tomtac: (arresting "Little Green Man" feline)

So it is Pi Day again (that is, month and day form 3 14 when displayed in that order) and people are going to celebrate things mathematical this weekend. For that, I thought I'd mention a few reads that I've found to be pretty good.

The neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote the first one. (Yes, he was in the news a month ago). It was almost two decades ago that someone excitedly recommended a book to me, with the title "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat", a collection from Sacks of descriptions of people who had unusual mental conditions.

For Pi Day, you might want to read the next to the last chapter in the book -- only about seventeen pages, the chapter named "The Twins".  It is an engrossing step into the kind of wonderful alien landscape that mathematicians dream of.

"The Twins" were two old brothers who seemed to be too simple for normal life. They weren't functional, could not get around town and could not even do simple addition accurately. Instead, they just sat with each other and had slow, unintelligible communications. .... When Dr. Sacks studied them to try to help them, he discovered that they were giving numbers to each other.  They'd sit quietly, then one would say a six figure number. After thinking it over, the other would grin. Then, a little later, he'd offer his own six figure number for the first to appreciate.

What were they? Dr. Sacks figured out, eventually, that each six figure number was a prime number!  These two had, over their lifetimes, managed to find a way to find primes on the order of a million.

There are passages that describe beautifully the mental landscapes these two lived in, and that confronted an essential question: Would it fair to teach these twins simple life skills like figuring exact change for bus rides, if it was likely to disrupt their other, astounding knowledge of large primes?

Your library may have a copy.

A second offering is the short story (five pages) of  "The Book of Sand" by Jorge Luis Borges.  (An amateur book collector in Argentina becomes the owner of a book that, amazingly, has an infinite number of pages.)

Happy Pi Day, and God's Blessings.

tomtac: "little green feline" (little green man feline)

October 17 - Stupidity Day

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.
Albert Einstein

"Stupidity Day". . . My private holiday for spending time contemplating enemies that reap bad rewards in return for doing evil. That is, I give thanks that some otherwise smart but evil people fail at their awful plans because they miss some important details.

Last year's entry focused on someone who treated his best minds badly enough that they left his country and then saw to it that he lost his big war.

This year I want to write about "getting tough" as a ruling technique, as a way of let your opponents know that YOU are the one that counts, and not THEM.

* * * * *

So we have, on the one side, the people in England's thirteen colonies, in the decade of the 1770s.

On the other side, we have the government of England and of her empire. This includes Parliament and the king, George the Third. It also includes the Royal Governors of the colonies that the Empire possessed in North America.

On April 27, 1773, The Parliament of Great Britain passed the Tea Act, designed to save the British East India Company by granting it a monopoly on the North American tea trade.  Extra taxes being levied on the tea that the colonists drank.  I think this was supposed to be a very "firm" act that would show who was in charge.

Yes, there were protests, but what could the colonists do? There was an ocean between them and London.

On December, one particular political protest, by the Sons of Liberty in Boston, became known as "The Boston Tea Party".  (I don't suppose the words "Tea Party" carried the same strong connotation then that it does now.  I only know that December in Boston is pretty chilly, and a protest on the Harbor in December impresses me.) It took three cold hours to dump all that tea.

So people were getting angry. Maybe they knew "who's in charge" but they weren't that cowed.

So, why did this happen in Boston? There were, after all, twelve other colonies, and the very same laws were affecting them.

According to Wikipedia's article on the Tea Party, in the section entitled "Standoff in Boston":

In every colony except Massachusetts, protesters were able to force the tea consignees to resign or to return the tea to England.  In Boston, however, Governor Hutchinson was determined to hold his ground. He convinced the tea consignees, two of whom were his sons, not to back down.

Well. A firm man with a firm hand.  How did this work out?

Governor Thomas Hutchinson had been urging London to take a hard line with the Sons of Liberty. If he had done what the other royal governors had done and let the ship owners and captains resolve the issue with the colonists, the Dartmouth, Eleanor and the Beaver [the skips that went to Boston Harbor] would have left without unloading any tea.

I don't know, I guess, if "get tough tactics" were going to be effective.  You see, there was a principle behind the actions of the colonists. (You are welcome to grab a beer, to hoist in salute of a great man, for the next quote):

Samuel Adams ... He argued that the Tea Party was not the act of a lawless mob, but was instead a principled protest and the only remaining option the people had to defend their constitutional rights.   . . .   By 'constitution' he referred to the idea that all governments have a constitution, written or not, and that the constitution of Great Britain could be interpreted as banning the levying of taxes without representation. For example, the Bill of Rights of 1689 established that long-term taxes could not be levied without Parliament, and other precedents said that Parliament must actually represent the people it ruled over, in order to 'count'."
That is, the principle of "No taxation without representation".

Did Governor Hutchinson's tactics work? Showing them who was boss?

There was a repeat performance on March 7, 1774...

Sigh. And a war after that. Oh well ...
* * * * *
Why the Governor of Massachusetts didn't let the colonists work it out with the tea owners is anyone's guess. He had sons in the tea business and might have been thinking of them. He was due to defend himself in England against charges within a year and might have been positioning himself to be viewed favorably there. Or, in any case, he was known as a hard-liner, having written letters about restricting colonist rights, and then having had the letters leaked.

But the other 12 governors had let the issue go and had gotten relative peace in the other 12 colonies as a result.  Only Hutchinson had gotten a ship's cargo lost.

He did sail to England in June 1774, and defended himself, keeping the favor of the king and the prime minister. But he also was relieved of his post, and found himself exiled. He never came back from England, and he died there.

It was said that, for the next month after the Tea Party, the water of Boston Harbor tasted of tea.  Because drinking tea now seemed unpatriotic, and the people began to prefer coffee, the tea trade suffered.

We fought one more war with England, in 1812. For the rest of that century, our relations were up and down somewhat, but for the last 100 years, it has been relatively cooperative.

The Tea Party became a symbol for people; of what, that seems to depend on the person.

For Mahatma Ghandi, the man most responsible for breaking India away from Britain, the Boston Tea Party seemed to stand for a combination of "no taxation without representation" and "breaking away from Britain". London had been taxing salt in the Indian Colony, in similar way to the taxes on tea in the 1700s.(wikipedia):
When Gandhi met with the British viceroy in 1930 after the Indian salt protest campaign,
Gandhi took some duty-free salt from his shawl and said, with a smile,
that the salt was "to remind us of the famous Boston Tea Party."

God's Blessings.
tomtac: "little green feline" (little green man feline)
I told you JUNE THIRD was my earworm day.

(from the November 10, 1967 issue of Life magazine, Gentry strolls across the Tallahatchie Bridge)

I told you this was my earworm day.
tomtac: "little green feline" (little green man feline)
October 17 - Stupidity Day

This is another of my private holidays. I've had it a few years now, and I spend time each Stupidity Day contemplating the bad rewards for evil. That is, I give thanks that some otherwise smart but evil people fail at their awful plans because they miss some important details.

It started when I saw this on a "This Day In History" list.

    October 17, 1933
    Einstein leaves Germany, for Trenton.

Anyone who knows the history of World War II, AND knows about Albert Einstein, is invited to contemplate what would have happened if Hitler had not persecuted Einstein's people and caused the dozen best brains in his country to leave.

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.
Albert Einstein

Actually, what happened is that he was already a tremendously famous genius and had traveled a lot. But by that point, he learned that Hitler had become Chancellor. In early April 1933, he learned that the new German government had passed laws barring Jews from holding any official positions, including teaching at universities. A month later, Einstein's works were among those targeted by Nazi book burnings, and Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels proclaimed, "Jewish intellectualism is dead."

Albert Einstein, a very smart man, decided not to return to Germany. He eventually decided, around October 17, to make his temporary position at the Institute for Advanced Study (in Princeton, New Jersey) become permanent.
* * * * *

Turning my attention to Adolph Hitler, I pulled up different versions of the "Evil Overlord" list.  Hitler got one or two things right.

(from the version at )
   When my troops invade an unsuspecting country, I will direct the attack from the safety of my stronghold. If I absolutely must ride into battle myself, I will certainly not do so at the forefront of my army. Nor will I attempt to seek out my opposite number among his army for personal combat.

(I am not talking about Hitler arm-wrestling Churchill, or having a swordfight with FDR in his wheelchair. Neither the U.K. nor the U.S. were invaded by Germany, and neither were "unsuspecting". But the U.S.S.R., now ... Any sort of personal fight to the death between Hitler and Stalin, that is something I'd pay to see. Stalin certainly did not "suspect" an invasion was in the works after the two of them signed a "Friendship Treaty".)

But there are rules about not getting your own people angry at you, when they can go work against you. With all his attention on his "real opponents", like Churchill and Stalin, he didn't pay enough attention to the way he was pushing good Germans, Jewish ones, into a corner and forcing them to become his enemies.

In Germany, Hitler was persecuting Jews. The best minds of his country, about a dozen or so, decided to get out of there. His best scientists were fleeing, many to the U.S. These included theoretical physicists and Nobel prize winners.

Chasing off his best minds. Chasing off, especially, Albert Einstein.

(from the list at )
Evil Overlord rule 46. If an advisor says to me "My liege, he is but one man. What can one man possibly do?", I will reply "This." and kill the advisor.

As for what this one Einstein could do:

(from the current version of wikipedia)
In 1939, a group of Hungarian scientists that included emigre physicist Leó Szilárd attempted to alert Washington of ongoing Nazi atomic bomb research. The group's warnings were discounted. Einstein and Szilárd, along with other refugees such as Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner, "regarded it as their responsibility to alert Americans to the possibility that German scientists might win the race to build an atomic bomb, and to warn that Hitler would be more than willing to resort to such a weapon." In the summer of 1939, a few months before the beginning of World War II in Europe, Einstein was persuaded to lend his prestige by writing a letter with Szilárd to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to alert him of the possibility. The letter also recommended that the U.S. government pay attention to and become directly involved in uranium research and associated chain reaction research.

The letter is believed to be "arguably the key stimulus for the U.S. adoption of serious investigations into nuclear weapons on the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II". President Roosevelt could not take the risk of allowing Hitler to possess atomic bombs first. As a result of Einstein's letter and his meetings with Roosevelt, the U.S. entered the "race" to develop the bomb, drawing on its "immense material, financial, and scientific resources" to initiate the Manhattan Project. It became the only country to successfully develop an atomic bomb during World War II.

So, yes .... Persecuting the Jews was pretty not-smart, because their best minds went to work against him the next decade.

Let's ponder those people who do indeed threaten us, until God lets them make their Big Mistake.

(from )
Evil Overlord rule 12. One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.

God's blessings.
tomtac: "little green feline" (little green man feline)
This Surprise Day has been a mixed bag.

One "surprise" was that my Grand Prix is leaking oil. The good news is that means I haven't been neglecting the oil level; the bad news is I have to figure out where it is leaking.

On the other hand, there was a very nice little tree frog that ran away from me this morning, and to be safe, he hid ... under the tire of the car that I was about to drive. (So I carefully moved the car forward, away from the frog, and didn't turn steering wheel until I had traveled at least a foot.)

"Surpise!" It worked, I got out and walked over and he was sitting there still alive and still afraid of me.

* * * * *

I mentioned before that, Surprise Day 2009, both Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson passed away.

This morning, I found out that the writer Richard Matheson has died.

He was writing incredible incredible stuff before I was born, more on the human side of things than any "hard sf". Just this Sunday, I was writing elsewhere that "Richard Matheson is not hard SF, and I wouldn't have him any other way".

He always managed to find the human element and wrapped his SF around that, not the other way around as some other writers seem to do.

I am going to miss him.

(If you have a decent color video screen, watch the Robin Williams rendition of "What Dreams May Come", made in 1998, based on Matheson's 1978 book. The film, depicting the Afterlife, is beautiful, worth watching slowly. The scenery was based on paintings, then shot with a landscape film known for vivid color reproduction.)
tomtac: "little green feline" (little green man feline)
You are reading my blog, here, aren't you? Well, I guess that means you'd be interested if I told you this was my Earworm day, a day when a song runs through my head again and again each year.

"It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty, Delta day.

I was choppin' cotten and my brother was balin' hay."

Tallahatchie Day, for me, is every June 3rd. Thanks to Bobby Gentry.

Another of my own private holidays. Enjoy!

No, I can't tell you how to celebrate it. I spend it alternating between trying not to think about the song, and then humming it every time I have to recall the day. "Okay, June ... third, oh yeah, (hum hum)".

Tallahatchie County and the Tallahatchie River are real places in northwest Mississippi. The bridge was real, but it collapsed a couple of years later. (Read the article.)

The article tells a lot more. Apparently, if one likes French, there is a very popular French translation, only it takes place on June 4.

Maybe next year, I'll write more.
tomtac: (arresting "Little Green Man" feline)
+ + + Ken was my grandfather's nephew, my father's cousin. He was born in 1923, and would be turning ninety in a few months, if he was still around.

His first year of college, before the Christmas break, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. So, at the end of his freshman year, he enlisted in the Navy and, two years later, got his wings as a Navy Aviator, two months to the day before his twentieth birthday.

When he was 21, having qualified for Aircraft Carrier Service, he took part in the first carrier strike on Tokyo, Valentine's Day, 1945. Some enemy gunner got him, and Ken did not return from that mission.

Winning the wars cost my family a lot. Ken was an only child, so that changed the lives of my great-uncle and great-aunt forever. But my own father, a mechanic in the Air Corps, was in flight training at that time, and we could have lost him as well.

It is overwhelming, how much it costs in blood to defend our country. Prayers go out to all our military, especially those in our combat zones this year.
tomtac: (Columbia helmet)
Well, it's Space Week. Forty-six years ago today, the Apollo One fire took place on January 27, 1967. Monday is the anniversary of the Challenger explosion.

And this coming weekend, it will be ten years since that Columbia reentry.

There's a bunch of strange feelings -- like how much it feels like superstition to think there is something strange about NASA flights this time of year. But OTOH it is clear - Florida is COLD in January, and that is not what people think of when they think Florida. The space shuttle stuff would get icy, and apparently it wasn't designed for that. Two shuttle flights lost it because of that cold.

It's a sobering feeling for me to realize that the NASA astronauts really deserved extra hazard pay -- the two space programs (US and USSR) were racing each other, and naturally accidents happen when things are rushed. The astronauts knew that, but took on the missions anyway. For the Apollo 1 crew died while trying to make the USA look technologically better than the Soviets. I think they succeeded ...

But as for the Space Week "superstition", I have started poking through the blog of a Nasa administrator who was in a leadership role ten years ago. He says that there was that kind of nervousness about a late January shuttle flight. As history played out, it was justified.

(Picture: helmet from Columbia after falling thirty miles)
helmet from Columbia after falling thirty miles

The blog is by Wayne Hale, and as his bio says he "is retired from NASA after 32 years. In his career he was the Space Shuttle Program Manager or Deputy for 5 years, a Space Shuttle Flight Director for 40 missions..." Ten years ago, he was one of the Lead Flight Directors on Columbia's last flight.
tomtac: "little green feline" (little green man feline)
Well, the first one ... It makes me wonder.

On this day in 1962, the first woman in space, the first Russian woman in space, was in orbit. (Launched on the 16th.)

On this day in 1984, the first U.S. woman in space was in orbit, launched that day.

And, in 2012, the first Chinese woman in space is in orbit. (Launched on the 16th, but today docked to the "Heavenly Palace" space laboratory.)

. . . . . So. What is going on?

I -don't- think it is an attempt to marginalize all female exploits in space, or that Hugh Hefner is planning a big June 18th "The Women in Orbit" pictorial. There seems to be a -lot- of anniversaries that seem to pop up in space travel, like April 12th a couple of times, or the July 15th ones in international cooperation.

sigh. But I can't help feeling like the people who plan these things are trying too hard to make them exciting.

Oh, well. The second. A joke I heard on the radio today with an otherwise serious expert. "The ISS crew tonight will be sending to the Chinese space station for takeout."

(note to me: Still yet, they are targeting Mars landers for July 4th. That's been going on since the first one in the seventies.)
tomtac: (Default)
(Barring unforeseen circumstance, God willing.)                         + + +

The Inauguration Day is supposed to be January 20, 2013.  But that is going to be a Sunday, so we will have two inaugurations: a legal and small one appropriate to a Sunday, then the big fancy blowout with bands, speeches and ballrooms on Monday.  (This happens every 28 years, last time in 1985.)

But also, January 21, 2013 will be Martin Luther King Day.  Since that holiday began in 1986, this has only happened once before, in 1997, when Bill Clinton was reelected.  So, during his speech, he mentioned Dr. King and asked us all to work hard on being racially nice to each other. (Maybe I'll post a link to his speech.  Sometime in his administration, Clinton signed the bill that made 'MLK Day' the 'MLK Day of Service'.)

To the normal citizen, the biggest difference for the combined events is that most folks have the day off (Federal holiday in the US) and can attend, or follow live on the media, if they want.

This is the first time the Inauguration will be bumped to the holiday.

But next year will be unprecedented, and different from 1997, in another way, because the first African-American president will be either "outgoing" or "ongoing".   Unless something drastic happens, the incumbent will be explaining his mid-course plans, or a Republican will be explaining why MLK Day is special even as this black president gets replaced.

I wonder which candidate's style will be up for it.  It could be noble, it could be crass.  It could be statesperson-like, it could be awkward. 

Anyway, just looking forward a year and being curious, and I thought I'd share my thoughts.  God's blessings to you.
tomtac: (Default)
June 25 is six months from Christmas, going back, or going forward.
For someone who thinks Christmas should come more than once a year,
June 25 is a good day for duplicating it.

It isn't a religious thing, but is for gift-giving.

(Sigh ... now here is the part where some people sneer. Robert
Silverberg wrote a children's science fiction book named "Lost Race of
Mars" back a long ways, about a brother and sister whose parents get a
job at the United Nations colony on Mars. A long time ago, I read it,
and it wasn't too bad.

(Chapter 1 was about 'Surprise Day', which Silverberg wasn't pushing
for an actual holiday. In the book, the parents had invented it as a
family thing, just because they wanted more than one gift day during
the year, and they would give each other gifts (or rather, the parents
would come up with most of the gifts). In Chapter 1, the parents
announced that their gift, that year, would be the move to Mars.

(A lot of people didn't like 'Lost Race of Mars', so I haven't talked
of it much. It really is necessary to remember it was a children's
book. ... But I really did like the Surprise Day idea, and all my
life I've silently given June 25 a little star on the calendar inside
my head. Not for gifts, but just surprises or keeping the eyes open.

(People who have read Rosemary's Baby might have a different take --
June 25 was supposed to be the Antichrist's birthday, for the same
reason (opposite of Dec 25, far from it as one could get).

(Last year really -was- a surprise day. Farrah Fawcett (may she rest
in peace) and Michael Jackson (ditto) both departed that day.

(This year ... I decided to post it here. My private little holiday?

(Tell you what, here's a pile of Martian pebbles on the Bar. For a
Mars Sample Return mission to get one, it would take billions of
dollars, so one of these should probably pay for a BOYC. Enjoy my
private little holiday this weekend. If you are good, I'll arrange it
so next year June 25 will be on the weekend for real, instead of a
Friday night.)
tomtac: (Default)
On this day every year, when I lived in New England near the town of Wilmington, I would print up a one page document and head out to where Route 129 (not 128) would pass close to a small pond. This spot has plenty of grass and trees.

It also has a small plaque. It resembles plenty of plaques like it all over the country. But, of course, the name and story on it is only on this one.

"John Allen Rich" was killed in action (KIA) on August 25, 1966 in Vietnam.

The plaque includes the symbols "USMC 1st Marine Div KIA. Wilmington's 1st casualty in Nam. Son, Brother, Friend."

There isn't much I could say to that. The one page document I would bring just says "Thank You, Marine" in big letters, and I brought it and left it there every year, when I lived in that state.

I understand this person was a young man who died in that war, now forty-two years ago. I'm glad he has a little park in Wilmington, MA. I wish there was a better reward, for him, for his death.

As for us, we better take care of this country. It didn't come for free.
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