Toodle-oo, ’22

Not bad, 2022, not bad. Military aggressors and self-important blowhards pwning themselves; wrongdoers held to account; monopolies declining; voting rights, climate solutions, and labor on the rise. 2023 are you paying attention? (Previously.)

  • [Friend comments, “Fuck this shit” when Betty White dies right at the end of 2021.]

    I like how another FB friend put it: “History will align the end of this dark period with the passing of Betty White. She sacrificed herself to usher in a new era of health, joy, and kindness.”

  • Continue reading “Toodle-oo, ’22”

Santa Claus sta venendo al villaggio

A beloved (possibly only by me) tradition continues! (Previously.)

Earlier this year I completed the Duolingo course in Italian. Let’s see how well I can translate “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” into Italian! Herewith, the translation back into English by Google Translate of my attempt.

Better look around
Better not cry
Better not be sad
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to the village

He’s making a list
And looking at it twice
He will know who is bad and who is good
Santa Claus is coming to the village

He sees you when you are sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
Then be good for being good

Better look around
Better not cry
Better not be sad
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to the village

Disco-ball Earth

Too bad we can’t convert the infrared getting trapped by the greenhouse effect back into ultraviolet that can escape. Or… can we?

[This is another in my occasional series of half-baked ideas for saving the world. If you can actually make this idea work, it is all yours, and a grateful planet will thank you.]

As you probably know, the climate crisis is due to the greenhouse effect, in which the Earth absorbs more energy from the sun than it is able to shed back into space, causing the planet gradually to grow warmer and warmer. This is a change from the past, when the Earth’s “energy budget” — the amounts of arriving and departing energy — was more or less in balance.

The problem is that a lot of solar radiation reaching the Earth is in the form of ultraviolet light, which is easily able to pass through the atmosphere and reach the surface, where it heats things up. Hot things emit infrared light, and if enough of that can escape back into space to offset the incoming ultraviolet, all is well.

But carbon in the atmosphere blocks infrared from escaping — while doing nothing to reduce the amount of ultraviolet getting in. All substances absorb some wavelengths of light and not others; that’s simply “color.” (Ultraviolet and infrared are just colors our eyes can’t perceive.) When it comes to the gases in the atmosphere, the color hand we’ve been dealt is: let in UV, trap IR. It seems unfair, but chemistry doesn’t care about your feelings.

The politics of our age make it doubtful we can rebalance the energy budget by meaningfully reducing the amount of carbon in the air in a useful timeframe. Too bad we can’t convert the infrared getting trapped back into ultraviolet that can escape, as an alternative.

Or… can we?

Much of what the sun heats up is ocean — naturally, since that’s most of the Earth’s surface. The warming of the oceans is associated with more-intense storms, acidification and coral bleaching, imperiling the Gulf Stream, and a host of other ills.

Most of the warming of the oceans is confined to the upper few hundred feet of depth. Below that in most places is a thermocline — an abrupt temperature drop, with much cooler water below, mostly isolated from the warming effects above.

The thermoelectric effect is a physical phenomenon that can convert a difference in temperature into an electric current.

Putting all of the above together, here’s the idea: build a buoy that floats on the ocean. Beneath the buoy, a long wire extends down past the thermocline. The difference between the surface temperature and the temperature at depth creates a current in the wire — small, but continuous. The current is used to power an ultraviolet laser in the buoy, aimed at the sky. It shines weakly, but continuously, steadily drawing heat from the ocean and beaming it into space.

With enough of these simple, inexpensive units built and deployed, we should be able to offset the greenhouse effect. Doing the math on how many that would be is left as an exercise for the reader. Undoubtedly it would take thousands, perhaps millions, of UV-laser buoys floating in oceans all around the world.

One thing is for sure, though: if this solution works, saving the world wouldn’t be the only cool thing about it. An alien looking at the Earth from space, with eyes that can perceive ultraviolet rays, would see a spinning celestial disco ball.

What is easy about pie?

Several months ago it briefly looked like the University of Chicago might be on the list of schools to which Archer, our high-school senior, might apply. In the end he did not, but he got far enough to learn the application requirements, which include writing an essay on one of several creatively chosen topics, including, “What if the moon were made of cheese?” and “It’s said that history repeats itself, but what about other disciplines?”

I liked the sound of one prompt so much that I immediately sat down and wrote my own essay on the topic: “What is so easy about pie?” I didn’t show it to him until after college-application season was over, not wanting to unduly influence him.

What is easy about pie?

Nothing! It is a simpleminded lie — the pie lie! — meant, perhaps, to give comfort in a cruel and indifferent world. “Easy as pie!” “Santa Claus!” “American exceptionalism!”

I turn to no less an authority than the great Carl Sagan, who said:

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Does that sound easy to you?

Even granting the existence of the universe — the gravity crushing hydrogen into helium in the heart of the sun, and binding the Earth to its orbit; the vast web of interdependent organisms deriving their life energy, ultimately, from that nuclear fusion; the evolved apes with the means to harvest that life for flour, sugar, cinnamon, butter, and apples — even granting all of that (and that’s a lot to grant), it’s still not easy, as the columnist Megan McArdle pointed out in a recent essay for the Washington Post, “Can America save its national dish?”:

In 2019, more than 50 million Americans used frozen pie crusts, and more than 40 million used the refrigerated kind. Even though store-bought crust is terrible.

Yet commercial bakeries don’t do much better.

Why would we Americans use terrible store-bought pie crust if pie is easy? Why can’t even commercial bakeries get it right if pie is easy? Easy: pie is not easy.

Take special note of McArdle’s title, and now consider Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, which states: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” If pie were at all easy, wouldn’t Americans save it? Of course they would; but Betteridge, McArdle, and Sagan say they will not.

Pie is not easy. But then, nothing worthwhile ever is.

2021-and-done

When the year fails to acquit itself well, it is my self-appointed duty to compensate with witticisms and clever observations. (Previously.)

  • Not everything in 2020 was bad.

    Not everything in 2021 will be good.

    Also, it's foolishness to assign credit or blame for events to the calendar.

    Still happy to have 2020 behind us. Happy new year!

  • Continue reading “2021-and-done”

The Santa Corps

You better not pout
You better not cry
You better not shout
I’m telling you why:
The Santa Corps is coming to town

It’s made up of moms
And also of dads
Uncles, aunts, siblings
Students and grads
The Santa Corps is coming to town

It numbers in the billions
With no centralized control
Its geographic center
Is of course at the North Pole

No toy-making elves
No reindeer-drawn sleigh
There’s no need for magic
It just seems that way
The Santa Corps is coming to town

(Previously.)

The Dudley

When I started high school, my dad gave me his old combination lock to use on my locker: a vintage Dudley. It stood out among the identical modern Master locks that most of my classmates had, and I was proud of it.

That lock followed me to college, where it sat mostly unused until I decided, some time in my senior year, that I was getting flabby and needed to start exercising. At that point I began swimming laps regularly, and I used the lock to keep my swim things in a locker at the gym.

I graduated, but I remained at college for work, and I started dating Andrea. (Today, that woman is my wife.) She took more and more of my attention, of course, and I got to the pool less and less often. Still I kept my swim things in the locker there.

At the end of the spring semester, 1989, everyone had to clear out their lockers for the summer. It would have been easy to do − my office was just on the other side of campus − but not yet having learned how to balance work, girlfriend, and other responsibilities and pursuits, I kept putting it off. When I finally got to the pool I discovered I was too late. The lock had been removed and the locker emptied.

I didn’t care about the swimsuit or the towel. But I was devastated to have lost the lock. I thought of it like an heirloom and was consumed with guilt. I live with the echoes of that feeling even today.

The good news is that that lesson is part of what helped me shape up into a more responsible adult.

Trying hard, and failing, not to make a 2020 hindsight joke

Seldom has a year been more unloved
Or with such relish on the trash-heap shoved.
(Previously.)

The spirit of the season

‘Twas the night before Christmas
In, I think, ’82
And for once, the day came
With no things left to do

The gifts had been bought
And been wrapped in advance
To relax and be still
We at last had the chance

We sat in the living room
Candle-lit, calm
And chatted like grownups
Not a boy and his mom

The Christmas decor
Caught the flickering light
It sparkled and gleamed
As we talked through the night

Our tone, as we spoke
Was hushed and subdued
Neither one wishing
To spoil the mood

It’s my perfectest mem’ry
Of how Christmas could be
I wish peace like this
To my friends and fam’ly

Artlessness of the deal

Just under the wire this year.

The sentiment in this song may or may not be true, but that it can at least be seriously entertained is a soothing balm after the one I had to write four years ago.

He better watch out
He better not cry
He better not pout
I’m telling you why:
Donald Trump is going to jail

He’s making a list
Of who’s done him wrong
The DA’s indictment’s
Equally long
Donald Trump is going to jail

He laundered mobster money
Paid bribes, committed fraud
Grabbed Justice by the pussy like
She was just another broad

He might have had lots
Of friends in the joint
But all of his pardons mean
He’s disappoint
Donald Trump is going to jail.

(Previously.)