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:
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Yet another weird SF fan
 

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Both Sides Lost

According to Chanda Chisala:

The fact that black immigrants to the United States have shown achievements that are superior to native black Americans has been a phenomenon studied since at least the 1970′s. … What most of these theories failed to predict was that the children of these immigrants would also show exceptional achievements, especially academically. It is only in recent years, as the immigrants have stayed long enough to produce a sufficiently high number of offspring, that it has been observed that they are over-represented among high academic achievers, especially when compared to native blacks, particularly at very elite institutions.
This disproves the favorite theories of both the Left (that the black–white academic gap is due to the effects of prejudice) and the hereditarian wing of the Right (that the black–white academic gap is due to the effects of genes). The children of African immigrants have the same genes and face the same prejudices as the descendants of 18th-century kidnap victims. In other words, both sides have lost.

As for what is causing the black–white academic gap … stereotype threat might be part of the explanation. I suspect the affirmative action is aggravating that.

Uh Oh

According to Matthew L. Wald:

On the micro level, last weekend I watched a young cashier at the hardware store scan purchases and heard the customer complain that the total was wrong. I was terrified by the cashier's response. It wasn't, “No, the computer is right.” It wasn't, “let me double check.” It was, “How did you know?” When it comes to adding numbers in our heads, we've not only forgotten some skills, we've forgotten we ever had them.
ObSF: “A Feeling of Power” by Isaac Asimov.

Friday, July 03, 2015

A Visit to an Evil Room

I was at … the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing. After all, Everybody Knows that anything one of the Koch brother has ever touched is tainted with Evil.

Other also object to Dinosaur Halls.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Best Comment on the Supreme Court's Reasoning in the Gay-Marriage Decision

… came from Dave Munger years before the decision. One of the possible replies to “Should Congress have intervened in -mumble mumble-?” at the top is:

No, that is specifically proscribed by Amendment Pi of the Constitution, in magic invisible ink that only special people can see.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Two Annoying Reactions on the Right to the Gay-Marriage Decision

Soon they will be forcing religious organizations to perform gay marriages!

The question of whether the fact that something is legal means someone can be compelled to get involved with it against his/her religion has already been brought up. Remember the Hobby Lobby case of last year? The same court responsible for the gay-marriage decision ruled in favor of the rights of people called bigots. Please note that contraception has even wider and deeper backing from the Left than gay marriage.

We will never be able to get rid of this!

Just a few days before the gay-marriage decision, the court overturned raisin-control. This was part of the left-wing agenda of a couple of decades ago, defended with the same amount of condescension we see today in the gay-marriage debate. Not every left-wing victory is permanent.

ObSF: “In a good cause, there are no failures, only delayed successes.”—Isaac Asimov

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Don't Let This Crisis Go to Waste!

I'm talking about the OPM breach. Remember that?

There's a common libertarian argument: Government is usually incompetent. There's a common response to that argument on the left: Right-wing governments are incompetent because of deliberate sabotage. For example, according to a commenter on Facebook:

Republicans start with the premise that government doesn't work and has no solutions, then they fight tooth and nail to get in office and prove it.
In the case of the OPM breach we see a clear instance of government incompetence that cannot be blamed on right-wing sabotage.

I also heard that there were a few newsworthy Supreme-Court decisions. At least raisins are finally free!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Inceptionism and “Dog Whistles”

A theory about political idiots

The typical political idiot on the Internet takes his cues about what a controversy is Really About from other idiots on the other side of the controversy. This explains why lots of left-wing idiots are convinced that any discussion of academic excellence is a “dog whistle” to racists and, for that matter, why right-wing idiots frequently assume that open border libertarians are Cultural Marxists.

The inceptionism connection

I recently posted a mention of inceptionism. If a neural network is trained on one set of data and then interprets a different set, that different set will still resemble the training set to the network. For example, a cloud will look like an animal or a tree will look like a building or an intellectual snob will look like a racist or a libertarian will look like a Communist agent or …

In possibly-related news, inceptionist images are frequently described using Lovecraftian terminology.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Brief Note on Dixiecrats

It's common for conservatives to point out that the Republicans were the party that abolished slavery and that the Democrats defended it. The standard response from Democrats is to claim the parties have switched places.

Maybe the conservatives should criticize “the identity-politics party” or “the party opposed to the 1%” or “the party that shouts down dissent” or the “party that regards disagreement as offensive” or …

In the other direction, I doubt if the Republicans have changed much.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Conclusion Sounds Plausible …

… but I'm still skeptical of the research that purports to show that conservatives have more self control than liberals (original paper here).

In part of the research, the experimenters gave the experimental subjects fabricated data on the effects of a belief in free will. (I have criticized this style of research before.) If the researchers were willing to lie to at least one set of experimental subjects, why should we believe them now?

On the other hand, this appears to back up my theory that conservatives might do better at the Stroop test. I'd like to see this replicated by other researchers … followed by a study of the Asch test. On the gripping hand, by the reasoning in the preceding paragraph, all studies using the Asch test are dubious.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

If Leftists Are Refusing to Have Children …

why should the rest of us care?

ObSF: “What is the superlative of ‘so what’?”—R. A. Lafferty

Saturday, June 20, 2015

What Happens When Random Data Is Decompressed?

A few years ago, I asked the above question. The researchers at Google have answered it, at least as far as images are concerned. One of their stranger results has been going around the Internet.

Question: Could something similar be responsible for Charles Bonnet syndrome?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Are Some Teachers AIs?

News that a computer program did better than most humans at questions on IQ tests has been going around the blogosphere. As far as I could tell, the program worked by examining published texts to see which words usually went with which. Let's consider what happens when humans use such an algorithm.

If we search high and low for examples of antonyms in published texts, we frequently see that pairs of words identified as antonyms occur in the form of “Word_A and Word_B.” That's as plain as black and white. If we generalize from that we might decide, for example, that “cat” is the opposite of “dog” or “tadpole” is the opposite of “frog.” I think the algorithm has limitations.

ObSF: “Camels and Dromedaries, Clem” by R. A. Lafferty

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

When Is Skepticism Justified?

Consider the following scenario: There is a school of thought that makes a theoretical prediction based on what appear to be good reasons. For some reason, the evidence to back up said prediction does not seem to be forthcoming, which is cited by people disagreeing with it. Time passes … and something resembling evidence at long last shows up. On the other hand, it's much less than the people who originally issued the prediction had in mind.

How skeptical should we be about the prediction? In a related question, what is the track record of earlier predictions that fit the pattern?

I can think of several predictions that fit the above pattern. One of them is believed by the Left. Another is believed by the Right. I am disinclined to take either that seriously. On the other hand, there are other predictions that I am inclined to take seriously that also fit the pattern.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Consequence of China's One-Child Policy

It's producing a non-trivial number of Chinese citizens with no close relatives. If one of them has access to classified information, he/she might be willing to defect if there's nobody who can be held hostage.

If I were Chinese, I'd be wondering if Malthusian theories are part of a deliberate disinformation plan.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

You Cannot Resist This

It's the Wave of the Fuschia!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Unified Paranoid Theory

It should be completely obvious that GMO foods were developed by H1B-visa holders working for Monsanto (bankrolled by a consortium consisting of the Elders of Zion and renegade Objectivist extraterrestrials from Zeta Reticuli) using a template developed by the Freemasons (you can find it encoded in the Washington DC street plan) in order to produce a vaccine (but only when grown using radioactive fertilizer) that would both prevent circumcisions from being reversed and produce antibodies to medical marijuana.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Kindle Auto-correct

A few months ago, I turned off the auto-correct “feature” of my Kindle Fire. I recently noticed it was back and, when I tried using the settings, I saw nothing that would turn off auto-correct.

Now, when I try typing “glyphosate” on the Kindle (to comment on this thread, it turns it into “toothpaste.”

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Did Agriculture Make People Worse Off?

According to Jared Diamond (in the course of a whine about the agricultural revolution):

If one could choose between being a peasant farmer in Ethiopia or a bushman gatherer in the Kalahari, which do you think would be the better choice?
Is the choice between existence as a peasant farmer and existence as a hunter-gatherer? Or is it between existence as a peasant farmer and non-existence? There was, after all, a large in population.

As far as I can tell, the upper-class population in agricultural societies was about the same as the hunter-gatherer population. For example, in Medieval England, there were 200 men in the upper aristocracy and 1000 knights. If we assume that a typical aristocratic family included a Lord, a Lady and couple of children, the upper class would be 4800 people. According to Jared Diamond, hunter gatherers had a population density of \(\frac{1}{10}\) person per square mile, which means England's 50,000 square miles could support 5000 of them, about the same number as in the agricultural upper class. The advantages of being a hunter-gatherer also applied to the upper class. People in the upper class did not spend all day shoveling manure and had a diet with adequate protein.

In other words, the agricultural revolution did not take hunter-gatherers and turn them into peasants but added a peasant population.

Applying the above to a hypothetical society consisting largely of “ems” will be left as an exercise for the reader.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Jigsaw Politician?

From “The Jigsaw Man” by Larry Niven:

The state will prove that the said Warren Lewis Knowles did, in the space of two years, willfully drive through a total of six red traffic lights. During that same period the same Warren Knowles exceeded local speed limits no less than ten times, once by as much as fifteen miles an hour. …
From The New York Times:

According to a search of the Miami-Dade and Duval County court dockets, the Rubios have been cited for numerous infractions over the years for incidents that included speeding, driving through red lights and careless driving. A review of records dating back to 1997 shows that the couple had a combined 17 citations: Mr. Rubio with four and his wife with 13. On four separate occasions they agreed to attend remedial driving school after a violation.

Mr. Rubio’s troubles behind the wheel predate his days in politics. In 1997, when he was cited for careless driving by a Florida Highway Patrol officer, he was fined and took voluntary driving classes. A dozen years later, in 2009, he was ticketed for speeding on a highway in Duval County and found himself back in driver improvement school.

Things got more complicated in 2011 when Mr. Rubio was alerted to the fact that his license was facing suspension after a traffic camera caught him failing to stop at a red light in his beige Buick. His lawyer, Alex Hanna, paid a $16 fee to delay the suspension and eventually it was dismissed.

I was reminded somehow.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Another Note to My Fellow Mathematicians

Try not to use too many typefaces in the same article. You're writing math articles, not ransom notes. Also please remember that MathJax can't handle really weird typefaces.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

To My Fellow Mathematicians…

Please note that the {subequations} environment in \(\rm\LaTeX\) will increment the main equation counter even when there are no equation numbers displayed. If you forget that, you might write an article in which the equation numbers skip from (17) to (20), causing the copy editors to wonder if you've discovered a new method of counting.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

I Told You So

A few years ago, I warned about the possibility of terrorists infiltrating the government.

It's starting.

Maybe secret NSA surveillance is not necessarily a good thing.

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.

 
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