Later On

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

Archive for August 25th, 2021

The evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies is proceeding briskly and effectively

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[Soldiers of the 369th (15th N.Y.), awarded the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action, 1919. Image from NARA.]

Heather Cox Richardson has a particularly interesting column tonight, touching on:

• the House investigation of the January 6 attack on the Capitol

The last items the committee asked NARA to produce were: “All documents and communications related to the January 3, 2021, letter from 10 former Defense Secretaries warning of use of the military in election disputes.” 

That letter, which was published in the Washington Post and signed by all ten of the living former defense secretaries, warned that “[e]fforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory. Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic.” The letter reminded then–acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and his subordinates that they were “each bound by oath, law and precedent to facilitate the entry into office of the incoming administration, and to do so wholeheartedly. They must also refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.”

It was an extraordinary letter, and its authors thought it was important enough to write it over the holidays, for publication three days before the January 6 electoral count. The driving force behind the letter was former vice president Dick Cheney. 

Cheney’s daughter Liz Cheney (R-WY) sits on the House select committee. 

Trump has threatened to invoke executive privilege to stop the release of the documents. 

• the evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies

The first days of the evacuation after the Afghan army crumbled and the Taliban swept into control of the country in nine days were chaotic, indeed, but since August 14, the U.S. has evacuated more than 82,300 people, bringing out 19,000 people yesterday alone.

• the recognition by the US of the bravery and dedication of the Harlem Hellfighters in the Great War

Sent into the field, they stayed out for 191 days, the longest combat deployment of any unit in the war. At the Second Battle of the Marne and Meuse-Argonne, the unit had some of the worst casualties of that mangling war, suffering 144 dead and about 1,000 wounded. “My men never retire, they go forward or they die,” said their commander, Colonel William Hayward. Germans called them the “Bloodthirsty Black Men.” The French called them “hell-fighters.” A month after the armistice, the French government awarded the entire 369th the Croix de Guerre. 

There’s much more in her column, and I recommend reading it.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2021 at 10:27 pm

Why it took us thousands of years to see the color violet

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Allen Tager, a Russian American artist and cognitive scientist, currently leads an international study aiming to identify the brain centres responsible for the activity of each mode of human thinking: instinctive, intellectual, and intuitive. He has an intriguing article in Psyche. It begins:

As a schoolboy in Soviet Russia in the 1960s, my hands were almost never clean. Don’t get me wrong – I washed them as much as anyone else. But the school rules made us practise our penmanship in ink, which came in violet. It was the only colour of ink allowed, and it was precariously stored in a small jar, along with a wooden pen with replaceable metal nibs. Ink jars had a bad habit of constantly falling over, squirting my hands, face, uniform, notebooks and textbooks with violet blots that stayed for days. The blots, and my endless violet scribbles, are the main memories of my early education. Why did the USSR’s Communist Party leaders opt for violet ink to teach the young generation? That’s a mystery we might never be able to crack.

In contrast, though, outside of school, violet was hard to find, be it in paintings or everyday life. I am a painter, and early in my career I noticed that neither the teachers in my painting classes nor my fellow students used violet pigments.

Decades later, walking along Oxford Street in London one rainy day in the late 1990s, I was stunned to see that shops were brimming with women’s clothing in a myriad of violet shades. My mind went back to my Soviet childhood and those everlasting violet smudges on my hands, and to my art classes. I realised that, in my childhood, I’d never seen anyone in a violet blazer, shirt, tie or dress, holding a violet umbrella.

Intrigued, I went to the National Gallery in central London and, after checking the entire collection, found just one violet painting made before the Impressionist era began in 1863. Strangely, it looked like the greatest artists of the past epoch had ignored this colour – until the French Impressionists embraced it. Why so? I decided to find out.

Over the past 20 years, I visited 193 museums in 42 different countries. Equipped with 1,500 Munsell colour chips – the world-standard samples for colour science – I examined 139,892 works of art, searching for violet. I concluded that there were indeed only a very few artworks before the 1860s that contained this colour from my childhood. But from the second half of the 19th century, violet became very popular. This striking conclusion made me wonder why the status of violet had changed so drastically, at such a well-defined point in time? Clearly, more research was needed, and I was determined to do it.

Along with two colour scientists, Eric Kirchner and Elena Fedorovskaya, I selected 14 of the world’s largest art museums that had made large parts of their collections available in high resolution online. We collected hi-res digital photographs from a total of 4,117 paintings. We included objects from ancient civilisations, and from the Middle East and Asia, dating from the 4th century up to the mid-19th.

We also needed a definition of violet. Developments in colour science led to reliable image analysis tools to recognise the colour categories red, orange, yellow, green and blue. However, no such algorithm existed yet for violet. To make matters worse, international surveys showed that people tend to be unsure about exactly what constitutes the colour violet. The same person who describes an object’s colour as violet today might describe it as purple, blue, magenta, fuchsia or burgundy tomorrow. Language plays a role, too – there’s a difference even between British English and American English. The colour beyond blue on the spectrum is called purple in the US, but violet in the UK. Reddish-purple is sometimes called violet in the US, but hardly so in Britain. The complete range of colours between red and blue is often called purple in British texts, but sometimes the word violet is used, too.

Our research led us to a first working definition for the colour violet: all mixtures of red and blue for which blue dominates. We observed more than 1,500 colour chips from the Munsell colour system in a light-booth, ensuring well-defined light, and selected 51 colour chips that we thought of as violet.

As we examined paintings using this definition, we confirmed my prior findings. Until the mid-19th century, the colour violet had appeared in fewer than 4 per cent of paintings. But in the second half of the 19th century, this rate quickly rose to 37 per cent, and spiked to 48 per cent in the 20th century. We still didn’t know what sparked that sudden change, so we looked for some explanations.

First, we considered that colours might have faded over the centuries. But . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2021 at 7:51 pm

Some amazing 3-cushion billiards shots

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Billiards (true billiards, not pocket billiards, aka pool) is played on a 5′ x 10′ table with no pockets and 3 balls: 1 red ball and two other balls — in this video, one is white and the other yellow. (One oddity: many places that have a sign saying “Billiards” will not have any billiard tables — just pocket billiards and sometimes snooker tables.) One of the two players uses the white ball as his/her cue ball, the other uses the yellow ball as their cue ball. The object in straight-rail/carom billiards is simple: hit your cue ball and make it hit the other two balls. That game is more difficult that you might think but if you can get the  two non-cue balls in a corner, you can make a lot of points very quickly.

To avoid that issue, there are a couple of variants. One is balk-line billiards, the other three-cushion billiards. I find three-cushion billiards more elegant. It has the same object as carom billiards, but it requires that before your cue ball strikes the second object ball, the cue ball must hit the rail cushions at least three times. The hits can be on the same cushion — what is important is the number of times the cue ball hits any cushion: three or greater. Each successful shot is 1 billiard (1 point).

This game shows various ways of doing that.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2021 at 7:09 pm

Posted in Daily life, Games

Shipwrecked: A Shocking Tale of Love, Loss, and Survival in the Deep Blue Sea

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Kevin Koczwara has a great article in Boston that begins:

Adrift in the middle of the ocean, no one can hear you scream.

It was a lesson Brad Cavanagh was learning by the second. He had been above deck on the Trashman, a sleek, 58-foot Alden sailing yacht with a pine-green hull and elegant teak trim, battling 100-mile-per-hour winds as sheets of rain fell from the turbulent black sky. The latest news report had mentioned nothing about bad weather, but two days into his voyage a tropical storm formed off of Cape Fear in the Carolinas, whipping up massive, violent waves out of nowhere. Soaked to the skin and too tired to stand, the North Shore native from Byfield sought refuge down below, where he braced himself by pressing his feet and back between the walls of a narrow hallway to keep from being knocked down as 30-foot-tall walls of water tossed the boat around the open seas.

Below deck with Cavanagh were four crewmates: Debbie Scaling, with blond hair and blue eyes, was an experienced sailor. As the first American woman to complete the Whitbread Round the World Race—during which she’d navigated some of the most difficult conditions on the planet—she was already well known in professional sailing circles. Mark Adams, a mid-twenties Englishman who had been Cavanagh’s occasional racing partner; the boat’s captain, John Lippoth; and Lippoth’s girlfriend, Meg Mooney, rounded out the crew, who were moving a Texas tycoon’s yacht from Maine to Florida for the winter season.

As the storm continued, Cavanagh grew increasingly angry. At 21 years old and less experienced than most of the others, he felt as though no one had a plan for how they were going to get out of this mess alive. He knew their situation was dire. The motor was dead for the third time on the trip, and they had already cut off the wind-damaged mainsail. That meant nature was in control. They could only ride it out and hope to survive long enough for the Coast Guard to rescue them. Crewmates had been in contact with authorities nearly every hour since the early morning, and a rescue boat was supposedly on its way. It’s just a matter of time, Cavanagh told himself again and again, just a matter of time.

After a while, the storm settled into a predictable pattern: The boat would ride up a wave, tilt slightly to port-side and then ride down the wave, and right itself for a moment of stillness and quiet, sheltered from the wind in the valley between mountains of water. Cavanagh began to relax, but then the boat rose over another wave, tilted hard, and never righted itself. Watching the dark waters of the Atlantic approach with terrifying speed through the window in front of him, Cavanagh braced for impact. An instant later, water shattered the window and began rushing into the boat.

He jumped up from the floor with a single thought: He had to rouse Scaling from her bunkroom. He had to get everyone off the ship. The Trashman was going down.

Three days earlier, the weather had been perfect: The sun sparkled on the water and warmed everything its rays touched, despite bursts of cool breezes. Cavanagh was walking the docks of Annapolis Harbor alongside Adams, both of them . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2021 at 1:06 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Beauty of Bézier Curves

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Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2021 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Games, Math, Software, Technology

What Slime Knows

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Photographs by Alison Pollack

Lacy M. Johnson has an article in Orion illustrated with stunning photos. The article’s subtitle is “There is no hierarchy in the web of life,” and it begins:

IT IS SPRING IN HOUSTON, which means that each day the temperature rises and so does the humidity. The bricks of my house sweat. In my yard the damp air condenses on the leaves of the crepe myrtle tree; a shower falls from the branches with the slightest breeze. The dampness has darkened the flower bed, and from the black mulch has emerged what looks like a pile of snotty scrambled eggs in a shade of shocking, bilious yellow. As if someone sneezed on their way to the front door, but what came out was mustard and marshmallow.

I recognize this curious specimen as the aethalial state of Fuligo septica, more commonly known as “dog vomit slime mold.” Despite its name, it’s not actually a mold—not any type of fungus at all—but rather a myxomycete (pronounced MIX-oh-my-seat), a small, understudied class of creatures that occasionally appear in yards and gardens as strange, Technicolor blobs. Like fungi, myxomycetes begin their lives as spores, but when a myxomycete spore germinates and cracks open, a microscopic amoeba slithers out. The amoeba bends and extends one edge of its cell to pull itself along, occasionally consuming bacteria and yeast and algae, occasionally dividing to clone and multiply itself. If saturated with water, the amoeba can grow a kind of tail that whips around to propel itself; on dry land the tail retracts and disappears. When the amoeba encounters another amoeba with whom it is genetically compatible, the two fuse, joining chromosomes and nuclei, and the newly fused nucleus begins dividing and redividing as the creature oozes along the forest floor, or on the underside of decaying logs, or between damp leaves, hunting its microscopic prey, drawing each morsel inside its gooey plasmodium, growing ever larger, until at the end of its life, it transforms into an aethalia, a “fruiting body” that might be spongelike in some species, or like a hardened calcium deposit in others, or, as with Stemonitis axifera, grows into hundreds of delicate rust-colored stalks. As it transitions into this irreversible state, the normally unicellular myxomycete divides itself into countless spores, which it releases to be carried elsewhere by the wind, and if conditions are favorable, some of them will germinate and the cycle will begin again.

From a taxonomical perspective, the Fuligo septica currently “fruiting” in my front yard belongs to the Physaraceae family, among the order of Physarales, in class Myxogastria, a taxonomic group that contains fewer than a thousand individual species. These creatures exist on every continent and almost everywhere people have looked for them: from Antarctica, where Calomyxa metallica forms iridescent beads, to the Sonoran Desert, where Didymium eremophilum clings to the skeletons of decaying saguaro cacti; from high in the Spanish Pyrenees, where Collaria chionophila fruit in the receding edge of melting snowbanks, to the forests of Singapore, where the aethalia of Arcyria denudata gather on the bark of decaying wood, like tufts of fresh cotton candy.

Although many species are intensely colored

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

It is a single cell that can grow as large as a bath mat, has no brain, no sense of sight or smell, but can solve mazes, learn patterns, keep time, and pass down the wisdom of generations.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2021 at 12:32 pm

Too many scientists still say “Caucasian”

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Alice B. Popejoy has a good essay in Nature about how “racist ideas of categories for human identity continue to warp research and medicine.” She writes:

Of the ten clinical genetics labs in the United States that share the most data with the research community, seven include ‘Caucasian’ as a multiple-choice category for patients’ racial or ethnic identity, despite the term having no scientific basis. Nearly 5,000 biomedical papers since 2010 have used ‘Caucasian’ to describe European populations. This suggests that too many scientists apply the term, either unbothered by or unaware of its roots in racist taxonomies used to justify slavery — or worse, adding to pseudoscientific claims of white biological superiority.

I work at the intersection of statistics, evolutionary genomics and bioethics. Since 2017, I have co-led a diverse, multidisciplinary working group funded by the US National Institutes of Health to investigate diversity measures in clinical genetics and genomics (

Many working in genomics do have a nuanced understanding of the issues and want to get things right. Still, I have been dismayed by how often the academics and clinicians I’ve encountered shy away from examining, or even acknowledging, how racism warps science. Decades of analyses have shown that ‘racial groups’ are defined by societies, not by genetics. Only the privileged have the luxury of opining that this is not a problem. As a white woman, I too have blind spots that need constant examination.

Pioneering works in social science such as Dorothy Roberts’ Fatal Invention (2012), Kim Tallbear’s Native American DNA (2013) and The Social Life of DNA (2016) by Alondra Nelson, have eloquently pointed out many of the flawed assumptions and approaches that plague human genomics.

A common theme of this scholarship is that groupings depend more on dominant culture than on ancestry. In Singapore, the government mandates that individuals are identified explicitly as Chinese, Malay, Indian or Other, which affects where they can live and study. In the United States, people with ancestry from the world’s two most populous countries, India and China, along with every other country on the continent, are collapsed into a single racial category called ‘Asian’. Similarly, the term ‘Hispanic’ erases a multitude of cultural and ancestral identities, especially among Indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Erroneous ideas about genetic ‘races’ live on in the broad, ambiguous ‘continental ancestry’ groups such as ‘Black, African’ or ‘African American’, that are used in the US Census and are ubiquitous in biomedical research. These collapse incredible amounts of diversity and erase cultural and ancestral identities. Study participants deemed not to fit within such crude buckets are often excluded from analyses, despite the fact that fewer and fewer individuals identify with a single population of origin.

One practical way forwards is to move away from having people identify themselves using only checkboxes. I am not calling for an end to the study of genetic ancestry or socio-cultural categories such as self-identified race and ethnicity. These are useful for tracking and studying equity in justice, health care, education and more. The goal is to stop conflating the two, which leads scientists and clinicians to attribute differences in health to innate biology rather than to poverty and social inequality.

We need to acknowledge that systemic racism, not genetics, is dominant in creating health disparities. It shouldn’t have taken the inequitable ravages of a pandemic to highlight that. Furthermore, every researcher and physician should be aware of the racial bias that abounds in medical practice: some pulse oximeters give more accurate readings for light-skinned people than for those with dark skin; Black Americans are undertreated for pain; and historical biases in data used to train algorithms to make medical decisions can lead to worse outcomes for vulnerable groups. Hence the ongoing revisions to the subsection on race and ethnicity in the American Medical Association’s Manual of Style, and why medical schools are examining how their curricula reinforce harmful misconceptions about race.

Thankfully, more researchers are collecting self-reported data on geographical family origins, languages spoken at home and cultural affiliations. I’d like to see data-collection forms with open-ended questions, rather than those that force fixed choices or reduce identity to a box labelled ‘other’. These self-reported indicators could be combined with genetic data to improve on current approaches to mapping the dimensions of diversity in our populations.

Approaches to genetic ancestry based on known reference populations are inadequate, in part because . . .

Continue reading. It’s an interesting problem, and

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2021 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Milksteak and Mk II

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My Maggard 22mm synthetic worked up one of those luscious milksteak lathers from Declaration Grooming’s Cuir et Épices shaving soap, and with that applied, Fendrihan’s Mk II razor, mine with the stainless steel bronze coated, easily removed every trace of stubble. A splash of Stetson Classic finished the job. 

What a great start to a sunny day. And for lunch today, as a special treat, I am veering from my whole-food plant-based diet to try these at a brewpub in town:

Yorkie Sliders – 5 mini Yorkshire
puddings stuffed with slow roasted
beef, gravy & horseradish aioli

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2021 at 9:31 am

Posted in Shaving

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