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Category: Fun

Two cannibals are eating a clown and one says to the other, “Does this taste funny to you?”

December 22, 2017 | 13 Comments

Any Of You Still Listen To Shortwave?

If you don’t know what shortwave is, then you don’t listen to it. You probability don’t even own a radio that tunes to the shortwave bands (which are above the AM broadcast band, but well below FM).

When we were first starting out, I was new to radio and shortwave. The Air Force at the depot at Kelly where I was stationed had all sorts of equipment which I could use when working afternoon shifts. It was a blast to play with. The world was a much bigger place in 1983, and the magic of hearing Germany, the BBC, Australia, and even the USSR from a radio in Texas has to now be imagined. There was no internet.

Many countries, like Germany and Australia, have by now shut down their official overseas shortwave broadcasts, both because it’s not seen as necessary, and perhaps because having a national identity worth boasting about in that fashion seems a tad too right wing. Money was, as it always is, the largest driver. Putting out the wattage to “hit” distant lands costs.

Besides, who needs to monkey with radio and a bunch of wire hanging out your window, only to hear a bunch of static, when you can surf over to Deutsche Welle Radio and listen to clear audio?

Sure, lots of areas of the world, like in China, still routinely use shortwave for domestic broadcasting. Nothing else would cover the distances as effectively. But those signals are hard to pick up in the States and in Europe, and anyway they are in Mandarin and other languages. In the States and Canada, the only equivalent I can think of is CFRX (6.07 MHz, 49 meter band), which originates in Toronto and is a relay of CFRB (1010 Khz AM).

I gave a link a short while back of a BBC radio personality handing an AM radio to passersby and asking them to tune to (I think) Radio 4. Hardly any could. The “device” was too unfamiliar to them. (It’s a fair bet that few to none none of these folks know their cell phones are radios, either.) If people can’t work an AM radio, tuning in a shortwave where you have to be much more knowledgeable about the frequencies, times, and atmospheric conditions would be like trying to follow a recipe in Swahili.

Radio Shack is dead, and it’s difficult to find even AM radios at departments stores and places like Walmart. They instead have “devices” which phones can be plugged into. Standalone radios are nowhere common. I don’t even remember the last time I saw a shortwave radio in a store. Obviously, if people don’t know about it, they can’t buy it. And if they don’t buy it, they don’t listen to it.

In English on shortwave, there are not a great deal of good listening options (yes, there are some good ones!). There are many “religious” broadcasters, but, let’s face it, their programming is often tedious. (And I speak as a religious person.) Of course, on regular AM much of the programming is tedious, too, or worse. There is only so much sports talk one can tolerate (about thirty seconds with me).

Shortwave broadcasting will survive here and there, but I can’t see it lasting in places like the USA. Eventually, the “bands” will be given over to hams, the military, and other commercial services.

I am a ham. K2JM (I started as KA5YHN). You will not hear me on the air, or only very rarely. I have what is called an “HT” (handy-talkie), a VHF/UHF toy that can contact “repeaters”, towers that translate my tiny signal and cast it as a wider net. My preference is still “HF”, the same range of frequencies used by shortwave. These signals, as stated above, can reach (sans assistance) worldwide. There is still magic in the idea of taping out “CQ CQ…” in Morse code and having a response from Bulgaria.

Alas, I do not tap out CQ, nor anything else. I live in Manhattan apartment weer than any researcher’s p-value. The noise and static on shortwave is so thick I am sure the building itself is supported by it.

I do not even own any HF “gear”. I could buy it, and many do, but to me that feels as boring as using the HT. I am therefore, after many years, going put my Air Force training back to work and build my own. I’ll start (probably) with the Michigan Mighty Mite. It is dirt simple, and I already have the crystal. Listen for me in the new year at 3.57954 MHz. Plus or minus.

December 21, 2017 | 60 Comments

The Mathematics Of Santa Claus’ Present Delivery System

It’s the time of year when people begin asking the very pertinent question: How does Santa Claus do it? How does he get all those presents to all those kids in just one night?

Some people think that the old man still personally hand delivers each and every toy—with the enthusiastic help of Dasher and others, of course. That used to be the case, a very long time ago, but there are too many kids in the world now, and the traditional sleigh-bearing method has become obsolete and even impossible.

About a century ago, Santa saw what was coming and began to devise new present-delivery techniques. Naturally, Santa, being the world’s greatest manager, knew that he couldn’t figure out how to do everything all by himself, so he hired outside consultants. I am one of these (not one of the first, of course; I came on only in the last ten years). My contributions are in the scientific field of present dynamics.

[Now a few] years ago, I was asked by the show Weird US to outline the modern mathematical ideas that Santa Claus now employs. The (then) History Channel episode in which I appear (near the end) is entitled “It’s a Wonderful Time to Be Weird.”

“A math and weather wiz at NYC’s Cornell University helps crunch the numbers [about Santa]…” (A heavily compressed clip: if anybody has access to a better rendition, please let me know.)

Many mathematicians go to great lengths to prove, using various theorems and lemmas, that there is no way Santa could physically deliver all those presents in just one night. Arguments begin by noting that there are tens to hundreds of millions of children, and there is not enough time, energy, or space to complete the task in this short a time. A typical analysis is this one, by an engineer. His math and reasoning are flawless.

In fact, any argument which attempts to show that Santa could do his job if he were only fast enough always ends disastrously. Santa would have to travel so fast that the reindeer would burn up like meteors entering the atmosphere. However, these mathematical results, while true, are answering the wrong question. And since those presents are delivered, so Santa must be doing something else. But what?

Have you see the movie Miracle on 34th Street? I mean the original, not any of the unnecessary (and simplified) remakes. There is a scene in the sanity trial of the old man who claims to be Santa in which the defense attorney calls to the stand the young son of the prosecutor. The prosecutor has previously argued that there is no Santa Claus.

The defense attorney, John Payne, asks, (words to the effect), “Johnny, do you believe in Santa Claus?” The kid replies, “Sure I do.” Payne: “Why?” Kid: “Because my daddy told me [there was a Santa Claus].” Payne: “And your daddy is a very honest man, isn’t he? He wouldn’t lie?” Kid: “My daddy would never lie, would you daddy?” The kid comes off the stand and whispers to Santa that he’d like a football helmet for Christmas.

Well, we all know what happens. The prosecutor concedes the existence of Santa and the court eventually decides that the old man in the dock is the one and only Santa Claus. But the key scene sneaks by unless you’re paying close attention. It’s when the case is over and people are noisily exiting the courtroom. We see the prosecutor suddenly realize that he’s got to run. He looks at his watch and says to his assistant, “I’ve got to get that football helmet!”

To be obvious: the kids asks Santa for the helmet, but it is the father who brings it. Do you see? Santa manipulated the events so that the kid got what he wanted for Christmas—Santa was responsible for the present—but Santa did not actually, physically have to bring the present! Here’s how it’s done.

Have you heard of chaos theory? This is the mathematical theory of how things move when they are under complex or unidentifiable forces. A common example: a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, and eventually a snow storm develops in Cleveland two weeks later. How? Well, the tiny puffs of air forced from the flapping of the butterfly’s wings cause other puffs of air to divert from their course, which in turn cause still others to change their course, and so on. The effect grows and magnifies so that the path and dynamics of a future storm is changed. Point is: a minuscule cause can grow into a macroscopic event later. You can imagine that the mathematics to track such events are difficult.

Now, Santa doesn’t do this math himself. His specialty is in toy making, not differential calculus, so Santa employs a group of consultants to help with the complicated computer code that is necessary to bring about the massive toy movement on Christmas Eve. I am one of those consultants and have been given permission to hint about how things work. The actual algorithms are, of course, secret and proprietary, so I can only give you a sketch here.

Santa’s sleigh ride is largely ceremonial at this point, though he does go out and personally deliver some presents. He does this in cases where the math indicates that certain children are unlikely to get exactly what they want. This is because the methods that we use are not perfect: Santa and his elves can only “flap their wings” in so many places and in so many ways.

There are two main branches of present dynamics mathematics: the physics of chaos theory, and the subtleties of probability theory. The first branch describes how the present “moves” through world, from its place of origin to its spot under the proper Christmas tree. This is described in the “Santa Claus Gift Momentum Equation”, shown below. The bold “V_gift” describes, in three dimensions, the actual physical location of the present at any moment in time. The parameters of that equations are the forces which govern that movement.

Now, the parameters in the momentum equation are decided by the probability equation, given next. The “p” in the equation is a probability, which should give you some hint that these methods are not perfect. Pay attention to the “I(Nice)” function. That is the “naughty or nice” indicator. Yes, Santa still keeps track of these things, so be careful! You can see that the coefficient on Age is negative, meaning that as you get older, you are less likely to get the present you want.

There is also a lot of “secret stuff” in these equations that I can’t show you. But if you are too curious and just need to know, the best thing is to study physics or math and then someday, if you get good at it, Santa may ask you to help him with Christmas.

Santa Claus Gift Momentum Equation

Gift momentum equation

Gift Probability Equation

Gift probability equation

Merry Christmas, and God bless us everyone!

December 6, 2017 | 12 Comments

The Advent of Lousy Music

Stream: The Advent of Lousy Music

Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to read could be true. The names and locations have not been changed to protect the innocent.

There are no innocents.

You’re a detective sergeant. You’re assigned to Domestic Division. You get a call of a major disturbance with possible violence at a high rise on the Upper East Side. There’s no telling what you might find when you get there. Your job … maintain order.

It was Wednesday, November 24th, the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday, they call it. I was working the Night Watch out of Domestic Division. My partner was out sick with turkey poisoning. My name’s Briggs. I’d just come out of the last remaining Te Amo where I had bought a small cigar. It was 7:18 P.M. when I got my first call.

I arrived at 642 East 60th at 8:22 P.M. and was shown to the thirteen floor by a nervous doorman. He didn’t need to tell me which apartment. You could hear the loud banging as soon as the elevator door opened.

The door wasn’t locked. I went in.

“Sir, may I ask what you’re doing with that hammer?”

“Killing this radio. What does it look like?” He demonstrated by hitting the radio again.

“For what reason, sir?”

“Because it was playing Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time! by Paul McCartney.”

We had been warned this might happen. A Departmental criminologist earlier briefed patrols that the composer of this tune belonged to the Bruce Springsteen school of song writing. Pick a lyric, repeat it endlessly ad nauseam over and over and over and over again forever and ever and keep on signing it so that the listener is forced into a violent reaction.

Before I could ask another question, from the remnant of the radio came a squeaky but recognizable Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time! The man clobbered what was left with a chair.

All became silent. The man visibly relaxed.

“I’m going to let you go with a warning, sir. Try not to listen to the radio or television before December 24th. It’s Christmas then, sir. It’s Advent now. Now is a time for sober reflection in anticipation of a tremendous and unique spiritual event. The birth of our Lord. The time for bad music will come, sir.”

I took the elevator down. Before I could exit through the revolving door the second call came in. A possible jumper just four blocks north. It was 8:37 P.M.

I arrived on scene at 9:08 P.M…


Deck them halls and click this link to read the rest.

November 23, 2017 | 14 Comments

Old Lodge Skins’ Prayer Of Thanksgiving

In what is now a tradition, we present for Thanksgiving the death prayer from Old Lodge Skins, which comes at the close of Little Big Man by Thomas Berger (who died in 2014).

Then he commenced to pray to the Everywhere Spirit in the same stentorian voice, never sniveling but bold and free.

“Thank you for making me a Human Being! Thank you for helping me become a warrior! Thank you for all my victories and for all my defeats. Thank you for my vision, and for the blindness in which I saw further.

“I have killed many men and loved many women and eaten much meat. I have also been hungry, and I thank you for that and for the added sweetness that food has when you receive it after such a time.

“You make all things and direct them in their ways, O Grandfather, and now you have decided that the Human Beings will soon have to walk a new road. Thank you for letting us win once before that happened. Even if my people must eventually pass from the face of the earth, they will live on in whatever men are fierce and strong. So that when women see a man who is proud and brave and vengeful, even if he has a white face, they will cry: ‘That is a Human Being!’…”

I stood there in awe and Old Lodge Skins started to sing, and when the cloud arrived overhead, the rain started to patter across his uplifted face, mixing with the tears of joy there.

It might have been ten minutes or an hour, and when it stopped and the sun’s setting rays cut through, he give his final thanks and last request.

“Take care of my son here,” he says, “and see that he does not go crazy.”

He laid down then on the damp rocks and died right away. I descended to the treeline, fetched back some poles, and built him a scaffold. Wrapped him in the red blanket and laid him thereon. Then after a while I started down the mountain in the fading light.

Incidentally, eschew the movie of the same name, which shares only the title and the names of a few characters from the book, a book which is the moral and historical opposite of the politically correct film. It is a book which contains no anachronisms, itself a matter of great celebration.

Also highly recommended (as historical orientation) is the classic The Fighting Cheyennes by George Bird Grinnell, who was born in 1849 and who wrote the book in 1915 (it’s still in print). It is a non-patronizing, non-romantic look at the battles the Cheyenne fought, in, as much as was possible, their own words.

Berger wrote Little Big Man at a time (1964) when white boys still wanted to run off and be Indians. Nearly twenty years later, the TV show Grizzly Adams fulfilled the same escapist function. What little boys want to be now they had best keep quiet about or out come the pills (or awards).

Old Lodge Skins was Little Big Man’s adoptive grandfather. The scene takes place shortly after the Battle of Little Big Horn which the Cheyenne called the Battle at the Greasy Grass.

There is much in this prayer that still works. Men, remember to offer it or one like it as thanksgiving today.