Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Monday, February 20, 2017

Four-Dimensional Undecidable “Elementary” Geometry

A few years ago, I realized (with another update here) that the elementary geometry of points, lines, and circles becomes undecidable when it includes screws or spirals. You can think of lines and circles as the one-dimensional connected uniform curves in a two-dimensional Euclidean space and you can think of spirals, lines, and circles as the one-dimensional connected uniform curves in a three-dimensional Euclidean space. I'm still not sure of what a complete set of such curves in a four-dimensional space would be like, but it would include some very strange objects.

For example, consider the curve parameterized by \((w,x,y,z)=(\sin t,\cos t,\sin \sqrt{2}t,\cos \sqrt{2}t)\) where \(t\in[-\infty,\infty]\). It is easy to see that this is a dense subset of the Clifford torus that's the product of two unit circles centered at the origin (in the \((w,x)\) and \((y,z)\) planes). Unlike the similar curves in two- and three-dimensional space, this isn't closed.

Question: Would it make more sense to focus on closed, uniform, connected subsets of Euclidean spaces? In two dimensions that would include the empty set, points, lines, circles, and the entire plane. In three dimensions that would include the empty set, points, lines, circles, helices, planes, spheres, cylinders, and the entire space. In four dimensions …

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Stupid Petitions Are Not Limited to the Left

According to a recent petition:

We demand that J.K. Rowling grants no less than 18 refugees shelter in her mansions for at least 8 years. She rejects safe immigration, which is why we also demand, that there will be no additional vetting process for these refugees. Her virtue-signaling stems from ignorance, and the 100% effective cure of it will be this drastic change of perspective. To make this group of refugees representative of the situation Europe, we also demand that the group consists of 14 men and 4 women, since over 75% of the millions of refugees are male.
First, if you sound like this, you are doing conservatism wrong:
UPDATE: you can drop off an unwanted baby at a Hobby Lobby and they'll raise it
Second, why are they assuming that letting refugees in means that the State must build homes for them? When someone moves from city X to city Y in the same country, we don't normally assume that the the government of city Y must build the homes.

Third, if the government insists on building homes for newcomers, there might be problems with it irrespective of whether or not there are refugees. Keeping refugees out because the government is spendthrift is like getting a hangover from scotch-and-soda and, as a result, swearing off soda.

Finally, if you believe that Americans/British/whoever have the right to rent to refugees, does that imply that you have a moral obligation to do so yourself? If you believe that Americans/British/whoever have the right to smoke dope, does that imply that you have a moral obligation to do so yourself?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Which Trump Did We Elect? An Update

The test case I mentioned here might be happening. I still don't know which Trump we elected, but it's clear that the commenters at Instapundit voted for the bad Trump.

A brief summary of the comments there:

You know everything we said about the RFRA and religious freedom? IT WAS BULSHYTT!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Reaction to Betsy DeVos Might Explain the Trump Movement

Some of the people reacting to the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education are planning to homeschool their children even despite the fact that she is a proponent of more homeschooling.

Apparently, they have been so brainwashed by standard opinion into believing that conservatives are authoritarian that they plan to get back at anti-authoritarian conservatives by doing something anti-authoritarian.

Question: What happens when someone who insists on being authoritarian believes the same thing? Would that produce someone who defends capitalism by limiting imports and defends American ideals by closing borders?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Stalin Quote and p-adic Numbers

According to Joseph Stalin:

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.
He was, of course, using \(p\)-adic numbers. For example: \(\left\vert1\right\vert_2=1>0.015625=\left\vert1000000\right\vert_2\).

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

To a Large Fraction of Right Wingers

Please note that the Left lost the latest election, probably due to blowback from their overreach. Please also note that the candidate who imitated them ran behind his party.

Do you sincerely want to lose?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Donald Trump and Cleon II

From Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov:

But, what keeps the Emperor strong? What kept Cleon strong? It's obvious. He is strong, because he permits no strong subjects. A courtier who becomes too rich, or a general who becomes too popular is dangerous.
I was reminded, somehow.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Few Notes on Trump's Recent Actions on Immigration

The current restrictions on entry from seven nations were based on an Obama-era policy (or would that be a Nyarlathotep-era policy?). You can think of this as Trump's Tariff of Abominations.

The Tariff of Abominations episode was when a populist President enforced a blatant example of overreach by his predecessor. It lead to the Nullification Crisis, when South Carolina declared itself a sanctuary state for smugglers. (The use of nullification by a slave state gave nullification a bad name. On the other hand, nullification was also used by free statea.)

Speaking of sanctuaries … One of Trump's executive orders is for the Federal government to, “on a weekly basis, make public a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens.” Will there also be a weekly report of crimes committed by citizens? (It's not science unless there's a control group.)

The same order will also cut off funds to sanctuary cities. I have a better idea: Let's stop subsidies to state and local governments in general. Such subsidies are a matter of taking money out of local economies, sending it for a wild night on the town, and giving some of it back.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Is Lying a Signaling Mechanism?

According to Tyler Cowen:

By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration. That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command. Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.

Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters. If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid. If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you. That too is a sign of incipient mistrust within the ruling clique, and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members.

This works in more than one direction. If telling obvious lies on behalf of someone else is a loyalty signal, Trump is signalling his loyalty to his voters.

But wait, there's more:

Imagine, for instance, that mistruths come in different forms: higher-status mistruths and lower-status mistruths. The high-status mistruths are like those we associate with ambassadors and diplomats. The ambassador is reluctant to tell a refutable, flat-out lie of the sort that could cause embarrassment, but if all you ever heard were the proclamations of the ambassador, you wouldn’t have a good grasp of the realities of the situation. … Trump specializes in lower-status lies, typically more of the bald-faced sort, namely stating “x” when obviously “not x” is the case. They are proclamations of power, and signals that the opinions of mainstream media and political opponents will be disregarded.
In terms science types might find familiar: High-status lies are not even wrong; low-status lies are wrong.

There's another advantage of lying: You can tell the truth and not be believed, thereby discrediting critics when the truth becomes obvious. You might get the Other Side to force middle-of-the-road people saying things opposed to the dogma of the Other Side into your coalition. You might even be able to get critics to refuse to believe their own allies, when those allies think for themselves.

On the other hand, this might turn into the new Dunning–Kruger effect. It's an all-purpose way to explain away anybody who disagrees with you without having to actually engage their with their arguments. The Dunning–Kruger effect (that unskilled people are often unaware of it) is commonly cited in debates between two groups of arrogant fools each claiming that the other side is unskilled and unaware of it. We might see a variety of ideologues claiming that the Other Side is lying to signal loyalty. (Devising examples will the left as an exercise for the reader.)

Saturday, January 21, 2017


In my calculation of the EmDrive acceleration, I skipped a decimal point. The acceleration should be \(5.16\times10^{-3}~\text{m}/\text{s}^2\). That will get you from Earth to Mars in 2–3 months

If it works, it might be worth doing.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

I Have Some Good News and Some Bad News

The good news: The right wing is getting saner, at least for now. They're blaming everything on liberals instead of on foreigners.

The bad news: The left wing is not getting any more skeptical of government. Instead of uncritically trusting politicians, they uncritically trust bureaucrats.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

What a Claim Sounds Like vs. What It Is

It's common for people to make a claim, and back it up with evidence, that sounds like something else with much less evidence. For example:

  1. For example, that claim that loose gun laws are correlated with “gun-related deaths“ sounds like a claim that loose gun laws are correlated with gun crime but also it includes suicides by gun.
  2. There's reason to believe social conservatism is correlated with “teenage pregnancy.” This might refer to unwed 13-year-olds but it also includes married 19-year-olds.
  3. “Renewable-energy capacity” is growing rapidly. That's the peak generation when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing at the right speed. The actual energy generated is much less.
  4. “Climate change” might refer to global warming … or global cooling … or droughts … or floods or …
When you see claims like the above, please do not respond to them with anecdotes that might point in the other direction; there are much better replies.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Brief Note on Melinda Byerley's Rant

According Melinda Byerley:

She is completely correct. Job shortages usually are the fault of people in the area. We can start with the people who raise minimum wages to absurd heights, continue with people who protest any business that involves chemicals with scary names, and finish with people who close down a business simply because it specializes in wedding cakes for heterosexuals.

She is completely correct. We should celebrate diversity. We should celebrate a diversity of paychecks and of products.

As for the reaction … She waved a red flag and the bull charged.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Thoughts and Prayers and Tactical Assault Ballads

There's a common sequence of events:

  • A domestic mass shooting occurs.
  • People respond to it by saying “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.”
  • Other people respond to that with ridicule.
There's another common sequence of events:
  • A terrorist action occurs committed by least one person who has crossed a border.
  • People respond to it with a Tactical Assault Ballad.
  • Other people respond to that with ridicule.
Both of them follow this template:
  • A horrible crime occurs.
  • People might possibly respond to it by advocating one form or another of people control. (Both gun control and border control are people control disguised by a euphemism.) What's worse, those who oppose that form of people control might look hard-hearted.
  • In order to forestall that, those opposed to that form of people control respond with a purely symbolic action.
  • Other people respond to that with ridicule.
To make matters worse, nearly everybody will ignore the resemblance of the sequences.

Is there a version of category theory for politics?

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Explaining Theories about Population-Control Conspiracies

A few years ago, I realized:

… that explaining away opinions one disagrees with by attributing them to Malthusians can be used for a wide variety of opinions, many of them on opposite sides of a question. For example, are pesticides intended to kill off the excess population or are pesticide bans intended to allow population-stabilizing diseases? You can make similar arguments for both sides of vaccines, GMO foods, or nuclear energy. We must also recall that a policy can be intended to have an effect without actually having that effect and vice versa.
My current meta-theory about why the theories point in all different directions is that the theorizers differ on the question of where population-control ideas come from: Do they come from rich people or from loud people?

Loud people who are worried about alleged over-population tend to be overwhelmingly anti-pesticide, anti-nuke, anti-GMO, and anti-vaccine. As far as I know, rich people who are worried about alleged over-population tend to be pro-pesticide, pro-nuke, pro-GMO, and pro-vaccine. In other words, if you're opposed to Malthusian policies and you believe that the capitalists are the bosses, you're more likely to believe in one set of conspiracy theories and if you believe consumer sovereignty is only violated by brainwashing by the activist class, you're more likely to believe in the opposite set.

Needless to say, some people are both rich and loud.

Come to think of it, this might also explain the “You're a leftist!” “No, you're a leftist!” debates we've been seeing recently between conservative factions.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Do They Sell Lemonade?

I'd like to order Zorn's lemonade.

Addendum: Yes, they have lemonade.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Jumblies, Part II

Part I is here.

The map of Clintonesia brings the following to mind:

Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Pointing out that their top people are environmentalists, their staffers are depressed, and they went to a a political campaign with argument that had holes is just icing on the cake.
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


According to Zoltan Istvan (earlier discussed here) on AI:

Regardless what happens in the future, it’s safe to say AI will not be an entity speaking to us in hackneyed parables, or telling us to pluck out our eyes and cut off our hands if we sin. It probably also won’t threaten us with a hopeless fiery hell of eternal punishment for our lack of faith.
He knows that … how? For one thing, if an AI is sufficiently influential, whatever it says will become so well known that it will sound hackneyed.
It’s far more likely the greatest tool our species has ever created will tell us how to end world poverty with inventive technologies, how to best fix the Earth of the environmental degradation we’ve caused, and how to heal ourselves of all disease and live indefinitely via radical science.
Speaking of hackneyed… It will tell us how to solve the problems that seemed most pressing back when Zoltan Istvan was doing laps in amniotic fluid?
  • Isn't fixing little things like poverty or environmental “degradation” much easier than AI?
  • Is there environmental degradation? Isn't the air a lot cleaner than it was in 1973?
  • Hasn't absolute poverty gone way down steadily in the past generation?
  • The health question may also have been solved by the time we invent AI.
  • The best reason for believing in fast technical progress in AI, Moore's Law, appears to be slowing down.

Maybe Zoltan Istvan believes that technical progress in a field will be fast or slow depending on whether the speed justifies his personal prejudices.

Friday, December 23, 2016

It Took Over Six Decades

… but we finally have a replacement for the the Third-Avenue El. According to Isaac Asimov shortly after the el was removed:

When they tore down the el, our mayor did say
That soon in its place there would be a subway.
 ’Twould be new, ’twould be clean,
 ’Twould be painted white and green,
So give three cheers for our bright new subway.
 No el, No el,
 No el, No el,
So give three cheers for our bright new subway.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Snarky Comment Comes to Sad End

They're tearing down the Nanotech Furniture building.

Now where will we get cyclohexane?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

It's about Euphemism Time!

Years after I recommended multiple mirrors, scientists have finally realized the danger of putting scientific data under centralized control and are doing something constructive about it.

The danger is potentially real. First, it is possible to claim that restricting such data is not censorship on the grounds that censorship is only a matter of the government restricting private parties. (If the government had not tried monopolizing the data, such an argument would even be valid.) That argument might confuse the voters enough for the powers that be to get away with it, at least in an otherwise-popular administration. Second, the centerpiece of the nativist argument (at least when nativists are talking to libertarians) is that foreigner immigrants might affect the average opinion in this country in a non-libertarian direction. If government action is acceptable for the purpose of changing public opinion, that might be used as an excuse for censorship. Third, Trump will have a “pen and a phone.” It might be possible to delete large amounts of data before being restrained. Even if it is technically illegal, punitive measures can also be tied up in bureaucracy. If Hillary Clinton got away with it, Trump can get away with it.

We should applaud this privatization. It might protect data from President Melissa Click someday. The only problem is that this hadn't occurred years ago.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Common Phenomenon

Last year, I mentioned:

The experiment might be an example of a common phenomenon: Leftists attempting to devise an objective test that they imagine will prove conservatives are scum. This is then followed by dropping it when the test gives answers they don't like.
More recently, social scientists have been looking for the Magic Test that proves all open-minded people agree with the Left. They have one (science curiosity) but it's easily criticized so they're looking for more … with a certain lack of success.

On the other hand, maybe conservatives have taken enough of those tests to be able to fake open mindedness. On the gripping hand, how would we tell if liberals are faking?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Is “Organic” a Synonym for Good?

According to a Fark contributor:

Australian term of the year is "Democracy Sausage", a traditional snack served at polling places. In the US a Democracy Hot Dog is when you vote for organic beef but get one made from lips and rectums
The problem with pointing out the many fallacies involved here is that one does not know how to begin.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Who Is Winning the Culture Wars?

According to a Mark Tushnet, a left-wing law professor:

The culture wars are over; they lost, we won.
That might be true of gay rights. On the other hand, on abortion and guns, we right-wing ideologues are the wave of the future. The only way to oppose RFRA laws and not look bad in 2053 is to come up with some way they don't apply to abortion. The left may have trouble getting that past their current base.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Schrödinger IV

Apparently pro-Trump areas are in a quantum superposition of having great job growth and being full of failures despairing over their unemployment.

Also see Schrödinger I, Schrödinger II, and Schrödinger III.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Why “Blue” Cities Have More Government

I disagree with the usual left-wing take (“Big cities need more government.”) and the usual right-wing reaction to that (“If big cities need more government, they must be parasitic on the rest of us.”). If big cities need better policies, I think that means less government.

The reason blue states have more government is that they are better able to get away with counterproductive policies. For example, NYC can have a gun-control law that would cause a gang takeover of any other city. Since NYC is too big for one gang to take over, it can get away with it.

California can have environmental regulations that would mean the fast bankruptcy of any state that didn't have Silicon Valley in it. Since California has Silicon Valley, it's undergoing a slow bankruptcy instead.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

What, If Anything, Were They Thinking?

I've you ever wondered why refugees from “blue” areas sometimes vote for policies similar to the place they fled, you can see a typical example of their beliefs here:

Saturday, December 03, 2016

A Few Notes on the Latest Flag-Burning Controversy

President Hillary would have the flag burners arrested for the unauthorized emission of greenhouse gases.

Question: If burning the flag is an exercise of free speech, is destroying currency also free speech?

Flag burners should be sentenced to act like idiots in public. In other words, nothing need be done.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What Would a Settlement near Sirius Look Like?

The Sirius system is likely to have a very high ratio of available power to planetary mass. What would a civilization in the Sirius system look like?

First, there would not be very many settlements and those settlements would have to be far from the star and, probably, from each other.

Second, they must be very sparing of mass. Instead of having heavy farms, it might make sense for the colonists to genetically engineer some photosynthetic ability so they might have some green body parts.

In addition, body parts in general should be as light as possible. One way to save mass is to avoid having unused muscles. That can be done by putting most of the muscles in the trunk and using tendons to move the limbs. They would need some means of switching the muscles from one tendon to another but I'm sure the genetic engineers will be up to it. The limbs would not need much of a blood supply and might even have a bluish color.

Their ships would also have to spare mass (but could waste energy). They can spare mass by not having a pressurized hull but instead keep the passengers in space suits. This might be uncomfortable but if they go fast enough the voyages would be brief.

In other words:

Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

Coming up with an excuse for the Quangle-Wangle or Pobbles will be left as an exercise for the reader.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Victims Resemble the Oppressors

Restricting competition isn't always a matter of social class X squeezing social class Y. The victims of restricting competition are frequently in the same class as the winners.

Restricting competition in academia (i.e., tenure) might be responsible for the exploitation of adjunct professors. Restricting competition in the blue-collar realm (i.e., unions) is associated with collapsed cities such as Detroit. The spread of professions with restricting competition into the small-business realm (i.e., occupational licensing) is correlated with the declining rate of business formation.

In other words, you can't blame restricting competition or even resistance to restricting competition on class prejudice.

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