Monthly Archives: July 2016

Boy-Girl physics humor

Girl breaking up with her boyfriend: I just need two things, more space, and time.

Atoms try to understand themselves.

Atoms build physicists in an attempt to understand themselves. That’s also why physicists build physics societies and clubs.

Boyfriend: So, what’s the other thing?


Robert Buxbaum. And that, dear friend, is why science majors so rarely have normal boyfriends / girlfriends.

A female engineer friend of mine commented on the plight of dating in the department: “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

By the way, the solution to Einstein’s twin paradox resides in understanding that time is space. Both twins see the space ship moving at the same pace, but space shrinks for the moving twin in the space ship, not for the standing one. Thus, the moving twin finishes his (or her) journey in less time than the standing one observes.

The game is rigged and you can always win.

A few months ago, I wrote a rather depressing essay based on Nobel Laureate, Kenneth Arrow’s work, and the paradox of de Condorcet. It is mathematically shown that you can not make a fair election, even if you wanted to, and no one in power wants to. The game is rigged.

To make up for that insight, I’d like to show from the work of John Forbes Nash (A Beautiful Mind) that you, personally, can win, basically all the time, if you can get someone, anyone to coöperate by trade. Let’s begin with an example in Nash’s first major paper, “The Bargaining Problem,” the one Nash is working on in the movie— read the whole paper here.  Consider two people, each with a few durable good items. Person A has a bat, a ball, a book, a whip, and a box. Person B has a pen, a toy, a knife, and a hat. Since each item is worth a different amount (has a different utility) to the owner and to the other person, there are almost always sets of trades that benefit both. In our world, where there are many people and everyone has many durable items, it is inconceivable that there are not many trades a person can make to benefit him/her while benefiting the trade partner.

Figure 3, from Nash’s, “The bargaining problem.” U1 and U2 are the utilities of the items to the two people, and O is the current state. You can improve by barter so long as your current state is not on the boundary. The parallel lines are places one could reach if money trades as well.

Good trades are even more likely when money is involved or non-durables. A person may trade his or her time for money, that is work, and any half-normal person will have enough skill to be of some value to someone. If one trades some money for durables, particularly tools, one can become rich (slowly). If one trades this work for items to make them happy (food, entertainment) they can become happier. There are just two key skills: knowing what something is worth to you, and being willing to trade. It’s not that easy for most folks to figure out what their old sofa means to them, but it’s gotten easier with garage sales and eBay.

Let us now move to the problem of elections, e.g. in this year 2016. There are few people who find the person of their dreams running for president this year. The system has fundamental flaws, and has delivered two thoroughly disliked individuals. But you can vote for a generally positive result by splitting your ticket. American society generally elects a mix of Democrats and Republicans. This mix either delivers the outcome we want, or we vote out some of the bums. Americans are generally happy with the result.

A Stamp act stamp. The British used these to tax every transaction, making it impossible for the ordinary person to benefit by small trade.

A Stamp act stamp,. Used to tax every transaction, the British made it impossible for ordinary people to benefit by small trades.

The mix does not have to involve different people, it can involve different periods of time. One can elect a Democrat president this year, and an Republican four years later. Or take the problem of time management for college students. If a student had to make a one time choice, they’d discover that you can’t have good grades, good friends, and sleep. Instead, most college students figure out you can have everything if you do one or two of these now, and switch when you get bored. And this may be the most important thing they learn.

This is my solution to Israel’s classic identity dilemma. David Ben-Gurion famously noted that Israel had the following three choices: they could be a nation of Jews living in the land of Israel, but not democratic. They could be a democratic nation in the land of Israel, but not Jewish; or they could be Jewish and democratic, but not (for the most part) in Israel. This sounds horrible until you realize that Israel can elect politicians to deliver different pairs of the options, and can have different cities that cater to thee options too. Because Jerusalem does not have to look like Tel Aviv, Israel can achieve a balance that’s better than any pure solution.

Robert E. Buxbaum, July 17-22, 2016. Balance is all, and pure solutions are a doom. I’m running for water commissioner.

Of grails: holy, monetary, and hip

The holy grail is pictured as either a cup or a plate that Jesus used at the Last supper. It either held the wine or the bread upon which he said: this wine is my blood and this bread (or cake*) is my body. The British have a legend, or made-up story, that this cup or plate made it to England somehow, and because of divine grace was revealed to king Arthur. The story is important because it underlies the idea of divine grace favoring the English crown  — that God favors England, and English royalty over other nations and the common folk.

A George III coin, engrailed for decoration and to keep people from carving off silver.

A George III coin, engrailed for decoration and to keep people from carving off silver.

What makes this item holy is that, by oral tradition, but not the gospels, Jesus’s blood was saved into the same plate or cup that he’d used at the last supper, but what about this plate or cup makes it a grail.

As it turns out, there are many unholy grails on runs into. The edges of many US coins are engrailed. That is, they are decorated with cut lines at the edges. They are there for decoration, and to make it unlikely that someone would cut off a piece. I suppose these coins are monetary grails, though I’ve never seen them described literally that way. They are engrailed, and one can presume that the holy cup or plate was engrailed the same way. Perhaps as decoration like on the coins, or perhaps for some aspect of use.

The grille on the front of a Ford is not only for decoration; it allows air to flow through. Some plates, and most broilers have grilles like this to that allow crumbs or gravy to drop through.

The front grille (or grill) on a Ford. It allows air to flow through. Broilers and some plates have through-slots like this; did The Grail?

The front end of most cars include a grille, or grill, an area cut all the way through to allow air to flow to the engine. Some plates and most barbecues are made this way to allow crumbs or blood from the barbecue to flow through. If this is flow through grill were the holy grail, it might have held Jesus’s bread, but not his wine or his blood.

And finally we come to an entirely modern type of grail, or grill, the one on the mouth of some rappers. The point is not entirely decorative, but to make one think more highly of the rapper. Clearly, a person with teeth like this, is a person to be respected. Clearly successful, the idea is make you think of the fellow as chosen by God to be a leader. There is a certain magic in wearing a grille.

Wholly Grilled, not the holly grail.

Wholly Grilled, but not the holly grail.

Robert Buxbaum, July 8, 2016. One of my Grad School chums, Al Rossi, tells me that, in the original Greek version of the gospels, Jesus says ‘this cake is my body.’  The normal version, ‘this bread’ comes from the Latin translation of St. Jerome. He also tells me there is no comment about this being Passover. As for how Jesus could celebrate passover with bread or cake and not matzoh, he claims it’s an example of having one’s cake and eating it too, as it were.

A plague of combined sewers

The major typhoid and cholera epidemics of the US, and the plague of the Al Qaeda camps, 2009 are understood to have been caused by bad sewage, in particular by the practice of combining sanitary + storm sewage. Medieval plagues too may have been caused by combined sewers.

Combined sewer system showing an rain-induced overflow, a CSO.

A combined sewer system showing an rain-induced overflow, a CSO.

A combined system is shows at right. Part of the problem is that the outfall is hard to contain, so they tend to spew sewage into the lakes and drinking water as shown. They are also more prone to back up during rain storms; separated systems can back up too, but far less often. When combined sewers back up, turds and other infected material flows into home basements. In a previous post, “follow the feces,” I showed the path that Oakland county’s combined sewers outfalls take when they drain (every other week) into Lake St. Clair just upstream of the water intake, and I detailed why, every few years we back up sewage into basements. I’d like to now talk a bit more about financial cost and what I’d like to do.

The combined sewer system shown above includes a small weir dam. During dry periods and small rain events, the dam keeps the sewage from the lake by redirecting it to the treatment plant. This protects the lakes so that sometimes the beaches are open, but there’s an operation cost: we end up treating a lot of rain water as if it were sewage. During larger rains, the dam overflows. This protects our basements (usually) but it does so at the expense of the drinking water, and of the water in Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie.

As a way to protect our lakes somewhat Oakland county has added a retention facility, the George W. Kuhn. This facility includes the weir shown above and a huge tank for sewage overflows. During dry periods, the weir holds back the flow of toilet and sink water so that it will flow down the pipe (collector) to the treatment plant in Detroit, and so it does not flow into the lake. Treatment in Detroit is expensive, but nonpolluting. During somewhat bigger rains the weir overflows to the holding tank. It is only during yet-bigger rains (currently every other week) that the mixture of rain and toilet sewage overwhelms the tank and is sent to the river and lake. The mess this makes of the lake is shown in the video following. During really big rains, like those of August 2014, the mixed sewage backs up in the pipes, and flows back into our basements. With either discharge, we run the risk of plague: Typhoid, Cholera, Legionnaires…

Some water-borne plagues are worse than others. With some plagues, you can have a carrier, a person who can infect many others without becoming deathly sick him or herself. Typhoid Mary was a famous carrier of the 1920s. She infected (and killed) hundreds in New York without herself becoming sick. A more recent drinking water plague, showed up in Milwaukee 25 years ago. Some 400,000 people were infected, and 70 or so died. Milwaukee disinfected its drinking water with chlorine and a bacteria that entered the system was chlorine tolerant. Milwaukee switched to ozone disinfection but Detroit still uses chlorine.

Combined sewers require much larger sewage treatment plants than you’d need for just sanitary sewage. Detroit’s plant is huge and its size will need to be doubled to meet new, stricter standards unless we bite the bullet and separate our sewage. Our current system doesn’t usually meet even the current, lower standards. The plant overflows and operation cost are high since you have to treat lots of rainwater. These operation costs will keep getter higher as pollution laws get tougher.

In Oakland county, MI we’ve started to build more and more big tanks to hold back and redirect the water so it doesn’t overwhelm the sewage plants. The GWK tank occupies 1 1/2 miles by about 100 feet beneath a golf course. It’s overwhelmed every other week. Just think of the tank you’d need to hold the water from 4″ of rain on 900 square mile area (Oakland county is 900 square miles). Oakland’s politicians seem happy to spend money on these tanks because it creates jobs and graft and because it suggests that something is being done. They blame politics when rain overwhelms the tank. I say it’s time to end the farce and separate our sewers. My preference is to separate the sewers through the use of French drains or bio-swales, and through the use of weir dams. I’m running for drain commissioner. Here’s something I’ve written on the chemistry of sewage, and on the joy of dams.

Dr. Robert E. Buxbaum, July 1-Sept 16, 2016.