Stop. Just…stop. A Blast from the Past. (Slightly updated)

I recently saw a blog post over on IO9 about 10 scientific ideas that scientists wish people wouls top using (incorrectly).  They missed my personal pet peeve–the use of quantum theory, badly understood or not understood at all, to supposedly explain new-agey magic (of the wizard and witch kind rather than the stage type) or psychic phenomena.

In quantum mechanics observation changes the thing observed, but that doesn’t mean you can use that to cast spells that do whatever folk claim to do with magic.  Here’s how it works:

Imagine you’re in a dark room.  There are objects in that room.  You have a big pile of baseballs and want to know where the objects are in the room.  You can throw the baseballs in various directions.  In certain directions the baseballs bounce back.  When they do, you know they hit some object.  You can then use things like the speed and direction in which you threw the ball and how long it took to bounce back to tell you in what direction and how far the object is.  Throw enough balls and you can get some idea of the size and shape of the objects.

Now, all the objects in the room are on casters.  When you hit them with a thrown ball, they move.  If they’re big and heavy they don’t move much.  If they’re small and light they move a lot.  Observing them, by throwing these balls at them, is going to affect them.

Consider the balls themselves.  The size of the balls limits what you can “see” with them.  Anything smaller than the ball itself you might see that it’s there, but you won’t be able to tell it’s size and shape.  And when you hit it with that ball it’s more likely to go sailing across the room and you only know where it was, not where it is now (after it got hit).  If you want to see smaller objects, you need smaller balls.  Now, this is the tricky part.  There’s a rule.  The smaller the “ball” the heavier it has to be.  That’s backwards from what we usually think of things, but to describe quantum effects you need that rule.

So you can see smaller objects by using smaller “balls”, but the result is that you’re going to hit the objects harder with those heavier balls and knock them just that much farther and faster away.

This, right here, is “observation changes the thing observed.”  The balls are whatever we use to look at something, whether sound waves, quanta (discrete packets) of light, electrons in an electron microscope, or anything else.  We “shine” the light or whatever on the object we wish to see (throw balls at it) and look at either what’s reflected or what passes through it to “see” the object.

At a basic level, when it comes to light the size of the “balls” (the wavelength of the light) is given by the following formula:

Eλ = hc

E = energy
λ = the wavelength (size of the “balls”)
h = Planck’s Constant a really, really, really small number. (Okay, it’s
6.62606957 × 10−34 joule∙second, but at this level what you need to know is that it’s really small.)
c = the speed of light.

For “particles” like electrons that have mass, the equation is a bit different:

λp = h

Here p = momentum.
You can think of momentum as the ability to impart motion in things.

for the momentum of massless particles (like light) we have (simplified):

p = E/c = h/λ
Note that momentum is inversely related to wavelength, the size of the “balls”.

In both cases, to get a small wavelength (small “balls” to look at small stuff) you need to have either a high energy (light) or high momentum (particles with mass).  Heavier balls that you throw harder.  And, when you throw heavier balls harder at the thing you’re observing, you knock it around more.

That’s “observation affects the thing observed.” It’s not magic.  It’s the simple fact that to observe something you essentially throw balls at it.  They’re just really, really tiny balls (see that Planck’s Constant).  Something like this, if you wanted to “observe” an electron:


And the effect is only important on really, really small things, things like electrons, sometimes atoms themselves.  Electrons and atoms are very small compared to the energies of light, of “photons” and their momentum, that would be small enough, have a short enough wavelength to see them.  Thus, they get moved by that light.  The observation affects the thing observed.

Larger things can be observed by longer wavelengths, by much less energetic photons.  And are not, then, appreciably changed by the observation.  To appreciably affect them, you’d have to throw a whole lot more energy and momentum at them, far far more than necessary for mere observation.

This analogy only scratches the surface.  There’s a lot more I could do. (Quantum tunneling:  the balls are “squishy” and can sometimes get through holes that are nominally too small for them.) But that will be enough for now, I think.


“If you think X is not a right”

So there was this claim:


Never mind Joshua’s response for the moment.  Consider the original claim.

The inherent problem is that implicit Clara Sorrenti’s claims is that a “right” is something that someone (usually “the government”) must provide for you.  That is arrant nonsense.

Something being a right simply means that no one can legitimately forcibly take it from you. It does not mean that you can force others, under threat of violence (which is what government is), to provide it for you.
Some things might be justifiable to have government use its license to use force to do/provide, but not because they’re “rights”.  I have argued before that some small level of government is actually necessary if ones goal is to maximize liberty.

But to provide these things?  No.  Let’s put it another way.

Requiring “government” to provide these things mean you are willing to use force (for that is what government is–the license to use force to accomplish certain ends) to make other people provide them to you.  You are forcing other people to labor for you, not in exchange for mutually agreed remuneration but simply to provide what you want with threat of violence for refusal.

There is a term for that.  So:

If you believe that other people should be forced to provide you with housing, you are a would be slave owner and evil.

If you believe that other people should be forced to provide you with health care, you are a would be slave owner and evil.

If you believe that other people should be forced to provide you with education, you are a would be slave owner and evil.

Don’t be evil.

“Don’t you care?”

There’s been another school shooting (read:  another active shooter in an ostensibly gun-free zone).  Expect the usual suspects to come out, waving bloody shirts, claiming that we “don’t care” about dead kids when we resist yet more restrictions on the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

Well I, for one, do care.  But it doesn’t stop there.  That’s not the only thing I care about.

I also care about the young wife, now a widow, because your newly wedded husband was mugged and murdered by three thugs with knives who not only robbed and killed him, but carved him up so badly that she had to have a closed casket funeral.

I care about the daughter, now fatherless, because more thugs beat her daddy to death with pipes.  In his case, at least, they were able to clean up the corpse well enough that she could say goodbye at the funeral before his burial.

I care about the young mother, who cannot stand the touch of a male, any male including her husband and son, because of severe PTSD from the beating and rape she suffered.

I care about the eight year old boy who can’t understand why his mother won’t hug him any more and wonders what he did wrong.  He’s told it’s not his fault but deep inside he’ll always wonder.

I care about the 800,000 (low end of various studies on the subject) to 3 million (high end of various studies) people who go home safely, who are not mugged or raped or murdered, every year because they were armed for their own protection.

I oppose restrictions on RKBA not because I don’t care, but because I do.  I care about the weak and helpless of the world, the people on whom violent criminals choose to prey.  I care about their families, their loved ones, who deserve better than to be left bereft because those they care about were rendered unable to defend themselves against someone stronger, or coming in groups, or armed with weapons that rely on strength and sheer ruthlessness.

And the victims of that school shooting?  I care about them too.  That’s why I oppose the very idea of “gun free zones”, which folk like the shooters take as “soft targets where they can rack up a large body count.” The shooters are crazy.  They are evil.  They are not stupid.  That’s why they go where the victims cannot shoot back.

The facts are clear.  Armed citizens at the site of active shooter events save lives.  And the claims about the armed citizens “just making things worse” leading to more deaths from folk caught in the crossfire turn out to be false as well.

Stripping the adults present at places like schools of the ability to arm themselves for the defense of themselves and their charges does not make the children safer.  Just the opposite.  It’s like hanging a “free eats” sign in front of a starving crowd.

More restrictions on the law abiding is not the answer.

Freedom is.

David Hogg is at it again.

This guy, in an effort to try to extend his fifteen minutes, just keeps spouting nonsense.  This time it was a Washington Examiner article which cites him as saying “You’re a terrible shot if you need an AR-15 to defend yourself.”

As usual, Hogg doesn’t know what he’s talking about. That’s a given. But for folk who aren’t clear and yet are still “teachable” let’s go into things a bit.

First, one of the things that happens when a person is in genuine fear for their life is that a whole lot of neuromuscular things happen. The old “fight of flight” reaction (actually a lot more complex than that but it will do for the moment). Your body prepares for maximum effort to either run or to fight. Now, one of the effects this has is to trade off things like fine motor control for strength, speed, and relative insensitivity to pain–all things that to our ancestors could make the difference between life or being cave bear chow. However that loss of fine motor control means that when really scared, your marksmanship deteriorates a lot. So even if you are an excellent marksman at the range, where the targets don’t shoot back, you’re not going to be able to equal that performance when faced with a real threat. (This is also why “shoot to wound” is nonsense.) Check out police trainer Massad Ayoob’s book “Stressfire” for an in-depth look at this.

Second, bad guys don’t just come one at a time. Case after case we see multiple people breaking into someone’s home. You can take out one only to have the next get you. Unlike the police who have backup on call, who can wait until they have overwhelming force before confronting the bad guys, all you’ve got is yourself and what you can grab quickly in the heat of the moment.

Third, while in the movies when the good guys shoot the bad guys one shot is all it takes, that isn’t how the real world works. You can mortally wound the bad guy–put a bullet right through his heart (but see point one above) so he’s essentially dead on his feet–but that doesn’t mean he’s stopped. “The dead man’s ten seconds” is a concept that goes back at least to the Civil War. A person can be shot, essentially a walking corpse, but they’re still a threat until they finally go down. Maybe they’ll spend that “dead man’s ten seconds” looking down at the hole in the body and regretting the life choices that brought them to that point. Or maybe they’re they’ll use that time in a rage-driven frenzy which, unless you can give them something else to think about (like other holes in their body) can lead to them taking you with them.

These reasons are why the police want weapons like the AR15 (and it’s full-auto cousins the M16 and M4) available for themselves, this despite what I said about backup and most of the time the ability to wait until they have overwhelming force before choosing to engage. Ordinary folk face the exact same threats the police do, and so so first with only what they have on hand and can grab quickly.

Revitalizing the old car

Recently, I had a series of issues with the old Ford Explorer that led to some rather expensive repairs.  Now, if I’d had the total bill up front I might well have decided I was better off replacing it but they came bit by bit and in making those decisions you have to consider what you have in front of you and what you can expect going forward, not what has already been spent.

It started when I replaced the tires.  This is the third set I’ve had on the car.  I’ve gotten good use out of them but the tread was getting shallow and it was time for new ones.

Not long after replacing the tires, I started getting some oddball handling issues.  At first, I thought that it might have been something wrong with the tires.  After all, when something happens soon after a change, that’s the first place to look.  But, no.  It seems that after more than 190,000 miles (of which more than 160,000 were mine) the right rear bearing was shot–to the point that it had actually damaged the axle.  So had the shop replace those–committing me to that repair right there–allowing them to do some further test drives.  Looks like the other bearings were also on their last legs.  What I thought was “tire noise’ on the road was the bearings, which should not be producing noise like that.  So added that repair on.  In addition they also replaced swap bar links and some other things.

All well and good only not long after I get stranded on the road because apparently the brand new bearing they’d put on that right rear axle had come apart (that’s actually how they described it later).  Frustrating, but I get towed back to the shop and they not only cover the repair under warranty but comp me the tow, the Uber’s to get home and to a car rental agency, and the cost of the car rental while they’re making the repair.

And, after that the Explorer has been handling great–at least as well as one can expect.  After all, it’s an SUV, not a sports car.  Rides significantly quieter too.  Now I know that the noise I was hearing was not tire noise (from past experience I knew that some tires were noisier on the street than others) but warning that the bearings were getting ready to go.  I’ll know better next time.

However, despite that, there were still a few issues.  The engine had been occasionally running rough and once in a while would be hard starting.  On reflection, I thought back and realized that a “tune up” had never been done.  I was still on the original plugs and wires.  So I bought a new set and installed first the plugs.  Inspection of the old plugs showed no problems.  You can tell some important things about the internal condition of an engine by reading the plugs.  No carbon fouling.  And especially no oil fouling (which could indicate ring or valve seal problems). The gaps had gotten quite quite wide from wear, but that was all.  Indeed, I probably could have just re-gapped the original plugs and put them back in.  I went ahead and installed the new plugs anyway.  Didn’t install the wires.  Apparently that’s a much bigger task requiring (at least) removing the alternator.

This resolved the hard starting issue and much of the rough running.

Finally, when I went in to get the regular oil change done.  While I was there I had a fuel injection cleaning done.

And now the Explorer just purrs contentedly.  Runs much more quietly with more repsonsiveness to the throttle (kind of thing that creeps up on you).  Very, very pleased with the results.

I’ve still got to change the spark plug wires and the fuel filter.  Both are a little more involved process with the explorer than with some cars I’ve owned.  For the latter, I’ve got to get it up on jack stands.  And I’m getting close to due for a transmission service, probably next month.

But even without those, she runs like new again.  A little beat up on the outside but:

She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts.


“You’d Better Write that book…

…while you still know everything.”

That was something my mother said to me when I’d tell her how I thought the world ought to be.  And it was old when her mother told it to her.

It seems there comes a certain time in a young person’s life when their vision starts to expand beyond their immediate home and they start looking at the larger world.  And they bring concepts of “fair” and “right” which, while well meaning, lack the, shall we say, depth that comes with experience?

And they are so certain that they know exactly what would make the world right if people would just… Only they have no idea of the costs (not just the old economic bugaboo of “allocation of scarce resources that have alternative uses” but the human costs) of their “just” and what second and third order consequences would be (what Thomas Sowell called a failure of “thinking beyond stage one.”)

But they are so certain of their rightness.  And their limited knowledge of the world convinces them that they are the wave of the future and their victory is assured, at the very least after those old fuddy duddies with their outdated ideas die off.

Case in point there was this tweet by David Hogg:


Look, David.  Your fifteen minutes is up.  Give it a rest already.  And your attempt to look badass?  You just look constipated.  Also, you’re going to Harvard.  I know that your admission was purely a virtue signal on their part, but come on, I would expect a better understanding of punctuation from someone going to what has been one of the most prestigious universities in the country.  You’re making them look bad.  But the real issue is your claim of certainty of victory. (Now, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here.  Your actions do look a lot like instead of any well-meaning but misguided through a lack of experience and understanding of the larger world stance, you are just riding the issue for your own benefit–after all it got you into a far better college than you could hope to attend on your own merits.)

The first thing you need to remember is that not all young people think like you.  And of those that do, many will shed their ideological blinkers and start looking beyond what they want to be to the realities of what is.  In short, many will outgrow your certainty.

But, if none of that moves you to think beyond your own narrow views I can at least offer an anthem for you, from others that also felt that they, the younger generation, would win.

Things like “the future belongs to us” and “We’re on the right side of history” have been said before.  And if you actually knew and understood history, rather than the pre-digested pap that was spoon fed to you in school, you’d know just how ominous such sentences can be.

In the meantime, you’d better write that book while you still know everything.

“Robots are Going to Put US Out of Work: A Blast from the Past

I don’t usually do back-to-back blasts from the past, but a post on a friend’s FB page brought this subject up:

That is a refrain I hear all the time.  Automation, will take over people’s jobs and put them out of work and we’ll end up with endless numbers of people for whom there are no jobs.

But is that really how it works?

Liberal political commentator Sally Kohn seems to think so:

Solar labor inefficiency crop

She is clearly advocating here a means of producing energy that requires 40-80 times as much labor to produce a given amount of “product” (in this case energy).  Exactly the opposite of what automation does.

Automation, the use of robots, produces more with less labor than was possible before.  That means we don’t need as many people to fill the need for whatever we’re producing.  And that means the “excess” people are out of work, right?

Sorry, but that’s not how it has ever worked except in the very shortest of terms.

Producing more with less labor has been the spur for economic growth since before recorded history began.

In early agriculture, farmers planted crops by poking a hole in the ground with a stick, dropping seeds into the hole, then closing it by stepping on it.  One person could raise enough food that way to feed him or herself with very little surplus.  Just about the entire population had to be full-time farmers.

Along the way somebody discovered that if you dragged the stick along the ground you could create a furrow, preparing a field for seed in less time.  This rapidly turned into the scratch plow pulled at first by other people and later by animals.  One person could keep more land in cultivation, meaning you needed fewer people to produce the food for your population meaning more people were freed up for other activities.  People could become artisans, and craftsmen–specializing in those activities and not simply performing them as a sideline between stints in the fields.

It is no coincidence that the flourishing of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, the Nile valley, and the Levant arose following the invention of the plow–other things too such as the potter’s wheel, which also allowed fewer people to produce the pots and urns that people needed.

So it has been throughout history.  Western (i.e. European) civilization took off when extensive use of water mills, and later steam power, took the place of muscle power for industry.

One of the steps along the way, an early example of automation, the use of punch-card controlled looms for making textiles, led to actual protests.  A movement started by a probably mythical individual by the name of Ned Ludd, protested the new looms, claiming that it would put weavers out of work.  The protests involved both violence and sabotage.

Of course, the use of the new looms proceeded apace and, contrary to the fears, the economic growth more than absorbed any weavers displaced by the automation process.  Nor was the displacement as bad as expected because by producing more textiles more cheaply, international trade increased the quantity demanded.

Interestingly enough, a number of former third-world nations (even before the term “third world” was coined) have used textiles as an entry point in bootstrapping an industrial and manufacturing economy.

And so it has gone ever since.  Machine tools.  Assembly lines.  Railroads.  Modern shipping (compare the crew to cargo ratio of a modern container ship to an old merchant sailing ship).  Industrial robots of increasing sophistication.  And now robots that are poised to take your order and make your food in fast food establishments.  All of them ways to get the same job done with less human effort.  The latest round is no different from any of the previous ones.

What all of them do is to free up people to do other things.  This is the core of economic growth and we all benefit from it.

If you don’t believe that, I invite you to try to live as that prehistoric farmer family did–feeding yourself by poking holes in the ground with a stick (no cheating by dragging the stick to create a furrow).

Good luck.