## Ice Spike Sundial

I like sundials. I like ice. I like mechanisms, in the sense of simple arrangements of parts that produce clever results without human intervention.

I had an idea that combines all these. I spent about a month fiddling with it, before reality reminded me that I am an intellectual dilettante, with barely the manual dexterity to build a cup of iced water. However, as it happens, I have an audience which includes people who are not so encumbered.

So, I present to you my idea for an ice sundial. There is probably a more elegant way to do it, but probably not a cuter way to do it.

Here’s the basic idea: Suppose you have some warm water. Then, suddenly the water starts freezing very rapidly. Now and then, on the surface, there will be a small hole. If things are just right, as the water cools and expands, it’ll be forced up through that hole. As a result, the hole starts naturally extruding a “spike.”

If you look on the wikipedia page, the spike in birdbaths naturally resembles the gnomon of a sundial.

So I got to thinking – could you mechanically recreate the conditions in which a spike happens? More charmingly, to my mind, could you have it happen spontaneously by having the right simple setup. I’m not really sure, since all my experimenting failed. But, here’s my idea:

1)

Have one container (let’s call it Container A) half-filled with water. This container should be tall and thin. Imagine a long test tube. The purpose of Container A is to capture some motion. As the water in container A freezes, it will expand, thus raising its surface.

Just above the surface of A, when in liquid form, you have a plunger. As the surface freezes and rises, the plunger goes up.

2)

Atop the plunger is a long arm. The plunger pushes up the base of the arm, so it rotates a few degrees. At the far end of the arm, you have a plastic needle that points downward.

3)

The needle dips into a larger reservoir of water, Container B. The bottom of Container B is such that the container retains heat well, so long as there is light from the sun. The needle from the arm should be such that it just dips below the surface of Container B’s water when no freezing has occurred.

***

Thus, as water freezes, Container A’s water expands and lifts the plunger, which lifts the arm. The plastic needle slowly rises out of container B, leaving a hole. As this happens, the temperature in Container B drops very rapidly, and (if this idea actually works) an ice spike should form exactly where you had the needle.

Here’s the really cute part – *if* (and it’s a big if) you could somewhat reliably control the shape of the spike/gnomon, you could use Container B’s rim as the surface of a sundial.

Now, you ask, what use is a sundial that only forms at night? Well, yes, fair enough. My hope is that once it formed it’d stick around for much of the day. Alternatively, perhaps there’s some way you could alter the way Container B retains heat after the gnomon is formed. By this means, you could keep or melt the sundial.

That said, there’s something very ghostly and charming about a sundial that appears briefly then melts away.

***

## Quote from The Pickwick Papers by Dickens

‘One cheer more,’ screamed the little fugleman in the balcony, and out shouted the mob again, as if lungs were cast-iron, with steel works.

‘Slumkey for ever!’ roared the honest and independent.

‘Slumkey for ever!’ echoed Mr. Pickwick, taking off his hat. ‘No Fizkin!’ roared the crowd.

‘Certainly not!’ shouted Mr. Pickwick. ‘Hurrah!’ And then there was another roaring, like that of a whole menagerie when the elephant has rung the bell for the cold meat.

‘Who is Slumkey?’whispered Mr. Tupman.

‘I don’t know,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, in the same tone. ‘Hush. Don’t ask any questions. It’s always best on these occasions to do what the mob do.’

‘But suppose there are two mobs?’ suggested Mr. Snodgrass.

‘Shout with the largest,’ replied Mr. Pickwick.

## Introduction to Electrodynamics, Griffiths, 3rd Edition, Section 1.1.5

Section 1.1.5: How Vectors Transform

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: I am not a physicist. I do jokes about physics and then people vastly overestimate my level of knowledge. Years ago, I was studying to get a BS in physics, but dropped out because I had to run a comics business. I’m now teaching myself again. As I am not an expert, I may say dumb things. When I do, please correct me. This blog is mostly to make me understand the topics I am studying by pretending to be teaching them. There are lots of people who are better at it. You have been warned.

I’m starting with this section because everything earlier is vector stuff you should know from an intro physics course. This was the first section I remember giving me a little trouble.

The author brings up a more rigorous definition of a vector, which is basically this: a vector is something that can handle component changes.

Here’s how I like to think about it. A vector is a Real Thing. The philosophically-inclined may say I’ve opened up a bigger topic than this blog post can handle. But, screw them. Let me just say this – one quality of a Real Thing should be that it doesn’t change when I change my perspective on it.

Consider an example. Suppose there are stars in space, Star A and Star B. Somewhere between them, far enough from them that gravity doesn’t matter, there is a ball. Suppose the ball is moving from A to B at speed S. These are facts about the system which have nothing to do with whether or not some guy named Descartes came along and invented analytic geometry. Regardless of what coordinate system we throw on the ball, it will remain true that the ball moves along the line from A to B at speed S.

We can change the components of the ball’s velocity by changing the coordinate system. For instance, we could (and probably would) define the path of the ball as going along an axis, thus reducing all other coordinates to 0. We could use some obnoxious made up coordinate system that produced all sorts of ugly vector components. We can do whatever we want in our mathematical brains. BUT, the ball itself will not stop moving from A to B. This movement is a Real Thing.

And, you’re lucky it’s so. If not, every time a physics student reconsidered the coordinates of something, it might change course.

Now, this may seem obvious, but it turns out there are other types of vectory things that don’t behave this way. The example I’m familiar with is rotation vectors, called pseudovectors. If a thing with mass rotates, you can say it has angular momentum. The pseudovector for angular momentum (L) points according to the right hand rule. You might say that this seems liked a Real Thing, in that you can move around the wheel and always seems to point the same way. Fair enough. But, consider a mirror transformation. In that case, the pseudovector points the wrong way. To give an example:

Suppose you have a pasty on your right nipple. This pasty has a tassle on it, and you’re spinning the tassel so that if there were an arrow on the tassle, it’d point to your face, then your right shoulder, then your armpit, and so on. Now, let’s suppose Alice is in front of your nipple and Bob is behind it. According to the right hand rule, the vector points out from your nipple toward Alice and away from Bob.

Now, imagine we take the left-for-right mirror of this setup. That is, imagine your left nipple perfectly mirrors the behavior of the right nipple, and Alice is still in front of you (flipped) and Bob is still behind you (flipped). You’re doing some pretty impressive tassel-slinging, as the tassel on lefty is rotating opposite to that on righty. If you’re having trouble visualizing, imagine them rotating in the way two touching gears rotate.

Since the rotation is flipped, you use the right hand rule differently. Now, when you do the right hand rule, is pointing at Bob. So, you changed what was doing just by changing your coordinate system.

Compare this to our ball moving from Star A to Star B. If we mirror left for right (visualizing it in 2D helps), it’ll look different, but the ball will always be moving from A to B.

Okay, good. I’m always proud when my blog post is actually longer than the section in the book. It’s a sign of virtuoso verbosity.

Now, to the math at hand. Of course, it’s not enough to just SAY the vector is still a Real Thing. If we change the coordinates, we have to have a way to automatically specify what the ball is doing in the new system. In the abstract, the thing you gotta do is modify each component so that you’re still talking about the same old Real Thing.

So, first the book defines the components of a vector A as A_y=Acos(θ) and A_z=Asin(θ).

Simple enough. The y and z components of are given by decomposing it in the usual way.

Then, we transform coordinates. In this case, we’re rotating counterclockwise a little. Having done so, we have to tell ourselves where the tip of is, with respect to the two axes. Well, the cute thing is, since we’re just rotating, thanks to the magic of trig, the components are easy to find just by figuring out what the new angle is.

Referencing the diagram, you can see that the new angle between the new y axis and is smaller than the old angle by ϕ. Thus, the y component in the new system is Acos(θ-ϕ). All we did there was say “in the new system, the rotational distance from the y axis to the tip of got smaller, and thus the straight line distance (given by the cosine) got smaller.”

So, from Acos(θ-ϕ), we use one of our old trig laws to expand to

Acos(θ)cos(ϕ) + Asin(θ)sin(ϕ)

And, remember a second ago when we said A_y = Acos(θ) and A_z = Asin(θ)? Well, now we can use that simplify down. So, we can say say that in the new system, you can get the new y component of A with this:

A_y*cosϕ + A_z*sin(ϕ)

Neat, right? We can do a similar trick to get the new component of of z.

You might say “Christ! Why do we gotta do all this just to get the new vector? Why’s it look so complicated?!” Well, remember we’re just getting the general case here. And, in the general case for 2D, if you rotate the axes, you gotta make some trades so the Real Thing vector stays the same. If you change your system so the y component is smaller, you gotta borrow from z to make up for it, and vice versa. That’s what A_y*cosϕ + A_z*sin(ϕ) is doing. It’s saying “for your new vector component, take this much of the old y and this much of the old z.” And this makes sense. Not, for example, if ϕ=0 (i.e. there was zero rotation), your new y component is the same as the old, and you don’t have to borrow anything from z. If ϕ=π, you’ve rotated 180 degrees. So, you gotta flip the sign for the y component, but you still don’t borrow anything from z. Make sense?

The book goes on to explain that you can make it matrixy, but there’s no way I’m doing the LaTeX for that here. Having made it matrixy, you can see that that you can do a similar trick in 3D or 4D or whatever. You may note that the number of moves to be made squares. That is, transformation in 2D requires 4 things, transformation in 3D requires 9 things, and so on. Why should this be?

Well, remember, each modifier (e.g. R_xx, R_zy, etc.) is saying “to get the new thing, change me by this.” So, in the case of 2D, you’re starting with two components. Each component needs to be modified in each dimension by some amount. So, that’s 2×2. Similarly, in 3D, you have three components, each of which need to be modified in each dimension. Hence, 3×3 = 9.

At the end Griffiths brings up tensors, though I’m not entirely sure why. It’s fitting with the conversational tone, but I kinda wish there were some more meat on the bone here. Here’s my quick and dirty understanding.

A scalar is a magnitude no direction (e.g. temperature, mass, etc.)

A vector is a magnitude one direction (e.g. velocity, force, etc.)

You can imagine continuing down this path. Consider a third thing which is a magnitude with two directions, or three, or four. All these things are said to be tensors. A tensor with 0 direction is a scalar. A tensor with one direction is the familiar vector. Beyond that, it’s tensor rank ____. Tensor rank 2 has two directions, rank 3 has three directions, and so on.

Again, not sure why it’s coming up here, BUT hopefully there’ll be an obvious answer for me later.

NEXT STOP: Interesting Problems in 1.1.5

## 1889 Speculation on Future of Music

The conversation is between a man from 1887 and a woman of 2000. Taken from Edward Bellamy’s 1889 Novel, “Looking Backward 2000-1887.”

“Please look at to-day’s music,” she said, handing me a card, “and tell me what you would prefer. It is now five o’clock, you will remember. “

The card bore the date “September 12, 2000,” and contained the largest programme of music I had ever seen. It was as various as it was long, including a most extraordinary range of vocal and instrumental solos, duets, quartettes, and various orchestral combinations.

I remained bewildered by the prodigious list until Edith’s pink finger-tip indicated a particular section of it, where several selections were bracketed, with the words “5 p.m.” against them ; then I observed that this prodigious programme was an all day one, divided into twenty-four sections answering to the hours. There were but a few pieces of music in the “5 p.m.” section, and I indicated an organ piece as my preference.

“I am so glad you like the organ,” said she.

” I think there is scarcely any music that suits my mood oftener.”

She made me sit down comfortably, and crossing the room, so far as I could see, merely touched one or two screws, and at once the room was filled with the music of a grand organ anthem ; filled, not flooded, for, by some means, the volume of melody had been perfectly graduate to the size of the apartment.

I listened, scarcely breathing, to the close. Such music, so perfectly rendered, I had never expected to hear.

” Grand ! ” I cried, as the last great wave of sound broke and ebbed away into silence.

” Bach must be at the keys of that organ; but where is the organ ? “

”Wait a moment, please,” said Edith; “I want to have you listen to this waltz before you ask any questions. I think it is perfectly charming,” and as she spoke the sound of violins filled the room with the witchery of a summer night. When this had also ceased, she said : There is nothing in the least mysterious about the music, as you seem to imagine. It is not made by fairies or genii, but by good, honest, and exceedingly clever human hands. We have simply carried the idea of labor-saving by co-operation into our musical service as into everything else.

There are a number of music rooms in the city, perfectly adapted acoustically to the different sorts of music. These halls are connected by telephone with all the houses of the city whose people care to pay the small fee, and there are none, you may be sure, who do not. The corps of musicians attached to each hall is so large that, although no individual performer, or group of performers, has more than a brief part, each day’s programme lasts through the twenty-four hours. There are on that card for to-day, as you will see if you observe closely, distinct programmes of four of these concerts, each of a different order of music from the others, being now simultaneously performed, and any one of the four pieces now going on that you prefer, you can hear by merely pressing the button which will connect your house wire with the hall where it is being rendered. The programmes are so coordinated that the pieces at any one time simultaneously proceeding in the different halls, usually offer a choice, not only between instrumental and vocal, and between different sorts of instruments; but also between different motives from grave to gay, so that all tastes and moods can be suited.”

“It appears to me, Miss Leete,” I said, “that if we could have devised an arrangement for providing everybody with music in their homes, perfect in quality, unlimited in quantity, suited to every mood, and beginning and ceasing at will, we should have considered the limit of human felicity already attained, and ceased to strive for further improvements.”

“I am sure I never could imagine how those among you who depended at all on music managed to endure the old fashioned system for providing it,” replied Edith. Music really worth hearing must have been, I suppose, wholly out of the reach of the masses, and attainable by the most favored only occasionally at great trouble, prodigious expense, and then for brief periods, arbitrarily fixed by somebody else and in connection with all sorts of undesirable circumstances. Your concerts, for instance, and operas ! How perfectly exasperating it must have been, for the sake of a piece or two of music that suited you, to have to sit for hours listening to what you did not care for! Now, at a dinner one can skip the courses one does not care for. Who would ever dine, however hungry, if required to eat everything brought on the table? and I am sure one’s hearing is quite as sensitive as one’s taste. I suppose it was these difficulties in the way of commanding really good music which made you endure so much playing and singing in your homes by people who had only the rudiments of the art.”

## Bringing Back Physics Posts

After a bit of thought, I’ve decided I’m going to try to bring back the physics posts. I will be going through Griffiths, Intro to Electrodynamics, 2nd Edition. I will be trying to update every day, but we’ll see what happens!

## In Which I Solve Healthcare

I try not to get into my own politics to much, mostly because (a) I like having a broad audience that isn’t angry at me about something and (b) because by nature I’m uncertain about pretty much everything softer than physical chemistry, which makes political pronouncements tricky.

But, I got to thinking about this problem we have in the US, where (ruling out idiots and assholes), we have two arguably reasonable factions – one group that thinks healthcare would benefit from a market in which prices are known and insurance functions like insurance in other markets*,  and another group that would like a European style socialized system where you’re taken care of regardless of your wealth or condition.

*That is, insurance should insure you against something rare or risky, as opposed to just being a pass into the hospital like it is now.

I like the idea of caring for everyone, but I also think it’d be good if people knew the cost of the care they were getting. People then might make better choices (for example, purchasing generic drugs) that would drive down cost over time. That is, socialization sounds nice, but I can see the value in a market.

So, why couldn’t you come up with a market that worked like this:

1) Once a year on their birthday, each person gets X\$ deposited into a personal “healthcare account.” This would be an inverse parabola based on average medical cost per person per year. That is, a typical 1 year old needs more medical care than a typical 20 year old, and a typical 80 year old needs more care than either. So, the money deposited reflects that.

2) The money may *only* be spent for healthcare. There might be some fringe cases on what constitutes healthcare, but this could be managed by using pre-existing certification systems.

3) When people want healthcare, they can buy it with regular dollars or healthcare dollars.

4) Healthcare institutions may trade healthcare dollars for the equivalent amount of dollars. This would stop the healthcare institutions from preferring “real” dollars over the healthcare system.

5) Anyone else can trade healthcare dollars at an agreed upon price with anyone else. Presumably, healthcare dollars would be worth less than regular old dollars, so people in need of more healthcare could buy up healthcare dollars cheaply.

6) In the case of catastrophic health conditions, where extremely expensive care is required, some sort of separate federal insurance system kicks in.

By this means, the system is essentially socialized, but at the point of purchase the buyer is in a market. This incentivizes the purchaser to pick what they actually need. For example, it’s been shown that robotic surgery doesn’t necessarily give better results than conventional surgery, but it certainly costs more. A buyer who has to pay (even in fake healthcare dollars), might be more likely to choose the cheap but effective option.

On the seller side, the one big downside I see is sellers would try to push product onto buyers, which may not be desirable in the case of drugs and surgery. But, this already happens, unfortunately, so it wouldn’t necessarily be worse. Plus, sellers would be obligated to offer the same service at a better price, which might allow individuals to consume more overall, if that’s what they want.

So, that’s my pitch. Probably a terrible idea, but it was kicking around my head, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Zach

Posted in economics | 22 Comments

## The Ass-Wiping Paradox: A Contribution to Public Choice Theory

I call it the Ass-Wiping Paradox.

Suppose C is the cost of wiping one’s ass.

Suppose D is the likelihood of getting a disease from not wiping one’s ass and A is the cost of the disease.

Suppose O is the likelihood of social ostracism from not wiping one’s ass and B is the cost of that ostracism and F is the likelihood of getting found out.

Suppose S is the satisfaction of knowing you’re the only one who is smart enough not to wipe his own ass.

Then, only if S  + C – (AD + BFO) < 0, should one wipe one’s ass.

Consider that in an industrialized society with good sanitation, C (price of asswiping) and D (likelihood of disease acquisition) are likely to be close to 0. Consider that because you live alone, spending your time converting your political biases into equations, B (cost of ostracism) is likely to be low.

These things being so, and S (satisfaction) always being positive, we must conclude that no Public Choice theorist should ever wipe his ass. And yet, based on informal surveys, as many as 3/4ths of Public Choice theorists wipe their asses a positive number of times per day. Thus, the “Ass-Wiping Paradox.”

We propose the careful avoidance of any empirical data collection as this may tend to lessen our ability to use the word “paradox” with a straight face.

## Rejected Ideas

Sometimes people ask me “What’s your process?” which I usually take to mean something like “how do you get ideas.”

My general theory of ideas is that good ones are impossible to generate. Or at least, they’re impossible to generate in the way you might generate a cake. With enough practice baking a cake, you know the methods and ingredients to get it right every time. Trying to write is more like trying to go on a first date. You can have all the right methods and ingredients, and it still won’t work, and the possible reasons for failure are many.

So, your best bet is (1) to become good at generating lots of ideas and (2) editing your really terrible ideas out. (1) is mostly accomplished by thinking, reading, and experiencing. (2) is just practice and giving your editor-brain a lot to work with.

I thought it might be interesting to some of you to see my lists of ideas, some of which become comics and some of which are rejected. The following are all the ideas from June 2013, roughly in the order they were created. This is a little like getting naked in front of an audience, so… YEEHAW!

1043

1

robot with robot friends

robot: i just don’t know if he likes me. plus, he’s an irrational human, there’s no way to know if he’ll suddenly try to kill me even though it’s not in his self interest.

2

human with human friends

human: i just don’t know if she likes me. plus, she’s an ultra-rational robot. there’s no way to know if she’ll suddenly try to kill me because she calculates it’s in her self interest

3

robot with robot friends

robot: unless we can calculate

4

human with robot friends

human: unless we can calculate

5

both: for love

6

(old man in movie theater with young woman)

old man: romantic comedies were better back when they only had humans!

girl: SHH! grampa, that’s racist!

_____

1

header: a chemical was developed to allow asexual reproduction

scientist: the serum causes human gametes to spontaneously double their chromosomes and begin self-assembly

2

header: this was a boon for many people unable to conceive

(happy couple)

3

header: but it also resulted in sexual antagonism

man talks to woman

man: wait. wait. i could be producing 60 million offspring a day. what am i doing with you?

4

header: males became k strategists, while females became r strategists

(left panel)

man: i’m your dad, so i don’t have favorites. however, i hope the weakest 95% of you are eaten by your superior brothers

(right panel)

woman with giant offspring

woman: she’s ten feet tall. did she not get enough food?

<<is this even vaguely funny? should i continue?>>>

_____

man in suit prepares rifle

man: oh, don’t worry. the bullets are made of diamond. they’re worth more than the victims could get by suing me. now, let’s go to the park and have some fun.

caption: this is why i shouldn’t be rich.

1044

headline: mysterious villain’s strikes again. death toll in billions

lower down: masked man says ‘i will attack when you most suspect it’

panel caption: if i ever become a supervillain, my name will be “natural causes.”

_____

1

student: i’m not doing well on this test. how about you show me the right answer first, and then i tell you why they were right, and I grade myself based on that?

2

professor: maybe you’re not cut out for physics. may i make a recommendation?

3

student in front of economics department, looking dejected

4

student: i’ve figured out a proof that the most recent war was justifiable!

professor 2: let me see

5

professor: this assumes infinite time, infinite money, and sets the value of life as 0

student: yeah, it really simplifies things

6

student in front of physics department, looking dejected

_____

______

1

man: I’ve read a great deal on matters philosophical. What are we, why are we, where are we going.

2

man: And the only thing I can come to is that although it’s all pointless, evolution has accidentally given us the ability perceive our own existence, and the awareness that there are things we like.

3

man: between those two, you can form a closed loop of meaningfulness

4

man: and if you accept this notion, there is a clear conclusion – that one must embrace humanness. embrace low pleasure. embrace high pleasure. embrace love, embrace hate. be afraid, be brave, be little and big.

5

woman: so what are you doing today?

6

woman: embracing the hate then?

man: bingo.

_____

idea: if oujia boards work, within what amount of time will 90% of all messages by “destroy my porn!”

[[note to self:]]

idea: area graph of difficulty in reading area graphs over time (subidea: big spike of confusion toward end, then spike of anger)

1046

professor talks to student

professor: sorry, this poem is incorrect. you forgot a minus sign in stanza 3.

______

header: how to solve a physics problem

(each sentence has a thumbnail image

1

write out all information and equations

2

draw a free body diagram

3

solve

4

5

check calculations. get new wrong answer.

6

redo calculations. get third wrong answer.

7

(image of guy saying “maybe if i average my answers then take the square root…”)

8

check for errata

(image of guy saying “stupid authors got the stupid answer wrong”)

9

find none

(guy saying “okay, the authors are stupid and every physics student and professor is too, and… OH GOD)

10

Locate algebra error

11

12

13

14

Feel intelligent

(person: I spent 4 hours today on a single math problem.)

15

Realize problem has 6 more sections

16

Become poet

______

left graph: intensity of anxiety (fluxuates)

right graph: number of sources of anxiety (many and fluxuating)

header: person working a math problem

left graph: intensity of anxiety (fluxuates)

right graph: goes to 1, stays at 1.

_____

Remember the last time you got dumped? Remember how you became an intolerable philosopher for a month?

Remember how you were suddenly an epistemological voyager, prepared to stare directly into the void? Remember how the void stared back, but you in your heightened awareness were indifferent to its gaze?

Most people say the lesson here is that when you’re dumped you become dumb.

That’s true.

But there’s something else. You were led to question the nature of reality – from the meaning of human life to the subjectivity of the universe. You questioned everything and were dubious of the answers.

Which tells you something strange – that your entire cosmology is lensed at the level of your mind’s eye. That the lens is soft and pliable.

That your view of the nature of a proton depends to a great extent on whether there’s a conspecific nearby who’s willing to hold your hand.

______

1047

man: wow! instead of being angry about 20 things distant things, i’m really angry about one local thing!

caption: this is why math is soothing

_____

1

woman: he broke up with you?!

woman 2: it doesn’t make sense. i gave him the highest compliment a mathematician can give!

2

woman 2 talks to man

woman 2: the fact that I love you is trivial

_____

header: life got a lot worse after the total consilience of art and science

professor: sorry, this poem is incorrect. you forgot a minus sign in stanza 3.

_____

______

1

building of evil, labeled “Legion of Economic Supervillains”

voice: as we all know, the demand curve ALWAYS slopes downard

2

(villain shows graph to other villains)

villain: the lower the price, the more people consume.

3

villain: i have the power to decrease the value of any good. by lowering the cost of soda to 0, i can raise consumption to infinity, causing all people to burst from overconsumption. HAHAHA!

other villains: HUZZAH!

4

villain: AND SO MADAME PRESIDENT, unless you give us a billion dollars we will explode everyone.

5

president: impossible. real people don’t behave like simple demand curves predict

villain: OH. well what if I…

6

snaps fingers

7

villain: lowered the price of popsicles to zero.

8

president: i wouldn’t change in any w-OH MY GOD

9

(president is holding two popsicles in each hand)

10

president eats popsicles

president: CAN’T. STOP. CONSUMING! SO. CHEAP!

villain: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

_____

1

interrogator talks to man

interrogator: so, i hear you have a cat

man: correct

2

interrogator: anything special or unique about it? anything that makes it just not like everyone else’s cat? that makes it anything but more or less the same as every other domestic cat?

man: no sir.

3

interrogator: AHA!

4

interrogator grips man’s face

5

pulls off face to reveal robot head

6

robot: how did you know

interrogator: you machines will never understand humans

_____

1

girl talks to guy

girl: i think we should be… just friends

2

guy: really?! just friends? like friends who defend justice

girl: PRECISELY

3

(they start walking. she holds up costumes)

girl: i said “we need to talk” because we need to talk about the costumes i’ve invented that allow us to fly and shoot lightning

4

(she holds up photo of evil ninja)

girl: and about the shadow being cast over asia by a mysterious villain known only as Ashiarai Yashiki. he must be stopped, but time is running out, Tom.

5

girl: time is running out tom. tom. tom! tom! tom!

6

(back to panel 1)

girl: TOM! i’m trying to break up with you! are you even listening?!

______

______

1

human talks to ball of light

human: why is there life in the universe?

2

ball: well, with the fundamental constants set to random values, what you call a “universe” will develop life one time in 109275771270570128

2

ball: in a finite amount of time, those universes scream out in existential horror just before their heat deaths

3

ball: so a clever way for us to divide a big number by 109275771270570128 is to take that number, create that many universes, and then listen for screams

4

human not impressed

5

human: why would you create whole universes of life just for them to die in entropy?

6

ball: one in 90823750187 universes contain sociopathic math-obsessed life. our universe was created to solve that kind of division problem

7

human: so… the purpose of *my* life

ball: is to have really really distant descendants die really really loudly.

1048

1

god: eve, i have one rule: don’t eat adam. that’s the one thing i forbid. good? tomorrow, i’ll teach you the knowledge of good and evil.

2

(eve eats bloody hunks of adam)

eve: you don’t tell me what to do! nobody tells humans what to do! NOBODY!

3

god: okay, eve, don’t eat from… uh… this tree.

_____

man talks to young girls

man: yeah right. if those things really worked, by now all you’d ever get would be “DESTROY MY PORN BEFORE ANYONE FINDS IT.”

caption: dad managed to ruin oujia boards forever.

______

1

human talks to ball of light

human: why is there life in the universe?

2

ball: well, with the fundamental constants set to random values, what you call a “universe” will develop life one time in 109275771270570128

2

ball: in a finite amount of time, those universes scream out in existential horror just before their heat deaths

3

ball: so a clever way for us to divide a big number by 109275771270570128 is to take that number, create that many universes, and then listen for screams

4

human not impressed

5

human: what about the possibility of life transcending time and space to attain beauty and perfect

ball: oh yeah, that’s possible

6

ball: but how often do you need to divide by 1012837598237592698712908798719285691726597166098302938?

_______

1

woman: time machines don’t make sense

man: why not? step in the machine, press a button, go to a different time.

2

woman: suppose it works that way. what happens if you put one machine inside the other and have the outer one go back while the inner one goes forward?

3

woman: you end up with two devices, one of which is supposed to be inside the other, but which can’t be because it’s not at the same time. the time part makes sense but space doesn’t.

4

man: well, okay. what if the outer time machine creates its own internal time while it’s traveling. then, the inner time machine only travels forward in internal time.

woman: STUPID

5

woman: suppose you put a person in each of THOSE machines. the person doesn’t age while he goes back in time and the inner person doesn’t age while going forward in the internal time machine.

6

woman: then the inner one gets out. now they’re in the same time AND space, but one’s from the future, but they’re the same age. how is that-

man: HRRKKG

7

woman: dammit. they always have aneurysms before i get to the really weird stuff.

________

1050

1

2

man looks away

3

man reaches in pocket

man: that was no dream

4

man, in horror, holds up clown nose

5

woman: why do you always have a clown nose in your pocket?

man: because one day the moment will come

_____

header: this is what i imagine it’s like to study T. Rex

1

person shows dinosaur bones to tour group

person: and that’s why we believe the common ancestor to be

kid: HEY! DID YOU KNOW T REX HAS *TINY* ARMS?

2

person (full of fury): NO. NO ONE HAS EVER NOTICED THAT

______

______

header: this is why mathematizing social science scares me

two people in heaven

person 1: why were you executed?

person 2: stray minus sign.

______

1

girl: why do i have to go to school?

man: to learn

girl: why?

man: so you can do interesting things

girl: why?

man: so you’ll be happy

girl: why?

2

girl: why do i have to go to school?

man: there is no “why” in this world of shadows

________

1

man: too many people are failing out of university. what if we relax academic standards?

2

man: too many people are dying before they reach 100 years. what if we make the earth go around the sun faster?

______

_____

man in scout uniform, surrounded by boyscouts, tells story around campfire with flashlight pointing up at his face.

man: if a tiny parasite started eating your brain and very slowly replacing your mind with its body, you would not at any point in the process realize you were being killed.

caption: philosophers are no longer welcome at summer camp.

______

1051

1

little boy and man in costume shop

2

boy points to clown wigs

boy: [clown wigs image]?

3

man: [image of clowns]

4

boy, horrified, imagines clowns in chains being led to guillotine

________

1

2

man looks away, reaches into his pocket.

3

man, in horror, holds up clown nose

man: that was no dream!

5

(other setting. woman holds up pair of pants near laundry machine)

woman: why do you always have a clown nose, shark tooth, and giant eyeball in your pockey?

man: no reason

______

1

header: if people knew who i really was, i don’t know how they’d take it

(superman flies)

2

header: even the most patriotic of actions can be portrayed as treason

(superman lands near phone booth)

3

header: that’s why I keep a secret identity

(superman puts on suit, tie, glasses)

4

header: it’s where the real power is

(clark kent types at computer. computer reads “NSA behavior revealed”

1049

1

man: i got a bag that has infinite +1 and -1 signs in it. when you add them up, they sum to zero.

2

man: if I feel around for a +1 and take it out, it therefore still contains infinite +1 and -1 signs.

3

man: so, the sum is now 1 + 0.

4

man: in fact, if i take out infinite +1s, the sum is infinity + 0.

5

man: what can you conclude from this?

6

student (agitated): that either the bag is insane or I am.

man: you are now prepared to learn mathematics!

______

header: funtime activity: casually accusing people of machiavellianism

man: i’m hungry. we should buy lunch.

woman: OH, so you’re saying THE END JUSTIFIES THE MEANS?

______

______

man: i base my view of human nature on a 6 day long study of 22 nonrandom individuals in which the experimenter actively existed inside the experiment

caption: this is what i hear when people cite the zimbardo prison experiment.

1052

pro tip: the “Quantum” in quantum mechanics refers only to the existence of discrete entities

man: i only work with one ass at a time

woman: so you’re a-

man: quantum proctologist

________

image: jesus, with crown of thorns looks up as birds nest in his crown

caption: today just went from bad to worse for jesus

______

1

woman in suit: welcome to the morale booster program

2

woman in suit: due to low morale, sales are down.

3

woman in suit: for that reason, we’ve been unable to pay for a proper morale boost program

4

woman in suit: so, we’ll need you to come in on weekends to design it

5

guy: isn’t that a vicious cycle?

6

woman in suit: oh, that reminds me, we’ve figured a way for you to generate your own electricity while working

(woman presents bicycle hooked to computer at cubicle)

______

1

man sees mountain

2

man: if i could just get to the top of that mountain, i’d be happy

3

man climbs

4

and climbs

5

and climbs

6

reaches top

7

smiles

8

frowns

9

can now see many other mountains

10

man: i couldn’t see these down there.

______

______

man and woman in bed. man with head between woman’s legs

woman: why do you always do that counterclockwise motion?

man: we’re 40 degrees north of the equator. clockwise cunnilingus is impossible without mechanical assistance

caption:

life tip: people will believe anything you say if it involves Coriolis force.

_____

header: life tip: once you’re married you don’t need good pickup lines

man: baby, my erections are so weak, city hallwants them condemned.

______

_____

19th century man yells at other 19th century man

man 1: when you gaze into the abyss too long, the abyss gazes back at you

caption:

fun fact:

“the abyss” was Nietzsche’s rapping name

______

1053

1

(beautiful city)

voice: that wasn’t so hard after all

voice 2: who would’ve thought badgers would be the key to everything?

2

header: at which point the only thing left to do was create beauty

(two boxes, one marked ‘objective’ and one ‘subjective’. first is checked off. second is circled)

3

header: humanity became a race of artists

person: beauty is truth, truth beauty. it’s like energy-mass equivalence, but we haven’t found the conversion factor yet.

4

header: the quickest way to get ahead in the art world is to appear to be insane

man points to empty podium

woman: this is my sculpture

woman 2: what is?

man: my pointing hand.

woman 2: sooo deeeeeep.

5

header: the best way to appear to be insane is to be insane

man wields jar with organ in it

man: SURGEON PULLED AN ART OUTTA ME CAUSE I SMOKE TOO MUCH

6

(insane man surrounded by attractive women)

man: plrgghgggg, harghzhhhhhhh!

woman: he’s so deep he doesn’t need words.

7

woman: let’s go to dunkin donuts when other options are available

woman 2: awesome!

8

header: the gravest consequences were the most pragmatic

woman: i’ve created an avant garde sanitation system. it confronts people with the amount of waste they produce

9

header: the collapse was inevitable and swift

man on top of giant bomb: i made an art that will explode humanity back 50,000 years!

10

header: at which point reproductive advantage shifted to the least artistic humans

ragged people

woman: i’m gonna go consume calories and mate with the alpha

man: i’m gonna draw abstract oxen on this wall

woman: good luck with that

11

header: sanity being regained, civilization was reborn.

(beautiful city)

12

header: you are living in the 429th cycle

(graph of human population cycling)

13

header: remember that the next time you’re at a museum of modern art

two guys look at abstract painting

guy 1: i don’t get this one.

guy 2: exactly.

guy 1: what does that even mean?

guy 2: oh, sorry. i’m a performance artist and my thing is saying “exactly” to confused people

14

scientist: why do badgers keep showing up in my calculations?

_______

man: i found a way to increase your expected lifespan 20 years

woman: how?

man: step over this invisible line

woman: riiiiiiight.

caption: national borders are weird

______

1

man: i don’t love you. you don’t love me.

2

man: we should probably get a divorce

3

man: but we’re both so complacent there hasn’t been a single inciting incident strong enough to compel either of us to action.

4

man: we’re like a bottle of liquid water slowly taken well below 0 degrees. cold enough to destroy its container, but lacking the ever-so-small motion required for change

5

man flicks bottle of water

6, 7

water spreads through container, breaking it

8

woman: oh man! that was really cool!

man: i know. i spent weeks planning this!

woman: WOW!

9

beat

10

man: yeah.

11

woman: so… it’s tuesday night

man: tuesday night is separate movie night!

_______

man: baby, i don’t mean to brag, but I’m a student-loans-paid-offionaire.

1054

1

dorothy and the oz characters

dorothy: oh my god! there is no wizard of oz! it’s just a man behind a curtain!

2

oz: technically, both are true. yes, i’m the man behind the curtain, but i also have a vast technological apparatus, a horde of secret knowledge, and decades of cultural inertia

3

oz: now that you know there’s a man behind the curtain, you should be *more* awed. for a real wizard, worldly puissance is trifling

4

oz: but for a man, the achievement of absolute monotechnocracy takes a level of single-mindedness and dispassion than verges on madness, or perhaps madness’s cold mirror. a god made man is as weak as a paupered prince. but you, my strange invaders, are looking at the opposite.

6

oz: did you wonder why i would put myself behind a mere curtain? why not a wall? why not a bunker? why not a crystal case?

7

oz: you see, i like to be found out now and then. i like to help. for when i give to the needy few i am absolved of what i will have done to the unknown many

8

9

oz: now then, you can either persist in your dull revelation, OR you can close the curtain and return to your world where good and power can alloy without wicked dross, and where the broken vessels of your lives can be made whole by the caprice of an inscrutable demigod

10

group thinks

11

12

giant machine: and you may have a brain!

_______

1

man: i don’t love you. you don’t love me. we should probably get a divorce

2

man: but there hasn’t been a single incident strong enough to compel either of us to action.

3

man takes out bottle of water

man: we’re like this bottle of liquid water slowly taken well below 0 degrees celsius. it has the proper conditions for change, but lacks the ever-so-small motion required to begin the process.

4

man flicks bottle of water

5, 6

water spreads through container, breaking it

7

woman: oh man! that was really cool!

man: i know. i spent weeks planning this. it’s the perfect metaphor.

woman: WOW! yeah, it really is.

8

beat

9

man: yeah.

woman: yep.

10

woman: so… it’s tuesday night

man: tuesday night is separate movie night!

_______

1

woman and man in bed

woman: do you lay awake at night and wonder that the baby inside me will never stop growing?

2

woman: that it will never escape my body, but just grow and grow until it’s bigger than you and then bigger than the house, and then the city?

3

woman: until it’s just some massive incarnation of the reproductive impulse, created by evolution and hardened by life, culminating in this one being whose importance dwarfs and shames that of all other life forms in the history of creation?

4

woman: and then it’ll keep expanding until it and i, bound in the most intimate connection, collapse into a black hole, and in the consummate act of motherhood, we sacrifice our bodies to calve an infinity of new universes?

5

man: most nights i think about work, or star wars.

6

woman: i don’t think the pregnancy has quite hit you for real yet

man: mostly star wars, if i’m being honest.

_____

______

1055

man talks to classroom

man: now, we identify three kingdoms of life: meat, not-meat, and meat-but-pointy

caption: what if Linnaeus had been a cat?

_______

man and woman with hands out. woman’s hand is flat shape palm down.

man: paper wins, but like all victories it is both temporary and pointless

caption: my favorite game is “rock, paper, scissors, creeping sense of emptiness”

1056

header: the first victim of technological acceleration was standup comedy

man: when i was a kid, you’d ask a girl out and actually *talk* to her. nowadays, time is stored in a one-dimensional pseudocloud within which the notion of causality is meaningless. am i right? the fellas know what i’m talkin’ about.

_____

1

reporter: why do you need all this information on citizens?

man at podium: raison d’etat.

2

man at podium: oops, sorry. slip of the tongue.

3

______

1

young man: dad, how do i know if she loves me?

man: you’re 17. its irrelevant

2

man: the number of physiological, emotional, and social changes she will encounter in the next 500 days are so staggering, that the opinion of the current iteration of her will be about as relevant to the future her as the opinion of the last president is to the current one

3

man: even if she loves you, truly and deeply, that loving individual will be unrecoverably obliterated in a historical instant.

4

(young man holds up wrist with yarn bracelet)

young man: so, do you think the friendship bracelet is a good sign or a bad sign?

man: friendship bracelet? oh, you’re really screwed, kid.

_____

_______

1

cop: release the hostages and we’ll give you whatever you want!

2

man: i want to be as carefree as I was at age 10, as excited as I was at age 20, as confident as I was at age 30, and as empowered as I was at age 40!

3

cop: we can do that for you! but you have to accept that the present, though a result of the past, still exists unto itself!

4

man: no deal, copper! my self-assessment is entirely governed by endless analysis of missed opportunities and mistakes!

5

voice on cop’s headset: sir, we’ve got a clear shot. do we take it.

6

different setting. cop at desk with gun

cop: i don’t know

_______

______

1

cop: release the hostages and we’ll give you whatever you want!

2

man: i want to be as carefree as I was at age 10, as excited as I was at age 20, as confident as I was at age 30, and as empowered as I was at age 40!

3

cop: we’ve got that down here! just release the hostages!

4

(cops have man cuffed)

man: so where is it?! where?!

5

cop: oh, that’s easy. all you have to accept that the present, though a result of the past, still exists unto itself!

6

man: what?! but my self-assessment is entirely the result of my unrelenting analysis of missed opportunities and mistakes!

7

cop: well, you probably should’ve bargained for a ferrari or something

man: this is exactly the kind of thing i’m talking about!

______

1057

1

genie: you may have three wishes

boy: i wish for ten billion tons of gold!

2

genie: it is done. the price of gold has collapsed. you now possess a mountain of worthless yellow metal

3

boy: i wish prices weren’t inversely related to supply!

4

genie: it is done. price now scales with supply. your gold is worth some money, but isn’t nearly as valuable as common commodities like wheat and clean water. air now costs a hundred trillion dollars per breath. better stop.

5

boy: i wish i could afford to breathe!

6

genie: it is done. everyone else is will dead within 2 minutes. you killed them.

7

boy’s mouth gapes open in horror

8

boy: is there a moral to this story?

man: take care sticking your ought in the is.

_____

dominatrix stands by man tied and hanging from ceiling

dominatrix: and by suspending the slave along 3 difference axes, we can exactly determine its center of mass!

caption: combining physics and sex ed saved the high school a lot of money.

______

man: i’m sorry, but i only engage in sexual congress via the 69 position

caption: vilfredo pareto was a terrible lover

______

______

1

genie: you may have three wishes

boy: i wish for ten billion tons of gold!

2

genie: it is done. the price of gold has collapsed. you now possess a mountain of worthless yellow metal

3

boy: i wish prices weren’t inversely related to supply!

4

genie: it is done. price now scales with supply. your gold is worth some money, but isn’t nearly as valuable as common commodities like wheat and clean water. air now costs a hundred trillion dollars per breath. better stop.

5

boy: i wish i could afford to breathe!

6

genie: it is done. everyone else is will dead within 2 minutes. you killed them.

7

boy’s mouth gapes open in horror

8

boy: is there a moral to this story?

man: morality is an unnecessary hypothesis

________

1

people in board room

person 1: budget cuts. we’re going to have have to either cut sex ed. or physics

person 2: OR we could keep them and make both better AT THE SAME TIME

2

dominatrix stands by man tied and hanging from ceiling

dominatrix: and by suspending the slave along 3 difference axes, we can exactly determine its center of mass!

1058

1

man: can i give you my number?

woman: what? that’s a bit presumptuos

2

he hands her paper

3

woman: your number is 2? just 2?

man: yeah. my erdos number is two

4

she jumps to kiss him

_______

dominatrix stands by man tied and hanging from ceiling

dominatrix: and by suspending the slave along 3 difference axes, we can exactly determine its center of mass!

caption: there’s a way to get physics students to take notes. you’re just not willing to do it.

_______

1

god talks to angel

angel: we can’t create perfect beings. getting an exact solution would require more computing power than is available in a trillion multiverses

2

god: what if we use a genetic algorithm to “evolve” a solution over time

3

angel: it’s worth a try…

4

god: show me the perfect beings!

angel: they’re not quite-

god: bring them to me!

5

weird looking humans

human 1: HI GOD!

god: what in the…

6

god: are you supposed to look like that?

voice off screen: like what?

god: stop having sex with that cloud!

voice: it was shaped like a butt!

1059

1

man in suit: if gay people can get married, next it’ll be bestiality or child marriage!

man: uh, no. until you can find a child or dog capable of granting legal consent, there’s no slippery slope

2

man in suit: i thought you’d bring that up, so i fused a child to a dog and then fed it a cocktail of chemicals so it would develop a massive cerebral cortex

3

man: why would you do that?!

4

(monster child-dog with giant brain)

monster: MAAAAAAAAH!

man in suit: RUN! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!

______

1

boy: i turned 9 today. i’m not sure i got everything i could’ve out of 8.

2

boy: it’s a shame years are only a year long. you can’t ever roll yourself up in your experience of them.

3

boy: just for one year, i’d like time to slow down. maybe even stop. i’d like to be like a character from Peanuts, experiencing the age of 7 forever, exploring its every crevice and mining its every treasure

4

girl: but time goes quicker when you’re happy. the only place where time stands still is an unlit dungeon.

5

boy: so you’re saying i can either have a brief happy life or a long sad life?

girl: pretty much

6

boy: now i’m depressed

girl: lucky you

_______

1060

woman: I’d assassinate President McKinley before he started World War 0. In fact… would you excuse me for a moment?

caption: this is the proper response to “what would you do with a time machine?”

_____

header: the following construction works for any object

man holds sandwich

man: this? it’s an analog computer for calculating the trajectory of a falling sandwich

______

cut-out lines surround the word “bruce wayne”

caption: Math Tip: The above can seamlessly be added to any list of identities.

________

______

1

man talks to toddler

man: hey lil’ monkey. can you tell daddy what you have when you’ve got one finger and then you add another finger?

2

toddler kind of holds up two digits

toddler: Towo fingaw!

3

(man at office pridefully talks to other men)

man: well, my three year old solved for the sum of two halves of the pi-tau conversion constant.

____

1

man: i propose we split the baby in two and give each of you half

2

woman 2: that’s fine

3

man (to woman 1): aha! i can tell by your care for the child that you are the true mother

4

man: and you. holy crap lady. you were cool with the baby getting cut in half?

woman: i dunno. wasn’t my kid.

5

man: but what do you do with half a baby anyway? it’s like having half a bucket.

6

woman: whoa, hey. if i’d have known it’d be a BIG FREAKIN’ DEAL i wouldn’t have gone around claiming random babies, okay?

7

(change of scene, two girls in nice clothes read)

girl 1: no improvising on your bible passages!

girl 2: story makes no sense!

________

header: life tip: everything is an analog computer of itself

man holds cheese

man: this machine is running a perfect simulation of cheese, faster than any supercomputer.

_______

Q: Which of these doesn’t belong?

1) a+0=a

2) a*1 = a

3) a+b = b+a

4) clark kent

A: You, in nerd society, if you said (4)

______

a way to stop gerrymandering:

the word “gerrymandering” has to be able to fit in each district, and take up ⅓ of its area.

example: (nice square)

## Kids’ Poem

Have this vague idea to make a book of stuff like this. Would you buy it?

My twin who’s named Bob

Built a great big red ship

That could fly into space

With incredible zip

He zipped through the white

And the blue and the black

He flew to the stars

Would he ever come back?

He flew up so fast

Even time couldn’t catch him

Which changed both our lives

In a rather odd fashion

The clock in my bedroom

Kept on ticking indeed

Bob’s clock barely tocked

At his zip-along speed

So while time couldn’t catch him

It sure could catch me

And in time, well, the difference

Was easy to see

For I aged fifty years

In the time he aged three

So when Bobby was ten

A gray beard grew on me

When Bobby returned

In his great big read ship

I said “Hello there, Bob,

Did you have a nice trip?”

He stared at me strangely

He looked at me quizzically

Now just how did we twins get

So opposite physically?

But I’d a solution

(Quite clever, I’d say)

I’d depart in the ship

And skip time on the way

I zipped through the white

And the blue and the black

So fast that time lost me

Until I came back

And when I got home

To that brother of mine

We both were old men,

And that suits us just fine.

## Weinersmith’s Book Club #7

Damn, I really need to start doing this monthly so it can be done with more care. Here will be my rating system:

A: Wonderful.
B: Solid Work
C: Not to my taste
D: Very much not to my taste
N: Written by a friend or acquaintance, so I choose not to rate it here
?: Don’t really remember. This can probably be taken as a sign it doesn’t merit mention
L: It’s by Stanislaw Lem and therefore great.

If I feel like adding commentary, I will.

Okay, here goes:

Nov 30 – The Cyberiad (Lem)

Rating: L

Dec 1 – Seeing Voices (Sacks)

Rating: C

I really enjoy Sacks, but I get the sense he’s just got in the habit of writing books, even when he doesn’t have the expertise he once brought to the table. Fortunately, he got in that habit prior to the age of the Gladwells and Lehrers, so there’s no BS in this one. It’s a fine book to read idly, but nothing magnificent.

Dec 3 – Parkinson’s Law (Parkinson)

Rating: A

Wonderful, especially the first few chapters. Caveat: There’s a rather racist chapter in there, which is a general problem of any comedy books older than, oh, ten seconds ago.

Dec 3 – Bailout (Barofsky)

Rating: B

Great info, not terribly well written. Sometimes reeks of personal ire, though that’s not surprising since the book is really a memoir.

Austin Trip

Dec 6 – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Twain)

Rating: A

Dec 12 – Letters from the Earth (Twain)

Rating: A

Dec 14 – Homage to Catalonia (Orwell)

Rating: A/B

I have the ambiguity because I’ve come to like it more in retrospect. One should really have a bit of knowledge of the history of Spain in the last 150 years before trying this one on.

Dec 15 – The Book of Merlyn (White)

Rating: A

It took me a long time to read this book, for the same reason it took me a long time to read the last Sherlock Holmes book. However, unlike the Casebook, White is good from beginning to end. The tone changes and the subject matter grows larger and larger, but in that sense it’s perhaps the recapitulation of life.

Dec 15 – The Futurological Congress (Lem)

Rating: L

Dec 17 – Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Brown)

Rating: A/B

Probably deserves an A, but was perhaps in some ways out of date. This is a common problem for classic works of non-fiction.

Dec 19 – To Have and Have Not (Hemingway)

Rating: A

Christmas Trip

Dec 31 – The End of the Affair (Greene)

Rating: ?

Well, that’s embarrassing. Can’t strongly remember the plot of a famous book. Must’ve been a little fuzzy getting back from that trip.

Jan 1 – Alas, Babylon (Frank)

Rating: A

Like a lot of golden age sci fi, it’s a bit sitcom-ish. But, still a great early post-apocalypse novel.

Jan 2 – Jefferson: The Virginian (Malone)

Rating: A/B

Jan 5 – Last and First Men (Stapledon)

Rating: A

A very strange book, but I’ve never read anything else quite like it.

Jan 6 – The Impotence of Man (Richet)

Rating: B

Ha! Mostly amusing for the level of pessimism, most of which turns out to be wrong.

Jan 7 – The President’s Club (Gibbs, Duffy)

Rating: B/C

Mediocre pop non-fic. Nothing new here, and I’m generally a bit dubious of books that are overly fawning of the executive.

Jan 8 – African Mole-Rats, Ecology and Eusociality (Bennett, Faulkes)

Rating: A

Awesome book.

Jan 11 – The Strangest Man (Farmelo)

Rating: A

One of the best science biographies I’ve read recently. Wish there were more like it.

Jan 14 – The People of the Mist (Haggard)

Rating: C

Oof. Bad formulaic Haggard. Guilty pleasure.

Jan 20 – Alan Turing: The Enigma (Hodges)

Rating: A

Also great science biography. In particular changed my understanding of Turing’s suicide. It’s quite a bit more mysterious than I’d imagined.

Jan 21 – Economics (Mankiw)

Rating: A

Jan 24 – A Canticle for Leibowitz (Miller)

Rating: A

Man, good long streak of As here.

Jan 26 – The Violinist’s Thumb (Kean)

Rating: A

Jan 27 – Guest of Honor (Davis)

Rating: A/B

Jan 28 – The Rough Riders (Roosevelt)

Rating: B

God what a fascinating pompous ass he was.

Feb 1 – Benjamin Franklin (Isaacson)

Rating: A

Wonderful biography.

Feb 2 – Twentysomething (Henig)

Rating: N

Feb 3 – The Psychopath Test (Ronson)

Rating: N

Story Collider Trip

Feb 7 – The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Douglass)

Rating: A

Feb 8 – Lost at Sea (Ronson)

Rating: N

Feb 10 – Them (Ronson)

Rating: N

Feb 10 – The Law (Bastiat)

Rating: A/B

Feb 11 – Flatland (Abbott)

Rating: A/B

Feb 12 – Men Who Stare at Goats (Ronson)

Rating: N

Feb 16 – Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone (Thompson)

Rating: A

Feb 17 – Rocket Boys (Hickam)

Rating: A

Goddamn, what a good book. Like a science dork version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Feb 19 – The Collected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar (Ed. Braxton)

Rating: A

The minstrel shit grates, but there are a lot of pearls in there.

Feb 20 – South Sea Tales (London)

Rating: B

Feb 21 – The End of Eternity (Asimov)

Rating: B

Sorry. Asimov doesn’t float my boat, but his short stories are usually great.

Feb 26 – Hell’s Angels (Thompson)

Rating: A

But holy shit.

Feb 27 – Roughing It (Twain)

Rating: A/B

Twain, so good. But, not his best.

Mar 1 – An Honest President (Jeffers)

Rating: A/B

It’s a shame honest presidents are less interesting.

Mar 3 – Hello My Big Big Honey (Walker)

Rating: A/B

Randy Milholland recommended this. It’s just a somewhat cheaply made collection of the letters to and from Thai sex workers. But there’s a lot of insight there. Fascinating.

Mar 4 – Failure is Not an Option (Kranz)

Rating: A

Shit. Now I wanna be an astronaut.

Mar 5 – Peace on Earth (Lem)

Rating: L

Mar 7 – The Trouble with Physics (Smolin)

Rating: A

Enjoyed the academic part. Somewhat dubious of the science part, though the general notion that science could do with a bit more philosophy appeals strongly to my biases.

Mar 10 – Roots (Haley)

Rating: A

Damn. So very good.

Mar 11 – Euclid’s Window (Mlodinow)

Rating: B

Mar 11 – Sun-dials and Roses of Yesterday (Earle)

Rating: A

Found an old copy of this in a bookstore in MA. Wonderful stuff. Wish I could get more of her books, but there a little hard to lay hands on.

Mar 13 – A Beautiful Mind (Nasser)

Rating: A

Mar 13 – Isaac Newton (Gleick)

Rating: C

Mar 14 – Mortality (Hitchens)

Rating: A

Mar 14 – Letters to a Young Contrarian (Hitchens)

Rating: A

Mar 16 – The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzche (Mencken)

Rating: B/C

Mar 19 – The Genome War (Shreeve)

Rating: A/B

Mar 21 – The Great Persuasion (Shetterly)

Rating: ?

Mar 23 – The Darwin Economy (Frank)

Rating: B

Interesting thoughts, but I’m not certain a lot of the claims either require or benefit from the hypothesis.

Mar 24 – In Defense of Women (Mencken)

Rating: B/C

Mar 27 – Rocket Men (Nelson)

Rating: A

Mar 28 – Between Man and Beast (Reel)

Rating: A/B

But, I have a soft spot for the subject matter.

April 3 – The Wise Men (Isaacson)

Rating: B

April 4 – Gulp (Roach)

Rating: A

Skeptech

April 7 – Selfish Reasons to Have More Children (Caplan)

Rating: N

April 10 – The Coming of the Third Reich (Evans)

Rating: A

April 11 – Microcosmographia Academica (Cornford)

Rating: A

Lovely!

April 11 – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Stevenson)

Rating: B

Maybe I just already knew the twist, but it didn’t quite ring my bell, and I love Stevenson.

April 17 – Washington (Chernow)

Rating: A

April 19 – Turing’s Cathedral (Dyson)

Rating: A/B

Honeymoon

Papa Hemingway (Hotchner)

Rating: A

May 5 – Speak, Memory (Nabokov)

Rating: A

Beautiful.

May 7 – The Selfish Gene (Dawkins)

Rating: A

(But what an asshole!)

May 9 – Green Mansions (Hudson)

Rating: C

Good god what trifling Edwardian melodrama.

May 10 – Brothers, Rivals, Victors (Hughes)

Rating: B

May 11 – Is College Worth it (Bennett)

Rating: A/C

What a shit sandwich. Awesome stats and arguments, then here and there “also, fuck liberals.” It’s like a good analyst had Rush Limbaugh as a conjoined twin.

May 12 – East of Eden (Steinbeck)

Rating: A

May 13 – The Alchemy of Air (Verner)

Rating: A/B

May 17 – Beyond the Horizon (Heinlein)

Rating: B

Though, amazingly current-sounding for a book on genetics written in the 40s.

May 20 – Andrew Carnegie (Nasaw)

Rating: A

May 21 – Randomness in Evolution (Bonner)

Rating: A/B

Not sure I buy it as a general framework, but it made me think!

May 22 – Way Station (Simak)

Rating: A

Corny, but good.

May 23 – Travels with Charley (Steinbeck)

Rating: A

May 24 – The Winter of Our Discontent (Steinbeck)

Rating: A/B

May 27 – Pudd’nhead Wilson (Twain)

Rating: A

Glorious.

June 1 – Robert Oppenheimer (Monk)

Rating: A

June 2 – King of Hearts (Miller)

Rating: B

Though, fascinating.

June 2 – Obsessive Genius (Goldsmith)

Rating: B

June 6 – How I Found Livingstone in Central Africa (Stanley)

Rating: B

Terribly written and needlessly aloof and ornamented even by Victorian standards. Interesting as a document, though.

June 8 – Foundations of Astronomy 11th Ed (Seeds/Backman)

Rating: A

Wonderful intro to astro.

June 10 – Dirty Wars (Scahill)

Rating: A

Prepare to be depressed.

June 14 – Life on the Mississippi (Twain)

Rating: A

Truly fantastic.

June 14 – The Doors of Perception (Huxley)

Rating: A/B

June 17 – The Last Founding Father (Unger)

Rating: B

June 18 – Darkness at Noon (Koestler)

Rating: A

What is truly amazing about this book is the portrayal of an old revolutionary whose government has turned evil, but who still can’t let go of his philosophy. Great great book.

June 18 – The Seven Percent Solution (Mayer)

Rating: B/C

I really wanted to like this. And, it’s not bad, but based on its reputation I expected more. As fan fic, I give it an A. As a book, meh. It’s two separate stories, the first of which is dull, the second of which is uninspired compared to early Doyle.

June 20 – Twilight of Authority (Nesbit)

Rating: B

Learned a lot, but also very outdated and gets some facts wrong.

June 22 – The Story of Earth (Hazen)

Rating: A/B

Good, but beware, it’s secretly a book of geology!

June 24 – The Log from the Sea of Cortez (Steinbeck)

Rating: A

Maybe the best book this year.