Locklin on science

Edison was better than Tesla in every way

Posted in manhood, Progress by Scott Locklin on July 23, 2021

It’s super popular among modern tech weebs to lionize Nikola Tesla and not think about Edison at all beyond identifying him with pointy headed bosses. This is insanity. While it’s possible that Tesla was very much ignored until my teenage years, just like the 80s era Yugoslavian propaganda services said, it is certainly not the case that Tesla is getting insufficient credit in current year. He is now extremely overrated. Tesla was indeed a great electrical engineer and inventor. However he is presently overrated; Edison is now underrated. So is Westinghouse, but we’ll keep it to Edison here, especially since Edison is propped up as some kind of villain versus somehow more heroic, rather than simply more lame Tesla.

Tesla was a lone inventor mad scientist type. He had helpers, but by and large he was a one-man band. Indeed the parts of his genius which made it into production, more or less three phase motors, he was employed by Westinghouse as a single contributor. Three phase current was a work of creative genius, but it was also an obvious innovation of the time. This will make ignorant Tesla fanboys mad, but it’s absolutely the truth. Same idea was invented independently around the same time by at least four other men, none of whom had nationalistic-communist intelligence agencies doing PR for them later. Let us name them and remember their equally great deeds: John Hopkinson an Englishman of Great Britain, Mikhail Dolivo-Dobrovolsky a Russian-Pole of the Russian empire,  Galileo Ferrais a Sardinian of Italy,  and Jonas Wenstrom a dwarf of Sweden. If Tesla had never lived, there were already four other guys who basically put the same mark on the world and achieved the same thing. In fact, all four mostly forgotten men are even more praiseworthy than Tesla, both as inventors and human beings.

Tesla is given all kinds of credit for shit he didn’t really do; radio, x-rays, wireless transmission of electricity. Sure he was tinkering in his lab and came across some weird things, but as an inventor he didn’t get them right, at all. He was definitely very bright; a polyglot, allegedly photographic memory and was in possession of a great deal of personal charisma and charm. He was also great with getting media attention and moved in the high society of his day. He was decent at most things he tried (games, etc), and led a volcel abstemious  life.

But we must be honest about Tesla; he was a semi-broken weirdo who needed a Westinghouse to bring discipline to his researches and make money. While it is sort of admirable that he spent all his time in researches which pleased him, what he did was also extremely self indulgent, and was ultimately almost entirely masturbatory nonsense, none of which actually mattered. He really wasn’t ahead of his time; he was a crank. He didn’t believe in almost any of physics which we now know is true: electrons and relativity were nonsense to him and he spent a lot of time attempting to refute it. He also despised fat people and mannish females, believed in eugenics, zapping people’s brains with electricity to make them smarter,  and had many eccentric and anti-social habits we now associate with sperg-lord character defects; and yes, they are character defects. Not being able to shag JP Morgan’s daughter because she wears pearls, or hallucinating about pigeons is indicative of a pretty severe basket of character flaws.

Edison, on the other hand, was nothing like this. Edison was a much greater inventor,  a greater businessman, leader, philanthropist and human being. Things Edison invented and shipped for profitable production: telephone microphones, phonographs, motion pictures, multiplexed telegraphy, light bulbs, iron ore separators, innovations in electrical power distribution, he delivered real X-ray imaging innovations, helped invent new forms of rubber from sunflowers, invented IR detectors, the stock ticker, the nickel-iron battery, invented new processes for plastics and other chemicals, and was basically the archetypical polymath genius. He made money on all of these things, brought every one of them from idea to market, unlike Tesla who could only bring stuff to market if someone else did that work for him.

Edison also had two wives and six kids, helped with the US war effort in WW-1, was active in an important social club, was briefly a Theosophist, was a monetary reformer, also abstemious in his diet, was a man of peace who would only work on defensive weapons (Tesla by contrast was always hawking quack death rays), and there are  a dozen companies he founded which still exist and create value to this  day.  Edison didn’t exist in his own little mad scientist world; he led men and machines to build great things, which are literally used and create value 90 years after he dropped dead. By contrast, Tesla made a bucket of loot on the one important thing he did (mind you, something done independently by 4 other men) and spent it all on his own entirely worthless personal passion projects. Mind you, Edison achieved all of these marvelous things, deeply engaged with society and the real world while stone deaf. He also never went to college.

Westinghouse did win the current wars with his Tesla invented technology, and Tesla deserves credit for having the correct solution (again, something done independently by 4 other men) but Tesla wasn’t fit to spit-shine Edison’s boots. Neither as an inventor, a creator/businessman, nor even as a human being: Edison is a greater man all the way down the line. I guess it’s OK to identify with Tesla as an underdog or something if you’re having a hard time of it, but frankly, most underdogs deserve to be underdogs. The fact that Tesla worked for Edison ought to have given you the hint: this is the natural order of things.

Everyone who works in software knows some Teslas; his self-regarding, grandiose sperg-lord nature is a familiar character. Such people may have done something that made them some loot, but then they spend it doing research into some quackery, or on polyamorous midget juggling prostitutes or whatever. None of you know an Edison, or if you do know a lesser Edison, he is probably a very great man. Edison lived in the real world rather than the self-indulgent world of cranks. Edison was a leader, a deeply moral man, and a man of affairs rather than a lone weirdo laboring on things nobody cares about. If you must emulate one of the two, don’t be a Tesla, be an Edison. It really is the virgin Tesla versus the chad Edison.

Early article, I think commissioned by Yugoslav spooks, which set me on my early Tesla fanhood, and probably everyone else’s:


Malice, stupidity and brain melting microwave ray guns

Posted in Open problems, War nerding by Scott Locklin on July 19, 2021

The usual suspects are beating the tom-tom for world-war with the Rooskie, because apparently they’re “attacking” our guys with probably imaginary microwave ray guns. These are the same people who told us that Mueller was definitely going to unearth an absurd conspiracy involving the last president being blackmailed for paying hookers to piss on photographs of the preceding president and who came up with bupkis. This one is also likely to be bupkis. I’m not all that sure if there’s anything there; evil war-mongers and mass-hysteria is a perfectly adequate explanation. In particular when I read shit like this:

Or… maybe they had the fucking flu

I’m going to assume there is something there, even if it is media amplified mass hysteria. Mass hysteria at this point is so pervasive it should always be suspected first, no matter how reasonable sounding the unreliable narrators seem. The media, because they’re overt puppets of factions within the US intelligence agencies, just regurgitate it all uncritically.

One thing it almost certainly isn’t is what they’re claiming it is now; microwave weapons. I actually know something about the dielectric constant of human brain tissue; I wrote a multi-objective optimizer for translating published Cole-Cole coefficients into something you could integrate FDTD. I was involved in a project to image human brain tissue using microwaves (someone else’s crazy idea; it worked BTW). With a couple of watts from a ground penetrating radar rig you could get decent images without trying too hard. You could do neat shit like play pong by thinking about it also. Didn’t seem to have any harmful effects, other than gently raising the temperature of the subject.

Believe it or not, radar workers are exposed to many times this level of microwaves with no ill effects other than a slightly higher rate of cataracts (from the heat). Back in glorious 1950s people talked about heating people inside of houses directly using microwaves; people bring the idea  up from time to time. It’s pretty stupid as long as we have pipes with water in them. Frankly it’s just pretty stupid. But the safety profile is high enough to make it sort of reasonable; even when using microwaves deliberately tuned to dump heat energy into human flesh.

It’s possible there is some weird resonant effect being exploited here, but if there is I doubt it is using microwaves. You can detect microwaves; it’s easy. If there’s significant amounts of them, they might even arc discharge around metal, like they do when you stick your fork in the microwave. This “our dudes are being attacked” thing has been going on for a long time;  years. I would imagine most people reading about this have forgotten that …. it used to be called a “sonic attack.” I guess someone realized that sound typically follows a 1/R^2 law, and the fact that nobody standing next to the victim hears anything kind of rules that out. Sure there are sonic weapons out there; people tend to notice them. Even the NAS committee agrees with me on this.


Though by and large this report is a big basket of horse shit. They apparently googled up some old reports of Rooskies using PULSED BRAIN CONTROL DEATH RAYS (which happen to be at comparable frequencies to the ones we were using to image our dude’s cantaloupe); this is the sheerest gorp for the reasons I state above.

They did think about insecticides because they found it in people’s blood. Unfortunately insecticides have powerful lobbying groups, so this was ruled out (there were some insecticides in people’s blood; I don’t know why this is OK). They also considered mass hysteria, but as the government and most of the population is in the grips of various mass hysterias at all times, it was impossible for them to form a baseline here. They did notice that non-crazy people seemed to recover better, which is certainly indicative of something like mass hysteria.

Looking at the committee members, there are a couple of glaring absences for figuring this sort of thing out. They were long on “neuroscientists” (whatever that is; sounds like a bullshit field to me) and various kind of doctor, including shrinks. This seems fine, unless you’re looking for a physical mechanism, which they were. They had only one person resembling a physicist or engineer on this committee; some guy with ties to the military industrial complex who apparently doesn’t read IEEE spectrum.

There was already a published paper on the likely reason for all this and it apparently wasn’t considered at all by this committee. Nor was various recordings of the actual sounds heard by the US and Canadian diplomats. Why? Don’t know! Some clever electrical engineers analyzed the published recordings of the sound, and figured out it was the interplay of room occupancy sensors, pest control and possibly anti-spy equipment gear creating weird interference effects. I mean they admit they might have been wrong, but it seems worth considering. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of entering a US embassy, they all look like evil space-alien prisons, and they’re swarming with creepy, ominous anti-espionage devices. Frankly just working in one of these shit-holes would be enough to give me a headache.

Fortress of evil alien empire or US embassy in Canada? You decide

If you don’t feel like reading the (excellent) IEEE article; I’ll give it a few more words here. All embassies have both ultrasound anti-spy doodads and ultrasound motion detectors. The anti-spy doodads rely on something called intermodulation distortion to fry spy microphones; basically they turn spy doodads into electric guitar feedback loops. To complicate matters; there are probably RF versions of the same thing, probably interacting with the ultrasound ones for reasons which should be obvious. Personally this explanation seems incredibly likely to me; stupidity of USGov workers  deploying devices involving physics from 10 different government agencies seems vastly more likely than mindless malice from the rooskie  under the bed for …. unknown science fiction reasons.

Maybe if you work in this building you should examine your life choices before postulating slavic brain melting death rays

Why everyone should learn the slide rule

Posted in Progress, tools by Scott Locklin on June 20, 2021

The obsolescence of the slide rule is mostly un-mourned, but as with many technological obsolescences, we have lost something valuable with its demise. The type of thinking which goes along with using a slide rule is useful, and the type of thinking which goes along with using its replacement of digital calculators and computers can be deceptive and sometimes harmful. It is true that using a slide rule was onerous. Learning to use all the scales on a usefully complex rule is not easy. More complex calculations require for you to capture intermediate results, and the results are imprecise. For many calculations, this basket of drawbacks is exactly what you need.

Consider physical reality. Reality is, roughly speaking, analog. You can convert an analog world to something digital, but when this happens, it is rare to use more than 16 bits. 8-12 is more typical. In most cases, the mantissa of your “real number” only has a few actual bits of information in it. Slide rules acknowledge this fact. You can see it on the physical rules themselves, which are essentially logarithm tables. You don’t get 64 bit precision floats in your slide rule at any point in the calculation, just like in “real life.” Propagating around 64 bit results can be useful at times, particularly when running a calculation which iterates many times, but it is more the exception that you really want this extra precision, and you could fool yourself with it on a calculator/computer. You can’t make this mistake using a slide rule. The slide rule trains you to think about what numbers corresponding to physical reality means. Sure, I don’t want to do my book keeping or HFT time coordinate on a slide rule; those are basically integer problems (on a computer) where the bits all mean something important. But in roughing out the design for a wing or jet turbine blade, or even in calculating a p-value those extra bits absolutely don’t mean anything. Slide rules give 2-3 significant decimal digits of precision. When calculating things involving matter, that’s about right. You can design things made out of matter which require more significant digits, but it’s very likely a bad design if you do.

Modern “engineers” have precision neurosis. It comes from having learned about numbers by using calculators and computers rather than slide rules. If you are used to calculating things using a slide rule, there will be no such neurosis. It’s why engineers will do things like build a cantilever beam which requires finite element analysis instead of just building a fucking bridge.

The fact that slide rules are cognitively relatively expensive is also useful. The difficulty in their use  makes you think about what you are doing. You have to keep track of order of magnitude stuff and simple operations like addition. Many calculations are irrelevant. Slide rules force you to think clearly about what you are doing, rather than mindlessly pecking away at a calculator or computer. It is a bit difficult to describe how this works without waxing tedious (here’s a well written set of examples ironically by the founder of autodesk), but it is the difference between knowing how to do a complicated integral by hand, and just  feeding the integral into Maple and hoping for the best. Maple is pretty good, but you can get into all kinds of trouble this way. Ideal world, you can calculate your own damn Green’s functions, so you understand where computers can make mistakes. Same story with doing numeric calculations: know how to do it on a slide rule and all kinds of trouble can be avoided.

The history of the slide rule is more or less the history of science, mathematics and technology. Famous names such as Napier, James Watt and Newton were involved in its evolution. The greatest engineering achievements of human beings were done almost entirely on slide rules. Yes, the moon shot required digital computers, but the design of the thing was done on slide rules. I maintain from experience with engineering objects in the corporeal world that shipping the thing is strongly correlated with slide rule thinking, not digital computer thinking. For twerps who are hypnotized at their computers all day and think we’re living in a digital simulacrum, this is a near unbearable thought, but it is material and business reality.

I could make the argument that a protractor, slide rule and graph paper is more efficient and has a better user interface than a CAD system for about 90% of objects which get made on CAD systems, but some ninny will think it is only a matter of time before progress makes graph paper obsolete because murble wurble “muh Church Turing thesis.” There is very good reason to believe this, and I’ve pointed it out before. Modern design lifecycles which don’t take place on physical paper and using slide rules take longer. The B-52 is a great example; literally designed on graph paper with slide rules in 1947, they shipped one in 1951. SR-71; even more innovative and shipped even more quickly. Now, crap like commercial airliners have decade long development timescales where a bunch of dorks are fooling around with finite element analysis, more or less like dogs licking their butts: because they can. I’m not even sure modern engineers can do a seat of pants calculation or differential equation solution by hand any more. While computer design allows for a lot more predictability in outcome, it also takes a lot longer than hacking something out on graph paper and seeing if it works.

Of course, even worse if the thing you are designing has software in it. There was no software in the XB-52. That’s one of the reasons it shipped. The military in its blind, moronic way, has started to realize this: they appointed a Luddite Czar to the F-36 NGAD system to avoid creeping featurism, which very obviously don’t add to airframe capabilities.

NGAD generally though, kind of misses the point. Instead of building a super dooper fighter plane for the military, a path which has always failed, now they’re going to try a “digital century series” approach, where they only stick one innovation (giant laser, “AI pilot,” pigeon brain, whatever) in each new plane. This isn’t a bad idea, but it isn’t a good idea either; they should be concentrating on shipping a plane for a role, not shipping a shiny thing they read about in a science fiction book. Agile is being touted as a potential savior here: this is horse shit, just as it is in software development. Mostly this means they’ll ship a lot of broken code that the end user will have to sort out. Worse “Digital engineering” is being touted as  a panacea. They’re not gonna just use CAD, they’re gonna use MOAR CAD. Supposedly this is the way of the future. I’m open to the possibility that well designed and used CAD tools can shorten the design lifecycle. I’m also going to notice that it literally has never done so for any aircraft since Kitty Hawk. I am sure MOAR CAD has made design of some military subsystems …. possible, but the thing about slide-rule thinking is it slows you down and makes you think about whether or not you actually need or want the thing or subsystem you’re designing. на коленкe, not on the mousepad.

Human beings are corporeal; drawing something with your hand, and fiddling with calculation sticks, writing out a differential equation solution on paper engages different neurons than typing and dragging and dropping with a mouse. The fact that we are corporeal is something modern spergoids have forgotten; lost in the dreamy womb-like twilight consciousness that fiddling with computers brings. The man drawing a sketch of a mechanical object is an active creator; his ideas conjured from the void via the power of his mind. This kind of design requires attention and focus. CAD simply doesn’t; not in the same way. Literally the nature of your consciousness is different designing on paper and using a sliderule than it is in front of the one-eyed devil. It’s like a physical embodiment of the Moravec paradox; the man who designs with slide rule and paper on the knee is a Faustian superhero and the CAD fiddler is a dreamy cog in a giant machine. That’s also one of the reasons why modern objects are so unspeakably ugly. Beauty and truth are close relatives.

Childish NGAD gibberish where they try to look all futuristic: https://www.af.mil/Portals/1/documents/7/Take_the_Red_Pill-Digital_Acquisition.pdf

How to use a slide rule: https://sliderulemuseum.com/SR_Course.htm


Open problems in Astronomy

Posted in astronomy, Corliss, Open problems by Scott Locklin on June 11, 2021

As promised, as I go through my William Corliss books (and feel like writing things down), I’ll check for anomalies which persist in being anomalous.

Globular Clusters; these are the weirdest goddamned things. While I was still in grad school, they were considered to be older than the age of the universe. Someone fiddled with a constant somewhere, and now we’re supposed to be OK with this (AOF24), but it’s really only the beginning. Other mysteries, like the galaxies themselves, these things don’t move right. I believe the present fashion is to talk about nebulous forms of matter nobody can see as being responsible for it. Corliss just says what they do; they apparently have weird velocities. Worse, they persist. These are objects nearly as old as the universe, with known, small angular momenta. You’d think they would have collapsed by now. I guess it’s magical dork matter holding them back from doing this. Except everyone says globulars are actchually missing dark matter, because reasons. Oh yeah, they also have a lower limit as to the number of stars, which is just freaking weird.  AOB3,4,8,9,17. Other of Corliss anomalies didn’t fare so well; he asserts (albeit claiming only sparse evidence AOB19) there are no globular binaries, but in fact, there are. Easy mistake to make, and the type of thing you’d expect astronomy to get better at over time as telescopes get better. FWIIW not accounting for doubles may be why they look so old. Astronomy, once you start to look into it, sure does have a shitload of assumptions baked into it.

Quantized redshift; fuck you universe, you can’t do shit like this. There are, of course, experimental error reasons this might happen, but there’s enough of these things out there it merits its own wikipedia page. I suppose it could be data artifacts; noise can look pretty weird if you stare at it long enough.AOF18, AQB1,2,6, AWB7, ATF11.

Bode’s law (and friends). ABS1 ABS6 This is one of those things you’re confronted with immediately in astronomy; not even telescope tier; stuff that Babylonians could have figured out. Why is the solar system following a power law? I mean it could be some kind of nebula thing. Could be sheerest coincidence. Could be God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom. There are all kinds of “resonances” in the solar system which defy explanation beyond “it must be a resonance.”

AU secular increase. Here’s one Corliss missed: the orbit of the planets around the sun is increasing. It could be tidal forces, as people attribute to the moon slowly moving away from the earth. People have tried to unify this with the various other anomalies we’ve seen in orbital mechanics; flyby anomalies and so on, not sure how successfully. But people are pretty sure it’s happening. Hey, I got a dumb idea; maybe it’s the same thing making galaxies spin weird and globs not collapse. Maybe … gravitomagnetics? Don’t know! Apparently there are weird things going on with Saturn as well.

Spiral persistence. AWO13. This is another one that is weird, but so old nobody really talks about it. Yeah, like so galactic angular momentum implies dork matter or whatever, why do they so often look like spirals. Worse, spirals with bars. Based on the age of galaxies and their angular momentum, and, like the Virial theorem, the spirals should have turned into pancakes by now.


Origin of Galactic rotation. AWB9. This is a peculiar one, and I sort of hesitate to include it, but it might be an important idea and it certainly bothered important people back in the day. I mean, the universe spontaneously appearing is weird enough I don’t mind it having non-zero angular momentum. The angular momentum of galaxies may have originated in some kind of tidal forces. Others suggest the universe itself rotates. I suspect there is some Kapitza-tier basic physics here that angular momentum conservers didn’t notice, but I include it here anyway as I don’t think anyone has ever talked about how it might have occurred. Corliss also talks about the existence of galaxies itself as being pretty weird (AWB17), which is probably true, but which I also don’t have a  big problem with as long as they behave themselves.

Solar wind isotope variation. ASF4. There’s huge variance in the nitrogen-14/15 isotope ratios in the lunar regolith. There’s also  variation in the solar system at large. Could be some of it is from the early solar system, could be broken solar models. Corliss calls this one a “2” -and people don’t seem to worry about it too much, but it struck me as pretty weird.

Axis of Evil. Another one Corliss couldn’t see in his day. How come cosmic background anisotropies are correlated with the plane of the earth around the sun? Was Copernicus right? Is it all some weird systematic error? I’m betting on the latter. It could be sorted out by sending a Planck style microwave space telescope into some non-earth orbit and see if it goes away or looks different. It also should give anyone trying to build new physical models based on astronomical observations pause as to the numerous things that could go wrong.

Solar magnetic cycle. ASO4 ASO5 ASO10 ASZ. First we get the sunspots, then we get the solar flares, then the magnetic field of the sun flips. And sometimes you get stuff like the Maunder minimum. Sun’s pretty weird man. It’s all very well documented; both directly and from secondary sources, and nobody has the slightest idea what’s going on -not even, really on a hand-wavey level. FWIIW solar models are the basis for an awful lot of astronomy if that makes you feel any better about astronomy.