Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Beneficence: That $339 Million?

     One of the more common criticism of libertarianism, minarchism and anarchism is, "Nothing requiring public funding could ever be accomplished."

     As a counter-example, let me point to Notre Dame, where the first day's $339 million has now swelled to a billion dollars.  Even by Washington, D.C. standards, that's serious money.  No government shook them down for it; the Pope isn't handing out extra next-life goodies to the donors.

     If a big project is sufficiently important to enough people, it will be funded.

*  *  *
     An interesting aside to this is, who owns that famous building?  Nope, it's not the Catholic Church -- it's the very secular French government!  But the Church occupies it rent-free and maintains and staffs the place.  This is perhaps another example of "the French do things their own way," and much like French engineering, it works for them even if it's not how you'd expect it to be set up.

     In a larger (and more figurative) sense, Notre Dame belongs to the world, in much the same way as the Taj Mahal or the Empire State Building.  And that's how "the world," everyone from business moguls to academic institutions to schoolkids, responded to the fire damage.   

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame: What's With That Roof?

     It was the roof "frame" and the structure of the spire that burned.  They were covered in lead, great stuff for the job from the 1100s (when the building was underway) through the 19th century (the last major restoration): it's waterproof, doesn't burn, and sheets of it are easily joined together.  Hundreds of tons of lead -- and the environmental laws and rules in the EU aren't any softer on lead contamination than the ones in, say, California.  Expect to hear more about that in coming weeks.

     The trusses themselves were a "queen-post" design, fairly strong for their weight and with an open space in the center, allowing for access (as seen in this CNN article).  The roof mainly keeps water away from stone arches (six-part rib vaults) below it, arches that carry compressive force from the buttresses on each side.  When news articles talk about the danger of interior collapse, damage to those limestone arches is a big part of the worry; while I snarked on Facebook about the kind of idiocy that manages to set a stone building on fire, the heat of structure fires is a great danger to limestone architecture.

     I'm not finding a lot on the interior structure under the spire in a quick search.  The dramatic interior photograph that has shown up everywhere seems to show a great lump of debris right under the crossing and it could be very bad.

     At the base of the spire was a group of statues: the twelve Apostles, in four groups of three, each group preceded by one the animals symbolizing the four evangelists, and all of them -- all but one -- facing out towards Paris.  The lone exception?  St. Thomas, patron saint of architects. He was looking up at the spire -- with the face of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, mastermind of the extensive 19th-century restoration.  All of the statues had been removed only days before the fire; no doubt both the saint and whatever records Viollet-le-Duc left are going to be getting a lot of attention in coming months and years.

     This isn't the first time Notre Dame has been badly damaged; the 19th-Century work largely addressed damage caused during and in the aftermath of the French Revolution.  Nor is it the first time the modern world has had to address this kind of disaster: Reims Cathedral was reduced to ruins in a very similar manner during World War One.  Restoration started immediately after the war and the cathedral re-opened twenty years later.

     As of this morning, over $339 million had been pledged by private donors to rebuild the cathedral of Notre Dame.  During the fire, brave firefighters rescued irreplaceable artifacts.  As dreadful as things look, it is not lost.  It will be rebuilt.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Wait A Minute...

     It's a totally unbelievable premise for a science fiction story: it's 2019, and most people buy their books, clothes and household goods from a bald billionaire with an army of robots and his own private space program?  Come on -- no one's going to find that plausible. 

     How about one where the world is polluted, overcrowded and so short on food that they're turning corpses into kibble?  And we'll set it in 2022.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

New Eyeglasses, New Battery, Half-Done

     At least I got my glasses!  Nearly a decade ago, when I still wore contacts daily,* I bought a pair of Julbo "Vermont Classic" sunglasses from the discount/overstock section of Campmor.  If you're light-sensitive they're wonderful, big, round lenses with side and center shields so no unfiltered light gets in.  I liked the look of them.  They're solidly-made and priced accordingly. 

     I thought about having prescription sunglasses made from a pair, but I could never find more.  I thought they'd been discontinued.  Then a few months ago, a targeted-marketing discounter  (Massdrop, who specialize in a number of specific geek interests) offered the exact model of sunglasses at well below retail prices.  I bought a pair and set them back, thinking maybe next time I got glasses, I'd find out-- 

     Yes, they can fit my lenses to them, in a fair match to the tint; they're not as dark as the darkest Julbos, but there aren't a lot of glaciers to climb around here, either.  And they're certainly not the usual sort of thing!

*  *  *
     The new battery for my scooter didn't go as well.  There's no sealed battery in the right physical and electrical size (really, really small), so it's got to be conventional lead-acid.  I should have had the parts store fill it.

     The process never works right for me, no matter how slowly I pour: the cells don't fill, don't fill -- then they're suddenly too full.  It's sitting in the garage right now, and as of last night, the two end ones are too full and the middle four have hardly any acid to judge from the front.  Looking in the top, at least two more looked plenty full.  I'm going to have to go buy a hydrometer or something to reduce the level of the over-full ones.

     Had to move the whole set-up so Tam could run to the five and dime, and managed to lose one of the cell caps!  I've borrowed one from the old battery for now.

     The online tutorials always show the cells of these little batteries obviously filling right up, no time lapse tricks, you can see it through the translucent case.  I have never had that happen; there's a huge lag between pouring and seeing results and sometimes it never does show. 

*  *  *
     The probable kidney stone is making me tire easily.  Yesterday, Tam and I went up to "downtown" Broad Ripple about noon, got my glasses and had a little lunch.  Back home, I worked on the battery and then bicycled to the grocer's while she wrote.  I came home, put groceries away, had a very light dinner and watched a little TV, and realized I was exhausted.  Went to bed by nine p.m. and other than feeding the cats at six this morning, I was not out of bed for more than a few minutes until Meet The Press came on at ten a.m.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

New Eyeglasses?

      If I can get to the optometrist's in time, I can pick up my new eyeglasses!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Politics, Schmolotics

     I was going to write about it, but--  It's not worth it.  Go read your favorite news outlet; go read the news outlet you like least.  Noodle around, get a feel for who's saying what and make up your own mind.

     Newsflash: Congressbeings of opposing parties don't much like one another.  There's even some dissent among members of the same parties!  Representatives are especially outspoken, Senators more subtle.  These aren't bugs, they're features!  That's how it's supposed to work. Those people are the distilled essence of our opinions (Senators were supposed to be the distilled essence of our States' opinions but the 17th Amendment undid that, alas) and -- when necessary -- they're supposed to find some resolution we'll all dislike in roughly equal measure.

     Politics isn't about what's best, it's about what works.  As Winston Churchill pointed out, representaive democracies* are terrible -- almost as bad as every system that's been tried or proposed. "Almost" is the important caveat: it's the best we've got, with the best chance of correcting the things it does wrong, sometimes before it gets entirely out of hand.  It's inherently imperfect, just as we are, but like the best of us, it aspires to be better than it is.
* Yeah, yeah, ours is "A republic, if [we] can keep it," but as a general thing, it's Western Democracy, so we're going with the easy term.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Worrying About Rannie Wu

     The real-life Random Numbers Wu is a very old tortie cat.  She wasn't feeling at all well yesterday -- and to make things worse, Huck, my yellow-striped tomcat, was pestering her.  So they got assigned different parts of the house.

     Rannie slept on my office chair and may be feeling better this morning.  Alas, Huck decided to be very swashbuckling and playful and upset her -- and she won't swat or bite him, she just wants to get away and swears at him in a very human-sounding manner.  So Huck's spending some quality time with Tamara while she watches the news, and Rannie and I are doing the same in the office.

     Meanwhile, my own back pain is localized enough that I'm pretty sure it's the early stages of a kidney stone.  Not looking forward to it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Better, I Hope

     Slept off and on all day yesterday, and all night last night.  This  seems to have put an end to the lingering sore throat and fatigue.  I think my back feels better, too.

     Here's hoping!

Tuesday, April 09, 2019


     "Headache!"  It's what workers yell if they drop something while working overhead.

     I wish someone had yelled it at me.

     Did my usual morning stuff - coffee, breakfast, Internet -- stood up to get ready and realized I wasn't so well.  Whacked with a one-sided headache, the dizzying kind with visual distortions and a kind of numb spot on my face.  I'm pretty sure the numb spot is just a muscle spasm but it's unnerving.

     Update: Things got much worse, rapidly.  I called in sick and went back to bed, where I slept for more than a couple of hours.  Up now and still nowhere near okay, but at least my face stopped being numb.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Writer's Group

     The writer's-group meeting yesterday was interesting. 

     There was a little confusion at the restaurant, which had apparently misplaced our reservation, but it got sorted out and we had our own meeting room, with electrical outlets and everything.  My computers don't much like the wi-fi, but since I do my critiques from hardcopy, that wasn't a problem.

     An effectively infinite supply of potables was nice to have; several of us enjoyed beer in moderation, I had all the coffee I could want, and there was iced tea and soft drinks for the others.  Appetizers and a light meal didn't get in the way at all -- and our waitress was outstanding!  Finding appropriate gaps in the discussions of workshopping writers to take orders, deliver food and refill drinks is something of an art.

     We didn't make great use of the table; I should have been more proactive in who sat where, to ensure everyone had enough room for papers and laptops/iPads.  But it was an excellent room, adequately quiet and with good acoustics.

     This first on-our-own meeting was less structured and more social, without a firm time limit for each critique; it worked okay and we probably needed that informality to get re-acquainted, but next time we'll want to be a little more aware of the clock.

     I think we got a lot done.  The weekly classes called for 2000 to 5000 words of new material; our new meetings, more or less monthly, have an upper limit of roughly 7500 words and several people pushed the limit.  It allows for a little more of a narrative to develop, and proved to not be overwhelming to read and critique (Word and compatible word-processors have great commenting/tracked editing tools) in the weeks leading up to the class.

     We plan to continue.

     And yes, readers, I'm still working on the same novella (or whatever).

Sunday, April 07, 2019


     Yesterday, I knew I was still recovering from the week of early shifts, but I'd slept a lot and I figured it wasn't much.  I managed to get several things done that I'd put off, like paying my taxes and picking up a package waiting at the Post Office (a Pelikan green highlighter fountain pen -- I have a yellow one but their yellow ink is a little pale).

     Got caught up on laundry -- the first casualty of weird shifts the laundry.  I ordered a battery for my scooter and paper and ink for my color printer, and picked them up an hour later.  Grilled a steak for supper, worked on critiques for my writer's group and hey, it was getting on towards ten p.m., time to think about sleeping.  I knew I was getting a bit mentally fuzzy.

     But first, what about a sign for the writer's group?  We gave it a new name to reflect the reduced membership, and it lends itself well to visual representation.*  I was looking at some writerly props and realized one of my better fountain pens was a little dry.  No problem, I'd already grabbed a bottle of water to set on my nightstand.  Open that up, dip in a fingertip, apply a drop of water to the nib, hey presto!

     Set the water aside and went back to looking at props.  Bumped something, kept looking, thinking--

     Holy cow, what's that glugging sound?  I hadn't put the lid back on the water bottle and I'd knocked it over!  On my keyboard, the nice round-keys Azio retrokeyboard.  Stood the bottle up, stood up, reached over my desktop computer and started groping at back of it to unplug the keyboard -- and failed to notice I had knocked the water bottle over again, this time on my desk.  Water was running across the desktop and dripping onto the chairmat.

     My computer sits on top of a small two-drawer gadget that holds envelopes, well above the desk, but the desktop is very cluttered with pens, gadgets and papers.  I stood the bottle back up, turned the computer off at the power switch, grabbed the office roll of paper towel and started mopping.  Eventually, I was able to wipe off the keyboard and turn it over on a mat of paper toweling; I got the desktop unloaded as best I could, and dried off mousepad, mouse, wrist rest....  I kept finding little pools and puddles.

     I think I got it all.  The Azio keyboard proved tricky to open up, so I dried it more and will let it set.  After an hour's work, I was extremely ready for bed.

     This morning, I had another check for water, got out a backup keyboard (Qwerkywriter S -- the latest version has a wired-connection mode), put the now dry mousepad, mouse and wrist rest back in place and started up the computer.  Let's not tempt the Fates but at least I have got this far.
* I'd tell you, but it's a secret.  As R. Buckminster Fuller said, "Never show unfinished work," and ours is as unfinished as cheap furniture.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Okay, Now...

     Now I'm back on days, at least for the weekend and Monday (I checked).  The weather today is supposed to be remarkably nice, so I'm hoping to charge up the scooter battery, or find out if I need to buy another one.  Also maybe get a few things done in the yard - there is a scattering of leaves to be raked up, twigs and small branches to be gathered, and I might even do some weeding and add a layer of dirt to the raised flowerbed out front.

     It's going to be nice to get some sunlight.

* * *
     Meanwhile, out in the wide world, India has tested a satellite killer and created an ugly scattering of orbital debris.  Why?  To show that they can.

     I think that's every member of the Space Club having demonstrated some version of antisatellite capability except the EU's ESA, and they still remember WW II (and sat through Moonraker five times).  So could they all please stop now?  There's are people up there, and phone calls,  and the Internet and your pocket navigation system; there's a future up there, if we will only reach for it.  So don't screw it up.

     Also, if you want to see Russia and the U.S. suddenly find common ground, hit the ISS with some damaging debris that injures the crew and see how long it takes for Donald and Vlad to let you know you don't have a space program any more, both cheered on by their domestic opposition and backed up by anti-antisatellite systems that'll leave the rubble bouncing.