Tuesday, December 30, 2014
MOVIE REVIEW: THE IMITATION GAME
See my post at Chicago Boyz
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Newgrange is an ancient structure in Ireland so constructed that the sun, at the exact time of the winter solstice, shines directly down a long corridor and illuminates the inner chamber. More about Newgrange here and here.
Grim has an Arthurian passage about the Solstice.
Don Sensing has thoughts astronomical, historical, and theological about the Star of Bethlehem.
A wonderful 3-D representation of the Iglesia San Luis De Los Franceses. Just click on the link–then you can look around inside the cathedral. Use arrow keys or mouse to move left/right, up/down, and shift to zoom in, ctrl to zoom out.
Vienna Boys Choir, from Maggie’s Farm
Lappland in pictures...link came from the great and much-mourned Neptunus Lex
Snowflakes and snow crystals, from Cal Tech. Lots of great photos
A Romanian Christmas carol, from The Assistant Village Idiot
In the bleak midwinter, from The Anchoress
French Christmas carols
Rick Darby has some thoughts on the season. More here.
A Christmas reading from Thomas Pynchon.
The first radio broadcast of voice and music took place on Christmas Eve, 1906. (although there is debate about the historical veracity of this story)
An air traffic control version of The Night Before Christmas.
Ice sculptures from the St Paul winter carnival
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, sung by Enya
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Jeff Sypeck on a winter garden
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
A CHRISTMAS-APPROPRIATE POEM FROM RUDYARD KIPLING
(may not seem Christmas-appropriate based on the first 2 stanzas, but read on...)
"Gold is for the mistress--silver for the maid
Copper for the craftsman, cunning at his trade."
"Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
"But Iron--Cold Iron--is master of them all."
So he made rebellion 'gainst the King his liege,
Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.
"Nay!" said the cannoneer on the castle wall
"But Iron--Cold Iron--shall be master of you all!"
continued at Chicago Boyz
Monday, December 22, 2014
THE CHRISTMAS EVE RADIO BROADCAST OF 1906
…a case study in the difficulties of finding historical truth.
On Christmas Eve of 1906, a few shipboard radio operators–listening through the static for signals in Morse code–heard something that they had never before heard on the radio, and that most had never expected to hear. A human voice.
The first voice radio broadcast was conducted by Reginald Fessenden, originating from his experimental station at Brant Rock, Massachussetts. After introducing the transmission, Fessenden played a recording of Handel’s “Largo” and then sang “O Holy Night” while accompanying himself on the violin. Fessenden’s wife and a friend were then intended to conduct a Bible reading, but in the first-ever case of mike fright, they were unable to do it, so the reading was conducted by Fessenden as well.
Fessenden’s radio work at this period was based on a high-frequency AC generator (alternator), an electromechanical device created by Ernst Alexanderson of GE and modified by Fessenden. The signals were generated at somewhere around 45-80khz. (Low frequency compared to today’s normal radio, where the AM band starts at around 500khz; high frequency compared to the 50-60 hz that AC generators normally produce.) The Alexanderson machines were expensive and very large–broadcast radio on a commercial scale was not practical until the introduction of the vacuum tube for both transmitting and receiving, several years later.
The italicized story, which was the subject of a post I wrote in 2004, has apparently been accepted in radio and electronics engineering circles for many years: in fact, in 2006 there were commemorative events of the broadcast. More recently, though, the story has been challenged: James O’Neal
has done considerable research on the matter and concludes that the Christmas Eve broadcast never actually happened, based on lack of contemporaneous evidence (logs of other radio stations, for example) among other factors. He argues that Fessenden was no shrinking violet, indeed, he was a publicity hound and would have been expected to do everything possible to publicize such an obviously PR-able achievement…if it had actually happened. (There is no question that Fessenden did do pioneering work in radio, including speech/music transmission: the controversy deals specifically with the legendary Christman Eve broadcast.)
Comes now John Belrose
, who has also done considerable research on this matter and who argues that the broadcast did in fact happen. Belrose notes that from a business point of view, Fessenden was pursuing radio for point-to-point applications, rather than broadcasting, and hence would have had no reason to devote great effort to publicizing the Christmas Eve event. I found a much longer analytical piece by Belrose here
; he has done further research and continues to believe that the broadcast did in fact happen. The associate editor of IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine, where the article appears, finds his arguments persuasive.
1906 was only 108 years ago, not long in historical time. Yet even for an event so relatively recent, which would have involved several people directly and been heard by several more, and which was relevant to extremely intense litigation around the rights to various radio-related patents, anything near absolute certainty appears impossible to attain.
Sunday, December 21, 2014
CLOWNS, FOOLS, AND GENERALLY UNPLEASANT PEOPLE OF THE WEEK
See my post at Chicago Boyz
Thursday, December 18, 2014
A CRITIQUE OF CREDENTIALISM, CIRCA 1500
…from Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo did not attend a university to study the liberal arts, and apparently some of his contemporaries disrespected him considerably because of this omission. His response:
Because I am not a literary man some presumptuous persons will think that they may reasonably blame me by arguing that I am an unlettered man. Foolish men!…They will say that because I have no letters I cannot express well what I want to treat of…They go about puffed up and pompous, dressed and decorated with the fruits not of their own labours but those of others, and they will not allow me my own. And if they despise me, an inventor, how much more could they–who are not inventors but trumpeters and declaimers of the works of others–be blamed.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL
The Sydney Morning Herald called for “empathy” for the terrorist who committed the recent hostage-taking in a cafe. Hillary Clinton, too, has recently called for empathy for our enemies.
I’m reminded of something G K Chesterton wrote:
The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful. For example, Mr. Blatchford attacks Christianity because he is mad on one Christian virtue: the merely mystical and almost irrational virtue of charity. He has a strange idea that he will make it easier to forgive sins by saying that there are no sins to forgive. Mr. Blatchford is not only an early Christian, he is the only early Christian who ought really to have been eaten by lions. For in his case the pagan accusation is really true: his mercy would mean mere anarchy. He really is the enemy of the human race– because he is so human.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
THEME: FANNY KEMBLE
The posts in this fourth “theme” roundup are about the British actress and writer Fanny Kemble, whose observations on America…and on life in general…are very interesting.
Fanny Kemble’s train trip. A ride on the newly-constructed London-Manchester line, in 1830. Fanny’s escort for the trip was George Stephenson (“with whom I am most horribly in love”), the self-taught engineer who had been the driving force behind the line’s construction. She contrasts Stephenson’s character with that of an aristocrat called Lord Alvanley and the class of which he was an outstanding representative.
Author appreciation: Fanny Kemble. Shortly after her railroad trip, Fanny visited the United States on a theatrical tour and married an plantation owner from Georgia. Her “Journal of a Residence in America” got a lot of attention, quite a bit of it negative; however, her vivid description of the realities of slavery has been credited with helping to ensure that Britain would not enter the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy.
Further Fannyisms. Some excerpts from the Kemble journals that I thought were particularly interesting.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
(I came across this while going through some old Photon Courier posts…originally from 2005)
I recently read The U-Boat Peril, by Captain Reginald Whinney, RN, a British destroyer commander during WWII. In the late 1920s, Capt Whinney attended the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. He was not very impressed with the place, and his retrospective analysis is interesting:
What was really wrong with Dartmouth then? Well, my answer is cynical. The jobs of captain in command of the college and of his second-in-command, the commander, were 'promotion jobs'; and, in those days, the incumbent in a promotion job had only to do the same as his predecessor had done and he could hardly fail to be promoted. Further, these same captains and commanders had, while at Dartmouth...usually themselves been Cadet Captains. What was good enough for them...The requirement was to keep the sausage machine going.
I have no idea how accurate Capt Whinney's assessment of Dartmouth is...surely, they must have been doing something right, given the Royal Navy's performance in the war. But his analysis of the "promotion job" is an interesting one, with its applicability by no means limited to military organizations.
It's almost tautological...if you put people in jobs where all they have to do to get promoted is to remain in the job for a few years, then they are unlikely to do anything but remain in the job for a few years. You're certainly unlikely to see much in the way of innovation or of risk-taking behavior.
So, if you are an executive, you might ask yourself whether your organization includes anything that looks like a "promotion job"--and, if so, restructure it; that is, unless you actually like drones and time-servers as subordinate managers.
And what about the realm of education? It strikes me that, as things are now, the role of being a college student has been largely structured as a "promotion job." The student is incented to go through his 4 years or more, avoid taking any classes that might be difficult enough to unduly threaten his GPA, and avoid antagonizing any faculty members in a way that might harm the GPA or the letters of recommendation. Because the objective is, too often, not to accomplish things during the time spent on the job (in this case, to learn things), but rather to spend the requisite amount of time so that the much-desired certification can be obtained. That's a "promotion job" in Whinney's sense.
This is less true, of course, in the hard sciences and in engineering, where it's obvious that after graduation you're actually going to need to know what Young's Modulus is (or whatever)...but across wide swaths of American higher education, the concept of the "promotion job" seems highly applicable.
Tuesday, December 09, 2014
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING
Sunday, December 07, 2014
PEARL HARBOR + 73
In 2011, Jonathan worried that the cultural memory of the event is being lost, and noted that once again Google failed to note the anniversary on their search home page, whereas Microsoft Bing had a picture of the USS Arizona memorial. (12/7/2014: same thing this year, at least as of this posting)
Shannon Love analyzes how Admiral Yamamoto was able to pull the attack off and concludes that “Pearl Harbor wasn’t a surprise ofintent, it was a surprise of capability.”
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
wrote about the chain of events leading to the ineffectiveness of the radar warning that should have detected the approaching attack.
Friday, December 05, 2014
THEME: GERMANY'S DESCENT INTO NAZIISM
The posts in this third "theme" roundup explore different aspects of the question: How did one of the world's most advanced and cultured nations descend so rapidly into a state of utter barbarism, which was eventually curable only by the application of apocalyptic violence?
Book Review: The Road Back
. This neglected novel by Erich Maria Remarque, best known for All Quiet on the Western Front, is a beautifully-written portrayal of the psychological impact of the First World War.
Western Civilization and the First World War
. Cites some thoughts from Sarah Hoyt on the impact of the war, and excerpts a powerful passage from the Remarque book mentioned above.
An Architect of Hyperinflation
. Central banker Rudolf von Havenstein, "der Geldmarshall," although a well-meaning public servant, had much to do with the extreme inflation that proved so socially destructive.
Book Review: Little Man, What Now?
Hans Fallada's famous novel follows the experiences of a likeable young couple in late-Weimar Germany. (see also movie review
Book Review: Wolf Among Wolves
. Also by Fallada, this is an epic novel with many characters and many subplots, set a little earlier in time than Little Man, during the period of the great inflation.
Anti-Semitism, Medieval and Modern
. Suppose you had historical information from the 1300s showing in which German cities pogroms had occurred…and in which German cities pogroms had not
occurred. Would you think this data would be of any use in predicting the levels of anti-Semitic activity in various localities in the 1920s thru 1940s….almost six hundred years
Book Review: Herman the German
. Gerhard Neumann, who would eventually run GE's jet engine business, writes about growing up in an assimilated German-Jewish family (more stereotypically Prussian than stereotypically Jewish) during the 1920s and 1930s.
Book Review: Defying Hitler.
Sebastian Haffner's important memoir of growing up in Germany between the wars.
Who would be a Nazi?
Writing in 1941, the American author Dorothy Thompson speculates about which of her acquaintances would and wouldn't "go Nazi" in a "showdown." The original post consisted of links to the Harpers and to a Chicago Boyz post by Michael Kennedy
with ensuing discussion.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz
, where comments are open
Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Home movie footage from a 1931 cruise aboard the ocean liner Mauretania.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Monday, December 01, 2014
THEME: PRODUCTIVITY AND ECONOMIC GROWTH
As Jonathan pointed out here, one problem with the blog format is that worthwhile posts tend to fade into the background over time, even when they might be of continuing value. One approach I’d like to try is Theme roundups, in which I’ll select a number of previous posts on a common topic or set of related topics, and link them with brief introductory sentences or paragraphs. At least initially, I’ll focus on my own posts.
The posts in this second "theme" roundup focus on issues affecting productivity and economic growth.
Energy, Productivity, and the Middle Class. The primary driver of middle class affluence has been the availability of plentiful and low-cost energy…especially in the form of electricity…coupled with a whole array of productivity-increasing tools and methods, ranging from the horse-drawn harvester to the assembly line to the automated check sorting machine.
Demographics and productivity growth. Slowing population growth is of concern in just about every developed county because of the effects on worker/non-worker population mix. Economist Michael Mandel presents a country-by-country analysis of the productivity growth rates required, in light of these demographics, to achieve a doubling of individual income by 2050. (from 2005)
The Innovator's Solution. My review of the now-classic book by Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor. Far more valuable than most books on business strategy.
Closing time? Citigroup (this is from 2010) listed "ten themes that spell the end of Western dominance," while Joel Kotkin challenged what he called "declinism."
Entrepreneurship in decline? Michael Malone, who has been writing about technology and Silicon Valley for a couple of decades, worries (in 2009) that the basic mechanism by which new technologies are commercialized–the formation and growth of new enterprises–is badly broken. (Malone's original article has disappeared, but I excerpted part of it.)
Decline is not inevitable. Many Americans have come to believe that our best years are behind us. I assert that American decline is by no means inevitable…and if we do wind up in long-term decline, it will be driven not by any sort of automatic economic process, but rather by our own choices–especially our own political choices.
The suppression of entrepreneurship. Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone has some words for Obama. (2010)
The politics of economic destruction. What Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd tried to do to angel and venture capital funding of new enterprises.
The idea that bigness automatically wins in business still seems to have a remarkable number of adherents, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Startups and jobs...some data. (the original post was just a link)
Bigotry against businessspeople. Media and political hostility toward businesspeople, and its consequences.
Leaving trillions on the table. The transistor as a case study in central planning versus entrepreneurial diversity.
Misvaluing manufacturing. The once-common assertion that "services" are inherently of higher value than manufacturing was not very well thought out. (2003)
"Protocols" and wealth creation. With help from Andrew Carnegie, I challenge some assertions in a David Brooks column.
Musings on Tyler's technological thoughts. Comments on Tyler Cowen's book Average is Over. While it's worth reading and occasionally thought-provoking, I think much of what he has to say is wrong-headed.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open