Later On

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

Archive for September 11th, 2021

Why Was the Discovery of the Jet Stream Mostly Ignored?

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Rebecca Maksel wrote in Air & Space Magazine in April 2018:

Had Japanese meteorologist Wasaburo Ooishi not been an Esperantist, U.S. scientists during World War II might have been more aware of a national vulnerability. Between 1923 and 1925, Ooishi completed almost 1,300 observations of fierce high-altitude winds, later named the jetstream. The somewhat eccentric Ooishi was not only the director of Japan’s Tateno atmospheric observatory but also the head of the Japan Esperanto Society, proponents of the artificially constructed language, created in the 1870s as a means of international communication. Ooishi announced his discovery of the swift, high-altitude river of air in the Tateno observatory’s annual reports, which he published in Esperanto. Not surprisingly, his research was ignored, and the U.S. military was caught off guard by two consequences of the invisible jetstream.

The first surprise came in 1944 when B-29 pilots flying toward targets in Japan discovered at their cruising altitudes winds as high as 230 mph. The winds caused bombs to miss targets and, as headwinds, required bombers to use far more fuel than expected—so much more that they sometimes ran out on the return trip.

The second surprise, more famous and more tragic, was the bomb that killed Elsie Mitchell and five Sunday school students in May 1945 when they came upon it during an outing near Bly, Oregon. The bomb had been carried by a balloon designed by the Imperial Japanese Army, one of almost 9,000 silken, hydrogen-filled balloons laden with explosives that Japan launched toward North America over a period of eight months, starting in late 1944. They were carried by the west-to-east winds that had been the subject of Ooishi’s research, and about 300 made landfall, according to reports of pieces found. After the 1942 Doolittle Raid shocked the Japanese by striking the home islands, the Ninth Military Technical Research Institute was tasked with finding a means of retaliation. Weapons designers at the institute created the balloons but needed to know how far across the Pacific they could travel. They turned to Hidetoshi Arakawa at Tokyo’s Central Meteorological Observatory, who drew on the work of Wasaburo Ooishi.

When balloon bombs started landing on North America, the idea that they’d been launched from Japan was inconceivable; how could they travel that far? They must have been launched from Japanese submarines near the U.S. west coast, reasoned U.S. Navy investigators. In fact, that was the first strategy Japan considered. On September 9, 1942, a small floatplane dropped incendiaries on Siskiyou National Forest in Oregon to spark a fire, but the Oregon forest was a poor choice: It had just rained there. Eventually, all submarines were needed to battle the U.S. Navy, and the concept was dropped.

Although most of the balloon bombs are thought to have gone down in the Pacific Ocean, a few remain in remote areas of the Pacific Northwest. Two forestry workers discovered one near Lumby, British Columbia, in 2014. A Canadian navy bomb disposal unit arrived and blew it to bits. Use caution when hiking.

Written by Leisureguy

11 September 2021 at 7:00 pm

The Problem With “Doing Your Own Research”

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Tim Wise writes on Medium:

The internet is a wonderful thing, and also the absolute worst thing ever.

On the one hand, it allows people to access information at the push of a button and then connect with others worldwide, even sharing that information if they’d like to do so.

On the other hand, it allows people to access information at the push of a button and then connect with others worldwide, even sharing that information if they’d like to do so.

Yes, the relative democratization of communication — compared to the days when gatekeepers more tightly limited the voices to which we might be exposed — is a welcome step in the direction of a more open society.

But at the same time, with more information also comes more noise. And with the ability to spread noise like never in human history, cacophony becomes the default position.

It seems wistful to remember the days of antiquity (also known as the 1990s), when getting your opinion heard required writing a letter to the editor of this thing called a newspaper and then waiting several days to see if it would be published. Or perhaps, if you were really ambitious, sending an entire essay or article to a magazine and then waiting for several weeks to discover the same.

As much as we complained about the difficulty of breaking through these mainstream media filters, I’m not sure if what replaced them is better.

Perhaps it would be fine had we even the most rudimentary skills at discerning truth from falsehood. But humans are not much on critical thinking, Americans least of all. We are a nation of image-crazed consumers and wanna-be “influencers,” actively hostile to critical thought and allergic to teaching such skills in school, lest we usurp the authority of parents to brainwash our children the way we see fit.

And so instead of developing the media literacy necessary to separate the factual wheat from the fictional chaff, millions just “do their own research,” by which they mean to tell you they:

1. Own a Google machine;
2. Have a lot of extra time on their hands; and,
3. Don’t actually know what research is.

Pro tip: research is not just a matter of looking stuff up.

It is not what you’re doing when conversing with anonymous people on Reddit, soaking in whatever StarShine77 has decided to offer up that morning.

It is not what you’re doing when scrolling through YouTube videos fed to you by an algorithm that is intentionally programmed to show you more of the same shit you were already watching and absolutely nothing that might contradict it.

It’s not what you’re doing when you pass around memes, with citations at the bottom like “U.S. Research Center,” which is not a real thing, and even if it were, that’s not a fucking citation, Grandpa.

But sadly, this is part of what it means to be American in the 21st century: to confuse having a right to an opinion with having a right to be taken seriously for whatever ass-backward opinion you have.

You’ll hear it all the time: “Well, I have a right to believe whatever I want, and you do too, and I guess we’ll just agree to disagree.”

No, cousin Judy, that’s not the end of it.

You can believe whatever codswallop floats your inner-tube, to be sure, but when it’s utter and complete horseshit, we won’t simply agree to disagree.

Agreeing to disagree is what we do when we debate who was the greatest Major League pitcher of all time, and you say Bob Gibson and I say Sandy Koufax — and we both could be right.

What we’re doing now, Mr. “The COVID vaccine will change your DNA and allow the government to track you,” is not that. It’s me, buying a calming shade of yellow interior wall paint with which to coat your bedroom and Googling “doctors near you that specialize in helping people with delusions.”

The idea that your opinion on a subject is equal to someone else’s, when that someone else has spent years studying and researching it (using more complex methods than refreshing their Facebook feed), is ridiculous.

Expertise is, in fact, a thing.

And yes, I know, sometimes experts disagree. Even physicians sometimes have different takes on the proper course of treatment for a given condition.

That’s why, when faced with such decisions, it’s good to get a second opinion.

But guess what? When you get that second opinion, from whom do you get it?

Another gotdamn doctor who went to a gotdamn medical school.

You do not get that second opinion about whether you need open-heart surgery to address your arterial blockage from KaleMomma420. Or rather, if you do, you deserve whatever happens to you.

Best of all is when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 September 2021 at 6:43 pm

Why Silicon Valley’s Optimization Mindset Sets Us Up for Failure

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Rob Reich, Mehran Sahami, and Jeremy M. Weinstein wrote the book System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Rebootand TIME has a column adapted from Chapter 1 of the book.

About the authors:

Reich directs Stanford University’s Center for Ethics in Society and is associate director of its new Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. Sahami is a computer science professor at Stanford and helped redesign the undergraduate computer science curriculum. Weinstein launched President Obama’s Open Government Partnership and returned to Stanford in 2015 as a professor of political science, where he now leads Stanford Impact Labs.

The column begins:

n 2013 a Silicon Valley software engineer decided that food is an inconvenience—a pain point in a busy life. Buying food, preparing it, and cleaning up afterwards struck him as an inefficient way to feed himself. And so was born the idea of Soylent, Rob Rhinehart’s meal replacement powder, described on its website as an International Complete Nutrition Platform. Soylent is the logical result of an engineer’s approach to the “problem” of feeding oneself with food: there must be a more optimal solution.

It’s not hard to sense the trouble with this crushingly instrumental approach to nutrition.

Soylent may optimize meeting one’s daily nutritional needs with minimal cost and time investment. But for most people, food is not just a delivery mechanism for one’s nutritional requirements. It brings gustatory pleasure. It provides for social connection. It sustains and transmits cultural identity. A world in which Soylent spells the end of food also spells the degradation of these values.

Maybe you don’t care about Soylent; it’s just another product in the marketplace that no one is required to buy. If tech workers want to economize on time spent grocery shopping or a busy person faces the choice between grabbing an unhealthy meal at a fast-food joint or bringing along some Soylent, why should anyone complain? In fact, it’s a welcome alternative for some people.

But the story of Soylent is powerful because it reveals the optimization mindset of the technologist. And problems arise when this mindset begins to dominate—when the technologies begin to scale and become universal and unavoidable.

That mindset is inculcated early in the training of technologists. When developing an algorithm, computer science courses often define the goal as providing an optimal solution to a computationally-specified problem. And when you look at the world through this mindset, it’s not just computational inefficiencies that annoy. Eventually, it becomes a defining orientation to life as well. As one of our colleagues at Stanford tells students, everything in life is an optimization problem.

The desire to optimize can favor some values over others. And the choice of which values to favor, and which to sacrifice, are made by the optimizers who then impose those values on the rest of us when their creations reach great scale. For example, consider that Facebook’s decisions about how content gets moderated or who loses their accounts are the rules of expression for more than three billion people on the platform; Google’s choices about what web pages to index determine what information most users of the internet get in response to searches. The small and anomalous group of human beings at these companies create, tweak, and optimize technology based on their notions of how it ought to be better. Their vision and their values about technology are . . .

Continue reading.

The concluding paragraphs:

Several years ago, one of us received an invitation to a small dinner. Founders, venture capitalists, researchers at a secretive tech lab, and two professors assembled in the private dining room of a four-star hotel in Silicon Valley. The host—one of the most prominent names in technology—thanked everyone for coming and reminded us of the topic we’d been invited to discuss: “What if a new state were created to maximize science and tech progress powered by commercial models—what would that run like? Utopia? Dystopia?”

The conversation progressed, with enthusiasm around the table for the establishment of a small nation-state dedicated to optimizing the progress of science and technology. Rob raised his hand to speak. “I’m just wondering, would this state be a democracy? What’s the governance structure here?” The response was quick: “Democracy? No. To optimize for science, we need a beneficent technocrat in charge. Democracy is too slow, and it holds science back.”

Written by Leisureguy

11 September 2021 at 6:17 pm

Other Vegetables, Chinese Style

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You see at the bottom of the photo a bitter melon, and above that a few Shanghai bok choy mue (“mue” seems to mean “really young”) and a chayote squash. To the right of the squash are a Nantes carrot (these are huge) and two Chinese leeks. Above and to the left are two Roma tomatoes (I ended up using three) and to the right a turmeric root and a head of Russian red garlic. The jar contains spicy preserved lemons (small: about the size and shape of a ping-pong ball).

I also included some olive oil, salt, a great quantity of ground black pepper, a handful of sultanas, a good splash of Red Boat fish sauce and a good splash of white-wine vinegar, along with some of the liquid from the jar of lemons (briny and spicy). The lemons I cut into eighths: halved, then halved again, then halved once more.

It’s simmering now. I think it will be good. Not the most common version of Other Vegetables, but good from a standpoint of variety. After some cooking at 5, stirring often, the vegetables wilted somewhat, so I reduced heat to 225ºF and cooked for 25 minutes, covered. Result:

In case you’re wondering: it’s very tasty. I’m having a bowl now, with 2 tablespoons of soybeans and 2 tablespoons of oat groats mixed. Definitely a spice kick from the lemons and preserving liquid — and the black pepper, as well.

Written by Leisureguy

11 September 2021 at 1:20 pm

Marvel and Marlborough

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I let the Omega Mixed Midget soak while I showered, so it was ready when I returned to the sink. Prep for the shave stick was MR GLO, and then a good rub of the stick over my stubble and a good brisk brushing with the damp brush, and presto! lather — and a very good lather it was (because D.R. Harris).

I noticed this morning that the head design of the Fine Marvel is along the same lines as the head of the Henson Shaving razor, though Henson took it a bit further. The Marvel is quite good, but the blade had become dull enough that I had to do some touch-ups, so blade now replaced.

A good splash of Marlborough aftershave — I love its fragrance — with a squirt of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel, and the weekend is launched. The shave was much better than the weather, so no walk today — but tomorrow is forecast to be clear, so I can walk then. 

Somewhat weatherbound, I think I’ll cook a batch of Other Vegetables today: Chinese leek, bitter melon, chayote squash, Nantes carrot (they’re enormous), turmeric root, garlic — perhaps a couple of Roma tomatoes as well.

Written by Leisureguy

11 September 2021 at 10:58 am

Posted in Shaving

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