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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The Former Four Horsemen of the Ablogalypse:
Someone who used to be sane (formerly War)
Someone who used to be serious (formerly Plague)
Rally 'round the President (formerly Famine)
Dr. Yes (formerly Death)

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Back Off Government!
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Shtetl-Optimized
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The Speculist
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Other interesting web sites:
Aspies For Freedom
Crank Dot Net
Day By Day
Dihydrogen Monoxide - DHMO Homepage
Fourmilab
Jewish Pro-Life Foundation
Libertarians for Life
The Mad Revisionist
Piled Higher and Deeper
Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism
Sustainability of Human Progress


























Yet another weird SF fan
 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Fifteen Celsius

I started breathing 59 years ago today or, as Tom Lehrer puts it, I'm fifteen Celsius.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Statistics Abuse

According to The New York Post, “You’re 45% more likely to be murdered in de Blasio’s Manhattan.”

Let's look at more complete statistics:

  • First, shootings are up but crime is down. (More guns, less crime. It's not just a slogan.)
  • Second, the increase in the homicide rate from the same period in 2014 to 2015 is not statistically significant.
  • Third, the increase in the homicide rate from the same period in 2013 to 2015 is a flat zero.
When environmentalists cite similar statistics, I'm ready to ridicule them.

The propensity among some conservatives to take these statistics seriously reminds me of a conversation I had the first time I went to Manhattan by myself:
“Were you mugged?”
“Not that I noticed.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Usual Whine Is Missing

Nearly any discussion about engineers at Pajamas Media (typical example here) will include an extended comment thread full of people claiming that holders of H1B visas are competing with “Real Americans” (yes, those are sneer quotes) and driving down wages.

For some reason, that was missing from the comments on the Left's attempted War on Nerds. There was a discussion of attempted oppression of nerds with no mention of H1B visas. Nobody accused the hipsters of trying to drive down nerd wages.

Maybe it's the non-nerdy engineers who are being replaced by the H1B people. Or maybe the commenters in the right-wing division of the Professional Whining Class don't know how to pretend to be engineers.

Addendum: I fixed the link.

Monday, May 25, 2015

What Were the “Wheels within Wheels” That Ezekiel Saw?

According to most translations of Ezekiel 1:16, the creatures Ezekiel saw included a “wheel within a wheel”. Other translations have the phrase “wheel intersecting a wheel”. (In Hebrew, it's “האופן בתוך האופן”.)

The second translation seems to be nonsense since an object cannot rotate around two different axes at the same time … in three dimensions. Maybe Ezekiel saw a four-dimensional object rotating around two different axes.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Uh Oh

There's a pro-nuclear petition.

Does this mean I have to come up with something anti-nuclear now?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Set Theory and the New Math

I attended elementary school during the heyday of the “New Math” (now best known for the Tom Lehrer song). During that time, I happened to see a book in the public library about one of the topics mentioned in the New Math classes: Naive Set Theory by Paul Halmos. I insisted on taking it out. I mainly learned that there was quite a lot of math I had yet to learn.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Half a Loaf Is Worse Than No Bread

The above appears to be the motto of the activists protesting Facebook's free Internet service.

Come to think of it, that is also the basis of minimum-wage and rent-control laws.

On the other hand, maybe all this is based on the assumption that, once low-quality X is banned, high-quality X will appear by Magic.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Better Mad Men Ending

A better Mad Men ending: Don Draper apparently dies but wakes up as Dick Whitman with a humdrum job, an intact liver, and his first wife.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Recent Progress

According to Scott Sumner:

My grandma was born in 1890 into a middle class family in small town Wisconsin. Her home probably lacked indoor plumbing, most home appliances, electric lights, telephone, TV, radio, car, etc., etc. Slightly improved from life in ancient Rome. She lived to see jet air travel, computers, atomic bombs, antibiotics, and died the week they landed on the moon.

I was born in a world of indoor plumbing, atomic bombs, jet air travel, home appliances, computers, cars, telephones, TV, radio, antibiotics. I'll turn 60 this year, and live in a world of indoor plumbing, atomic bombs, jet air travel, home appliances, computers, cars telephones, TV, radio, antibiotics, plus the internet and cell phones. Yeah, I'd say change is slowing down, really fast.

I thought I'd make a list of things I have now that I or my family didn't have 50 years ago and include the approximate date I or we acquired them:
  • 1970 color television
  • 1976 pocket calculator
  • 1982 home computer
  • 1985 vcr (and descendants)
  • 1989 air conditioning
  • 1991 dishwasher
  • 1993 answering machine
  • 1994 internet connection
  • 1996 microwave
  • 2002 cell phone
  • 2012 e-book reader
There's been some progress.

Progress before and after 1919 or 1972

According to H. G. Wells (writing on improvements in the process of scholarly research between the time of the Library of Alexandria and 1919):

It is curious to note how slowly the mechanism of the intellectual life improves. Contrast the ordinary library facilities of a middle-class English home, such as the present writer is now working in, with the inconveniences and deficiencies of the equipment of an Alexandrian writer, and one realizes the enormous waste of time, physical exertion, and attention that went on through all the centuries during which that library flourished. Before the present writer lie half a dozen books, and there are good indices to three of them. He can pick up any one of these six books, refer quickly to a statement, verify a quotation, and go on writing. Contrast with that the tedious unfolding of a rolled manuscript. Close at hand are two encyclopedias, a dictionary, an atlas of the world, a biographical dictionary, and other books of reference. They have no marginal indices, it is true; but that perhaps is asking for too much at present. There were no such resources in the world in 300 B.C. Alexandria had still to produce the first grammar and the first dictionary. This present book is being written in manuscript; it is then taken by a typist and typewritten very accurately. It can then, with the utmost convenience, be read over, corrected amply, rearranged freely, retyped, and recorrected. The Alexandrian author had to dictate or recopy every word he wrote. Before he could turn back to what he had written previously, he had to dry his last words by waving them in the air or pouring sand over them; he had not even blotting paper. Whatever an author wrote had to be recopied again and again before it could reach any considerable circle of readers, and every copyist introduced some new error. Whenever a need for maps or diagrams arose, there were fresh difficulties. Such a science as anatomy, for example, depending as it does upon accurate drawing, must have been enormously hampered by the natural limitations of the copyist. The transmission of geographical fact again must have been almost incredibly tedious. No doubt a day will come when a private library and writing-desk of the year A.D. 1919 will seem quaintly clumsy and difficult; but, measured by the standards of Alexandria, they are astonishingly quick, efficient, and economical of nervous and mental energy.
I read the above passage in the early 1970s. At the time, there had been little change since 1919. The progress since the early 1970s has been much greater.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

“…The Geometry of the Dream-Place He Saw Was Abnormal, Non-Euclidean, and Loathsomely Redolent of Spheres and Dimensions Apart from Ours”

H. P. Lovecraft must have hated New York.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Two Suggestions for States-Rights Conservatives

  1. It's common for states-rights conservatives to claim that state governments can enforce immigration laws that the Federal government does not see fit to enforce that strictly. Could the opposite also apply? Could New York state, for example, grant green cards (that only apply in New York) on its own? The Federal government has sole power over naturalization, but need that include sole power over residency?
  2. It's also common for states-rights conservatives to claim that any attempt by the Federal government to regulate abortion is usurping state prerogatives. On the other hand, since the Federal government has sole power over naturalization, it has the power to naturalize all fetuses. Once that happens, state governments will be forbidden to discriminate against fetuses.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Offending Religions, the Precedent

As far as I can tell, the closest precedent to the “Draw Mohammed” art exhibit was the “Piss Christ” art exhibit. It might be worth checking if people condemned one but not the other for both sides.

For the record, my reaction to “Piss Christ” was to defend defunding it:

People should not be compelled to support opinions they disapprove of. Money talks and we all have the right to remain silent.
Clearly, I must call for revoking any NEA grants to Pamela Gellar.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

It's Starting

I recently quoted Paul Graham as saying:

I suspect the biggest source of moral taboos will turn out to be power struggles in which one side only barely has the upper hand. That's where you'll find a group powerful enough to enforce taboos, but weak enough to need them.
and then predicted
The above quote has an obvious application to the tempest in a teapot in Indiana. It also applies to the current allies of libertarians, especially if they win by a small margin. Next year's taboos might come from people we're applauding or defending today.
More recently, we see

Parents in Idaho called the cops last week on junior-high student Brady Kissel when she had the nerve to help distribute a book they’d succeeded in banning from the school curriculum.

The book in question was Sherman Alexie’s young adult novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Published in 2007, it won the National Book Award and has become popular with young teens, supposedly for its universal themes of fitting in, making sense of race, and sexual discovery.

The sex part (and let’s face it—probably the race part) led parents to lobby Junior Mountain High School to remove it from the syllabus, citing its sexual content (it discusses masturbation) and supposedly anti-Christian content.

Not every would-be censor is on the Left.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Jack Vance on Police States

From The Star King by Jack Vance:

Humanity many times has had sad experience with superpowerful police forces… As soon as (the police) slip out from under the firm thumb of a suspicious local tribune, they become arbitrary, merciless, a law unto themselves. They think no more of justice, but only of establishing themselves as a privileged and envied elite. They mistake the attitude of natural caution and uncertainty as admiration and respect, and presently they start to swagger back and forth, jingling their weapons in a megalomaniac euphoria. People thereupon become not masters, but servants. Such a police force becomes merely an aggregate of uniformed criminals, the more baneful in that their position is unchallenged and sanctioned by law. The police mentality cannot regard a human being as other than an item or object to be processed as expeditiously as possible. Public convenience or dignity means nothing; police prerogatives assume the status of divine law. Submissiveness is demanded. If a police officer kills a civilian, it is a regrettable circumstance: The officer was possibly overzealous. If a civilian kills a police officer, all Hell breaks loose. The police foam at the mouth. All business comes to a standstill until the perpetrator of this most dastardly act is found out. Inevitably, when apprehended, he is beaten or otherwise tortured for his intolerable presumption. The police complain they cannot function efficiently, that criminals escape them. Better a hundred unchecked criminals than the despotism of one unbridled police force.
In other words, more centralized control over local police forces is a terrible idea.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

How DARE You Express Disapproval!

There have been several recent controversies about laws (or proposed laws) prohibiting people from expressing disapproval of someone else's behavior during working hours: expressing disapproval of guns or birth control pills or abortifacients or, most recently, gay marriage. I just remembered I had encountered a similar attitude before: In the 1970s, I would leave parties when they started passing around “funny cigarettes” and some people objected. I have not heard of any recent attempt to outlaw leaving parties early but it might just be a matter of time…

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Are We Progressing from Reductionism to Holism?

Contrary to what some people think, probably not.

For example, there used to be a theory that ulcers were psychosomatic. That was replaced by the more reductionist approach of assuming that gut problems were caused by bacteria in the gut. The claim that we're advancing out of the dark ages of reductionism into a glorious holistic future doesn't always hold water.

There's the alternative theory that digestive problems are caused by Unix operating system commands: awk, grep, fsck, nroff…

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Experts on “Gaming the System”?

There's been some opposition to requiring lawyers to pass bar exams.

Wait a moment… I thought the opposition to standardized tests was based on the idea that the people who passed were experts in “gaming the system” instead of the content. Isn't the content of law (in practice, if not in theory) a matter of “gaming the system”? Apparently, people who pass bar exams merely memorize facts instead of knowing them, a distinction so subtle it may as well be nonexistent.

On the other hand, maybe that means requiring bar exams is unnecessary. Lawyers who didn't pass a bar exam might not have enough customers to matter.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

It's Earth Day

Wouldn't Earth Day be an ideal day to start taking the Earth apart into space habitats?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

I Identify as …

Many of my fellow wingnuts are dubious about people who identify as something others won't classify them as. Please note we can do that too. For example, after seeing this, I tweeted:

It's oppressive to call me a right-wing nut job. I actually identify as a 19th-century liberal.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

An Example of Betteridge's Law of Headlines

A recent blog post (discussed here) started with the headline:

Is the Birth-Control Pill Creating A Race of Eunuchs?
I was reminded of Betteridge's law of headlines:
Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.
It looks like the “Pick-Up Artists” have created a theory that says they should get all the girls. When they don't get all the girls, they start adding epicycles to the theory. To make matters worse, they seem outraged by the possibility that their theories are wrong.

Of course, if they want to keep unmanly men from breeding, the simplest method is to abolish firearms. I'm waiting for the Pick-Up Artist/Neoreactionary community to start supporting gun control.

Monday, April 13, 2015

One Reason Neoreactionaries Are Annoying

According to nearly any leftist, right-wing thought is based on the desire to exploit the weaker classes. The most annoying feature of some neoreactionaries is that they agree with that. (A recent example can be found here.)

On the other hand, there are liberals are annoyed at people supposedly on their side who exemplify the smug authoritarian stereotype. For example. George R. R. Martin said:

God DAMN, people. You are proving them right.
I feel your pain.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Notable and Quotable

According to Paul Graham:

I suspect the biggest source of moral taboos will turn out to be power struggles in which one side only barely has the upper hand. That's where you'll find a group powerful enough to enforce taboos, but weak enough to need them.
The above quote has an obvious application to the tempest in a teapot in Indiana. It also applies to the current allies of libertarians, especially if they win by a small margin. Next year's taboos might come from people we're applauding or defending today.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Explaining the Opposition to RFRA Laws on the Left

It's an April Fool joke, of course. To think they actually fooled the rest of into thinking they could turn on a dime like that … or that they had actually forgotten this started with a defense of nonstandard religions … or that they were seriously gloating about conservatives who supposedly didn't know it could go both ways ….

Monday, March 30, 2015

Drunk as a Skunk

There's a common cliche among leftists criticizing conservatives who insist on religious freedom: “Don't those morons know that this applies to their enemies?” On the contrary this started with a controversy about the religions of Native Americans, a group not normally thought of as right wing. The original law was passed with bipartisan support. It's the left that changed what passes for their minds about it. It looks like leftists are the morons who didn't know that this can apply to their enemies.

I'm reminded of the following quote from The Midas Plague by Frederik Pohl:

Howland was there, drunk as a skunk, disgracefully drunk, Morey remembered thinking as he stared up at Howland from the floor.

Why Indiana

I suspect the protestors are concentrating on Indiana because it does not have a reputation for being far right. They think Indiana can be embarrassed into submission but they think South Carolina can't. If they were merely fund raising they would protest other states but they need a scalp.

Why Now?

A far-fetched but plausible speculation: A few days ago, it suddenly became well known that conservatives could also field an army of people with too much free time. The Left had to come up with a scalp in a hurry to maintain the illusion of inevitability and this was their best shot.

Advice for the Left

If you must come up with something to embarrass the right, I recommend hiring an illegal alien and claiming that it's required by the Biblical commandment to be fair to strangers (Exodus 22:21).

Saturday, March 28, 2015

How to Prevent Maniac Pilots from Crashing Planes

Just let the passengers fly the plane. Daedalus of New Scientist recommended a similar system for buses:

My cyberdemotic friend Daedalus has been weighing the theoretical advantages of buses against the inconvenience of waiting for infrequent vehicles. Smaller and more frequent buses would be preferable but for the expense of manning them. Daedalus remembers the supermarket principle—let the customer do for himself what a worker once did for him—and suggests that the passengers drive the bus themselves. His ‘collective responsibility vehicle’ has a steering wheel, controls, and TV view of the road ahead, for every seat; and each passenger is invited to help drive if he can. A central mini-computer scans the signals from each steering wheel, accelerator, etc. discards the most extreme values and averages the rest for transmission to the traction unit. Thus individual aberrations (the road-hog, or the man who wants to haul the bus off-route to his own doorstep) have no effect, but the mass knowledge of driving and of the bus-route are pooled. Of course, if everybody wants the bus to take an unofficial route, democracy wins, as it should.
Think of it as crowd soaring or wiki-flying.

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Study I'd Like to See

There's a common technique in psychological research: Researchers give the experimental subjects fabricated data. Much of the time, the subjects refuse to believe it. This is classified as irrational behavior. I'd like to see a parody version of this in which the fabricated data point in a preposterous direction. (For example: “Recent research has shown that the Moon really is made of green cheese.” or “Mathematicians have discovered the number 5 comes after the number six.” or “There never was a World Trade Center. It was actually a giant pair of stereo speakers.” or …)

This might even rival the classic article in the BMJ on double-blind tests of parachutes.

A Note on “Agreeing to Disagree”

According to the Aumann's agreement theorem, disagreement might seem irrational. On the other hand, if we use a system of expressing “what your personal analysis says while simultaneously adjusting your private opinions (which might be revealed in your actions) closer to the opinions of the majority,” then disagreements are more apparent than real. In such a system, “agreeing to disagree” can turn into “You look for evidence for X and I'll look for evidence for Y,” which makes sense if one person knows more about X (for example, if it was the religion he was raised in) and the other more about Y. This even makes “confirmation bias” look more rational.

On the other hand, this makes refusal to listen to a dissenter far less rational. It should be reserved for persons who are not arguing in good faith.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fuzzy Matching and Data Compression

Could data compression be used to detect similar files? Many data-compression algorithms work by detecting repeated patterns. If two similar files were concatenated, they could be compressed far more than if two unrelated files were concatenated.

Monday, March 23, 2015

How's That Again?

From a book catalog:

Filling a much-needed gap in the current literature, this book expertly bridges the subjects of number theory and programming and features a multitude of examples and programming exercises in each chapter. It provides an introduction to elementary number theory with fundamental coverage of computer programming and is appropriate for students of mathematics and computer science alike who need to become acquainted with the most famous theorems, problems, and concepts of number theory. In addition, the authors provide a comprehensive presentation of the methodology and applications for readers with various levels of experience, and while theorems are provided, the authors avoid the standard theorem/proof format to aid in reader comprehension. The book features sample programs and research challenges at the end of each chapter for readers to work through, as well as an appendix that provides select answers to the chapter exercises.
I noticed this in the dead-tree version of Wiley's catalog and was able to find a bookseller with the thinko in its book description in time to send the url to the Internet Archive.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Case of the Missing Argument

One of the commonest left-wing arguments is “All the cool nations do this.” For some reason, it's absent from the net-neutrality debate. Of course, if we look at what the “cool nations” have actually done:

If the administration decides to look abroad for answers, it will see that see that countries such as Japan, South Korea and France have developed faster and less expensive broadband networks, but have also refrained thus far from implementing strict net neutrality rules.
Hmmmm…

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

If Voters Resent Foreign Interference in Elections …

The attempts by the Obama administration to tilt against Netanyahu in the recent Israeli election might have energized Netanyahu's base simply because many voters resent foreign interference in elections. On the other hand, the open letter to Iran from Republican Senators might have energized the opposition for the same reason.

 
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