Pistol sights

There are some things about handgun sights which I've never seen explained properly -- that is to say, so that even someone without any gun experience can look at the explanation and check that it is correct, rather than having to take something on faith. Yet they do have reasonably simple explanations.

Files and hacksaws

Files and hacksaws were two tools that were around the house when I was a kid, and puzzled me quite a bit: I couldn't figure out how anybody did much with them. Later I learned: the secret is in what was missing: the vise. The piece being filed or hacksawed should be clamped firmly in a heavy, solid vise which is bolted down tightly -- or some other arrangement that is equally rigid. (If the workpiece is big and heavy enough, nothing is needed to hold it, but that's uncommon.) Then you can apply the sort of force that is needed to remove metal fast, without the workpiece escaping or getting into a mutual dance of vibration with the cutting tool.

From slavery to COBOL

Recently Yale University renamed one of their "residential colleges" (dorms): it had previously been named after John C. Calhoun, and now is named after Admiral Grace Hopper. The administration explained that although they don't intend to go around renaming everything to satisfy every politically correct complainer, this was a particularly egregious case: the original naming after Calhoun had been not because of any strong link to Yale, but to honor Calhoun's career as a politician, notably his advocacy of slavery as a "positive good" and of white supremacy. The college had featured a stained glass window depicting happy slaves on a plantation, recently smashed in protest. The original naming was done in 1931, long after Calhoun's death, long after the Civil War, and at a time when white supremacy was, in the terms of today's social networks, "strongly trending".

Soap / shampoo that doesn't stink

I've long detested the way that just about every personal cleaning product that is sold has some added "fragrance". I want to wash away odors, not mask them; but the people who bottle and sell such products don't cater to my wants. Perhaps they live in some marketing bubble where they don't know anyone with spartan tastes and so never consider us as potential customers. Notable in this regard is one shampoo I recently encountered which claimed to be "fragrance-free" but had a definite smell. Inspection of the list of ingredients revealed "burdock root" near the end; that substance is noted for its odor. The product seems to have been made for people who want their shampoo to be "fragrance-free", not for people who want their shampoo not to stink.

Frack the San Andreas

With the continuing slump in oil prices, a lot of drilling and fracking equipment is idle. What better use to put it to than triggering earthquakes?

Pelicans air surfing

In offshore winds, pelicans ride the updrafts in front of waves, making it look sort of like they're surfing. Here are some short video clips of this. (Rather than messing with HTML5 video embedding, I'm just linking directly to the video file. If that doesn't work, there's a YouTube version.) The audio track is "Legend of One", by Kevin Macleod (CC by 3.0 license).

Crypto and the Second Amendment

In the Crypto Wars, arguments have occasionally been made that there is a constitutional right to cryptography. Most recently, Apple made that argument in trying to fend off the FBI's request to help break into an encrypted phone. It went roughly as follows: writing code is an expressive act, freedom of expression is protected by the First Amendment, and so they can't be forced to express themselves in ways they don't want.

The FBI's next move

As this is being written, a judge is considering competing briefs from Apple and the government on the question of whether Apple should have to comply with the FBI's request to help it brute-force the passcode of an iPhone which had belonged to one of the terrorists who did the San Bernardino shootings, and are now dead. (Update, May 10: the FBI withdrew its request a while ago, saying that they had found another way into the phone. But nobody doubts that they'll be back at some point with another phone; so this article still represents what could easily be their next move. I've also edited this article for clarity, and to make some points more explicit.)

Deliberative Process?

That's the name of an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act: government agencies don't have to reveal records if they are part of "the deliberative process". Congressional subpoenas are limited by the same or a similar exemption, under the name "executive privilege". But the reasons for these things are rather mysterious: when government officials are conspiring with each other ("deliberating"), isn't that exactly the sort of thing the public should know? Or that Congress should know, in the case of "executive privilege"?