Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 5th, 2017

Rep. Who Tried To Gut Ethics Office Bought Rabbits Plane Tickets

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 January 2017 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Congress

Jason Kottke has some interesting comments on start-ups

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Well worth reading, and on a topic he understands well, because it affects him directly.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 January 2017 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Business, Media, Memes, Writing

The change in America is happening fast enough that you can see it

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Kevin Drum provides a good example at his post in Mother Jones. From that post:

James Fallows listens to talk radio so you don’t have to:

Spent 8hrs today in car, listening to AM talk radio.
All the rhetorical energy was defending (a) Russia (b) Assange, as below

— James Fallows (@JamesFallows) January 5, 2017

This is scary. Not because these folks are defending Putin and Assange—plenty of people do that—but because these are precisely the people who were the most outraged by Putin and Assange as recently as last year. Now they’ve turned on a dime, and for one reason: because Donald Trump told them to.

Twenty years ago, a Washington Post reporter wrote that followers of television evangelists were “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.” The blowback was huge and immediate and the Post apologized the next day. To this day, conservatives will quote these words as evidence that the mainstream press has it in for conservatives.

But what else explains what’s happening now? Donald Trump has essentially commanded his followers to defend Putin and Assange, and with barely a whimper they’ve complied. And when the press starts to point out what’s going on, we get this: . . .

And worse is happening right this minute: the GOP plans to scrub the government of any employees whose online data (information from Facebook would do) identifies the as liberal, and fire every one. Then the government agencies will start to respond with a more conservative outlook that, worst case, becomes strongly authoritarian.

I’ve take a step or two into the future: the “it certainly becomes more possible” scenario. But see for yourself.

Update: Not the sign of a secure person.

Update again (Drum’s on a roll: a drumroll): Here’s how we know the Russians did the hacking.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 January 2017 at 3:15 pm

Watch this interview on foreign relations

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 January 2017 at 2:28 pm

Priceless response that helped several people learn valuable lessons

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Kera O. blogs at Stuff Happens, and has this report, taken from the post at the link:

I’m an Emergency Room nurse and we’re not allowed to have our phones on us; they’re to be kept in our lockers. A call comes into hospital reception on a private line for me.

Phone: “This is [Teacher] from [School]. There’s been an incident involving [Daughter]. We need you to come in.”

Me: “Is she ill or injured? Can it wait until my shift is over in two hours?”

Phone: “[Daughter] has struck another student. We’ve been trying to call you for 45 minutes. It really is very serious.”

I go to the school and am ushered into the Principal’s office. I see my daughter, her advisor, a male teacher, the principal, a boy with blood around his nose and a red face, and his parents.

Principal: “Mrs. [My Name], how kind of you to FINALLY join us!”

Me: “Yeah, things get busy in the ER. I’ve spent the last hour administering over 40 stitches to a seven-year-old who was beaten by his mother with a metal ladle and then I had to deal with the police regarding the matter. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

(After watching him try to not act embarrassed, he tells me what has happened. The boy had snapped my daughter’s bra and she had punched him in the face… twice. I got the impression they were more angry with my daughter than the boy.)

Me: “Oh. And you want to know if I’m going to press charges against him for sexually assaulting my daughter and against the school for allowing him to do it?”

(They all get jittery when I mention sexual assault and start speaking at once.)

Teacher: “I don’t think it was that serious.”

Advisor: “Let’s not over-react.”

Principal: “I think you’re missing the point.”

(The boy’s mother then starts crying. I turn to my daughter to find out what happened.)

Daughter: “He kept snapping my bra. I asked him to stop but he didn’t, so I told Mr. [Teacher]. He told me to ‘ignore it.’ [Boy] did it again and undid my bra so I hit him. Then he stopped.”

(I turn to the teacher.)

Me: “You let him do this? Why didn’t you stop him? Come over here and let me touch the front of your trousers.”

Teacher: “What?! No!”

Me: “Does that seem inappropriate to you? Why don’t you go and pull on Mrs. [Advisor]’s bra right now. See how fun it is for her. Or on that boy’s mother’s bra. Or mine. You think just because they’re kids it’s fun?”

Principal: “Mrs. [My Name]. With all due respect, [Daughter] still beat another child.”

Me: “No. She defended herself against a sexual attack from another pupil. Look at them; he’s nearly 6 feet and 160 pounds. She’s 5 feet and 84 pounds. He’s a foot taller than her and twice as heavy. How many times should she have let him touch her? If the person who was supposed to help and protect her in a classroom couldn’t be bothered, what should she have done? He pulled her bra so hard it came undone.”

(The boy’s mom is still crying and his dad looks both angry and embarrassed. The teacher won’t make eye contact with me. I look at the principal.)

Me: “I’m taking her home. I think the boy has learned his lesson. And I hope nothing like this ever happens again, not only to [Daughter], but to any other girl at this school. You wouldn’t let him do it to a member of staff so what makes you think he can do it to a girl of 15 is beyond me. I will be reporting this to the school administrators. And if you—” *turning to the boy* “—EVER touch my daughter again I WILL have you arrested for sexual assault. Do you understand me?”

I was so angry, I gathered my daughter’s things and left. I reported it to the School Board, several of whom I know, and was assured it would be strongly dealt with.

My daughter was put into a different class for that subject, away from the teacher and the boy.


Written by LeisureGuy

5 January 2017 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

The Trouble with Quantum Mechanics

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The physicist Eric J. Heller’s Transport XIII (2003), inspired by electron flow experiments conducted at Harvard. According to Heller, the image ‘shows two kinds of chaos: a random quantum wave on the surface of a sphere, and chaotic classical electron paths in a semiconductor launched over a range of angles from a particular point. Even though one is quantum mechanical and the other classical, they are related: the chaotic classical paths cause random quantum waves to appear when the classical system is solved quantum mechanically.’

The physicist Eric J. Heller’s Transport XIII (2003), inspired by electron flow experiments conducted at Harvard. According to Heller, the image ‘shows two kinds of chaos: a random quantum wave on the surface of a sphere, and chaotic classical electron paths in a semiconductor launched over a range of angles from a particular point. Even though one is quantum mechanical and the other classical, they are related: the chaotic classical paths cause random quantum waves to appear when the classical system is solved quantum mechanically.’

In the NY Review of Books, Steven Weinberg, Nobel laureate in Physics for his contributions with Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow to the unification of the weak force and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, comments on quantum mechanics and the directions it might go:

The development of quantum mechanics in the first decades of the twentieth century came as a shock to many physicists. Today, despite the great successes of quantum mechanics, arguments continue about its meaning, and its future.


The first shock came as a challenge to the clear categories to which physicists by 1900 had become accustomed. There were particles—atoms, and then electrons and atomic nuclei—and there were fields—conditions of space that pervade regions in which electric, magnetic, and gravitational forces are exerted. Light waves were clearly recognized as self-sustaining oscillations of electric and magnetic fields. But in order to understand the light emitted by heated bodies, Albert Einstein in 1905 found it necessary to describe light waves as streams of massless particles, later called photons.

Then in the 1920s, according to theories of Louis de Broglie and Erwin Schrödinger, it appeared that electrons, which had always been recognized as particles, under some circumstances behaved as waves. In order to account for the energies of the stable states of atoms, physicists had to give up the notion that electrons in atoms are little Newtonian planets in orbit around the atomic nucleus. Electrons in atoms are better described as waves, fitting around the nucleus like sound waves fitting into an organ pipe.1 The world’s categories had become all muddled.

Worse yet, the electron waves are not waves of electronic matter, in the way that ocean waves are waves of water. Rather, as Max Born came to realize, the electron waves are waves of probability. That is, when a free electron collides with an atom, we cannot in principle say in what direction it will bounce off. The electron wave, after encountering the atom, spreads out in all directions, like an ocean wave after striking a reef. As Born recognized, this does not mean that the electron itself spreads out. Instead, the undivided electron goes in some one direction, but not a precisely predictable direction. It is more likely to go in a direction where the wave is more intense, but any direction is possible.

Probability was not unfamiliar to the physicists of the 1920s, but it had generally been thought to reflect an imperfect knowledge of whatever was under study, not an indeterminism in the underlying physical laws. Newton’s theories of motion and gravitation had set the standard of deterministic laws. When we have reasonably precise knowledge of the location and velocity of each body in the solar system at a given moment, Newton’s laws tell us with good accuracy where they will all be for a long time in the future. Probability enters Newtonian physics only when our knowledge is imperfect, as for example when we do not have precise knowledge of how a pair of dice is thrown. But with the new quantum mechanics, the moment-to-moment determinism of the laws of physics themselves seemed to be lost.

All very strange. In a 1926 letter to Born, Einstein complained:

Quantum mechanics is very impressive. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory produces a good deal but hardly brings us closer to the secret of the Old One. I am at all events convinced that He does not play dice.2

As late as 1964, in his Messenger lectures at Cornell, Richard Feynman lamented, “I think I can safely say that no one understands quantum mechanics.”3 With quantum mechanics, the break with the past was so sharp that all earlier physical theories became known as “classical.”

The weirdness of quantum mechanics did not matter for most purposes. Physicists learned how to use it to do increasingly precise calculations of the energy levels of atoms, and of the probabilities that particles will scatter in one direction or another when they collide. Lawrence Krauss has labeled the quantum mechanical calculation of one effect in the spectrum of hydrogen “the best, most accurate prediction in all of science.”4 Beyond atomic physics, early applications of quantum mechanics listed by the physicist Gino Segrè included the binding of atoms in molecules, the radioactive decay of atomic nuclei, electrical conduction, magnetism, and electromagnetic radiation.5 Later applications spanned theories of semiconductivity and superconductivity, white dwarf stars and neutron stars, nuclear forces, and elementary particles. Even the most adventurous modern speculations, such as string theory, are based on the principles of quantum mechanics.

Many physicists came to think that the reaction of Einstein and Feynman and others to the unfamiliar aspects of quantum mechanics had been overblown. This used to be my view. After all, Newton’s theories too had been unpalatable to many of his contemporaries. Newton had introduced what his critics saw as an occult force, gravity, which was unrelated to any sort of tangible pushing and pulling, and which could not be explained on the basis of philosophy or pure mathematics. Also, his theories had renounced a chief aim of Ptolemy and Kepler, to calculate the sizes of planetary orbits from first principles. But in the end the opposition to Newtonianism faded away. Newton and his followers succeeded in accounting not only for the motions of planets and falling apples, but also for the movements of comets and moons and the shape of the earth and the change in direction of its axis of rotation. By the end of the eighteenth century this success had established Newton’s theories of motion and gravitation as correct, or at least as a marvelously accurate approximation. Evidently it is a mistake to demand too strictly that new physical theories should fit some preconceived philosophical standard.

In quantum mechanics the state of a system is not described by giving the position and velocity of every particle and the values and rates of change of various fields, as in classical physics. Instead, the state of any system at any moment is described by a wave function, essentially a list of numbers, one number for every possible configuration of the system.6 If the system is a single particle, then there is a number for every possible position in space that the particle may occupy. This is something like the description of a sound wave in classical physics, except that for a sound wave a number for each position in space gives the pressure of the air at that point, while for a particle in quantum mechanics the wave function’s number for a given position reflects the probability that the particle is at that position. What is so terrible about that? Certainly, it was a tragic mistake for Einstein and Schrödinger to step away from using quantum mechanics, isolating themselves in their later lives from the exciting progress made by others.


Even so, I’m not as sure as I once was about the future of quantum mechanics. It is a bad sign that those physicists today who are most comfortable with quantum mechanics do not agree with one another about what it all means. The dispute arises chiefly regarding the nature of measurement in quantum mechanics. This issue can be illustrated by considering a simple example, measurement of the spin of an electron. (A particle’s spin in any direction is a measure of the amount of rotation of matter around a line pointing in that direction.) . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more, and it is interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 January 2017 at 10:21 am

Posted in Science

Franz Kafka’s Existential Parable “Before the Law” Gets Brought to Life in a Striking, Modern Animation

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Colin Marshall has a good post at OpenCulture that includes the video below, but also some interesting discussion and links to other videos and versions.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 January 2017 at 10:10 am

Posted in Books, Video

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