Finite Simple Group of Order Two

Songs like this always make me happy.


Finished model 2007-III

HMS Victory, Royal Navy. Model from Airfix, scale 1/600, donated by my daughter. It has been suggested that two different people made the port and starboard halves of the moulds for this model; I think it was the same person, just before handing in his resignation. Definitely the moulds can be recycled with no loss.


Hos optikern

– Goddag, jag vill köpa ett par glosögon, jag ska läsa franska. Och så vill jag ha röstfria skälmar, så jag inte blir störd.


After the party

Ten years ago. It's after the party and I'm standing on the rocky shore of Maui. Night has fallen and I can't see if the little crabs that scuttle around the rocks in daytime are still there or not. I listen to the Pacific rolling in in a slow pulse. (All week I have waged a battle beyond visual range with the person cleaning my hotel room—every night when I return I turn off the air-conditioner and open the window to let the soft warm air in and hear the waves, every day when I'm out she closes the window and turns on the air-conditioner.)

I'm standing there alone, listening to the waves, looking at the stars. The crescent moon is lying at an unaccustomed angle, apparently the Earth is round. Through the night sky a set of blinking lights: a 747 on its way to Japan, too far away to be heard. On board passengers will be trying to sleep uncomfortably in their seats, cabin crew dozing or doing the neverending chores in the pentry, flight crew monitoring the plane as it flies itself, alone in the night, high above the seemingly endless ocean. I and the plane, both alone. And the stars; one day we will go there, our lights bravely blinking in the infinity.

The next day, simulations and demonstrations: the ground water is being used up faster than it is replenished, all the Hawai‘i islands will become uninhabitable within a few generations. Indigenous species only remain on the highest peaks, where they risk extinction every day. Tourists are physically eroding the islands, we are entreated not to take away any rocks. Yet I take home the dried-up exoskeleton of one of the little scuttling crabs, telling my conscience it isn't actually a rock.

Ten years later. Perhaps the party isn't quite over yet, but the catering staff have started to carry the dishes away. For those of us who were invited to the party, that is. Most people have not been allowed to go the other end of the Earth and watch the Moon from strange angles. Probably that will be the fate for all of us now. It is unlikely that humanity will die out outright, but the great expenditures of energy will be over, the time of great physical projects is gone, humanity will have to retreat, scrimp and save.

And there will never be blinking lights sailing away into infinity.


A new blog

John Bowers has started his own blog, Suborderly, with a link to his Flickr photopages. In the first posts you will find a poignant and sad reminiscence of a childhood friend of his who died doing cold fusion research.

Alas, computer science offers few opportunities for sudden and glorious death.


Worth his prize

I've come to feel increasing respect for Jimmy Carter even though he didn't make that great an impression on me at the time. “JB” sums it up:
And the reality is also that Carter took the proper course of action with the [Iran] hostages because all of them came home alive -- which would certainly never have occurred had Bush been in office at the time. He would have bombed the country and the hostages would have been killed. But Americans would have loved it because they love action -- especially aggressive action.


The first griffons of spring

Rare sighting: A pair of Gripen flying southwards over Stockholm at high speed and with considerable noise.


When the invisible hand cannot be seen

This is really a human tragedy, but I will for a few moments go abstractly economic.

In India (and in many other parts of Asia) female children are considered only as a liability, as one will have to pay a dowry to get them married and will not have any perceived benefit from them once they are married. Yet married they have to be. So, in order to improve family finances, female fœtuses are being aborted and grown women killed to the point that there is a serious skewing of the (numerical) gender balance in India. Now, according to the laws of demand and supply that I were taught in high school, this should mean that women as going down in supply would appreciate and thus be more appreciated, but the opposite seems to be the case. So when parents attempt to pay smaller dowries or not at all, the men instead kill off their wives so they can remarry and get more dowry (doughry?).

This is an example of non-linear economics: the underlying traditions and assumptions about the value of women are stronger than (what used to be considered) economic logic. We can see similar examples in South Africa where funerals traditionally are very opulent affairs that have important social functions. However, with the current AIDS epidemic funerals happen so frequently that families do not manage to recover economically between them.

I'd like to draw a parallel to, say, the Western economic disaster of relying on endless growth of the population and the economy, where however, the consequences have always managed to be pushed far enough beyond the horizon that the connection can denied.

And how will India fare? My imagination is not quite sufficient to visualise a future India bereft of women, starting acquisition raids over the border of Pakistan (or all the way to Sabina). Indeed many things can be done. From the standpoint of women, supporting education and financing for women so that they do not necessarily have to marry to support themselves; from the standpoint of their parents, social security would lessen the need for parents to rely on their children (sons) for old age support. Married high-status men, however, may not necessarily see any benefits in a change of the status quo and are also the ones in the best position to block any reforms. So, can the rest of us use soft power to affect Indian traditions and opinions? Maybe. Where should we start?


Politician vs Industrialist

In a short article in Dagens Nyheter today Norwegian conservative minister Ansgar Gabrielsen comes out as insightful and foresightful: Twenty years ago was raised the issue of the lack of women on company boards. The industry promised that things would sort themselves out within ten years. Nothing happened. So, the minister, in spite of being conservative and thus presumably all for letting companies self-regulate as much as possible, took the consequences of that and successfully forced through quota legislation, to the benefit of everyone.

In opposition to that we have in an article on the next page Håkan Eriksson, spokesman for the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise who blithely says that things will sort themselves out within 15–20 years. Apparently what he has learned from the Norwegian example is to give a date far enough into the future that he will have retired if and when any Swedish minister decides to follow up the promises. (Not that that is likely to happen.)

I'd be happy to hear if anyone knows of a case where industry has promised to self-regulate and this actually has happened. Ever.


Mixing with the upper class

As I've indicated before I consider myself to have a working class background (even if I never actually did live in a cardboard box in the middle of a road), but my university education has catapulted me into reluctant touch with the upper crust.

Take today, for example. It was the occasion of the annual meeting of the Friends of the Vasa, beginning with dinner. I was a bit late from work so when I arrived everybody else was already sitting and eating. It seemed the only seat left was at a smaller table with some people so I just sat down there and tore into the food. While eating I listened to the conversation around me and realised with increasing embarrassment that I had just plopped down next to the society's chairman, Admiral So-and-so, and the rest around the table were his relatives; they'd wave at passing millionaires and discuss how difficult it was to get in touch with their friends now that they were ministers. But the peak of embarrassment came when one of the ladies recognised me and realised I was the father of her best friend's grandchildren—I was family too and greeted into the fold!

How will I ever live this down?


Is it an insult?

One would imagine that Svensk Fastighetsförmedling would be able to broker their own premises, but the task went to another company. All concerned probably think there is a good reason for it.


Research can be anything!

When I once got involved with Young Scientists, someone expounded on how you could turn anything into research—the method is everything! Some who have taken this to heart are the people behind My Science Project. They look into questions that most of us would just idly speculate about and instead carefully find out exactly what you have to do to nail jelly to a wall, how to keep cut flowers fresh with Viagra, and whether Dick Cheney probably told the truth about his shooting accident.


My god, it's full of CARs!

I laughed myself silly at this installment of xkcd:


Finished model 2007-II

Fokker Dr I 474/17 from Jagdstaffel 2, ca 1917. Model from Revell, scale 1/100, donated by Björn B, decals by Al Superczynski. It was completely impossible to get the wings to go on straight and I need to practice more on the Fokker dope streaks, but I like the colour scheme.

Finished model 2007-I

Northrop F-20 Tigershark GG1001 in factory demonstrator colours, 1982. Model from Airfix, scale 1/144, decals by Al Superczynski. There is apparently an Arii kit of the Tigershark in 1/144, I would urge anyone to use that instead of the Airfix horror. Other than that I really like the colour scheme, though it's a pain to get on in this scale. I have duplicate decals if anybody wants to try their hand.