The Thin Blue Line

I’m a law abiding citizen (at least for most of the last 25 years, or so) that doesn’t cause too much trouble in the course of the daily grind. But something happened today that kind of sticks in my craw.

Moving down Calhoun Street to the West this morning (an especially pretty day), my line of cars eventually got to the area of MUSC and Roper Hospital. Doing my safe driving scan, I noticed a knot of people on the south sidewalk. Closer examination revealed that a policeman was being interviewed by a camera crew and reporter. She (the reporter) was pretty, the cop looked very squared away, and my gaze lingered on the scene.

My gaze was distracted by another policeman, not in the shot, who was pointing at me with the famous v, as in pointing at his eyes and then me and then the street. I got the message: quit gawking and pay attention to the road.

Well, his gesture irritated me. I gave him the v back. He didn’t like it, but what could he do?

As I proceeded down the street, slowly in line and towards the red light, I thought about the situation. Something has happened in the last couple of decades; I don’t know who or what is to blame, but our relationship with our police force has changed.

It seems like they used to exist as a protector for the average citizen, the blue line that stood between the people and the criminals. Now, it seems that they are our monitors, making sure that we all don’t do something we’re not supposed to do; or they are our 3rd grade teacher, telling us that this behavior is not good for us. Apparently the typical cop thinks we all need to be told what to do, how to do it, and we’d better not give him any lip.

That guy doesn’t know me from Adam’s house cat, he doesn’t have a clue about the fact that I have never had an auto accident in my life, or a speeding ticket in 20 years. He doesn’t know about the defensive driving I do every day, but he knows that it’s perfectly within his rights to chastise me for my driving.

Three cops standing around while a fourth is being interviewed for TV. But I need to be told that I’m out of line. Sheesh.

Apophis Revisited

Sometimes, you really need to do the math correctly. Here’s why:

Seems that NASA wanted to reassure us that life as we know it would NOT end sometime in 2029…..said the odds are 1 in 450,000.

Now comes a German kid who says different.

NASA says they have rechecked, and he’s wrong, but so were they. The odds are not as bad as the kid says, but worse than NASA originally said. Take a look at this map for a little perspective on how important the precise location of the decimal can be……

I say I’m moving to Montana.

Update: Shamelessly pinched from a comment on another blog:

By the way, it passes by the earth in 2027 on friday the 13th. If it hit’s it will hit in the pacific ocean. So California may get wet. The energy content is said to be 26,000 Hiroshimas which is not that much but recent calculation suggest is more than enough to darken the earth.

Like, Montana might not be high enough……

April 12, 1861

Ft. Sumter, April 12, 1861

Today marks one of the most important dates in the history of our United States. The young country was split apart, over the issue of slavery, and on this date the war commenced. It is astonishing to me that, as of this moment, no mention has been made in any media that I can find.

From this war emerged a nation again united, still facing severe cultural conflict that would take another century to overcome, but with its people resolved to remain one nation.

Allow me, your scribe, to present part of the story……….

The First Shot of the Civil War.

A Deserved A

These fellows better get an A for their class with Dr. Langville……..

Last month, two College of Charleston math majors came up with a mathematical formula to predict the winner of the NCAA basketball tournament.

Neil Goodson and Colin Stephenson’s mathematical formula had Kansas and Memphis meeting in the championship game and Kansas winning the NCAA basketball title.

That is exactly what happened.

I hope they won their pool……

Oh, The Frustration of it All……

Living the student life means that lots of life’s pleasures have to be postponed, canceled, or removed from the daily agenda. We do it willingly, although sometimes grudgingly. One of the simple joys of our lives is cooking and eating good food, accompanied by good wine. We enjoy the “mis en place”, searching for just the right bottle(s) of wine, and the eating of our labor.

Alas, the realities have greatly reduced our opportunities for this pleasure.

So, it was with great enthusiasm that we, having found a few extra dollars, decided to prepare a meal, using our favorite cookbook, The Wine Lover’s Cookbook, a book that introduced us to good food, good wine, and the pairings that made the meal a complete experience.

Here’s the recipe:


If you follow the link, you’ll see the directions for a delicious sauce that is the key component of the meal. We love to do sauces…….

The meal was achieving critical mass….the sauteed green beans with garlic were resting in their saute pan, crunchy but flavorful, while the sweet potatoes, baked tender and then mashed in a saucepan, where they were married with a dash of nutmeg, a pinch of sage, and a dollop of butter, all combining to form a delicious starch component (yet healthy), together awaited the two small filets that had been cooked perfectly on the grill and allowed to rest for 5 minutes.

The plating was underway, the elements arranged artfully, when your scribe reached for the piece de resistance, the sauce Diana. In a moment of unguarded stupidity, I put down one saucepan which landed on the handle of my pan, full of the delicious sauce, causing the pan and the sauce to flip up, off the stove, and tumble artlessly to the kitchen floor. In a split-second, 60 minutes of loving labor coated our kitchen floor with a patina that smelled like a corner of France but looked like the Bee’s Ferry landfill.

It literally took my breath away. A meal that we had been anticipating for too long was gone, ruined by this chef’s maladroit handling of pots and pans.

Oh, the shame of it………

Because We Should Care

APOD once again reminds us of things that sometimes don’t get the attention they need. Like our friends on Mars, there are important things happening in the near space of Earth orbit.

Here’s why:

The Jules Verne docked smoothly using its automated, laser guided rendezvous system. It was in many respects a repeat of the dry run on Monday. That practice approach brought the ATV to within 36 feet of the docking port.

The Jules Verne launched from Kourou, French Guiana, on an Ariane 5 rocket on March 9.

Solar arrays deployed as planned after two engine firings more than an hour and a half after launch. That placed the ATV in a parking orbit about 1,200 miles from the station…

It was, at almost 22 tons, the largest payload ever launched by the Ariane 5.

The Jules Verne is named after the acclaimed French science-fiction author. It is the first of perhaps seven such spacecraft to be built.

The ATV can carry about three times the cargo weight carried by the Progress, the reliable Russian unpiloted cargo carrier…

The spacecraft is scheduled to remain at the station until August, for unloading and to reboost the orbiting laboratory. Subsequently it will be filled with station garbage and discards. Then it will be deorbited for destruction on re-entry over the Pacific.

We are, as a species, learning to live in space. We are learning how to lift more and more material into orbit, using automated techniques that, just a scant 30 years ago, required the skills of human astronauts. We are learning how to build equipment that can survive in space for a long time.

What’s the next step, do you think?

Commutativity and Life

Sitting in a math class, and the professor announces that the next topic will be a brief study of matrices (matrix is the singular form). Then is asked a show of hands of those who have NOT had some previous experience in the topic. Up goes my hand, relieved to see that mine is not the only uncluttered mind, but saddened that there are so few of us. Those emotions are replaced when the professor announces that he will ‘go slow’ so that we midgets can keep up with the crowd. Thanks.


As he takes us through the steps of ever increasing arithmetic manipulation, the point is made that some properties of matrices are commutative while others are not. It is the non-commutative properties that are of interest, he observes. For those of you who have my level of understanding, note that an arithmetic operation is commutative if the order of the process returns the same result; 3 * 2 = 6 and 2 * 3 = 6.

As the link above reports:

Records of the implicit use of the commutative property go back to ancient times. The Egyptians used the commutative property of multiplication to simplify computing products.[6][7] Euclid is known to have assumed the commutative property of multiplication in his book Elements.[8] Formal uses of the commutative property arose in the late 18th and early 19th century when mathematicians began to work on a theory of functions. Today the commutative property is a well known and basic property used in most branches of mathematics. Simple versions of the commutative property are usually taught in beginning mathematics courses.

But, predictably, there is a large portion of mathematics that is not commutative. I knew it was just too good to be true. As the professor observed, there are many, many examples in life where the order of a process is very important. As examples, he pointed out that opening the window and sticking your head out of the car window are operations where the order of things is critical.

Wikipedia expands on the idea:

Noncommutative operations in everyday life

  • Washing and drying your clothes resembles a noncommutative operation, if you dry first and then wash, you get a significantly different result than if you wash first and then dry.
  • The Rubik’s Cube is noncommutative. For example, twisting the front face clockwise, the top face clockwise and the front face counterclockwise (FUF’) does not yield the same result as twisting the front face clockwise, then counterclockwise and finally twisting the top clockwise (FF’U). The twists do not commute. This is studied in group theory.

    I’m confused but more impressed than ever with the nature of our existence. How can an idea as powerful as mathematics embrace contradictory behavior? Why do we think that mathematics can explain the physical world when it is riddled with inconsistency? Could it be that the nature of our existence transcends the universe of mathematics?

    Am I having a metaphysical moment?