Fourmilog: None Dare Call It Reason

Reading List: Sweeter than Wine

Tuesday, October 13, 2015 22:52

Smith, L. Neil. Sweeter than Wine. Rockville, MD: Phoenix Pick, 2011. ISBN 978-1-60450-483-5.
A couple of weeks after D-Day, Second Lieutenant J Gifford found himself separated from his unit and alone in a small French village which, minutes later, was overrun by Germans. Not wishing to spend the rest of the war as a POW, he took refuge in an abandoned house, hiding out in the wine cellar to escape capture until the Allies took the village. There, in the dark, dank cellar, he encounters Surica, a young woman also hiding from the Germans—and the most attractive woman he has ever seen. Nature takes its course, repeatedly.

By the time the Germans are driven out by the Allied advance, Gifford has begun to notice changes in himself. He can see in the dark. His hearing is preternaturally sensitive. His canine teeth are growing. He cannot tolerate sunlight. And he has a thirst for blood.

By the second decade of the twenty-first century, Gifford has established himself as a private investigator in the town of New Prospect, Colorado, near Denver. He is talented in his profession, considered rigorously ethical, and has a good working relationship with the local police. Apart from the whole business about not going out in daytime without extensive precautions, being a vampire has its advantages in the gumshoe game: he never falls ill, recovers quickly even from severe injuries, doesn't age, has extraordinary vision and hearing, and has a Jedi-like power of suggestion over the minds of people which extends to causing them to selectively forget things.

But how can a vampire, who requires human blood to survive, be ethical? That is the conundrum Gifford has had to face ever since that day in the wine cellar in France and, given the prospect of immortality, will have to cope with for all eternity. As the novel develops, we learn how he has met this challenge.

Meanwhile, Gifford's friends and business associates, some of whom know or suspect his nature, have been receiving queries which seem to indicate someone is on to him and trying to dig up evidence against him. At the same time, a series of vicious murders, all seemingly unrelated except for their victims having all been drained of blood, are being committed, starting in Charleston, South Carolina and proceeding westward across the U.S. These threads converge into a tense conflict pitting Gifford's ethics against the amoral ferocity of an Old One (and you will learn just how Old in chapter 26, in one of the scariest lines I've encountered in any vampire tale).

I'm not usually much interested in vampire or zombie stories because they are just so implausible, except as a metaphor for something else. Here, however, the author develops a believable explanation of the vampire phenomenon which invokes nothing supernatural. Sure, there aren't really vampires, but if there were this is probably how it would work. As with all of the author's fiction, there are many funny passages and turns of phrase. For a novel about a vampire detective and a serial killer, the tone is light and the characters engaging, with a romance interwoven with the mystery and action. L. Neil Smith wrote this book in one month: November, 2009, as part of the National Novel Writing Month, but other than being relatively short (150 pages), there's nothing about it which seems rushed; the plotting is intricate, the characters well-developed, and detail is abundant.


Reading List: SJWs Always Lie

Thursday, October 8, 2015 23:46

Day, Vox [Theodore Beale]. SJWs Always Lie. Kouvola, Finland: Castalia House, 2015. ASIN B014GMBUR4.
Vox Day is the nom de plume and now nom de guerre of Theodore Beale, a musician with three Billboard Top 40 credits, video game designer, author of science fiction and fantasy and three-time Hugo Award nominee, and non-fiction author and editor.

If you're not involved in the subcultures of computer gaming or science fiction and fantasy, you may not be acquainted with terms such as SJW (Social Justice Warrior), GamerGate, or Sad Puppies. You may conclude that such matters are arcana relating to subcultures of not-particularly-socially-adept people which have little bearing on the larger culture. In this, you would be wrong. For almost fifty years, collectivists and authoritarians have been infiltrating cultural institutions, and now occupy the high ground in institutions such as education, the administrative state, media, and large corporations. This is the “long march through the institutions” foreseen by Antonio Gramsci, and it has, so far, been an extraordinary success, not only advancing its own agenda with a slow, inexorable ratchet, but intimidating opponents into silence for fear of having their careers or reputations destroyed. Nobody is immune: two Nobel Prize winners, James Watson and Tim Hunt, have been declared anathema because of remarks deemed offensive by SJWs. Nominally conservative publications such as National Review, headquartered in hives of collectivist corruption such as New York and Washington, were intimidated into a reflexive cringe at the slightest sign of outrage by SJWs, jettisoning superb writers such as Ann Coulter and John Derbyshire in an attempt to appease the unappeasable.

Then, just as the SJWs were feeling triumphant, GamerGate came along, and the first serious push-back began. Few expected the gamer community to become a hotbed of resistance, since gamers are all over the map in their political views (if they have any at all), and are a diverse bunch, although a majority are younger males. But they have a strong sense of right and wrong, and are accustomed to immediate and decisive negative feedback when they choose unwisely in the games they play. What they came to perceive was that the journalists writing about games were applauding objectively terrible games, such as Depression Quest, due to bias and collusion among the gaming media.

Much the same had been going on in the world of science fiction. SJWs had infiltrated the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America to such an extent that they directed their Nebula Awards to others of their ilk, and awarded them based upon “diversity” rather than merit. The same rot had corrupted fandom and its Hugo Awards.

Vox Day was near the centre of the cyclone in the revolt against all of this. The campaign to advance a slate of science fiction worthy of the Hugos rather than the pap selected by the SJWs resulted in the 2015 Hugos being blown up, demonstrating that SJWs would rather destroy a venerable institution than cede territory.

This book is a superbly written history of GamerGate and the revolt against SJWs in science fiction and fantasy writers' associations and fandom, but also provides deep insight into the seriously dysfunctional world of the SJW and advice about how to deal with them and what to do if you find yourself a target. The tactics of the SJWs are laid bare, and practical advice is given as to how to identify SJWs before they enter your organisation and how to get rid of them if they're already hired. (And get rid of them you must; they're like communists in the 1930s–1950s: once in place they will hire others and promote their kind within the organisation. You have to do your homework, and the Internet is your friend—the most innocuous co-worker or prospective employee may have a long digital trail you can find quickly with a search engine.)

There is no compromising with these people. That has been the key mistake of those who have found themselves targeted by SJWs. Any apology will be immediately trumpeted as an admission of culpability, and nothing less than the complete destruction of the career and life of the target will suffice. They are not well-meaning adversaries; they are enemies, and you must, if they attack you, seek to destroy them just as they seek to destroy you. Read Alinsky; they have. I'm not suggesting you call in SWAT raids on their residences, dig up and release damaging personal information on them, or make anonymous bomb threats when they gather. But be aware that they have used these tactics repeatedly against their opponents.

You must also learn that SJWs have no concern for objective facts. You can neither persuade nor dissuade them from advancing their arguments by citing facts that falsify their claims. They will repeat their objectively false talking points until they tire you out or drown out your voice. You are engaging in dialectic while they are employing rhetoric. To defeat them, you must counter their rhetoric with your own rhetoric, even when the facts are on your side.

Vox Day was in the middle of these early battles of the counter-revolution, both in GamerGate and the science fiction insurrection, and he provides a wealth of practical advice for those either attacked by SJWs or actively fighting back. This is a battle, and somebody is going to win and somebody else will lose. As he notes, “There can be no reconciliation between the observant and the delusional.” But those who perceive reality as it is, not as interpreted through a “narrative” in which they have been indoctrinated, have an advantage in this struggle. It may seem odd to find gamers and science fiction fans in the vanguard of the assault against this insanity but, as the author notes, “Gamers conquer Dragons and fight Gods for a hobby.”


Mac OS: Scaling El Capitan

Friday, October 2, 2015 02:06

Other than installing routine security patches, I haven't bothered to update the operating system of “Ansel”, the Macintosh Pro I installed in 2009 primarily to do photographic and video production. The applications I use were primarily developed for that platform, and while I prefer to avoid proprietary software, it's a much better choice than anything tainted by Microsoft.

I was finally pushed to bring the system up to date due to nagging by Apple that upgrading my iPhone and iPad to iOS 9 might cause problems synchronising with the old version of iTunes on my desktop system. (I haven't investigated the details of this, but no newer version of that regrettable application is available for the old operating system I was running.) I decided to jump all the way to the newest release, “El Capitan”, posted as an official release on 2015-09-30.

I downloaded the update and started the installer, after making sure I had a complete Time Machine backup of the existing system. The installer ran for about a minute and then said it was restarting to perform the installation. It went into a shutdown process and hung with two blue screens and nothing but the cursor on the screen.

After about 15 minutes in this state, I discovered I could log into the system with SSH, and that it was still running the old system with an uptime indicating no reboot had happened. I did a

    sudo /sbin/reboot
after which my SSH window disconnected and the cursor on the blue screen was replaced by a spinning disc icon.

This persisted for more than half an hour, during which time the system would respond to pings but not an SSH connection. Finally, it spontaneously restarted into an installer screen which said it had about half an hour to go.

After around 45 minutes, it rebooted again and came up into what looked like an initial setup screen, warning me that two applications were not compatible with the new system. As I was about to look around the new system it crashed, rebooted, and came up with the "problem" screen and then the desktop.

Just about everything I tried would bounce me out after a few seconds to what looked like a login screen, which would require me to enter the password for a few seconds more access, after which it would bounce again. I made sure screen lock and screen saver were off and even removed my login password: nothing doing.

I was also getting weird tearing on the screen, failure to refresh windows when uncovered, and a frozen cursor, after which the inevitable pop.

The network settings were lost in the “upgrade”. I re-established the WiFi connection to Fourmilab with settings as follows:


The “upgrade” disabled SSH logins. I went into System Settings/Sharing and set “Enable remote logins” between pops to the login screen.

Now I was able to SSH login from Hayek and access the system in text mode without pops.

Tried iTunes. Of course, it doesn't see the Apple TV. I restarted the Apple TV—nothing doing.

A wired sync of the iPhone to iTunes seems to work. I did not dare to try installing the iOS 9.0.1 “upgrade” it's been bugging me about.

I unplugged the Time Machine backup disc. If this ends up as badly as it looks right now, I'll want that as a clean backup to start over on a new machine.

Based on a discussion of the login crashes, I backed up and deleted the following in /Library/Preferences:

-rw-r--r--  1 root  wheel   229 Oct  1 21:18
-rw-r--r--  1 root  admin  2084 Jan 26  2010
-rw-r--r--  1 root  admin   787 Jan 26  2010 loginwindow.plist
No improvement. It still pops.

Further research on login crashes discovered mentions of display switching on various video boards, so I unplugged the right monitor. The pops appear to have gone away, at least for the moment.

I went to the Mac App store and dowloaded 395 Mb of updates, including good old iTunes. Now I appear to be able to run iTunes without popping. It shows the Apple TV in the Preferences panel and says that it's “Syncing” but I cannot find any sync progress indicator anywhere so I have no idea what it's doing. A

    /usr/sbin/tcpdump -l -nn -x -i en2 host
doesn't see any traffic going to the Apple TV so I'm not sure I believe it. All I see is the Apple TV sending multicast broadcast “Hello. I'm here! Anybody out there?” messages.

Naturally, the new installation of iTunes created its own library file in “/home/[me]/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media” and did not respect the library I was previously using in “/Volumes/Vault/[me]/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media”. When I set the library location to there, it still didn't see the files, since it continued to use a new “iTunes Library.itl” file which it had created containing only content in the “cloud”. I had to restore the backed-up previous library:

    “/Users/[me]/Music/iTunes/Previous iTunes Libraries/iTunes Library 2015-10-01.itl”
    “/Volumes/Vault/[me]/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/iTunes Library.itl”
then start iTunes while holding down the Option key so I could navigate to that directory where it could then find the .itl file. Now it appears to see the local content.

With iTunes repaired, I was now able to wipe the computer association of the Apple TV (because it couldn't possibly remember something like that across an event as momentous as an operating system upgrade) and start the re-sync which, if experience is any guide, will run for more than a day.

In order to get public key logins via SSH to work, I had to:

    cd .ssh
    cp -p authorized_keys2 authorized_keys
on Ansel. “authorized_keys2” no longer works.

At the moment the machine is running with one of the two monitors I paid for unplugged, dark, and useless, but at least I can use the machine without bizarre abstract art on the screen or popping back to the login screen every minute or so. I'm sure I will discover plenty more as I try to do actual productive work with this machine. I'll add the details to this post.


Total Lunar Eclipse 2015-09-28

Monday, September 28, 2015 17:03

Here is an animation of the eclipse from the start through mid-totality.


These images were taken with a Nikon D600 camera and a 25 year old Nikon 300 mm f/4.5 lens. All exposures were made with a lens aperture of f/8 and ISO sensitivity of 200. Exposures prior to totality used a shutter speed of 1/125 second, allowing you to see how the Moon darkened as it entered the penumbra. The shot at the start of totality (where the lower limb of the Moon is quite bright) used a shutter speed of 1/4 second, while the remaining two images of totality used a one second exposure.

I have aligned, rotated, and stacked the images while preparing the animation with The Gimp, taking out the apparent rotation of the Moon due to the Earth's rotation as the eclipse progressed.


Reading List: Sacramento's Moon Rockets

Monday, September 21, 2015 02:15

Lawrie, Alan. Sacramento's Moon Rockets. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2015. ISBN 978-1-4671-3389-0.
In 1849 gold was discovered in California, setting off a gold rush which would bring a wave of prospectors and fortune seekers into one of the greatest booms in American history. By the early 20th century, the grizzled prospector panning for gold had given way to industrial extraction of the metal. In an age before anybody had heard the word “environmentalism”, this was accomplished in the most direct way possible: man made lakes were created on gold-bearing land, then a barge would dredge up the bottom and mix it with mercury, which would form an amalgam with the gold. The gold could later be separated, purified, and sold.

The process effectively destroyed the land on which it was used. The topsoil was ripped out, vegetation killed, and the jumbled remains after extraction dumped in barren hills of tailings. Half a century later, the mined-out land was considered unusable for either agriculture or residential construction. Some described it as a “moonscape”.

It was perhaps appropriate that, in the 1960s, this stark terrain became home to the test stands on which the upper stage of NASA's Saturn rockets were developed and tested before flight. Every Saturn upper stage, including those which launched Apollo flights to the Moon, underwent a full-duration flight qualification firing there before being shipped to Florida for launch.

When the Saturn project was approved, Douglas Aircraft Company won the contract to develop the upper stage, which would be powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen (LH2/LOX) and have the ability to restart in space, allowing the Apollo spacecraft to leave Earth orbit on a trajectory bound for the Moon. The initial upper stage was called the S-IV, and was used as the second stage of the Saturn I launcher flown between 1961 and 1965 to demonstrate heavy lift booster operations and do development work related to the Apollo project. The S-IV used a cluster of six RL10 engines, at the time the largest operational LH2/LOX engine. The Saturn I had eight engines on its first stage and six engines on the S-IV. Given the reliability of rocket engines at the time, many engineers were dubious of getting fourteen engines to work on every launch (although the Saturn I did have a limited engine out capability). Skeptics called it “Cluster's last stand.”

The S-IV stages were manufactured at the Douglas plant in Huntington Beach, California, but there was no suitable location near the plant where they could be tested. The abandoned mining land near Sacramento had been acquired by Aerojet for rocket testing, and Douglas purchased a portion for its own use. The outsized S-IV stage was very difficult to transport by road, so the ability to ship it by water from southern California to the test site via San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento River was a major advantage of the location.

The operational launchers for Apollo missions would be the Saturn IB and Saturn V, with the Saturn IB used for Earth orbital missions and the Saturn V for Moon flights and launching space stations. An upgraded upper stage, the S-IVB, would be used by these launchers, as the second stage of the Saturn IB and the third stage of the Saturn V. (S-IVBs for the two launchers differed in details, but the basic configuration was the same.) The six RL-10 engines of the S-IV were replaced by a single much more powerful J-2 engine which had, by that time, become available.

The Sacramento test facility was modified to do development and preflight testing of the S-IVB, and proceeded to test every flight stage. No rocket firing is ever routine, and in 1965 and 1967 explosions destroyed an S-IV test article and a flight S-IVB stage which was scheduled to be used in Apollo 8. Fortunately, there were no casualties from these spectacular accidents, and they provided the first data on the effects of large scale LH2/LOX explosions which proved to be far more benign than had been feared. It had been predicted that a LH2/LOX explosion would produce a blast equal to 65% of the propellant mass of TNT when, in fact, the measured blast was just 5% TNT equivalent mass. It's nice to know, but an expensive way to learn.

This book is not a detailed history of the Sacramento test facility but rather a photo gallery showing the construction of the site; transportation of stages by sea, road, and later by the amazing Super Guppy airplane; testing of S-IV and S-IVB stages; explosions and their aftermath; and a visit to the site fifty years later. The photos have well-researched and informative captions.

When you think of the Apollo program, the Cape, Houston, Huntsville, and maybe Slidell come to mind, but rarely Sacramento. And yet every Apollo mission relied upon a rocket stage tested at the Rancho Cordova site near that city. Here is a part of the grandiose effort to go to the Moon you probably haven't seen before. The book is just 96 pages and expensive (a small print run and colour on almost every page will do that), but there are many pictures collected here I've seen nowhere else.