Archive for July, 2012

Late night stealth

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

I would like to share with you some things I’ve learned about creeping around stealthily late at night, after the family have gone to bed, in case you find yourself in a similar situation. I’m pretty good at it now. So, obviously to avoid waking anyone up, you want to avoid making any noise, and also avoid any lights. Here’s my list of things to be aware of:

  • Night vision is given by a biochemical change inside the eye: in 5-10 minutes you’ll get pretty good night vision, and in half an hour more or less the maximum. But any exposure to light will very quickly reverse the change. So, if you need to turn on a light (eg the bathroom), just keep one eye tight shut to preserve its night vision.
  • Your peripheral vision is more light-sensitive than your central vision. This is because humans are optimised for daylight: the fovea has a high concentration of cones (sensitive in good lighting conditions) and a lower concentration of rods (sensitive to low light levels). You can see this in a dark room with a very dim light source – if you look directly at the light, it will disappear because the cones around your fovea can’t detect it. But you will see it clearly if you don’t look directly at it.
  • If you’re anything like me, your joints, especially knees and ankles, may crack when walking up and down stairs (and maybe at other times). I’ve found the best defence against this is to give my feet a quick roll around before embarking upon the stairs.
  • Know your house. This takes time to master, but if you are a habitual late-nighter, you’ll learn all the things that make noise. It is very important not to walk into anything, before you have your proper night vision! Kids’ rooms are among the most dangerous places in the dark. Even if you don’t step on a lego brick, you may still knock something that plays a tune or makes a loud noise.
  • Practically all staircases have creaky areas. To minimize creak, walk on the edge of the riser or towards the wall. The middle of the step is likely to creak the most.
  • Doors are most likely to creak at the ajar position, even if they are moved slowly. If you have a somewhat creaky door, moving it quickly is sometimes a good option to avoid the creak.
  • Soft noises of the white noise type are unlikely to wake people. Don’t be obsessed with being absolutely silent. The soft brushing of socks on carpet, or the quiet swish of a curtain closing are noises that shouldn’t wake anyone.
  • If you have to get into bed with a sleeping person, do your best to spread your weight and not to press the mattress down unevenly.
  • If you have to get undressed, do so in another room. Clothes can make quite a bit of noise, jeans and belts especially. Flannel pyjamas are almost silent.
  • Socks are better than bare feet. Bare feet are OK on carpet, but less so on hard floors.
  • Know a bit about phases of sleep. This will enable you to judge whether the sleepers are more or less likely to awaken. Note: phases of sleep progress differently in very young children.

The Second Amendment

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Why do people support the second amendment?

I’m going to try to avoid straw man arguments here. And the first straw man argument to avoid, I think, is: “because it protects us from tyranny: if the government becomes corrupt, we can rise up and overthrow it.” Perhaps I’m being naive, but do people really believe they could overthrow the US government through violent means? Perhaps they do; belief without evidence (or belief in the face of evidence to the contrary) is far from rare and even perceived as a virtue and called “faith”. The defence against tyranny argument is also appealing; it’s a fantasy people would like to believe, fuelled by the movie industry and no doubt the NRA. But can people really be fooled by it? I move on.

A second, slightly more nuanced argument which I’ve heard from some, hinges (I think) on the purpose of the Bill of Rights: to frame the (moral) context for the law, viz. “it’s important to preserve the right to rebel against a corrupt government.” This is a logical absurdity. If one is rising up against a corrupt government, one is undoubtedly breaking many laws. Overthrowing a corrupt government is (almost by definition) a choice of the moral over the legal. It doesn’t matter whether your right to overthrow a corrupt government is recognized by that government!

A third reason to support the second amendment, which I’m not going to bother arguing against, but I can’t help thinking is real for some (unfortunately) is the argument from authority. These amendments were written by the founders of the US. And the fact that it’s amendment #2 and not #22 lends it extra gravitas, I’m sure. But again, I’ll move on.

A fourth argument (and I’m afraid another straw man) is the old chestnut “if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” This argument has always mystified me because, well, so what? This is already the case in many countries, all of which have substantially lower gun death rates than the US.

In the end, I think the only really understandable position to take is simply that of a gut feeling that this is enshrining an ancient, basic individual right, that extends from the right to life and protection of one’s person. According to Wikipedia, this is the position taken by the SCOTUS. and it is consistent with the purpose of the Bill of Rights, being not to define or grant rights, but to recognize and protect those rights which are accepted as being ancient, “natural” and fundamental to the human condition. This is why the language of the amendments is not, “people may do X” but rather, “the right of the people to do X shall not be infringed/violated.”

I don’t agree that people have a right to arms: one might as well say that people have a right to drive. To me, this would be at least as defensible here in LA: nevertheless we recognize that driving is a privilege and not a right. But even though I don’t agree with this last argument, it is at least understandable that people feel this way. I just hope that people are able to critically examine their beliefs about the second amendment and be honest about why they support it.