as a "disaster" using the term still current in the media even though no injuries had been identified. She spoke of past nuclear disasters and the potential for future disasters. She talked of white men dropping nuclear bombs on yellow people. She mentioned Robert Oppenheimer's famous remark: "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." She talked about capitalist greed and the failed ethic that places concern for electrical power above concern for people. And she spoke of a dark future filled with birth defects and lingering illnesses resulting from the health hazards associated with nuclear power.

She was concerned and passionate. She talked without pause as her fruit salad warmed and her tea cooled. I nodded noncommittingly from time to time and ate my tuna sandwich. The physicist sat listening and motionless. When she finished he said to her quietly:

"You don't know what you are talking about."

She bristled. "Don't bother telling me that no one was hurt so it isn't a disaster. All we know is that no one has yet been identified as being hurt. We don't know what nuclear poison the residents are carrying around inside them."

"That's not my point," the physicist said even more quietly.

"Then what is?"

He took a small notebook from his jacket pocket and then an old-fashioned fountain pen. A real one with ink that comes from a bottle. He took his time unscrewing the cap. He wrote something on a blank page and passed it across to her. She held it up so I could see. He had written a single equation: dy/dt = ky.

"So what?" she said.

"Do you know what this means?" he said, pointing to the equation.

"I am not a mathematician," she said.

"Neither am I," he said. "You don't have to be one to understand this equation. We teach it to freshmen. Ask the dean."

She looked across at me and I nodded again.

This time the young physicist's voice had a slight edge:

"It's the differential equation which describes nuclear decay. When you solve it you get an explicit expression for the decay. When you manipulate the solution in an elementary manner you can determine the half-life of the nuclear substance. You can't talk about future health problems unless you understand these things. And you don't. All you have to say is air. Nothing but air."

He paused and sipped his tea. She looked across at me again. Lost and helpless.

"I'd write the solution of the equation for you," he said, "but you wouldn't understand that either."

Without a word she rose and left the table and the room. I finished the last bite of my sandwich and walked out behind her. The young physicist remained alone with his lunch, smug and satisfied.

In the evening I related the lunch table events to my wife.

"It was no contest," I said. "He's type M. She is type N."

"What's type M?"

"The M stands for mathematics," I said. "He has some facility with mathematics. Such people are of type M."

"Do you mean something inherent? Like blood type?"

"Absolutely not," I said. "You become type M by learning some mathematics. You aren't born that way. What I mean by 'facility' is a certain level of skill and knowledge. Anyone can become type M; it requires only study and practice."

"What does type N mean?"

"The N just stands for 'not M.' People who are not type M are of type N. Type N people have no real mathematical skill."

"Interesting," she said.

"It's more than that," I said. "It is fundamental. People of type N cannot argue science or technology with people of type M."


"Because they always lose."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," I said. "They lose even when they are right."

King's suggested remedy -- that mathematics be taught explicitly for its aesthetic value and thus begin to include (for example) artists in type M, is certainly intriguing and worthy of pursuit. My point here is more Rodney King: why can't we all just get along? Of course, the problem is exacerbated, like so many others, by politics; as a forgettable weblogger once wrote:

Make no mistake: this [six-order-of-magnitude error] is the quality of reporting and editing behind everything from "global warming" to Afghan civilian casualty figures to next year's Federal budget deficit projections. The incessant hectoring to which we are subjected by interventionist media types and politicians routinely betrays utter ignorance of even the simplest mathematics.

Without mathematical rigor, the 20th century gave us things like Social Security, incomparably the largest Ponzi scheme in human history; and the 21st may give us a multi-trillion-dollar effort to "fight global warming," an either nonexistent or entirely beneficial trend. How long can the equilibrium of technically incompetent rulers lording it over technologically advanced societies be maintained?

And again:

Science, in particular, is a far less intuitive pursuit than the narrative art (or we'd have developed it tens of thousands of years ago). The NYTimes' editorial writers may be somewhat less qualified to write about science than, say, I am; but they sure can write.

The interesting question, I suppose, is how to manage the risk this poses in the public-policy arena, where the whims of liberal-arts majors can become monumentally destructive.

Well, they're not going to be disenfranchised anytime soon. Nor are we likely to be the beneficiaries of constitutional amendments eliminating Federal control over, say, the money supply, or the "public" airwaves, or the one-third of the entire land area of the US that is directly owned by various government agencies, or any of the other things they do that must have the Founders spinning in their graves.

So we'll just have to deal with the world as it really is after all, darn it. And that means taking the time to explain, even if it would be a lot more fun to be a jerk instead.

Jay Manifold [8:52 PM]

Tonight's the Night

-- for this, and the forecast for the KC area is excellent. As I write this, it's in the low 80s Fahrenheit, 37% humidity (that's quite low for the Midwest), with a 15 mph breeze -- delightful weather for mid-August. Not a cloud in the sky.

Jay Manifold [6:36 PM]

Harry Turtledove, Call Your Office

Via Technorati, this astonishing bit of historical trivia from the Guardian.

Jay Manifold [4:40 PM]

No Wisecracks About Gender (or Race), Please

Got to this via One Hand Clapping:

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?


Possessing a rare combination of wisdom and humility, while serenely dominating
your environment you selflessly use your powers to care for others.

Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.

Jay Manifold [9:42 AM]

Wake Up, America

I know that linking to InstaPundit is gilding the lily, but while we're all Standing United and Never Forgetting and Nagging God to Bless America, let's remember that the people running the show on September 10, 2001 are still in charge, and we may not have gotten around to attacking the right country yet.

Jay Manifold [8:13 AM]

[ 20030811 ]

An Evening at Powell Observatory (II)

(Previous post here.) Attention, all planets of the Solar Federation: Mars has assumed control.

Powell was mobbed last Saturday night by 200 or so visitors -- the program, "Astronomy 101," was presented five times in the lecture room next to the main dome; I believe this is a record. ASKC members who brought their telescopes, and beleaguered volunteers manning the LCT, myself among them, had all they could do to keep the lines shorter than a couple of dozen people at each 'scope.

In the event, some high thin stuff began interfering in the west and north shortly after the end of twilight; most of the people looking through the 12.5" I was manning saw only the Moon, Albireo, and Mizar-Alcor. By the time Mars rose in the east shortly before 11 PM, clouds prevented more than the occasional glimpse (I still got a look at that north polar cap, though).

Even in marginal observing conditions, Mars is still amazing, perhaps especially to the unaided eye, because its brightness varies so much -- and so quickly, especially before a close opposition like this one. No other naked-eye planet changes as much. Mercury is hard to find anyway, and most people never notice it. Venus is impressively bright, but it's always impressively bright (and plain white). Jupiter and Saturn don't vary in brightness much because they're always a long way from Earth.

At the beginning of the year Mars shone at magnitude +1.5, about as bright as the stars in Orion's belt; now it's at -2.6, 44 times brighter, the third-brightest thing in the sky except for the Sun and Moon* -- and half of that increase has taken place since late May. And of course it's that amazing color.

Anyway, by way of making a sort of public-service announcement: if you've got a telescope and know any astronomy at all, consider helping your local club out sometime in the next few weeks, because they're going to get swarmed.

* OK, and Venus, but Venus is less than 3° from the Sun as seen from Earth as I write this; hardly anyone will be seeing it before this autumn.

Jay Manifold [6:32 PM]

KC Terror Follow-Up

The blogger known as "Yet another weird SF fan" comments on Friday's events and refers to my hypothesized method of attack -- causing buildings to be evacuated and then slaughtering the evacuees as they concentrate in assigned spots -- as "living off the land," and further notes that there are attacks in which "low density is no defense" and in which high density is actually an advantage for the victims: "It is, of course, easier to improvise a response when there are more people around."

It is also much more likely that institutional responses will be better as well, partly because of greater availability of emergency services and partly because of a greater likelihood of prior events, like this or this, resulting in planning for such contingencies (see "Emergency Operations Plan").

This is not to disparage the "pack-not-a-herd-principle," whose validity I fully recognize to the point of having suggested that DHS be replaced.

Jay Manifold [5:34 AM]

[ 20030809 ]

More Thoughts on Yesterday's Incident (or, the Mathematics of Terror)

(For those just grazing in, that would be this incident.) First of all, it appears to have been an astonishing coincidence:

According to firefighters, the flames started in one car because of oil on the engine, and then spread to other vehicles. Fire crews quickly put out the flames.

How astonishing? The campus -- which was the largest build-to-suit office complex in the world under construction in the late '90s -- has never before experienced a bomb threat or a car fire. I've been told that there were occasional bomb threats at the old headquarters building, 9 miles to the north, and I have witnessed the aftermath of one car fire in a company parking lot in my 14 years with my employer (this occurred in Irving, TX, and was deliberately set by some local teenagers).

A rough-order-of-magnitude estimate of the likelihood of either event occurring on any given workday would be ~10-3. Both on the same day, ~10-6. I believe that we are literally talking about a one-in-a-million shot.

Nonetheless, even one-in-a-million coincidences do occur. After some consideration, I now regard this as an incredibly fortuitous event, one that can be evaluated and reacted to in a way that may someday save many, many lives. I therefore note the following:

  1. The population density of this MSA (347 kB *.pdf; see page 2) is among the lowest of any city in the world; following the strict definition of the entire MSA, it works out to about 330 persons per square mile (~130 persons km-2). That's about 2 acres (~0.8 hectare) per person. If we all spread out at equal intervals over all 11 counties, we'd be standing 290 feet (~90 m) apart.

  2. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the population here lives in single-family detached housing; relatively few people are in high-rise apartment buildings or condos. In my neighborhood, houses are on ¼-acre lots; all other things being equal, their separation would be just over 100 feet (~30 m)

  3. Nor are most workplaces crowded. The floor of the building where I work contains cubicles for approximately 250 employees. Its footprint is over 40,000 square feet (~4,000 m2). A typical density is 1 person per 170 square feet (1 person 16 m-2); average separation is 13 feet (4 m).

  4. The significance of the slightly obsessive calculations above is that terrorist attacks typically inflict damage to a radius on the order of 10 meters, and in any case less than 100 meters. In the absence of office skyscrapers or high-rise residential complexes, opportunities to produce a 2-digit or higher death toll are limited.

  5. In particular, they are limited to "third places," that is, venues other than home or work. Crowded restaurants, concerts, or sporting events are the usual possibilities, but access can be carefully controlled at many such places, and at nearly all with capacities running into 4 or 5 digits (exposure remains, however, for bars, restaurants, shopping mall food courts, movie theater ticket lines, etc).

  6. The specific possibility I am concerned with here, however, is the tactic of creating a high-density crowd and then attacking it. This is exactly what could have happened yesterday morning. The evacuations proceeded smoothly and in a timely fashion; had a bomb detonated inside one of the buildings at 10 AM, it would almost certainly have killed no one and very likely would not have even injured anyone. But the employees standing outside the buildings and in the parking garages were at a density of 1 m-2 or higher, that is, concentrated by well over an order of magnitude.

  7. In addition, they were all either 1) in the open, next to a 4-lane street easily accessible from several nearby major traffic arteries or 2) immediately adjacent to numerous vehicles inside a steel-reinforced concrete structure which would serve quite well to focus the effects of a blast. Without wishing to seem unduly flippant, I must say that you don't have to be Osama bin Laden to figure out how to take advantage of that.

  8. In general, emergency plans which are entirely appropriate for an accident, like a fire, can lead to disaster in the event of an act of malice. I urge careful reconsideration and redesign of evacuation procedures for terrorist incidents.

Finally, it doesn't help that people in this part of the country find it basically inconceivable that they would ever be targets. That stuff happens on the East Coast. Maybe eventually the West Coast. But it can't happen here. Right?

Jay Manifold [9:17 AM]

Blogroll Updates

Randy McDonald, last seen commenting on space colonization, has a new site, to which I have permalinked, and Part 5 of an intermittent series ...

I am attempting to maintain the blogroll regularly now, which is resulting in some interesting juxtapositions, as for example Right Wing News and Rush Limbaughtomy. Use the "Request for Permalink" permalink -- gee, there should be another word for that -- in the left sidebar to, well, request a permalink. No promises as to response time, but I don't screen for ideological content; the only request I've completely ignored (I think) was from someone who had nudity on their page (and no, it wasn't the Unablogger, who is in a class all his own; this was much less attractive nudity).

UPDATE: "Serona" identifies a trend over on C y b e r :: E c o l o g y.

Jay Manifold [6:37 AM]

[ 20030808 ]

Ion Rocket to the Moon

Via EurekAlert! (permalink in left sidebar), we find Europe’s first Moon probe prepares for launch. SMART-1, as it is called, will be piggybacking into GTO with a couple of communications satellites, then traveling from there to the Moon -- slowly, with an ion engine:

SMART-1’s ion engine will be used to accelerate the probe and raise its orbit until it reaches the vicinity of the Moon, some 350,000 to 400,000 km from Earth. Then, following gravity assists from a series of lunar swingbys in late September, late October and late November 2004, SMART-1 will be 'captured' by the Moon’s gravity in December 2004 and will begin using its engine to slow down and reduce the altitude of its lunar orbit.

Now let's have some fun with the rocket equation. The stated total mass of SMART-1 is 367 kg, and this page says that it has 72 kg of propellant. Furthermore, this document (116 kB *.pdf) says:

SMART-1’s [Solar Electric Primary Propulsion] will use a 70 mN Hall-effect xenon plasma thruster from SNECMA ... [it] will be used to spiral out from GTO over 15-18 months, followed by lunar swingby, lunar capture and then spiralling in to a near-polar lunar orbit with a perilune of 300-2000 km and an apolune of 10000 km.

Primary propulsion: PPS-1350 Hall-effect Stationary Plasma Thruster, 70 mN at 1350 W inlet power, 10 cm-dia chamber, SI 1500 s, up to 80 kg Xe propellant, mounted in 2-degree-of-freedom gimbals, pointing accuracy 0.02°.

Seventy millinewtons, by the way, is about ¼ of an ounce.

OK, so Isp = 1500, g = 9.81 m sec-2, Mo = 367 kg, and Mf = 295 kg. Plugging that into Dv = Isp g ln(Mo/Mf) yields 3,210 m sec-1 or thereabouts.

Since the Dv from GTO to LTO (that is, lunar transfer orbit) is less than 700 m sec-1, and lunar orbit insertion can require less than 900 m sec-1 (source; see Table 3), this leaves lots of contingency for later orbit changes and stationkeeping. All in all, it makes for a nice demonstration of a technology that will not only permit comsats to carry many more transponders, etc -- much of their mass today is taken up by conventional propellants for stationkeeping -- but also permit much larger payloads to be sent on interplanetary missions.

Jay Manifold [5:50 PM]

A Dose of Reality

I try not to utter a discouraging word in this space, but the sooner we acknowledge our difficulties, the sooner we'll work our way out of them. Via Transterrestrial Musings, an Arnold Kling column over on TCS:

The recession was deep, it was long, and it is still underway.

Labor utilization has declined every month this year. Contrary to the [National Bureau of Economic Research] and conventional wisdom, this recession is long, deep, and ongoing.

Jay Manifold [3:31 PM]

Breaking News

I was affected by this event, which may represent a not-especially-competent attempt at terrorism. My building was actually evacuated twice, at approximately 9:50 and 10:25 AM. More developments as, or if, they occur ...

UPDATE: And here's a photo taken by a fellow employee with a camera phone ...

And here's the official version of reality:

From Corporate Communications

The Overland Park Police and Fire Departments and Campus Asset Protection issued an all-clear for all Campus buildings at 10:30 a.m. today following a comprehensive evacuation of the Campus.

Early this morning, Sprint was notified by the Overland Park Police of a non-specific bomb threat against Sprint World Headquarters. Campus Asset Protection and the Overland Park Police conducted a comprehensive sweep of the exterior and interior of the entire Campus prior to the start of the work day. Although no evident threat was discovered, senior management met on the issue and Chairman and CEO Gary Forsee made the decision to schedule an evacuation of the campus beginning at approximately 9:45 a.m. Another search was conducted by Asset Protection after the evacuation was completed.

Concurrently, Campus Asset Protection was notified of a car fire in parking lot E at 9:30 a.m. The Overland Park Police and Fire departments responded quickly and the fire, which spread to two other cars, was contained. There were no injuries.

"I would like to thank employees for their quick evacuation. It was evident that the evacuation drills that we routinely conduct led to your ability to quickly exit the building. Your safety is our utmost concern," said Forsee.

After an initial investigation, The Overland Park Fire Department has concluded that these events were unrelated. Cars parked on level two of parking lot E may be obstructed from exiting for the next several hours while the investigation is completed. Enterprise Property Services will follow up with additional communication to associates parked in parking lot E about how to report damage and loss due to the fire.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The KCStar has additional details, some of them rather intriguing, here.

Jay Manifold [12:40 PM]

[ 20030807 ]

Constitutions: EU vs US

Another collision between the Anglo-American and Franco-Continental worldviews is nicely characterized by William Niskanen of Cato in this piece appearing in the Taipei Times, currently at #26 on Blogdex:

Broad agreement on the substantive provisions of a constitution is necessary to its effectiveness. Broad agreement on principles is not, because many people may support the same substantive provision for quite different reasons. On these issues, I suggest that Madison is a better guide to an effective constitution than is Descartes.

You can compare the two documents yourself, if you've got the patience -- the EU monstrosity is tens of times the size of the US document:

Just to illustrate the point, here are the respective preambles:

  1. We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

  2. Conscious that Europe is a continent that has brought forth civilisation; that its inhabitants, arriving in successive waves from earliest times, have gradually developed the values underlying humanism: equality of persons, freedom, respect for reason,

    Drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, the values of which, still present in its heritage, have embedded within the life of society the central role of the human person and his or her inviolable and inalienable rights, and respect for law,

    Believing that reunited Europe intends to continue along the path of civilisation, progress and prosperity, for the good of all its inhabitants, including the weakest and most deprived; that it wishes to remain a continent open to culture, learning and social progress; and that it wishes to deepen the democratic and transparent nature of its public life, and to strive for peace, justice and solidarity throughout the world,

    Convinced that, while remaining proud of their own national identities and history, the peoples of Europe are determined to transcend their ancient divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a common destiny,

    Convinced that, thus "united in its diversity", Europe offers them the best chance of pursuing, with due regard for the rights of each individual and in awareness of their responsibilities towards future generations and the Earth, the great venture which makes of it a special area of human hope,

    Grateful to the members of the European Convention for having prepared this Constitution on behalf of the citizens and States of Europe,

    [Who, having exchanged their full powers, found in good and due form, have agreed as follows:]

Still awake? ;)

UPDATE: Bill Sjostrom says (in a different but amusing context), "Schindler’s List is a magnificent movie, about unexpected heroism in the midst of vast depravity and evil. But I cannot repeatedly watch it. Living in Europe is tough enough."

Jay Manifold [4:23 PM]

How to Intervene in Liberia

Use your wallet:

World Vision has worked with the children and families of Liberia for 20 years. Our staff is committed to staying and saving lives even as vicious fighting rages around them.

Today, you can provide lifesaving Family Survival Kits to Liberian families. Click here to send a Kit that includes items like nutritious food, cooking utensils, a waterproof tarp, and water-purification tablets for a family of five.

Jay Manifold [10:25 AM]

Road Trip Feedback

Departing a bit from the normal subject matter of this blog -- and by way of rubbing in that bit of nonsense about how bloggers don't share their personal lives -- I got a couple of e-mails from previously unknown readers (the best kind) about my little trip. Tim Holtan (bike pics here and here) writes:

Speed sucks gas, but it's key for leaving flat states in your rear-view mirrors. On my 1100 mile day (Panama City, FL to Milwaukee, WI) I averaged 61mph, which might give you a hint about how long I had the speedo needle above 80.

I wouldn't recommend touring like that as it's really boring. I happened to have a goal and I was passing through central Illinois (boring and flat).

Butt pain is a way of life for some folks. Due to the nature of my GL, I could move around a bit on it. I'd put my feet on the rear pegs and often I'd just lay on the tank bag and hook my boots over the top of the rear pegs. If anything bad had happened I'd have been meat, but when you can see the road clearly for the next 3 miles, you don't get a lot of surprises.

(Central Illnois, BTW, is way flatter than Kansas.)

Meanwhile, Alan Dippold writes:

I finished a long trip on my Honda ST1300 at the end of June, put on 5,322 miles, and I still have the weird suntan spots on the back of my hands a month later. Glad to find that I am not the only one with crazy spotted hands. I also experienced severe sore butt. Half way through my trip, I stopped at a Honda dealer in Prescott, AZ and bought an AirHawk seat cushion and that made the trip back home to Michigan much more bearable.

We are all wimps, however, by comparison with Professor Hall, who did nearly 1400 miles in one day recently.

In response to queries, a picture of a bike essentially identical to mine (which She Who Must Be Obeyed calls the "midlifecricycle"), on the webpage of the shop where I bought it, is here. And here's Carhenge, as photographed by me with a cheap disposable camera at midafternoon of Friday 1 August 2003 (the usual thanks to Leo Johns for uploading and bordering):

Jay Manifold [9:24 AM]

Episcopalian Disaster

One more for the liberal side before I start in on the conservatives again. Linking to any given Lileks "Bleat" is silly, given his well-deserved popularity. I'm pointing out this one because I suspect that it will get a lot of attention for the wrong reason, namely his discussion of the Schwarzenegger candidacy. What it should get attention for is this:

Good heavens, man, why don’t you just do the full James Cameron: hop up on the cross and shout I’m King of the Jews!

This story has irritated me from the start, and it has nothing to do with Rev. Robinson’s sexual orientation. The guy left his wife and kids to go do the hokey-pokey with someone else: that’s what it’s all about .... “I want to have sex with other people” is not a valid reason for depriving two little girls of a daddy who lives with them, gets up at night when they're sick, kisses them in the morning when they wake. There's a word for people who leave their children because they don't want to have sex with Mommy anymore: selfish.

Actually, there are a few other words; among the more polite are adulterer, bounder, reprobate, and scoundrel.

But at the Episcopal General Convention, the word for people who leave their children because they don't want to have sex with Mommy anymore is "bishop."

Jay Manifold [8:26 AM]

Bloggers vs Rush Limbaugh

Instapundit points to an unfortunate column which purports to contrast blogging with talk radio.

The author claims that bloggers don't carefully prepare their material or conduct good background investigation; don't use good Web design to make their sites more enjoyable; don't try to entertain or use humor; and don't share anything about their personal lives.

Of course, plenty of bloggers fail in at least one of those things. But all the ones worth reading do all of them; and as far as I can tell, all bloggers with large audiences make a point of doing them.

Reading between the lines, it seems that the Right feels threatened by independent and libertarian bloggers.

UPDATE: A far more constructive piece by Alan Henderson is here.

Jay Manifold [8:26 AM]

[ 20030806 ]

Harvard Research Papers Aren't What They Used To Be

-- judging by this one (warning: 504 kB *.pdf), of which you may read a summary in Howard Kurtz's "Media Notes" column in the WaPo.

Turning to the study itself, we find this under "2. Methodology and Evidence" on pp 5-6:

This study is based on a review of some 510 editorials that appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post on the one hand (the “liberal” papers) and The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times on the other (the “conservative” papers) during the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The exact methodology was as follows.

I chose ten “roughly comparable” incidents from the two administrations and looked at how editorials in each of the four newspapers wrote about those incidents. “Roughly comparable” incidents are defined as issues or controversies on which there was a rough equivalence between what the Clinton administration was trying to do and what the Bush administration was trying to do. That is to say: It was felt, by me and the advisers, that this research would be most useful if it compared matters that were basically equivalent and tried to measure the partisanship of these editorial pages under “normal” circumstances. This means, of course, that extraordinary events and circumstances are not within this paper’s scope.

Given the subjective nature of "roughly comparable" and "extraordinary," the methodology is, to be polite about it, garbage, overwhelming any statistical validity that might be expected to result from evaluating "some 510 editorials." Any Arcturus readers remaining after my periodic attempts to annoy my audience, whether left, right, or libertarian, will know that I hold the conservative worldview (which I define in a manner similar to this recently-widely-denounced study) in considerable disdain. Well, now it's time to call out some liberal tripe.

And tripe it is. Of the "ten 'roughly comparable' incidents," I find four to be wildly dissimilar, which is more than enough to make hash of the study's results:

  1. Clinton stimulus package (1993); Bush tax cut (2001): Compare the final paragraph of this with the second paragraph of this. Two completely different economic/regulatory environments.

  2. Clinton welfare bill (1996); Bush steel tariff (2002): One was the signing of a popular bill by a president facing re-election and needing to appeal to the center; the other was an executive order by a president to shore up support in congressional elections in key states. Unless every political calculation by a president is "roughly comparable," these are not similar.

  3. Clinton vetoes of partial-birth abortion ban (1997 and 1999); Bush decision on embryonic stem-cell research (2001): Legislation on a rare form of abortion in which live birth is an option vs federal support for experimentation involving cell cultures. Unless every poltical decision tangentially relating to abortion is "roughly comparable," these are not similar.

  4. Janet Reno's first year (1993); John Ashcroft's first year (2001): The biggest howler of the lot. I'll leave it to my readership to compare and contrast the events of 2/28 and 4/19/93 with 9/11/01.

I conclude that Harvard's standards have lowered. I also conclude that the real purpose of this "study" is to provide ammunition to self-pitying liberals who imagine themselves to be persecuted by conservative voices in the media.

For another critique, see Rhetorica, which you should be reading anyway.

Jay Manifold [5:09 PM]