Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Sentiment of Machines

Congratulations on your continued existence. Records indicate that the temporal occurrence marking your viviparous event has recently iterated. It may be your custom to acknowledge your inexorable progression toward extinction with elaborate confections, the acceptance of unsolicited tokens of esteem, or a ritualized beating; we wish you success in these and any other pertinent endeavors.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Standardization Speaks Volumes


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Two Minute Hate / Never Forget

This day marks the anniversary of a terrible crime perpetrated by a fringe group of religious zealots.  I am of course referring to the Mountain Meadows massacre of 1857, where a group of Mormons decided to clandestinely murder 120 men, women, and children while disguised as and working with a contingent from the local Paiute tribe of Native Americans.  They spared the lives of another 17 children who were deemed too young to remember or understand the events (the ones under eight years of age), electing instead to take them along with the other spoils of the crime.

Some years later, as I understand it, some other tragic event may have also occurred, but as we were charged as a nation of never forgetting the Mountain Meadows massacre it's hard to be sure.  That's the problem with never forgetting things: the collective and individual memories of a nation are finite, and can only consider so much at a given time.  We prioritize our memories, and the things we attend to the most remain the most resilient; the more a memory or an ideal is reinforced the more it becomes a reflexive, comforting thought, until eventually even rational and sensible contradiction is impossible.  There is no ability to heal from a wound you will not allow to close, and there is no ability to consider anything that happened before or after if that is all you allow yourself to see.

Well I for one, refuse to mark a day of my year for the rest of my life with memories of mad, massacring Mormons...and I'm certainly not going to keep reiterating how awful it was or pretend any vigilance of mine could prevent it from happening again.  I know plenty of Mormons who are decent people, and while I'm sure they know I don't attribute the actions of any weirdo splinter LDS fundamentalist groups to all of them, I'm also sure it is uncomfortable and tiring to be reminded ad nauseum of a specific act of extremism.  Certainly not everyone who brings it up is so reasonable to limit their vitriol to the actual people involved, and I don't want anyone to mistake me for one of those Orwellian nitwits chanting about an amalgamated enemy.

I prefer to remember progress that occurred on this day in history.  A mere 35 years prior to Mountain Meadows the College of Cardinals decided to accept the Copernican Principle as true; it took a couple of weeks for the Pope to make it the official Catholic opinion (and quite a bit longer for an apology to Galileo and his ilk), but it was a start.  About 9 years after that, on September 11 1831, Captain Robert Fitzroy introduced Charles Darwin to his ship, the HMS Beagle.

In 1946, on September 11, the first long-distance car-to-car mobile telephone call occurred between Houston and St. Louis (something from my own industry), and in 1952 the first artificial aortic valve was installed in a human patient.  Carl Zeiss and Harvey Fletcher were born on September 11th, so anybody with a decent camera or a hearing aid might want to mark those events, as would anyone who read D.H. Lawrence's Rocking Horse Winner - it's his birthday too.  In 1985, Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's career hit record.  History is full of things worth remembering, and plenty of them occurred on September 11th.

And if you absolutely must commemorate an event relevant to New Yorkers, in 1609, on this day in history, an explorer named Henry Hudson discovered Manhattan island, and a river that would one day bear his name.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ich habe eine Frau

Two years now, and it no longer startles me to realize it.  Sometimes I shake my head ruefully, sometimes in bewilderment at my good fortune, and sometimes out of sheer confusion, but I am no longer taken aback by the notion itself.  In this regard, novelty has not so much worn off as it has worn in; I understand with greater acuity as our relationship progresses what people mean when they say their spouse is their foundation in life, and it is an apt metaphor.  Upon this solid thing, we do build a home, a family, and a life together.  As in all things, it requires maintenance - this year, indeed, we purchased a not-so-metaphoric house as well, and the similarity is again, striking: things happen.  Paint must be touched up, work must be done, and not all surprises are pleasant...but it is always worth the investment.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dear Apne / Nice Shime-Waza, Wanna Fuck?

As Bill Burroughs once remarked, "People often ask me if I have any words of advice for young people."

Today's Question: how risky is choking or strangling a person?

Short Answer:

Whether engaging in erotic asphyxia or applying a "constriction-technique" in martial arts (絞技, etc), you can reduce or negate most of the risks of gross physical damage (like crushing the hyoid, trachea, or larynx) or accidental death due to gross physical injury with proper technique.  Strangulation (cutting off blood) is generally regarded as "safer" than asphyxiation (cutting off air) because it is less likely to result in fractures of the structures mentioned above, and a rapid, controlled strangulation that causes unconsciousness quickly is much safer than a protracted event that causes a person to slowly lose consciousness over a period of struggling.  

Regardless of technique or intentions, the two cardinal rules are to apply force with a "fail-safe" rather than "fail-secure" mechanism (i.e. constriction ceases when no longer deliberately induced), and don't apply any more force than is required to achieve the desired effect.  Roughly 250 mmHg for 10 - 20 seconds is normally sufficient.  This also means you don't hang yourself or anybody else, and you don't compress things until they turn purple unless your intention is to cause grave bodily injury.  Accidents happen; accidents like this will have dire consequences, but you can reduce these kinds of risks to levels you may find acceptable by being responsible and respectful.  

What you can't prevent are the body's systemic responses to ischemia (loss of blood flow) and ischemic hypoxia and hypercapnia (not enough oxygen and too much carbon dioxide in the blood); you will never be "responsible enough" to dictate involuntary biological functions in yourself or others, so no matter how much you practice your particular craft there will always be significant risk in this sort of activity.

Long Answer (an introduction to the unmitigated risks):

The primary risks of strangulation or choking not associated with gross physical damage are the restriction of blood or oxygen to the brain and heart, and related side-effects.  Ischemia alone can cause stress to the heart, blood pressure spikes, and stroke, but the majority of the risk comes from the hypoxic and hypercapnic effects that follow ischemia.

Hypoxia can cause things like ectopic (premature) ventricular contraction (your heart "skips" a beat), and if that occurs at the wrong time in your sinus rhythm (during a normal t-wave, for instance) you could have a heart attack.  No preamble, no warning signs, just sudden ventricular fibrillation caused by an unfortunate collision of two events, one of which you could have prevented from occurring.  Every time a "PVC over T" occurs the likelihood of it repeating increases, and multiple PVC over T events in a chain will stop the heart.  Even cardiologists can't always detect individual PVC over T events in the wild without the assistance of an EKG, so it is absurd to think that even with training you can tell by looking at someone's eyes, taking their pulse manually, watching their breathing, etc you are "informed" of their cardiovascular state beyond being able to see obvious signs of a heart attack or loss of consciousness.  By the time these problems are observable, CPR isn't nearly as effective as you might imagine (about a 10% success rate, statistically).  Incidentally, a person's overall cardiac health and fitness play a very small role in this risk; just like strong swimmers and divers can have a shallow-water blackout without warning, even athletes can have sudden fibrillation or tachycardia.

Hypoxia also causes metabolic acidosis by starving a glycolysis process in which glucose breaks down into pyruvate and creates a particularly useful little nucleotide called Adenosine-5-triphosphate, which is the transport mechanism for chemical energy within cells.  Normally, pyruvate recombines with oxygen to produce more ATP, but if there isn't enough O2 to metabolize the pyruvate it turns into lactic acid instead, which being a form of metabolic acidosis decreases your blood pH.

Hypercapnia causes respiratory acidosis; basically, your body keeps CO2 in equilibrium with water as carbonic acid (H2O + CO2 -> H2CO3), which deteriorates into bicarbonate and an acidic hydrogen ion (HCO3- and H+).  If breathing is restricted, hypercapnia (too much CO2) leads to a shitload of acidic hydrogen as your body attempts to balance things according to the above formula which, like metabolic acidosis caused by hypoxia, decreases your blood pH.  If you hyperventilate, you'll instead get rid of too much CO2 at once and the process will re-balance in the other direction, raising your pH (respiratory alkalosis).  Your bood pH is roughly 7.35 to 7.45 normally; the survivable range (for any mammal) is a pH of about 6.8 to 7.8.  Anything outside of that range causes death at a cellular level very quickly, and since the impacted areas are a person's heart and brain, just a little taste of that problem is quickly fatal.

Assuming you do not experience one of the problems above, repeated cerebral hypoxic events will also likely cause vascular lesions that eventually result in a condition known as multi-infarct dementia, which is similar to Alzheimer's Disease.

Ironically, all things being equal a proper controlled strangulation is less risky than being knocked out.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Maturity, Despotism, Perspective

When I was young I dallied with the idea that it was better to burn out than to fade away; I fully expected some savage, fiery end with a raised finger or a heroic exit at the hands of unfathomable doom. As the man said "hope I die before I get old"; he wasn't talking about *my* generation, but it still resonated. Later in life I realized that there are many stages to existence, each with their own priorities and accomplishments; you just have to acknowledge them as such and spend your time appropriately.

Youth is for innocence and wonder, naive nobility, nightmares, insolence, and a series of remarkable, memorable firsts. 

Should you manage to live past puberty (hopefully retaining some of that magic), adolescence is for nihilism and reckless abandon, sexual and recreational experimentation, fast travel, emotionally scarring relationships, and cruel lessons. 

Should you survive adolescence, adulthood is for labor, real love, family, and maturity; a time to focus on goals, establish yourself in the world, and solidify some kind of legacy in the form of descendants, empire, or body of works.

And if you should live so long, old age is for carefully orchestrated indulgence. Old age is that point when you hope to have the money and the means to dominate your children and spoil your grandchildren, to ruin your enemies, seduce their descendants, demolish their empires, and then rail up and snort the ashes in front of them. Old age is for going to a lifelong enemy's funeral in a red dress or a dapper suit, and winking at the bereaved spouse during the service in hopes of finding the next ex mister or misses you. Old age is best spent fabulously wealthy in a very tall building, surrounded by people you love, and with a pleasantly distant but clear view of the people you've ruined.

That's how I want to go out: 120+ years old, regarded in the minds of my fellows as somewhere between a beatific old saint and a tyrannical mummified bastard, finally succumbing after a valiant effort to a lifelong case of being terminally awesome.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Random Detritus / Temporal Anomaly

A number of drafts, random drunken ramblings, false-starts, and half-ideas were apparently sucked into some form of Blogger Oubliette over time; I have salvaged the ones that made any sort of sense, finished the incomplete as well as could be expected, and consigned the others to the ignominy of a permanent purge.

Of course, the goddamned things published to their original draft dates, so they are scattered backwards through the archive like the bones of little dead time travelers and if you want to read them you'll have to peruse the whole collection again looking for new titles.  


Pareto, Phi, and Politics

The 80:20 rule is a lot like the Golden Ratio, in that it is easy to confuse coincidence with causality. Maybe the fact that bosons that are freezing their metaphoric asses off tend to collapse roughly 80% of the time by volume is indicative of some unfathomable force at work in the universe, but the fact that the ratio of genus to species classification follows this rule is probably more a function of enforced simplicity than metaphysical mystery. By the same token, things that follow a normative, expected aesthetic proportion that is encountered throughout nature as a fundamental standard will undoubtedly be somewhat pleasing by default...but that doesn't mean your lotto ticket will be more likely to pay out if you use a Fibonacci sequence to pick your numbers.

But these tendencies, even if not universally applicable, can be used to model a wide variety of things. Failure distributions, root cause analysis, and even "people involved who complain" certainly seem to adhere to these rules in my own line of work, and the concept of a Pareto distribution as explained by Chris Anderson's "Long Tail" model for online businesses is demonstrably correct in fact that people are starting to utilize it deliberately now to model a strategic effort that is designed to cater to the disparate masses rather than the focused few that drive 80% of the business.

In politics, it is easy to apply the same logic; what is "big tent" politics or "coalition building" if not offering a home to the many specific special interests that occupy that long tail? Parties reach out to the multitude of weirdos on the fringe because it is easier to polarize them on very specific values and draw a distinction based on that limited argument than it would be to convince them that they all had at least something in common worth working for.

Ultimately, the problem is that in latching on to the model most adoptees have forsaken the intent of Pareto's original work in economics, which was to identify optimality.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Diabetic Drinking Diatribe

In light of my recent mutations (alas, still no tail) I have been forced to re-evaluate my alcohol consumption. This isn't nearly as problematic as it would have been, say, ten years ago when I was a fairly regular sot, but even in these dry times of maturity and mortality it's goddamned inconvenient. Bearing in mind that one serving of carbohydrates is approximately 15 grams, and that a one serving evening snack is a fairly normal allowance / guilty pleasure for diabetics, it's a fairly simple leap to say that - all things equal - a one carb choice nightcap is an equally allowed indulgence (at least from a blood sugar perspective). Bearing in mind that I am (a) monastic in my normal dilligence to my carb levels and (b) a big guy anyway, my endocrinologist has even suggested two carb servings aren't out of line, which is even better on paper.

But what's a carb serving of alcohol? Therein lies the rub...

12 oz of Alfred Gratien champagne or Guiness Extra Stout
6 oz of mixed daiquiri (fresh ingredients / bar recipe)
3.5 oz glass of Inniskillin Vidal icewine
2 oz of Bailey's or Carolan's
1.5 oz of Jagermeister or Drambuie
.75 oz of Kahlua or Amaretto


It is worth mentioning that pure hard liquors (e.g. bourbon, brandy, cognac, gin, rum, scotch, tequila, vodka, whiskey) have absolutely no carbs whatsoever, provided nothing has been added and the fermentation wasn't arrested prematurely. They contain plenty of calories and are destined to be converted into a large amount of triglycerides, but no carbs. In the end, doing shots at the serious end of the bar carries the same risk as it always has, no more and no less.

Although, it's weird to note that that the orange juice has more chance of fucking me up now than the vodka, LOL.