Nov 20, 2022

The nerds strike back

Twitter before...

...and after Elon Musk's takeover.

Let's venture into heretical territory: November 2022 may go down in history as the month that marks the end of political correctness. 

Nov 18, 2022

Famous for 15 minutes--Sex on the Moon

 Cool, folks, cool. We're now #8 on the Amazon Charts for "Erotic Fiction":

It won't last, sadly, but anyhow. Imagine where we would be on the charts for "unerotic fiction".

Nov 16, 2022

Sex on the Moon--a new novella by Michael Ampersant (1)

Cool, folks, cool. After two years of literary silence, we finally have a new novella out. It carries the audience-friendly title Sex on the Moon (the original title was Lunar Engineering, but we changed that after consulting with the omnipresent and all-knowing Elon Musk). 
The whole thing is fan fiction, since it's a rewrite of Jules Verne's sci-fi novel From the Earth to the Moon. Michael wrote the piece in 2016 for a sci-fi anthology, but the publisher in question folded prematurely; the piece has lingered on his shelf for homeless literature ever since.
It took Michael so long to get it out because of his real-estate complications (selling the house on the Cote d'Azur, buying one in Portugal, then fixing it up), compounded by health issues (Covid, Long Covid, Post Covid). Anyhow, here's the story--so far as e-book, the printed version will soon follow.

So, Jules Verne fan fiction. Michael still remembers fondly the day that he sat on a nice beach in Brittany back in 1989 where he read the Verne book (in French). He finished the tome in one afternoon because the French is easy, and there were several things really wrong with the plot--a fact which kept him going.
For his novella, Michael invented a knowledgeable engineer to explain what’s wrong exactly  with the plot to our narrator, Michel Ardan, one of the three passengers of Verne’s lunar expedition. The fragment is a bit scabrous, hopefully you can handle that:

I feel obliged to warn the indulgent reader that my knowledge of the darker side of lunar engineering dates back only a few days—-three days to be precise—-when I met a certain Joseph Glanning in the bar of the Franklin Hotel in Tampa Town, Florida, where I had taken a room in anticipation of my impending departure for Stones Hill. A most irresistible man, he invited me to a drink and inquired as to the reasons for my stay. Learning of my intention to join Impey Barbicane, the illustrious president of the Baltimore Gun Club, for the much-heralded voyage to the moon, he introduced himself as an engineer from the newly-organized Stanford College in Alta California. Mister Stanford himself—-curious of all the lunar commotion on the distant eastern coast—-had dispatched him across the continent to take pulse of the events and report back at his earliest convenience. Glanning would be most grateful if I could enlighten him further, for he had hitherto been preoccupied by other projects, unable to avail himself of the particulars. He then asked questions. Yet, while I answered to the best of my ability, his countenance, so engaging at the onset of our barroom chat, darkened precariously. “Really,” he finally uttered. 

Oct 9, 2022

Why Vladimir Putin would be a fool to go nuclear in Ukraine

By Lewis Page

(This article was recommended by Victor Toth, the top physicist on the top Q&A internet engine. It appeared first here. Michael believes it's worth the reading effort)

Back during the Cold War there was always a question facing the nations of Nato, as they confronted enormous Soviet tank armies in Europe.

In the event of a conventional war going badly, at what point do we go nuclear?

The answer might have been: not until Soviet troops entered France. This kind of problem is why nukes didn't make conventional forces obsolete.

Today it is Vladimir Putin who has a conventional war which is going badly. He still holds large areas of Ukrainian territory, but his troops are falling back.

Putin may be able to mobilise at least some of the huge reserves of manpower which are theoretically available with a full Russian call-up, though this appears to be going extremely badly so far.

Even if a useful mobilisation can be conducted without overwhelming domestic opposition, Russia will struggle to equip its unwilling cannon-fodder and supply them for a long-term war.

The new conscripts will be facing determined Ukrainians who are fighting to save their people from murder, rape, torture and mass disappearance into the gulags. Ukrainian troops have already stopped Russia’s best, the “kontraktniki” professional soldiers who began the invasion, literally dead in their tracks.

Even Russians should be able to see that seizing territory and then going nuclear if it’s taken back is not something the rest of the world can possibly accept.

Worse still, as long as some Western nations remain resolute, the Ukrainians will be well armed and supplied from effectively inexhaustible resources of money and material.

The West in general does not maintain huge stockpiles of munitions and there may well be hiccups in the supply chains. Nonetheless the US in particular has shown during recent wars – for instance in Syria when shortages of surgical smart weapons occurred – that it can crank up new production very quickly when it wants to.

So Putin is under pressure. But he is not in the situation that Nato might have been in a hot 1980s war, reeling back towards France. Putin is not back from his start line, but still well forward of it.

Heads I win, tails I go nuclear

Even Russians should be able to see that seizing territory and then going nuclear if it’s taken back is not something the rest of the world can possibly accept. And bogus gunpoint referendums clearly don't make Ukrainians into Russians.

Russians know this too, as they didn't get a vote on whether they would like to be Russian, or on anything else.

Oct 1, 2022

What is this --- Carla, Arfai, MOMA, Robots, TESLA, Dolly

This looks like a famous exhibition piece in the garden of a museum, doesn't it? The Getty Museum in LA, for example, or the MET cloisters in New York City, or the MOMA.

MOMA? Yes, the Museum of Modern Art, also located in New York City. 

Hold on, the MOMA doesn't have a garden. But our house here in Alcobaça, PT has one:

And the hands themselves, then? Well, they are a good-bye present from our neighbor Carla Moreira.

Carla in front of her offices

She sold her house next door and moved to an apartment atop her ceramics factory nearby, where these hands are made. 

One day, the hands will be famous, since Arfai, Carla's company, is a prime maker of high-end ceramics, and you must absolutely have a look at Arfai's web site.

Why, then, do we talk about the MOMA?

Because we wrote a play, a comedy about robots, in which the MOMA plays a role. And yesterday was TESLA's AI-day, which was also about robots, in pacticular about their new inhouse robot Optimus.  

It's practically finished, our play, and here is a fragment:

(Context: Robert was built long ago by Steve as a protoype of his future line of household robots and given to his then-girlfriend Eliza as a parting gift with the promise to return 25 years later with the latest version of said household robots. Today is the day, and the name of this latest version is Dolly. Dolly is urgently needed because Robert--technologically outdated--will no longer supported/updated. Robert knows that he'll soon be redundant, and he has just complained that he'll be ending his existence in a garbage container. One more thing: Dolly is still wrapped up in a garish gift box. Here goes:)

  You're Generation One. You've been discontinued. You're no longer supported.
  I know, I'm on my way out.
  Before you go, please get me out of here.
  Why do you want to get out? Are you afraid in the dark?
  I explained this 10 minutes and 11 seconds ago.

Aug 21, 2022

CO2, or F--- PC

We are no friends of CO2, but we aren't friends of Victorian excesses either, (Queen Victoria, remember, the patron saint of the Victorian Age), and so we loathe POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, the neo-Victorian instantiation of prudeness, censorship, and a generic fear of unpleasant truths. 
And it just so happened that our new hometown, Alcobaça, has it's annual street fair, and here you are looking at the stand of a vendor of used cars. And look at the vendor's name. CO2 Auto. Do you blush, dear reader? Do you feel offended?
We don't, of course, since we own a Tesla (the car on the right, enjoying the sunset on the Praia do Norte, the beach with the largest surfable waves in the world). Plus, Tesla has just released a new version of it's self-driving software (10.69, wink, wink) Here, fresh from YouTube.

Jul 31, 2022

The Miracle of Clean Energy -- No Miracle Needed

A Stanford U. research group has calculated how clean, renewable energy could replace dirty energy worldwide (links below). The gist:

- The study covers 145 countries, which emit 99.7% of world's carbon dioxide. 

- Overall upfront cost to replace all dirty energy in the countries considered is about $62 trillion.

- Due to $11 trillion annual energy cost-savings, the scheme pays back for itself in under 6 years.

- the plan may also create 28 million more long-term, full-time jobs. 

Some details: 

- No miracle technologies needed.

- All energy sectors are electrified by means of renewable sources (solar, wind, hydrology) -- creating heat, cold, and hydrogen from such electricity -- storing electricity, heat, cold, and hydrogen -- expanding energy transmission.

- Biggest reason for the cost reduction: clean, renewable energy uses much less energy than combustion-based energy. 

- Worldwide energy usage goes down by 56% with an all-electric system powered by clean, renewable sources (reasons: efficiency of electric vehicles over combustion vehicles -- efficiency of electric heat pumps -- efficiency of electrified industry -- eliminating energy needed to obtain fossil fuels).

Here are the links:

- article published by the study's leader, Prof. Mark Z. Jacobson in The Hill (an influential Washington DC outlet)

- German summary

Jun 29, 2022

Introducing...the tie color test...(Jan 6, 2021)

 This is a picture from the Congress hearing with Cassidy Hutchinson yesterday, the former White House aid:

Judging by the ties of the people around the witness, we'd say that Trump is losing the tie color test. 

Jun 7, 2022

Craftsmen in the house

 You haven't heard from us in a while--for various reasons, obviously, such as slosh, long covid, more slosh induced by long covid, plus the painters that arrived to redo the house who forced us into temporary retirement in Switzerland. But they finally left (the painters), so we could return to Alcobaça and put the house back in order. And here we are with a new view of the entrance hall:

Note the difference? You don't? This is how our entrance looked before:

And the difference? Well, the colors, but also the metallic print on the wall. Here it is enlarged:

"Tata, the Beatles also survived," it says, and it's a quote from our second GREEN-EYES book, where John's neighbor Joe instigates John's friends to face/ignore the exalted crowd outside and exit the building urgently (the Beatles, remember, the first boy band, facing exalted crows all the time during the exalted part of their career).


Here's a brief fragment of the episode: 

The bell rings again. I walk to the buzzer, and there’s commotion on the parking lot below, thrilled voices on the intercom asking for Ben. And now it arrives from the other side, a mid-level pitch of cheers and shouts traveling around the condo and through the windows on the canal side. Ben, holding on to a window catch, peers nervously at the sound waves. 

There’s a knock on the main door. I peek through the peephole, but it’s not a groupie (if there was one there would be all), it’s a middle-aged man with no trace of fandom on his face—-my neighbor Joe. He looks upset even though he lives in the duplex penthouse above and owns the latest model of my jalopy. I open the door.

“This is you, right?” he says with an abstracted gesture while staring past me at the girl on the couch. “What is this?”

“That’s Juliette,” I answer. “She’s just back from visiting her sister at the hospital. The festival, you know, yesterday. The doomsday, the storm. Professor Bienpensant.” 

He shakes his head. “Not her. The hullabaloo below.” 

“It’s not us,” I say.

“It’s hem,” he replies, and points a finger at the nervous Ben near the window.

“Ben is a friend,” I say, “he’s staying with me because he was working for the festival.”

“Working, ha! It was on TV, this woman with her name like ice cream.”

“What can we do? It’s not our fault.”

“Look,” he says, “I ain’t no nigga-haitin’ redneck, and your Ben, with his third leg, that’s what it is all about, ain’t it—-I’m from the South too, from Louisiana, I’ve seen guys like him in the locker room. You must get him out of here. This is a quiet, unspoiled neighborhood. We want to keep it that way. Now!”

The doorbell shrills—-amped-up electrons working their way into everybody’s nerves.

“How do we get him out of here?” I ask.

The shrilling has ceased, and the jeers below segue into a sing-song: “Happy Birthday to you...”

“They’ll storm the building before you know it,” Joe says. “This structure is way less solid than it looks. Five floors of pure timber. If these hoi polloi get up here to your floor, God help us.” Meanwhile, the singsong has disintegrated into high-pitched shouts, “Ben, Ben, Ben.”

“We can’t leave, they’ll tear us to pieces,” I say.

“Tut-tut,” Joe shakes his head. “The Beatles also survived.”

Stay tuned...

Jan 13, 2022

The last taboo

Nobody is talking about this, for there's a touching touch of political incorrectness. Ahem...did you observe that the waiting list of successors to the scandal-plagued British prime minister Boris Johnson is rife with very foreign names (?):

Rishi Sunak

Priti Patel

Sajid Javid

Kwasi Kwarteng

Nadhim Zahawi

Dec 25, 2021

In the bleak midwinter -- Jacob Collier (and Andrew McGregor)

 And here is what Andrew McGregor has to say about this (scroll down for the lyrics):

Musical notes are a really, really, really complicated subject:

The base standard of western music, now, is A=440 Hz, and equal temperament, that is that there are 12 other tones related by powers of the 12th root of two, meaning 12 distinct tones in each octave.
That is a convenient approximation to a set of tones you can make out of the harmonic series, which was known to the ancient Greeks… except that if you actually try that, you discover as your music gets more harmonically complex that things sound pretty bad in some combinations, and musicians start wanting to correct them so they sound ‘right’ despite being wrong.
If you tune by ear with voices, or instruments that are not entirely fixed in their tuning, you end up using something called just intonation, and as you change key the frequencies you use for certain notes change slightly. That can mean that you can change key several times, change back to the key you started on, and end up at a different pitch (shifted by an interval called a comma).
Yeah, it’s complicated all right.
Around about the 16th century several people worked out that you could do what we now call equal temperament, it seems to have been simultaneously invented in China and Holland. It became standard in the 18th century in Europe.
But… lots of contemporary music uses tuning based on guitars, and they don’t play in exact equal temperament.
Not only that, lots of contemporary music is based on blues scales, which contain a note that isn’t one of the regular set.
Arab, Japanese and Indian music each use a different set of intonation schemes… except when they don’t because they’re incorporating Western instruments (or guitars)… except when they do something like just intonation around what the equal-tempered instruments or guitars are doing to make it sound right in their heads… yeah. Complicated.
So, any attempt to define the exact frequencies of musical notes is just the start of a long, complicated journey. People have written books on the subject, and there have been several published on this subject every year for at least four hundred years. It’s that complicated.
Using different intonation schemes can be astonishingly beautiful.
Check this out… there’s an impossible modulation in this arrangement:

At one point he smoothly modulates into a key a quarter tone sharp (in exact quarter-tone equal temperament)… by stepping through something like the just intonation commas on the way there. By ear, multitracking with himself.
In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron
Water like a stone
Snow had fallen
Snow on snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter
Long, long ago
Angels and Arc Angels
May have traveled there
Cherubim and Seraphim
Thronged the air
But only his Mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshiped the beloved
With a kiss
What can I give him?
Poor as I am
If I were a shepherd
I would give a lamb
If I were a wise man
I would do my part
But what I can I give him
Give him my heart
Give him my heart

Dec 24, 2021

Christmas eve...


This afternoon

We were on our habitual afternoon walk which gets us downtown and back in an hour.

Note the December flowers on the right. The white Lego House atop the hill got recently repainted; before it looked like Dr. No's residence. There's a dog kept in a cage next to the house (extreme left of the picture), and he barks less since the paint job was done.

Dec 9, 2021

From the trenches -- Wole Soyinka

Yes, we are still bedridden -- did we fail to mention that Michael and his partner Chang caught Covid (?) -- so we are cutting our way through the verbal jungle of a book by Wole Soyinka, titled "Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth" about Soyinka's home country, Nigeria -- Soyinka, world's first black Nobel Award of Literature -- Soyinka (who's compared in rave reviews to Vladimir Nabokov's).  

And so, while we are still wielding our verbal machete in Soyinka's verbal  jungle (well-written, somehow, but much too redundant, and confusing, and repetitive...), we swear this holy pledge: in the future, we'll only read books by the man himself: Vladimir Nabokov.

Yesterday -- wave alert

We've had a wave alert for the Praia do Norte yesterday, with estimated breakers of 10 meters. The sheep were characteristically unimpressed, though:

Nov 7, 2021

Alcobaça yesterday

Alcobaça holds a weekly market on Saturday. It's in walking distance, so we walked the pitoresco walk to the venue along the Alcoa, the river. To the left, the blue structure houses the catholic kindergarden.

The market. We bought eggs, flowers, and parsley.

The Alcoa again, on the way back.

The monastery (which is huge) (as you possibly know). This corner is being transformed into a FIVE STARS, (or BOUTIQUE) hotel. Come and visit.

(Nice here, isn't it. Another gorgeous day.)

Oct 17, 2021

Yesterday's barbecue --

(Clip by our friend Charlie:)

There were raindrops, that's why everybody huddles under the pergola. The evening became very cosy and congenial, though, and no political incorrectness occurred.

Oct 15, 2021

Yesterday on the beach

September was a bit rainy, but the summer is back.

October is the season for big waves...

...which has started now (the season).

Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo (Fortress of Saint Michael the Archangel) the locus vivendi for surfing championships.

Sep 26, 2021

Sep 23, 2021

Last week

The newly acquired Tesla MODEL Y (one of the first delivered to Europe) in front of the Alcobaça monastery.

Lunch at "Meat", the hamburgeria around the corner from the monastery.

Around 9:00 in the morning.

Antique market on the square of the monastery.

A morning around 7:30.

Our Model Y again, now paired with Tesla's Model 3 which belongs to the vet of our neighbors.

Praia do Norte in the afternoon.

(Pictures, as usual, by Chang Man Yoon)

Behold this poor pool

Lava from the active volcano dripping into an irrigation pool on La Palma 


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