Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

2012 Flynn Quoit Tournament

The 2012 Annual Flynn Quoits Tournament, hosted by my brothers out in Colorado (to the bemusement of the Westerners) has been held and, although he neglects to inform TOF who won the treasured Gigi, bro Kevin, sends along the photos.  (Quoits is pronounced kwātes.)  Many of these mean nothing to TOF's Faithful Reader, but there are number of shots that display the Art of the Quoit, as practiced in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania (and now in one small corner of Colorado).  Note the athletic form, the graceful toss, the follow-through.   Kissing the quoit after making a ringer is optional. 

The game of quoits involves hard rubber rings (the quoits) and slate boards tilted at an angle and with a hub in the center.  This is unlike Philadelphia quoits or New Jersey quoits. 

Slide show of the Flynn Tournament: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kflynncolo/sets/72157630814063534/show/

Why this is not an Olympic sport, I do not know. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hoo-ahh!

41!
(well, yesterday, actually; but....)
The Incomparable Marge and some doofus she saved... twice.
Or maybe thrice.




Friday, July 20, 2012

How Soon We Forget

Today is the 44th annual DownLuna Day, celebrated in today's newscasts and papers.  Or not. 

Surreal postmodernist art: That's Aldrin; but if you look at the
reflection in the visor, you will see Armstrong.
Some folks make bigger footprints than others

"If we can send a man to the Moon, why can't we send a man to the Moon?" -- Dr. Jerry Pournelle

Left to right: Armstrong, Collins, Aldrin
Collins is the Forgotten Astronaut
We who lived to see the first moon landing have also lived to see the last.  Unless China hangs together long enough to get there. 


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Even More Ethically Fraught

 In The Instrumentality of the Brain, we noted a boy born without a cerebellum -- the part of the brain that controls motor skills, balance and emotions -- and who "has the MRI of a vegetable"; yet who has learned to walk and interact.  He is also missing his pons, the part of the brain stem that controls basic functions, such as sleeping and breathing.  And yet he breathes and sleeps just fine.

No brainer: The brain of the patient (left)
compared to a normal MRI scan (right)
Other cases are known, such as the French civil servant, whose brain was virtually absent, reduced to a thin layer around the skull, a condition known as Dandy-Walker syndrome.  Pause here for jokes about civil servants.  Or Frenchmen.  But he functioned more or less normally in society despite having water where his brain should have been. 

 The British neurologist John Lorber reported on the case of a slightly hydrocephalic math student with an IQ of 126, who also was almost lacking in brains (cf. Is the brain really necessary).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Required Reading/Required Writing


The September issue of ANALOG contains my Novelette, "Elmira, 1895"
     He came with the night mail on the West Shore Line at just that moment when the world teetered between one day and the next.  Midnight is a magic time, the single instant when there is no present; only a receding past and an unrealized future.  He stood alone on the platform with his greatcoat and valise and watched the red lanterns of the caboose vanish into the night. 
     The breezes whipped up by the train’s passing died, and with them the fading clackety-clack of wheels on rails.  The flurry of activity that had greeted the mail’s arrival – station-master, post-master, Negro porters, conductor – had evaporated like ghosts.  The stars looked down on the empty platform through a cloudless sky, unreachable and yet at the same time unbearably close.  On nights like this, the stars alone could cast shadows; and would have done so had the gas lamps lining the platform not overwhelmed them.  Their guttering flames peopled the station with silent, capering shadows. 
     A gentle rain of soot and cinders fell in the locomotive’s wake and the man brushed absently at his sleeves and shoulders.  It was a warm night and damp with the recent rains.  A wretched hour to arrive anywhere; but Elmira was as remote as Khatmandhu so far as railroads were concerned and midnight it was, “unless the gentleman would care to wait until tomorrow.” 
     The gentleman would not, and so the night mail it had been.  He looked around to get his bearings and, hefting his valise in one hand and draping his greatcoat over the other arm, he strode briskly to the stairs at the end of the platform.  The worried glance he spared just before stepping off was aimed not at the lights of the departed train, but at the glimmering stars overhead – as if he expected that at any moment one would drop and strike him upon the head. 
#
     The frowsy hotel was just as he remembered it, though five years had gone since he had last stayed there.  The night clerk was a shrunken and wrinkled old man, aged in a pickle vat.  He looked up when the bell rang, but gave no sign of recognition, and made no comment while the stranger signed the register.  He did, however, drop the double-eagle on the countertop to hear its ring before placing it in the strongbox.  “You must receive a fine class of boarder these days,” the stranger commented dryly.  But the clerk simply shrugged – a comment as eloquent as a thousand words from lesser lips.  He handed over a heavy brass key with the number 28 stamped into it in uneven numerals.  The stranger hefted his valise.  “I was told Mr. Clemens was in town,” he said. 
     “Couldn’t say,” the clerk answered.  Then, as if words cost four bits apiece, “Hear tell, he’s down Ha’tford way.”
   
The stranger shook his head.  “I’ve just come by way of Hartford.  They told me that he had come here.” 
  
The clerk chuckled.  “That man Clemens is full of comin’s and goin’s, Mr....”  His eyes dropped to the register, reading it upside down.  “Mr. Kipling.  Don’t clear his travels with me, anyways.” 

And for those demanding a double-dose of Flynn -- and there may be one or two of you out there -- the new October issue of ANALOG contains another novelette, "The Journeyman: On the Shortgrass Prairie," already previewed here

Still in the pipeline, but likely to be in the Jan/Feb double issue, is the special feature: "The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown and Down-and-Dirty Mud Wrassle," previewed here.

What's in the Works, O TOF?

...I hear you ask.

Well...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

When is Weather Really "Climate"?


Answer: when the weather is warm. 

Over at Statistician to the Stars, we find some commentary on a recent calculation that thirteen consecutive months of above-average temperatures has a 1 in 1.6 billion probability of occurring by chance.  This figure was obtained by considering temperature anomalies (deviations of adjusted actual temperatures from the mean temperature for that month), classifying them as "above normal," "normal," and "below normal," and assigning probabilities of 1/3 to each group.  Then taking ⅓^13 to calculate the probability of a run of 13 "above-normal" temperatures.  This is a fairly simplistic model.  It also suggests that 14 months ago, temperatures were normal or below.  You will notice that 13 months is just over one year, which hardly qualifies as climate and may not even qualify as 13 independent measurements. 


Dr. Briggs writes...

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Pot of Message

Today's miscellany of pithy quotes and comments offered for your intellectual snack-food.

Toward the Notion that Great Art is Objective
We distinguished the excellent man from the common man by saying that the former is the one who makes great demands on himself, and the latter the one who makes no demands on himself, but contents himself with what he is, and is delighted with himself. 
-- José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses

Art and Craft
Installations have always seemed the genre best suited for people whose ambition to be an artist is greater than their willingness to acquire the skills necessary to become one.
-- Theodore Darymple

The Smell of Great Art
But then I am a bit old fashioned in that I still believe in truth, that people ought to be able to distinguish by smell a Big Mac from a filet mignon.

For more on the question of Great Art and whether there is any such thing, see Wm. Brigg's blog and John C. Wright's blog, here and here.

On the Nature of the Savage
It is the point about the Prussian that with him nothing is mutual. The definition of the true savage does not concern itself even with how much more he hurts strangers or captives than do the other tribes of men. The definition of the true savage is that he laughs when he hurts you; and howls when you hurt him.
-- G.K.Chesterton, The Barbarism of Berlin

This is more general than it may seem, since the savage might be an artist who laughs when he foists some new trendy work on the public and howls when the middlebrow public dares to criticize him.  Constant Reader is welcome to supply other examples of "do unto others, but not unto me."  


This is exemplified by a news story in the Detroit Free Press
Since being sent to a state prison near Ann Arbor [for planning the murder of her father and attempted murder of her mother], Tia Skinner said she has not heard from her mother, her siblings or anyone else from the close-knit Yale community near Port Huron.
"It's been rough. It's hard losing your whole family in a blink of an eye," she said. "It's tough because that's my family; they're supposed to stay by you through thick and thin."
Come to think of it, isn't that the definition of chutzpah, too?

On the Desire of the Late Modern Artist to Shock
Do not be proud of the fact that your grandmother was shocked at something which you are accustomed to seeing or hearing without being shocked. . . . It may mean that your grandmother was an extremely lively and vital animal; and that you are a paralytic.
-- G.K. Chesterton, “On Dialect and Decency”, Avowals and Denials
+ + +

Never say philosophy never did anything for natural science....

Creatio ex Nihilo and the Conservation of Mass-Energy
In physics it is a fundamental truth that energy can neither be created nor destroyed (the first law of thermodynamics). This simply reflects the metaphysical truth that since all changes in nature require natural causes, and since those causes are finite, and since finite causes cannot create something out of nothing or turn something into nothing, a natural substantial change is not a series of creations and annihilations. Positively speaking, a substantial change is an actualization of the potentiality which some substance has with respect to some new substance: walls can be turned into rubble but not into fish. 

Now let us take a moment to consider taking a moment. 

Achilles and the Tortoise, to the Limit
   The question to be considered is whether time is made up of durationless instants.
   The short answer to the question is that it cannot be, for the reason Zeno originally proposed in respect of lines: if a temporal interval or a line segment were composed of durationless instants or points of zero length respectively, then neither the interval nor the segment could have a length greater than zero. The usual approach to the problem now is to invoke the mathematical consistency of proposing finite sums to series of infinite numbers, but this does not dissolve the paradox since infinite series never literally sum to a finite number, they only converge on it as a limit. ...  Similarly, when derivatives are invoked to model motion at an instant, they are only ever limits to an infinite series of measurements: instantaneous velocity, for instance, is no more nor less than v = lim (dt→0) dx/dt. While it is convenient to ignore talk of limits when calculating using such concepts as instantaneous velocity, and while such concepts may be mathematically consistent, the ontological truth is that limit concepts do not denote actual entities. And an instant, conceived of as durationless (not as a fleeting “chronon” or “instanton” of some physical speculation), is just such a limit concept – it is not an actual something, it is an actual nothing. And no number of nothings can ever make up a something, no matter what sorts of mathematical technique are invoked.


One often hears that Zeno was refuted by the development of mathematical limit theory, which only goes to show that Moderns did not know what Zeno was trying to do.  The medievals considered Zeno well and truly answered by Aristotle, long before mathematical limits were conceptualized.  (Which, btw, can be found in Bradwardine and Heytesbury in the 14th cent.  "Instantaneous motion" was devised by Bradwardine.)


Whitehead Takes a Moment
In the concept of instantaneousness the concept of the passage of time has been lost.  Events essentially involve this passage.  Accordingly the self-contradictory idea of an instantaneous event has to be replaced by that of an instantaneous configuration of the universe.  But what is directly observed is an event.  Thus a duration, which is a slab of time with temporal thickness, is the final fact of observation from which moments and configurations are deduced as a limit...  [I]t is an essential assumption that a concrete fact of nature always includes temporal passage.

Triumph!
[S]ince the triumph of what was called rationalism, we have successfully cultivated everything except reason.
 -- G.K. Chesterton, “On Monsters and Logic”, Avowals and Denials
The first essay in the collection involves our friend from an earlier post, the Loch Ness Monster.  

On the Inadequacy of the Natural
Irrational natural explanations are no less irrational for being natural.
-- Brandon Watson

Especially when they are hanging in the air, unsupported by factual evidences.  A scientific theory used to need something more than mere plausibility.  It was not enough to have a "natural explanation."  You had to show that nature actually did act in that manner. 

On the True Nature of Heresy
I attacked the foundation of morality in Erewhon, and nobody cared two straws.  I tore open the wounds of my Redeemer as he hung upon the Cross in The Fair Haven, and people rather liked it.  But when I attacked Mr. Darwin they were up in arms in a moment.
-- Samuel Butler, quoted by John Lukacs in "History and Physics."

On the Triumph of Credentialism
As long as the piece of paper called a BA remains the emblem of educational success, it will lead to colleges and community colleges that collude with students to provide that piece of paper without regard to anything that is learned.
-- Charles Murray

Bureaucracy vs. Meritocracy
In reality the term 'meritocracy' was misleading.   As in so many other spheres of life, the rules that governed the practices and functions of schools and universities were bureaucratic rather than meritocratic.  It is bureaucracy, not meritocracy, that categorizes the employment of people by their academic degrees. 
-- John Lukacs, At the End of an Age

On the Spread of Literacy
The majority of people during the last one hundred years who learned how to read and write made little use of it. ... [I]n the long run the literacy of the masses made very little difference.

It matters less that you can read than that you do read.  It may also matter what you read; which takes us full circle to the top of today's post.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Oracle at Delphi

David Warren tells us in the course of other comments:
We learned this week that a Reddit user, named Lompolo, had discovered rogue apps bearing DroidDream onto pre-Gingerbread Android platforms - viral botnet malware that exports handset ID and other sensitive data, enabling a remote server, via known exploits bypassing security controls, to install code partly beyond the reach of Google's remote kill switch, which it was anyway hesitating to launch pending reference to the Android Police. 
Our purpose today is to contemplate how such a short time ago, this announcement would have been incomprehensible.   Viral botnet malware , forsooth.

Oh, the Horror! Oh, the Humanity!

The astute Wm. Briggs has noted the following horrifying quotation of Winston Churchill:

Yes, that's right.  The horror is

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Glorious Eighth

Today is the Eighth of July, the anniversary of the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence.  This was done in Philadelphia, Trenton (NJ), and Easton (PA).  The fact of the Declaration having been signed was first announced in the July 5 edition of the Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote.  
The celebrations at Easton featured a reading of the Declaration from the courthouse steps, back then in Centre Square (The Great Square).  There was a band, the ringing of a "liberty bell" cast by the Moravians of Bethlehem, and the unfurling of a flag bearing a device representing the thirteen united colonies.  The crowd gave three loud huzzahs and cried out "May God long preserve and unite the Free and Independent States of America!"

Tradition has always held that the flag unfurled that day is the one shown above, known as the Easton Flag.  However, there is no documentation of this.  The existing flag, somewhat tattered, can be traced back to a flag presented to Capt. Abraham Horn's company of the City Guard prior to their departure to the War of 1812.  It was later presented to the Easton Library Company, and is still displayed there in a protective glass case.  But the fact that this particular specimen of the flag dates only to 1812 does not mean the design was not Revolution-era.  It's just that there is no proof one way or another.

In any case, today (well, technically yesterday, since it is now after midnight) was the big celebration, with Revolutionary re-enactors, a reading of the Declaration, rock and bluegrass performances, a re-enactment of the Delaware Indian treaty, clowns, magicians, and jugglers, and a big fireworks display on the river.  Pretty loud, too, and I'm way up on the cliffs.

This is from last year:



Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Glorious Fourth


It is not yet the Glorious Eighth, but since the rest of the country celebrates the Fourth....
The 153rd Pennsylvania, "Northampton's Own"
Barlow's Knob, Gettysburg

Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might
And by their right
It waves forever.
-- Stars and Stripes Forever




And to salute our Marine Corps:

Quote of the Day

Layers of humidity, one upon the other, attached themselves to my clothing and my skin, making me feel as slimy as a Chicago alderman.
-- William Briggs, "It's Summer, and it's Hot"

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Gay Marriage" Advances



The lovely bride, Ms. Aivaz, celebrates her nuptials with the traditional
mandolin-playing clown.
On Sunday, 29 Jam 2012, Babylonia Aivaz married a warehouse at 10th Ave and Union St.in Seattle.  About 30 people attended to wish the couple well.  Mrs. Warehouse, a professional Occupy protester, said that it was a gay marriage because the building is a woman.  Occupy Seattle protesters wanted to reclaim the warehouse as community space, lest it be demolished and replaced by an apartment building in which real people might live. 

Alas, Mrs. Warehouse is now a widow, since the building was in fact demolished by crass governmental officials who did not celebrate her love, and has now informed the Seattle City Council that she’ll be marrying the Yesler Terrace neighborhood near the Central District.
The attractive widow, inappropriately dressed in white, breaks down
and is removed from a City Council meeting.
 TOF's Faithful Reader will recall the earlier instances in which a woman married the Eiffel Tower, another woman married herself, and an Australian man married his golden retriever.  It is not clear if Mr. Warehouse gave consent to the marriage, however.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog

Theese webbesite have Ich coortesie of Darwin Catholic yfound:
A Long Tyme Agoon in a Shire Far Away

in virtoo of wich, followinge remarkes introductorie, oon apprehendeth swichlike verses:

NOTES OF CHARACTER SKECCHES FROM THE GENERALE PROLOGE OF
THE PILGRIMES IN THE STERRES


Ther was a SMUGGELERE, and he the beste,
Wyth gowne of whit and snazzye litel veste.
He hadde a shippe that was a noble vessel
For in twelf parsekkes it had yronne the Qessel;
At customes houses nevir did he pause –
For resoned he ther was but litel cause:
To paye a tax or impost made hym wood,
And I seyde his opinioun was good:
Why sholde hys labour fatten up the paunches
Of bureaucrates that sitte upon their haunches
And tak their paye from honest merchauntes werke?
This good man kepte the officiales in the derke
And oft he wolde in his shippes floore hyde.
From oon ende of the sterres to the other syde,
He hadde yflowne, and seene many a wondere,
And yet he hadde no feare of Goddes thondere.
He seyde hys destinee was hys to make
Wyth blastere or wyth sleight or wyth wisecrake.
Of goold and eek of love he had a thirste,
In altercaciouns he ay shot firste.