Author Archive

A Terrible Beauty

You know what they say: the early bird catches the worm gets eaten by a Death Adder.

Should a Person Touch 200kV?

Science all up in this bitch:

This is science education at its finest. Practical, engaging, and entertaining. Great stuff.

“Bumbumbum danana danana dananaaaa”

Rob Scallon shreads Slayer’s “Raining Blood” on the banjo:

The Human Body is Amazing

Thought Experiment for Open Immigration Opponents

Bryan Caplan posits an interesting thought experiment for immigration opponents. Like any good thought experiment, I think this one is effective because it’s a clear, succinct analogy and any honest disagreement is likely to come from arguing that the analogy itself is flawed.

This is ideal because the flaws one identifies in the analogy are likely to be the critical features that one considers important in the immigration debate, and so can be revealing about what, exactly, one’s motivations are. This is why thought experiments are particularly useful in ethics. Ethical inquiry has never really been about involuntary organ donation or pushing fat guys in front of trains, but rather about figuring out what the necessary elements are for an act to be ethically permissible.

So I encourage you to read Caplan’s argument and, as he says, “show your work”. In what specific ways are wage-based eugenics different from restricting immigration of the impoverished and/or unskilled?

View from the Hill of Tara towards the remains of an old Norman church.  Click for big.

View from the Hill of Tara towards the remains of an old Norman church. Click for big.

“Don’t you weep”

Harry Arvil “Joe” Brown, Jr., 1925.10.21 – 2014.4.27

One of my earliest memories of my father is watching the otters in an aquarium or zoo somewhere. I don’t know where, exactly, and the memory is indistinct enough that I can’t even place it precisely in time. If I had to guess, I’d say I was maybe three years old. I remember at the time being overwhelmed with how much my father knew. I don’t remember what, exactly, he told me or how he explained it, but I remember being in awe at the depth of his knowledge. Years later, knowing his personality and his interests, I’d imagine he was more likely explaining the construction of the water tank than anything about the otters themselves. My father loved mechanical systems and he understood them as well as almost anyone else on the planet.

I think that his love for systems and his strong desire to understand the world is maybe the most visible mark he left on me. Without a doubt my curiosity, passion for science, and love of well-engineered systems are largely thanks to his influence.

Years after that first memory, my father would become something of a legend among my friends. You get a lot of cachet when your father fought in World War 2, worked on nuclear missile silos, and was one of the best pistol shots in the Pacific Northwest. But he was a man who was worthy of some amount of real legend. He had a brilliant mind, a quick wit, and a kind heart. He served on PT Boats in the Pacific Theater in World War 2, had a long and interesting career in mechanical engineering in both the mining and nuclear industries, and was a devoted husband and a fantastic father to his five children.

I always got the sense that my father found his own life just as incredible as the rest of us did. Born in rural Wyoming, the son of an oil pump repairman and a singer, he never expected more than a solidly blue-collar life. And I’m sure that’s a life he would have been happy with. He started working on farms at the age of 14, and almost didn’t finish high school because he had a pretty decent job in an activated charcoal factory in Seattle. By that time (1942) America was at war, and Dad decided to join the Navy. Since he was only 17, though, he had to track down one of his parents in order to sign his enlistment papers. He made contact with his mother, living in Northern Oregon at the time, got them signed, and joined up with the intention of being a gunner’s mate.

See, my father had been fascinated by firearms from a very young age. He acquired his first gun, a Colt coach gun, from his grandfather when he was just six years old. He started collecting cartridges when he wasn’t much older. Joining the Navy and getting to both see the world and work on guns full time must have seemed like a pretty sweet deal.

The only problem was, he scored too high on the enlistment tests. So they sent him to radio operators school.

Dad spent the last several years of the war in the Philippines, serving as a radioman on Patrol Torpedo Boats. Whenever he spoke of his time in the war, he spoke of it with relish. One of his favorite stories to recount was how they trained him so well and worked him so hard that on several occasions he fell asleep while taking down Morse code, only to wake up a few minutes later and found that he’d transcribed it perfectly, even while dozed off.

After the war, Dad came home and (by his own account) was surprised to realize that he qualified for the G. I. Bill. He’d always figured on a blue collar life and I get the impression that the idea of college genuinely didn’t occur to him until then. After a small delay due to being caught in an accident at an aluminum smelting plant (just one of the many times my father cheated death), he ended up studying mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin.

He ended up having a hell of a knack for it. He was so good that, after a sterling career in the mining industry, he was offered a position at OSHA as the director of safety for mine hoists and lifts, with a strong suggestion that he’d be eventually taking oversight for mine safety generally for the entire country.

He turned it down only because it would mean living in Washington DC.

Eventually, he ended up finishing out his career in the nuclear industry, the last few years of it in the Tri-Cities. He (along with my mother) lived in Kennewick for 37 years. For my entire life, I was mystified by how much he loved the Tri-Cities and the American West in general. He often described himself to me as a Westerner and swore that the Western United States was the greatest place in the world, and the only place he would ever live.

On the 27th of April, he passed away. He was surrounded by people he loved, in the West he loved, having lived a long and honorable life. He leaves behind his wife Donna, who he adored, his children Aaron, Darrell, Brian, and Belinda, and his sister Catherine (Kitty). He was preceded in death by his son Bruce and his sister Nita

He was an incredible man, and I miss him dearly.

Dad and Me

“Things are not what they seem”

“And also,” the driver said, facing the mirror, “please remember: things are not what they seem.”

Things are not what they seem, Aomame repeated mentally. “What do you mean by that?” she asked with knitted brows.

The driver chose his words carefully: “It’s just that you’re about to do something out of the ordinary. Am I right? People do not ordinarily climb down the emergency stairs of the Metropolitan Expressway in the middle of the day –especially women.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“Right. And after you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little. Things may look different to you than they did before. I’ve had that experience myself. But don’t let appearances fool you. There’s always only one reality.”

Aomame thought about what he was saying, and in the course of her thinking, the Janáček ended and the audience broke into immediate applause. This was obviously a live recording. The applause was long and enthusiastic. There were even occasional calls of “Bravo!” She imagine the smiling conductor bowing repeatedly to the standing audience. He would then raise his head, raise his arms, shake hands with the concertmaster, turn away from the audience, raise his arms again in praise of the orchestra, face front, and take another deep bow. As she listened to the long recorded applause, it sounded less like applause and more like an endless Martian sandstorm.

“There is always, as I said, only one reality,” the driver repeated slowly, as if underlining an important passage in a book.

“Of course,” Aomame said. He was right. A physical object could only be in one place at one time. Einstein proved that. Reality was utterly coolheaded and utterly lonely.

Aomame pointed toward the car stereo. “Great sound.”

The driver nodded. “What was the name of that composer again?”

“Janáček.”

“Janáček,” the driver repeated, as if committing an important password to memory. Then he pulled the lever that opened the passenger door. “Be careful,” he said. “I hope you get to your appointment on time.”

Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

“God save Tudor houses, antique shops, and billiards”

Kate Rusby, “The Village Green Preservation Society” (The Kinks cover). I’m infinitely charmed by her accent and her guileless cover of my second favorite Kinks song.

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.