24 Oct

The Deborah number

The Deborah number is a dimensionless (or pure number, like a counting number or pi) used to characterize the fluidity of solid materials.  As long as the following is read as analogy, it matches my Deborah (who’s also named after the Old Testament figure) very very closely.

From the wikipedia page:

The origin of the name, coined by Prof. Markus Reiner, is the line “The mountains flowed before the Lord” in a song by prophetess Deborah recorded in the Bible (Judges 5:5).

Formally, the Deborah number is defined as the ratio of a relaxation time, characterizing the intrinsic fluidity of a material, and the characteristic time scale of an experiment (or a computer simulation) probing the response of the material. The smaller the Deborah number, the more fluid the material appears.

The equation is thus:

 mathrm{De} = frac{t_mathrm{c}}{t_mathrm{p}}

where tc refers to the stress relaxation time (sometimes called the Maxwell relaxation time), and tp refers to the time scale of observation.

Note that the Deborah number is relevant for materials that flow on long time scales (but not for the reverse kind of materials that are viscous on short time scales but solid on the long term).

17 Aug

Now, More than Ever

You get laid off. You go to Spain. It’s what Hemingway would do. Or shoot up the savannah.

On Sept 7, I’m laid off. On Sept 9, Debby and I are going to Spain. Not as a fuck-you-take-that! move. We paid for it in advance (some would say we paid with 27 years of marriage and 5 kids–to them, I say fuck-you-take-that! We’re going to Spain to have a good time! Madrid. Barcelona. Toledo. Now, more than ever.)

If you want to know what it’s like to be freshly off work, day-to-day, with photos, visit my friend auGi’s blog.

But I’m still on the job, carefully erasing traces of myself by transferring my important work to the survivors and gifting them with short term job security. To be fair, I was already working myself out of one role and into another (better) gig in-house, when I was called into the Head’s office and given the bad news. Thanks to a flat profit curve and the hunger of VC’s, my new role had dematerialized. (McCoy was right about stepping into a Transporter.)

It could have been worse. I could have been let go because I was lazy and skating by instead of too expensive to keep around. (After 12 years, I was no longer a cheap date, even with the lipstick.) Or I could have kept doing the same work, hiding in the mists of my increasingly opaque contributions. Wally’s World. Day. After. Fucking. Day. (Some places, even that’s a luxury. But it doesn’t have to be.)

When I die, my conciousness might spend a millisecond or two wondering what it should have done differently. Finished the third novel. Rescued that homeless wretch on the sidewalk in winter instead of stepping over him. Not yelled at the kids and dog. Not been such an overall unpredictable bastard.

What would I have done differently if I knew back in June that my job was on the chopping block? Bought more fruit baskets? Taken a paycut? Offered to do the work of three people (sacrificing two younger employers to the marketplace)? Handed out gift certificates for VIP lap dances at Union Jack’s?


I would have made sure all my old blog entries were sharp. Sharp like puppy teeth. (You think those aren’t sharp? Come on-a my house.)

Sharp like 

Sharp like 

You get the picture.

I could have pointed to my blog in my resume. Instead, my blog’s more a plate of brain scraps left out in the (oh my god that woman’s calves are sexy all the way up…fuck fuck fuck never blog outdoors in 98.6 degree weather) sun than cool, snappy, sinewy observations, analyses, or fiction only a flagship zine could love. Nope, almost every moment here’s an “oh yeah,” every entry a sausage link (specialty meat).

Well, I can still act for the future. This entry marks a sharp left onto a one-track mountain road with no guard rails and a view so real you can’t tell if its real or iPad. Write my expletives off to job-loss stress, nod your head if you’ve shared the experience, and let’s get on down the road together.

Note: I’m not being heavy handed with the f-bang! because it’s a good barking mad word or to show my toughness. I’ve survived puppy teeth with all my fingers intact, so you already know I’m tough. I use it because it seemed like the best way to bold and underline an exclamation point or beat my forehead on the wall in prose, using my limited vocabulary. Because it’s a fist bump but not a fist shake. And because I say it far too often.


03 May

Exit Basil, Enter Sasha

Sasha the Great

Sasha Leonardo the Great, 11 weeks old, 2012-04-12

Basil, it turned out, occasionally bit small children. For a full-sized dog in a house with a small child and her friends, that behavior sent him back to his gracious former owners. Three days later they sent us email saying they’d missed him and decided to keep him.

We learned that we were ready for a dog, however. Or, ready as we would ever be. So we started over, got lucky off Craigslist with an 11 week old male yellow lab we named Sasha Leonardo the Great. Sasha because we all liked Sasha, although Noah really wanted Leonardo, so we compromised with a grand name.

We’ve done a fair job with training and accomodating him in our house and yard–we have a portable playpen (a set of six connecting panels); two crates, one for now, one for later; clicker and plenty of treats; a gentle lead; a new toilet run I built in the side yard away from the house but with open access from the back yard; and a start at hemming in our garden beds with raised wood borders. He’s a good soul, quick on the uptake, but also teething and that means biting. Which means more patience than I bargained for, and willingness to put up with nips and train ourselves,* too, for a few months as we see him make progress.

He survived his first checkup today and his second set of shots. The vet thought he was making good progress with training and gave his health a big thumbs up. We’ve enrolled him in a 6 week puppy training course starting in near the end of May–if nothing else, that will at least give us more formal time for applying training, even if we and he learn nothing new.

* Training ourselves means going against instinct to roughhouse with his head and adopt any behavior that encourages jumping up (and biting).

26 Aug

Response to a Response to The History of Torture

Here’s a comment I made on a friend’s blog (FoundOnWeb) that I wanted to save as fodder for future thoughts (FFFT) and to point back at the original post. The FOW blogkeeper is a fine thinker, otaku, and part-time gent (because who wants to be one all the time). More people should read his posts to learn, if nothing else, how to cook oatmeal. You’ll also get an unabashed fan’s view on anime and one insider’s views on systems science, national security and other ratholes, and economics.

Here’s his post:

The History of Torture — Misses the Point

Here’s my sketchy response:

[Hard to encapsulate a response to such a well summarized damned difficult topic in a comment box rather than over beer and earnest conversation. Forgive the leaping round.]

I can’t think of a period of time in which an enlightened western government didn’t practice torture. Us. Current friends. Former enemies. Paragons of cultural virtue, all.

It’s not just a moral failure, it’s a huge intellectual failure. We’ve been outsmarted or outplayed, by terrorists and by factions in our own government. We try to extract info out of people willing to martyr themselves, their families, and their unwilling culture. Who generally work in isolation. Who are often, it seems, tortured stepladder fashion to learn who their handlers are, and so on.

The torturers also become victims of their own practices, and pass the tradition on to others. They write papers and make policies, all very bloodless.

I also think I see why history.net lumped brutality and torture. Both may require you to see the target as less than human or, at least, less than you, for you to command or perform the act. Look outside the bounds of western torture to the practices of tribal armies in Africa or outside of military and government to gang violence. At some level you have a person or organization in power (or seeking power or retribution) and another suffering, whether they actually are the intended target or a stand-in. We can outlaw torture of any sort by our government and stand tall, and it won’t make a difference wherever the practice is accepted–including in our own country.

As a thought experiment, what if torturing another being also cost the torturer their life–not as legal punishment but personal cost? As part of our biological architecture? Would we continue with rewards for martyrdom? Or would it simply never occur to us to seek it as a solution? (That assumes that other parties could take violent actions that did not cause them to self-expire.)

The filmmakers should have titled it, A History of Torture.

27 May

Feckless no more?

Black Diamond run aheadAh, my ASUS “Black Diamond” wireless router just arrived–this means that by Monday (Memorial Day) I could have a wireless network at home that I don’t describe using words like feckless. And I can attach our printer and a centralized backup/media drive to it. And our Wii won’t say “wha?” when I ask it to stream. And I can even use WPA2. And, hopefully, I will be able to connect to HTTPS domains from home using my work laptop.* It’s my little slice of nerdvana.

* Said machine is a new Lenovo Thinkpad (or Stinkpad) running Windows 7–a sturdy, reasonably fast laptop that is in mysterious wireless conflict with my wheezing wireless router when WPA is enabled. I’ve never had this issue before and don’t have it with the nearly as new netbook (running both Win7 or Linux). It’s a valuable but frustrating lesson when tech fails to work.

Update: The router took me less than an hour to set up that same night, including connecting a printer. The reviewers all love it, but warned that its admin screens are more complex than most routers to configure. Not compared to the admin panel for the router it replaced. And my goodness it’s fast.

Update: The conflict with my older router was related to DNS at my workplace and a Windows 7 update. It’s annoying to step back 10 years and have to update the local hosts table manually, but that’s what it took to fix the problem. Still love the router.

06 Apr

Objects On My Desk

Empty 12 oz. clear plastic cup with the dregs of a matcha** green tea slurpie and stamped round with a “floral motif representing the earth in bloom.” The bloom recycles but the underlying description has an initial cap and full stop, separated by a 10 mm translucent void. The message is clear as the cup: pictographs rule, words drool.

Also, an old cell flip phone that loses signal often enough to remind me not to rely on convenience, a gloomy black digital desk phone that semi-randomly forwards my calls (out of boredom?), an old photo of young Debby in beret and Travis in bunting at the beach when Trav was 6 months (still one of my favorites), two computer monitors, a wireless keyboard that also doubles as a crumb collector, a Dundee marmalade jar that has been my pen container since 1992, a lamp with a long thin neck bent like the swan’s when he tried to look three ways at once, infrared wireless headphones (I can’t have infrared vision, but I can have infrared hearing), a brown ceramic head of a French–really, Gallic–gnome to which I’ve taped a phome rubber beret phormerly attached–as they say–to a phone headset, a rumpled 4×6″ napkin the color of brown rice, and a homemade family photo collage printed on white card stock.

Most importantly, there’s a small charm to ward off the Evil Eye (and certain management)–a flattened shiny round stone with a gravity of 9.6 m s-2 and viscosity of 3-6 • 1019 Pa·s painted to look like a piercing sky blue eye, with a small hole drilled at the top of the sclera and strung with a short lanyard of matching sky blue: a gift from a friend’s visit to Turkey, along with a long gone box of addictive Turkish delight. My friend, who had no wish to bewitch me, gave me the ward first, then the candy. I also just noticed that my coffee mug, which I can only describe as the orange eye socket of a whale, is decorated with variations of the same charm.

I’ll end our journey across the tableland at the edge of my 2 drawer file in the tangle of a steadfast succulent vine (esculentus stabilis) that is older than at least one of my children. I won’t bore you with the walls, floor, small bookcase with its trail of river rock and sand dollars left by my daughter, or the contents of the file–which would give too much away.

** As in, “Matcha wattah wit me! Matcha wattah wit you?”

27 Feb

Netbook, Part 2: Baby Comes Home

Well, it’s not the netbook I thought I would buy–which was to be the spanky new dual core ASUS with USB 3; instead it’s the Samsung NF310, also dual core, higher res screen and wider keyboard (with a bit more responsive keys and touchscreen buttons), and USB 2.0 only–but it was $140 less than the ASUS (special deal at the local Fry’s).

The bad news on the Linux front is that this model’s new enough and netbook configurations are unique enough that that no Linux flavor supports all the necessary hardware features yet–so for now I’ll stick with this Windows 7 Starter OS, strip off all the extra crap that came with it (including Office lite and a 60 day subscription to that PITA Norton Internet Security), install OpenOffice.org and PageFour, and put it to work right away–as my primary writing tool.

Overall, I’m very happy with it. Typing is no problem, the screen is bright with high contrast, the sound is terrific for a laptop, and it has these sexy clamshell curves that I can’t stop caressing with my eyes. Those crafty engineers at Samsung. And the battery life’s great–I’ve run it now with full power to the wifi and screen for well over 6 hours. Reducing brightness and wifi power is supposed to give me about 9 hours. And there’s the little popup telling me that it’s time for both of us to recharge.


09 Feb

Adventures in Netbooking

Thanks to the IRS savings plan, we’ll get enough money back this year to pretty up the main bath, make some necessary car repairs, fix the front porch roof, and, more importantly, buy a netbook for me. My precious, not for sharing.


The Asus Tripoli* PC 1018P w/ Intel Atom N550 Dual Core CPU, 2 gb RAM, 250 gb hard drive (enhanced hamster, not SSD, which unfortunately is out of budget), two USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0 ports, and a card reader. And a neoprene sleeve for transport.

It comes with Windows 7 “starter.” I plan to wipe the drive and install CrunchBang Linux. My son’s SO has been using C! on her netbook for about a year and has been very happy with it. C! doesn’t have the pretty UI provided with (K)Ubuntu, but it supposedly runs faster and has fewer issues. And fewer distractions. I like Win7, but also like the idea of using an OS that’s currently less subject to attack, has less system overhead, and keeps me focused. I also “grew up” on UNIX and Windows systems, so shifting back and forth is fairly easy.

Writing tools for Linux

I’m buying the Tripoli to use as a very portable, moderately priced writing tool, that can also handle e-mail, browsing, and playing multimedia files. I’m willing to trade screen and keyboard size for portability/weight (which is minus one pound–the anchor comes with it). For home use, I’ll eventually get a larger screen and keyboard.

I will miss my two favorite, distraction-free writing tools for Windows: PageFour and Scrivener. I’ll install OpenOffice to handle compability with MS Office files, but I stopped using Word for personal writing projects waaaay back in ’09. So I’ll be evaluating tools like FocusWriterPyRoom, q10, KWord, Writer’s Cafe, Celtx, and, for desktop publishing, Scribus. There are also full featured text editors, but I want writing tools that provide a little more lift without much adjustment. If you know what I mean.

I hope to have the netbook in my grubby little hands in three weeks or less. I’m getting the white clamshell, though, so I best wash up first.

Note: I was writing this list of tools as I was looking them up. It turns out that Windows is the starved platform. Kind of like eating the same thing for years out of a well stocked pantry and suddenly noticing a plain but well built little door along the baseboard that, on opening, leads into a gourmet deli.

Update: Several people have asked why I didn’t consider an iPad or wait for an Android tablet. They said that the netbook market is shrinking and will soon vanish, squeezed between cheap repackaged last-gen notebooks and the sexy new, ready to go out of the box, tablets. Err, no. At least, not anytime soon. Those cheap notebooks are still heavy and large, and the tablets are still appliances, not tools, and are more expensive than netbooks. The iPad has lousy wifi connectivity and, without buying an external keyboard, doesn’t cut it as a writing tool. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with tablets and appreciate them for what they are and will be, enough to know they won’t serve my needs anytime soon. I also don’t care if the netbook market dries up. It’ll continue to be a very useful tool until it stops working. I don’t know if Kurt’s world is the real world. But it’s real enough for me.

*Tripoli reads nicer and carries the weight of history while Eee sounds too much like a shriek, and I don’t want no computer that makes me shriek. Anymore.

31 Jan

Cuff Links

His wife showed him silver cuff links the size of coins. He asked why. She pushed them into the cuffs of the white dress up shirt he’d slipped on. “They’re for Thursday,” she said. “You want to look your best.”

He asked what was special about Thursday–it being only Tuesday, he worried that he’d forgotten an engagement.

“Your memorial service,” she said. “Now hold still,” and she fastened the links. “There.”

He wasn’t shaken by her words. He wondered if that meant he was going to die on Thursday or, the service being planned, he was already dead and that she was simply doing what she always did, helping him get ready in advance.

Note: I had this dream on a Tuesday–it went almost just like the description. I woke up feeling apprehensive about Thursday until Friday morning. And then, I patted myself. That was last week. I’m sure it wasn’t meant to be a premonition for any Thursday. Although this Thursday I’m going to the dentist.