Monthly Archives: March 2016

Comic Colonialism II: of Busbys and Bear Skins.

The map below shows, in white, all the countries that England has not invaded.

The white spots on this map are the countries that England has not invaded.

The white spots on this map are the countries that England has not invaded.

England now controls virtually none of these countries. In most of these, English is the national language, or the language of business, and defeating the British is hailed as the central national experience. Still, many have opted to become part of the British Commonwealth, a loose organization of ex-British states. Generally this requires agreeing to the rule of the Queen, despite having nominally free states. Entering Canada, for example, one finds a picture of Elisabeth II, Queen of Canada, And there are royal colleges where inventions belong to her. The same with Australia and New Zealand. The question to ask, then, the question despots have asked, is how did the English manage it –or perhaps, how can I extend my despotism the same way. Part of the answer, it seems to me, is that England used tall, silly hats: Busbys and Bearskins.

The Queen of Canada reviews her troops. She's wearing a Busby; he's in a bearskin.

The Queen of Canada reviews her troops. She’s wearing a Busby; he’s in a bearskin.

The Bearskin hat is perhaps the silliest hat in worldwide military use, and certainly the largest. The bearskin is made of the complete skin of a black or a brown (grisly) bear dyed black, The skin is shaped over a wicker frame to stand 16″ tall (a black bear skin is used for enlisted men, and a grisly bear for officers). It is heavy, quite fuzzy, and completely non-aerodynamic and protects the head not at all. As best American military experts have found, it only makes the person wearing it a better target for being shot. And yet, Britons have striven to be given the honor of wearing this thing. There is also a slightly shorter, slightly fuzzier version of the Bearskin worn by officers. It’s called a Busby, and it’s made from beaver skin. Even in this day of social correctness, skins are found for this use, and “harvested”, mostly in Canada.

The front-line British soldiers in the American Revolution wore these hats when they marched in ranks to attack the colonials at Lexington and Concord, and again at Bunker Hill, and again, in the war of 1812 at New Orleans. It made them slow, impressive, and dead. Because of their weight, these hats are often worn with a leather collar to help support them. The collar makes it hard for soldiers to look down, a plus for soldiers on parade, but a minus when walking over uneven ground, e.g. when attacking Bunker Hill. You’d think the British would have given up on these weird hats long ago, but the British won in many conflicts and have come to dominate many countries. They seem to credit the hat, I’m beginning to think it deserves more attention than it’s gotten.

The hat they wore through the war of 1812, through the Crimean war and the Boer war; in the heat of the Indian revolts, in Africa, and to this day for show makes British soldiers look taller, and more elegant. It makes them stand straighter than most, and gives guards an other-worldly appearance. American soldiers uniformly reminisced how hard it was to shoot someone who marched so elegantly. The Queen likes them, and she, after all is nothing if not elegant. Perhaps the unworldly elegance of the bearskin give soldiers the courage to invade countries and die in the name of a sovereign who reigns by Devine right as expressed through the sword Excalibur ‘of pure Semite’, whatever that is. It’s a story that not one adult Britain believes, yet they die for (why?) Perhaps it’s the honor of mass craziness. Perhaps, because they see simple folks are impressed by soldiers wearing the tall funny hats (I guess thats why some US marching bands use them). And then again, it might be pure luck, superstition, and stupidity. The method of science would be to ask if other countries or team bands do better while wearing the silly hats. I suspect not, but it deserves statistical analysis.

Robert Buxbaum, March 30, 2016. Comic colonialism 1 dealt with the mistakes leading to the US capture of Guam. Catch also my essays, the greatest blunders of the US revolution, and mustaches and WWII: similar mustaches foreshadow stable alliances.

Follow the feces; how to stop the poisoning

In Oakland county, we regularly poison our basements and our lake St Clair beaches with feces — and potentially our water supply too. We have a combined storm and sanitary sewer system that mixes feces-laden sanitary sewage with rainwater, and our pipes are too old and small to handle the amount of storm water from our larger rains. A group called “Save Lake St. Clair” is up in arms but the current commissioner claims the fault is not his. It’s global warming, he says, and the rains are bigger now. Maybe, or maybe the fault is wealth: more and more of the county is covered by asphalt, so less rain water can soak in the ground. Whatever the cause, the Commissioner should deal with it (I’m running for water commissioner, BTW). As the chart of toxic outfalls shows, we’ve had regular toxic sewage discharges into the Red Run basically every other week, with no exceptional rainfalls: only 0.9″ to 1.42″.

Toxic outfalls into lake St Clair, Feb 20 to Mar 20, 2016. There were also two outfalls into the Rouge in this period. These are too many to claim they are once in hundred-year events.

Toxic outfalls into lake St Clair, Feb 20 to Mar 20, 2016. There were also two outfalls into the Rouge in this period. These are too many to claim they are once in hundred-year events.

Because we have a combined system, the liquid level rises in our sewers whenever it rains. When the level is above the level of a basement floor drain, mixed sewage comes up into the basement. A mix of storm water comes up mixed with poop and anything else you and your neighbors flush down. Mixed sewage can come up even if the sewers were separate, but far less often. Currently most of the dry outfall from our old, combined sewers is sent to Detroit’s Waste Water Treatment plant near Zug Island. When there is a heavy rain, the pipe to Zug is overwhelmed. We avoid flooding your basement every other week by diverting as much as we can of the mixed storm water and septic sewage to lake St. Clair. This is poop, barely treated, and the fishermen and environmentalists hate it.

The beaches along Lake St Clair are closed every other week: whenever the pipes to Detroit start getting overwhelmed, whenever there is about 1″ or rain. Worse yet, the sewage is enters the lake just upstream of the water intake on Belle Isle, see map below. Overflow sewage follows the red lines entering the Clinton River through the GW Kuhn — Red Run Drain or through the North Branch off the River. From there it flows out into Lake St. Clair near Selfridge ANG, generally hugging the Michigan shore of the lake, following the light blue line to poison the metro beaches. it enters the water intake for the majority of Oakland County at the Belle Island water intakes, lower left.

Follow the feces to see why our beeches are polluted. It's just plain incompetence.

The storm water plus septic sewage mix is not dumped raw into lake St. Clair, but it’s nearly raw. The only treatment is to be spritzed with bleach in the Red Run Drain. The result is mats of black gunk with floating turds, toilet paper and tampons. This water is filtered before we drink it, and it’s sprayed with more chlorine, but that’s not OK. We can do much better than this. We don’t have to regularly dump poop into the river just upstream of our water intake. I favor a two-prong solution.

The first, quick solution is to have better pumps to send the sewage to Detroit. This is surprisingly expensive since we still have to treat the rain water. Also it doesn’t take care of the biggest rains; there is a limit to what our pipes will handle, but it stops some basement flooding, and it avoids some poisoning of our beaches and drinking water.

This is our combined sewer system showing a tunnel cistern (yuk) and the outflow into the Red Run. We can do better

A combined sewer system showing a tunnel cistern. Outflow goes into the Red Run. We can do better.

A second, longer term solution is to disentangle the septic from the storm sewers. My approach would be to do this in small steps, beginning by diverting some storm runoff into small wetlands or French drain retention. Separating the sewers this way is cheaper and more environmentally sound than trying to treat the mixed flow in Detroit, and the wetlands and drains would provide pleasant park spaces, but the project will take decades to complete. If done right, this would save quite a lot over sending so much liquid to Detroit, and it’s the real solution to worries about your floor drains back-flowing toxic sludge into your basement.

The incumbent, I fear, has little clue about drainage or bio-treatment. His solution is to build a $40MM tunnel cistern along Middlebelt road. This cistern only holds 3 MM gallons, less than 1/100 of the volume needed for even a moderate rain. Besides, at $13/gallon of storage, it is very costly solution compared to my preference — a French drain (costs about 25¢/gallon of storage). The incumbents cistern has closed off traffic for months between 12 and 13 mile, and is expected to continue for a year, until January, 2017. It doesn’t provide any bio-cleaning, unlike a French drain, and the cistern leaks. Currently groundwater is leaking in. This has caused the lowering of the water table and the closure of private wells. If the leak isn’t fixed , the cistern will leak septic sewage into the groundwater, potentially infecting people for miles around with typhus, cholera, and all sorts of 3rd world plagues.

There is also an explosion hazard to the incumbent’s approach. A tunnel cistern like this blew up near my undergraduate college sending manhole covers flying. This version has much bigger manhole covers: 15′ cement, not 2′ steel. If someone pours gasoline down the drain during a rainstorm and if a match went in later, the result could be deadly. The people building these projects are the same ones who fund the incumbent’s campaign, and I suspect they influenced him for this mis-chosen approach. They are the folks I fear he goes to for engineering advice. If you’d like to see a change for the better. Elect me, Elect an engineer.

Dr. Robert E. Buxbaum, March 26, 2016. Go here to volunteer or contribute.

Stories of Jewish charity

Before Passover this year, an individual went to the rabbi of our town for a private meeting to tell him about the problems facing various people. He said, there was one particularly pathetic case where a family could lose their house. They had borrowed $5000 from a particularly nasty lender who would throw them out in the cold if they didn’t pay up soon.

Our rabbi was touched, and said he would do what he could to raise the sum. He would even contribute $100 of his own. As the fellow left, he had just one question, ‘How do you come to know this is going on? Are you a relative, or particularly close friend?” “No,” said the guest, “I’m the lender.”


Another story of Jewish charity: a neighbor of ours takes incredible care of her husband, She spends quite a lot, regularly to get his nails done professionally. She says it’s worth it to know that his coffin is secure.

Finally, I must admit that I’d wanted to marry my ex-wife, who I had divorced previously — sort of an act of kindness. But she would have none of it. My ex said I was only marrying her for my money.

Robert E. Buxbaum. October 23, 2015

Celebrating the Eids of March

March 15, the eids of March. On this date in 44 BC (2060 years ago) 5 centuries of republican rule in Rome came to an end to be followed by chaos, civil war, and then Empire. Augustus, Claudius, Nero. That was not the aim of the senators and colleagues of Julius Caesar when they took to assassinate Julius Caesar, first citizen of Rome. They acted out of excessive republican purity, and excessive fear. Their aim was for a pure republicanism where there would be no first citizen, and their fear was that Julius might become the emperor – the emperor that Augustus, Claudius, and Nero became.

Brutus on the face side of an Eids March coin, with two daggers and the legend "Eid Mar" on the obverse. Clearly the conspirators were proud of their act

Brutus on the face side of this Roman coin and two daggers and the legend “Eid Mar” on the obverse. The conspirators were proud of their act.

Shakespeare considers Brutus to be the noblest Roman of them all, but Dante considers him among the worst of the worst. Dante’s Devine Comedy consigns Brutus to the very center of Hell along with Cassius and Judas. What do you think? BTW, why it’s this a comedy?

The difference between a republican government and a democracy is that a democracy can elect a dictator (as Germany did and Iran has) or can choose to execute a citizen for being annoying to the majority, as democratic Athens did to Socrates. In a republic, even the majority is bound by a set of constitutional limitation providing some-measure of inviolable rights, generally that life, liberty, and property can not be taken without due process or the violation of a more-or-less clear law. All other systems are, to a greater or less extent a rule of whim. When the founders of the US picked a model for government, they picked republican Rome, not democratic Athens nor a limited monarchy as existed in England. Their motivation was the observation that power corrupts, and that inequality under the law attracts the worst elements to the position of least check on their power.

Mark Anthony and his wife, Octavia, Octavius's sister.

Mark Anthony and his wife, Octavia, Octavius’s sister.

The death of Caesar set forces in motion that would install Octavius (Augustus) Caesar and Anthony to take over as co-emperors. Here is a coin showing Mark Anthony with his wife, Octavius’s sister. already, neither look as lean as Brutus or Julius Caesar. Shortly thereafter, Octavius would have Mark Anthony killed to cement his power and republican rule would be over until 1776.

Robert E. (beware), March 14, 2016. I suspect this same drive for purity and fear is driving the Republican party today. Don’t fear the Rino, just make sure there is a balance of power.

if everyone agrees, something is wrong

I thought I’d try to semi-derive, and explain a remarkable mathematical paper that was published last month in The Proceedings of the Royal Society A (see full paper here). The paper demonstrates that too much agreement about a thing is counter-indicative of the thing being true. Unless an observation is blindingly obvious, near 100% agreement suggests there is a hidden flaw or conspiracy, perhaps unknown to the observers. This paper has broad application, but I thought the presentation was too confusing for most people to make use of, even those with a background in mathematics, science, or engineering. And the popular versions press versions didn’t even try to be useful. So here’s my shot:

Figure 2 from the original paper. For a method that is 80% accurate, you get your maximum reliability at the third to fifth witness. Beyond that, more agreement suggest a flaw in the people or procedure.

Figure 2 from the original paper. For a method that is 80% accurate, you get your maximum reliability at 3-5 witnesses. More agreement suggests a flaw in the people or procedure.

I will discuss only on specific application, the second one mentioned in the paper, crime (read the paper for others). Lets say there’s been a crime with several witnesses. The police line up a half-dozen, equal (?) suspects, and show them to the first witness. Lets say the first witness points to one of the suspects, the police will not arrest on this because they know that people correctly identify suspects only about 40% of the time, and incorrectly identify perhaps 10% (the say they don’t know or can’t remember the remaining 50% of time). The original paper includes the actual factions here; they’re similar. Since the witness pointed to someone, you already know he/she isn’t among the 50% who don’t know. But you don’t know if this witness is among the 40% who identify right or the 10% who identify wrong. Our confidence that this is the criminal is thus .4/(.4 +.1) = .8, or 80%.

Now you bring in the second witness. If this person identifies the same suspect, your confidence increases; to roughly (.4)2/(.42+.12) = .941,  or 94.1%. This is enough to make an arrest, but let’s say you have ten more witnesses, and all identify this same person. You might first think that this must be the guy with a confidence of (.4)10/(.410+.110) = 99.99999%, but then you wonder how unlikely it is to find ten people who identify correctly when, as we mentioned, each person has only a 40% chance. The chance of all ten witnesses identifying a suspect right is small: (.4)10 = .000104 or 0.01%. This fraction is smaller than the likelihood of having a crooked cop or a screw up the line-up (only one suspect had the right jacket, say). If crooked cops and systemic errors show up 1% of the time, and point to the correct fellow only 15% of these, we find that the chance of being right if ten out of ten agree is (0.0015 +(.4)10)/( .01+ .410+.110) = .16%. Total agreement on guilt suggests the fellow is innocent!

The graph above, the second in the paper, presents a generalization of the math I just presented: n identical tests of 80% accuracy and three different likelihoods of systemic failure. If this systemic failure rate is 1% and the chance of the error pointing right or wrong is 50/50, the chance of being right is P = (.005+ .4n)/(.01 +.4n+.1n), and is the red curve in the graph above. The authors find you get your maximum reliability when there are two to four agreeing witness.

Confidence of guilt as related to the number of judges that agree and your confidence in the integrity of the judges.

Confidence of guilt as related to the number of judges that agree and the integrity of the judges.

The Royal Society article went on to a approve of a feature of Jewish capital-punishment law. In Jewish law, capital cases are tried by 23 judges. To convict a super majority (13) must find guilty, but if all 23 judges agree on guilt the court pronounces innocent (see chart, or an anecdote about Justice Antonin Scalia). My suspicion, by the way, is that more than 1% of judges and police are crooked or inept, and that the same applies to scientific analysis of mental diseases like diagnosing ADHD or autism, and predictions about stocks or climate change. (Do 98% of scientists really agree independently?). Perhaps there are so many people in US prisons, because of excessive agreement and inaccurate witnesses, e.g Ruben Carter. I suspect the agreement on climate experts is a similar sham.

Robert Buxbaum, March 11, 2016. Here are some thoughts on how to do science right. Here is some climate data: can you spot a clear pattern of man-made change?

Of horses, trucks, and horsepower

Horsepower is a unit of work production rate, about 3/4 of a kW, for those who like standard international units. It is also the pulling force of a work horse of the 1700s times its speed when pulling, perhaps 5 mph. A standard truck will develop 200 hp but only while accelerating at about 60 mph; to develop those same 200 horsepower at 1 mph it would have to pull with 200 times more force. That is impossible for a truck, both because of traction limitations and because of the nature of a gasoline engine when attached to typical gearing. At low speed, 1 mph, a truck will barely develop as much force as 4-5 horses, suggesting a work output about 1 hp. This is especially true for a truck pulling in the snow, as shown in the video below.

Here, a semi-truck (of milk) is being pulled out of the snow by a team of horses going perhaps 1 mph. The majority of work is done by the horse on the left — the others seem to be slipping. Assuming that the four horses manage to develop 1 hp each (4 hp total), the pull force is four times a truck at 1 mph, or as great as a 200 hp truck accelerating at 50 mph. That’s why the horse succeed where the truck does not.

You will find other videos on the internet showing that horses produce more force or hp than trucks or tractors. They always do so at low speeds. A horse will also beat a truck or car in acceleration to about the 1/4 mile mark. That’s because acceleration =force /mass: a = F/m.

I should mention that DC electric motors also, like horses, produce their highest force at very low speeds, but unlike horses, their efficiency is very low there. Electric engine efficiency is high only at speeds quite near the maximum and their horse-power output (force times speed) is at a maximum at about 1/2 the maximum speed.

Steam engines (I like steam engines) produce about the same force at all speeds, and more-or-less the same efficiency at all speeds. That efficiency is typically only about 20%, about that of a horse, but the feed cost and maintenance cost is far lower. A steam engine will eat coal, while a horse must eat oats.

March 4, 2016. Robert Buxbaum, an engineer, runs REB Research, and is running for water commissioner.