Feb 272021

Today’s “what on Earth were they thinking” moment arrived in the form of a statue:

Yes, a golden statue of Donald Trump.

Apparently, it’s not a joke. It is a bona fide prop for this weekend’s CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference).

Apart from the blatantly obvious (even to heathen nonbelievers like me) reference to the Bible and its admonition concerning the Golden Calf, there are also the more modern-day comparisons to personality cults, such as those of Joseph Stalin or Trump’s BFF Kim Jong Un.

How could the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan sink this far, this quickly?

Just how badly broken is the American body politic for us to witness this… this abomination?

The mind boggles. I’ll leave it at that as I really have no answer and no coherent thoughts as I continue to stare at this deeply disturbing image.

 Posted by at 12:24 am
Feb 182021

I really cannot tell which impresses me more: The incredibly complex landing or the fact that there is now a de facto infrastructure in orbit around Mars, in the form of earlier spacecraft that provide communications relay capabilities for real-time tracking of the landing.

Or perhaps the fact that Perseverance also carries the Ingenuity helicopter. If successful, it will be the first drone to fly in the atmosphere of another planet.

The children of future settlers on Mars will be learning about these moments in school.

 Posted by at 4:06 pm
Feb 152021

A Dallas-Fort Worth TV station characterized Texas as the energy capital of the world as it asked the rhetorical question: How could this happen?

I have friends in Texas. One of them e-mailed me to let me know that they’ve been without power since 5 AM this morning.

Unlike the US-Canadian northeast with its interconnected power grid, Texas has its own power grid. This means, I understand, that they cannot rely on excess generating capacity in neighboring states to help with the crisis.

And the weather is bitterly cold, much colder than up here in wintry Ottawa. Right now, according to that Dallas-Fort Worth TV station it’s 8 degrees Fahrenheit but it will drop to several degrees below zero on the Fahrenheit scale overnight; that’s -20 C for us folks in metric lands.

This is not a joke. In weather like this, people can die, especially in ill-insulated homes as they struggle with unexpected secondary disasters such as bursting, frozen pipes that may very well happen.

 Posted by at 10:42 pm
Feb 102021

Sometimes, simple programming mistakes make for interesting glitches.

Take this image:

No, this is not something that a gravitational lens would produce. Or any lens.

Even-numbered multipoles in a gravitational lens produce images that have fourfold symmetry. This allows me to reduce the amount of computation needed to generate an image, as I only need to generate one quarter; the rest are just copied over.

But this is not true for odd-numbered multipoles. This image was supposed to represent the J3 multipole, which would yield a triangular shape.

Unfortunately, I generated it accidentally by assuming the symmetries of an even-numbered multipole.

I kind of like the result, even though it is of course scientifically worthless. It still looks neat though.

 Posted by at 12:36 pm
Feb 062021

In recent days, especially in light of the sudden drop in vaccine deliveries in Canada, I saw a lot of criticism aimed at the Canadian government and its perceived failure to secure vaccine supplies or vaccine manufacturing in Canada.

Reality is a little bit more nuanced. Manufacturing a 21st century vaccine is not exactly something that can be done anywhere. The fact that Canada doesn’t presently have the expertise or infrastructure is lamentable but that’s the result of a decades-long trend, not the decisions of the past several months.

Meanwhile in Hungary, Orban’s government is criticized for telling people that they will be vaccinated with whichever vaccine is available at the time; if you don’t like the vaccine being offered, you’re sent to the back of the line. A bit harsh, to be sure, but this is a bleeping global health emergency. Orban’s government may be criticized for acting in haste when they approved the Chinese and Russian vaccines (although the Russian vaccine seems effective; the Chinese vaccine is probably also fine, what is questionable is the ethical shortcuts they took with the testing and approval process). But acting in an authoritarian fashion when there is a global health emergency is precisely what even the most liberal, most democratic governments are expected to do. Orban can, and should, be criticized for undermining the country’s democratic institutions, its press freedoms, its judicial independence, its constitutional principles, but not for acting decisively when decisive action is needed during a pandemic.

 Posted by at 6:29 pm