Get this guide to the unwritten rules of college success

Spread the love

The Secret Syllabus, A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of College Success* by Jay Phelan and Terry Burnham is an unconventional yet science-based analysis of what a student entering college should do, to make that endeavor worthwhile. It is entirely counter-intuitive, and even shocking. Phelan and Burnham toss the usual advice into the garbage heap, and replace it with an entirely new mythology of how one should think about, and try to achieve, success in college.

And I’m sure this is excellent advice.

I’ve been advisor to college students, directed an admissions program, and I tutor college bound high school kids, so I know something of what I speak. I found the approach taken in this recently published book to be refreshing and very much on the money. I also know Phelan and Burnham pretty well. Jay Phelan and I taught together at Harvard for years, and I was one of Terry Burnham’s PhD thesis readers. I’ve been waiting for years for them to write this book, and now that they’ve done it, I’m very happy to recommend it.

The perspective Phelan and Burnham take is in part anthropological, in part rational-economic theory based, but mostly just plain creative and innovative. How to study. How to study a language. How to be job-marketable. How to have an effective plan for your college major and coursework, instead of the usual bone-headed plan everyone else has (and so often fails at). How to get a mentor and develop a productive relationship with them. This series of dependent clauses may not make great sentences but they accurately describe what you will get out of this book.

As with their earlier work (this is not their first book), Phelan and Burnham have their magic fingers on the pulse of current culture, and fold this into an engaging and humorous writing style. I know that these two authors have been through a lot, and they’ve turned their long and diverse experience into valuable advice.

If you have a kid heading for college, or even one who has been there for a year or so, just give them this book. If you are an advisor, counselor, or just the sort of prof or high school teacher that students look to for guidance, read this book, it will make you look wise. If you are a first or second year college student and want your instructors to be more helpful to you, and want to feel better about the choices you are making, put this book on your must-have list and actually read it when you cop a copy of it.

Here’s a video of the authors talking about The Secret Syllabus. Man have they grown up!


Spread the love

Solving the 4K blues: VLC on Windows 10 with a 4K monitor

Spread the love

VLC is an OpenSource media player that runs on most (or all?) platforms.

When running VLC on Windows with a 4K monitor, you can’t see the menus or any other text without a magnifying glass. That is true of a lot of software. (Don’t tell me about Windows font scaling, that is a broken feature of Windows and does not affect most software that is not Microsoft produced.) Windows 11 is rumored to be better a this, but not everybody has paid the ransom to run that OS on their otherwise capable computers.

The fix for most software is to go into some configuration utility accessible from the software’s menu, and fiddle. For VLC, you have to know the secret incantations.

1) First, “find the VLC.exe file” which is not in a “VLC” folder as you would expect. Go to your “Program Files” and locate the “VideoLAN” folder. That is the folder in which you’ll find “vlc.exe”.

2) Right click on vlc.exe, and pick “Properties.”

3) Select the “Compatibility” tab.

4) Hit the button for “Run compatibility troubleshooter”

5) Follow the instructions for the troubleshooter. It won’t mention anything about resolution, but it will give you a choice for “recommended settings.” Try that. Continue on with the instructions, and your problem will be solved. I took the defaults. You may want to fiddle more.

Bob’s your uncle. Have a nice day seeing your menus!

Turns out you can run this compatibility thingy on any software, or at least, other software. It worked well with VLC, for me. I don’t know how well it will work on other software, but I intend to find out!

Please post your experiences in the comments.


Spread the love
Drawing from Tacuinum Sanitatis, a medieval handbook on health and well-being showing people eating what might look like yoghurt but is actually cheese.

Yoghurt and a New Year’s Resolution

Spread the love

Happy New Year on this New Year’s Day.

I was going to make a New Year’s resolution to procrastinate more, but I didn’t get around to it.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on this yoghurt project. A while back I asked my Facebook friends how they make yoghurt. This was in prepration for buying a device, if needed, to do so. (I ended up getting as small, half-gallon size, Instant Pot*) The answers were amusing. I think there is a yoghurt-making culture (pun possibly intended) in which newcomers are challenged much like new Navy recruits are. “Bring me a bucket of steam, sailor.” It was suggested than an oven works great as a yogurt machine (that from a physicist whose day job is making tiny black holes in Europe). It was suggested that leaving milk in a pan on a radiator would be fine. And so on.

Anyway, I’ve developed, through a combination of scientific methods and systematic application of new folklore, a method of making yoghurt that works really well, and that has useful variations. I’m slowly working on a YouTube video giving details, and I’ll let you know when it is done.

Meanwhile, I just did these calculations. I have two ways of making the basic yoghurt, one using organic ultra-pasteurized milk, the other using off the shelf regular cheap milk. Then either of these two versions can be used with or without fruit, which turns out to be pretty expensive (the fruit, that is) where i live. And by “fruit” I mean “blueberries” because what other kind of fruit would one possibly want to put in yogurt?

Using Chobani yoghurt in small individual containers as a baseline (they are $1.69 each in my local store, when not on sale), priced out per gallon, I get:

$40.82 Store Bought Individual Containers:
$30.58 Homemade, Organic Milk, with Fruit
$21.49 Homemade Cheap Milk with Fruit
$15.08 Homemade, Organic Milk, No Fruit (with flavoring)
$5.99 Homemade, Cheap Milk, No Fruit (with flavoring)

Quite a range! The “Cheap Milk” needs an extra pasteurizing step at home, so it takes longer. I did not factor in energy use, but driving to the store vs. heating something up probably offset each other. It takes very little time to make the yoghurt, and the homemade tastes better. Add 20% to the cost of the homemade if it is strained to make it thicker, which is something I do about one in five times, just for fun, and to get the whey for making soup.


Spread the love

Trump, by design, is above the law

Spread the love

Every now and then a person of privilege, who has done something seriously wrong, gets popped and spends some time in prison. They pay fines all the time, and spend piles of money on lawyers, so “justice” is served against those offenders, but that justice is milquetoast at best. For the most part, the privileged are above the law. Worst case scenario: drug and rape numerous women over several years, and spend three years in prison for it (Bill Cosby).

You know this is true, and you know why it is true. It is true because the system was designed by the privileged to put the privileged above the law. Duh. Of course.

I say this to help you become a happier person. Trump will never see the inside of a prison cell, or if so, such a stint will be a short one. He can’t be imprisoned because he will avoid, delay, and appeal, until each of his legal problems goes away, or he dies, whichever comes first. It will be a combination of both, almost certainly. During this period, the “Justice” Department, and various state Attorneys General, will chug along making sure the rest of us see justice, while a much smaller number of individuals, Trump included, stay free, live free, and die free, no matter what offense they do.

There are exceptions. Sometimes a person of privilege fucks up some other people of privilege, and those offenders can go to jail forever. Bernie Madoff went to prison forever, for taking 36 billion dollars from a wide range of people. I assume some of his victims were individuals of power. Plus, he failed to pay billions in taxes. That is a world apart from anything Trump ever did, as far as messing up the privileged goes. Minnesota’s Denny Hecker went to prison forever, well, for 10 years, for defrauding a third of the suburban middle class of Minnesota. So of course he’s brought to justice. But he is one of dozens (hundreds?) of similarly crooked people selling and trading and conniving who are all free, and who will will remain free. By and large, a working class stiff, especially if a person of color, can get months or years in prison for voting in the wrong place, putting their kid in the wrong school, jay-walking across the street, or sneezing too loud, and that is a good day for such an individual, because at least they were not blasted to kingdom come by the cops. A thousand people will be shot or maimed by cops, a million bilked by scammers, and tens of millions ripped off by landlords, for every privileged person who truly gets justice. Trump will never get justice.

So how does this make you a happier person? Because I’m giving you permission to stop worrying about Trump. Worry about other things. Worry about clean elections, clean cars, clean energy, clean water, and clean air, and forget about our filthy, stinking “system of justice.” Respect each other, respect our collective activism, respect our occasional successes, and and feel good about all that. Accept the fact that Trump will die an old man with no friends at his golf course in Florida, and don’t worry about what he gets or does not get in the way of justice. He is above the law, more than any individual has been, but not that much more, and he is not alone. Just learn to stop worrying, and love the injustice, as it were. You and I have better things to do.

I do grow weary when justice commenters, many of whom I adore and am addicted to listening to, come back to that old line: “No one is above the law.” Sorry, Arlene, Rachel, Chuck, Jill, Heather, Kimberly, Barb, Joanne, Neal. Just stop saying “Nobody is above the law” when talking about Trump. It makes me sad when you say that. He is above the law. You need to reconcile that and learn to live with it.

Or, maybe somebody prove me wrong.


Spread the love

NPR Political Bias Annoys Blogger

Spread the love

Damn, I am annoyed. But I see hope.

On this morning’s “Weekend Edition” report on Monday’s expected US House January 6th referral of former President Trump for criminal charges, NPR’s national political correspondent Mara Liasson repeatedly referred to Trump’s effort to “Stop the Steal” as though there was a “steal” to stop.

Mara Liasson, NPR Correspondent.
Mara Liasson, NPR Correspondent.
“… when the former president encouraged his supporters to go up to congress to stop the steal, he was trying to stop congress from doing it’s official duty…”

“… according to the committee, not just sending his supporters up to stop the steal, but also to …”

Most of the rest of the words used by Liasson were appropriate, placing Trump’s actions in a framework that clearly indicated they were wrong. But the term “stop the steal” was not used in radio-scare-quotes, or with any ironic contextual verbiage. The term was used as though it was fact, that there was a “steal,” and Trump was trying to stop it.

You may think I’m nitpicking here, but I’m not. A statement that implies that Trump’s engineering of a violent insurrection was in any way appropriate or routine should burn in someone’s ears and nauseate in someone’s mouth. I hate to Godwin the discussion, but imagine saying something like “Hitler was well known for his efforts to address the Jewish Problem,” or words to that effect, and imagine saying that two or three times while summarizing Hitler’s biography. One would not do that. With reference to Trump’s efforts to overthrow democracy and reverse the legal outcome of a legitimate election, one should also not do that.

It was a mistake by Liasson that was allowed because she lives in a particular linguistic environment engendered by the specific journalistic culture of NPR in which all efforts are made to maintain the sense of balance, of false balance, regardless of the issues being discussed. This religious adherence to false balance is part of the reason that Trump’s insurrection could happen to begin with. The right wing rhetoric of Fox News and Infowars has gotten somewhere over recent decades because it took off from a platform of presumed equivalence and legitimacy of all perspectives. NPR maintains the “Overton window” in just the right position that the view out that window includes equal parts QAnon and Bernie Sanders.

Ayesha Rascoe, Host, Weekend Edition and Up First, on NPR.
Ayesha Rascoe, Host, Weekend Edition and Up First, on NPR.
After reporter Liasson made this mistake twice, NPR reporter Ayesha Rascoe provided a corrective. “And we should say ‘Stop the Steal’ is Trump’s term, that was what he was trying to do.” Liasson acceded to this correction and restated with reference to Trump trying to stop a free and fair election.

Liasson has been with NPR since 1985, and is part of the old guard there. She is one of the journalists involved in proving NPR to be an out-front, excellent, and fair reporting agency, back in the day. But over the years, I think she was also part of the NPR squad responsible for a rightward shift in reporting style and bias, which I’ve always assumed was the the result of bullying of the news agency by right wing elements in Congress.

Ayesha Roscoe is a relative newcomer, having joined NPR only four or five years ago. She is well known for her coverage of the Deepwater spill and the Fukushima disaster, and she covered the Obama White House for Reuters. Perhaps this impressive diversity of journalistic service immunized her from the NPR rightward slide that has caused many of us to withdraw perennial financial report from the organization.

Or, perhaps, as a newcomer correcting veteran Liasson, Roscoe will be put in her proper place in some quiet, back room manner. I hope not.

I hope Ayesha Roscoe is the future of NPR, and not just a thorn in the side of a bad journalistic culture. I’m watching, and at some later time, I’ll reconsider my boycott of support of NPR and it’s coven of whataboutist false-equivalencers.


Spread the love

Cheap Kindle Books: Zinn the Sioux Nation

Spread the love

A Peoples History of the United States* by Howard Zinn is a classic revision of American History.

The Last Days of the Sioux Nation (Second Edition) by Robert M. Utley is a classic, but not necessarily the one book you’ll want to read about Native Americans of the northern Plains. But I put it here because it is currently dirt cheap on Kindle, and if your library does not have this 1963 title you may want to grab it up. I would recommend as a first read in this area of culture and history the recently published tour-de-force Wounded Knee by the amazing historian Heather Cox Richardson. Not on sale at this time but worth it.

I should mention that right now you can get some great deals on the Paperwhite Kindle.


Spread the love

Inflation was a right wing plot

Spread the love

Crank up prices, bilk customers, get rich, and strike fear in the heart of voters nation-wide; price fixing and gouging is good business. I don’t know why industrialists and business owners in all areas and at all times love Republicans, but they do, and they did cause the inflation bubble of 2022, in order to skew the election red. Didn’t work this time.

Source: Star Tribune 12/14/2022

Can we do something please about the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy?


Spread the love

How fusion works, and are we there yet?

Spread the love

Thought experiment: You know these two people who are perfect for each other and should marry and form a single household. They don’t know each other yet, but the truth is, the moment they see each other they will fall in love and instantly want to be married forever. Unfortunately, they are living in two very different places. One is living on a permanent human colony on Mars, the other is in a penitentiary in Russia serving a life sentence. Getting them together is going to take a LOT of work.

But, once they are together, they will, as stated, become one, in a sense. So, you organize a meet-up. It is in a house that is for sale, and the real estate agent and closing company are there, so all it will take for the happy couple to have their own abode is a simple signature. There is a wedding officiant in place, and witnesses, so their marriage will also be a single set of signatures. You have had two moving companies go to each of their respective earthly US-based households where all their stuff has been stored, and that stuff is now ready to be moved into the house. All you need to do is get them into the living room of this house.

Then, you get them together. Never mind the details as to how, but it works. They fall in love on first sight, instantly sign the marriage certificate and the closing documents, and movers move all the stuff instantly into their new home. They are now inseparable.

But there is one problem. They have two blenders.

And two Crock-pots, and two electric can openers, and two couches and … well, it goes on and on. If two households are going to merge, some stuff has to go.

Now, take yourself out of that quaint and seemingly improbably metaphor and imagine that when they pack up all the stuff that is duplicated to bring it to Goodwill, all that physical material turns into energy, with the formula predicting the total amount of energy being E = MC2, where M equals the combined mass of the extra blender, extra couch, extra everything else.

There are two sets of forces relevant to nuclear fusion. One is the set of electrostatic forces that keep atoms from getting too near each other. Without that energy there would be nuclear fusion going on all the time. This repulsing energy is the problem in our parable of lack of propinquity, with one of our ideal couple being on Mars, the other being in a Russian prison. These two people are not going to get near each other unless those overwhelmingly difficult problems are solved. The nuclei of two atoms are not going to get near each other unless the electrostatic forces are somehow overcome.

The other force is the strong attractive nuclear force that causes protons and neutrons to bind together in the nucleus of an atom. All you need to do to get this attractive force, represented in our parable by love at first sight, to combine the atomic bits is to get the nuclei near each other, nearer than the electrostatic forces would normally allow. There are a few ways to do this. In an ideal world, you just push them together using some sort of magic pushing wand, but such a wand does not exist. The way the Lawrence Livermore lab does it is to heat the atoms up using lasers, so they are bouncing around so much that kinetic energy pushes some of the nuclei nearer than electrostatic forces would usually allow. The above outlined parable could have used, instead of overcoming the impossible distance to bring the couple together in their future living room, the dance floor of a techno-pop rave. (But there would be other problems with that analogy.)

Forget about the needed energy for a moment, and just think about the atoms/people and their stuff. The atoms are made up of protons and neutrons, and when they are combined, there has to be just the right combination of protons and neutrons or else the fusion of two nuclei will not have an extra blender. There are some combinations of neutrons and protons that will take in energy rather than put out energy. Starting at the lower end of the Periodic Table, most combinations, if you could get them to happen at all, would put out energy (extra blenders and Crock-pots), until you get to a certain point, then the atoms if combined would take in energy. Certain combinations, given important measures of the electrostatic forces and the makeup of the atomic nuclei, would be easier to make happen, and others are more difficult. The details are very technical and very weedy. Suffice it to say that decades of research indicates that a certain combination of Hydrogen atoms, including different Hydrogen isotopes (different isotopes have slightly different bits in the atomic nuclei) can work, while others not so much.

Hydrogen, the lightest element and simplest atom, normally has one proton in its nucleus, and one electron. Since electrons often interact with the rest of the world by taking short or medium length trips to visit other atoms, a hydrogen atom is, essentially, a proton that at any given moment may have a sort of open relationship with an electron somewhere. Deuterium is a form (isotope) of hydrogen that has the usual one proton plus one neutron. It is heavier than regular hydrogen, and is a stable (not radioactive) nucleus. It is also very rare. Something like one in ten thousand hydrogen atoms is Deuterium. Tritium is a special form of hydrogen that has one proton and two neutrons. This isotope of hydrogen is radioactive. As a radioactive element, it decays into an isotope of Helium (releasing beta energy) with a half-life of about 4,500 days. Tritium is produced in a nuclear reactor (there are several methods) so it can be used for scientific purposes.

The fusion reaction that works best is combining a nucleus of deuterium, with a nucleus of tritium. The result is the nucleus of a helium atom (two protons and two neutrons). So, one neutron and one proton plus one neutron and two protons equals two neutrons and three protons, but the helium atom does not use that extra proton.

That extra proton is the extra blender, except it is not a blender, but rather, energy. (I’m oversimplifying here a little. Some of the energy is alpha radiation, some of it is in highly energetic extra neutrons which are captured to heat up an appropriate substance). The amount of energy released from one such reaction of just the two hydrogen atoms is about 1.9516042893337081e-19 horsepower. Obviously, in an actual fusion reactor, gazillions of atoms would be combined every second. The extra energy produced in in the latest experiment at Lawrence Livermore was about enough to bring five gallons of tap water to boil. In an actual fusion power plant, the energy produced by fusion would be used to heat a metal or liquid, to run a turbine to produce electricity, with some of the waste heat inherent I this process (close to half) possibly being put to some use as well.

The radiation produced from a controlled fusion reaction is short lived, and/or will affect only a small amount of material which is easily handled. The reaction does not produce any radioactive material with a long half-life, or that is toxic (both of those problems result from fission nuclear reactors of which we use many to produce electricity). In theory, deuterium can be “mined” from water, and this is fairly routine. Tritium is produced from nuclear reactors of the common fission type, so when people tell that using fusion reactors to produce electricity at a commercial scale does not produce long lived nuclear waste, check your wallet. The tritium production required to feed a large scale fusion industry will require fission reactions, which do produce this waste.

Prior to the latest Lawrence Livermore success most experts, when asked how long the first fusion reactors might be available, have typically said “I don’t know, maybe 40 years.” With this result, the best realistic estimate is probably the same. The big problems with using fusion have yet to be addressed. The reactions that happen now are ephemeral. The reaction itself can ruin the equipment used to make the reaction, and produces a byproduct in the form of extra elemental dust, as it were, that has to be removed instantly or it ruins the reaction. These are surmountable problems, but not easily fixed, and the short term prognosis is uncertain at best.

To understand what has to happen next, let’s try another analogy. Let’s say it is 1800, and someone has the idea that blowing up gasoline or kerosene can move something. So they invent a “car” that has cans of flammable liquid in the back. When a can is ignited, it causes a great explosion that moves the car forward a little. That kind of works, but is not ideal. The better way would be to somehow control the explosions, capture the kinetic energy, and convert that into turning wheels. In theory, that is possible, but in 1800, the metals, electronics, and other materials needed to accomplish this are about a century away in the future.

Today’s fusion experiment is to a future fusion reactor what a 19th century steam-punk submarine imagined in fiction is to a modern attack submarine. Quaint, at best. But hopeful and very cool. Cool in a hot-fusion kinda way, but cool.


Spread the love

Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi didn’t kill me

Spread the love

George Samuelson possessed two salient characteristics. First, he suffered from, or perhaps reveled in, OCD, indicated by the fact that every article of clothing he owned had an embroidered name tag with “George Samuelson” sewn in. The other characteristic was that he was dead. Maybe not dead, but something like dead. I say this because the second hand clothing store in Manhattan, in which I was searching for something to wear, had his pants and shirts arrayed on the proper racks, still all together, and the number of shirts and pants thusly arrayed seemed to me just right to be the complete medium-wear (not underwear, not outerwear) wardrobe of a man who lived in New York City by the name of George Samuelson.

Oh, and there was a third characteristic as well. George Samuelson had the exact same body measurement as me. I didn’t even need to try the clothes on, I could just see it. I bought the lot.

At that moment, I went from being a person who quite literally owned the clothes on my back and nothing else by way of apparel, to a man who possessed a reasonable, if entirely pre-owned, wardrobe of long sleeved shirts of fine quality, and matching slacks of a sturdy nature. The colors were a mix of light gray and khaki, which for me was perfect.

Let me tell you why this was perfect. In those days I spent less than half a year teaching or studying, as a graduate student, and the rest of the year in the field, nearly 100% of the time in the bush. My clothes were hand washed in a silt-filled stream and dried in the moist environment of a rain forest, sometimes being smoked over smoldering logs. While in the field, I kept no apartment, but some thing were in storage. I had developed the habit of buying new clothing on return from the field, and I would wear these cloths to class, to the bar with friends, and to conferences. Then, I would take these clothes to the field, keeping one shirt and one pair of pants sealed up in a plastic bag, untouched. I would then procede to wear, and to wear out, smoke up, and spill blood on (from my research activities) the other clothing, until it was all ruined. The outfit preserved in plastic would be my “going back home” clothes, but the trip would take up to two weeks, so that outfit would be pretty reeky by the time I settled in somewhere.

And on this day, I had settled, for a week at least, into an artist loft in Manhattan.

The reason George Samuelson’s clothes were perfect should be obvious: Khaki and gray cotton long sleeved shirts and matching slacks are perfect fieldwork clothing, if supplemented with one lightweight pair of shorts and a few pairs of socks. My annual cycle of raiment operated thusly: Buy new clothes, wear them out a little, wear them to the field and finish them off but for one outfit, return to the US, repeat cycle. But this year I got to do it for almost no money, because each article of clothing cost about two bucks in that second hand store.

My trip back from the field started in Zaire’s rain forest, with a harrowing ride to an airstrip a day or so away, which I may recount elsewhere. Then, tracking down someone with an appropriate aircraft, paying for a flight to Nairobi, then arranging international air travel back to somewhere in the US, ultimate destination to be Boston’s Logan Airport. The best deal I could get was to New York, from whence travel to Boston would somehow be arranged at a later time, and there was someone to visit there, so that was good.

I remember as clear as day, standing in a hotel room near Nairobi city center, on the phone with a representative from Swiss Air. Who knows how I had gotten there, exactly, but she was telling me that Swiss Air could get me from Nairobi to Frankfurt then to London, where I’d take Pan Am to New York from London.

“You have a choice,” she said. “You can leave London on Tuesday or Thursday, either way we can get you there.”

“Depends on how long I want to stay in Nairobi, then,” I said.

“Yes sir, I suppose so.”

“Thursday, then, I mean, why not, it would be like a longer vacation!” I replied with some enthusiasm.

“Certainly, sir,” she said, followed by the “clickity click” sound people in the airline business used to make when arranging flights.

As she started to arrange the flights, I thought about it further. I was actually totally out of money. If I stayed in Nairobi two more days, I’d be spending on credit. And, I’d been forced, by the nature of my travel to this remote field site, to spend several weeks in Nairobi over the previous couple of years. I had done everything there was to do here. Twice. Three times for some things.

“Um, hold on a sec,” I interrupted . The clickity-click stopped.

“Yes, sir?”

“Come to think of it, I’d like to go back on that Tuesday flight, not the Thursday flight.”
“Very good sir.” Clickity-click.

Very good indeed. I flew to Frankfurt. Fell asleep on a bench. Woke up and checked he status of my flight to London. “Your flight will be delayed a few minutes.” Fell asleep again. Checked the status. “A few minutes more delay, no big problem.” Went back bench and did not fall asleep, and moments later, an announcement on the airports PA drew my attention.

“Passengers leaving on Swiss Air bla-di-bla, this is your last call for boarding, please get to gate whatever-whatever immediately.”

No one in the airport had been pre-boarded, or informed that the flight was about to take off. Only the last call, no other calls. I’d never seen that before, I’ve never seen it since. But I did make it on the flight, as did all the other confused passengers.

So I flew to London, then I boarded the Yankee Clipper. “Yankee Clipper” was the quaint name of the aircraft. I remember the crew was especially nice, and not just because I was engaging with Americans for the first time in many months. I don’t have that problem, of missing American-ness when I’m away. Quite the opposite, really. But these folks were just nice. I remember seeing “Yankee Clipper,” the name of the plane, as I was boarding it, and thus noticing for the first time that individual airplanes might actually have names.

I did learn from the crew that they were regulars. They went back and forth between New York and London on this exact plane, round trip twice a week, so it was a pretty easy job.

Back in Manhattan. Not paying a lot of attention to the news, but the news comes through anyway. A US based airliner had crashed in Lockerbie Scotland. It took a while to connect. It wasn’t the sudden realization that happens in a movie script or a well paced novel. It took a couple of days. But it dawned on me, twice. First, in New York, when I realized that it was the Thursday flight, presumably crewed by the same crew that got me to New York on Tuesday, the one I was almost booked on, that had exploded and crashed that day. I realized it, but it did not really “hit me” until quite a while later, maybe two or three years, when a different plane crash took the life of someone who knew someone I sort of knew. A distant connection, but just enough of one for me to almost break out in a cold “that was too close” sweat.

I am glad a modicum more justice than may already have happened will be done. I know it wasn’t anything personal, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, when you tried to kill me. But go fuck yourself anyway.


Spread the love

The best books to give to your friends and family this holiday season

Spread the love

Books for everyone: science, fiction, science fiction, culture, middle-age readers.*

Let’s start with two Native American related titles:

The Sea-Ringed World: sacred stories of the Americas by María García Esperón, Amanda Mijangos, David Bowles.

Fifteen thousand years before Europeans stepped foot in the Americas, people had already spread from tip to tip and coast to coast. Like all humans, these Native Americans sought to understand their place in the universe, the nature of their relationship with the divine, and the origin of the world into which their ancestors had emerged.

The answers lay in their sacred stories.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants, and Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults.

Every single person seems to be reading this book right now. Are you? No? Well, that is easily fixed: Lessons in Chemistry b Bonnie Garmus.

Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results.

But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

Speaking of novels, and this is especially for all you Minnesotans since it is set in the famous town of Lillydale (doesn’t really exist): Bloodline by Jess Lourey.

In a tale inspired by real events, pregnant journalist Joan Harken is cautiously excited to follow her fiancé back to his Minnesota hometown. After spending a childhood on the move and chasing the screams and swirls of news-rich city life, she’s eager to settle down. Lilydale’s motto, “Come Home Forever,” couldn’t be more inviting.

And yet, something is off in the picture-perfect village.

The friendliness borders on intrusive. Joan can’t shake the feeling that every move she makes is being tracked. An archaic organization still seems to hold the town in thrall. So does the sinister secret of a little boy who vanished decades ago. And unless Joan is imagining things, a frighteningly familiar figure from her past is on watch in the shadows.

Her fiancé tells her she’s being paranoid. He might be right. Then again, she might have moved to the deadliest small town on earth.

Best science fiction of the year (except it was published a few years ago), from an author who mostly does not write science fiction: Saturn Run by John Sandford.

For fans of THE MARTIAN, an extraordinary new thriller of the future from #1 New York Times–bestselling and Pulitzer Prize–winning author John Sandford and internationally known photo-artist and science fiction aficionado Ctein.

Over the course of thirty-seven books, John Sandford has proven time and again his unmatchable talents for electrifying plots, rich characters, sly wit, and razor-sharp dialogue. Now, in collaboration with Ctein, he proves it all once more, in a stunning new thriller, a story as audacious as it is deeply satisfying.

The year is 2066. A Caltech intern inadvertently notices an anomaly from a space telescope—something is approaching Saturn, and decelerating. Space objects don’t decelerate. Spaceships do.

A flurry of top-level government meetings produces the inescapable conclusion: Whatever built that ship is at least one hundred years ahead in hard and soft technology, and whoever can get their hands on it exclusively and bring it back will have an advantage so large, no other nation can compete. A conclusion the Chinese definitely agree with when they find out.

The race is on, and an remarkable adventure begins—an epic tale of courage, treachery, resourcefulness, secrets, surprises, and astonishing human and technological discovery, as the members of a hastily thrown-together crew find their strength and wits tested against adversaries both of this earth and beyond. What happens is nothing like you expect—and everything you could want from one of the world’s greatest masters of suspense.

The Bitter End: the 2020 presidential campaign and the challenge to American Democracy is the best analsyis of the American Electorate, using amazing techniques and an unbelievable sample size:

John Sides, Chris Tausanovitch, and Lynn Vavreck demonstrate that Trump’s presidency intensified the partisan politics of the previous decades and the identity politics of the 2016 election. Presidential elections have become calcified, with less chance of big swings in either party’s favor. Republicans remained loyal to Trump and kept the election close, despite Trump’s many scandals, a recession, and the pandemic. But in a narrowly divided electorate even small changes can have big consequences. The pandemic was a case in point: when Trump pushed to reopen the country even as infections mounted, support for Biden increased. The authors explain that, paradoxically, even as Biden’s win came at a time of heightened party loyalty, there remained room for shifts that shaped the election’s outcome. Ultimately, the events of 2020 showed that instead of the country coming together to face national challenges?the pandemic, George Floyd’s murder, and the Capitol riot?these challenges only reinforced divisions.
Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.

The Unpersuadables : Adventures ith the enemies of Science by Will Stoor:

Why, that is, did the obviously intelligent man beside him sincerely believe in Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden and a six-thousand-year-old Earth, in spite of the evidence against them? It was the start of a journey that would lead Storr all over the world—from Texas to Warsaw to the Outer Hebrides—meeting an extraordinary cast of modern heretics whom he tries his best to understand. Storr tours Holocaust sites with famed denier David Irving and a band of neo-Nazis, experiences his own murder during “past life regression” hypnosis, discusses the looming One World Government with an iconic climate skeptic, and investigates the tragic life and death of a woman who believed her parents were high priests in a baby-eating cult.

Using a unique mix of highly personal memoir, investigative journalism, and the latest research from neuroscience and experimental psychology, Storr reveals how the stories we tell ourselves about the world invisibly shape our beliefs, and how the neurological “hero maker” inside us all can so easily lead to self-deception, toxic partisanship and science denial.

Tangerine by Edward Bloor is often assigned to middle school kids. If you have a kid heading for middle school, get them to read this NOW so they can enjoy it, you read it so you can talk to them about it. Many messages, some subtle, very important commentary on modern American culture.

Three titles on evolution all three of which you should read. The history of life on earth is wonderfully summarized by my old buddy Henry Gee’s A very short history of life on earth. Best book of its kind ever, no kidding. Then, read my old buddy Don Prothero’s Evolution: What the fossils say and why it matters (2nd edition). Then, a new title from a new author, my frien Steven Therough’s A most improbable story. So you get the whole history of life, then a more narrowed down view that focuses more on verts, then the human story. A great sequence. I have designs to get one or more author on our podcast, Ikonokast. I’ll let you know if that happens!

Also check out Reality Check: How science deniers threaten our future, by Don Prothero.


Spread the love

Mind Blown

Spread the love

Dear Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass,

You are reading this in 1860, and I’m writing from over a century into the future. Just wanted to let you know that there is a run-off election for US Senate in Georgia (we now elect our Senators with a popular vote in the state). One of the Candidates is a Democrat (he is the incumbent) and the other is a Republican. Both are Americans of African descent. The Republican stands with all of the values of his Republican party, and that is how we know he favors White Supremacy, anti-Semitism, limiting the right to vote, and the destruction of Democracy in America. The incumbent (the Democrat) strongly favors democracy, equity, and wide spread voting rights.

As it stands, the chance of either of these men winning this election is best estimate as 50%-50%.

Sincerely,

Person from the Future


Spread the love

Please eschew the Twitter-Virtue Olympics

Spread the love

Please eschew the Twitter-Virtue Olympics.

As Musk sullies up the place, and Trump throws his tantrum, and the Nazis, anti-Semites, racists, and other slobs throw their vacuous weight around, many people are considering leaving Twitter, or have already left. Others have chosen to stay until some threshold is reached, and still others don’t have solid plans to leave, and that lack of planning is often intentional, they’ve just decided to stay for one reason or another.

As intentions are declared, we sometimes see a virtue-based argument advanced, and in one out of five* of those cases, the virtuous justification for staying/waiting/leaving comes along with an urgent plea or even a demand that other so the same.

Stop doing that shit, please.

A friend told me he’d had enough, with Trump coming on (which he hasn’t actually done yet) and he can’t stomach being there. I get that. I have similar intestinal reactions. Today I had lunch with someone in the voting biz, who said, “I can’t leave Twitter, because so much of the election protection community is operating there, it would be irresponsible.”

Another person told me they’d prefer to leave behind Musk and Trump, but she also didn’t believe that Musk will own Twitter for much longer. Others have noted that they don’t want to be here but also want to see it collapsing from the inside. No one can turn away from the train wreck. This may be a unique opportunity to watch the train crash from inside the train.

Some have made the argument that their data will be stolen if security lapses. There’s a good argument there, if Twitter has your credit card, but I’m not sure how leaving protects the information they already have. So maybe that isn’t a good argument.

I’m simply asking people to note that there is a very small chance that your particular decision as to what to do with Twitter is the absolutely correct decision, and that the argument you are making to justify your choice is the best possible argument. One in five chance you have it right*. So when you make the argument, and then attach to it an admonition to others who have a different argument that you are doing the right thing and they are not, you have a four in five chance* that you are being obnoxious, not wise. So, the smart money is on stating your case but with a framework of openness to other ideas, rather than using your decision to signal your virtue and smartness.


*These are of course totally made up numbers, but you get the point.


Spread the love

Minnesota Environmental Issues, Politics, Geology and All

Spread the love

The first two in a series of Ikonokast podcasts:

Episode 30 – Protecting the Watershed with Megan Bond

Megan Bond has a BS in Public Administration with a Minor in Health Care Adminstration, a J.D. and an M.A. in Public Policy and Leadership from the University of St. Thomas. She began working in water conservation as a teenager in Las Vegas and has found her way into the environmental movement wherever she’s lived, and made environmental policy a major focus of her studies at all levels, even earning the Dean’s Award in Environmental Law in law school. She is an attorney and a solo practitioner at Bond Law Office, in International Falls, MN, concentrating in public interest defense work, including defending 37 water protectors protesting the Line 3 project in 2020 and 2021. She lives on the shores of Rainy Lake near Voyageurs National Park, in the heart of the Rainy River Watershed. Outside of her career, she chairs theDFL Environmental Caucus, chairs the Science and Policy Committee for Voyageurs Conservancy, serves on the Board of Directors of her local Food Shelf, and spends as much time camping in the summers and hiking in the autumns as she can.

CLICK HERE

Episode 31 – The Range, the North Shore And More

This is an overlapping continuation of episode 31, including the part about Silver Bay. Greg Laden and Mike Haubrich spoke a bit more, about our travels and experiences along the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. We also talked about the Iron Range in some greater detail, we talked about the gas fires in a flooded Grand Forks in 1997, how Hibbing had to move for the mines in the 1920’s and how even the mountains in Minnesota are almost flat.

CLICK HERE!


Spread the love

Messaging vs. Marketing

Spread the love

As an active activist, I’ve seen this countless times: An effort is being made to bring more people in to the fold. So there is a meeting of some kind and there are new people there. All great so far. Then, one of the new people confesses that they are a “marketing” person, which usually means they have a minor or major in some related area, and work for a big corporation in the marketing department. This is taken by almost everyone else in the group as a signal that this new person is now in charge of the group’s “marketing” by which everyone really means “messaging.” Since some of the most important things a volunteer issue or political activist group can do are a form of messaging (protests, letter writing, speaking to electeds, etc.), this new person, that no one knows, is now in charge of everything. In 98 out of 100 cases this person, who probably understands what just happened better than most of the other folks at the meeting, is never seen again.

One fallacy that this parable exposes is the equivalence between marketing and messaging that many people incorrectly assume. Both do start with the letter “M,” to be sure. And there are certainly overlaps in methodology. But the objectives are very different.

Typically, in activism, messaging has one of two flavors. 1) To convince people to believe something they currently don’t believe. Sometimes this means changing people’s minds, other times it means brining people into a way of thinking in an area where they don’t currently have an opinion. This is very difficult and usually unsuccessful on a person-by-person basis. A blindingly successful activist messaging campaign run over a few months changes a couple-few percent of people’s likely behavior (as in voting for a particular candidate or preferring a specific policy). 2) To get those already in your camp to take some action, like a GOTV (get out the vote) campaign, or a petition drive.*

Marketing has a very different goal. Most marketing can assume the target audience is already leaning towards a decision, perhaps to buy a particular product. Marketing is there to get the person to pick your iteration of the project, as opposed to some other company’s version. Maybe the plethora of car ads helps make more members of the general population want to own a car, but the marketing department at Ford Automotive is mainly trying to get the prospective car buyer to pick an F-100 over a Chevy truck.

If marketing methodology were applied to many messaging needs, it might be like trying to get someone who is about to buy an apple to go to the other side of the grocery store, and instead of buying an apple, pick up some milk. Or, instead of buying the amazing, giant, wonderfully colored, flawless Crispois Wunder-Apple just invented at the University of Podunk and that everybody is eating these days, picking up a bag of locally grown, small, less interesting apples because it is better for the planet.

In other words, marketing is usually getting someone who already wants to do a thing to actually do the thing they want to do, with you instead of with some other company. Messaging in the activist community is often getting someone to act either contrary to, or simply not in accord with, their pre-existing prurient tendency.

Internally, methodologically, marketing and messaging share a lot of research, process, etc. But so do civil engineering and mechanical engineering. But you wouldn’t hire a traffic engineer who would be great at configuring a busy intersection, to design a new helicopter. Just as importantly, that engineer would not want that job. This is why the new volunteer who confesses to be in marketing excuses themselves to go to the bathroom and is never seen again…


  • I’m assuming your petition is a legal or procedural step towards some goal, and not just some useless on-line petition somebody made up.

Spread the love

Cheap Books: Gaiman, Anderson, Storr

Spread the love

Cheap on Kindle right now:

The End of the World: Stories of the Apocalypse* by Neil Gaiman and others.

Before The Road by Cormac McCarthy brought apocalyptic fiction into the mainstream, there was science fiction. No longer relegated to the fringes of literature, this explosive collection of the world’s best apocalyptic writers brings the inventors of alien invasions, devastating meteors, doomsday scenarios, and all-out nuclear war back to the bookstores with a bang.

The best writers of the early 1900s were the first to flood New York with tidal waves, destroy Illinois with alien invaders, paralyze Washington with meteors, and lay waste to the Midwest with nuclear fallout. Now collected for the first time ever in one apocalyptic volume are those early doomsday writers and their contemporaries, including Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card, Lucius Shepard, Robert Sheckley, Norman Spinrad, Arthur C. Clarke, William F. Nolan, Poul Anderson, Fredric Brown, Lester del Rey, and more. Relive these childhood classics or discover them here for the first time. Each story details the eerie political, social, and environmental destruction of our world.

The Star Fox* by Poul Anderson in wich “An intergalactic privateer resolves to rescue a human space colony taken captive by alien aggressors.”

The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science (1st Edition) by Will Storr.

Why, that is, did the obviously intelligent man beside him sincerely believe in Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden and a six-thousand-year-old Earth, in spite of the evidence against them? It was the start of a journey that would lead Storr all over the world—from Texas to Warsaw to the Outer Hebrides—meeting an extraordinary cast of modern heretics whom he tries his best to understand. Storr tours Holocaust sites with famed denier David Irving and a band of neo-Nazis, experiences his own murder during “past life regression” hypnosis, discusses the looming One World Government with an iconic climate skeptic, and investigates the tragic life and death of a woman who believed her parents were high priests in a baby-eating cult.

Using a unique mix of highly personal memoir, investigative journalism, and the latest research from neuroscience and experimental psychology, Storr reveals how the stories we tell ourselves about the world invisibly shape our beliefs, and how the neurological “hero maker” inside us all can so easily lead to self-deception, toxic partisanship and science denial.


Spread the love