Category Archives: Leeroy Jenkins

Leeroy Jenkins, guest author and Biggs’s daemon.

Arya Stark and the Iron Bank of Braavos

Note: this post is a work in progress.  I am adding more as I go along.  

“The Iron Bank is the Iron Bank.  There is no ‘someone’… [like] a temple is comprised of stones.  One crumbles, and another takes its place.  And the temple holds its form, for a thousand years or more.  And that’s what the Iron Bank is, a temple.  We all live in its shadow, and almost none of us know it.  You can’t run from them, you can’t cheat them, you can’t sway them with excuses.  If you owe them money and you don’t want to crumble yourself, you pay it back.” – Tywen Lannister, S4E5

Looks like GoT is preparing next season to be a clash of the seven major kingdoms.  The Free City of Braavos exists as a completely sovereign kingdom of its own.  It is most known among the kingdoms as the home of the Iron Bank.  How does an Iron Bank like that exist, in a city with no visible army, and continue to prosper and accumulate wealth?  How is it not a pile of gold waiting to be looted by any passing marauder or unscrupulous monarch?

The answer is the Faceless Men and the House of Black and White.  This is their enforcement wing.  It operates as a totally clandestine army, operating exactly as Tywen describes.  My hunch is that they have been very much aware of Arya Stark’s potential since the beginning, and are ready to use her to great benefit in season 7.  They’ve been preparing her ever since season 1.  Let’s unfold the timeline.

In Kings Landing, Arya gets swordsmanship training (water dance) from Syrio Forel, the First Sword of Braavos.  Pretty sure if the First Sword of any country sacrifices himself so you can run away, he’s got plans for you.  Of course the fact that we don’t actually SEE him dead, which in GoT is always suspect.  Especially when associated with a Faceless Clan.

She runs away from Kings Landing with the help of Eddard’s friend (brother?).  Quite shortly into her journey, she runs into Jaqen H’ghar, trapped in a cage with two other prisoners.  First, it means he and Syrio were in King’s Landing at the same time.  But he immediately knows her name and tells her his origins – but not the right one (free city of Lorell?).  She saves him and the others from burning up in their cage during a melee.

Once in Harrenhall, he finds her in a quiet spot and immediately talks to her in third person language.  “A man”, “a girl”, etc.  And he schools her in the justice he knows.  “A man pays his debts.  A man owes three.  Only death may pay for life.  You stole three deaths from the Red God, we have to give them back.”  Whether he truly follows a credo or wants to build a relationship with her is irrelevant.  It’s one and the same thing.

His second target is by poison dart.  “Wolfsbane.  A rare substance.  This is no common assassin.” – Tywen Lannister.  And the funny thing is he doesn’t suspect a thing.  He thinks it’s some Brotherhood nonsense.  BTW notice the name Wolfsbane, is the namesake of the Stark sigil?

Okay, so at this point we know something’s up.  How does a skilled assassin get caught in some cage with two rogues, unless he intends to?

After he helps Arya escape, he continues to stalk her.  In a really creepy fashion.  “If you would learn you must come with me to Braavos.”  “My dancing master was from Braavos.”  Here he introduces her to the Faceless Men and knows all the names she wants dead, says she can offer them to the Red God.  He gives her a coin “of great value” but “not meant for the buying of horses.”

So, at this point, Arya has learned his exacting bookkeeping credo, how to avoid being noticed, and the esoteric value of a coin.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to some Iron Bank executives when Stanis asks them for a loan.  They too are faceless, in their own way.  Expressionless, characterless, no discerning characteristics.  They only repeat the mantra of the bank.  The fact that we think bankers are dry and boring actually works against us.  It is the credo they thrive on.

And we’re also introduced to the dread the Lannisters (who always pay their debts) have to the Iron Bank.  Tywen’s quote above comes from a very informative conversation he has with Cersei, divulging the debt they owe to the Iron Bank.   “We all live in its shadow, and almost none of us know it.”  A number of ironies here, namely that Jaqen had been training Arya literally under Tywens nose at Harrenhall, and he never suspected a thing.  Tryion shares a similar dread of the vengeance of the Iron Bank.

This drops us off in season 5 and drops off Arya in Braavos.  It’s worth pointing out his description of the statue guarding the city.  A shield and broken sword – implying a city that does not attack, but has a supernatural ability to defend itself.  And when Arya thanks the sailor for dropping her off at the House of Black and White, he says “any man of Braavos would have done the same.”  See what he did there?  The whole city has a certain faceless heritage.

Jaqen H’ghar answers the door in disguise, and gives her the cold shoulder.  And yet he watches her every move – from dropping the coin in the sea to intercepting her encounter with the three rogues.  He probably knew she didn’t drop Needle.

It’s all part of a complicated training program he puts Arya through.  Not going to get into all of it here, but there was one telling conversation: explaining the insurance agent’s corruption to Arya, and how the Faceless Men provide justice to those who’ve been cheated.  “Perhaps the gambler loses his bet and decides he does not have to pay after all.  A destitute woman and her small child, what can they do to such a man if he keeps their money for himself?  To whom can they turn for recourse?”


So, if the Many Faced God will bring retribution to such a destitute woman, what kind of retribution does he provide to, say, the Iron Bank, if a powerful family like the Lannisters decide they don’t want to pay their debts?

There’s other lessons we could talk about here.  Like Arya learning what it means to be noone.  And that while faces change, credos, institutions, loyalties, house names remain.  “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell.”  She isn’t denying she’s noone, she’s saying the Stark name isn’t just faces.  It’s a valuable lesson the Iron Bank brings to the story as a whole.  Especially to those who just see characters like Arya as Arya, i.e. individual faces with individual stories.  Alone, apart from this grand waltz, they make no sense.  “The faces are as good as poison.

The real story is, the House That Always Pays Its Debts owes a huge amount of money to the Iron Bank That Always Collects Its Debts.  It’s too glaring a plot twist to ignore, especially at a time when the Lannisters seem to be militarily dominant and the Starks so weak.


You can travel faster than light speed

“And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time
‘Til touchdown brings me ’round again to find
I’m not the man they think I am at home” – Rocket Man by Elton John

A misconception exists in Einstein’s famous equations – that there’s some absolute speed limit where we couldn’t possibly travel to the stars any faster than light speed.  It’s actually false. Well, to everyone we knew out on Earth, they’ll be long gone by the time we come back to regale them with our tales.  But to us and our crew on the SS Enterprise, well we could explore half the galaxy in one lifetime, with the right warp drive (which is entirely another issue).

First, the Twins Paradox – and the hidden paradox within.  The focus of the twins paradox is how one twin flying to a distant star and back will barely age, while their counterpart back here on Earth has aged several decades.

Okay, do you see what I’m talking about yet?  Here’s another hint.  Do you think they were hanging out on their spaceship all those years enjoying some fountain of youth?  No – they literally took that amount of time to travel back and forth.  While years and years passed on Earth, only a few days or months passed on the spaceship.

And that, to me, is the far more interesting paradox.  Let’s take our favorite star, Alpha Centauri, hanging out four light years away.  I’ll leave my brother off at home, and take off on my high speed rocket at near the speed of light, so it takes nine earth years to go there and back.  But my brother and I, being rather perceptive people, don’t just notice that he aged and I didn’t.  When we compare clocks, literally only a year passed for me, while nine years passed for my brother.

Wait.  How can that happen?  How could I have travelled to Alpha Centauri and back, something light would do in nine years, in only a year?  Did I mysteriously break the speed of light?  And if so, how did I do that?

Well, yes and no.  What the absolute speed of light says is that no object can reach the speed of light relative to another object.  That’s why it appears to my brother to take me this long.

But what happens to me?  The answer is another twin – time dilation’s lesser known twin, space dilation.  As my ship accelerates past Earth into sublight speed, it’s not just time that shrinks to nothing, space also shrinks to nothing.  The distance I have to travel to get to Alpha Centauri now shrinks from four light years to only half a light year.


The Lorentz transformation – how spacetime dilates with relative velocity.

And yes, the shrinkage is exactly the same.  It’s called the Lorentz transformation and is why Einstein called it spacetime and not just time or space.  Both time and space dilate equally according to gamma.  This is what allows a photon (ray of light) to appear to travel the same speed relative to everyone looking at it.

Here’s another fun way of looking at it.  As we said above, accelerating a spaceship to that speed is well out of our technology, and that’s the real issue of space travel.  But we regularly accelerate particles to quite near light speed in our accelerators.  So let’s pretend this particle is a spaceship and see how long it would take for it to get to, say, the center of our galaxy (25k light years away).

Fortunately my favorite website has a great example – just as it throws up its hands in at the implication that we’re permanently Earthbound.

Difficulty of acceleration

The fun part is, right below it they talk about the problems with variable mass – implying problems in general.

Saves just a second for you landlubbing Earth dwellers, maybe.  But let’s see how the world looks from the perspective of that electron.  By the Lorentz transformation, space and time dilate by a factor of about 60 for the first electron, and about 11,000 for the second one.  A good way to understand gamma is you’re going gamma times the distance in one gammath (1/gamma) the time.

Essentially, that first electron is going 60 times the distance in 1/60th the time.  So spacetime has dilated to 3600 times what it was used to back at rest – particle 1 is going 3600 times the speed of light of its old frame of reference.  Particle 2?  It’s going 121 MILLION times the speed of light of its old frame of reference.

Translation?  Particle 1 could get to the center of the Milky Way galaxy in about seven years.  Particle 2 could get there in a little under two weeks.

Of course we’ll never see the news of either of these guys travels.  We would have to wait here at rest for 50,000 years for them to return.  Entire civilizations, entire species will have come and gone by then.  But that’s not for rocketmen to ponder.

When you think about it, fiction portrays it rather accurately. The stars imploding on the ship are a good portrayal of how space would dilate.

When you think about it, fiction portrays it rather accurately. The stars imploding on the ship are a good portrayal of how space would dilate.


The event horizon – a cosmic mirage

Black holes – or more specifically, their event horizon – are a cosmic mirage.  Not much different from a rainbow.  Oh, they’re real alright, I’m not talking about leprechauns with the pot of gold at the end, but the way we experience them is totally different from the thing itself.  There is no such thing as “falling though the event horizon” because the “event horizon” is precisely only our experience of it.

Contradictions in last episode

The interesting thing about scientific inquiry is you’re never satisfied with your answers.  Answers always lead to contradictions, things that don’t make sense, new questions.  I had answered how something can accelerate to light speed in a black hole’s pull.  But what if it doesn’t?  What if some daring astronomer constantly decelerates himself as he comes closer and closer to the event horizon, constantly making sure he’s both aiming for dead center, and making a nice slow descent?

Now you could counter by saying that if you didn’t let yourself freefall, the G forces would tear you to shreds.  But here comes the complicating factor.  Supermassive black holes exist which have relatively weak gravitational force at the event horizon.  A black hole with a radius of about one light year, for example, would have a gravitation at its event horizon equivalent to here on Earth’s surface (aka 1G).

Not so coincidentally, if you were to accelerate for about a year at 1G, you would reach what I call nominal light speed – which is your actual speed if you accelerated to light speed in a simplified Newtonian universe  That just happens to be 0.618c (0.618 the speed of light) – which is exactly the proportion of the golden rectangle (?) – but we’ll save this tidbit for later.  The question right now is how is such weak gravity at an event horizon even possible?  Aren’t black holes supposed to spaghettify us and tear us into subatomic shreds and stuff?

What’s an event horizon doing with such, well, EARTHLY gravity?

Wait, what?

Yes, that’s right.  radius accelSupermassive black holes have very low gravity at their event horizon.  It’s a simple formula, really.  The radius of the event horizon is the inverse of its acceleration – i.e. gravity.  r*a is the same for each and every black hole.

I could do some extra wizardry to show you the math, but you have the internet for that.  Small black holes pull really hard on that photon to whip it in a circle.  Large black holes can take their sweet time.  And here’s the fun part – if you were to free-fall into a black hole radius accel integral– ANY black hole – from somewhere outside its influence, you’d accelerate to the speed of light.  Ve = velocity at event horizon = c (speed of light).

But the twisted logic that happens at that event horizon remains the same.

A lesson on geodesics

Well, how do we wrap our minds around that?

black hole geometry

The non-euclidean geometry (geodesics) of a black hole, as discussed in our previous post

For that we have to delve into the world of geodesics.  And first in that, a beef.  I don’t like the term “geodesics.” It conjures up hippy domes in the middle of the desert.  I prefer the term “non-Euclidean geometry”.  It easily tells us we’ve left the familiar world of ancient geometers with their simple circles and triangles on a flat surface, and are falling down the rabbit-hole (so to speak) of curved spaces and planes.

And that’s what we need to know to understand a blackhole.  It’s how we can picture Einstein’s theory of relativity.  If you’ll recall from my last post, this 3D well describes the spacetime around a black hole – how it curves down into an infinite well.

There’s a few things going on in that diagram, so we’ll try to take it a bit at a time.

The thing to remember about this well is, it’s not like gravity is pulling everything down it.  It mainly describes how light, a massless particle that always travels in a perfectly straight line, can still seem to bend.

Now there’s difference in the specifics of how light and massive entities  fall towards a gravitational center.  But what’s the same is the acceleration.  Here on Earth, we are constantly accelerating towards it at 9.8m/s2.  And light is no different.

Even though it travels in a straight line.

And that’s my second beef with “geodesics”  – the definition of a straight line as the closest distance between two “local” (i.e. “close”) points.  That’s a bit of a copout, like saying “well we’re reducing this to a map”.  I prefer the term “no sideways pull”.

plane aileron

The (air)plane rotates, twisting the (geometric)plane it’s on, and then lifts into a turn. Get it?

But let’s go back to our analogy of the plane from last chapter.  There’s rudderless planes out there.  By just rotating the plane with ailerons, and using the elevators in back, you can turn every which way without ever having sideways pull.  Just rotate the plane, and go up or down.

So if you look at what makes the plane “turn without turning”, the factor here is “which way is up”.  As it rotates, it changes that “upwards” direction, and then goes up or down in that upwards direction.

And BTW, this works equally for spaceships in zero gravity.  So gravity has nothing to do with which way is up.  In more complicated math, it’s called “orthogonal” which is defined as the perpendicular to the plane.  This allows us to pile on more dimensions.

But we’re here to discuss black holes, not study math.  So let’s translate this “upness” into black holes.  earth v supermassiveCompare Earth’s gravitation of a beam of light – a1 – and compare it with a REALLY massive black hole, whose acceleration near the event horizon is less than at Earth’s surface.

As a light beam approaches earth, it enters Earth’s gravity, changing its “upness” and starts to “curve” around Earth.  What causes the curve is the “upness changing”.

Now, compare that to a supermassive black hole.  By the time you’re near the event horizon (as seen by this incredibly drawn cut-out) you’re practically vertical.  But there’s not much “upness” left to change.  You’re just being whipped around in what seems like a flat surface, in a very large cylinder, “upness” pointing directly into the middle.

Any way you look at it, it’s the speed of light

The problem though, with such small scale cutouts, is they conveniently leave out just how far we’ve come to get to this “vertical space” in the supermassive black hole.  As I hinted earlier, before we get to this spot in a supermassive black hole, we’d have been freefalling literally for years and years.

But what if we decided not to freefall?  What if we got some theoretical rocket thrusters and slowed down our descent, so we avoided being anywhere near the speed of light at the event horizon?

Einstein’s Theory of Gravitation

The answer is it doesn’t matter.  Because how would you do that?  You would manually accelerate yourself in this gravitational field.  If you did the same manual acceleration outside a gravitational field (i.e. deep space), you would go from 0 to light speed.  So no matter what your behavior is around the event horizon – hovering, freefalling, or some combination of the two (i.e. orbiting) – you’d be at near light speed.

This is what Einstein is talking about, that we experience a spacetime dilation in a gravitational field, even if we’re hovering/standing/using rocket thrusters.  The spacetime dilation is basically equal to the sum of acceleration from deep space to whatever surface you’re at.

Back to where we started

Which takes us back to the incredible shrinking black hole, except this time we take it a step further.  In the last post, we talked about the fact that a black hole shrinks away from any object approaching it.  But just how?  We don’t want to just WATCH something fall into a black hole, we want to KNOW what it’s like.  We want to BE whatever it is that falls in.

Well, considering we nixed any realistic possibility of crossing the event horizon with strange tricks, let’s pretend  we’re freefalling directly to a black hole’s heart.  And orbits are boring.  We want to go straight in.  So we have this craft that doesn’t try to resist gravity, and doesn’t let us slip to the right or left.  And we’ll start well outside a nice supermassive black hole, about 1 light year diameter.

The best way to picture this is pretend we’re falling in a Newtonian universe, and at periodic intervals, we’ll recalibrate to allow for how spacetime changed around us.  Don’t worry, if someone gives us flak for this, just tell them delta apporoaches zero.  If it doesn’t shut them up, send them my way.

If you were to freefall to what you think is the event horizon, you’d hit what you’d think was light speed in a Newtonian universe – i.e. “nominal light speed”, or to put it another way, Newtonian velocity = momentum divided by mass = light speed (v=p/m=c).  So let’s take our new bearings.

Distance to center is still r.

Actual relativistic speed is now ?c (~.618c).

At ?c, distances shrink to ??.  So the radius of the new black hole is r*??.

Time also dilates to ?(1+?) for those outside of you, but we don’t care about them, so that’s kind of irrelevant.

Recalibrate your instruments for your new reality, and freefall AGAIN to “nominal light speed” – the speed you’d reach at the new event horizon at r*??.

Distance to center is now r*??.

Except now you’re at ?c compared to where you were before, or basically, your momentum doubled from your starting point.  You’re at  ?c compared to your last point.  Or, to put It another way, Newtonian velocity is twice the speed of light (p/m=2c).

New event horizon is now r*?.

freefall graph

While “light speed” is maximum, momentum is infinite. Here’s how momentum compares to the relative size of an event horizon. You would even out where the event horizon was ?? times the distance from the singularity as you are.

And so on, in the grand progression of the golden rectangle.  The ultimate equation is that y=r*a/ ?0.5(x-1) . Where y is your Newtonian velocity (momentum/mass) and x is the radius of the black hole.

Here, you know what?  Let’s draw a graph.

Notice there’s no time here.  Acceleration is whatever it is to get you to the light speed you’d reach at event horizon.

How far down do you want to go?  How much can your imaginary ship take?  How infinitely fast do you want to go?  How far do you want to escape those boring confines of flat spacetime and see the universe from the perspective of the infinite?

That is what it’s like to fall down that well.





The Wisdom of Yoda

I used to have this poster in my college dorm.  Back before being a Star Wars nut was cool.  May the 4th be with you.


Wisdom of Yoda

Poster – Wisdom of Yoda. Had this when I was in college

Suspension bridge of disbelief


I need to nerdrage about this Dawn of the Planet of the Apes poster for just a second here.  Just because I see so many of them all over town.  Notice the Golden Gate Bridge is demolished in the center, and the two sides hang helplessly in mid-air.  Defying gravity and physics.

But does anybody know how a SUSPENSION bridge works?  SUSPENSION is the key word.  The bridge SUSPENDS from the giant cable which SUSPENDS between the two main trusses, much like a power cable SUSPENDS between two power poles.

What happens if you cut that power cable in the middle?  Would the power cable just hang there in mid-air?  NO!  Each side would flop to its respective pole, dangling vertically, ends hovering right around ground level.

The same happens with suspension bridges.  If those two main cables hanging between the two trusses snap, they and everything below them are falling into the water as quickly as gravity can take them.  And probably also the trusses themselves.

Maybe you can call suspension of disbelief (so to speak) and say well the plot is good, the effects are (otherwise) good, blah blah blah.  But I call this out because I want to call out this new nerd-movie-excitement movement that I can’t get into.  Here is a prime example of why.

You can say it’s cool new plots, cool new stories, but if they can’t even get Gravity 101 going in their effects, it just convinces me that it’s the same coke-addled retards squatting out another one for the masses.

Seriously guys.  Hire a physicist if you’re this dumb.  Then listen to them.

End nerdrage.

Why Pocahontas?

So I just came back from a rather inspiring visit to Jamestown, and now I want to write a revisionist story about Pocahontas. Why?
Well, it turns out the history we learned as kids and the Disney movie are both BS. Pocahontas did not have a love affair with John Smith. The colonists did not come here looking to conquer, in fact Jamestown was picked as a place least likely to offend anybody for its distance from fresh water. They came because they were non-first-born who were left out of the estate, with no prospects save the possibility of distant lands. Neither did they starve because of some foolish drive for gold at the expense of preparing for winter.
And the colonists were good hunters, too. They may have been gentlemen, but the gentlemen of that time were both skilled soldiers and hunters. So much so, that the local king wanted one as his personal hunter at his capital. If there’s anything we can point to, it was the local tribal king who tried starving the colonists out by holding their stockade under siege: anyone caught going hunting outside the walls was shot.
Pocahontas, then, becomes the story of his 11 year old daughter, feeling sympathy for the plight of these newcomers. She probably went against her father’s wishes to bring them food during the winter they starved the most. And her efforts helped keep that first colony alive.
Later, she married John Rolfe, who was the first to successfully cultivate and export tobacco to England. Their marriage led to peace with the local natives and their king, and together these ensured the long term sustainability of Jamestown. He brought her to London later, where she unfortunately died in her 20s, likely from foreign disease.
The story of John Smith is an extra but related story. It’s doubtful whether he had anything to do romantically with Pocahontas, but he was governor during the starving years. His non-noble birth made him looked down on by the other colonists but also made him an effective, no-nonsense leader. He coined the phrase “he who works not, shall not eat” and instituted stiff laws that helped the colony survive through those times.
So what do we see in all this? Like a conceived egg, we see all the DNA of the future United States all in this one colony. Disinherited immigrants. Working class rising to leadership positions. Strained relationships with the natives. Both a capacity for hard collective work, and individual innovation and enterprise.
And we also see some greater spiritual issues: the mercy of the heavens, in the sympathy of a little girl, allowing the continuance of life. A girl’s rebellion against her royal father, and her love for the new and the future and what it could bring, even if it would ultimately kill her. And a father’s ultimate unconditional love for his daughter, which reverses his previous stern edicts.
Obviously, this treatment raises a lot of questions. That’s the point. I need to do more research. But it’s these very questions I want to commit to, and that’s the point of writing this treatment, before the memory of my recent visit to Jamestown fades away.

Statue of Pocahontas

Statue of John Smith at Jamestown Historic site

The Music Theory of Pac-Man

Pac-Man is the philosophy of the dog-eat-dog, work-a-day world. The constant repetitive struggle to earn one’s keep, that keeps repeating endlessly until the ghosts of the world get the better of you.
That’s all there is to it. And in that, such a simple game becomes so profound as to be a timeless classic.
But let’s get beyond the maddeningly unphilosophical lesson of it all and have fun with some of the music, shall we? The jingle in particular. It’s a staccato rhythm, C5, C#5, C5, ascension to C. That’s the gyst of it. Even the chords are maddening. No chord progressions, no higher chords, just the basic C, and it never gets more than a half-note away. The C5 is the home page of chord theory. The C#, its next of kin that may struggle for something higher, but is still intimately tied with it. And even then, it leads right back to C, its struggle hilariously futile. With a finish-off that all notes lead to C.
And that’s your game of Pac-Man. Your goal isn’t to beat the bad guy, it isn’t to live happily ever after, it’s just to survive. Avoid the myriad of ghosts that can trip you up in this world. Even if they will ultimately pronounce your doom. Occasionally, and it only happens so often, you get on a trump, and that’s where you feel invincible. And just maybe you are. But those moments only happen so often, don’t think you’re naturally invincible, learn to treasure those moments and use them to your advantage, if possible.
Because soon enough, it’s right back to where you were.

Hi, I’m Leeroy

I’m Ron’s imaginary friend.  Well not so much a friend, more like a daemon he’s using to test the guest author feature.  I’ll be posting random nonsense on here, and hopefully it’ll appear in a separate page for those of you who just like the things I write!