Monthly Archives: November 2014

Seniors are not bad drivers.

Seniors cause accidents, but need to get places too

Seniors are often made fun of for confusion and speeding, but it’s not clear they speed, and it is clear they need to get places. Would reduced speed limits help them arrive alive?

Seniors have more accidents per-mile traveled than middle age drivers. As shown on the chart below, older Canadians, 75+, get into seven times more fatal accidents per mile than 35 to 55 year olds. At first glance, this would suggest they are bad drivers who should be kept from the road, or at least made to drive slower. But I’m not so sure they are bad drivers, and am pretty certain that lower speed limits should not be generally imposed. I suspect that a lot of the problem comes from the a per-mile basis comparison with folks who drive long distances on the same superhighways instead of longer, leisurely drives on country roads. I suspect that, on a per-hour basis, the seniors would look a lot safer, and on a per highway-mile basis they might look identical to younger drivers.

Canadian Vehicle Survey, 2001, Statistics Canada, includes drivers of light duty vehicles.

Deaths per billion km. Canadian Vehicle Survey, 2001, Statistics Canada, includes light duty vehicles.

Another source of misunderstanding, I find, is that comparisons tend to overlook how very low the accident rates are. The fatal accent rate for 75+ year old drivers sounds high when you report it as 20 deaths per billion km. But that’s 50,000,000 km between fatalities, or roughly one fatality for each 1300 drives around the earth. In absolute terms it’s nothing to worry about. Old folks driving provides far fewer deaths per km than 12-29 year olds walking, and fewer deaths per km than for 16-19 year olds driving.

When starting to research this essay, I thought I’d find that the high death rates were the result of bad reaction times for the elderly. I half expected to find that reduced speed limits for them helped. I’ve not found any data directly related to reduced speeds, but now think that lowered speed limits would not help them any more than anyone else. I note that seniors drive for pleasure more than younger folks and do a lot more short errand drives too — to the stores, for example. These are places where accidents are more common. By contrast, 40 to 70 year olds drive more miles on roads that are relatively safe.

Don't walk, especially if you're old.

Don’t walk, especially if you’re old. Netherlands data, 2001-2005 fatalities per billion km.

The Netherlands data above suggest that any proposed solution should not involve getting seniors out of their cars. Not only do seniors find walking difficult, statistics suggest walking is 8 to 10 times more dangerous than driving, and bicycling is little better. A far better solution, I suspect, is reduced speeds for everyone on rural roads. If you’re zipping along a one-lane road at the posted 40, 55, or 60 mph and someone backs out of a driveway, you’re toast. The high posted speeds on these roads pose a particular danger to bicyclists and motorcyclists of all ages – and these are folks who I suspect drive a lot on the rural roads. I suspect that a 5 mph reduction would do quite a lot.

For automobiles on super-highways, it may be worthwhile to increase the speed limits. As things are now, the accident fatality rates are near zero, and the main problem may be the time wasted behind the wheel – driving from place to place. I suspect that an automobile speed limit raise to 80 mph would make sense on most US and Canadian superhighways; it’s already higher on the Autobahn in Germany.

Robert Buxbaum, November 24, 2014. Expect an essay about death on tax-day, coming soon. I’ve also written about marijuana, and about ADHD.

A simple, classical view of and into black holes

Black holes are regions of the universe where gravity is so strong that light can not emerge. And, since the motion of light is related to the fundamental structure of space and time, they must also be regions where space curves on itself, and where time appears to stop — at least as seen by us, from outside the black hole. But what does space-time look like inside the black hole.

NASA's semi-useless depiction of a black hole -- one they created for educators. I'm not sure what you're supposed to understand from this.

NASA’s semi-useless depiction of a black hole — one they created for educators. Though it’s sort of true, I’m not sure what you’re supposed to understand from this. I hope to present a better version.

From our outside perspective, an object tossed into a black hole will appear to move slower as it approaches the hole, and at the hole horizon it will appear to have stopped. From the inside of the hole, the object appears to just fall right in. Some claim that tidal force will rip it apart, but I think that’s a mistake. Here’s a simple, classical way to calculate the size of a black hole, and to understand why things look like they do and do what they do.

Lets begin with light, and accept, for now, that light travels in particle form. We call these particles photons; they have both an energy and a mass, and mostly move in straight lines. The energy of a photon is related to its frequency by way of Plank’s constant. E= hν, where h is Plank’s constant and ν is frequency. Their mass is related to their energy by way of the formula m=E/c2. This formulate is surprisingly easy to derive, and is often shown as E= mc2. In classical form, the gravitational force between a star, mass M, and this photon or any other object of mass m described as follows:

F = GMm/r2

where F is force, G is the gravitational constant, and r is the distance of the photon from the center of the star. The potential energy of a photon of the mass increases as it rises from the star surface, but the internal energy (proportional to frequency) decreases — the photon gets redder. The amount of internal energy lost to gravity as it rises from the surface is the integral of the force, and is thus related to the mass of the object and of the star.

∆E =  ∫Fdr = ∫GMm/r2 dr = -GMm/r

Lets consider a photon of original energy E° and original mass m°. Lets figure out the radius of the star r° such that all of the original energy, E° is lost in rising away from the star. That is let calculate the r for which ∆E = -E° as the photon rises to freedom. Lets assume, for now, that the photon mass remains constant at m°.

E° = GMm°/r° = GME°/c2r°.

We now eliminate E° from the equation and solve for this special radius, r°:

r° =  GM/c2.

This would be the radius of a black hole if space didn’t curve and if the mass of the photon didn’t decrease as it rose. While neither of these assumptions is true, the errors nearly cancel, and the true value for r° is double the size calculated this way.

r° = 2GM/c2

r° = 2.95 km (M/Msun).


Karl Schwarzschild 1873-1916.

The first person to do this calculation was Karl Schwarzschild and r° is called the Schwarzschild radius. This is the minimal radius for a star of mass M to produce closed space-time; a black hole. Msun is the mass of our sun, sol, 2 × 1030 kg.  To make a black hole one would have to compress the mass of our sun into a ball of 2.95 km radius, about the size of an SUV. Space-time would close around it, and light starting from the surface would not be able to escape.

As it happens, our sun is far bigger than a SUV and is not a black hole: we can see light from the sun’s surface with minimal space-time deformation. Still, if the mass were a lot bigger, the radius would be a lot bigger and the needed density less. Consider a black hole the same mass as our galaxy, about 1 x1012 solar masses (mostly dark matter), or 2 x 1042  kg. The Schwarzschild radius of a star with the mass of our galaxy would be 3 x 1012 km, or 0.3 light years, about 1/20 the distance to Alpha Centauri. This is far bigger than the six of our solar system, but far smaller than the actual size of the galaxy, 5 x 1017 km, or 50,000 light years. Still, the difference between 0.3 light years and 50,000 light years isn’t that great on the cosmic scale, and it’s worthwhile to consider a black hole comprising something 10 to 100 Billion times more massive than our galaxy — the universe as a whole.

The folks at Cornell estimate the sum of dark and luminous matter in the universe to be about 15 billion times the mass of our galaxy, or 3 x 1052 kg. This does not include the mass of the dark energy, but no one’s quite sure what dark energy is. Considering only this physical mass, the Schwarzschild radius for the universe would be about 4.5 billion light years, or about 1/3 the size of our universe based on its age. The universe appears to be 14 billion years old, so if it’s expanding at the speed of light, the radius should be 14 billion light years. The universe may be 2-3 times bigger than this on the inside (rather like Dr. Who’s Tardis it’s bigger on the inside) but in astronomical terms a factor of 3 or 10 is nothing: the size of the universe is remarkably similar to its Schwarzschild radius, and this is without considering the mass its dark energy must have.

Standard picture of the big bang theory. Dark energy causes the latter-stage expansion.

Standard picture of the big bang theory. Dark energy causes the latter-stage expansion.

The evidence for dark energy is that the universe is expanding faster and faster instead of slowing. See figure. There is no visible reason for the acceleration, but it’s there. The significant amount of energy must have significant mass, E = mc2. If the mass of this energy is 3 to 10 times the physical mass, as seems possible, we are living inside a large black hole, something many physicists, including Einstein considered extremely likely. Einstein originally didn’t consider the possibility that the hole could be expanding. But now we know how to calculate the size of a black hole, and we know what a large black hole looks like from the inside. It looks just like home.

Wait for further posts on curved space-time. For some reason, no religion seems to embrace science’s 14 billion year old, black-hole universe (expanding or not). As for tidal forces, they are horrific only for the small black holes that most people write about. If the black hole is big enough, the tidal forces are small.

 Dr. µß Buxbaum Nov 17, 2014. You can drink to the Schwarzchild radius with my new R° cocktail.

General Tso’s chicken

Self promotion. It's not for everyone.

Self promotion. It’s not for everyone.

Is funny because …. it’s classical metaphysical humor. The lowly chicken becomes the hero and leader, and the troops are following him/it (to victory).

We know that some unlikely leaders are successful, perhaps just because they’ve the pluck to get up and do something (that’s the secret of American success). Presumably the troops are too timid to lead, and are following this chicken because of his determined air, and his hat and horse: clothes make the man. You should not follow every leader with determination, a fancy hat and a horse, by the way. Some leaders will devour their followers, and most do not care for self promoting underlings.

Robert Buxbaum, Nov.12, 2014.

Loyalty, part 2: power hurts the leader

In a previous post, I made the case that one should avoid accepting loyalty requests as these are generally requests for your self-destruction. Someone who asks for loyalty is not saying he’ll provide you with good pay, a comfortable environment, empowerment, and good security. Rather that he wants your service despite little or not pay, discomfort, enslavement, and likely death or disgrace. There are some, few exceptions, but loyal service of this type rarely serves the servant.

Your chance of surviving as a minion is low; your chance as master is lower.

Your chance of surviving as a minion is low; your chance as master is lower.

I’d now like to claim that having loyal followers hurts the leader, too, costing him good service, and separating him from health, friends, and family. Most leaders are better off as half of a duopoly, without minions, and only loose control of their workers. The first reason for this is to note that minions don’t do good work relative to free men. They die for no good reason (e.g. you forgot to feed them), or they stop work and wonder what you’d like next, or they get drunk and gripe, or they beat each other up over fervor or small territorial issues. They very rarely innovate or work together, and for any complex project like taking over the world (or the tristate area) needs workers who do. Good work requires pride in achievement, and a loyal slave has none.

Having loyal followers precludes one from having a close relationship with the followers (you can’t appear weak), and also with friends (your minions must have one leader, not two). The leader gets used to being surrounded by sycophants, and begins to doubt those who behave otherwise. The boss will begin to distrust friends and allies, those he needs to stay in power, as these are the very people who could most easily assist others to take leadership from him. Over time, the king, boss, monopolist and dictator share less and less. As a result they end up secret and bitter, with many fears and none he can call close. And what pleasure is there in power, if one can’t share the rewards with friends and family, or share the burden with others.

Only support someone who could rule reasonably honestly and well. Chaos is worse than a dictator. Kanin from the New Yorker.

Only support someone who could rule reasonably honestly and well. Chaos is worse than a dictator. Kanin from the New Yorker.

A great number of kings have killed themselves in one way or another, very often because of overly large ambitions (see cartoon). King Saul, in the Bible is perhaps the first, Hitler is perhaps the most famous, and Colonel Qadhafi of Libya is perhaps the most recent. More often, maximum leaders are murdered, typically by friends and family. Famous examples include Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, and Nero; Charles I, Louis XVI, Richard III, and Tzar Alexander. Both the king of rock (Elvis) and the king of pop (Michael Jackson) killed themselves with drugs. Yet others died in needless wars or were exiled. Napoleon was defeated, exiled, returned, re-exiled and then murdered by an associate.  It’s not that safe to be the infallible king. Perhaps the wisest move is that of Pope Benedict, who last year left Rome for a life of monk-like solitude. Machiavelli points out, in “The Prince”, that only two Roman Emperors died of natural causes, one because he became emperor at a very old age, and the other was Marcus Aurelius, an advanced ruler who empowered his subjects.

The great leaders create so much space for others to lead that they are almost invisible: they lead by offering encouragement.

Political bosses and monopolist businessmen, though lower in power, don’t fare much better in life. Boss Tweed died in jail, as did Capone, Boss Pendergast. Even if they avoid jail, the fact that no one likes you takes a toll. No one liked Vanderbilt or Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, or Fisk. While they lived, they could expect nothing more than senate investigations and ugly lampoons in the free press, plus an unfavorable memory after death. William Hearst and Howard Hughes died as virtual hermits, best remembered as the inspiration for “Citizen Kane” and “The Navigator.” Peter Cooper and Steve Jobs are different,  industrialists liked in life and in death; and Bill Gates may join them too. Their secret was to empower others.

He's being eaten alive by his power, money, and respect. In the end, he had none.

He’s being eaten alive by his power, money, and respect, as are all those he might love.

Woe to the wife, child or friend of the dictator. The wife and children of a king or king-pin rarely enjoy much of the power. The king-pin doesn’t trust them (often with good reason), and neither do the people. Stalin killed his wife and children as did Nero, Frederick the Great, Herod, Hitler, and quite a few others. It was said that is was preferable to be an animal in the courtyard of these greats than a son at their table. And even if the king or king-pin doesn’t kill his wife child or son, the people often do e.g. Marie Antoinette was killed shortly after Louis XVI and the Tzarina of Russia alongside Alexander III. Similarly, the wife of Hitler, the Mistress of Mussolini, and the wife of Nicolae Ceausescu all died at their husband’s side, sharing the punishment for their husband’s ambition.

The kings of Sparta fared relatively well, as did their wives, despite the militarism of Sparta. Their trick was that Sparta was a du-archy, a country with two kings. Sparta was strong and stable, and their kings (mostly) died at home. In business too, it seems the selfish leader should step back and become almost invisible. It helps him, and helps the people too. If the leader can’t share power this way, he or she should at least give people a simple choice between two things he controls and accepts (chocolate and vanilla; Democrat and Republican). Workers with a choice, even a small one, learn to act somewhat independently, and customers (or citizens) don’t complain as much either if they have some control over their fate. All will come to like the leader more, and the leader will like himself more. People stopped resenting Microsoft when there was a viable alternative, Apple, and Microsoft engineers benefitted by having a competitor to their products. I suspect that Bill Gates realized this would happen when he helped fund Apple’s return to the market. Unfortunately, most monopolists, bosses, and king-pins are too stupid, or too afraid to do this. In the end, it’s the trapped employee or follower who shoots the leader from behind.

Einstein on freedom producing good. I'd say freedom is also a good in itself

The ideal situation is a delicate balance between control and freedom. A great leader will empower those around him and support the opposition. That was the unrealized sense of Mao Tse Tung’s hundred flowers movement (let 100 flowers bloom; left 100 schools of thought contend). It’s political tensegrity. Most leaders can not let go to do this (Mao could not). Still, there IS a sanity clause, Virginia. And a leader should know that there is no benefit to the king who gains the whole world and loses his friends, family and sleep.

Robert Buxbaum. Remember, remember the 5th of November; those oppressed, and those imagining themselves oppressed rise and plot.