Nav Tools

--> Most recent Blog

Comments Policy
Maths trivia
Search this site
RSS feed for Stu Savory's Blog RSS Feed
YouTube Videos

Site Meter

One of the 99%ers. Stu Savory
Eunoia, who is a grumpy, overeducated, facetious, multilingual ex-pat Scot, blatantly opinionated, old (1944-vintage), amateur cryptologist, computer consultant, atheist, flying instructor, bulldog-lover, Beetle-driver, textbook-writer, long-distance biker, geocacher and blogger living in the foothills south of the northern German plains. Not too shy to reveal his true name or even whereabouts, he blogs his opinions, and humour and rants irregularly. Stubbornly he clings to his beliefs, e.g. that Faith does not give answers, it only prevents you doing any goddamn questioning. You are as atheist as he is. When you understand why you don't believe in all the other gods, you will know why he does not believe in yours :-) Oh, and he also has a neat English Bulldog bitch 'Frieda'.

And her big son 'Kosmo'.

Geocaching Stats

Some of my bikes

My Crypto Pages

My Maths Pages

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best of my blog 2011

Wrapping up the year by going through my stats to see which of my 2011 blog postings you liked best. Obviously this is biased, because january's entries have had much longer to take hits than have december's entries. Nevertheless, these are YOUR top ten :-

  1. Ramrod :-(
  2. The USA is still number 1 ;-)
  3. One Time Pads : Cold War Coding
  4. Shields Up, Scotty!
  5. Prostate Cancer
  6. Map Distortions Redux
  7. Ethical Dilemma Fail
  8. So nearly nuked! (on 9/11 too!) :-(
  9. No through road to space?
  10. Crypto Grille for kids :-)

FWIW, the global access pattern of the top 100 blogreaders looks like this :-

Thanks to blogrollers George, Dilligaf II, Doug, Liz, Charles, and Mary for their regular visits. Yes, Kees Kennis (South Africa) and Doris (Alaska) come quite often too, but just missed being in the top 100 blogreaders :-(

Top commenters were non-bloggers Jenny (Ibiza) and John (UK). Thankyou.

Wishing all my blogreaders a healthy, peaceful and fiscally stable 2012 :-)

Comments (1) :
David (IL) : "More science blogs please , their[sic!] your best." I ear you ;-)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Atheist Yule Tree

Joan (USA), commenting on my Xmas day post, asked "So what does your Atheist Christmas tree look like?" So here is our DIY Yule tree :-)

First off all, Joan, you need to realise that the Christmas tree has nothing to do with Christ. Just as the pagan winter solstice festival was stolen by the One True Church® for His fictitious birthday, so too was the pagan ritual of bringing an evergreen branch into the house to represent the beginning of longer days (after the solstice) leading to new greening by deciduous plants. Whence the 'Christmas' tree.

Ours is a simple, practical one, DIY and reusable. Instead of having to cut down a young tree each year - which is not a very 'green' thing to do - I reused 3 logs which are from a branch that broke off our cherry tree in a storm. No needles dropping off either, so safe for our dogs' paws.

The removable golden 'crown' is DIY too, made from thin willow strips. Instead of a plastic/tinsel angel, we have a DIY felt bearded nordic dwarf in a green(ish) moss skirt :-)

The crown and dwarf can be removed, revealing a central candle representing the return of the light (=return of the sun after a polar winter). The base is a simple steel plate for added stability.

The three logs are each mounted off-centre and so may be turned separately around the centreline making a primitive calendar. Our DIY Yule tree, OK? :-)

Comments (1) :
Joan replied, asking "What a bare tree! Why no decorations?" Well, we have two dogs (see left sidebar) and one year I made the mistake of hanging their tasty dog-food presents on the tree together with regular decorations. While we were out of the room, the dogs grabbed their presents, pulling the tree over and destroyed various other decorations whilst testing them for edibility. Broken glass and splinters underfoot/ underpaw :-( Not repeating that ;-)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Newtonian Night

As those of you with a scientific bent may know, last sunday was a significant and real (not just a fictitious) birthday, namely the birthday in 1641 of Sir Isaac Newton. In 1641 they were still using the Julian calender of course, but let's skip over that issue for the moment, as I'm just mentioning Newton as a reflective (sic!) introductory paragraph ;-)

Now, since SWMBO had taken some interest in a friend's refractor telescope, a disappointingly wobbly-mounted, over-magnifying department-store El Cheapo, I decided to buy her a proper (if small) Newtonian reflector for Isaac Newton's birthday. She can always upgrade to a larger 8 inch reflector if she takes a liking to astronomy at all.

This little table-top telescope is a FirstScope76 made (in China of course) for Celestron. It is a Newtonian reflector (76mm aperture, 300mm focal length) on a stable, robust Dobsonian mount.

The Dobsonian mount is a smooth turntable with an upright which has a rotatable, clampable screw bearing the (plastic?) tube of the scope. MUCH better for a beginner than a thin and wobbly equatorial tripod.

Light from the sky enters from the right in this photo (after you have removed the cap of course ;-) ), goes along the tubus to the left where the 3 inch Newtonian parabolic mirror reflects it back along the tubus to the plane secondary mirror. This turn the beam through 90° sending it up into the eyepiece holder. Two eyepieces are provided (20mm=15x and 4mm=75x magnification) - shown resting on the turntable.

Usually you will point the telescope roughly where you want to look, then use the longer eyepiece with the lower 15x magnification to align the scope on the object. Focussing is done using the rack-and-pinion knobs on the eyepiece holder shown at the top of my picture. Then you can swap the eyepiece for one of a higher magnification (75x provided). As a rule of thumb, use a magnification about 15 times the size of the aperture in inches. That would be 15*3=45 here and 15*8=120 for an 8 inch scope.

That evening was very cloudy, but the clouds drifted aside for twenty minutes so we got a stable view of Jupiter and its 4 Galilean moons clearly and snatched a first look at Orion's Belt before the clouds closed the hole.

This little gem costs under 50 Euros and can even be used by children. For an additional 50€ or so, you can get an extension kit, comprising two additional intermediate eyepieces (24x and 50x), a 5x finder-scope attachable via the screwholes on the original tubus, a carrier bag and a SW CD with planetarium und star-map SW :-) Yes, the eyepiece lenses are plastic, not glass, but what do you expect for the money? Because the eyepieces are the standard size (1 ¼ inches) you can always buy a Plössl or other good eyepiece to improve your investment. The same eyepieces can be used on a decent 300 € 8 inch scope too. Why do I emphasize the 4 foot long and 8 inch aperture scope? Because it fits into the back seat of your car should you need to drive out of town to get dark skies :-) Larger tubus lengths can be a real hassle :-(

The best scope is the one that gets used the most!!!

Comments (2) :
Jenny (Ibiza) asks "Are those usage instructions written on the tube?" No, the tube is inscribed with the names of famous astronomers, presumably the encourage beginners to google their names :-)
Pierre (F) asks "What can I expect to see?" All the planets (just a couple of millimeters in size). The discs will be mostly white, not coloured. The Galilean moons of Jupiter. Saturn's rings (just). The moon (but better with a filter to reduce the glare). If you stand at the front of the scope (just to one side, obviously) you can see terrestial things right side up too. Deep sky objects like galaxies etc (but not in colour). No amount of magnification will show individual stars as other than points. This FirstScope is only f/4 (meaning the aperture is 1/4 of the focal length) which means the highly curved mirror causes coma (distortion of targets near the edge of the image).

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Xmas Myth, annotated

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far, away...

Oh sorry, both are wrong idioms ;-) Let me use a more classical style.

And it came to pass1, in the reign of Herod the King2, that a census3 was held in the land. And thus did Joseph and Mary, a virgin4, travel unto Bethlehem5 to be counted6. And when they arrived, there was no room in the inn7. And so the innkeeper8 put them up in the stable9 And Lo, the shepherds were guarding their sheep in the fields by night10, and followed a star11. The same 'star'12 led the 3 'wise men13 from the orient14' to Bethlehem.

. . . and so on and so forth :-(


  1. Probably not. Just remember these were old fishermen's tales and we know old fishermen are prone to making things up. Neither of the apostles Mark nor John even mention the nativity story. Matthew and Luke's versions differ considerably, neither of them were eye witnesses.
  2. Herod the King died in 4 BC, before the fictitious year of Xian birth.
  3. The only census held around that time was the Quirinius census, held in 6 AD and a whole decade after the reign of Herod the King. In Acts of the Apostles, Luke even places the census after the revolt of Theudas, which took place around 46 AD. Like I said, old fishermen's tales.
  4. The whole myth of a virgin birth is based on a mistranslation. The Greek original uses the term "young woman".
  5. According to the Gospel according to Matthew: Joseph and Mary lived in Bethlehem all the time and did not have to travel there. BTW, there was NO practice in the Roman Empire of requiring people to returning to an ancestral city for a census.
  6. The trip was merely invented to fulfill the Jewish prophecy (=narrative imperative) that the Messias be born in the same town King David was.
  7. Why would they need an inn if they lived there anyway (as it says in the Gospel according to Matthew)?
  8. Luke neither quotes nor mentions an innkeeper. See footnote 7 also.
  9. The Greek term translated as inn (=kataluma) had multiple meanings, among them inn or caravansary, but also an upstairs room. The word kataluma is used twice elsewhere in the New Testament (Luke,22:11 and Mark,14:14) both times in the sense of an upper room.
  10. Which implies that it was summer, because late december would be too cold for the lambs to be outdoors. So much for december 25th ;-)
  11. The 'star' was shown first in Giotto di Bodone's 1304 painting (in the Scrovengi chapel in Padua) based on the 1301 transit of Halley's comet. Others (such as Kepler, the astronomer) think 'the star' might have been the rare conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn which happened in 7 BC, by the way. Furthermore, there are no supernova remnants to be found dating from a hundred years around 1 BC.
  12. Heathen poetry and histories use the appearance of a 'star' to announce the births of Aeneas, Augustus and Alexander the Great. The bible is just copying this style of story-telling. Traditional old fishermen's tales?
  13. Matthew 2:12 uses a term 'magi' referring at the time to astronomer priests, probably Zoroastrians. Pliny the Elder used the term 'magus' too.
  14. Remember, the Gospel according to Matthew was written between 70 and 100 AD when he was old and possibly senile. So the 'We 3 kings of orient are' probably refers to the trip by the armenian King Titidates to Rome to visit Nero. That would have been in 66 AD. A good coincidence, because 66 AD saw a transit of Halley's comet (aka the 'star') too ;-)

If you hadn't guessed, I happen to be an Atheist, for a variety of reasons ;-) YMMV.

Comments (3) :
John (USA) criticises "You should have been honest enough to annotate the original and not some similar text you made up to suit your nefarious atheist purposes!" Which original did you mean? Vulgate's Luke 2:1-14 is "Factum est autem in diebus illis, exiit edictum a Cæsare Augusto ut describeretur universus orbis. Hæc descriptio prima facta est a præside Syriæ Cyrino: et ibant omnes ut profiterentur singuli in suam civitatem. Ascendit autem et Joseph a Galilæa de civitate Nazareth in Judæam, in civitatem David, quæ vocatur Bethlehem: eo quod esset de domo et familia David, ut profiteretur cum Maria desponsata sibi uxore prægnante. Factum est autem, cum essent ibi, impleti sunt dies ut pareret. Et peperit filium suum primogenitum, et pannis eum involvit, et reclinavit eum in præsepio: quia non erat eis locus in diversorio. Et pastores erant in regione eadem vigilantes, et custodientes vigilias noctis super gregem suum. Et ecce angelus Domini stetit juxta illos, et claritas Dei circumfulsit illos, et timuerunt timore magno. Et dixit illis angelus: Nolite timere: ecce enim evangelizo vobis gaudium magnum, quod erit omni populo: quia natus est vobis hodie Salvator, qui est Christus Dominus, in civitate David. Et hoc vobis signum: invenietis infantem pannis involutum, et positum in præsepio. Et subito facta est cum angelo multitudo militiæ cælestis laudantium Deum, et dicentium: [Gloria in altissimis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis.]" You're lucky this stupid editor won't let me give you the Greek, let alone an Aramaic, version ;-) But the important point is that you realise they are all translations and reinterpretations, including the 1611 AD King James' version.
Mary (USA) mocked "Why do you Atheists all write Xmas and Xians, are you afraid to write His Name?" No, lass. What you read as an 'X' is in fact the Greek letter Chi (=χ), pronounced Kaih, the first letter of His name in Greek (=Chi-Rho), pronounced like the Egyptian city Cairo :-) Aren't you worried too, that the people who carve crosses think He was called Henry (=INRI)? ;-)
Joan (also USA) asks sarcastically "So what does your Atheist Christmas tree look like?" I'll show you in a separate post, OK?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Clever Design :-)

There is one thing we can all appreciate, and that is cleverness in engineering design. Let me show you an example, the new 2012 Ducati Panigale, where one piece has more than one function and even an omitted part has a function :-)

Look carefully, and you will see the Panigale does not have Ducati's usual steel trellis frame. In fact, it has no frame at all! Instead, the front steering assembly is attached to the massive engine block at both cylinder heads (the motor is an L-twin). The rear suspension is attached to the gearbox rear and the seat assembly to the rear cylinder head. No frame, so no weight!

Frameless, weight-saving designs are not new, the British 1950's superbike, the Vincent Black Lightning used no frame either.

The Ducati combines two functions in a single part elsewhere too. Instead of a steel tube trellis to attach the steering head to the cylinder heads, the Panigale uses a hollow carbon fiber monocoque which doubles as an airbox for the two fuel injectors (those two black rings are the air-inlets).

These two ideas mean more room for a bigger fuel tank (25 instead of the current 17 liters) because no cut-out is needed for a separate airbox. The larger airbox allows for more power very efficiently too.

Multi-function design is used elsewhere to good effect too. This photo shows the front mudguard. Instead of being held by metal tubes, the mudguard is made from light but strong carbon fibre in one piece including the 'strakes' which attach it to the front axle. The strakes protect the fork sliders from flying stones and road chippings, but also funnel cooling air onto the brake disks, streamline the forks by getting them out of the airstream and feed air to the radiators :-)

The exhaust silencer is hidden centrally under the engine (see top photo again), which keeps the masses as central as possible (which improves the bike's agility) and omits the airflow obstruction which would otherwise be caused by a side-mounted exhaust system.

Looking at the photo of the airbox shows you that the rear suspension (yellow spring & damper) have been moved asymmetrically to the left side of the bike which keeps the bike shorter and again, thus more agile. Tipping the L-shaped engine back (about 10°) keeps the bike shorter too and concentrates the central masses slightly further forward, helping lessen wheelie tendencies.

All in all, some very clever design work. Well done, Ducati!
It's just a pity I'll not be able to afford one :-(

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

More Old Aircraft

B ack on the 12th I showed you some of the old training aircraft in the Quax club collection. Several of you have written asking for more photos. So here are 8 additional shots I took :-

Let's kick off with the rare Ryan racer again (1 of only 13 built, 2 survive) :-

This french Stampe biplane has its call-sign history painted on the tail :-)

This is the Cessna 195 Businessliner, luxury travel in the 1950's.

This is the (unstandardised) cockpit of the Russian Yak-52.

For comparison, the simple front (student's) cockpit on the pre-WW2 Bucker Jungemann biplane. L2R: speedo, compass, altimeter, revcounter.

Here we see the Stampe wing stripped for stringer maintenance.

This is a Pilatus P3, built in Switzerland for the Brasilian airforce.

This is the paint job on the nose of the Pilatus P3.

Monday, December 19, 2011

House of the Rising Sun*

I think I was 18 - just starting university - when I first heard House of the Rising Sun. 1962, so it was probably the Bob Dylan version. Then in 1964, it became a No. 1 hit in the UK with The Animals epic version and I bought an El Cheapo reel-to-reel tape recorder and set about collecting various cover versions. That tape is lost now, but YouTube has a several cover versions by various artists. Here are my ordered Top 20 links, YMMV :-

  1. The Animals
  2. Sinead O'Connor (very unusual, quiet version)
  3. Joan Baez
  4. Konstantin Loskutov (Russian Army)
  5. Bob Dylan
  6. Eric Burdon & Jethro Tull
  7. Tracy Chapman
  8. Tommy Emmanuel
  9. Bon Jovi
  10. Leadbelly (1948)
  11. Libby Holmann (1940s)
  12. Duran Duran
  13. Frijid Pink
  14. Thin Lizzy
  15. Bachmann, Turner, Overdrive
  16. Santa Esmeralda
  17. Courtney Love
  18. Joe Wright
  19. The Beatles (awful!)
  20. Mark Knopfler & Chet Atkins

In that last one, Knopfler and Atkins ask What ARE we singing about? because, after all, it is a song about a whorehouse! In fact, when I first heard of this attribution, I thought the real (priapic) title was House of the Rising Sons ;-) In the plural of course, since the One True Church® claims to be the only House of the Rising Son, albeit in a resurrective sense ;-)

Recently I was chatting with an American lady blogger (whom I choose to leave nameless) who quipped "We don't have whorehouses in Washington DC, except Congress of course ;-)" Since this may be true for other readers in places where prostitution is illegal, I thought I'd show y'all a photo today.

This one is typical of countryside establishments of ill repute here, being strategically located on a main road (B68) to catch the trucker and travelling salesmen traffic, (51.573122, 9.000163 on Google Maps). Such houses were often stage-coach postal stage-ing places 100 years ago, now they are stag-ing posts offering "Discreet parking in the rear", whatever THAT means!

But anyway, back to the music. Why not listen to the 20 versions listed above and mail me YOUR preferred sequence for listing here :-)

Comments (2) :
HaggisChorizo points out that "The Japanese Proto-Metal group, Flower Travellin' Band did a cover of House of The Rising Sun on their album Anywhere in 1970." Yes Jimmy, it's even on YouTube too. Sounds like "The rours of the lysin sun, down in new rorreans." though ;-)
Jenny (Ibiza) is impressed ".. by the Sinead O'Connor version, so eerily quiet!". I like it too, lass. The LACK of shouting is so unusual :-)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

UnHitched :-(

Sad news. Christopher Hitchens died at 62 on thursday 15/11/2011, afaik of pneumonia, complications of his oesophagal cancer :-(

My favourite polemicist, his confrontational style of debate made him both a lauded and controversial figure. His excellent rhetoric and writing style is evident in his 2007 book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, an Atheist epic :-) His autobiography Hitch-22 - the title is a reference to Catch-22 - written in 2010, just before his cancer savagely attacked, is also well worth reading. Most recent? Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens.

One of my YouTube favourites is the debate of Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry (an Atheist, jewish, gay, with a stupendously impressive classical education) versus the Catholics. Watch it here (there are 5 parts in all). See the Hitch's infamous Swiss-Army-knife of a brain doing its thing :-)

Probably the only Chris I shall miss. Requiescat in Pace, Hitch.

Comments (1) :
Xtreme English wrote "Thanks for this post, Stuart. I had to shut it off because I can't stand listening to those bishops any more. But I'll go back and hear what the others have to say." May they 'Fry' ;-) But I have to admit that the OTC has accumulated some great art over their money-grabbing millenia. Go take a 360° rotatable, zoomable, virtual reality view of the Sistine Chapel.
Xtreme English replied "OTC? Is that the One True Church? Mwahahaha. I agree about the art. One of the very best exhibitions I've ever seen here was the books from the Vatican Library shown at the Library of Congress (the old building) one of the first years I was here (early 1990s). I thought, "Well, THIS was definitely worth all of it." The books were (are) magnificent! And meticulously preserved! Way to go, cranky old cardinals!!". When the local (Paderborn) OTC cathedral displayed some of their old books, up to 1200 years old, I went to take a look and could read them of course because they were in Latin, the lingua franca of the OTC :-)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Zombie Explosion debunked ;-)

Sitting in a downtown bar this week, proofreading the manuscript of a forthcoming book, I was (acoustically) disturbed by an unemployed (unemployable ?) teenager playing "Zombie explosion" or some such nasty, loud, shoot-em-up game on his laptop instead of getting out there and looking for a job or qualifying himself for one.

What possible job requires as a main qualification the ability to play "Zombie apocalypse" et al? Apart from that of a personell manager maybe?

Sidestepping that rant, I got to wondering about the epidemics of a zombie explosion. Seeing as how the number of zombies doubles every time each zombie 'generation' bites someone, thus infecting them, I wondered how long it would take until everybody in the world was a zombie? The world population is stated as around 7 (american) billion, so the formula would be 2x=7,000,000,000. Solving for x, we get x=32.7 bites by the first zombie because it is a geometric progression. So you would think that with 33 or less bites the zombie explosion would go very quickly. Wrong!

The last person bitten would most likely be on the other side of the world from the source of the outbreak. Which puts the victim 20,000 kms away. This means the average distance between the first and last of the 32.7 bites would be 612 kms assuming (very unlikely) that each of the 612 kms steps were in a straight line. Assuming a zombie's average step length to be only 50 cms (data I sampled from watching his PC game) this implies 1,224,000 steps. But as we know zombies do not walk on straight lines, rather, they stagger about as if they were drunk. So let us now take a result from the mathematics of a drunkards' random walk, the expected translation distance after N steps, should be of the order of sqrt(N). And so we an expect the zombie to stagger N2 = 1,224,0002 = 1,498,176,000,000 steps to cover the net 612 kms. That's 47,474 YEARS for the net 612 kms between each bite, even assuming the zombies* could take 1 step per second 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

After each bite - which generates a new zombie (I'll generously assume the incubation time approaches zero in comparison to those 47,474 years) - the zombies stagger off in random directions. So the 32.7 bites require actually 1069 (=32.72) intervals to reach the expected value of 20,000 kms. Now 1,069 * 47,474 = 50,749,706 years, which is hardly what I'd call an explosion, even assuming the world population had not increased over those 50 million years (fat chance).

This result is in blatant contradiction to the result Stephen Fry quoted on his TV program QI, which was a mere 38 days**. I don't know how he arrived at 38 days, it would imply a net straight-line propagation speed of 22 km/h for the staggering zombies which I think is highly unlikely. After all, the TSA wouldn't allow zombies on board a plane (GOP politicians excepted?). So their only chance of exceeding walking(=staggering) speed would be on a railway train, probably disguised as Celtic football supporters ;-)

I'll go back to the bar on saturday*** to check on that zombie's progress ;-)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On the shoulders of giants*...

Blogreader Kees Kennis recently asked me to swap emails with a cousin(?) who is a maths geek/budding scientist 50+ years younger than I. What possible advice could I give that's not out of date or superfluous? Probably the best thing is a recommended reading list. And since this could be of general interest, I'm blogging my list here, since Xmas and Hannukah are coming up with their gift opportunities :-)

We have about 7000 books crammed in this house, most not in English and most not on science subjects. So this is a small selection, having eliminated stuff which is out of date (some are 50+ years old), no particular order:

  • Research writing, by Dean Memering, Prentice Hall, ISBN 0-13-774430-7. When I left school to take my first tentative steps in Academia, I found that said school had omitted to teach me the formalisms involved in writing a research report/paper. Nor - surprisingly - did my university offer a course. So I self-taught (as this 1981 book was not yet available), since it is a skill ALL science students will need to acquire.
  • Foundations and fundamental concepts of mathematics, Howard Eves, Dover, ISBN 0-486-69609-X. Whether you are studying maths-as-a-toolkit for engineers, physicists, etc or pure maths and want to collect your thoughts after school courses, this is a good summary. It covers Euclid, non-euclidean geometry, Hilbert's Grundlagen, algebraic structure, formal axiomatics, the real number system, sets, and logic & philosophy. And it makes them readily understandable.
  • Beyond numeracy, John Allen Paulos, Vintage books, ISBN 0-679-73807-X. Here I'm assuming you've already read the US national best-seller 'Innumeracy' by the same author, if not, get a copy. Paulos continues his fight against the dumbing down of maths education in the USA, and of the common man. Basic ideas made easily understandable. I wish it had been around when I was in school instead of 1991 ;-)
  • Einstein's Clocks, Poincare´'s Maps by Peter Galison, W.W.Norton, ISBN 0-393-32604-7. A 2003 book. History and science and adventure rather than a maths book, exploring the idea of what we mean by the simple(?) words "at the same time". Understandable, except to the chavs :-)
  • The first three minutes, by Steven Weinberg, Andre Deutsch, ISBN 0-233-96906-3. A lucid modern (1977) view of the origin of the universe. For budding physicists, not just Sheldon Cooper ;-)
  • The Design of everyday things, by Donald A.Norman, Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-26774-6. 1988. Budding scientists/engineers will one day be designing the things everyone else uses. So they'd better get it right, particularly the man-machine interface, lest we all go nuts ;-) be continued (if there is any demand ;-) ).

Comments (3) :
Kenneth (UK) asks "...and what are YOU reading now?" Two books. One is 'At Home' by Bill Bryson, published by Black Swan, ISBN 978-0-552-77255-6, but his history books are nowhere near as good as his travelogues. The other is a pre-publication manuscript of a forthcoming text-book (in German) by a good friend which I am proof-reading for consistency etc for him :-)
Dave (USA) complained "That's a rather arrogant choice of a book title to illustrate your article!" True, but it was inadvertent I assure you, just my Asperger tendency :-( So let me list it as a further recommendation : 'What Einstein told his barber' by Robert.L.Wolke. In parallel, I have swapped the illustration to 'The Joy of Mathematics'; that better?
Brian (UK) sent this Fiat Lux cartoon :-)
[Me] BTW, Allyson Beatrice has a (kids') booklist up too, in Jennifer's blog.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Oldtimer Training Aircraft

The Quax club at our local airport - EDLP, Paderborn-Lippstadt - has a collection of oldtimers, mostly primary trainer aircraft, which we went to see on saturday together with about 40 of my non-pilot friends, for whom I had organised this event. Since several of my readers are also pilots ( Earth-Bound Misfit, Flight Level 390, Kees Kennis to name but three) or wannabees I thought I'd show you a dozen of my many photos. The old aircraft - some pre WW2, most from the 50s - are all magnificently restored and are flown regularly by the Quax club members. I've flown only about half these types.

First we have the Boeing Stearman 75 in the 220 bhp trainer version. It was in the bigger 450 bhp version of this that I learnt crop-spraying.

Next we have the De Havilland Chipmunk, used throughout the British Empire as a post-WW2 trainer. Closed cockpit, wide stance for safer landings.

This Ryan STM S2 - one of 13 built - is magnificent in polished aluminium.

Inverted inline fours were typically european low-powered engines.

Radial engines were more typical of the USA and Russia. Better (air) cooling on more powerful engines. Planes often a bit larger.

These are the often typically exposed rocker arms of a radial engine.

Typical German pre-WW2 training biplane. Germany trained 100,000 pilots on such biplanes pre-WW2. Often only 9 hours of training before being put into a Messerschmitt Bf109 (which I have never had the opportunity to fly).

The 1979 Russian Yak 52 had a blown radial engine for added power. Easy to fly.

Afaik, this is an American Fairchild 24, a 4-seater cruiser. Never flown one :-(

Pre WW2 flying instructor's workplace. Instrument layout was not yet standardised. No gyro instruments yet; they came in the 1940s.

The wife admiring the polished aluminium of a 1951 Cessna 195, single-engined(!) plane used as a commercial "airliner" in the USA in the 50s.

Finally, yours truly with the Yak 52. Note the variable cooling vanes around the radial engine. Excuse my rabidly over-enthusiastic expression. This is my favourite aerobatic introduction to the big piston-engined warbirds :-)

Comments (7) :
Earthbound Misfit was kind enough to link to this article and has provided more info on the Fairchild 24 in her own blog (q.v).
Kees Kennis wrote "I only ever had a PPL, never had a radio comm cert or anything. BUT. I enjoyed lawless Africa and flew in ***** and ******** and landed at 90 degrees to the airstrip and more sometimes FUI. Loved your photos. How did you ever get such a nice lady to marry you?" I took her up for some soft aerobatics at night which makes the stars and ground lights far below interchangeable; later read her the poem ' High Flight' (q.v) ;-) [NB : I censored your text to protect you from the vengefully long arm of *** ***]
Cop Car (USA) wrote "Great photos, Stu. Although I've not flown any of the pictured aircraft, I was (for a brief period of time) part-owner of a basket-case Bücker Bü 131 "Jungmann". As a member of a local aerobatic flying club at the time, I owned part of a Jungmann that our members were keen upon assembling and flying. Unfortunately, I went out to work on the restoration project one fine spring weekend, only to be dismayed at the quality of the work being done. I had a serious talk with our club's chief mechanic (CCM). Failing to convince him and the other club members to do the job right (they wished to get it into the air as quickly as possible, fly it in the summer/fall months, and spend the winter doing a proper restoration job, I had no choice but to wash my hands of the whole restoration project. As an aircraft structures engineer, I could not accept liability for a project over which I had no control. Weeks went by and the "restoration"/assembly job was completed without my ever seeing the craft, again. It wasn't long before the CCM and the Jungmann made headlines in the local newspaper. The Jungmann experienced loss of one blade of the prop, the engine promptly left the airframe, and the Jungmann crashed into a wheat field with the CCM and a friend of his on board. No one can ever claim that the CCM was not one lucky young man. Although CCM had been stupid enough to have been doing low-level aerobatics in the Jungmann (which prop was not an aerobatic prop!), he walked away from the totaled airframe unharmed. (His equally lucky friend had but a scratch to the forehead.) The fact that they had been at low level undoubtedly saved their lives. I accepted payment from the insurance company for my part of the aircraft (about one-half of what I had invested) with a sigh of relief - that the inadequately restored Jungmann had permanently left the skies - without killing anyone! Safe flying!" We bought a Jungmann from the Spanish Airforce and flew it back here (FWIW an open cockpit biplane at 7,500 feet is effing COLD!). Here we discovered upon stripping it that said Spanish Airforce had never stripped off old paint an there were ELEVEN layers (of battleship-grey!!!) on the fabric :-( Repainted bright red :-)
Alex (D) wants "...we should go to see the Duxford (UK) collections next summer". Health permitting, Alex. And we should go sit on the hillside at Bwlch to watch the RAF fighters come past below us just 30 yards away at 400 knots. A wide 300mm lens and a fast shutter are recommended :-)
Allison V12 (D) wrote "Im Quax-Hangar habe ich mich während der Führung wie im siebten Himmel gefühlt und wäre am liebsten sofort in die Yak eingestiegen um ne Runde zu turnen ;-) So schön, daß es Menschen gibt die sich um den Erhalt dieser fliegenden Legenden kümmern und viel Geld und Herzblut da rein stecken :-)" You can join the Quax club as a non-pilot, to support their oldtimer work, I believe it costs just €120 p.a. :-)
Jenny (Ibiza) asks "Why were the inline four engines inverted?" Most aircraft engines have no gearbox, the prop is mounted directly on the end of the crankshaft. Inverting the engine gives the prop better ground clearance :-)
Gudrun (D) asks "Modern planes have boxer engines. What then is the DISadvantage of a radial engine?" Clever question lass! That big round engine rotates (internally) in a way that makes it into a big gyroscope flywheel. When on take-off you pick up the tailwheel of that 450hp monster, the gyroscope precesses and you march off sideways in an unexpected direction unless you are VERY sharpish on the rudder! NOT ideal for beginners ;-) Most modern planes have a tricycle undercart (3rd wheel under the nose) to make ground handling less exciting.

Friday, December 9, 2011

...or a typographical error? ;-)

A ccording to the TV program as printed in the paper, the saturday night movie was baring (sic!) the title "Nights of the Round Table". Now this could be a genuine typographical error by a typesetter whose mother tongue is not English, OR - given that it was showing at a late hour - it might be a softporn movie featuring the Lady of the Lake*, Merlin's magic wand, Arthur's XXX-calibre 'sword', Sir Lance-a-lot and many of the stallions based in the castle on location in Cum-a-lot. I'll bet that half the teenage boys in the nation will have their hands full watching to find out ;-)

Comments (2) :
Kees Kennis replied in kind " 'Uranus, a stable companion' Is what I laughed about as a teenager. Nights are knew to me." My pun(n)y effort - schoolboy humour - mea culpa.
Dave (USA) quipped "Not often you see an attractive girl wearing braces ;-)" True.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dictation and translation :-)

H ow far are we from the Star Trek real-time translator gadget?

Or a useful subset thereof, the automatically translating telephone?

25 years ago in Germany there was a research project which dealt with the theme "Automatic translation phone". There were three languages, English, German, and Japanese. The project was not a success at the time. Well, today the technology is further. So I wanted to see what a PC or a phone App could make of it. This article arose from the fact that I was dictating this text in German because I have a Windows version 7 in German, which allows dictation in German only. Then whatever the computer had understood was corrected by means of dictation and forwarded to the Google translation service. There it was translated into English in the cloud. The English text output could then be spoken by a machine if it were a phone App. Since I am multilingual, I have however corrected the automatic translation. For the respective steps I've listed the manual effort. Thus we have an estimate of the state of technology today.

STEP 1) Original dictation as I spoke it, 1 minute 20 seconds.

"Diktieren und übersetzen. Vor 25 Jahre gab es in Deutschland ein Forschungsprojekt der sich mit dem Thematik "Automatischen übersetzende Telefon" befasste. Es handelte sich dabei um drei Sprachen, Deutsch, Englisch, und Japanisch. Das Projekt war damals kein Erfolg. Nun heute ist der Technologie weiter. Also wollte ich sehen was sich mit einem PC respektiv einem Telefon App sich machen ließ. Dieses Artikel entstand dadurch, daß Ich diesen Text auf Deutsch diktierte da ich eine Windows Version sieben in Deutsch habe, der nur ein Diktat auf Deutsch erlaubt. Anschließend würde mein Text mittels Diktat korrigiert und an den Google Übersetzungdienst weitergereicht. Dort würde sie in der Wolke ins Englische übersetzt. Das englische Text könnte dann maschinell ausgesprochen werden. Da ich aber mehrsprachig bin, habe ich die automatische Übersetzung korrigiert. Für die jeweilige Schritte habe ich den manuellen Aufwand notiert. Somit hätten wir eine Einschätzung der Stand der Technik heutzutage. "

STEP 2) This is what the computer (Win7 PC, i3) understood in almost real time, with only a few seconds delay. I have underlined the mistakes the Microsoft dictation SW made.

"Diktieren und übersetzen. Vor 25 Jahren gab es in Deutschland ein Forschungsprojekt der sich mit dem Thematik der zu vollziehen Auto marschiert Tische übersetzende Telefon " befasste. Es handelte sich dabei um drei Sprachen, Deutsch, Englisch, und Japanisch. Das Projekt war damals keine Erfahrung. Nun heute ist der Technologie weiter. Also wollte ich sehen was sich mit einem PC USB aktiver einem Telefonat sich machen ließ. Gysi sagte Eaton entstand dadurch das sich diesen Text auf Deutsch diktierte da ich eine Windows Version sieben in Deutsch aber den nur ein Diktate auf deutsche erlaubt. Anschließend würde mein Text mittels Diktat korrigiert und an den Bochum Übersetzungdienst weitergereicht. Dort wurde sie in der Wolke ins Englische übersetzt. Das englische Text könnte dann Maschine R ausgesprochen werden. Da ich habe mir sprach die Bienen, habe ich die automatische Übersetzung korrigiert. Für die jeweilige Schritte habe ich den manuellen Aufwand notiert. Somit hätten wir eine Einschätzung des Stand der Technik heutzutage."

STEP 3) It took me about 4 minutes to find all the errors and correct them (to get the step 1 text) by dictation alone (which would most likely be the case if using a phone). This is what subsequently came out of Google's translation attempt :-(

"Dictation and translate. 25 years ago in Germany there was a research project which dealt with the theme "Auto translate phone". These were three languages??, English, German, and Japanese. The project was then no success. Well today is the technology further. So I wanted to see what a PC with respectively a phone app could make themselves. This article arose from the fact that I was dictating this text in German because I have a Windows version seven in German, which allows only a dictation in German. Then my text would be corrected by means of dictation and forwarded to the Google translation service. There they would translated into English in the cloud. The English text could then be imposed by machine. Since I am multilingual but I have corrected the automatic translation. For the respective steps I've listed the manual effort. Thus we have an estimate of the state of technology today. "

STEP 4) I then had to spend 1 minute correcting the Google translation. In practice, the user would not be multilingual since that would defeat the point of the automatically translating phone, and so this step would be omitted.

"Dictation and translate. 25 years ago in Germany there was a research project which dealt with the theme "Automatic translation phone". There were three languages??, English, German, and Japanese. The project was not a success at the time. Well, today the technology further. So I wanted to see what a PC or a phone app could make of it. This article arose from the fact that I was dictating this text in German because I have a Windows version 7 in German, which allows dictation in German only. Then my text was corrected by means of dictation and forwarded to the Google translation service. There it was translated into English in the cloud. The English text could then be spoken by a machine. Since I am multilingual, I have however corrected the automatic translation. For the respective steps I've listed the manual effort. Thus we have an estimate of the state of technology today."

Just for laughs, let us look at what would have happened if I had omitted step 3, and the dictation had gone uncorrected to translation. This is what might happen in the hypothetical phone App case :-

"Dictation and translate. 25 years ago in Germany there was a research project which marches with the theme of the car to make tables translate phone "focused. These were three languages??, English, German, and Japanese. The project was then no experience. Well today is the technology further. So I wanted to see what is active with a PC USB had a phone call to make. Gysi said Eaton was the fact that this text is dictated in German because I allowed a Windows version seven in German, but the only one to German dictation. Then my text would be corrected by means of dictation and forwarded to the Bochum translation service. There it was translated into English in the cloud. The English text could then be pronounced R machine. As I've said, the bees, I've corrected the automatic translation. For the respective steps I've listed the manual effort. thus have we are an estimate of the state of technology today."

So, I think you might agree, we are not really there yet. Keep watching 'Star Trek' ;-)

Comments (4) :
Brian (UK) asks "What is your opinion of SIRI?" I don't own an Apple iPhone 4S, so any opinion would necessarily be third hand. But I'll read up on it and give you a short summary in a future post, Brian.
Jenny (E) asks "Did you train it? If so, for how long?" Yes, almost an hour. But that's a one-time effort and so a negligible part of each dictation.
Four Dinners wrote "Howdo Stu, hope you're all well old bean. As for translating...I have enough trouble with English these days...although a few driving students are slowly teaching me things...for eg Tanya from Bulgaria has taught me Lavo and Jazno for left and right..." Just trying the dictation SW as a lecturing tool now. 20 years ago I'd write lecture notes to be handed out before giving a Uni lecture using a blackboard, then students could add their notes to mine, an arrangement which meant they could actually listen to me instead of scribbling all the (noteless) time. 10 years ago I'd write on a whiteboard which delivered a hard copy for feeding to the copier. Students didn't like that so much, legibility issues and the fact they couldn't add their own notes in real time. Now I'm trying lecturing with the PC listening, taking dictation as it were, and the PC sending its transliteration via WLAN to my class. Major problems are 1) when the dictation SW misunderstands what I say, and 2) I don't dictate all the commas, stops, newlines etc as part of the lecture. We'll see what students report...
Andreas (DK/FI) - a professional translator - contributed : "On dictation: This is one of the two problems with the predicted (by tablet marketing ghouls) replacement of keyboards with voice recognition. The other one is, that humans don't speak like they write. I like to point people to Conversation Analysis corpuses to get a glimpse at the gobbledygook we actually spout, and to marvel at how we autocorrect it on the fly, at the same time fooling ourselves to think it was never nonsense to begin with. Meaning; even if the machine actually hears correctly, odds are that the output will be rather comical. But maybe they envision that we'll write a draft of what we want written, say on a paper napkin, and then use that written text as basis for an extra-distinct dictation?
On translation: As a freelance translator, I've had some good laughs at machine translation (MT) engines. Also, it's easy enough to discover (if you taunt the engines enough) that they often use English as a metalanguage baseline. And English is highly abnormal - typologically speaking, at least. But there's one language combination which gave me cold shivers: Chinese-English. Try it out; I can't vouch for the accuracy, but the output with Google's translator is often shockingly readable and understandable. I don't know if this is from a quality of Chinese, or if it's a result of more money invested into developing the engine for that. If it is the latter, there could be hope for MT yet. If it is the former, that's very very interesting."
Several interesting points there, Andreas. ad 1) please point me to a representative Conversation Analysis corpus. ad 2) please show me how to deduce the metalanguage baseline for the internal representation (=parse tree?), e.g. how would I see that F<->D in Google goes via English? I understand that we use an internal representation for efficiency reasons (N+1 pairs instead of N*(N-1)/2). ad 3) I don't speak/read Chinese so I can't evaluate Google's translations. But I would guess the US State Department/DARPA have invested a lot in the English/Chinese language pair.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

We are the 146.47 % :-(

Voting as usual in Russia; I putin your box a little more, comrade :-(

Comments (1) :
Kane (USA) asks "What are those percentages supposed to be?" Voter participation for a specific town; it's evidence of ballot box stuffing by Putin's party 'United Russia' (#1 : the top line) :-(

Monday, December 5, 2011

Koblenz bomb disposal

D on't mention the war!

That's unlikely in Koblenz this weekend. You see, we've had a drought all november and so the river levels have dropped really low.

In fact, our nearest navigable river - the Weser - is down to 80 cms and so all shipping (other than kayaks) has been stopped there. And as the waters dropped in Koblenz, which is situated at the confluence of Mosel and Rhine, this huge cylinder surfaced. It turned out to be a British WW2 bomb weighing almost 2 tons and still highly dangerous.

This has prompted the biggest evacuation we've seen in Germany since the fifties. The WW2 bomb was designed to take out windows, push down walls and rip off roofs over a radius of over a mile to give subsequent fire-bombs an easier task. So 46 thousand people (pop. Koblenz =106,000) have had to be evacuated to school halls, sports buildings etc in the surrounding area. Seven nursing homes, two hospitals and a prison had to be emptied over a radius of 2 kms around the site (at the confluence).

All shipping has been stopped a couple of miles up and downstream on the Rhine and upstream on the Mosel. Trains are diverted - on the other side of the Rhine as well - and all roads blocked so that Koblenz is cut off from the rest of the world. As I write this at 11 a.m. on sunday morning the bomb disposal squad volunteers have sandbagged the river around the bomb and are pumping the hole dry so that they can get at the lower fuse end. Braver men than I, just think how rusty the 67 year old fuse could be!

The bomb disposal squads have plenty of practice though. Currently in Germany bombs - albeit smaller ones - are still being found at the rate of 5500 per year. They estimate there are still upwards of a hundred thousand still undiscovered. Assuming that bomb discovery is an exponential process, it could take over 300 years to clear them all :-(

The actual defusing is planned for 3-5 p.m. ; then the defused explosives (aka a rusty leaky bomb) still have to be hauled out of the river and transported away (on public roads!) to be exploded safely in a gravel pit elsewhere. I shall continue writing this blog posting after the defusing ...

Sunday 15:53. The big bomb and a smaller 125kg American WW2 bomb and a WW2 fog-generator all successfully defused. Resume breathing :-)

Comments (3) :
Ann (GB) reports "UK news sites (e.g. Sky) are saying the bomb detonated???" Not true. They are misreporting; defused and removed.
John (GB) asks "How many bombs have been found in Koblenz?" Afaik, 22 since 1998, but all smaller than this one. Usually when excavating foundations on construction sites. I believe this is the first one in the river.
Duke (USA) quips "Talking about defusing situations, Hermann Cain has stepped down from the GOP candidate race ;-)" What I like is the way they all serially self-destruct when in the lime-light. Aka 15 minutes of fame? ;-)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Codebreaker opportunities (UK)

Fancy a career as a codebreaker? Budding natural-born Brits can apply to GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) - the Brit equivalent of the NSA, BND or KGB - provided they can break a code which GCHQ have put up on the internet at the CanYouCrackIt website. GCHQ is based at Cheltenham. I'm providing no solution, you have to do it yourselves.

GCHQ is an equal opportunity employer and are short on gays, they have said, so any gays stand(sic!) a better chance of being accepted. Personally, I would have thought that fluency in Arabic would be a better qualification :-(

Having given them this plug, it is only fair to point out that the job is not all it's cracked up to be. Pun intended :-)

Recently, blogreader Guido and I have been corresponding on doing cost/benefit analyses of codebreaking, about which - not surprisingly - there seems to be almost nothing in the unclassified academic literature. If anyone wishes to make a research contribution - anecdotal, economically founded, serious or otherwise - please drop me a line, even anonymously :-)

Comments (4) :
Frothing Mouse (TX,USA) sent a suggested solution which the CanYouCrackIt website rejected as "_incorrect" :-( But thankyou for trying & for reading me.
David (IL) solved it, but - "...being a Red Sea pedestrian and too old anyway (sigh) - can't get a job there :-( " You wouldn't like Cheltenham anyway.
Achmed (Egypt), pulling my leg, quipped "I'm Arabic AND gay, but can't crack it. Two out of three ain't bad ;-)" Funny as ever, man :-)

Me : Here's a tip for you folks - DEAD BEEF in line 2.

Oh, and while I'm on the subject of crypto, let me give a little plug here for Stephanie's movie The RED machine (for which I was able to provide a little crypto help) which is going on national release in the USA on January 12th 2012. Go see it, American blogreaders, and enjoy!

Karin (CH) asks "How does your tip help?" The sequence 'ef be ad de' is DEAD BEEF in a little-endian representation. FYI, 0xDEADBEEF ("dead beef") is a magic value used by SW programmers. It is used by IBM RS/6000 systems, Mac OS on 32-bit PowerPC processors and the Commodore Amiga as a magic debug value. On Sun Microsystems' Solaris, it marks freed kernel memory. On OpenVMS running on Alpha processors, DEAD_BEEF can be seen by pressing CTRL-T. The DEC Alpha SRM console has a background process that traps memory errors, identified by PS as "BeefEater waiting on 0xdeadbeef". This is a hint that what we are seeing is not just a .jpg picture but also a memory dump of a program which runs in an Intel chip (little-Endian architecture). Take it from there...

23 Recent Writings
FWIW : 23 is the number of the Illuminati, folks ;-)
Best of my blog 2011
Atheist Yule Tree
Newtonian Night
Xmas myth, annotated
Clever Design :-)
More old aircraft
House of the Rising Sun
UnHitched :-(
Zombie Explosion? No!
On the shoulders of giants
Oldtimer Training Aircraft
Or a typographical error?
Dictation & translation
We are the 146.47 % :-(
Koblenz bomb disposal
Codebreaker opportunity
Getting a little cross ;-)
Taxicab number 91 :-)
Unwelcome here
Worst Horror Movie?
US supercommittee fail
Dean Drive Debunk
A word on sunday
Mixed Responses
The Green Man

Archive 2011:
Jan Feb Mar Apr
May Jun Jul Aug
Sep Oct Nov Dec
Archive 2010:
Jan Feb Mar Apr
May Jun Jul Aug
Sep Oct Nov Dec
Archive 2009:
Jan Feb Mar Apr
May Jun Jul Aug
Sep Oct Nov Dec
Archives 2002-2008 offline to save server file-space.
Ain Bulldog Blog
Balloon Juice
Cheese Aisle
Cocktail Party Physics
Cosmic Variance
Decrepit Old Fool
Dilligaf II
Doug Alder
Dr Grumpy
Earth-Bound Misfit
Fail Blog
Finding life hard?
Flight Level 390
Greg Laden
Inspector Gadget
Kees Kennis
Making Light
Mostly Cajun
Not Always Right
Observing Hermann
One Good Move
Rants from t'Rookery
Squatlo Rant
Stupid Evil Bastard
The Magistrate's Blog
Too many tribbles
Toxic Drums
Xtreme English
Yellowdog Grannie

Link Disclaimer
ENGLISH : I am not responsible for the contents or form of any external page to which this website links. I specifically do not adopt their content, nor do I make it mine.
DEUTSCH : Für alle Seiten, die auf dieser Website verlinkt sind, möchte ich betonen, daß ich keinerlei Einfluß auf deren Gestaltung und Inhalte habe. Deshalb distanziere ich mich ausdrücklich von allen Inhalten aller gelinkten Seiten und mache mich ihrem Inhalt nicht zu eigen.

This Blog's Status is
Blog Dewey Decimal Classification : 153
FWIW, 153 is a triangular number, meaning that you can arrange 153 items into an equilateral triangle (with 17 items on a side). It is also one of the six known truncated triangular numbers, because 1 and 15 are triangular numbers as well. It is a hexagonal number, meaning that you can distribute 153 points evenly at the corners and along the sides of a hexagon. It is the smallest 3-narcissistic number. This means it’s the sum of the cubes of its digits. It is the sum of the first five positive factorials. Yup, this is a 153-type blog. QED ;-)
Books I have written

Index/Home Impressum Sitemap Search site/www