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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Other interesting web sites:
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Jewish Pro-Life Foundation
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The Mad Revisionist
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Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism
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Yet another weird SF fan

Friday, March 27, 2015

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.

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.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Two Problems with “Alternative Energy”

Problem 1: It doesn't allow for much expansion. A typical analysis of alternative energy supplies will frequently find that if we turn all energy production over to wind, rooftop solar, etc. and if we have magic batteries to even out the fluctuations we can barely manage to replace the present energy-supply system. If we want to bring the rest of the world up to U.S. standards, we'll need far more and if the population increases, we will need far more.

Problem 2: By the the standards of anti-nuclear environmentalists, the more effective alternative energy systems (wind with toxic battery backup, desert solar, hydroelectricity) should be shut down. They're not decentralized and have at least as much imaginary negatives as nuclear. If they can shut down nuclear energy, they can shut down nearly anything.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

It's π Day

It's 3/14/15, also known as Einstein's birthday.

Friday, March 13, 2015

What Will Turn out to Fight Cancer Next?

If vaccines can cure cancer… Are GMOs next? Will we soon find out about the amazing properties of high-fructose corn syrup, trans-fatty acids, and gluten?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Left Has the Right Beaten …

… when it comes to unhinged lunatic ranting. The reaction of left-wing activists confronted with right-wingers who claim to be concerned about factual accuracy is far loonier than the reaction of right-wing activists confronted with left-wingers who claim to be concerned about factual accuracy.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Creationist Nonsense and Transhumanist Nonsense

A common creationist attempt at an argument against evolution (for example, here) says:

They say we came from monkeys. Then why tf we still got monkeys??
In a related story, a common transhumanist attempt at an argument against traditional values (for example, here) says:

We're basically learning to produce bodies and minds. Bodies and minds are going to be the two main products of the next wave of all these changes. And if there is a gap between those that know how to produce bodies and minds and those that do not, then this is far greater than anything we saw before in history.

And this time, if you're not fast enough to become part of the revolution, then you'll probably become extinct.

We see the same fallacy in both places: The assumption that, if part of X becomes Y, all of X must become Y.

The really annoying part is that the bulshytt-emitting wing of transhumanism has been able to scare some bioconservatives into taking them seriously.

Saturday, March 07, 2015


There are three possible stories that can be told about the United States:

  1. The purpose of the United States is to limit the power of rulers.
  2. The purpose of the United States is to ensure that the People rule.
  3. The purpose of the United States is to fight for the interests of the White People who started it.
I was already aware of the fact that many left-wing activists take the third story seriously and that there are alleged right-wing activists who do so as well. Following the comments on some right-wing websites made me realize that story 3 is taken seriously by more than a handful of loons.

The really weird part is that those of us who defend story 1 are not only mistaken for people who believe stories 2 or 3 but sometimes mistaken for anti-American people who believe stories 2 or 3.

One more point: The election of President Obama sent the message that story 3 is no longer accepted by the voters, if it ever was. (The bad news is the Obama apparently thinks story 2 is not only correct but anything that might indicate the contrary is the result of right-wing perfidy and must be disregarded, but that's another rant.) I think the Nobel Prize awarded to Obama a few years ago was intended to go to the American people for electing Obama but the rules did not allow that, so it had to Obama instead. (There is the alternative theory that the Nobel Prize Committee was just plain nuts.)

Thursday, March 05, 2015

When Evidence Starts

One common meme lately has been the list of Foods Never to Eat (typical example here). In many of these lists, most of the foods in question do not have actual evidence showing shorter life expectancies or increased illness. They only have far-fetched associations (food X is associated with pesticide Y which is correlated with a syndrome in lab rats that in turn is correlated with cancer). To make matters worse, the lists ignore the fact that toxins have thresholds, below which they're harmless.

The exception is preserved meat. There appears to be actual evidence showing it's unhealthy. The good news is that there is a threshold (just like real toxins) below which it's harmless. Just keep your consumption of pastrami, sausages, etc. below 20 grams per day. (That's five ounces per week for those of us who prefer hexadecimal units.)

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Assumption of Censorship

One sign of paranoia: The belief that the Establishment is censoring you … even in the absence of evidence.

My introduction to this was the time I read: “You won't find these ideas in a university library!” in a university library. Another example is the belief that chain bookstores would never carry anything by Noam Chomsky. Shortly after I read that claim, I checked a Borders bookstore and found a shelf full of Chomsky's books. (Or is that why it's out of business?)

On the other hand, self-censorship appears to be common. I don't even mean self-censorship of what you speak but self-censorship of what you read. It's amazing how many have never heard of the ideas that liberals could be fascists (as described by Nobel prize winner Friedrich von Hayek as well as Jonah Goldberg or even Steven J. Gould) but also the evidence showing that “primitive peoples” did not preserve their environment intact, the fact that Hannukah is a celebration of armed resistance, and even the fact that the roundness of the Earth was well known in the Middle Ages. Maybe we should fight that instead of blaming an Establishment.

I'm reminded of this by the comments here on a possible Google experiment on filtering web sites by factual accuracy. Even if someone tries using that for censorship purposes, it's unlikely to last. For a while Google was shutting down anti-Obama blogs. They had to backtrack on that. 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.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Does Life Require Borders?

Patri Friedmann on borders:

One of the things life has taught me this decade is the importance of exclusion and boundaries, which are highly relevant to this metaphor. A thermodynamic system with poor borders (less insulation), will have greater thermal conductivity. It may do more work initially, but it will also move at maximum speed towards that final resting state where all energy is evenly distributed. Such a state is peaceful in precisely the same way as death; for without flows of energy, there can be no life (in vivo or in silico – as no computation is possible). I suppose those who think human extinction is fair or just will consider this the state of ultimate fairness. I don’t particularly care for that final solution.

So if you even care about life existing – let alone the infinite diversity possible therein – then (contra Caplan), boundaries (such as national borders) are an absolute necessity. No differences, no energy flow, no (thermodynamic) work, no life. As in the stars, so on the earth: romance flows from polarity; trade from comparative advantage; thermodynamic work from heat differences; evolution from variation; economic competition from competing alternatives. All progress is driven by differences; so to erase differences is (counter-eponymously) to end progress.

Alexander Cairns-Smith on borders:
The control of the environment by primitive genes depended, not on the individual acts of individual genes, but on effects depending on millions and millions of copies of them. There was thus no need for anything as neat as a cell. If you are a gene very close to the ground, if your modes of preferential survival and propagation depend on deflecting somewhat, and to your advantage, processes that are going on in any case around you, there is no need to be so cordoned off. Indeed it is better not to be.
I won't more than mention that there aren't many border controls inside the U.S. but that doesn't make the U.S. homogeneous.

Phyletic Gradualism or Punctuated Equilbrium?

Sean Davis is asking journalists:

…do you believe in phyletic gradualism or punctuated equilbrium?
My answer: Let's do both!

Phyletic gradualism is based on the idea that nature does not make jumps. Punctuated equilibrium is based on the idea that almost all the time, species aren't changing. Oddly enough both theories are compatible with each other in the presence of change. The Cantor function (also known as the “Devil's Staircase”) increases from 0 to 1 even though it is both continuous (the equivalent of phyletic gradualism) and the first derivative is defined and zero almost everywhere (the equivalent of punctuated equilibrium).

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Real Reason the Left Supports Net Neutrality

It's a government regulation that hasn't been discredited yet. Advocate a government regulation in nearly any other field and you'll have libertarians saying “Look at how the State messed things up!” In the case of net neutrality, our best argument is “Look at how the State messed things up everywhere else!” This, of course, can be spun as paranoid rantings. (It doesn't help that some of the people involved also engage in paranoid rantings.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


On the one hand, people who believe global warming is a crisis accuse skeptics of taking money from fossil-fuel interests.

On the other hand, people who believe global warming is not a crisis accuse believers of taking money from governments.

It's unlikely either side has been bribed. Unscrupulously-greedy people are unlikely to become or remain scientists. Those payments that do exist are likely to be a matter of buying a megaphone for people already on the right side.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Rhodomagnetism and Reality

The imaginary science used in The Humanoids by Jack Williamson included rhodomagnetism, magnetism in the next shell up from the ferromagnetism of iron and similar metals. In the real world, we find magnetism from the next shell, but it's manifested in the rare earths. The real-world version is also less spectacular. You don't get superluminal communication; you just get extra-strong magnets.

In a related story, there are also magnetic phenomena of the shell in the other direction, manifested in oxygen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Fate Worse Than Death?

I think I've figured out why anti-vaccine parents are willing to accept an increased possibility of contracting occasionally-fatal illnesses in return for a reduction in the chances of being autistic that's somewhere between infinitesimal and non-existent: They regard being abnormal as a fate worse than death.

In possibly-related news, the overwhelming majority of fetuses that test positive for Down Syndrome are aborted. This all fits together.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Physical Principles That Apply to Social Science

I can think of two:

The Law of Conservation of Momentum, on the other hand, does not apply. If the stock market went up yesterday, that does not mean it will go up today. If crime increased in the 1960–1990 period, that does not mean it will continue to increase. The failure of predictions based on it may have made attempts at “social physics” look naive.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Question about “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex”

How do we know Superman is male? That might be an ovipositor.

What does this style of speculation imply about Supergirl?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Suggestion for Scott Walker

If he's nominated, he can ensure a balanced ticket by picking Newt Gingrich, PhD for Vice President. The obvious campaign tactic against Scott Walker is that we need book smarts instead of “street smarts” (I put that in quotes because “street smarts” usually turns out to mean “agrees with us”) and the obvious campaign tactic against Newt Gingrich is to raise doubts about book smarts. It will be very hard for Democrats to fight a two-front war.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Recruiting the Wrong Allies Can Be A Mistake

Apparently, some of the early advocates for capitalism tried recruiting aristocrats (who were worried that the lower classes might get richer) by assuring them that the poor would stay poor even under capitalism. (I say apparently because I haven't heard of the people with the worst quotes. There were damning quotes from nobodies and not-so-bad quotes from people like Frances Hutcheson.) This may have had an influence on Karl Marx.

More recently, Bill Gates mentioned population control in the course of the discussion of vaccines. This caused a wide variety of crackpots to assume that meant there were sterilizing agents in the vaccines. (The odd thing is that Bill Gates is willing to admit Malthusians aren't always right.)

Maybe it was a mistake for the early advocates of capitalism to try to recruit aristocrats and maybe it was a mistake for vaccine advocates to try to recruit population controllers.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Time to Short Google?

Judging by the low vaccination rates at Google day-care centers, some of their employees have a certain lack of general cognitive ability. Maybe they should go back to IQ tests.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Will the State Continue to Rescue Us from a Problem It Created?

Some lobbyists want cell phones to be open to legal robocalls.

What if we repealed the anti-blocking rules of the Federal Communications Act of 1934 (also known as phone neutrality) instead? First, the government stopped businesses from providing blocking services and then stepped in to rescue us. It might next compound the annoyance by threatening to repeal the substitute and calling the result “deregulation.”

Spam has been one of the problems with the custom of net neutrality just as phone spam is one of the problems of the law of phone neutrality. The proposed net neutrality rules will freeze that problem.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Sometimes the Right Wing Really Is Nuts, Part II

I doubt if there's a conspiracy to shut down competition for Russian gas that involves the Simons family. Jim Simons has invested in a nuclear construction firm. After all, the probable mouthpiece for Russian propaganda, @trutherbot, is anti-nuclear.

Friday, February 06, 2015

I'll Be Only 97 Then

If we extrapolate the decline in the abortion rate in the graph here, we can see the abortion rate will be zero in 2053.

In 2054, abortion will be banned.

In 2055, a left-wing magazine will publish an an article blaming abortion on capitalism.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

He Is Caucasian

According to Addicting Info:

If you were a stranger who happened into the Jindal office, you may understandably assume that the Governor of Louisiana is Caucasian.
He is Caucasian. The term “Caucasian” was invented in the first place in order to put Europeans and South Asians in the same racial category.

There will now be a slight pause for somebody to say “Who cares?”

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Enforcing Vaccine Laws

On the one hand, control of contagious disease has been a traditional activity of classical-liberal governments. On the other hand, public-health authorities are also notable for preposterous ideas about guns and dubious ideas on nutrition. It might be dangerous to arm them with the legal ability to forcibly vaccinate. Instead, I recommend we take a hint from Leviticus 13:45:

And as to the leper in whom the sore is,—his garments shall be rent, and his head shall be uncovered, and he shall put a covering on his beard, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean!
The worst thing this will encourage is GMO labeling laws (and similar nonsense) and those will have at least one beneficial effect: They will make it easier for me to boycott GMO-free foods. (By the way, does anybody know where I can buy tempeh with GMOs?)

Monday, February 02, 2015

It's Not Your Fault…

Scott Alexander points out that biological determinism is regarded as “compassionate” in all fields but one:

The obvious pattern is that attributing outcomes to things like genes, biology, and accidents of birth is kind and sympathetic. Attributing them to who works harder and who’s “really trying” can stigmatize people who end up with bad outcomes and is generally viewed as Not A Nice Thing To Do.

And the weird thing, the thing I’ve never understood, is that intellectual achievement is the one domain that breaks this pattern.

It's quite simple. The compassionate outlook prefers to see faults outside the victim. Your effort is regarded as entirely inside you. Your genes are partly the real you and partly something the real you has to put up with. Social pressures are entirely outside you. When the debate is “genes vs. effort,” the self-congratulatory ones, I mean the compassionate ones will blame genes. When the debate is “genes vs. an oppressive Establishment,” the compassionate ones will blame the Establishment.

As far as I can tell, most of the people who blame the Establishment for low intellectual achievement are currently allied with allied with people who blame lack of effort (since both sides are opposed to genetic explanations) but if genetic explanations are ever discredited they will go after each other. (They're already starting to go after each other on topics such as affirmative action.)

Saturday, January 31, 2015

More Old News

There's nothing new about the theory that the past, present, and future all exist together in a four-dimensional space–time. It dates back at least to Lagrange, had a literary description in The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, and the modern version of it was part of the Theory of Relativity.

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