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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'.


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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Big Bruvver . . .

O h dear, it looks like No Such Agency has been playing at cyberwarfare again. There is a big (20MB), evil, trojan in the wild, currently in the Middle East, but it could spread anywhere, called Flame. Kaspersky has the details and has even published some of them.

Meanwhile, the DHS (US Department of Homeland Security) is scanning all of our emails and social media messages (tweets etc) for certain keywords. As if any nukulah terrar-wrist is not going to code her/his communications. So if your perfectly innocent email contains any of the words shown in the .jpg below, they'll be onto you like a load of useless twats :-(

Now since Pork ( aka Bacon) is on their list, there can't be any Mossad involvement. No sirree here either;-)

Comments (3):
Dave (USA) tells me that the US military are (inadvertently/cheapest offer) using Chinese counterfeit chips in their electronics. The programmable ones are known to have a keyed back-door too, I told him :-(
Demeur wrote "I thought that was a list of words journalists used to get to the top of the Google search engine thereby gaining notoriety. Did a post on that some time back so I guess they know me by now. Now if only I could figure myself out. " Notice that 'Hazmat' is on their list but 'Nukulah' isn't ? They can spell?
Doug Alder (CAN) suggests "Now to come up with an email, one that makes sense, that uses every word in that list and have it go viral :)" Heh, heh ;-)


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Lex Robotorum

Now that we are introducing autonomous (even learning) mobile robots into society it is apparent that we will need to introduce new laws or adapt existing ones regulating their behaviour.

Most SF fans will have heard of Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, others can follow that link to read them. As Asimov formulated those three four laws, they are difficult to implement and beyond our current state of the art. So I thought I'd examine some examples of where we are today and illustrate the problem areas.

But let's look at some history first, taking the introduction of mobile machines (cars/lorries etc) in the UK in the 19th & early 20th centuries as an example. In 1861 the UK's Locomotive Act introduced a speed limit of 10mph and limited vehicle weight to 12 tons, the first to reduce the amount of damage done in any accident and the second to limit the static load of bridges which had been built for horse-drawn carts. Just 4 years later, the speed limit was reduced to 2 mph in towns and 4 in rural areas, the intention being that pedestrians could run away from any impending accident. As a warning, a man with a red flag/lantern was required to walk 60 yards ahead of the (steam powered?) vehicle. Not until 1896 was the law changed, removing the flagman rule for vehicles below 3 tons (internal combustion engined cars), raising their speed limit to 12mph, making horns and light mandatory, and defining that one must drive on the left. Drivers were held responsible for their vehicles, and as for unmanned horses, the owners were held responsible for unmanned vehicles. Not until 1903 were registration 'number' plates required, so that vehicles owners and drivers became traceable. Up until the start of the 20th century, European authorities issued licenses to drive motor vehicles ad hoc, if at all. The first locality to require a mandatory license and testing was Prussia, on September 29, 1903. In the United States, it was 1913 before New Jersey required driving licences as the first state to do so.

Fast-forward to modern times. One of the most significant obstacles to the proliferation of autonomous cars is the fact that they are illegal on most public roads. In the USA, the Nevada Legislature passed a law in June 2011 to authorize the use of autonomous cars. However, Nevada's regulations require a person behind the wheel and one in the passenger’s seat during tests. In Italy, the city of Peccioli introduced an autonomous garbage truck, but it was a problem getting insurance for it. In Dortmund, there is an autonomous overhead railbus on campus. Putting it overhead removes the risk of collisions, researchers thought. But just this month, a construction company was loading one of their building-rubble containers beneath the overhead railway when it was hit by one of the overhead railcabs. 22 passengers injured. Question : are the railcab designers partially responsible if their design for the autonomous vehicle did not include collision sensors despite being overhead?

Liability issues prevail. What about the random-direction autonomous lawnmowers? What if they slice off your dog's paw? Your grandchild's foot/fingers? Sure, the owner is responsible, just as he is for his domestic pets' behaviour. Product liability laws may apply if there are no sensors to avoid damaging situations, because that is a design error. But things get more complicated if the robot learns. Because what the robot has learned - even if harmful - may not be considered a design error. Note here, I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on the internet. I'm just trying to document potential issues.

And what about "Terminators"? The US military already uses assassin-drones over foreign territory. Semi-autonomous killer robots, remotely 'controlled' via probably-hackable up/downlinks. Full autonomy is the next step, a short-sighted step away :-( The Samsung SGR-A1 is an armed robot sentry in current deployment; what if its voice recognition software has a problem with your shibboleth? Is it 'entitled' to kill you? Or is that murder? How do you punish a robot criminal? Jail? Nonsense. Turn it off (aka the death penalty)?. Un-skrip the Golem? Resurrection with a clean-karma skrip? Emeth->Meth->Emeth? I'll not even get into the issue of self-awareness of artificial life.

I plead that politicians need to establish expert commissions to advise lawmakers here, before we get knee-jerk reactions after the first accident. We need to prepare for having autonomous robots amidst us who/which do NOT have Asimov's 4 laws built in! Until then . . .

I'll be back!


Friday, May 25, 2012

Whence Spökenkieker?

Gudrun asked that I explain the etymology of the word Spökenkieker. It is westphalian dialect. Spöken means spook and hence ghosts. Kieker means somewhone who sees. Together, someone who sees ghosts (such as 100+ year old bikes, as in the previous posting) or who can predict catastrophes (illness, death, wars). Modern usage is sarcastic.

There is a statue of such a person in Harsewinkel, the town where the old motorcycle rally was held. And another in Münster where famous poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff was born.

My first encounter with the word was in the works of the said poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, which I picked up from the castle in Meersburg (where she died) on Lake Constance when I lived nearby in the early seventies.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Spökenkiekerfahrt

T his means a rallye for motorcycles dating from before World War ONE. Such a rallye is held annually just 50 miles NW of my place, so I rode over there last saturday as a spectator and took a couple of photos for this blog. This year the date conflicted with another oldtimer meeting and so there were only 20 participants; none of the 19th century motorcycles was there this year:-(

The oldest bike was the 1901 Brutus (198cc) shown above. Like most of the bikes of this era (110+ years old) it is a fortified bicycle frame with a simple 1-3 hp single cylinder aircooled engine tacked on. The bike still has pedals, you start by pedelling then put some tension on the leather belt transmission to get the engine turning over. No clutch, no gearbox, the transmission belt goes from the rear wheel straight onto the crankshaft.

I liked the way the Dutch rider of this 300cc 2.25 hp Peugot from 1903 wore contemporary clothes, a deerstalker hat and a bow tie to achieve more realism. WW2 fighter pilot goggles were an anachronism though. Note the bulb horn and acetylene lighting for night driving.

The photo above shows what such bikes look like before restoration, just a rusting heap of 100+ year old metal found in a farmer's barn. Just think how much work has to go into getting this running again, let alone in concours condition. And this find was rated as 'excellent'. Shudder!

By 1913, this 240cc, 2hp Zedel/Terrot (in the foreground) had front fork suspension and an external CLUTCH! The clutch was up near the riders left knee, don't ask me why. Still no gearbox, and the 2-plate clutch looks like an artisanal add-on by an inventive mechanic. I counted 7 levers (brake, clutch, throttle, ignition-advance, decompression, manual gear-shift and manual total-loss lube pump) so the rider would have been a busy person!

This is a 1913 NSU V-twin, 830cc, 6.5 hp sidecar outfit. The wicker seat is exposed, no surrounding sidecar, and the passenger has to keep her two acetylene lamps primed at night! That's a toolbag between her legs and a satchel on her safety belt (itself a major advance!).

And for my American blogreaders - e.g. Harley fan Bogie - here is the 1912 Harley, 500cc, 4 hp single cylinder which arrived last (a veil is drawn over the reasons), resplendent with whitewall tyres and NO levers on the handebars. Afaik, that's the throttle pull alongside the rear down tube! Braking by back-pedalling to the rear drum brake. No bulb horn, you could hear it coming from ¼ mile away :-)

Some of the spectators' bikes were interesting veterans too, although still too young to compete as a Spökenkieker. A 1936 Panther from the UK. A fifties NSU with sidecar outfit. And of similar vintage, a Horex in solo guise.

Comments (2) :
Nick (UK) chides me "You contradict yourself on the 7-levered bike. If it has no gearbox, that lever cannot be a manual gear-shift!" You are right of course; it was a ratcheted lever, so maybe it was a tensioner for the leather drive belt?
Gudrun (D) requests "Well, I know what Spökenkieker really means, but why don't you explain the etymology to your other readers?" OK, friday then.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

37 bits are enough...

To calculate anything. Albeit slowly.

And, surprisingly perhaps, 36 of them can be in ROM - holding the minimal stored program - just 1 bit of RAM and a narrow I/O channel only 2 bits wide. That's the smallest possible general purpose computer.

That is so small - Dubya and Sarah combined notwithstanding - that a Boltzmann Brain of this size seems not unlikely.

But let's backtrack to a discussion at Geronimo's place (a biker meet at Lake Möhne) last thursday, where we were discussing the size of computers. Back in the 1940s when the first stored program computer was built (Colossus at Bletchley Park which preceeded ENIAC and Zuse's Z3), computers weighed several tons. Nowadays we have iPads and phones weighing of the order of 100 grams. Indeed someone has built a webserver in a USB plug, the minimum size being dictated by the size of the I/O plug (assuming an external power supply). Such small HW still has Mega- if not Gigabytes of RAM (and 53kB of ROM). The question then arose as to how small computers could be, not just physically (molecular structures etc) but also in terms of memory. Now memory size and computer speed are a trade off, so minimising memory means the smallest possible machine is going to be astronomically slow.

At this point I told them about Turing Machines. Alan Turing came up with a conceptual computer consisting of a stored program (ROM), a changing state (stored in RAM) and a moving I/O head reading from/writing to a tape of potentially infinite length; see sketch below.

A so-called UTM (Universal Turing Machine) can emulate ANY other Turing machine whose description is encoded on the tape, including potentially itself. The smallest UTM currently known - although this is discussed controversially - is a design by Wolfram which has just two states and an alphabet of just 3 symbols (plus a blank) on the tape. The state diagram looks rather priapic ;-)

Now this has 2 states (which need just 1 bit to encode, hence 1 bit of RAM), plus 1 bit to tell the head which way to move next (left or right), 2 bits for the 3 input symbols, and 2 bits for which output symbol to write making 6 bits per 'instruction' in the finite automaton. 3*2 = 6 entries in the table at 6 bits each = 36 bits of ROM for the state table.

Taking an associative leap now, we remember that Boltzmann proposed that random low-entropy fluctuations in the structure of the universe would have given rise to random 'brains'. Now, given that the smallest possible UTM needs just 37 bits, that does not seem like an unlikely proposition. Admittedly, the 2,3 UTM machine is going to be astronomically slow. But if there is one thing Boltzmann Brains have, it is time ;-)

37 bits is a new minimum, because in A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams always claimed the answer was 42 ;-)

The discussion was now getting over most bikers' heads, and so devolved punnily into a good-natured bike-bashing discussion of whether a Harley Full-dresser or a Honda Goldwing was the better Universal Touring machine ;-)

I of course, voted for the Yamaha FJR1300 which has served me well for 11 years.

Comments (4) :
Demeur (USA) derides "So it's quantum computing is it? I'd have more luck learning Greek. Much easier. ;-) (H2O X H2O X H2O) + frozen = ice cube"
Jenny (Ibiza) asks "Why is Wolfram's UTM controversial?" It has no halting state, so in a puristic style, it is not a Turing Machine.
Guido (D) corrects my geographical faux pas "Reading your blog I was wondering if there is a Geronimo at Lake Eder. Personally I know the Geronimo's at the Lake Möhne - famous for its Hamburgers. Which is also a crowded bikers' location..." You are right; I have corrected the text above. Thanks for the heads-up.
Alsee wrote (in August 2013) " Hi. I just stumbled across your "37 bits are enough" post and wanted to comment.
"Now this has 2 states (which need just 1 bit to encode, hence 1 bit of RAM), plus 1 bit to tell the head which way to move next (left or right), 2 bits for the 3 input symbols, and 2 bits for which output symbol to write making 6 bits per 'instruction' in the finite automaton."
That's odd.... and inconsistent.... you counted bits for both Read_Symbol and Write_Symbol but you only counted only one of Current_State or Destination_State (it's ambiguous which you meant).
In any case, the 6 table entries can be listed in a definite order. The first entry is (State_0 Read_0), and through to the final entry (State_1 Read_2). Therefore each entry is implicitly associated with a particular combination of Current_State and Read_Symbol, no need to store bits for those. So for each entry: We do not need to list Current_State, that is implicit in the sequence of entries. We do not need to list Read_Symbol, that is implicit in the sequence of entries. We do need to specify Destination_State. 1 bit. We do need to specify head move direction. 1 bit. We do need to specify the Write_Symbol. 2 bits(*).
That's 4 bits per entry, times 6 entries, equals 24 bits. A savings of 12 bits.
I put a (*) on using 2 bits for the Write_Symbol data. Depending on how you want to look at the problem these 12 bits could be compressed to 10 bits. 3^6 = 729 possibilities = 9.5 bits of information.
A final observation, you compared this to the chance of a Boltzmann Brain. Actually these bit counts are only for a Universal Turing Machine.... a Boltzmann Brain would require counting additional bits on the Turing Machine tape. Directly coding a conscious mind would probably require a large number of bits, but a short tape input could potentially expand into a "Big Bang" universe within expanding tape data, and the eventual evolution of a conscious mind within that simulated universe. Just imagine how long it would take this Turing Machine to simulate the entire space of our entire universe down at the quantum level, for 13.7 billion years of apparent internal time. Chuckle "

Thanks for improving my understanding :-)


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Schmuck!

Recently, I was called a 'Schmuck' by an american blogreader. Now here, in German, 'Schmuck' means Jewelry, but from the context this was definitely not what he meant. So I had to consult a dictionary of the american (improper) subset of English and learned - to my expected consternation - that in the USA 'Schmuck' is used as a perjorative for an objectionable person :-(

How did this US etymology come about? From the English 'smock', a peasant's clothes? Or a contraction of "Shit/Muck"? Or perhaps via Yiddish? (where Smok means penis, afaik)?

So I wrote to a some Americans on my blogroll and asked. Here are their replies in chronological order of arrival :-

Charles Pergiel (Silicon Forest) pointed me to this web page with a definition and wrote "I got to thinking about this and I realized it does not really mean anything to me, other than it is a disparaging remark, and all that indicates is that the speaker does not like the person he is talking about."
Cop Car (Kansas) opined "Yes, "schmuck" comes to us compliments of our Jewish friends. I doubt that most Americans know what they are saying - Wolowitz notwithstanding. In my own experience, "schmuck" was not an approved word 60 years ago; but, it is usually applied as a friendly pejorative, these days. Somehow, I've managed to live all of these years without having stumbled across the connection with jewelry. I guess it makes sense a la "family jewels".
Demeur had more details "From my Jewish friends (I had never heard the word used before my college days) It's the tip of the penis that's discarded after a circumcision, therefore not a useful piece of property." Well, we live and learn :-/ I wonder what arrogant/sarcastic remark of mine provoked this utterance?
Shannygirlme tells me the derivations of a bunch of other expessions too :- "Where did 'piss poor' come from ? They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot and then once it was full it was taken and sold to the tannery... if you had to do this to survive you were "Piss Poor". But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn't even afford to buy a pot... They "didn't have a pot to piss in" and were the lowest of the low. The next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to be. Here are some facts about the 1500s . Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married. Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the Bath water!" Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, "It's raining cats and dogs." There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. Poor people had dirt floors, whence "Dirt poor." The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery In the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, It would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold. (Getting quite an education, aren't you?) . . . At a meal, bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust. . . Now, whoever said History was boring!" I shortened that quite a bit, but there was a lot of interesting etymology in there :-)
Earth-Bound Misfit (aka the Stinson gal) also explained "It comes from Yiddish. In Yiddish, the word is highly offensive. The use spread from the immigrant Jewish population to the rest of the country. It sort of means that the person being so described is a jerk and/or not really trustworthy."
Dave (DC) jokes "'Schmuck' means you are NOT a savory person" Then I guess I'll have to change my name then ;-)


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dead Electrics when on the road :-(

O n monday afternoon I rode the Triumph up into the hills to Lake Diemel & the Biker Cafe´ there.
Null Problemo. When I came to go home, the electrics were dead as a dodo :-( Battery totally flat, Nix. WTF????? But numerous other bikers gathered around to help. Bump starting didn't help. So we jump started it from a Beemer which had an external Plus pole. Thrice :-( Because every time the revs dropped below 3000, the engine died. So I called the workshop, and gave Klaus the battery type number. He even had one pre-charged in stock. So he called my wife, who picked up the battery and drove to Lake Diemel to rescue me. I swapped out the old for the new and - hey presto - engine ran sweetly. However the yellow motor management light was on continously, so I think the cause will turn out to be a defective voltage regulator. The 2009 Triumph Street Triples had a recurrent problem with voltage regulators. Expensive, so I'll get the workshop to check through the electrics with a multimeter first. If that was indeed the cause, I'll get a new part (the modern voltage regulator). First breakdown at 18,000 kms. Hassle :-( Sigh.

Update 19:00 Workshop read out the error Prom as "Battery Circuit failure" and did a hard reset of the motor management unit. So the yellow light is Off as usual, and everything appears to be hunky dory :-) Except I have to reset the clock. Cheap (free!) repair, just €50 for the new battery :-)

Comments (1) :
Doug Alder (CA) asked resignedly "They still using Lucas crap? :)" No, it was a japanese gel battery, they only last 3 years and die a SUDDEN DEATH, Klaus sez. I tried recharging it slowly overnight, but it showed ZERO volts, so it's off to the scrap metal dealer (the price of lead is high these days:-)


Monday, May 14, 2012

Your suggestions please

D uring the second half of August every year, the museums here in Germany all have "Museums' Night" during which the museums stay open all night / until midnight. They also put on special show-and-tells/slams/etc to attract an enthusiastic and knowledgeable public. One of the museums doing this every year is the HNF in nearby Paderborn, the world's largest computer museum.

I shall be contributing this year and am trying to decide what kind of "show-and-tell" to do. 600-800 visitors expected, mostly graduates, sometimes with their (teenage) children. One of the options is to do a 45 minute lecture, I have suggested "Codebreaking the Hebern Machine", since the HNF has a Hebern Machine on loan from the NSA and I think I could show an intelligent 18 year old how to break its code within a 45 minute participatory session.

Another option would be to sit in a {remote!!!} corner with a theremin [and perhaps headphones ;-)] and let visitors try to play it. May be the only opportunity they ever get, or the only one their family will allow ;-)

Third idea is to do a participatory class on doing arithmetic in Roman Numerals, a subject I have covered in the past in this blog. Participants to choose their own numbers and I step them through the algorithms. Roman Numeral multiplication table on a card as a give-away.

So we're in the brainstorming phase right now and my friend Frank has suggested that I ask my blogreaders (who he alleges know my style & capabilities ;-) for their suggestions on what kind of show-and-tell I could do. So please email me your suggestions asap; I'll tell you how it turned out at the end of August, OK? Mail your ideas to (which will appear as comments on this blog entry) please :-)

Comments (3) :
Brian (UK) suggests "Do the Roman Numeral one, it's the only party-trick your audience could learn and pass on. No chance of learning the Theremin in one night, nor the decoding either IMHO." Sounds reasonable.
Renke (D) countersuggests "I would vote for Theremins - for a couple of reasons. Both Roman arithmetic and breaking of the Hebern Machine are "normal", visitors would expect those happenings at the HNF. OTOH, the Theremin is weird and strange, AND presented by a weird and strangenice nerd with millions of impressive stories. Do the unexpected for a a welcome change, I'm sure the museum's staff will prepare many more earnest and instructive panels." Problem with that is that noone has learned anything.
Petra (A) suggests "...trisecting an angle and squaring the circle from your maths pages..." Thankyou; yes I'm looking for new ideas rather than just the three I suggested. Even crazy ones :-)


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Woodworking project : the Turnover game

Fathers' Day is approaching fast, so here is a little wooden game you can make with/for the (grand-)kids. It is called the "Turnover Game" and is designed to help kids train their mental arithmetic ability without realising they are doing maths :-) I'll explain the rules at the end.

Woodwork : You'll need a saw, a drill, glue, a dowel, perhaps paint, and a number-stencil. Find also two pieces of wood, one about a centimeter thick, the other half that. Saw ten small blocks off the thinner piece all the same size, file as necessary. Paint them if you like. Drill a hole through each at the same position and mount them loosely on the dowel. Saw two endpieces off the thicker plank, bore a hole in each to fix the dowel and glue the endpieces on the baseplate. Using a stencil, number the ten tiles on the dowel as shown. If you don't have a number-stencil, just paint dots as you would on dominoes. You are aiming to make something like the toy shown above, choose your own sizes. You don't need me to spell out all the details. It's dead simple, most of the time is spent waiting for the paint and the glue to dry. Clear varnish it all when done. Buy the dice, it's not worth trying to file your own ;-)

How to play the Turnover game. Start in the position shown. Throw both dice. Now you can add OR subtract them, then turn over that tile. Example, if you throw a six and a two, you can turn over the eight (6+2) OR the four (6-2) tile. The game is over when you throw a double six OR when you cannot turn over any remaining tile. Then add up the remaining tiles in your head; that is your score. Then it is the next player's turn. Lowest score wins, so it's usually best to turnover the higher number (adding the dice) first. Now you have the kids doing mental arithmetic and enjoying it, a Win-Win game :-)

If you do not have the skills or time to do the woodwork, you can use ten playing cards (A-10) instead of the wooden tiles, of course. But it's more fun if you build the toys yourselves and/or let the (grand-)kids help :-)


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dandelion day

W ordsworth saw A host of golden daffodils. Now we cannot compete with that, but we have golden fields here right now on Dandelion Day. The photo above shows the fields behind my back yard, predominantly a magnificent yellow, due to myriads of dandelions. The English word dandelion comes from the French dent de lion or tooth of the lion (in German we say Löwenzahn - lion's tooth - , which is the same thing) because the green leaves have a notched shape looking very much like lions' teeth.

Zooming in, we get an impression of how densely the individual blooms are growing in the cow pastures. Even in this picture, not all the flowers are blooming at the same time. Zooming in even more to an individual flower, you can see the huge amount of pollen each flower bears. So it is probably no wonder that we seem to get more and more dandelions every year.

Do you celebrate Dandelion Day each spring in your country? Or is it just a local custom here?

Comments (3) :
Cop Car (USA) wrote "Most people in the states celebrate DD by pizening the little darlings! Come to think of it, they do that every day. Some of us know what good eating dandelion leaves and blossoms provide when they are treated with respect - without poisons. I am also fortunate enough to have poke growing in our lot. Mix those two greens with the chard that I grow, and it just doesn't get any better than that." Or does it? Much as I enjoy a salad thereof, as a child I was hooked on a fizzy drink, Fentiman's Dandelion and Burdock (scroll down their page) which seems to be unavailable outside the UK; although Google says they have an ex-pat dealer in Dresden to whom I have just written for a crate :-) There are US dealers too, if you want to try it :-)
May (Tennessee, USA) asks "So what does Dandelion and Burdock taste like?" Sarsparilla. Do you have that in the states? I guess so; it's in root beer.
Brian (oop t'north, UK) gives us a tip "D'N'B gets better if you add tequila ;-)" As does almost anything!


Sunday, May 6, 2012

LZ 129 : End of an Era

75 years ago today, the crash of the "Hindenburg" at Lakehurst (USA) abruptly announced the end of the airship era.

Zeppelin LZ 129 was a hydrogen-filled max. 72 passenger (and 40-61 crew) 85 mph airship. Over 800 feet long - which is over 3.3 times the length of the huge A-380 airbus - dwarfed anything you or I have ever seen airborne. Like the A-380 and the 747s it carried passangers in two decks, and even had a smoking room (and this in hydrogen laden surroundings) which was pressurized to prevent the admission of any leaking hydrogen, enterable only via the bar, which had a swiveling air lock door!

Hydrogen was used for buoyancy instead of the non-flammable helium because the US National Munitions Control Board refused to permit the export of helium and Germany had none of its own. Hydrogen is the smallest atom and thus diffuses through most materials eventually. It is suspected that lightning at the landing ignited an inflammable mixture of hydrogen and air in a gas bag which had arisen (pun intended) due to diffusion.

I remember that the first time I saw the iconic Lakehurst photo of the burning "Hindenburg" was in 1969 when I bought the debut album by Led Zeppelin which I still have today and which has proved to be equally iconic.

Comments (6) :
Demeur (USA), HazMat expert, points out " Digging through the old gray matter I seem to remember as a kid friends building model airplanes. Instead of the snap together pieces of models today a very early method was to wrap the body and wings in cloth and spread copious amounts of "dope" on them to make them hard and strong. As I recall the solvents in the doping material could get the builder quite high and I don't mean altitude. :-) Further researching the subject I found that the skin of the airship was made from a dope over cotton. This too was highly flammable adding to the ships demise. And for those too young to know and the old who may have forgotten 'Why do you think they call it dope?' As you can see I have a fascination in finding the origins of our expressions.". I did that as a child too. And as a pilot have flown pre-war biplanes made using similar technology. Nowadays the wood and cloth planes get covered in Dacron though.
Renke (D) points to a recent catastrophe though Hindenburg ended not the era of hydrogen-filled bags near human beings :(". Saw a video of the political rally explosion. If I remember my school chemistry correctly, hydrogen flames can hardly be seen by the naked eye and are deep red. The flame in the political rally explosion video was surprisingly yellow, so it was probably water gas, imho.
Renke (D) has a video showing the red colour I remember hydrogen flames to be "at 3:05: orange flame*. I'm not a chemist but I think the colour is caused by either the plastics of the balloon or the incomplete burning of the hydrogen (the mixture of oxygen and hydrogen is far from optimal). *: commercial break: Periodic Videos is _great_! See http://www.periodicvideos.com/" Hmm. I thought the red colour is the Hα line in the hydrogen spectrum (~ 660 nm).
Kate (USA) jokes "Gasbag Gingrich has gone down in flames too. Good riddance!!!" The GOP candidates are ALL pretty terrible this time around.
Me, confessing : I just had a brain fart :-( After reading Renke's last comment, I thought I'd check the spectrum of the flame at the 3:05 mark in the video he suggested to see if it was indeed the Hα line in the hydrogen spectrum at 660 nm. So I stopped the video at the 3:05 mark and looked at the flame image through my home-made spectroscope. And of course all I saw were the spectra of the LCDs on the laptop screen! Oops : What a brain-fart!! So amusing in retrospect that I just had to tell. Silly, silly, me ;-)
Jenny (Ibiza) grins "Thankyou for confessing that you too have brainfarts. I'd always thought it was just the rest of us... ;-)" I have such a continuous stream of them, I could use them as a means of propulsion. Yes, Virginia, it IS rocket science ;-)


Friday, May 4, 2012

Impressions of Einbeck

T uesday (May 1st) was a public holiday here, so we went on a motorcycle tour (on our Triumph Street Triple) with our friends Ulrike and Frank (on their Harley) to the Solling Forest and to Einbeck for lunch.

Einbeck (51.818365° north, 9.866495° east) is a small town whose centre has remained unchanged for 450+ years, in particular around the town hall square. Here are my photos , see how nice it is?

The timber-frame houses date from the sixteenth century (some from the 17th). The ochre-coloured house 4th along here is made of stone though. It was such a rarity at the time that is actually called 'The Stone House' ;-)

Einbeck is famous for the 600-year old Einbecker Brewery, home of Einbecker Bier, the origin for the term Bock beer. Originally a dark beer, a modern bock can range from light copper to brown in colour. The double-bock runs to around 12% alcohol, so we didn't drink any as we were on the bikes. Einbecker Brewery is believed to be (one of) the oldest breweries in Germany. So it was no surprise to see that all of the carved 'ads' on the top of the medieval-style maypole are all to to with the making of beer.

We stopped for lunch at the timber-framed house number 19, rebuilt by the Raven family in 1543 (after the great fire of 1540). The Raven family have owned a house here since the 14th century. Their coat of arms includes both left- and right-handed swastikas as you can (just) see in the house-front photo below. Normally it is now illegal to display swastikas in Germany but these are legal as they predate the Nazi era by almost 400 years :-)

The ground floor is now occupied by a Spanish Tapas bar, and so we each had five plates of various tapas for lunch. This is just my portion (L2R : chicken tikka on a spit in peanut sauce, fried sardines, garlic dip, chorizo & toast cubes in a hot sauce, home made bread, gambas and mixed olives (not in pic)) :-

After that huge and groaning board, we needed a post-prandial digestive walk and so took a look at the 16th century Town Hall with its three unmistakable conical spires looking rather like witches' hats IMHO ;-)

Continuing around the corner, we went to see Eicke's House which dates from 1612. The structure features double jettying and rich sculptural facade ornamentation by an unknown 17th-century wood carver. Conservation efforts have been successful for most of the sculptures which include the Christian Apostles and Jesus Christ, the seven Liberal arts, the four cardinal virtues as well as some of the Greek muses. The restoration was done as recently as 2006. So we got to see it in all of its 17th century carven glory :-

And we didn't have to ride all that far, the round trip was probably less than 150 miles I guess. There are really neat places quite close :-)

Comments (1) :
Jenny (Ibiza) asks "So confess, do you eat to ride or do you ride to eat? Methinks the latter :-)" Yup, we generally ride somewhere to eat. The photo below shows Ulrike and I on Albrecht farm which does a great biker breakfast on sunday mornings 10-12am. Sunshine & 6°C, so we all sat in the garden.



Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Transpacific Harley :-)

J ust the other day there was a report on Sky News (UK) about a Harley which had been washed away by the Fukushima tsunami last year. It had been cast ashore in Canada on a remote beach in British Columbia, where it was discovered by a lone beachcomer after a year long transpacific ride in the owner's hand built wooden "garage" crate. Yes, of course it was rusty and dilapidated and the chrome had all gone, but then it's a Harley. A transpacific Harley wreck! How about that! So I sent the link given above to the story to a score of biker friends.

Now Doug Alder - also of Canada - has sent me a link to a continuation of the tale. HD's japanese subsidiary has located the owner via the number plates and will ship the bike back to Japan and attempt to restore it for free for the owner as a publicity gag.

You have to admire the workmanship the bike owner put into making that wooden crate/garage for his bike. That's what I call solid carpentry ; it survived a tsunami and a year in the pacific! And all those jokes about Harleys making excellent boat-anchors? Turn out to be just jokes. Hooda4tit?

Comments (1) :
Dave (UK) corrects me "Your impression that the crate was still intact is wrong. The BBC has a different version, with a photo showing the Harley embedded in the sand." I stand corrected; thanks for the heads-up on the photo.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Xib*0 discovered by CERN's CMS team

As you may (or may not) know, the nuclei of atoms are made of neutrons and protons (aka baryons). These baryons in turn are each made up of three of the six quarks shown in the sketch on the left. The more energy you pump into these particles,the heavier they are and the shorter lived they are (they are unstable). The newest short-lived baryon recently discovered by the CMS experiment at CERN has a mass of almost 6 GeV (i.e. about the same as a lithium atom). None of the excited states predicted by the Standard Model had ever been seen. The Xib*0 (pronounced Tsi-Bee) excited state just discovered by CMS is the first.

So we now have up, strange, bottom, beauty quarks combined, called Tsi-Bee. I had expected such a particle to be called a Santorum ;-)

. . . I'll get my coat ;-)

PS: newest TBBT-style joke :
"Howard, yo momma is so fat she has her own Higgs field!"


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