Thursday, February 12, 2009

House Rules

This is an obvious question, but why does no one really know how to put the economy back together?

If an airliner crashes, experts can find the faulty part or parts and correct them. If a bridge collapses, building a new, safer, bridge is not a mystery.  Should a new bacterial or viral pathogen emerge, researchers have some idea how to cope with it. 

But the U.S., economy, is different. Iceland went under. They're no less intelligent than we are. How could they not stop that from happening? People are being cast out of their homes, jettisoned from their jobs, and left living in cars, and fixing the whole mess is an inexplicable mystery.

Incompetent executives are rewarded with truckloads of money. The people who seem to have created this disaster are now collecting billions or trillions of dollars. Those two problems are clear, but somehow impossible to fix. 

Sure, securities, and credit markets and the fed, mortgages and loans are complicated. But are they really so complicated that no one knows how to wrestle them back into order? Is our economy like a nuclear power plant that's so complicated that its operators will be faced with crises they do not recognize?

Everyone knows: write off the useless securities cobbled together with sliced and diced mortgage loans to people who could not afford to pay them. Who pays? The cobblers, slicers and dicers, with money borrowed from the treasury.

How could there be more than one opinion on how to proceed? Is righting the economy like choosing between a suspension bridge and a truss bridge? That does not seem to be the case, because such an issue could be solved relatively easily by comparing cost, durability, capacity and  longevity.

Why should we suppose that economics is rational? Because there is a Nobel prize in economics. People study economics. Is it a branch of mathematics, philosophy, or psychology?
Or is economics a spongy discipline like sociology?

It's hard to tell because economics is both abstract and immaterial.  There seems to be no applied economics. It's all just bits of symbolic data flowing through computers, and apparently, no one really understands it.

Or, some people understand economics but they keep everyone else in the dark so that they can make fortunes, at others' expense. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Trilobites redux mea culpa, ipso facto

As readers -- if there are any -- of this thing know, I am very partial to trilobite fossils.

The first ones I acquired were at the Peabody Museum. An Elrathia Kingii,  I believe, a few Ptychagnostuses, (they're small), and a bunch of Diacalymenes, many of which are found in Morocco. 

 Then I had to have more. A giant Phacops, from I don't remember which store. These shops are around if you look for them.  Many of the fossils were scratched as only Moroccans can scratch them. I bought them anyway.

As I became more serious, I acquired "Trilobites," by Riccardo Levi-Setti, who just found a new species. This book contains photos of some of the best finds, including a few whose soft limbs were preserved in iron pyrite.  These fossils are locked up in the Peabody, along with many other fantastic specimens. 

I collected and collected, and spent and spent, like a lunatic, until I accepted the fact that I could never collect "one of everything" unless I had billions or trillions of dollars, and that my collection would never be as magnificent as Levi-Setti's

Almost all of my little buddies (some call them "bugs") are now resting in the attic. I keep four out for show. One has eye stalks (broken off and glued back on), another has small spines, and the third is curled up so that his cephalic spines, cheek bones, if you will, are sticking up like a "U."

The fourth is a very nice mortality plate of a species I have not identified. Either their molted shells were collected by currents, or a living bunch of them were buried under silt.  This one is a Moroccan fossil, purchased by me at the Peabody, and has scratches all over it,  and fissures where the plate broke and was glued together (not uncommon).  It is a very good piece, and probably could have sold for $500 to $800 on the Web. 

It's wonderfully three-dimensional, with trilobite atop trilobite. All together there are about 15 trilobites. I am slowly grinding away at some of the worst scratches. 

I'm only going into this much detail, because I know from Google analytics that perhaps 7 people read this mish-mosh once in a while.

Anyway, the point is that I belatedly heard that some of the Peabody staff were made uncomfortable by the last entry I wrote about Moroccan trilobites made out of Bondo.

 I feel bad about this. I never meant to imply that they were trying to foist fakes off on the public, or were acting in any but the most honorable way.

My feeling is that this country is trilobite-illiterate, and someone, somewhere, has to make a stand.

I think everyone ought to know about trilobite fossils. The sad truth is that some of them are half Bondo, (the fossils, I mean),  but this is not the museum's doing. It goes on all over the place.  Maybe all  sellers of fossils should post little cautionary signs.

 Nothing bigger than an ElrathiaThat's all.

And besides, the gift shop is one of my favorite places, and, really, when you get down to it,  I don't know anything about anything. 

Monday, February 2, 2009

Oh, What a Tangled Web

 The jungle under the desk is puzzling.

All of the cables, lines, transformer boxes, hubs and the rest of the connections that keep the computer and all of the peripherals functioning together inevitably turn into a tangle.

And not a trivial tangle -- this morass of copper wire is practically impossible to straighten out.  The reasons are not clear. There must be an applicable branch of mathematics,  topology, knot theory, that could explain how and why the tangle happens, and more importantly, how to resolve it. The Koenigsberg bridge problem, that kind of thing.

Why bother? The tangle makes diagnosis of hardware issues extremely difficult. If a drive disappears from the desktop, is it because it is unplugged, or did the USB cable detach, or is it a more serious problem?

The other issue is fire prevention. Somehow a knot of electrical cords seems hazardous, although circuit breakers would presumably trip before the whole house is engulfed. 

One issue seems to be that the power lines and the cables want to go in different directions. All of the plugs want to go to the power strip, while the cables seek a firewire hub,  a usb hub, the back of the computer, speakers, or the desk top. (The real desk top, the piece of wood holding up the computer).

The other problem is that the cords are too long. This would not be a drawback unless you're working in an room the size of a broom closet and all of the component are on top of each other. A six-foot cable connecting components that are 18-inches apart leaves a lot of extra cord available for a tangle.

The collected wires seem to want to tangle. A straightened out set of wires can turn into a jumble if you look away for a second.

Consequently, the non-tangle strategies involve bundling and shortening. "Bundling" here means wrapping wires into loops and then either putting a rubber band around them, or sticking them inside a plastic cable tube. 

We all remember from physics that moving a wire through a magnetic field generates a current, and that sending an alternating current through a wire creates a magnetic field. This is how electric motors, transformers, and many other devices work. It's called induction.

The question, then, is, are all of those knots of cable under the desk radiating magnetic fields, and if so, what potential effect could that have on how the hard drives, and all the rest, function. Perhaps the wires are supposed to be in a tangle to prevent this from happening.

One of these bundles will make a cheap compass deflect a little bit.  So the confined wires are creating magnetic fields of some intensity. Is the person sitting at the desk unknowingly bathing in several electromagnetic fields? What if Paul Brodeur was right? 

We know that it is possible to make a fluorescent tube glow if you hold one on the ground under high voltage wires. Is the field from the wires creating a current in the tube? Let's put all of these questions aside for a moment.

Shouldn't there be a formal way of  laying out a configuration of wires in such a manner that you're not inadvertently creating transformers under your desk? Algebraic geometry anyone? Matrices? Functions? 

So, you can see that trial and error is the least complicated way forward. Or so it would seem. 
See all of those diagrams? Or attempted diagrams?

How can you find a solution when you can't even figure out the problem. Let's hope the house doesn't burn down.