Communion Of Dreams

Some lessons are more costly than others.
December 10, 2009, 11:12 pm
Filed under: Civil Rights, Government, Society, Violence

18 months ago, prompted in part by a couple of incidents in my neck of the woods, I wrote the following:

The police use of Tasers is just simply out of control in this country. Seriously. My dad was a cop, and a lot of my family’s friends growing up were cops. They’ve got a tough job. I know that the use of Tasers have protected the lives of officers. But this is insane. It is no longer just the odd asshole who happens to make the Greatest Hits of Police Abuse on YouTube. It has now become commonplace for the police to grab their Taser anytime someone doesn’t immediately do what they’re told. Time to get rid of the things, nationwide.

Well, one of the incidents has now been settled:

City pays off man injured in Taser use

The man injured after falling 15 feet from a highway overpass when police shocked him with two Tasers has reached a cash settlement with the city of Columbia.

The city Finance Department agreed last month to pay $300,000 to 46-year-old Phillip McDuffy to settle a claim he made out of court. About $66,450 of that settlement will go to the Family Support Payment Center to cover back child support that McDuffy owes.


City Finance Director Lori Fleming said that avoiding a potentially lengthy and expensive jury trial merited the outlay of taxpayer dollars.

“We obviously believe it is in the best interest of the city in the long run,” Fleming said.

Another incident, which happened in a nearby town and resulted in the death of a young man who was tased multiple times in front of his home (and family) after being pulled over for speeding, was settled earlier this year for $2.4 million.

Pain, suffering, loss of a family member – none of these can really be compensated with a cash settlement. Let alone the damage done to our civil liberties. But beyond that, in simple terms of whether Tasers are cost effective additions to police work: do you have any idea how many cops $2.7 million would fund for a year here in rural Missouri? That’s a lot more manpower on the street, now lost.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to my blog.)

Viva la difference!
December 10, 2009, 12:49 pm
Filed under: Art, movies, NPR, Science, Steampunk, tech

Most geeks already know about Charles Babbage‘s Difference Engine, but there was a nice piece on NPR this morning about it:

Charles Babbage, the man whom many consider to be the father of modern computing, never got to complete any of his life’s work. The Victorian gentleman was a brilliant mathematician, but he wasn’t very good at politics and fundraising, so he never got the financial backing to finish any of his elaborate machine designs. For decades, even his fans weren’t certain whether his computing machines would have worked.

But Doron Swade, a former curator at the Science Museum in London, has proven that Babbage wasn’t just an eccentric dreamer. Using nothing but materials that would have been available to Babbage in the 1840s, Swade and a group of engineers successfully built Babbage’s Difference Engine — and a version is now on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

Having just watched “Longitude” about the construction and restoration of the first functional marine chronometers (and having seen reproduction of same at Greenwich), this seems, er, timely.

Jim Downey

This confirms it.
December 9, 2009, 1:24 pm
Filed under: Health, Science

A number of health researchers have wondered whether an over-enthusiastic effort to create an ultra-clean/hygenic environment for children was behind a growing rate of asthma and possibly even obesity and cardiovascular disease. And now it looks like there’s pretty good evidence to support this:

Germs May Be Good For You

Exposing kids to nasty germs might actually toughen them up to diseases as grown-ups, mounting research suggests.

A new study suggests that higher levels of exposure to common everyday bacteria and microbes may play a helpful role in the development of the body’s inflammatory systems, which plays a crucial role in the immune system’s fight against infection.

“Inflammatory networks may need the same type of microbial exposures early in life that have been part of the human environment for all of our evolutionary history to function optimally in adulthood,” said Thomas McDade, a professor of anthropology at Northwestern University and lead author of the study.

The investigation focused on how various early childhood environments affected levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), which rises in the blood because of inflammation. C-reactive protein is also considered by researchers to be a predictor of heart disease, independent of lipids, cholesterol and blood pressure, though the association has been disputed.

While earlier studies have been conducted in relatively affluent settings such as the United States, the researchers were interested in how C-reactive protein production differed in a country like the Philippines, a population with a high level of infectious diseases in early childhood, but low rates of obesity and cardiovascular diseases when compared to Western countries.

Turns out, the Filipino participants in the study had one-fifth to one-seventh the CRP levels of Americans.

Now, consider – the slow plague of obesity has also been linked to the spread of a virus (which I have written about previously). Could it be that because of an over-emphasis on protecting children from exposure to immune-system-building microbes more people are now susceptible to this obesity-causing virus? Did 20th century germophobia set the stage for 21st century heart disease?

Jim Downey

“Not my planet, monkey-boy!”*
December 7, 2009, 9:15 am
Filed under: Art, MetaFilter, movies, Science Fiction, YouTube

Well, this’ll get your energy up for a grey Monday:

And when you’re done with that, check out this one.

Jim Downey

*With apologies to Buck and the gang. Via MeFi.

December 4, 2009, 6:52 pm
Filed under: Art, Book Conservation, General Musings

Age brings not just experience, but depth. That was a lesson I learned as a young man, from a book which was written long before I was born.

* * * * * * *

This morning a friend sent me a link to a blog post nearly a year old. It contained these images:

And this wonderful sentiment:

Stain is a unique tea cup created by Bethan Laura Wood, a designer from the UK. At first, the cup looks like any other cup, but the natural staining that comes from using the cup reveals a hidden pattern.

* * *

Bethan writes: “This project examines the assumption that use is damaging to a product (For example, scratches on an iPod).”

* * * * * * *

A month or so ago, I got a call from a student at the local university. He had a class project he was working on, and was hoping that I would be able to help him out with some basic bookbinding questions.

Hey, we all have to start somewhere. And he asked nicely. I invited him over.

He came in, introductions were made. A non-traditional student, he was an already accomplished artist/artisan in his own right, and we spent a bit of time sorting out who we knew in common and the local art scene.

Then we went back into my bindery. Discussed his project, and options for how to execute it. I showed him some models of similar projects, introduced him to some basic techniques he’d need to do what he wanted, loaned him some tools. He quickly understood my instruction, and grasped the essentials of what he needed. It’s nice to work with another person who respects craftsmanship.

* * * * * * *

A good friend dropped me a note, said that he and his family had decided to honor his father with a headstone made of bronze rather than stone. Potential vandalism was an issue, so they wanted something which would hold up better. It would cost more than the traditional stone, though.

My response: “I would guess. But bronze does develop a nice patina naturally.”

* * * * * * *

The student called a week ago. His project was done, and he wanted to drop by and show me what he had done, and return my loaned items.

He came over, we went back into my shop. He took out his model, and his finished project. Explained the different problems which he had encountered, how he had resolved them. It was all very well done.

I could tell he’d had a taste of the craft, one which might linger. We discussed his project, and then I explained how one aspect of it was well done, but wouldn’t translate to an adhesive binding due to one materials effect he didn’t have to consider with a non-adhesive binding (paper grain, if you must know). It hit him as a revelation, a glimpse into a much larger world of technique that he didn’t even know existed. And like a true craftsman, he was both intrigued, and respectful of his ignorance of this particular set of knowledge.

But it was time to leave. He returned the model I had loaned him, and pulled out the little bone folder I had given him.

“This thing is great! I’ll have to get one.”

“Keep it.”

“Sorry? No, seriously, . . . ”

“Keep it. I have several extras. They’re worth about three bucks. That one I’ve used, so it’ll have some of that additional history.”

“Wow . . .”

* * * * * * *

Age brings not just experience, but depth. That was a lesson I learned as a young man, from a book which was written long before I was born.

About fifteen years ago, I touched on this:

This isn’t a respect borne of fear for their sharpness. It is something more . . . something that is almost spiritual. When you use a tool, it tends to take on the shaping of the use, and of the user. It will conform to your hand, wear in such a way that it actually becomes more suited to the task, until in some ways it is easier to use the tool correctly than to use it incorrectly.

I think that this is why old tools, well made and well loved tools, are so valuable. When you take them to hand, you can feel the right way to use them. Some of the time that went into shaping that tool, training it for use, can be shared from one craftsman to the next. So long as the tool is loved, cared for, and properly used, it continues to accumulate knowledge, storing the wisdom of the hands.

Much of my life is predicated on this idea. When someone brings me an antique book for conservation work, I don’t see the notes and scrawls, the fingerprints and food stains, as something to be eradicated: they are part and parcel of the history of that book. They are scars, a record, a trace of the hands which have handled it, the lives which have loved it. We all carry our own scars, our own patina, and as long as we respect it, respect ourselves, for the record of our accomplishments, they give our age dignity. And depth.

Jim Downey

“It’s already been done.”
December 2, 2009, 10:27 am
Filed under: Ballistics, Guns, Humor, Religion, Science, Society

I just do not understand the mindset that some people have.

OK, let me explain. Monday I posted an excerpt about our upcoming “Cylinder Gap” tests to several of the gun forums I frequent, because I thought it would be of interest to some people who hang out at such places. And, for the most part, that proved to be correct.

But one place I got a response from one guy who said “it’s already been done”. See, he had done these sorts of tests using one brand of revolver which allows you to adjust the cylinder gap, in both a smaller and a larger caliber than the .38/.357 we’re testing. And the difference wasn’t that big a deal. Oh, he had the data somewhere, but he didn’t have it readily available. There was no real reason for us to conduct the tests.

OK, so here’s a guy who tested something different than we did (different calibers, and I guess only one barrel length in each). And he never published the data, though he says he’ll dig it up. Nor did he document the process he used.

Doesn’t sound to me like “it’s already been done.”

Now, I don’t mean to single this guy out, and if you go looking for the post don’t mangle him for his comment. Well, not too badly, anyway. Because I’ve run into this kind of mindset a lot in regards to the BBTI project, both in posts I’ve seen online in various places and in private emails I’ve received. People who think that just because they have done something a bit similar, and drawn their own conclusions, that therefore there is no value in what we’ve done or are planning to do. It’s like they resent the very idea that someone else might do more than they did, either in scope or in results. And so they try and either claim that they had the idea for the project first, or did some part of it first/better, or just try and belittle the results.

This sort of thing happens all the time, not just regarding the BBTI project. You see it with people grousing about invention and innovation, about movies and books, about blog posts or government or relationships. They seem to think that just the idea is what matters, not any effort or final product to bring that idea into reality.

Thomas Edison famously said that “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” A related quote from him perhaps sums up my attitude even better:

I am much less interested in what is called God’s word than in God’s deeds. All bibles are man-made.

Yeah, that’s it.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI and BBTI blog.)