It was well below 15 degrees Fahrenheit here tonight, but the recent snow (slight and shabby) had been melted or sublimated away and left no ice on the ground. So I rode five miles through the cold on my bicycle just to defy it, and got away with it. My big toes were so cold when I got home, but I just had to wear my warm coat indoors for an hour to warm them up.
I am not a winter biker and have no real intentions of being so, but I can deal with either temperatures like this with no ice under my wheels, or ice under my wheels when the temperature is high enough to be melting it. Tonight was the former, so I rode.
A clean win, but not the guaranteed over 50% win that some people were promising even though we were only planning to count three choices for each voter.
Exhausted ballots in this case means everyone who voted for at least one person for mayor, but picked neither Hodges nor Andrew with any of their three choices. In an election in which as many rankings are allowed as there are candidates, "exhausted ballots" means ballots cast by people who didn't finish filling out the ballot before casting it. I know it's not really why they call them that, but it's funny to think of people getting exhausted with representative democracy before they get to the bottom of the ballot, and calling it a day.
Now I'm curious to see how Cano and Yang will be faring tomorrow in the final count of the City Council votes. There's one other Council election with a non-obvious outcome, but it's in a neighborhood that I'm much less familiar with than Cano's and Yang's, so I hadn't been following it.
I am finding this really fascinating, and it's actually making me want to take back all the nasty things I said about too many candidates on the ballot, and even the nasty things I said about having only three choices. Although we're far away from the Single Transferable Vote dream, the way we're carrying on the round-by-round count in public is a great tool to educate people about this way of having elections.
Just before I started writing this, they were on round 11. In case you don't already know how it works, they start by counting all the 1st choice votes. The ballots of the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes (undeclared write-ins, in this case) get distributed to the candidates marked as second choice on those ballots. Then the candidate with the next fewest first-choice votes (John Charles Wilson, in this case) loses his ballots to the people marked on them as second choice. Then next lowest-vote-getting candidate (Cyd Gorman, this time), and so on. We'll have lots of exhausted ballots by the end of the count because we only had three chances to vote on a list of 35... if you follow all the numbers they're posting, it'll become clear what this means... but the exhausted ballot problem doesn't seem to be as big as I feared it would be in this election. I'll be very interested in the total count of exhausted ballots by the time Betsy crosses the 50%+1vote threshold, as I expect she will and was a bit worried that no one would, with only three choices to pick for each voter.
When they're done with the mayoral count, I will probably be following the RCV countdown for my ward, the fifth, with equal if not greater interest.
ETA: and speaking of which, here's the general index page to all the city counts:
What's becoming clear to me now, which wasn't clear to me before, is that I would have been perfectly safe marking two sure losers for my first and second choice, and marking Betsy Hodges third. Since I happened to make Hodges my first choice, my vote for her is never going to be transferred away from her, since she came in first place in first-choice votes. If I had ranked two sure losers ahead of her, my vote would have wound up counting for her by the time the counting was over anyway. I find this discovery somewhat liberating. As it happens, I didn't want to use my other choices for any of the other seven "front-runners" (except possibly Woodruff or Samuels) anyway. If I had wanted to, then these considerations would go differently.
Really nice trip to Cherry Grove dark-sky site in southern Goodhue Co last night with jiawen and pameladean. The former showed us M13 in her telescope, and a couple of other really nice globular clusters, M2 and M15, I think, that showed up smaller but apparently brighter (less diffuse) than M13. There were other things going on, but I think I'm more of a binocular and naked-eye stargazer, because I like a wide field of view. Capricornus was near culmination when we started and was as bright and well defined as I've ever seen it. Spent a lot of time staring at Aquarius (usually a couple stars, barely visible) and Pisces (usually invisible) trying to get them to "pop out" as shapes, which neither of them has ever done for me in a real sky. Cetus was near culmination when we finished. I tend to pay attention to southern constellations when I can, because they are so seasonal; I can see the northern ones any season of the year.
Things never seen before: Psi Aqu is three stars and looks vaguely nebulous ("like the Pleiades on a really bad night" --pameladean); multiple stars in Camelopardalis (ordinarily an invisible constellation); jiawen outlined Lacerta for me with the laser pointer (but I still couldn't really distinguish it from the background); enough naked-eye stars inside the Great Square of Pegasus that I couldn't decide what number was the count for them; Mira (Omicron Ceti) through the telescope, well-distinguished from background stars and very red. And, I think we all agreed, the brightest meteor any of us have ever seen, among lots of fainter ones including one I saw with a nice satisfying smoketrail.
11:42am: moving help
I just reserved a cargo van for Friday, October 26. I have a few items that I will need help getting into the van in Robbinsdale, and getting up the stairs in Harrison (Minneapolis). I'm posting this now so that if a preponderance of people who'd like to help are more likely to be available on Saturday than on Friday evening, I'll still have time to change the reservation. But I need to be out of my old apartment, and it needs to be totally clean, by 5pm on Saturday, so I was hoping to have the moving-of-large-objects done by Friday night so Saturday could be just about cleaning (and getting back all of my deposit).
Let me know if you're interested in helping. I am certainly intending to provide food bribes for those who show up.
Of course there's life on other planets, somewhere, but that doesn't get us very far to dealing with Fermi's famous "paradox".
The question I've been trying to get an answer to requires some explanation, and I explain it because I've despaired of just looking it up on google or wikipedia or whatnot after having tried several times. (I have yet to try buying rounds in a hotel bar at an astrophysicist's convention... that might possibly work.)
Right after the Big Bang, 13 billion years ago or so, there was not much other than hydrogen (75% by moles) and helium (25%). All the atoms of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, silicon, etc, had to be laboriously built up within the cores of stars and then scattered forth (by gentle processes such as the misnomered planetary nebulae, or by spectacular explosions) into the universe. This took some time. Astronomers call these things that are neither hydrogen or helium METALS, one and all, to the confusion of chemists, and the gradually increasing property of the universe I'm talking about here is called "metallicity" by the astrophysicists. ("Metal" comes from a Greek word meaning "sought for" or "to be searched for", so it's not as crazy as it seems.)
So my question is, just how fast does the metallicity of the universe increase in the early days. We take for granted that the metallicity of the universe 4.6 billion years ago had increased enough for all the carbon, silicon, oxygen, nitrogen and so forth that we have on Earth to have formed, but during the nine-odd billion years that passed before the formation of the Solar System, perhaps there just wasn't enough of the 'metallic' (in the astrophysical sense) stuff formed yet to produce much in the way of life?
I bring this up because I've read many discussions of the Fermi paradox that seem to think life has been springing up spontaneously all over the place for billions of years before the Solar System ever formed, discussions that do not register the fact that the metallicity of the universe is a changing quantity that began at approximately zero.
And nowhere have I been able to find a bald statement, or even a definitely ventured guess, as to what the rate of increase is, or as to whether that rate of increase may have been changing over time.
If the rate has been increasing over time since the Big Bang, then there's a real possibility that not long before the formation of the Solar System, there just wasn't enough carbon and oxygen and whatnot scattered around to make up planets conducive to the formation of life. Or not enough silicon and iron to form terrestrial planets, or many other possibilities. Then it seems a lot more plausible that we just might happen to be the first technological* species on the block (well, in our galaxy). And that would go a long way toward making the Fermi paradox somewhat less puzzling and mysterious.
* By "technology" here, I mean electronic computers, space travel, gene splicing, and that sort of thing.
9:40pm: scifi about AI
Some months ago I mentioned Ted Chiang's The Lifecycle of Software Objects. Since then, I've read Greg Egan's Zendegi. Egan's work deals with many of the same sorts of potential future problems that Chiang's work does. Together, the two works of fiction give us a wider view of problems that we all may be facing very soon than most of the nonfiction speculation about such topics has done hitherto.
As I said last time, while it's frustrating not to have access, LJ is a lot more than a social network platform. From the article:
"LiveJournal isn’t just a social network. It’s also a platform for organizing civic action. Dozens of network projects and groups mobilize people to solve specific problems — from defending the rights of political prisoners to saving endangered historic architecture in Moscow."
So while I know many are considering the move over to Dreamwidth and other such sites, supporting LJ is a way we can help support those who use it for more than a writing/roleplaying/social venue.
1:18pm: two things make a post
1) I had a wonderful birthday, starting out with Pamela and her family, and then ending up at a lovely party thrown by my housemate Beth. It was a delightful surprise to see Lynn and Victor visiting from out of town.
2) I just read Ted Chiang's new novella, /The Lifecycle of Software Objects/, and it may be the best near-future science fiction dealing with artificial intelligence that I've ever read. Basically, it takes the stance that real AIs are going to need to be raised the way children are raised, which is going to be strange and difficult when the first generation of them are initially going to be sold (and treated) as something a lot more like pets. Chiang writes about the transition that this implies, and deals with a huge (for such a short work of fiction) number of serious issues very skillfully.
I had heard about snow-mold before, from my dear sweetie Pamela, but I had never actually seen it lain out naked on the grass by the melting snow before today, when I saw it all over.
I had heard it described (after the first description of it I ever really listened to) as a cosmetic defect of lawns. But to me it was beautiful evidence that fungi are ingenious, and can find ways of making a living in niches that I had never imagined many years after I first thought I understood what fungi were capable of doing.
Snow-mold is a beautiful, beautiful thing, as far as I'm concerned. As far as the cosmetic defect on your lawn, I'm going to be watching to see whether or not, as I expect, a few days of direct sun or even just rain will clear it away. It's not as if you have to DO anything about it other than admire it.
7:05pm: I got to be helpful to strangers.
So on the way home from work today, after crossing a street, I noticed halfway down the block a young man panting and pushing on a car. So I shouted out to ask if he needed help. He said he did (sorta). Apparently a young woman had run full on into the mountain of snow next to the entrance of the driveway and the car was stuck. First we tried to see if two pushing could do the job that one could not do, and then I noticed that the young woman at the wheel had her steering wheel full the *wrong* way, so that her front wheels were reversing directly into the plow ridge. I explained, and then just shouted directions, to turn the front wheels the right way, and then the young man and I easily pushed the car into a more motile position.
Then I shook hands with the young man and he thanked me and I went on my way. I feel a little weird that we didn't exchange names or anything, but then they didn't ask for mine, and I guess I get to feel even more virtuous about an anonymous good turn than a named one. And besides, I can brag about it on LJ anyway, so hey!
1:22am: Snow is nice; ice, not so much.
I am not ashamed to say that I do not like the snow. When I feel it under my feet, my fingers get all twitchy to grab a shovel to remove it from any place that I may be walking upon. It's not that I hate the snow so much, it's that I hate the ice that it forms when unshoveled and left to be tramped upon by feet like mine, when it turns into sheets of ice. For feet like mine to tramp upon later in the winter.
Folks, if you have public sidewalks covered with snow in front of the property you are responsible for, please shovel them. Because it won't do me any good for my fingers to get itchy for a snow shovel if your snow has already been tramped down to ice.
That is hard for me to answer. I can start with a list: Miss Davison in kindergarten (or was it Mrs Davison? She got married and changed her name halfway through the school year, and when I was five years old this business was quite mysterious to me). Mrs Haring in sixth grade, who encouraged me to write and illustrate my first science fiction story (it sucked, let me tell you: I named a planet Bodidley a good ten years or more before I became consciously aware of the musician I had named it after), or Mrs Curtis, the social studies and math teacher who played the double bass and took us to a White Sox game and separated me and two others out from the rest of the math class to force us to learn all the elementary-school math we had been shirking before sixth grade (I'm most grateful to her for that last part). Or David Pierato who taught me English in ninth and eleventh grade and who was the faculty sponsor of the school literary magazine that I edited for three issues from halfway through my junior year until I graduated. Mr Jenike, who gave me an F on my first history essay question responses in ninth grade, because I had not understood the instruction to answer "in complete coherent paragraphs, not in lists full of hyphens" (I'm paraphrasing the instruction), and who later taught me in the European History AP class. Dr Byerly, whose doctorate was in science education, and whose first lab got me wildly excited about thermodynamics because I fell straight into his trap and made wildly wrong predictions about the temperature vs time curve for heating ice-water to boiling, and who then explained carefully to us (and me) why we had predicted so wrongly. Coach Foreman, who taught the Chemistry AP class (which I never would have taken if it hadn't been for Byerly), and whose method was to retire to his office after a brief lecture, and allow all of us "AP" kids to teach one another the material (I think I got called on for a little help about partial pressures, but that's all the payback I gave my fellow students for teaching me elementary chemistry). Harriet Russell, who had run for office in Hamilton County as a Democrat many times, and who withstood my flaming adolescent Libertarianism unflinchingly while she taught me all about the many good and bad things that Andrew Jackson (among others) had done for his country. Mr. Brengelman, who not only taught me and my classmates Algebra I in a lecture-heavy way that was hard to learn from (but I learned something) but who also owned a used bookstore just down the street from where I lived on McMicken Ave where, during my last two years of high school, I could retreat onto comfy sofas and chairs on four floors full of bookshelves and read to my heart's content while listening to Radio Free Newport (WNOP, the local jazz station). I bought a lot of good used books from him, very cheap. Ms McIntyre, who ought to have flunked me out of Algebra 2 because of how poorly I did in the last quarter of the year, but passed me after I pleaded with her (I still don't know why). Mr Doyle, who taught me pre-calc and trigonometry while barely containing his temper against the vandals of the class. Ms McIntyre again, who taught me the rudiments of calculus (a non-AP class, this time), to build on Doyle's work.
Okay, that's enough. Sorry to my many, many teachers who didn't get a mention here.
4:41pm: recent reading: gorging on Egan
So I happened across a hardback copy of Incandescence that the local public library was retiring from its shelves. ("So soon?" I thought, as I took it to the register to buy it. "Egan's fans in Minnesota must buy all their stuff off the internet and have no truck with deadtree public libraries.")
It was fantastic, and after I raved about it some, my sweetie lent me copies of Distress, which I had yet to read, Diaspora, which I had tried to read before but bounced off because I was going through a hard period in my life, and Permutation City, which I had read over a decade ago, but the rereading of which I thought would make it easier for me to get my head into Diaspora.
Distress and Diaspora were even more amazing than Incandescence. In fact, when I finished Diaspora, I immediately began to reread it, and didn't put it down until I had reread the first two chapters and part of the third (it was very late). I can't remember the last time I've done this with a book, or even been tempted to do it: I think I might have been tempted after reading some Niven & Pournelle paperback when I was a teenager.
I just checked the records, and I'm surprised that Distress didn't make the short-list for the Tiptree award in 1996. In fact, I'm surprised that Russell's The Sparrow beat it out to win that year. I loved The Sparrow, mind you, but not only is it not as good a novel as Distress, it also doesn't address the focus of the Tiptree award (fiction "that expands or explores our understanding of gender") as directly as Distress does.
I'm also a little stunned that Diaspora didn't even make the long-list in its year. (1998? I couldn't find it on http://www.flaminggeeks.com/jellyn/blog/tiptree.html). It's the most ambitious and amazing science fiction novel I have ever read. It's just what Egan's early career led me to hope for, and I feel foolish for having ignored it for ten years. The first half of it alone is more ambitious than the most ambitious sf novel I'd imagined ever reading. Okay, I'll stop squeeing now. It's really good, though. If you haven't read it yet, you ought to. Distress too.
10:32am: One Year Closer to Balance
I'm working today, but I've been thinking about the holiday I'm observing. Today I'm not doing anything new or unusual to achieve balance in my life, but I'm continuing what started over the summer and took a great leap forward in December. I'm recovering from trying to take care of my parents, which had me very unbalanced indeed.
8:16am: page 56 game
page 56 game Rules: * Grab the book nearest you. Right now. * Turn to page 56. * Find the fifth sentence. * Post that sentence along with these instructions (and the previous sentences). * Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.
Here's my fifth sentence from my page 56: "(This example is only suggestive; any Pu-239 formed in ancient stars would actually have been long gone before the Earth formed.)"
9:12pm: Harry Browne, we hardly knew ye
Yeah, I know about all the bad stuff about Perry Willis double-dealing with the party. But I just recently read for the first time some splendid things Harry Browne wrote during the time when I was ignoring him (which unfortunately for me extended until his death in 2006), about the recent wars and why they were wrong.
I'm a bit disturbed about the prospect of having Clinton succeed Rice as Secretary of State. If this is going to be the case, then I sure hope that Obama has read these posts of Harry Browne and paid close attention to them. I fear that this is not the case.
Arkansas passed a law prohibiting those “cohabitating outside a valid marriage” from adopting children, or, get this, even serving as foster parents.
The existing foster parent pool in most states needs to be weeded, no doubt, but a weeding so hamhanded as this uproots as much of the good crop as it does the weeds. Probably more, if you think of the uphill struggle that "unmarried cohabitants" probably have had to go through in Arkansas to become foster parents even before this vicious new law was passed. California's Prop 8, which I pray will be overturned, doesn't directly hurt the most oppressed class of people -- children who are wards of the state -- so directly as this initiative of the Arkansas electorate does.
11:30pm: good news about prop 8, and an interesting article in The Atlantic
Jerry Brown went on teevee and explained that long-established legal precedent means that any enactment which doesn't specifically declare itself retroactive is only prospective. That's an Attorney General's stated opinion, so while prop 8 (while it is being fought out in the courts) prevents California from marrying any more same-sex couples, the same-sex couples that already got married in California before election day are still married with full legal force in California. So the framers of prop 8 neglected to arrange for it to annull any existing marriages (and if they hadn't, perhaps it wouldn't have passed). Arnie hasn't exactly rushed out any executive orders to the county clerks today, and they are kind of standing around wondering what exactly they're supposed to tell the new same-sex couples who come up to the window for marriage licenses.
This is good news. Because I hadn't analyzed things to this extent, I went out with desperate energy to vote against prop 8 because, semiconsciously, I was afraid it would legally annull some of my friends' marriages. I'm extremely relieved to realize that this is not the case.
In other news, I'm still all on tenterhooks about prop 11 and the Coleman-Franken recount in Minnesota. And hoping for a secretary of state whose response to a national government that hates America is to say "Wow, I have to go start up a conversation with those people and find out what the problems are" rather than to ignore them. The Atlantic has a great historical article about the transitions appointment process. Right now I'm hoping that Obama asks, and Gates agrees, for the current Secretary of Defense to stay on the job through the coming winter, because the pundits say that makes it much more likely that Bill Richardson (who wants to fly to your poor America-hating country and have conversations with your government before sending the military there) might get offered the Secretary of State job. And yes, Mr. Richardson, I know you will be as happy as a clam governing New Mexico for the next two years, that you love your job, and that you aren't looking for a job. We all know that at least one part of that wasn't true when you were running for the White House, though.
Unfortunately, I have to confess that if I were in Gates's position (and I have no such capability), I'd want out of that job commitment tout de suite. Gates has had to clean up Rumsfeld's mess, and had to oversee the Surge, which I, like everyone else who hated the invasion of March 2003 as a criminal attack of national insanity, opposed when it was first proposed. He has had a hard job of work, but he, more than anyone else, has the experience to manage the draw-down and the transition to local government. I hope he will stay on through February at least, even though I understand he might find Biden's past advocacy for the Balkanization of Iraq extremely disturbing.