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15 Feb 00:09

Why CBT Is Bad

Cognitive-behavioral therapy often gets pushed, to the exclusion of all other therapy modalities, for a range of mental health issues: depression, anxiety, insomnia, phobias, addiction.

I can't speak to how well it works for all of those issues, but one of the things wrong with it -- not with it, rather, but with the privileged place it's been given in the current medical model of mental health issues -- is that it's close to useless for people with a trauma history, and trauma is the underlying cause of all five issues I mentioned for many people. (I could write a separate post on why it's been given that privileged place, but I'll leave that to your imagination for now.) I am not a medical or mental health professional, just someone with a lifetime of personal experience.

[personal profile] azurelunatic's post about being prescribed a CBT workshop for insomnia is a great example. When I read it, I thought about my own sleep issues and how useless every behavioral approach -- both CBT-type approaches, and "sleep hygiene"-style approaches -- have been for it.

I have obstructive sleep apnea, so no behavioral approach can address the fact that untreated, I wake up more tired than I was when I went to bed, because I wake up many times an hour unable to breathe. But the main issue is that my body learned when I was a child that sleep was dangerous, and neither cognitive nor behavioral approaches can make my body unlearn that -- it's something I learned before I was developmentally able to use cognition or to reflect on my behavior.

As a child, I had an abusive parent who would force me to go to bed hours before I was actually ready to go to sleep, because she thought it was good for children to be on a regular sleep schedule. (Or because she wanted to control somebody and doing things to children that are generally believed to be for their own good is a socially acceptable way to do it. I don't really know.) So I learned that sleep meant lying in bed for hours, awake and intensely bored but not allowed to get up and do anything. When I got a little older I would get up and night and go into a walk-in closet in our apartment and read for as long as I could get away with it. When my mother figured out I was doing this, she unscrewed the light bulb. I learned to associate sleep, as well as going to bed early, both with an abusive parent who I knew was incapable of knowing what was good for me, and with hours of boredom and anxiety.

Therapists (and others) who apply CBT simplistically would tell me that the lasting, physical residue of these years are "cognitive distortions" that I need to reason my way out of. They would be wrong, because there's nothing distorted about mechanisms I learned in order to keep myself safe. Being awake is safer than being asleep in an environment that is dangerous for you, and for a child, there's nothing more dangerous than an environment that contains an alternately intrusive and inattentive caregiver and nobody else.

It's safe for me to relax now, and has been for the past twenty years, but because trauma changes your body in chemical and physical ways, just telling myself that won't make me go to sleep. I use chemical solutions to a chemical problem: medication. Maybe someday, I'll have had enough trauma therapy that I won't need it as often. But in the meantime, I'll be able to get enough rest and avoid some of the constant physical stress that arises from inadequate sleep.

CBT is politically attractive because it individualizes responsibility . Better to blame people's suffering on their own cognitive distortions, and teach them that they need to do work to overcome them (under capitalism, any solution that gives already-overworked people more work to do gets conferred with near-religious levels of praise), than to recognize that abuse culture harms people in long-lasting ways. If we recognized that many parenting practices widely considered to be non-abusive, or even helpful, in this culture are actually traumatic, we'd have to rethink a lot. Better to avoid confronting that by privatizing trauma and recasting it as individual pathology, ignoring the patterns in front of us.

Mental health is (I suspect) not the default state of human existence in the first place -- our brains are complicated and have too many failure modes for that. But in a society that depends on denial -- of the lasting effects of slavery (denial of the effects on white people, mostly), of the violence done by income inequality, and of the corrosiveness of toxic masculinity -- self-awareness is rebellion, and thus it's not surprising that to find therapies that foster it rather than providing a few tools to be economically productive while hurting inside, we often have to look outside the mainstream.

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10 Feb 21:58

Black parents talk to their kids about the police

by Jason Kottke

Not going to say much about this one. Just watch it…especially if somehow, as a curious, thoughtful person who reads this site regularly, you are unaware of how many in the black community feel about the police and that they have conversations like this with their children about those who are supposed to protect and serve people.

Tags: crying at work   legal   parenting   racism   video
27 Jan 23:41

From "We were born to die for Germany!" to "We did it for the lulz"

A comrade on Twitter has written up the result of spending a year observing 4chan and 8chan fascists use their message boards to organize to get grassroots support for Tr*mp. It's a fascinating document and you should read it.

Most good liberals have spent years studiously ignoring 4chan. To read it would be feeding the trolls, even if only with your attention, even if you never post anything. And there's nothing more shameful than feeding the trolls, unless it's reading the comments, right?

The authoritarian right noticed that and exploited it. If you want to organize a coup, what better way to do it than using a messageboard that all of its political opponents ignore because they believe it's "just trolling"?

So that was thing #1. The second thing, which was maybe even more genius, was that the authoritarian right noticed that 4chan users are nihilists who care mainly about approval from their peers, as Kathy Sierra pointed out deftly. As [ profile] whisperkick characterized 4chan "mostly it was a pissing contest of who could be The Most Shocking™."

If you've found a group of disaffected young people who care about nothing other than who could be The Most Shocking, what a stroke of luck! Being a Nazi is shocking, so you can easily co-opt that group into being Nazis for the lulz. Of course, it's just for the lulz, and they're not really Nazis. Right?

We weren't sure about that for a while, anyway, but now we're sure. I don't know or care what amount of Nazi sentiment was already present on 4chan and similar forums before the coordinated far-right takeover. Anti-semitic memes got introduced into those forums somehow, and someone with more patience than me will have to write the intellectual history. I don't care whether someone did that on purpose or folks there hated Jews from the start. The point, which all fascists know, is that those memes take on a life of their own.

If you want to know how Tr*mp won the electoral college: 4chan did it for the lulz.

Gamergate, by the way, was a test run for this. I'm not the first person to point that out and I hope I won't be the last.

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03 Jan 19:12

Mini metro maps

by Jason Kottke

Mini Metros

Mini Metros features small and simplified maps of over 200 metro and light rail systems from around the world. Many of the systems are small and simple themselves, just a single line or two, like in Edmonton, Mumbai, Seville, and Qingdao. Others, like in Munich, Shanghai, Tokyo, London, Seoul, and New York, are densely interconnected.

Prints and mugs are available.

Tags: cities   design   subway
19 Dec 18:13

National Geographic’s issue on gender

by Jason Kottke

Nat Geo Gender

Bravo to National Geographic for putting a transgender girl on the cover of the magazine. Editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg explains why:

Today that and other beliefs about gender are shifting rapidly and radically. That’s why we’re exploring the subject this month, looking at it through the lens of science, social systems, and civilizations throughout history.

In a story from our issue, Robin Marantz Henig writes that we are surrounded by “evolving notions about what it means to be a woman or a man and the meanings of transgender, cisgender, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or any of the more than 50 terms Facebook offers users for their profiles. At the same time, scientists are uncovering new complexities in the biological understanding of sex. Many of us learned in high school biology that sex chromosomes determine a baby’s sex, full stop: XX means it’s a girl; XY means it’s a boy. But on occasion, XX and XY don’t tell the whole story.”

As part of their coverage, the magazine went out, asked kids from around the world their thoughts about being boys and girls, and came back with this video.

Tags: gender   National Geographic   Susan Goldberg   video
09 Sep 21:16

More Amazing ATC: 2016 Archie League Awards (Part Two)

by Sylvia

Last week we looked at the first five regions for the 2016 Archie League Award Honorees. This week, without further introduction, I’d like to share the final four regions which includes the winner of the President’s award.

Northwest Mountain Region

A Cessna departed Ranger Creek Airport, following the White River valley northwest to route to Boeing Field. Ranger Creek Airport’s elevation is 2,650 feet, located in the foothills north of Mount Rainier. The cloud ceiling was predicted at 5,000 feet for that day but in actuality it was much lower. As the pilot turned to follow the valley, he encountered a wall of clouds. He was a VFR pilot, which means he must stay visual and within sight of the ground. With high ground on either side of him, he had no choice but to fly into them. He contacted Seattle TRACON (S46) where controller Joshua Pate was covering the east sector, which borders Mount Rainier (14,411 feet) and the Cascade Mountain Range.

N740QR: I’m lost in the clouds in the mountains and a VFR pilot.
Pate: Verify your full call sign please.
N740QR: N704QR.
Pate: Cessna N740QR squawk 0-3-3-4.
N740QR: 0-3-3-4.
N740QR: Alright, help me.

The pilot was at 5,900 feet and in cloud. Pate loaded his emergency obstruction video map. The Cessna was less than five miles north of terrain rising to 6,400 feet and seven miles west of more terrain rising to above the aircraft’s altitude.

Once a pilot loses his visual references, the ability to use the instruments and understand the data is critical. The pilot will suffer illusions as to the attitude and pitch of his aircraft and, without specific training, it is close to impossible to maintain straight and level flight, let alone manoeuvre.

Researchers at the University of Illinois tested twenty VFR pilots on simulated instrument weather: every single one entered a graveyard spiral or similar upset. All of them lost control of the aircraft: the only difference was how long it took. The pilot that survived the longest flew through the instrument conditions for 480 seconds (eight minutes). The shortest was twenty seconds. The average time was 178 seconds.

The controller knew he needed to get the pilot straight and level quickly.

Pate: N0QR stop turn. Just fly straight now.
Pate: N0QR stop your turn and fly straight.
Pate: N0QR I am not receiving any response. Just stop your turn and fly straight.
N740QR: 4QR straight flight.

Pate issued non-gyro vectors to help to lead the pilot away from the high terrain but the pilot became disorientated and began circling unintentionally. Pate continued to keep the pilot calm and issued vectors for about six minutes — nearly twice the average life expectancy of a visual pilot entering cloud — leading him back into visual conditions.

Southern Region

Controller Donald Blatnik was training Kenneth Scheele at Central Florida TRACON. A single-engine low wing Cessna 400 called in, reporting problems with his engine. He requested direct routing to Space Coast Regional Airport (KTIX), the airport nearest to him, so that he could land there.

0BZ: Daytona, 0BZ, I got an issue with my engine right now, I’m not declaring an emergency or anything like that but I need to get direct to Kilo Tango India X-ray immediately for 0BZ.

The Cessna’s oil pressure was dropping rapidly. Blatnik took over to assist the pilot while directing other traffic out of the way. He gave the pilot traffic information and the distance to KTIX. The engine worsened and the pilot declared an emergency.

Blatnik: 0BZ traffic’s now two o’clock and two miles westbound four-thousand 500 a Cirrus, let me know if you pick him up.
0BZ: 0BZ is losing his engine – I need, I need the runway, 0BZ, declaring emergency.
Blatnik: 0BZ roger. Cleared visual approach, I’m just letting you know there’s traffic there. Cleared visual approach runway 2-7.

Scheele coordinated a descent path with the controller in charge of the lower airspace and with Tower at KTIX, arranging for all other traffic to be cleared out of the way. Meanwhile, Blatnik continued to support and update the pilot.

The engine gave up completely as the Cessna descended. The cabin filled with smoke. As Scheele had already coordinated with the other relevant controllers, Blatnik was able to clear the aircraft for a visual approach and landing.

Blatnik: N0BZ cleared to land any runway.
Blatnik: N0BZ cleared to land any runway, Space Coast Airport.
0BZ: 0BZ.

The pilot landed safely and stopped on the runway. He evacuated himself and his son from the aircraft immediately, having seen flames coming from the cowling. The fire increased and destroyed the aircraft.

N400BZ by the Space Coast Regional Airport Fire Department
N400BZ by the Space Coast Regional Airport Fire Department

The NTSB investigation is still ongoing.

The two controllers received the NATCA President’s Award for their handling of the emergency.

Southwest Region

A Piper Lance, a six-seater single-engine aircraft, had just taken off from Dallas/Love Field Airport (DAL) when it suffered a complete electrical failure. The controllers realised that something was wrong when the aircraft went off course and pilot failed to respond to calls. No transponder response appeared on radar.

The pilot dialled 911 from his personal phone to try to get a message to the Tower but the call was dropped. The emergency dispatcher phoned the airport tower immediately but all he could tell them was that a pilot experiencing an emergency was trying to call them and that he couldn’t land.

The pilot called 911 again and this time, the dispatcher was able to patch him straight through to the tower.

911 Dispatch: This is Stephanie with 9-1-1. I have the pilot that was having the electrical issues and couldn’t land. I have him on the line.
Martin: Please connect him.
911 Dispatch: OK. Just a moment.
N4432B: Hello?
Martin: Hey, can you hear me?
N4432B: Barely.

With only the mobile phone connection to the pilot, controller Wade H Martin IV was able to coordinate the pilot for a low approach fly-by past the tower. The pilot did not know if the landing gear was down. With the runway lights turned all the way up, he would be able to make visual contact with the airport and hopefully they would be able to establish whether the landing gear was down.

Controller Nick Valadez took over all frequencies in order to allow Martin to focus on the pilot. There were two aircraft waiting to depart and an airport operations vehicle on the tarmac. Valadez asked all three to watch the Piper flying over the runway to see if they could see the landing gear. All three reported that the landing gear was down, which Martin then relayed to the pilot. Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting vehicles were updated from Alert I (standby) to Alert II (difficult or crash landing expected).

The pilot planned a dead-stick landing with the engine off. Interesting note: the “stick” in dead-stick doesn’t refer to the flight controls but the wooden propeller, which without power is just a dead stick.

N4432B: Yeah. I am going to come back around. I will land with the engine off just in case the gear is not locked.
Martin:*** Not a problem. I’m going to roll the fire equipment now.*
**Martin to Valadez:
Roll ‘em.
N4432B: If the gear is locked, I’d like to get out and check it. If it’s good, I’ll taxi it back over to the FBO.

The aircraft touched down. The gear was locked into position and the pilot was able to stop the aircraft within the first 1,700 feet of the 7,752-foot runway.

Western Pacific Region

Three controllers on duty at Northern California TRACON when a Cessna 182 departed from Monterey Regional Airport. The pilot contacted the controller on position, Ryan Nines, to say that he was at 4,500 feet and experiencing a rough ride. He requested a turn back to Monterey. Suddenly, the aircraft’s altitude dropped to 1,800 feet.

Nines: N5188T, NorCal approach, are you alright there?
N5188T: Uh, no I’m getting…
Nines: N5188T try to level your wings, just level your wings. I’m getting a low altitude alert, check your altitude immediately. The minimum vectoring altitude in that area is two thousand, three hundred.

The aircraft was descending tail-first in a spiralling turn. Nines repeated again that the pilot needed to focus on getting his wings level. Other aircraft in the area heard the transmissions and an unknown pilot advised the Cessna to activate the autopilot if he had one, as this would help him keep the wings level.

The pilot activated the autopilot. However, the pilot was dealing with multiple equipment failures, which caused the autopilot to freeze all of his equipment, and meant that he couldn’t turn off the malfunctioning systems nor the alert sirens.

Nines: N5188T I still show you’re in a turn there, are you, are you in a turn? Just level your wings, I don’t want you turning there because last time that you did that you ended up going down pretty quickly.
N5188T: Okay I got turned around, I am level, but I’m now turned around, headed uh, 3…3-1-0. Should I turn around?
Nines: N5188T right now I just want you to fly any heading with level wings. I don’t want you to make any type of turns.
N5188T: Fly level wings, keep climbing.

Nines reassured the pilot that he did not need to turn during his climb and that he should just focus on maintaining his flight heading. The other two controllers (William L. Hoppe Jr and Luis Ramirez) checked the weather at the nearby airports, advising Nines to have to pilot climb to visual flight rules conditions and finding the best option for the pilot. Castle Airport (MER) had clear weather. Meanwhile, the pilot suffered two more upsets and loss of altitude: the video of the ATC transcript shows the routing that the controllers saw as the aircraft flew a 360 instead of following the heading. Nines needed his full focus to help the pilot through the unintentional turns and rolls of the aircraft, which he could only see on radar. The other two controllers focused on how to best get the aircraft out of trouble. Between them, the controllers were able to get pilot out of the cloud and heading towards an airport in visual conditions. Once Nines was confident that the pilot was able to continue on route and change frequencies, he had the pilot contact approach. The pilot then proceeded to Castle Airport and landed without further issue.

The teamwork between the three controllers ensured that the pilot and his passengers landed safely after nearly an hour of rough flight in cloud.

The NATCA 2016 Archie League Award Honorees web pages include video of the presentations and speeches by both the pilots and the controllers.

I hope you’ll agree that getting this inside view of Air Traffic Control is fascinating and inspiring. Full credit to NATCA for organising the awards every year along with the ATC audio so that we can hear the controllers at work. I wish that we saw similar recognition for controllers around the world!

02 Sep 20:18

Amazing ATC: 2016 Archie League Award Honorees

by Sylvia

The American National Air Traffic Controllers Association has an annual event to recognise the best “flight assist” of air traffic controllers in each of the nine regions which cover the United States. In this two-part special, I’ve collected the 2016 honorees for the Archie League Awards, highlighting the air traffic controller(s) selected per region, along with a description of the event along with a recording of the ATC conversations. Each of these controllers offered sterling services to pilots in trouble and just listening to their soothing voices made me smile.

Alaskan Region

Two air traffic controllers at Anchorage Centre, Ronald Sparks and Mike Thomas, were assisting a corporate jet (Dassault Falcon 10) on its way to Nome, Alaska. The controllers attempted to help the jet land at Nome despite low cloud and limited visibility. After two failures, the pilot requested information for nearby airports with better weather. The two controllers worked together to find an alternate around 100 miles east, Unalakleet, and directed the pilot there. However, the pilot became nervous as he wasn’t familiar with the area and decided he would rather turn back and try to land at Nome again. The controllers knew that the weather conditions had not improved. The aircraft was running low on fuel and they didn’t think it would make it to Nome, let alone to another airfield if the pilot failed a third time to land.

N256V: We’re on minimum fuel right now. We’re um, yeah I think we want to try again in Nome.
Sparks: Ok I understand you want to do Nome? And it’s uh, the weather is a lot worse now. It’s a quarter mile snow, freezing fog sir. Runway 2-8 RVR eighteen-hundred variable to four-thousand.
N256V: Roger, we will try the Papa Alpha Uniform November (Unalakleet) airport and uh we are climbing to seven-thousand.

Crisis averted…except that the pilot realised he didn’t have a chart for Unalakleet and wasn’t going to be able to land there.

Sparks: N256V, how much fuel in time do you have?
N256V: We have maybe 15 minutes.
Sparks: N256V Roger. And how many souls on board?
N256V: Three.

I hate to say it but really, I can never hear the question How many souls on board? without translating it to How many bodies should we be looking for in the wreckage?

The aircraft had a GPS system, which meant that the pilot had the full database for the airport, just not in the format that he was used to. They talked him through the approach and locator information. By now they’d been assisting the pilot for almost an hour and a half.

The pilot successfully landed the Falcon 10 at Unalakleet. He had six minutes of fuel remaining.

Central Region

Air Traffic Controller Brett Rolofson was training Liam Keeney. A Mooney, a single-engine general aviation aircraft, appeared on their radar. They offered it a VFR flight following service, where the radar controller remains in contact and offers traffic information regarding other aircraft in the area. The Mooney was on its way to Lee’s Summit, Missouri when the pilot reported that his oil pressure was getting low and he needed to land at a closer airport. The pilot decided on Perryton Ochiltree County Airport in Texas and asked Keeney, the trainee controller, for weather conditions. Keeney realised that the weather at Perryton was not clear enough for visual traffic and that the pilot would not be able to land there. He suggested that the pilot fly to Liberal Airport instead, where the weather was better.

Rolofson took over the contact. Keeney immediately began moving traffic from Rolofson’s frequency to his own, in order to allow Rolofson to focus on the emergency.

The pilot reported that he would not be able to make it to Liberal Airport and asked if there was anywhere closer.

Rolofson: N345TM you think you’ll be able to make it 3-0 miles to the Liberal Airport? It’ll be about a 310 heading at this time.
N345TM: Is it thirty-five miles away?
Rolofson: Yeah, thirty-five miles away. N345TM if you need it there is an airport just north of you. It’ll be about a 360 heading. It is called, N345TM, Beaver Airport is Kilo Four Four. It’s currently about a 355 heading eleven miles to your north.
N345TM: Yeah I’m going to try that one because my oil pressure is way down right now.

Rolofson contacted Beaver Airport to tell them about the incoming emergency. The aircraft descended and Rolofson lost radar and radio contact with the pilot. He contacted an American Eagle flight in the area to attempt to reach the pilot. The American Eagle flight crew were able to contact the pilot by radio and relay the landing clearances and airfield information from Rolofson.

Rolofson: Envoy 3315, Kansas City Center, can you broadcast for N345TM on this frequency? He might be in an emergency situation. We’re trying to get ahold of him and make sure he has an airport in sight.
Envoy 3315: N345TM?
Rolofson: Yep, see if he can hear you.
Envoy 3315: This is Envoy 3315 looking for N345TM can you hear me?

The pilot landed safely at Beaver Airport and reported to the American Eagle flight that he was OK, who relayed the message back to Kansas City Centre.

Eastern Region

Another Mooney, this one an M20F executive flying under Instrument Flight Rules, was in the New York area when it descended below the minimum safe altitude. There were two radio towers in the area: one 643 feet high and one 821 feet high. The Mooney dropped to 700 feet, then climbed to 1,800 feet and then descended again to 800 feet.

The pilot reported that he was unable to to hold his altitude or fly the assigned headings because of the turbulence, wind and rain.

New York TRACON took over and gave the pilot vectors but he was confused by the instructions. Air Traffic Controller (and licensed pilot) Jeffrey Schuler began handling the flight. He kept the pilot calm while he checked the weather and the options, deciding that the best chance for the pilot was to fly to Stewart Airport and land there. He cleared the pilot to Stewart but the aircraft then flew in the opposite directions, apparently unable to follow instructions, circling the area and losing altitude.

Schuler: Are you still in the clouds?
N9525M: Yeah, I’m still here. I think one of my problems is the main GPS I’m following is totally wrong.
Schuler: OK, tell you what N9525M. Just level your wings, level the aircraft, and we’ll start from there OK?

All traffic on the frequency was moved to another frequency so that Schuler could concentrate on the emergency. The pilot confirmed that fuel levels were fine. However, every time the aircraft turned south into the strong headwinds, the radar reading showed that the aircraft was only going 40 knots.

Then, the pilot reported that he’d lost an engine. Schuler told him to fly directly to Sikorsky Memorial Airport, which the aircraft circled at 5,000 feet, for a straight in GPS approach aligning to Runway 29. However, the controller was nervous about the pilot’s GPS equipment: an iPad with low battery. He gave vectors to the pilot for a VOR approach to runway 29. Still, the pilot was unable to follow the instructions, turning his aircraft in the wrong direction and unexpectedly descending. The pilot was distracted looking at the GPS on the iPad.

N9525M: Yeah, I’ve got about another 10 percent on this iPad then I have no GPS left in this plane.
Schuler: Forget the GPS. Level your wings. Fly the aircraft. Do that first.

The pilot returned his focus to the plane and descended to Sikorsky Memoria Airport. The aircraft broke out of the clouds at 600 feet above ground level, just as ATC was losing radar contact with him. Now that he could see the runway, the pilot make a circling approach and landed safely.

New England Region

It seems like there’s a lot of Mooneys out there! This one was a single-engine M20K whose retractable landing gear had failed. Joseph White was the controller at TF Green Airport serving Providence, Rhode Island. The situation was stressful. Low clouds meant that the pilot had to fly on instruments but he was struggling to keep calm. The airport’s surveillance radar antenna was out of service, which meant that White couldn’t see any aircraft below 2,000 feet. White coordinated with another scope to track the aircraft at low altitudes using long-range radar.

White: N73S we have a radar mode that will give us radar to about two-thousand feet so what we’re going to try to do is keep radar that way and get you down to two-thousand and try to get the field in sight for you.
White: N73S when able say fuel remaining and souls on board.
N5773S: Just one soul on board, 73S.

The pilot reported that the trims, GPS and autopilot were also not working. White attempted to vector the aircraft towards the airport for 40 minutes. He initiated no-gyro vectors for ILS Runway 5 but even with the vectors, the pilot was unable to intercept the localiser. He could not continue the instrument approach. White advised the pilot to descend to 1,200 feet, which was well below the minimum vectoring altitude for that area. The aircraft broke through the clouds and the pilot scanned for the airfield. Providence Airport set the runway lights to full intensity to help him. White asked him to climb away and said they would find another airfield with better weather. Just then, the pilot reported that he had the airfield in sight! They agreed that he would proceed with a visual approach to the runway.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have Providence in sight. He was looking at the military airfield KOOU at Quonset Point Air National Guard station.

White: N73S roger. Proceed visually for Providence Airport Runway 5.
N5773S: Visually to Runway 5, 73S.
White: N73S are you comfortable making the frequency change now?
N5773S: Maybe I’m heading to KOOU.
N5773S: 73S, I think I’m heading to the wrong airport. This is KOOU. Can I do a 180?

The pilot planned to turn around and try again at Providence. However, White was concerned about the number of equipment failures that the pilot was experiencing. He recommended that the pilot proceed to land at Quonset. The tower was closed but he explained how to turn on the remote control lighting. The pilot asked again about returning to Providence, his voice noticeably distressed. Although the pilot was visual with the ground, he was below the minimum vector altitude for Providence. White convinced him to continue with the landing at Quonset.

White: If you have Quonset in sight we want to just get you on the ground as soon as we can.

The pilot landed safely at Quonset where he contacted Providence air traffic control to let them know that he was on the ground.

Great Lakes Region

The Piper Comanche, a small single-engine plane, had started its journey that morning in Guatemala and had been flying all day towards its destination of Columbus, Ohio. However, the weather at Columbus International, located six miles east of downtown Columbus was bad, with a 200-foot cloud ceiling and only half a mile (800m) of visibility.

Air Traffic Controller David Kilgus at Columbus International Airport was vectoring the pilot to the instrument landing system runway 10R. However, the pilot started to have problems understanding the instructions. English was not the his first language and the long flight combined with difficult flying conditions made it difficult for him to keep up.

Suddenly, the aircraft turned right toward final approach without any instruction, flying directly towards oncoming inbound traffic. Kilgus immediately told the pilot to make another hard right turn to get the aircraft away from the incoming traffic. He then started vectoring the aircraft towards runway 10R again for a second attempt.

The pilot was struggling to maintain the correct altitude and heading for the ILS glideslope and track, so he was not correctly lined up for finals on runway 10R. Kilgus tried to help him, offering corrections. The pilot asked Kilgus to keep an eye on him. He was clearly struggling and Kilgus realised that the pilot wasn’t able to navigate the ILS approach, even with help from Kilgus. He recommended that the pilot continue on to Rickenbacker International, another airport just 10 miles south of downtown Columbus, where the weather was better.

The pilot agreed but continued to find it difficult to navigate and repeatedly set off low altitude warnings. Kilgus was still handling all of the traffic on final approach for Columbus International but didn’t want to make the pilot change frequency, as the pilot was already quite stressed and struggling.

Kilgus: N914DP low altitude alert. Maintain two-thousand five-hundred until established localizer. Looks like you’re going through it.
Kilgus: N4DP, Columbus.
N914DP: Yes sir, yes sir. I’m trying to get here on the localizer sir.
Kilgus: N4DP you’re low, two-thousand one-hundred. Verify you’re on the localizer and the glide slope.

The pilot failed his first approach into Rickenbacker airport. Then he reported that he had run out of fuel.

N914DP: Sir, I just run out of gas. I think I ran out of gas.
Kilgus: OK N4DP, roger. Present heading, Rickenbacker is 12 o’clock in four miles. Fly heading is 0-5-0. 0-5-0 heading.
N914DP: I think we are on priority fuel right now sir.

Kilgus confirmed the distance to Rickenbacker and then to his relief, the pilot reported that he had been able to transfer fuel from his other tank. Kilgus guided him to the Rickenbacker approach again, while still handling final approach traffic for Columbus International. This time the pilot successfully landed. He phoned Columbus International later to thank the air traffic controller.

Click here for the remaining four regions and their stories!

22 Aug 20:42

Albert Einstein, civil rights advocate

by Jason Kottke

Einstein Lincoln University

In 1946, Albert Einstein, who had come to the US in 1933 and stayed to become a citizen due to Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany, wrote a magazine article titled The Negro Question. In it, he called the prejudice against black Americans a "deeply entrenched evil".

What soon makes the new arrival devoted to this country is the democratic trait among the people. I am not thinking here so much of the democratic political constitution of this country, however highly it must be praised. I am thinking of the relationship between individual people and of the attitude they maintain toward one another.

In the United States everyone feels assured of his worth as an individual. No one humbles himself before another person or class. Even the great difference in wealth, the superior power of a few, cannot undermine this healthy self-confidence and natural respect for the dignity of one's fellow-man.

There is, however, a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. Even among these there are prejudices of which I as a Jew am clearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with the attitude of the "Whites" toward their fellow-citizens of darker complexion, particularly toward Negroes. The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.

Recognizing the parallels between the treatment of Jews in Germany in the 1930s with blacks in the US, Einstein put his efforts and his money where his mouth was. He was a member of the NAACP. In 1946, the same year that letter was published, he received an honorary degree from Pennsylvania's Lincoln University, the historically black school that was the alma mater of Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall. In a speech at the school that was not covered by a mainstream American press that otherwise couldn't get enough of him, Einstein called racism "a disease of white people":

My trip to this institution was in behalf of a worthwhile cause. There is a separation of colored people from white people in the United States. That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.

When singer Marian Anderson was denied a hotel room in Princeton for being black, Einstein hosted the singer at his home for this and several subsequent trips. He also came to the aid of W.E.B. Du Bois in his case against the US government:

Einstein continued to support progressive causes through the 1950s, when the pressure of anti-Communist witch hunts made it dangerous to do so. Another example of Einstein using his prestige to help a prominent African American occurred in 1951, when the 83-year-old W.E.B. Du Bois, a founder of the NAACP, was indicted by the federal government for failing to register as a "foreign agent" as a consequence of circulating the pro-Soviet Stockholm Peace Petition. Einstein offered to appear as a character witness for Du Bois, which convinced the judge to drop the case.

These and his other activities in this arena are documented in a 2006 book called Einstein on Race and Racism by Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor.

Tags: Albert Einstein   racism   USA
13 May 00:30

"How do you know when to cut?"

by Jason Kottke

I think this might be my favorite Every Frame a Painting yet: Tony Zhou explores how a film editor does what she does. Or as he puts it, "how does an editor think and feel?" The point about emotions taking time is especially interesting, as is the accompanying comparison between similar scenes from The Empire Strikes Back and Ant Man.

Emotions take time. When we watch people onscreen, we feel a connection to them. And that's because we have time to watch their faces before they speak and time to watch them afterwards. Editors have to decide, "how much time do I give this emotion?"

Tags: film school   movies   Tony Zhou   video
15 Apr 21:43

A brief history of America and Cuba

by Jason Kottke

As the US and Cuba move toward becoming BFFs again (or at least members of the same #squad), it's a good time to review the history between the two countries, which includes slavery, the Spanish-American War, and the Cold War-era series of fiascos.

Tags: Cuba   USA   video
14 Mar 21:15

Idiomatic Python: comprehensions

by Brett Cannon

We’re lucky to have a few people on our team who have been programming in Python for quite a while (I myself have been using the language now for over 15 years). Over the course of time we have picked up various idioms for programming in Python that may not be obvious or widely known for various reasons. To help share some of this knowledge we plan to do occasional blog posts entitled “Idiomatic Python” where we choose a topic and give some tips about it. Some of these posts may be long, some may be short. Either way the hope is that you will discover something useful from the posts (even for experienced developers as we may sprinkle in bits of Python history here and there).

For the inaugural post of this series I thought we could talk about comprehensions. In pretty much all programming languages a common idiom to fill a container is with a for loop:

container = []
for x in another_container:

It’s a very simple, straight-forward way to fill something like a list with objects. But this idiom is so common that it becomes a bit tiresome to do over and over again. This is why in Python 2.0, list comprehensions were added to the language:

container = [x**2 for x in another_container]

(bit of history: list comprehensions for Python were inspired by list comprehensions in Haskell). List comprehensions have become widely used in the Python community as they provide an easy way to create a list in a compact fashion from another container (technically it’s from another iterable, but every type of container should be an iterable). List comprehensions are also faster than a simple for loop thanks to trickery that Python can do under the covers.

But what you may not be aware of is that there are versions of comprehensions for generators, dicts, and sets in Python as well. In Python 2.4, generator expressions were added to the language. A cross between a generator and a list comprehension, generator expressions are great when you want to save on memory by not creating an entire list at once in memory and instead only want to use the memory required to create a single item in a sequence at a time (and who doesn’t want to save memory?):

container = (x**2 for x in another_container)

Much like list comprehensions, generator expressions are more-or-less syntactic sugar for the following:

def _():
    for x in another_container:
        yield x**2
container = _()
del _

To really get the point across you can try the following two examples out individually, but be aware that the latter one will take a while to complete:

# Use xrange() instead of range() if you're using Python 2.7.
# Generator expression
('genexp' for _ in range(100000000))
# List comprehension
['listcomp' for _ in range(100000000)]

Any time you might use a list comprehension you should stop and think about how the resulting list will be used. If the list is just going to be used as an iterable — all objects in the list will be accessed sequentially like in a for loop — then you should just use a generator expression.

This also segues into the idiom of specifying your APIs to accept or return an iterable instead of a specific type like a list when possible; when you only care about a sequence of object, specify your API accepts/returns iterables instead of a concrete type like a list. This point ties nicely into how list comprehensions work in Python 3 as basically generator expressions plus a call to list(), which means returning an iterable like a generator expression doesn’t prevent users of your code from easily getting a list if that’s what they want:

container = list(x**2 for x in another_container)

List comprehensions and generator expressions became so popular that Python continued on with the concept of comprehensions and introduced dict and set comprehensions in Python 3.0 (which were backported to Python 2.7). As the name implies, dict and set comprehensions provide syntactic sugar to create dicts and sets from a for loop. Set comprehensions look like a generator expression but with curly braces:

container = {x**2 for x in another_container}

Dict comprehensions look like set comprehensions, but use a colon to separate the key and value for each item in the dict, just like in dict literals:

container = {x: x**2 for x in another_container}

Now you may have noticed that out of all the built-in container types in Python, only tuples don’t have a comprehension form. This is on purpose because comprehensions are meant to be thought of as just syntactic sugar for a for loop. Since you can’t create a tuple in a for loop it wouldn’t make sense to have a comprehension form for tuples either. It’s also easy to create a tuple from a generator expression so there isn’t any lost functionality and there is no performance cost compared to using a for loop to make a list that you ultimately convert to a tuple:

container = tuple(x**2 for x in another_container)

To summarize:

  • List comprehensions were inspired by Haskell: [x**2 for x in another_container]
  • Generator expressions are like list comprehensions but for generators: (x**2 for x in another_container)
  • You should always try to use generator expressions over list comprehensions, and only use list comprehensions when you specifically need a list
  • Specify your APIs take/return iterables when you can instead of concrete types like a list when you only care about a sequence of objects
  • Python 2.7/3.0 added set comprehensions: {x**2 for x in another_container}
  • Python 2.7/3.0 also added dict comprehensions: {x: x**2 for x in another_container}

Hopefully you found this post useful! If you did please let us know so we can gauge whether we should do more posts like this in the future.

11 Mar 00:43

An Ouled Nail woman in Algeria wears a tattoo that is customary...

An Ouled Nail woman in Algeria wears a tattoo that is customary for dancers, 1949. Photograph by Maynard Owen Williams, National Geographic Creative

10 Mar 01:27


by languagehat

No Wool, No Vikings” by Claire Eamer is an article (for Hakai magazine) about, well, wool and Vikings. It’s well worth reading (I had no idea Viking ships had woolen sails!), but this is not WoolHat, and I’m posting about it because of the following paragraph:

But first, it’s time to collect the wool. These double-coated sheep shed their wool naturally in late spring and summer, so they don’t need to be shorn. Instead, the wool is plucked, or “rooed”—a bit like pulling loosened hair from a shedding dog. Rooing is labor intensive. In Viking times and for centuries after, the whole village would join in the roundup and rooing. The captive labor force of Fosen students means rooing is still possible on Utsetøya.

Of course I looked it up in OED, and fortunately the entry has been updated (in November 2010); it’s a word local to Orkney and Shetland meaning “To strip (a sheep) of wool by hand, instead of by shearing; to pluck (wool) in this manner,” and the etymology is quite interesting:

A borrowing from Norn.
< the unattested Norn cognate of Icelandic rúa, Norwegian regional rua, both in sense ‘to pluck (wool) from a sheep’, probably representing a later denominative formation (compare Icelandic old or dirty sheep’s wool (16th cent.), Norwegian (Nynorsk) ru, (regional) ruv sheep’s wool which is shorn off at the end of the winter) < the same Scandinavian base as (with i-mutation) Old Icelandic rýja to pluck (wool) from a sheep < the same Indo-European base as classical Latin ruere to churn or plough up, dig out, Old Church Slavonic ryti, Old Russian ryti (Russian ryt′) to dig, Old Russian r′′vati (Russian rvat′) to tear, tug, pluck (compare Old Church Slavonic runo fleece, probably < the same base), Lithuanian rauti to pull, tear, root out, and probably also (with different ablaut grade) rag n.2

I’m curious as to whether my Scandinavian readers are familiar with the various ru(a) words.

Addendum. Nothing to do with rooing, but I wanted to pass on the sad news that Jeff Del Col, who usually posted here as j. del col, commenting on everything from brassicas to R. Crumb to Elias Canetti, “died very unexpectedly today at the age of 68,” as his daughter Laura wrote me; she added that “He loved reading and talking about language and literature (he was an English professor himself)” and that LH gave him a great deal of enjoyment. [Obit.] My condolences to his family; he’ll definitely be missed around these parts.

11 Feb 16:12

How to write telegrams properly

by Jason Kottke

From a small booklet written by Nelson Ross in 1928, a guide on How to Write Telegrams Properly.

Handwriting in Telegrams -- There is a classic joke of the telegraph business which may not be out of place here. A lady, filing a message with the counter clerk for transmission, first enclosed it in an envelope. When the clerk tore open the envelope to prepare the telegram for sending, she reached for it indignantly with the exclamation: "The idea! That is my personal telegram and I don't want anyone else to see it."

It must be remembered that a telegram is transmitted letter by letter. Telegraph operators, like post office employees, are expert in reading handwriting, but even so, words cannot be guessed at. If you write the word "opportunity" very clearly as far as "oppo" and the rest of the word is a mere scribble, it cannot be transmitted in that fashion. It must be "opportunity" or nothing. If you sign your name "John" followed by a series of hen tracks, neither can that be transmitted. You may have intended the word for "Johnson," but you cannot reasonably expect the telegraph employee to be a mind reader as well as an operator.

How did telegrams hit moving targets? Like so:

Messages for Persons on Trains -- A message addressed to a passenger on a train should show the name of the railroad, train number or name or time due, place where the message is to be delivered, and also the point for which the passenger is bound. If the train is run in 13 sections, the section should be specified if known. A sample address is: "John Smith, en route Los Angeles, Care Conductor, Southern Pacific, Train 103, El Paso, Texas." Even though when the train stop at El Paso and John Smith is paged, he may be pacing the Platform for fresh air and exercise, the conductor will strive hard to effect delivery. If you expect to have occasion to telegraph a friend setting out on a journey, it is a good idea to get from him his Pullman berth and car number, so that you will be able to indicate this on your telegram. Telegraph clerks generally will be found to be courteous in aiding you to determine the progress of the train and station where it most likely can be intercepted.

And sending money was possible as well, using the HTTPS of its time:

The procedure is simple. A person wishing to send a sum of money by wire merely calls at the telegraph office, fills out an application blank, and pays the clerk the amount to be sent and the fee for its transmittal. The telegraph companies have a secret code which they use in directing their agent in the distant city to make payment to the person designated. The payee is notified to call at the office for a sum of money, or a check is sent to the payee, as may be directed. It is optional with the sender of the money order, whether the payee shall be required to identify himself absolutely or whether identification shall be waived. The Western Union Telegraph Company alone handles more than $250,000,000 annually in telegraphic money orders.

I wonder what sort of shenanigans telegraph hackers got up to trying to intercept those "secret codes" and make fake payouts. See also The Victorian Internet.

Tags: books   telegraph
11 Jan 23:26

Heliocentrism vs geocentrism

by Jason Kottke
John Costello

Does it look like the Sun is the center of the solar system?

Helio Vs Geo

With hindsight, it seems bloody obvious the Sun and not the Earth is the center of the solar system. Occam's razor and all that. (via @somniumprojec)

Tags: astronomy   geometry   science   solar system
11 Jan 21:51

Filling plot holes in The Force Awakens

by Jason Kottke

Some people were bothered over supposed gaps in the plot in The Force Awakens. I wasn' the hand-wringing for more weighty fare. But if you were, the novelization of the movie connects some of the dots left detached. Here are some of the more interesting ones (spoilers, obvs):

The Resistance had no idea Starkiller Base existed. This is extrapolated on quite a bit. Snoke's decision to destroy the New Republic is about flushing out the Resistance. Utter annihilation of the enemy is a mere side effect. Snoke knew using the weapon would give away the base's location. The Resistance would then send a reconnaissance team to scout the place and the First Order could follow the scouts back to the Resistance HQ and destroy them once and for all. While this is what happens in the movie, the motivations are a bit murkier.

Kylo Ren knows who Rey is. After failing to call Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber to his hand, Ren turns to Rey -- who is now holding the blue lightsaber -- and he declares, "It IS you," and then the fight begins.

Ok, whoa. What does that mean?

Han hadn't seen Kylo Ren/Ben since he became an adult. When Ben removes the helmet of Kylo Ren, Han Solo is shocked by how grown-up his son looks as he hasn't seen him since he became an adult. This lends credence to the theory that Snoke seduced a teenaged Ben to the Dark Side. Speaking of which, Leia knew Snoke was trying to get his claws in her son since he was a child and never told Han until right before the Starkiller mission.

[Rey] struggles with the Dark Side almost immediately. Rey might look serene as she finds the Force and battles a badly injured Kylo Ren, but she is fighting with rage. After beating down her opponent, a voice inside her encourages her to kill him. She rejects the notion, but is still struggling with herself when the rift opens up and separates the two of them.

[Ren] also cracked open something in Rey's mind. One of the advantages of a book is internal narration. When Ren attempts to retrieve the map from Rey's brain he senses something weird within her mind. Not resistance, but a barrier. Probing at it is what causes Rey to suddenly find herself -- with no provocation -- inside Ren's mind. Now this is just speculation, but it certainly sounds like someone had walled off Rey's Force sensitivity and Kylo Ren accidentally broke down the wall.

The script for the movie clarifies a few things as well.

Luke Skywalker Immediately Knows Who Rey Is and Why She Is Here. The script describes Luke Skywalker as being older now, with white hair and a beard. It says that he looks at Rey with a "kindness in his eyes, but there's something tortured, too." Most interestingly, it says that Luke "doesn't need to ask her who she is, or what she is doing here." Does this mean that he knows Rey is his child? Or does this mean that he knows because of the Force? The script only adds that "his look says it all."

Kylo Ren Is Horrified By His Actions. The script gives us some internal insight into Kylo Ren after he just killed his father Han Solo. The screenplay notes that "Kylo Ren is somehow WEAKENED by this wicked act," noting that he is "horrified" and his "SHOCK is broken only when" Chewbacca cries out in agony.

Fun fact that I just discovered: the novelizations of all three of the original Star Wars movies were released before the movies came out! Star Wars the book came out 6 months before the movie, Empire a month before, and Jedi a couple of weeks before. I'm amazed you could walk into a bookstore an entire month before The Empire Strikes Back was released and discover that Vader was Luke's father. Truly a different approach to spoilers.

Tags: books   movies   Star Wars
07 Jan 18:23

I just really love these dorks okay

I just really love these dorks okay

05 Jan 18:21

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Clock


Hovertext: I recommend that children learn how to buy SMBC comics and attend BAHFest shows.

New comic!
Today's News:

OH MAN, so many cool people will be in attendance :) 

31 Dec 04:46

A History of the Sky, a film by Ken Murphy

by John


This is a year-long time-lapse study of the sky. A camera installed on the roof of the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco captured an image of the sky every 10 seconds. From these images, I created a mosaic of time-lapse movies, each showing a single day. The days are arranged in chronological order. My intent was to reveal the patterns of light and weather over the course of a year.

I once filled out a three-hour VHS tape with a single shot of drifting clouds using my old video camera. I was thinking at the time of Brian Eno’s studies of the skies over Manhattan but the roofs of South Manchester can’t compete with those of New York City. Ken Murphy’s film is a slowly evolving mosaic that also serves to remind us northerners how quickly the night comes to California.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Mistaken Memories Of Mediaeval Manhattan

14 Dec 05:07

"Catching weary waterfowl on thin ice gives surly polar bears huge pleasure and ensures they enjoy..."

“Catching weary waterfowl on thin ice gives surly polar bears huge pleasure and ensures they enjoy good meat unharmed.”


A panphone (sentence that contains every phoneme in the English language, at least for the composer’s dialect) by Richard Gunton on Literal Minded. You may need to adjust slightly for your own dialect, but the post about it provides an interesting place to start.

(Compare with pangrams, i.e. sentences that contain every letter in a given alphabet.)

14 Dec 05:04

Field Theory of Swords

by Brian Skinner

I don’t mean to brag, but if you’ve been following this sequence of posts on ribbonfarm, then I’ve sort of taught you the secret to modern physics.

The secret goes like this:

Everything arises from fields, and fields arise from everything.

Go ahead.
You can indulge in a good eye-roll over the new-agey sound of that line.
(And over the braggadocio of the author.)

But eye-rolling aside, that line actually does refer to a very profound idea in physics. Namely, that the most fundamental object in nature is the field: a continuous, space-filling entity that has a simple mathematical structure and supports “undulations” or “ripples” that act like physical particles. (I offered a few ways to visualize fields in this post and this post.) To me, it is the most mind-blowing fact of modern physics that we call particles are really just “ripples” or “defects” on some infinite field.

But the miraculousness of fields isn’t just limited to fundamental particles. Fields also emerge at much higher levels of reality, as composite objects made from the motion of many active and jostling things. For example, one can talk about a “field” made from a large collection of electrons, atoms, molecules, cells, or even people. The “particles” in these fields are ripples or defects that move through the crowd. It is one of the miracles of science that essentially any sufficiently large group of interacting objects gives rise to simple collective excitations that behave like independent, free-moving particles.

Maybe this discussion seems excessively esoteric to you.  I can certainly understand that objection. But the truth is that the basic paradigm of particles and fields is so generic and so powerful that one can apply it to just about any level of nature.

So we might as well use it to talk about something awesome.

Let’s talk about swords.

*  *  *

A sword, of course, is a solid piece of metal, and that means that if you look at it under sufficiently high magnification it will look something like this:


The little balls in this picture represent atoms (say, iron atoms), and in a solid metal they generally sit in a nice, periodic arrangement. (The lines in the drawing are just there to illustrate the orderliness of this arrangement.)  The positions of the atoms will constitute our field.

Now let’s ask the question: how strong is a sword? How much force can you apply on it before the sword deforms or breaks?

To make the question more specific, let’s suppose that you swing your sword directly into a sharp surface (like, I don’t know, another sword). At the point of impact there will be a force that tries to push one plane of atoms in such a way that it slides across the neighboring plane. This kind of force is called shear.


How big does the shear force have to be before your sword breaks?  Looking at the picture above, one very natural answer to this question might come to mind. Namely, that the breaking force should be equal to the repulsive force between two neighboring atoms multiplied by the number of atoms in a given plane.

This answer is very natural, but also very wrong. In fact, if you use that answer to make an estimate of a sword’s breaking force, you’ll find that even a laughably puny “sword” with a 1 millimeter cross section would withstand multiple tons of force before it broke. Since we do not live in a world where people go confidently into battle with millimeter-thick swords (and since, relatedly, you are probably capable of deforming an steel paper clip with your bare hands), there must be something wrong with this answer.

To understand what went wrong, we need to think about the particles in our field.

Remember that a particle is basically just a defect in a field. And if your field is a crystal of iron atoms, then there is one particular kind of defect that is especially relevant. This defect is called a dislocation, and it looks like this:


A dislocation is a place where the lattice planes don’t line up with each other. This failure of alignment produces stress in the nearby regions of the crystal (illustrated by the orangeish area), as atoms are forced into positions that are slightly closer or slightly further from their neighbors than they would prefer. Notice, however, that there is no easy way to eliminate all that stress. Moving atoms around locally just shifts the position of the dislocation, and the stress remains the same.

Of course, you should also keep in mind that the dislocations are not little points.  That orange region of stress is not just a single point-like region where the lattice planes are mismatched. In a thick piece of metal, the dislocations are actually long lines of mismatched atoms.

dislocation-3D(In this picture, that line of dislocation extends into the screen.)

Consequently, our “particles” in this field are better drawn as long, stringy lines that extend through the metal. I’ll draw them like this:


As it turns out, these dislocations have a serious implication for the strength of our hypothetical sword. When a dislocation is present, all you need to do to deform the sword is to move the dislocation from one side to the other. Like this:


In contrast to the Herculean effort required to make two atomic planes slip against each other, moving a dislocation is easy, since you are only displacing a small number of atoms at a time. One analogy is that moving a dislocation is something like trying to move a very heavy carpet across the floor. Dragging the whole thing may be prohibitively difficult, but if you make a wrinkle or a roll in the carpet, you can simply push that wrinkle to shift the position of the carpet.


This is also why your puny hands are capable of bending a paper clip: when you bend the clip, you are in fact just pushing dislocations from one side of the material to the other.

So what can you do if you want a sword that doesn’t bend or break easily?

You might think that the answer is to be extremely fastidious in preparing or choosing your metal, with the goal of having as few dislocations as possible. But this turns out to be a fool’s errand. Even a small number of dislocations enable the material to deform, and new dislocations can always enter the metal from either edge (as in the animated gif above).

The correct strategy, as it turns out, is to make more dislocations. And to make them as disordered as possible.

The crucial idea behind this strategy is that dislocations can’t really move through each other. When two dislocations are brought together, the stress in the crystal builds up intensely around them.


Such a stress build-up leads to a strong repulsive force that pushes the dislocations back apart, and thereby prevents them from moving through each other.

So now if you have two dislocations aligned in different directions, they can get caught on each other in a way that prevents each of them from slipping past the other.



In fact, this kind of dislocation tangling is one of the most important reasons for all that hammering during the process of metal forging.

When the mighty smithy stands at work over his anvil (the muscles of his brawny arms as strong as iron bands), his effort is largely going into creating a tangled knot of dislocations inside the metal. Such a tangle keeps the metal strong by pinning the dislocations in place, and prevents the metal from deforming under future stresses.  (This part of the process is also known as work hardening, or strain hardening.)


In this way, the value of the blacksmith is not that he’s strong enough to deform crystalline steel (he’s not). It’s just that he’s pretty good at making a tangled mess of dislocations.  And tangled dislocations make good swords.

I guess you could call him an applied field theorist.



One footnote is in order: I learned a great deal about forging from this excellent article written by the renowned blade/swordsmith Kevin Cashen.

I also stole the rug picture from his website, and I hope he doesn’t mind.

14 Dec 05:01

Sundays with Skokie

by Three Fingered Fox

Jewish Sunday school was traumatic. For a lot of reasons, many personal. I was forced to go by my father after an upbringing of religious indifference, I had no friends there, the kids were cruel, and the teachers rather dim. I’ve had a grudge against it, in my memory, ever since.

Because I intellectualize everything, one way I express that grudge (to myself) is to pick at the ideological commitments of that Sunday school curriculum. To say the Holocaust was an important part of it does not express it. It’s not that we dwelled on the piles of bodies, though at points we did – but as a political problem, it was omnipresent. Other than the weeks we spent memorizing ancient Hebrew prayers – this was a confirmation class, so it was assumed that if you’d wanted to learn Hebrew you’d have already done so pre- bar/bat-mitzvah – it was all Jewish history, and all that was through the lens of the Shoah. Pre-Holocaust history was the crescendo leading up to the Holocaust; everything else was in one way or another about Israel, as the resolution.

I don’t believe in anything about that narrative, but these days I interrogate my Sunday school less to expose that narrative’s historical deficiencies than to marvel at what a fractal the thing was. Every little piece of the curriculum reflected the whole of that sweep in miniature.

The organizing slogan was “never again”, but given that it’s happened about nineteen times “again” and nothing about this narrative changes, indeed nothing at all changes, I’m curious about why such an obviously universal slogan, a slogan that dovetails so beautifully with Vonnegut’s plainspoken “no more massacres”, ends up being uttered in such a particularized and sightless way. Liberal American Judaism seems fully capable of intoning “never again” without the slightest irony from atop a pile of massacred bodies. As long as – I may as well say it – they’re not Jews.

Somehow it never became explicit, or explicit in the right way, that “never again” didn’t mean just to us. That, in fact, it wouldn’t be us next time. It would be someone else, and it would be the duty imposed on us by passing through the Holocaust to stand up with them.

There was of course that tendency in Holocaust studies, partly owing to Blanchot but being a terrible misunderstanding of him, which said that the Holocaust was a radical historical singular, absolutely unique. Which implies – unrepeatable. Because of its industrial character, because of the special, irreducible nature of Jew-hatred, because, ultimately, of the fearful body count – the Holocaust was not like other holocausts and should not be compared. There will only ever be the one.

Insisting on the absolute historical uniqueness of the Holocaust does make it easier to condone what Israel does in Jewry’s name today. After all, that’s not a Holocaust – it can’t be, we know that to be impossible. I don’t like claims that certain historical nightmares are unique beyond comparison for just this reason. It puts them beyond use as a lesson. There is that shudder at the word “use”, as if six million tortured ghosts were put to work turning the capstan of historiography, but I still don’t see how you can deny the fungibility of the Holocaust without, paradoxically, ensuring its repeatability.

One day they showed us a video of the TV movie “Skokie” (1981), a dramatization of the 1979 Nazi march through the heavily Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie, IL. Skokie had refused permission for the march; the ACLU sued on the Nazis’ behalf and won.

The movie is a fascinating piece of liberal propaganda, and I think I’ve been haunted by it since, because, like all good propaganda, it makes clear what the proper resolution is; but it does not fail to present – at least its own version – of the essential conflict. I think at the time I swallowed whole the proper resolution – something like, “American rights ask us to bear difficult things, but, in the end, yay free speech!” But something about the film has always made me uneasy.

These days, I can put the movie in more theoretical terms: the ostensible lesson is to insist on the universality and reciprocity of abstract rights, because thereby we are all saved, equally. I think the movie betrays this claim, though – and I think it betrays this claim because the claim is betrayed by its nature; there is something essential about the ideal of abstract reciprocal rights that is paradoxical, in a bad way.

The movie rightly places the Holocaust at the center of the drama. The confrontation is intra-Jewish: on the one hand, Skokie’s Holocaust survivors (who would have still been relatively young and numerous, only 34 years after the event; my next door neighbor growing up was a survivor, so my first association with the term is “that guy next door who mows his lawn and has a number on his arm”, not “those old people, nearly all dead, with their stories of the distant past.”) are opposed to the march, indeed opposed to permitting the existence of out-and-out Nazis, because they experienced the rise of Hitler themselves. Their opponents are liberal Jewish town pols and Jewish ACLU lawyers, who patiently explain that the rights that protect the Nazis also protect the Jews; a universal right must be extended to everyone, no matter how odious, or it is not in fact a right in the first place; pace Niemoller, if we now permit the silencing of the Nazis, can we expect anyone will stand up for us, if the time ever comes?

That’s an appealing story, one that, as Americans, we’ve imbibed all our lives, almost with the tap water. Yet the fact that I can summarize the survivors’ case in a handful of words (they saw Hitler), while the liberal case requires more than sixty, should tell you something: there is a certain ideological contortion going on.

To begin with, the equivalence, between the Jews and the Nazis, as two embattled minorities, is really an extraordinary one. We must tolerate the Nazis, who want nothing more in this life than to kill us, because one day we might need the protection of that very right that they now avail themselves of: in other words, as these Nazis now are, so might we one day be. Actually, that’s not an equivalence only: it’s an affective identification. The correct attitude toward these Nazis is not to fear them, it is to pity them – while one should fear that which the Nazis also fear, the vast, trackless, potent expanse of – simultaneously deracinated and goyishe – America.

In America, it turns out, a safe Nazi is a safe Jew. The survivors do not understand this. They are chained to the past. They see only Nazis, who killed them once, and whom they want to kill. They represent the particularity of the horror of the Jewish experience. The liberal Jews and the ACLU lawyers represent the universal reply. “Skokie” hopes you will chose the universal over the particular, however difficult that may feel.

Yet there is something unsatisfying about the terms of this universal/particular pairing. In fact, I think it’s backwards.

For “a safe Nazi is a safe Jew” to have the appeal “Skokie” says it does, it must be the case that these Nazis are not dangerous, or the survivors would simply be right. Even though as Nazis their whole existence is predicated on killing Jews. These Nazis are neutralized; America’s Nazis are domesticated. It is all right to allow the majesty of Constitutional right to drape these Nazis, to displace the necessary violence of self-protection, because there aren’t really any Nazis at all: there is only this pitiable lot, while the vast, terrifying expanse of America within which the Jew is still an alien, is on our side. It will never permit actual Nazis, only these shambling reminders. In America, the Jew has somehow won – as long as this America persists, the Jews are in charge of their own destiny.

In other words, the liberal Jews rely on one of the necessary but unstated paradoxes of liberal democracy: we can be confident that liberal democracy will not permit the rise of a movement that will abolish the protections of abstract civil rights, even though how to prevent this is impossible to specify from within the principles of liberalism. Liberal democracy is evenhandedly protective of the rights of all within it, yet there will come a time when it will have to act against a specific political tendency within itself and destroy it, to save itself. This is the vital moment of illiberalism within liberal democracy. Every political persuasion is treated with all the unjudging serenity of mere political procedure – every tendency is permitted everything any other is permitted, no matter what it actually is. There is no legal or constitutional principle that specifies when liberalism must step outside the framework of equal protection and put its foot down. “Straying into violence or criminality” isn’t it. It is quite possible, after all, for an undemocratic movement to attain power while obeying all liberal democratic rules regarding violence and criminality, as long as enough people approve of it. It is then in a position to abolish the whole thing. Yet this does not happen.

Except – it manifestly does happen. Of course it does. The unspecifiable moment when liberalism translates itself from a procedure to an ethos and suppresses internal, existential threats to itself, which is to say, to its universal extension of rights and protections to all citizens, never arrives. Liberal democracies are subverted and abolished, as Germany was, and even when this does not happen wholesale, they permit within themselves every imaginable mode of particularized exploitation, degradation, and oppression. It’s how liberal democratic America has been at the same time constitutively white supremacist America.

The provision of liberal abstract rights in fact guarantees nothing. And this is obvious. All you have to have is the memory of a Holocaust survivor. All you have to do is drive from Skokie to the Chicago south side.

Realizing this, what is the real content of what the liberal Jews and the ACLU lawyers say to the survivors? It’s not “we have rights.” It can only be this: “It can’t happen here.” The one slogan that every Jew is taught from birth not to trust. If it does not rest upon liberal abstract rights, it can only be mere historical triumphalism, easily reversed: Here, we won. America likes us. We can get in all the clubs and schools now. We’re in no danger.

I’m less interested in how foolish this claim is on its face, than in how a movie like “Skokie” makes it possible for the American children of Holocaust survivors to hear it and believe it. Because once you scrape off the ideological trappings, it’s completely threadbare. It’s completely particular. Here, now, we Jews are okay. Others are not okay, but we are okay. Just keep playing along.

In this way, the reliance on the polite fiction – among the privileged – of universal liberal rights, becomes a striking defense of the status quo. It is the alchemical transmutation of mere Jewish self-regard into a political philosophy of complacency. We – we Jews, triumphant in America – let the Nazis march; from this we know that the promise of American universalism is untrammeled. That is the proof. (Don’t get off the Dan Ryan on the South Side.)

If the liberals are particularity in disguise, it’s the survivors, who’d been portrayed as (understandably) tribal, clenched to history, who make the properly universal claim: Nazis are everywhere dangerous; Nazis must everywhere be fought and destroyed. The Danny Kaye character in “Skokie” – Kaye uses his trademark evocation of manic hysteria to excellent effect – was the only sane one. The survivors are not interested in even-handed proceduralism; they know what Naziism is, and they know there is no way to make peace with it.

“Skokie” is topsy-turvy. “Skokie” is liberal propaganda. Yet “Skokie” cannot abolish the universal claim hiding in the smokescreen of liberal proceduralism. I could never get past that fear that it left me with – that, in pointing at the pathetic false Nazis, its gesture of genuine terror past them and towards the immense fields of American possibility, was dead right all along.

The universal lesson of the specificity of the Holocaust is always clear: what has happened to us, is what can happen. As the philosophers say, actuality is the best proof of possibility. Nothing prevents it from happening here. Because it already has, and still is.

30 Nov 16:51

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - The Magic Was Inside You!


Hovertext: If anyone makes fun of your necklace, you just tell them PH'NGLUI MGLW'NAFH CTHULHU R'LYEH WGAH'NAGL FHTAGN

New comic!
Today's News:

Last day to submit for BAHFest London! 

23 Nov 01:36


by Geoff Manaugh
[Image: "Vaulted Chamber" by Matthew Simmonds].

While writing the previous post, I remembered the work of Matthew Simmonds, a British stonemason turned sculptor who carves beautifully finished, miniature architectural scenes into otherwise rough chunks of rock.

[Image: "Sinan: Study" by Matthew Simmonds].

Simmonds seems primarily to use sandstone, marble, and limestone in his work, and focuses on producing architectural forms either reminiscent of the ancient world or of a broadly "sacred" character, including temples, church naves, and basilicas.

[Image: "Basilica III" by Matthew Simmonds].

You can see many more photos on his own website or over at Yatzer, where you, too, might very well have seen these last year.

[Image: "Fragment IV" by Matthew Simmonds].

Someone should commission Simmonds someday soon to carve, in effect, a reverse architectural Mt. Rushmore: an entire hard rock mountain somewhere sculpted over decades into a warren of semi-exposed rooms, cracked open like a skylight looking down into a deeper world, where Simmonds's skills can be revealed at a truly inhabitable spatial scale.

(Previously: Emerge).
16 Nov 16:39

The Advertising Bubble

A few days ago VentureBeat published an article called The 7 martech buying trends shaping sales & marketing strategies in 2016, a piece of sponsored prose remarkable not for its content, but for being at least four layers of advertising removed from any kind of productive economic activity.

This is an article-length ad (1) targeted at companies selling software (2) to advertising startups (3) sellling their own ads (4) God knows where, possibly to some publishing startup burning through your grandmother's pension fund (5,6,7,8).

There's an ad bubble. It's gonna blow.

The ad technology sector is extremely complicated (I believe intentionally so). Stare at this diagram for a while and see if you can figure it out. Rather than trying to follow the shell game in detail, I want to sketch an argument that follows the money in broad outline.

The set of illustrations here is drawn from a talk I gave last week in Sydney, and for that reason the consumer in the graphics below will be represented by a kangaroo.

The basic relationship, I hope, is not controversial. A customer pays money for a good or service.

Some portion of the purchase goes to pay for advertising. The payment may be direct (a hardware store owner buys an ad in the paper) or convoluted (Sony pays a movie studio to show James Bond using their crappy cell phone). It doesn't matter what route the money takes; we just care about the net flow.

In essence, we pay a small consumption tax to fund advertising.

This diverted stream of money feeds a swamp of ad companies (several thousand at this point) with a complicated set of interlocking business relationships. These include companies producing desktop ads, mobile ads, ad brokers, marketplaces, platforms, the thriving consumer surveillance sector, and a new layer of startups specializing in defeating consumer countermeasures like ad blockers.

Once again, the ecology of this swamp doesn't matter. You don't really want to know what's in there. All that matters is where the money ends up.

Right now, all the ad profits flow into the pockets of a few companies like Facebook, Yahoo, and Google. Everybody else is fighting to join them. Like sand sharks cannibalizing each other in the womb, ad startups know the only way out is to eat their rivals.

You'll notice that the incoming and outgoing arrows in this diagram aren't equal. There's more money being made from advertising than consumers are putting in.

The balance comes out of the pockets of investors, who are all gambling that their pet company or technology will come out a winner. They provide a massive subsidy to the adtech sector.

But investors want to be on the other side of the equation. Instead of pouring money in, they want their money back, plus a handsome profit.

(Not pictured in these diagrams is the massive arrow that is going to ad fraud).

The only way to make the arrows balance at this point will be to divert more of each consumer dollar into advertising (raise the ad tax), or persuade people to buy more stuff.

I doubt whether either option is viable. Compare the number of ads you see in a given day to the number of purchases you make. And consider the indirect maziness of modern advertising, with its brand awareness campaigns and social media influencers. There's not a lot of milk left in this cow.

Investors are herd animals. When they bolt, the adtech swamp will drain, and who knows what hideous monstrosities will be left flopping on its muddy bottom.

The problem is not that these companies will fail (may they all die in agony), but that the survivors will take desperate measures to stay alive as the failure spiral tightens.

These companies have been collecting and trafficking in our most personal data for many years. It's going to get ugly.

The only way I see to avert disaster is to reduce the number of entities in the swamp and find a way back to the status quo ante, preferably through onerous regulation. But nobody will consider this.

The prognosis for publishers is grim. Repent! Find a way out of the adtech racket before it collapses around you. Ditch your tracking, show dumb ads that you sell directly (not through a thicket of intermediaries), and beg your readers for mercy. Respect their privacy, bandwidth, and intelligence, flatter their vanity, and maybe they'll subscribe to something.

Or else just sit back, crack open a cool Smirnoff Ice™, and think about more creative ways to fund online publishing.

Repent, for the end is nigh!

13 Nov 00:24

The Tary-Bary of the Birds.

by languagehat

According to this piece, during restoration work in the Assumption Cathedral of Zvenigorod, archaeologists found centuries’ worth of birds’ nests under the decayed roof:

Researchers were surprised when during the decomposition of the nests they started finding paper documents from different periods in the addition to birds’ bones and eggshells. In particular, they found XVIII century manuscripts and notes from early XIX century.

Generations of birds were carefully bringing papers to create comfort in their homes. Sometimes they were obtained by the theft: jackdaws and swifts were not only taking people’s litter but also securities – promissory notes, bills of sale, banknotes.

There are even pieces of banknotes for 1000 rubles – a fortune at the time. Various printed materials are preserved the best in these old nests: scraps of pre-revolutionary newspapers, candy wrappers, recipes, tickets, packaging, etc.

The pictures are great; I particularly like the last one, a cigarette packet with an image of people having a lively discussion and the brand name Тары-Бары [Tary-Bary], a lovely Russian term meaning ‘chitchat’ or (in Oxford’s quaint rendition) ‘tittle-tattle.’ It’s related to тарабар ‘chatterer,’ тарабарить ‘to chatter,’ тарабарская грамота ‘secret writing,’ and тарабарское наречие ‘secret language of Jewish merchants’ according to Vasmer, who compares the dialectal verb таракать ‘to chatter,’ which he classifies as onomatopoeic. But enough chatter; go enjoy the photos!

03 Nov 21:01

Thermonuclear Art

by Jason Kottke

In a nod to our nation's recreational drug users, NASA has created this 30-minute ultra high-resolution look at our Sun, assembled from thousands of photographs taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, which snaps a 16-megapixel image of the Sun every few seconds. Duuuuuuuude...

Tags: astronomy   NASA   space   Sun   video
03 Nov 20:04

Saving Hakka.

by languagehat

Yes, this piece by Rosalie Chan is another “saving an endangered language” story, but Hakka is really interesting:

It’s 6:30 p.m. at a radio studio in Miaoli, a small city in Western Taiwan. Yin Chang is plugged in. Her headphones are on, and the microphone is adjusted close to her mouth. The lights are dim; a blue banner declaring “Voice of Hakka Radio 97.1 FM” hangs behind her.

Chang, 36, fixes her headphones and pushes a strand of her bobbed hair behind her ear. With a bright voice, she enthusiastically greets the audience: “Hello, tegaho gaihei DJ Yin!” – “Hello everyone, this is DJ Yin!”

Chang hosts a program called Heinai, or “It’s me” in a variety of Chinese known as Hakka, the language of a Han Chinese ethnic group scattered throughout the continent. Heinai is aimed at Hakka youth; it’s part of Chang’s efforts to reinvigorate the dying language.

Chang grew up in Miaoli and, like 62.2 percent of the local population, is Hakka. In Taiwan, the Hakka are frequently referred to as ke jia ren or “guest family people” because throughout their history, Hakkas have been a migrant group, fleeing settlements to avoid one catastrophe after another. The Hakkas arrived in Taiwan during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when they escaped the Manchurian Armies that were taking control of China. The Hoklo people had already settled the fertile land of Taiwan, so the Hakkas were left to make do with the remaining infertile foothills, and, thus are known for their history of hardship and frugality. [...]

Every year the Hakka Affairs Council — an organization established in 2001 and dedicated to preserving Hakka culture and promoting Hakka media — surveys Hakka people in Taiwan about the presence of language in their lives. According to a 2013 survey, 47.3 percent can speak Hakka fluently; however, most of those are elderly. Only 22.8 percent of people aged 19 to 29 speak Hakka, and that figure is even lower for children 18 and under.

Chang hopes that by presenting Hakka music to young people in her country, it will spark their interest in learning the language and spur more engagement in the culture, the same way it did for her about ten years ago.

The link is from Victor Mair’s Log post, which contains an introduction to the remarkable history of the Hakka:

Although the Hakka amount to approximately only 4% of the total population of China, their influence on politics, the military, culture, and other spheres of life in the past two centuries has been disproportionately large

The Hakka have assumed positions of leadership not only in China, but in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the New World. To name only a few of the important Hakka statesmen, revolutionaries, and cultural leaders of the last century and a half, we may list the following:

The list includes everybody from Sun Yat-sen to Lee Teng-hui, Lee Kuan Yew, and Ne Win. I had no idea!

02 Nov 04:33

De Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal

by John


This would have been an ideal post for last week but better late than never, especially when I’ve been hoping for several years that a decent copy of Collin de Plancy’s dictionary would turn up at the Internet Archive. The Dictionnaire Infernal (1818–1863) has become famous mainly for the curious and often fanciful illustrations of demons which fill out the 1863 edition, pictures which have been plundered endlessly by occult histories, art directors, and illustrators such as myself. The demon portraits were the work of Louis Le Breton but the 1863 edition contains hundreds of other small illustrations and embellishments of varying quality. De Plancy was an author of many popular accounts of history, religion and mythology (also a book on “the food of the reptiles and the batrachians of France”) but his name is permanently wedded to this volume which the 1826 edition self-described as:

Infernal Dictionary, or, a Universal Library on the beings, characters, books, deeds, and causes which pertain to the manifestations and magic of trafficking with Hell; divinations, occult sciences, grimoires, marvels, errors, prejudices, traditions, folktales, the various superstitions, and generally all manner of marvellous, surprising, mysterious, and supernatural beliefs.

If you can read French then there’s 750 pages of this. The rest of us can enjoy the pictures.















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09 Oct 16:37

We have passed Peak Fish

by Jason Kottke

Bloch Fish

I noted the other day that since the early 1980s, the world has lost about half of its coral reefs. According to a recent study, there's more to worry about in the sea: the ocean contains half the fish it did 45 years ago.

Professor McIntyre and his contemporaries believed that overfishing was inherently self-correcting. People might catch too much, but then they would stop fishing, letting the stock recover. They did not reckon on improvements in technology such as a monofilament line, factory trawlers, or fish finders that make it possible to catch so many fish so quickly that it can take decades for a stock to recover (if it ever does). Nor did he or his contemporaries understand food webs and ecological connections; reducing stocks of some species has more of an impact than others.

Update: Here's a PDF copy of the actual report by the WWF. (via @RachelAronson)

Tags: fish   science