Saturday, August 17, 2019

Detering sexual predators

Belladonna has been binge consuming a podcast called Crime Junkie.

Not my cup of tea but it captivates Bella.

Bella asked me, "What would you do if a sexual predator killed me?"

Ignoring certain logistical difficulties, I assured her that I will kill the scum-bag.

"How would you do it?" she asked.

"The usual way I kill sexual predators." I replied.

That gave her pause. "And how is that?" she asked.

"Boobie traps." I assured her.

The AC is on the fritz

No pictures.

The power feed is supposed to be 240V, AC.

The power feed is actually 120V and the two legs are in phase.

Power out of the circuit breaker is fine and a vigorous 250V +/-1V.

There is a junction box on the outside of the house where the inside wiring is tied to the outside wiring which then runs through a conduit to the actual AC unit. They are connected via a pull-out interrupt.

A betting man would bet that one of the wires pulled out on the AC side of the interrupt and the bare wire end is touching the other side. Had the wire pulled out on the house side, there would have been a Ka-Boom and a tripped circuit breaker.

The only thing stopping me now is a rusty screw that was installed in 1977 that closes out the face-plate on the junction box. I sprayed it with penetrating oil but have little hope of breaking it free.

I am 90% certain that I am going to have to grind the head of the screw off to open up the box. Then, I will have to close it all up with a loose nut-and-bolt. That will be a job for tomorrow morning. Time is our friend when using penetrating oil.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Not for sale. I can accept that

But would you consider a trade?

Reed Canarygrass

Samples of Reed Canarygrass collected on August 16, 2019 from three locations in Eaton County, Michigan.
Days when I actually DO something are typically days when my blog posts are skinny. This is one of those days.

Today, I sorted through the old-men I knew. They must have known I needed one of them for a project. They were hard to find.

I finally ran my third choice down to earth. He was walking out the door buttoning up his shirt and mumbling about how his back hurt.  He was pretending like he needed to go to the doctor. Like I never heard that excuse before.

He will remain nameless for reasons that will become apparent later in this post.

After cuffing him around and promising him lunch, he finally agreed to ride shotgun in the pickup but only if I removed the zip-ties from his wrists.

Reed Canarygrass
I asked him if he knew what Reed Canarygrass was. He renewed his cussing. I thought it was because I had aggravated his back "helping" him into the truck. Nope, it was because he was intimately familiar with Reed Canarygrass, Phalaris arundinacea. Animals would starve before voluntarily eating Reed Canarygrass hay.

Our mission was to take samples from three, widely separated locations in Eaton County of Reed Canarygrass. The RCG had to be in full sunlight, growing in a pure stand and growing on "muck" soils and the samples had to be taken at least twenty feet in from the edge of the stand. Each location required at least ten sub-samples from scattered locations within the stand.

The reasons I needed an old man is that pure stands of Reed Canarygrass are the preferred habitat of the native Michigan rattlesnake. Furthermore, I have a problem with the starter on my truck. I wanted to leave the truck running while I dodged rattlesnakes and collected specimens. Having a hominid rattlesnake sitting in the truck ensured that it would still be there when I was done collecting samples from the site.

The reason for the road trip is that there are loads of he-said-she-said accounts of the nutritional and mineral profiles of Reed Canarygrass but there is ZERO data for southcentral Michigan for RCG growing on muck soils. And those he-said-she-said accounts? Some of the numbers vary by a factor of one-hundred.

Even though mid-August is a rotten time of year for collecting forage samples because of excessive maturity, one piece of "real" data, flawed though it might be is infinitely better than four-decimal-place, anal-extracted guesses. 

The locations spanned from southeast Eaton County to northwest Eaton County. The GPS coordinates follow:

42.568858, -84.682897
42.640663, -84.761788
42.731032, -85.072149

Midway through the sample gathering I fed my volunteer lunch. Shortly afterward, my volunteer started burping. Then spitting. Then retching. Then full-on vomiting. No, it did not all go out the window. He said it served me right. When a kidnapping victim pukes in your pickup, is it karma or trukma?

Now I have to dry the three samples. Cut it into 2" long pieces. Mix the combined samples to randomize it. Pack a pound of the randomized sample into a plastic bag. Mail it and a check for $40 to a lab in Ithaca, New York for the testing. They will turn around and mail it to the MSU Veterinary Lab in East Lansing, Michigan where they will run it through their plasma-ionizing mass spectrometer.

The Shrewd King 4.5: Denny Blastic

Denny Blastic should have been on top of the world.

His family had survived the Ebola epidemic and all the other diseases that gang-tackled the United States and the healthcare industry imploded.

He owned, free-and-clear 160 acres of prime, southern Michigan farmland just west of the Grand River. And most importantly, he owned a breeding herd of twenty Standardbred trotting horses. That made him a Very-Important-Person in the post-Ebola, post-oil least in his own estimation.

His neighbors did not recognize his new position. They asked to borrow horses for assorted errands. So far, he had always said “No.” claiming that they didn’t know how to handle high-strung racing horses.

That was about to change. He was about to let people borrow horses but at a ten-to-one exchange rate, ten of their hours for each horse-hour. The clause specified that they must work when he called regardless of other commitments they had. And buried in the fine-print was a clause that bound them into indentured servitude for a period of a year for failure to fulfill their end of the deal.

Not only that, but Denny was about to start welcoming refugees. He would offer them housing and food in exchange for a five year commitment to work for him. He had land. He had horses. He did not have labor.

He would not have been in this predicament if it had not been for the Amish and their incredibly long memories. Early on, when he first started raising horses, he had many dealings with the Amish.

Relations chilled after he refused to pay for the last load of hay he had trucked over from the other side of the county. He claimed it was moldy. They offered to come over and sort it out, bale-by-bale. He claimed to have already disposed of it. 

Of course, the hay had been fine. Denny resented having to pay premium prices for small bales of hay he knew they produced small bales far below “English” farmer’s cost of production for large, round bales. They did not have to make monthly payments on tractors and their kids worked for free.

His relationship with the Amish was completely destroyed when he sold a couple of young horses to a young Amish man and his father from Northern Indiana. It not an accident that they were from far away. He deliberately chose to not advertise locally.

Two of his mares had broken out and were bred by a neighbor’s mongrel stallion. He recaptured them and put them in with his prize stallion and made no mention that the sire may have been otherwise.

When the foals grew up to be other than expected, Denny claimed the problem was the mares, who he had purchased from the Amish. Denny claimed that the mare’s bloodlines were polluted by the Michigan Amish he had purchased the mares from.

Denny considered both transactions perfectly satisfactory. He counted on the fact that the Amish didn’t make reviews on Yelp and almost never pursued legal action in the court system. Furthermore, there were many more Amish in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois.

Had Denny been on good terms with the local Amish, they would have bent over backwards with tools and sound advice. As it was, they wanted nothing to do with Denny. Hence, Denny had to take matters into his own hands.

Denny’s labor shortage was about to change. He knew that there were hundreds of dispossessed families wandering the countryside looking for a way to avoid starvation.

He was about to offer them a deal that was too good to be true. Families that were in good health and whose children were all in the teens were going to be offered “three hots and a cot”. What they did not know was that they were to be crammed three families to a house and the food was going to be three meals of grits-and-greens in exchange for ten hours of grueling labor in the sun.

A few families fled once they figured out Denny's scam. Most stayed after signing the “contract” and turning over their property. They had no place to go.

Denny did not deal with the refugees himself. He subcontracted that to his three sons, ages fifteen-to-twenty. He was no easier on them than he would have been on the refugees. They lived in fear of this temper. 

His sons learned to be ruthless in their dealings with the workers...who they called ‘slaves’ in the privacy of their house. Better to have the slaves bleed than to earn a clout to the side of the head.

Trey was the oldest and had the easiest job. He ran the "fort".

Wesley was something of a mechanical genius and got along well with the horses. Of the three, Denny was most likely to leave him alone.

Vernon, his youngest, bore the brunt of overseeing the field help.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Trade guns

Mr James Dakin claims that guns are the pinnacle of modern technology in two of his recent posts.

He makes the point that bartering away ammunition has to be one of the stupidest ideas, ever.

Mr Dakin is supported by history
The Northwest Trade Gun was one of the three, main items traded to native-Americans in exchange for beaver pelts, the others being wool blankets and distilled alcohol.

Even by the standards of the day (1600s-1830s) trade guns were cheap, crude and primitive. The native-Americans could not trade their bows-and-arrows away quickly enough to get the new guns.

People do not abandon stone-age technology because of a sudden shortage of rocks. In most parts of North America, the trade gun had huge advantages over bows and spears made from native materials.

The primary advantage was range. This is when the student of history whose primary source of information is television calls BS.

They will point out that the Mongolian hordes had laminated bows and could launch arrows much farther than the typical trade gun could effectively shoot.

This is a classic case of comparing apples and orangutans. Launching arrows over a city's walls into the massed peoples waiting out a siege is different than hitting a deer or moose center-of-mass at fifty yards.

The native Americans did not have laminated bows made from horn on the compression side and sinews on the tension side. Even if they did, the humid weather east of the Great Plains would have negated any of those advantages.

Nor did native-American bows have "sights" and the high cost of making bows, arrows and arrowheads limited the number of repetitions a typical native-American could practice, thereby making "instinct shooting" unattainable for most.

The primary advantage of bows is that they had slightly more range than a hand-thrown spear and they required far less motion to discharge. Estimated draw-weights of bows used by the Penobscot tribe were on the order of 25 pounds. Keep in mind that those wimpy bows were lobbing hefty arrows made of willow, dogwood or viburnum shoots tipped with a chunk of rock. It is not an exaggeration to say the trajectory approximated the arc of a rainbow.

The typical trade gun was a smooth-bore; a shotgun in modern parlance. It typically started out with a bore of 0.57", the smallest iron pipe that was economical to manufacture. As a reference, most modern muzzle-loading rifles have a bore of 0.50 inches and most 20 gauge shotguns have a bore of about 0.62" Even though the bore may have started out at 0.57", over time rust and re-boring caused that bore to get larger.

Traditions die slowly. Most of the rifles issued during the American Civil War also had nominal bore diameters of 0.57 inches.

The trade guns' sights were crude. The lock times were glacially slow by modern standards. The technology for manufacturing ammo was crude.

I will go out on a limb and suggest that forty yards was the maximum, effective range against deer sized animals. Any farther than that and more than half of the animals would not be recovered.

Forty yards might not sound like much but it is HUGE if your reference is a bow with fifteen yard capability. Not only could the new gun kill deer at a range three times farther than your old bow, but you were far less likely to alert your target because you only had to wiggle a few fingers to make the gun go off.

That ability to be stealthy was particularly important when your targets were other native-Americans. Although rarely documented, I expect that most war parties used the muskets for the first, devastating volley and then depended on bows and clubs for quick follow-up.

The Shrewd King 4.4: The agricultural brain-trust

Prakash had a problem. How do you boot-strap an economy of 150 survivors?

Prakash asked a couple of old-timers to perform a census of the ten square miles that were south and west of the river and were closest to his store.

Estimates ran between 120 and 200 survivors.

Prakash estimated that an equal number on the other side of the river would occasionally visit him to make purchases as well.

Figuring a minimum of 400 pounds of corn a year per person and 30 bushels of corn per acre, Prakash estimated he needed at least 70 acres corn to make it through the year.

Even though modern yields, assisted by fertilizer, pesticides and hybrids, usually exceeded 200 bushel per acre it was only prudent to expect 1920’s level productivity given the low level of inputs available.

When Prakash asked the old-timers which field they would plant, if it were up to them, they universally pointed to the field that was southeast of, and just out-of-sight from Prakash’s store.

He was surprised.

Had it been up to him, he would have picked the field north of him on the other side of the stream.

When he asked the old-timers why, the answers varied.

One old-timer was suspicious of outsiders. People from north of the M-99 bridge would walk past the field every time they came to Prakash’s store and the old-timer suspected they would slip a few ears of corn in their pockets every time they visited.

Another old-timer, one who had hunted pheasant on those same fields, informed Prakash that the field Prakash favored was “droughty”. That is, the soil was sand and gravel which quickly dried out. The field Prakash had not considered was flatter, lower and had finer grained soil. That is, water soaked-in and remained available for plant growth.

A third old-timer pointed out that the field they preferred was a short walk from where many of the survivors lived while Prakash’s favorite took them out of their way.

Prakash called Kelly and requested that the eighty-acre field preferred by the locals, which had been in soybeans the year before, be plowed up and planted in corn.

Kelly counter-offered that he could break up the surface with a disc, which he could do more quickly and with far less fuel, and plant half to maize and half to spring wheat.

Kelly did not know if the soft, red wheat typically sown in the fall would produce much if planted in the spring, but he had been educated by Farmer Ken, Don and Earl about the need for rotation. According to Farmer Ken, he needed to plant about a half-bushel of wheat per acre and he might get 30 bushels back...or he might break even and only get back the seed he planted.

Early in his venture, Prakash asked the locals why they were not harvesting the corn that was still standing in the fields from the year before.

Prakash quickly got an earful about the evils of vomitoxin. Vomitoxin is exactly what it sounds like. It is a mold that grows on corn that is exposed to rain and warm weather. The mold grows and produces toxins that make animals, and people, projectile vomit in massive quantities.

In a way, the residents were lucky. Aflatoxin is another toxin released by mold.  Aflatoxin has fewer obvious symptoms and worse, long-term consequences...consequences like damaged livers and cancer. The residents stopped eating the corn harvested from crops that were still standing in the field because of vomiting but it also saved them from Aflatoxins.

Farmer Ken, Farmer Don and Farmer Earl had a standing, Thursday night poker game. They were invariable joined by Mike, a local guy who was handy with general mechanic work and a good guy to have when you needed somebody to drive a truck.

In times gone by they played for match-sticks. Times being what they were, matches were worth a lot more now. They switched to washers as each farmer had at least fifty pounds of washers of various sizes in their barns.

Talk turned to the upcoming planting season.

Farmer Earl, the oldest of the working farmers by far, folded. Then he noted “We need to be thinking about changing the row spacing on our equipment. My grandad bought a new seeder back in ’29 and it caused no end of trouble” he said.

“Granda’s cultivator was set to 40” to match the horse harness and the new seeder came set at 36”. You had to really pay attention or you would wipe out a row of corn” alluding to the fact that the kid running the team through the field would typically judge where the “lane” was by watching a single row.

“Things didn’t settle down until granda moved the seeder unit over to match all of the rest of the equipment on the farm” Earl concluded.

“That might not be all bad” Ken said as he studied his cards. All farmers are gamblers. They don’t fly to Vegas or buy lottery tickets to gamble. They do it every time they make a business decision.

“I don’t know how much stress resistance we are going to lose since we are planting hybrid seeds” Ken said. “And without fertilizer, I reckon each plant will need wider spacing so it can find the nutrients and moisture it needs.”

All of the farmer's equipment was set up for 30" rows and changing the row spacing to accommodate horses without changing the seed plates would automatically reduce the plant density.

That caught Don’s attention. “What are you guys thinking for seed densities?”

Ken looked over at Uncle Earl. Seniority has its privileges.

“Back in the day, Granda planted 18,000 per acre on sandy ground and 20,000, maybe 22,000 on bottomlands” Earl said. That was in contrast to the 36,000-to-39,000 hybrid seeds they currently planted.

“Of course, corn plants were bigger back then” Earl said.

That was a bit of a dilemma. Fortunately, they had a little bit of time to sort that out.

The previous week, the agricultural brain-trust had decided to put off planting until mid-May. Before Ebola, the three farmers would have been planting like crazy-mad the last full week of April, confident that the seeds would safely wait for warmer weather and knowing that they could beat the weeds down with a single spray of herbicide.

As Farmer Ken said, “Our seeds aren’t treated with fungicides or insecticides. It would be stupid to plant the into 45 degree soil. The only thing that will happen is the weeds will get a head-start and the seeds will be sitting there that much longer, rotting and getting eaten by bugs

After a few more hands, Ken said, “I think I will run with 20,000 seeds to the acre and 40” rows.” Then he looked over at Mike and asked “Do you think there will be any problem moving the seeding units on the old corn planter?”

Ken was referring to an antiquated piece of equipment he had hung onto for decades. It was exactly as wide as an old disc he had and the two could be pulled one behind the other.

Mike smiled. “Not as long as I spray the bolts with penetrating oil the day before.” He knew what he was going to be doing the over the next few days.

The other men nodded their heads in agreement. The large pile of washers in front of Ken attested to the fact that he knew when to play it safe. It would be far better to have 20,000 corn plants each produce a single ear than to have 35,000 runt out and produce nothing.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

A riff on the Wilder side

The odds would say that they’re (Black Swans, catastrophic system failures are) extremely rare......overlapping failures – one part of the economy shuts down which pulls another with it.   -John Wilder

Mr Wilder had to skip lightly across the tops of the waves as he had a larger point he wanted to make. Exploring some of the more provocative premises he made would dilute his larger goal.

I am not under that constraint.

Never go down alone
What Mr Wilder described was that simultaneous, gross failure of multiple, independent systems should have astronomical odds against them

And yet those failures happen with distressing frequency.

Is the math behind the statistics flawed, or are the premises?

In fact, neither the math nor the premises made at the start of the venture are flawed. The flaw is to assume that the system does not change, that the interactions between the sub-systems are static rather than dynamically evolving as they compete to maximize the larger system for their own, personal purposes.

It is easier to describe than to explain.

Suppose you checked welds in an industrial plant. You have been given a plan to check welds every hour and that the plan specifies that every combination of parts welded by each robot be checked in that hour.

The quality inspector (you) had a brain-fart or came back from vacation and showed off the pictures on your phone instead of checking parts or perhaps some part combinations are very rare and the inspector just happened to miss them.

Suppose the robot failed and the inspector missed the failure for eight consecutive checks.

You got fired, right?


All modern systems have multiple, redundant safety interlocks. Everybody who walked within fifteen feet of that robot is implicated because they all failed. If they fire you, the quality inspector, they also have to fire the four electricians who worked on the robot between third and first shifts as well as the maintenance and quality supervisors.

The electricians failed to "validate" their work. The electricians on the following shift failed, at a minimum, to notice the uncharacteristic wear pattern on the weld caps when they changed them....all written standards in their job descriptions.

The supervisors failed to follow-up on maintenance work that was done too quickly. The emphasis was to get the equipment back into service rather than ensuring that every "I" was dotted and "T" was crossed.

Another example
A member of the US military was pulling a trailer through a crowded, southeast Asian city. The hitch separated from the truck and the trailer careened through the crowded sidewalk and miraculously only killed three civilians.

The serviceman (Air Force, incidentally) was supposed to have performed a comprehensive, pre-operation safety inspection before starting the vehicle. He put check-marks in every box but failed to observe that the trailer hitch welds were severely corroded.

He got court-martialed, right?

Wrong. He skated.

He pointed out that corrosion does not happen over-night. Every serviceman who drove that truck in the past six months should have D-Xed the truck and none of them did.

Also, the truck had frequent maintenance intervals. Say what you will, but the US Military really does try to make the equipment last for decades. Every mechanic who signed off on the truck maintenance should have caught the failing trailer hitch.

Faced with the prospect of losing the majority of his motor-pool drivers and a goodly chunk of his skilled mechanics, the base commander "disappeared" the event. It reflected badly on his subordinates and by inference, on his leadership.

Man, the rational actor
In a slightly different vein.

Suppose a factory has a typical absenteeism rate (including vacations) of 12%. Also suppose that the factory is composed of six person teams.

To deal with absenteeism, the factory management decided that each team gets an extra worker. If every worker on the team showed up, then the extra worker is assigned a "continuous improvement" project.

A bright-eyed and bushy-tailed college graduate makes a case that regression-to-the-mean suggests that variation smooths out as sample sizes get larger.

By way of example, suppose you have an urn with white marbles and black marbles. If you only draw out one marble, you are guaranteed that it will either be 100% white or 100% black. If you pull out a larger number of marbles, it is highly likely that the sample will look much more like the true population than a single draw.

Our BE&BT college graduate suggests that all of the absentee replacement workers be put into a common pool and "flowed" to where they are needed. His back-of-envelop calculations suggest that one-third of the absentee replacement workers can be laid off.

In effect, the BE&BT created a first order coupling with the intention of making the system more robust. Then, exploiting the increased robustness, to reduce costs.

What could go wrong?
Assume for a moment that the factory is composed of three shops. Let's call them Body, Paint and General Assembly. Also assume that the relative populations of the shops are 2-1-5.

Body Shop is heavy work, not air conditioned and requires heavy person-protective-equipment.

Paint Shop is light work, is air conditioned and requires certification.

General Assembly is busy-but-light work, is not air conditioned and has minimal personal-protective-equipment.

What could go wrong?

On the first really hot day of summer absenteeism hits 25%.

Everybody who has scheduled vacation takes their vacation.

Everybody who was feeling sickly calls in sick.

All of the absentee replacements know that they will be sent to the seventh level of hell, the Body Shop. They all call in sick.

All of the "special assignment" workers...the ones working on future products and running the library and the public tours...they call in sick. They are not stupid.  They are not work hardened. Working on the line will make them hobble for a week. They are out of practice and they will be held accountable for any errors they make

  • Initial estimates of process robustness assume that processes are truly independent.
  • The only way to keep processes truly independent is to employ superhuman effort, like double-blind-placebo experiments, to maintain that independence.
  • Increased longevity invariably results in increased coupling between formerly independent processes and the invisible erosion of system "robustness". 
  • Processes put into place to track the erosion of "robustness" rarely work.
  • Processes put into place to forestall the erosion of "robustness" perversely nourish collusion between the "sheep dogs" put in place to catch that erosion and make the system more brittle.