Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The Great Gatsby an Alternate View and an Alternate History

The family is reading The Great Gatsby. It is something new for us. About 12 years ago our daughter and I read The Sun Also Rises. After that I read For Whom the Bell Tolls on my own. My wife and I have read some of the same books—I read four Rex Stouts for her; she read some cyberpunk scifi for me—but we never read together like a book club. 

About page 44 for me, Laurel asked about study guides and I examined four online, from the New York State Regents Examination Preparation down to GradeSaver and Shmoop. The Regents want you to know your tropes but the criticisms are all pretty much the same about the decadence of the Roaring Twenties. For the academic critics parallels to America today are impossible to ignore. I can take a different view. I can find in The Great Gatsby the hints and tendrils of new virtues then and now, supplanting Victorian sensibilities, which I can contend are also misunderstood by critical theorists from sociology and literature today.


Consider Jordan Baker. She earns an independent income as a golf pro, competing in tournaments. That would have been impossible before World War I. We easily accept that Nick Carraway sells bonds, but that, too, did not exist until about the 1820s. It could have been explained to a medieval banker or merchant factor. They bought and sold paper. Gaining understanding from a noble, knight, or peasant would have been difficult. Industrial capitalism of the mid-19th century created the bonds markets to finance canals, railroads, etc. The soubriquet nouveau riche was an insult. It should have been a compliment, speaking to the creation of new wealth. 


When I read this in college (1967), the only thing that I took away was that Daisy’s ineptitude as a driver symbolized her inability to manage her own life. I understand. But, really, no one could drive back then. Today, we have two or three generations raised in automobiles, conditioned to perceiving the world at 60 mph. And cars are much safer with seatbelts, airbags, impact resistant superstructures, automatic transmissions, power steering, and steel belted radial tires. We still kill 40,000 people a year, but the population is three times larger than it was in 1925. So, the symbolism stands: Daisy is a wreck. That being so, automobiles nonetheless deserve context.


World War I was the turning point. When I cannot get to sleep, I imagine that I have a time machine and box of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August and William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. To whom would they go? What would be the reaction? I could have the books on a Kindle or iPad, itself a wonder to underscore the veracity of the claims. (And then I am asleep.) But what if…? Had World War I not destroyed the status quo of Europe, what would the world of 1940 have been like?


I like to think that we could have been on our way to the Moon. The Internet would exist via telephone, radio, television, and teletype. But would any woman earn an independent income playing golf? Would women vote? 


I am enjoying The Great Gatsby for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing. I underline phrases and block off paragraphs of narrative. That in itself is motivation and reward. 



Aaron Feldman: Buy the Book Before You Buy the Coin 

For the Glory of Old Lincoln High 

Dealers Make the Show: Amadillocon 41 Day 3 Part 2 

Soldier’s Heart by Elizabeth Samet 

Libraries of the Founders 


Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Lunar Eclipse 8 November 2022

This was the last total Lunar eclipse until 14 March 2025. I got out early and took my time. Other snapshots have gone better. 

These were taken with an iPhone 11 on a Celestron NexYZ adapter connected to an Explore Scientific 102 mm f/6.47 refractor with a Nagler 32-mm Plössl ocular at 20X. Snapshots with an iPhone 5 did not go well this time. I also relied on a Celestron 32-mm eyepiece. For both, the Neutral Density Filters (“Moon Filters”) were from Celestron. These are the best of 45 tries.

Snapshot 1 just before 50% in the penumbra.

I got out at 1:00 AM CST for the 2:00 AM start and set-up went well. I made time to observe naked eye and through the telescope between exchanges of attachments. At 4:50, I stopped adjusting the hardware and only observed. 

The photographs do not represent the image captured by the eye. Naked eye, the Moon was never completely dark. Totality did not look like this. Also, the color was never a full startling red, only a dusky red-gray. 

Snapshot 38 close to 50% in the penumbra.

As the Moon passed 50% into the penumbra, darkness brought out the stars, about 150 in all including the Hyades and Gemini. Through the telescope, I viewed Messier 42, Messier 41, and the Pleiades. Mars was high in the west and even at 20X the sky was clear enough and dark enough to show surface markings on the planet. Predicted clouds arrived at 5:20 AM.


The fans kept the dew off. 
Dew point and ambient were close all morning.

Also, as soon as it got noticeably dark, the world got quiet. Past 50%, I do not recall hearing an emergency vehicle siren for the remainder of the morning.



The Antikythera Device 

The Drunken Astronomers 


Astrophotography and Me 

Observing with NASA: An Open Platform for Citizen Science 

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Value and Worth

“What’s it worth?” Bill Bradford (Wikipedia hereasked me. That was about 1976 in his store, Liberty Coins, on Abbott Road in East Lansing. He continued: Is it worth what you paid for it? What you can sell it for? What it would cost to replace it? Over the years, I have considered the question. In 1990, I served on the board of ELFCO, the East Lansing Food Cooperative and chose the finance committee for my working task. There, I learned a lot from East Lansing entrepreneur Bruce Roth who sat on the board for many years and chaired the finance committee. Passed over for a job opportunity because I had no stronger experience in finance, I took a seminar in accounting for data processing at Lansing Community College. I do not remember if we did much with cost accounting but I do remember that you debit an asset to increase it. 

Some years earlier, the winter of 1972-1973, I sat in on a presentation on meta-ethics by Dr. William F. Schmidt in the home of Linda and Morris Tannehill. Bill Schmidt planned a futures trading company based on his algorithms for predicting change in the marketplace. He eventually had two satellite dishes feeding data. In 1993, I wrote computer programs for him because his IBM PC/AT computers (upgrades over the HP 9830s from too long before) were at their limit. (Necessary Facts here.).  I do not remember the content of his lecture that night and much of it was over my head at the time anyway. The essence was that in order to have values, you must have a standard of value.


To address that question, Ayn Rand posited an indestructible robot, asserting that as nothing could affect it, it could have no values. Any action or none at all would be equally consequential. (See “The Objectivist Ethics” in The Virtue of Selfishness. Ayn Rand Lexicon entry here:


Some years ago (2017), on vacation, I wrote out notes but never was able to wotk through the problems to a solution or a set of them. The essential problem is one of limits: by Rand’s standard, the farther you are from any threat, the more secure your life it, the less consequential your choices. She solves that problem with the open container of “Man qua man.”


The Objectivist ethics holds man’s life as the standard of value—and his own life as the ethical purpose of every individual man.


The difference between “standard” and “purpose” in this context is as follows: a “standard” is an abstract principle that serves as a measurement or gauge to guide a man’s choices in the achievement of a concrete, specific purpose. “That which is required for the survival of man qua man” is an abstract principle that applies to every individual man. The task of applying this principle to a concrete, specific purpose—the purpose of living a life proper to a rational being—belongs to every individual man, and the life he has to live is his own.


Man must choose his actions, values and goals by the standard of that which is proper to man—in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself, which is his own life.


The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics—the standard by which one judges what is good or evil—is man’s life, or: that which is required for man’s survival qua man.


Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil.


“Man’s survival qua man” means the terms, methods, conditions and goals required for the survival of a rational being through the whole of his lifespan—in all those aspects of existence which are open to his choice.


("Standard of Value" paragraphs from "The Objectivist Ethics" in The Virtue of Selfishness. Ayn Rand Lexicon here: )


The statements are synonyms, tautologies, restatements in somewhat different words of the same assertion without evidence or demonstration. 


One of my favorite movie scenes (also in the book) is from 2010: The Year We Make Contact.  Curnaw and Floyd are homesick. “What I wouldn’t give for a hotdog at the Astrodome,” says Walter Curnaw. Floyd is taken aback “Astrodome?! You can’t grow good hotdogs indoors! Yankee Stadium. August. The hotdogs have been on the grill since opening day… The brown mustard.” 


But are they good for you? Are they pro-life? Are they appropriate to Man qua Man? Made from the lowest scraps of meat, spiced with artificial chemicals, each one is a cancer time bomb. 


An old joke goes that the doctor tells his patient that his health is at risk. Says the doctor, “Stop drinking, quit smoking, stop running around the bar scene chasing women.” The patient asks, “If I do that, will I live to be 100?” The doctor replies, “No. But it will seem like it.”


Aristotle’s Golden Mean offers some insight. Note first, that a problem underlies the concept of “eudaimonia” because it begs the question: What is the good life? In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle gives a shopping list of attributes that a good person will have, such as a measured walk and tone of voice. That being as it may, the Problem of the Stadium Hot Dog does speak to Ayn Rand’s Indestructible Robot. If you are 17 years of age having one hotdog at one game is not going to kill you: you are closer to indestructible than destructible in that context. At the other extreme, if you are 75 years of age, diagnosed with incurable cancer and given a few years (at most), as destructible as you are, the hotdog will not be your demise: you might as well enjoy it. 


Rand does indicate a productive line of analysis: “… for the survival of a rational being through the whole of his lifespan …” For Rand, of course, “rational” meant more than volitional or self-aware, though those are requisites to her deeper meaning. The inclusion may be redundant because, for example, rocks have no values. However, I assert that cats do have values. It is easy to assert (being unable to ask them) that cats are not self-aware. Like dogs, horse, etc.,, they do not "have" emotions because they are their emotions. (Unlike horses and dogs, though, cats have three different names.) 


Back to the question at hand: the Problem of the Stadium Hotdog can best be evaluated in the context given: through the whole of your lifespan. 


What is a hotdog worth? Is it a mistake, an error in judgment? If so, what does it cost to remediate the problem? The fact of future value indicates that any investment now correcting a mistake in the present results in tremendous costs in lost returns on investment in the long future. 

No matter how small the interest rate—the rate of return being some measure of how your life will improve—compounding will make the final answer consequential. 




Morality and Ethics 

Choose Your Virtues

Understanding Objectivism 

A Good Place with Inadequate Philosophy 

Virgin Galactic VX01 VX03 


Saturday, October 22, 2022

Footnotes on Number Theory

I love to watch the odometer. It is not always convenient to stop and take a picture. 

186285 miles were 1 Light Second

Kaprekar’s Constant

There’s a lot of these out there on YouTube. It is very popular in India, of course. 

Numberphile has it. I was disappointed that Mathologer did not. 

Take any four digits, as long as all four are not the same.

Order them highest to lowest and then lowest to highest. Subtract the smaller from the larger. Do it again. Soon, it reduces to 6174. Every time. I wonder how it works in different bases. 

Hidden Circle in Pi?

That is also a challenge that I have never pursued from Carl Sagan’s Contact.  He posits that if you extend pi out far enough-as I recall, in Base 11—you get a string of 1s and 0s that can be arrayed to display a circle. There’s always something else to do… but a computer program seems easy enough and it can run all night and probably not much longer with today’s MacBook, Dell, etc. 

Kaprekar's Constant from Numberphile


19 LIMIT= .0001



56 XN = X/2

60 R1 = (XN + X/XN)/2


75 XN = R1

76 GOTO 60



Fast Square Root.
(She only does it for Primes.)
I first wrote this in the winter of 1976-1977, cadging time at the Michigan State University computer center when I was between terms at Lansing Community College. I used it again when I was employed (briefly) at the MSU campus bookstore. They had a Data General Nova for which the vendor delivered a “Business Basic” without algebraic functions. (“You don’t need them for business.”) I wanted to project economic order quantities, which does require finding a square root. I also wrote numerical expansions for natural and common logarithms and made the set into a library of callable functions.

Square Roots

YouTube has a ton of videos on calculating square roots by hand. In this day of cellphones, it is seldom necessary. But I found this video interesting and wrote a sticky note to hang on a monitor for a while. 


Another trick I use is based the binary search. Two or three iterations are usually enough. 

Sqrt(97) < 10. Guess 9.3. Square 9.3. Guess again. Richard P. Feynman has a story about beating a Japanese  abacus salesman in a bar in Brazil figuring like that in his head. “More digits! … More digits!”




Number Theory as an Adventure 

Nerd Nation: Natalie Portman, Danica McKellar, and Felicia Day 

The Man Who Loved Only Numbers 

Contradictions in the Patentability of Numbers 

Friday, October 21, 2022

Halloween 2022 on Brandi Circle

 We have dresseed for Halloween in years past. Being in costume makes it fun to give out treats. This year, among a dozen knickknacks, I bought elf years. I am not sure which character that wll be for.

The Werewolf wakes up at 2:30 PM and works until 9:30.
He will be working late for Halloween


The giant and the dinosaur stand out. 
The Rider and Dragon need some walking around
 to be perceived within the very busy graveyard scene.

We are fixin' to start.

The things that go bump in the night are a little happier in this scene 
across from the werewolf.

Neatness counts. Nicely arrayed.

Marysville, Ohio, 2001

EOS North America, Pflugerville, Texas, 2019.

Selene, Miami Beach, 2015. Michael, Ann Arbor, 2008. 
With the mortgage meltdown and stock market collapse of 2008, 
I gave stock certificates to the adults in costume.

Previously on Necessary Facts

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Fountain Pens

Like dressing for dinner, writing with a fountain pen helps you to be at your best. The direct descendent of the reed, it is the modern quill. A fountain pen requires focus on the line, the curve, and the mark. Even a quick note, soon to be discarded, carries importance, however briefly. 


The fountain pen requires maintenance and demands care and too easily leaves unwanted ink—sometimes alarmingly much—on fingers, papers, desk, and books. And it does not erase. A good ballpoint or roller ball will almost do as well on paper. Pencils have their virtues beyond erasability. The fountain pen needs no justification or excuse because it is the premier writing instrument.

Last year, I enrolled in several webinars about calligraphy that were sponsored by Mont Blanc. (I have a Meisterstück 4810 which was a present from an old and dear friend.) Following those, I unboxed my inventory and cleaned them up. Although I wanted the circa 1967 Sheaffer to be the everyday pen, its barrel was cracked and reinforced with scotch tape and the reservoirs fell off the connector pin. I bought new Sheaffers. One for calligraphy had an extremely lightweight body and never flowed well. I sent it back with a letter. They sent me another, much better. Another with promise of good heft does not accept the standard Sheaffer reservoir or any other from Sheaffer that I have found. So, it was back to ballpoints, rollerballs, gels, and fiber-tips. 


Taking the challenge again, I viewed YouTube videos from Gentleman’s Gazette and Figboot, and one from Prof. Richard McCutcheon, Dean of Arts at Thompson Rivers University. Then, I found a Figboot interview with Neil Degrasse Tyson. 


I cleaned the Mont Blanc and put a medium nib in another Sheaffer calligraphy pen. Yesterday, I went shopping. Jerry’s Artarama stopped carrying them. They sent me to Kinokuniya, a Japanese store. There, I found a Pilot that fills with a squeeze reservoir. I also bought an inexpensive Kawe Perkeo that accepts the “Euro” cartridges of which I have an unused box. I chose a red body for the Pilot and filled it with red ink (Mont Blanc). The Kawe nib is fine and the ink plain blue. The Mont Blanc and Sheaffer, both mediums, are black, though the Mont Blanc 585 nib is broader.  




The Pencil: History, Design, and Circumstance 

Pencil Notes: Reflections on Henry Petroski’s “The Pencil” 

Armadillocon 41 Day 3 Part 2 

Copy Rights and Wrongs 

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

A Conservative Against the Constitution

Commentator Daniel Greenfield is featured on PolitiChicks ( He provides readers with insights and outlook against (and for) the things they hate (and love): Transgender Historical Revisionism; They’re Redistributing Wealth not Fighting Inflation; The Wit and Wisdom of Kamala Harris. His column “The Coming Outlawing of the Republican Party” is datelined “2 weeks ago.” That piece included one very weak point which, to me, revealed that his purpose is to provide arguments, rather than to deliver analysis. Greenfield seemed to lack a fundamental understanding of the US Constitution. 

The column in question was about “insurrection lawsuits.”

Associated Press, March 10, 2022, at 2:53 p.m.: Wisconsin liberals on Thursday, March 10, 2022, filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Republican Sen. Johnson, U.S. Reps. Tom Tiffany and Scott Fitzgerald are insurrectionists in violation of the U.S. Constitution for their words and actions in support of Donald Trump leading up to the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. -- US News & World Report (See also “Lawsuit seeks to block ‘insurrectionist’ Marjorie Taylor Greene from reelection bid” Reuters, March 24, 2022 3:02 PM CDT. You can find much more online with the key phase.)

Daniel Greenfield wrote: “After Biden took over, Democrat activist groups began a push to disqualify Republicans who had participated in the Jan 6 protests from elected office based on the 14th Amendment. Adopted after the Civil War, it’s mostly notable for abolishing slavery. But Section 3 also banned anyone from holding elected office if they have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” or “given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.” Aimed at Confederates, most would have considered this a dead letter, but the Left excels at digging up obscure legal fossils and making use of them.”


To me, Greenfield’s argument denies a primary value within the American conservative ethos. Greenfield echoes liberal and progressive thinking that the Constitution must be reinterpreted often as our society changes, which is also (to me) a valid point. The demise of “separate but equal” is the classic case. That being as it may, and granted that the US Constitution has its weaknesses, I regard every word as important and consequential.


The War Between the States was not the first insurrection. Shays’ Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion long preceded it. The Hartford Convention came close to considering secession. On the other hand, even though state National Guard units were called out to quell violent labor protests and strikes of the late 19th century and early 20th centuries those were not insurrections because the strikers did not seek to seize control of the government.  That would also apply to the people in the long struggle of the late 1950s through early 1970s over Civil Rights, war, and the associated issues. In any case, the Constitution is quite clear: the debarrment applies to those who held public office. It also extends to anyone who gave aide and comfort to the enemies of the United States or any State.

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

I believe that anyone who claims to be an American conservative must apply a strict interpretation of the US Constitution and therefore must assert that anyone who has participated in an insurrection against the United States must be barred from holding public office.



Contradictions in the Constitution 

Etruscans and Americans

Unlimited Constitutional Government 

An Objective Foundation for Government 

Furloughs for Freedom: Downsizing the Government