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

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Front Label and the Back Label

On the front label it says “No GMOs.”

On the back label it says “25% JUICE.” The first two ingredients are water and sugar. The pomegranate juice that's supposed to be a superfood (this week) is the sixth ingredient.

Throw away the wheat and keep the chaff.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Russians Are Coming!

It's harder to make threats when you're regarded as a has-been.

For that matter, the hacked e-mails are pretty much a nothingburger. At best, they reveal stuff that's already known (Hillary and Co. are obnoxiously arrogant) and are one of the reasons she's not 50 points ahead. If anything, they make me slightly more likely to vote Democratic since it looks like no major secrets were put at risk … unless the Russians are still holding out.

I'm still trying to figure out what the Russians get out of this. Do they have a mole in the Trump organization ready to shut down oil and gas exports? Do they think the Trump administration is about to stop nukes and fracking? Or do they hope for a war between the US and China that makes them Number One?

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Donald Trump and Arthur C. Clarke Had Something in Common

Friday, September 30, 2016

Outer Space Settlement Killer Apps

The most obvious reasons for space colonization (to deal with resource shortages and to take care of satellites) are technically obsolete.

Another possible use is regulatory arbitrage, i.e., escaping obnoxious laws. This comes in two varieties:

  1. Escaping laws against activities that people do not want nearby. Problem: competition from places on Earth (Las Vegas, Switzerland, or even seasteading or Antarctica)
  2. Escaping laws against activities that people do not want anywhere. Problem 1: Colonies in deep space are sitting ducks and planetary surfaces are almost as easy to bomb as Earth's surface. Problem 2: Do you really want to help Roko's basilisk?

The best guess for a killer app is zero-gravity tourism. (We might even have zero-gravity residence as in “Abercrombie Station” by Jack Vance.) It's something unavailable on the Earth. Once we have a demand for large amounts of mass in orbit, it will make sense to have asteroid colonies as well to supply them. The asteroid colonies in turn might also be used to regulatory arbitrage since they are more defendable than either deep-space colonies or planetary surfaces.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Suggestion for a Research Program for Social Science

It has recently been discovered that people with “science curiosity” don't always agree with people who actually know something about science, in particular the science-curious people are more likely to agree with left-wing theories than science-knowledgeable people. What other differences are there?

Are the science-curious people more likely to be atheists? Are they more likely to think of energy as something mystical? Do they have the foggiest idea of what “infinity” means? Do they think the moon disappears when you close your eyes? How stoned are they anyway?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Explaining an Absurd Line in a Review

According to Ezra Glinter, while reviewing The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death's End by Cixin Liu:

While Liu's humanity on the whole is conservative, some characters—both heroes and antiheroes—are determined to save civilization at all costs.
(seen via NRO Corner).

As far as I can tell, here “conservative” means a disbelief in change, with a corollary that it is no necessary to react to change. That might even be true of some conservatives. On the other hand, Leftists also disbelieve in change, although on the left that usually takes the form of a belief that it's possible to change one thing and any other changes that might cause can be disregarded (e.g., that businesses won't react to minimum-wage laws).

Friday, September 23, 2016

Million? I Thought You Said Billion!

The following factoid has been going around the Web:

  • 1 in 3,408 chance of choking to death on food

  • 1 in 3,640,000,000 chance of being killed by a refugee in a terror attack

Source: US National Safety Council, Cato Institute
This is a potentially misleading statistic since the more relevant fact is the chance of being murdered by a foreign-born terrorist in general, which is 1 in 3.6 million per year.

On the other hand, it doesn't matter because either figure shows the absurdity of the Skittles analogy.

PS: Trump hotels aren't so safe either.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

America and the “Splinter Cultures”

I've started reading Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer (about the fact that the British colonial settlers of North America were not a homogeneous group and could be divided into Puritans, Cavaliers, Quakers, and Borderers) and it sounded familiar. It resembles the Splinter Cultures of the Dorsai series by Gordon Dickson. The Friendlies were an analog of Puritans, the Cetans were an analog of Cavaliers, the Exotics were an analog of Quakers, and the Dorsai were an analog of Borderers.

One lesson we can learn from it is that the US was multicultural from the start.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Specific Examples of Multiplying Maximum Extent by Maximum Intensity

If you want specific examples of the following stupidity:

There's also the belief that to determine the importance of anything, you can multiply its maximum extent by its maximum intensity.
you can consider the belief that open borders is a “dog whistle” for White genocide. If the extent of areas where white people can be found does not change but the maximum percentage goes from 100% to 90%, that means 10% of whites have been killed off, at least in StupidWorld. In addition, if another race is 100% in at least one area and can be found in all areas, that means it has taken over StupidWorld. (This also explains how the same people can claim that race X is taking over and that race Y is also taking over without seeing any contradiction.)

You can also find a similar idea in environmentalism. If at least one person has died because of pollutant X and if pollutant X can be found everywhere on Earth, that means the human race is done for … but enough about dihydrogen monoxide.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

General Political Stupidity

I've been trying identify the causes of political stupidity that are independent of sides. Two the commonest causes are: 1) the belief that there are only two sides; 2) ignoring the possibility of change.

If there only two sides …

If there are only two sides, politics becomes a zero-sum game. Anything done to the other side will not backfire and you will not offend potential allies. In addition, anybody dissenting from your platform must be a traitor.

If change won't happen…

If change won't happen, you can get away with treating human beings as chess pieces to be moved off, on, or around the board as desired and who won't actually react to that.

“High” and “increasing” are synonyms; “low” and “decreasing” are synonyms.

Today's anything can be projected into the indefinite past and future. You can assume historical controversies can be easily mapped onto today's.

Variation: Anything that does change, changes in the direction favorable to our side's argument.

Other causes

There are other causes. For example, there the always popular belief that pointing to the existence of a problem means the solution you're offering will work.

There's also the belief that to determine the importance of anything, you can multiply its maximum extent by its maximum intensity.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

We're Waiting

We were promised a sea-ice collapse! When will we get one?

My Reaction to a Fark Headline

Fark recently ran the following capsule summary of a news item they were linking to:

Huge organization known for tripling and quadrupling down on mistakes, corruption, and bad policy endorses Presidential candidate who most closely emulates similar behavior
I honestly had no idea of which candidate they meant until I used the mouse-over.

Addendum: It happened again!

Friday, September 16, 2016

A Sixteen-Year Political Cycle?

Calvin Trillin, in his essay “The New, New Right” (quoted here in a different context) noticed that conservative political activism tends to revive every sixteen years. At the time, that was limited to 1946, 1962, and 1978, but it has continued with 1994 and 2010. Will the pattern continue?

There's a possibly-associated phenomenon. Six years after the revival, it goes awry and is hijacked by a moderate and/or a crackpot. (Moderates: Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush the Younger, and Donald Trump. Crackpots: Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace, and Donald Trump).

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Trump Movement Summarized

The Trump movement is apparently based on the theory that any American who wants to buy from foreigners, hire foreigners, sell to foreigners, or rent to foreigners is part of a basket of deplorables.

The outrage with which the Trump supporters greeted the phrase “basket of deplorables” is almost hypocritical enough to be classified as leftist.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

What Does This Imply about Human Biodiversity Research?

According to a recent study of publication bias:

Findings of statistically significant differences between groups or treatments tend to be treated as more worthy of submission and publication than those of non-significant differences.
What does this imply about human biodiversity research?

In a related story, in linguistics there appears to be a lack of evidence that genetic explanations of language are more reliable than “blank slate” theories.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Why Does Deep Learning Work?

According to Henry Lin and Max Tegmark, Deep Learning works because it reflects the structure of the universe on every level. The theory that the universe has the same structure on every level sounds familiar.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Nuclear-Powered Piston Engines, Some Figures

A few years ago, I came up with a plan for getting power from controlled nuclear fusion: nuclear-powered piston engines:

Imagine a piston engine in which the cylinders are the size of the Vehicle Assembly Building and the spark plugs are replaced by nuclear bombs.
Let's see… A megaton is \(4.184\times10^{15}~\text{J}\). A typical pressure in a piston engine is about 1 MPa or \(10^6~\text{J}/\text{m}^3\). In other words, you would need a volume of \(4.184\times10^9~\text{m}^3\). That would be a cube a mile on a side.

The Vehicle-Assembly Building isn't big enough. Even the Boeing Everett Factory isn't big enough. Even a building the area of the largest Target import warehouse and the height of the Burj Khalifa misses by a factor of 30. Bummer.

This isn't a matter of “Wait for next year!” It's a matter of “Wait for next century!”

Monday, September 05, 2016

There Goes the Neighborhood!

The coyotes are moving in.

The coyotes originally came to these parts to protest at Acme's headquarters but decided to settle in.

Meanwhile, out west a roadrunner hears the call of the Big Apple …

Saturday, September 03, 2016

A Consequence of Time Lag in Learning Mathematics

Time lag in learning mathematics is a well-known phenomenon:

I think the answer is supplied by a phenomenon that everybody who teaches mathematics has observed: the students always have to be taught what they should have learned in the preceding course. (We, the teachers, were of course exceptions; it is consequently hard for us to understand the deficiencies of our students.) The average student does not really learn to add fractions in an arithmetic class; but by the time he has survived a course in algebra he can add numerical fractions. He does not learn algebra in the algebra course; he learns it in calculus, when he is forced to use it. He does not learn calculus in a calculus class either; but if he goes on to differential equations he may have a pretty good grasp of elementary calculus when he gets through. And so on throughout the hierarchy of courses; the most advanced course, naturally, is learned only by teaching it.

This is not just because each previous teacher did such a rotten job. It is because there is not time for enough practice on each new topic; and even it there were, it would be insufferably dull. …

It has a corollary: Nobody understands cutting-edge mathematics, not even the people discovering it. That might explain why people took the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics seriously. Quantum mechanics could not be understood until it was used to discover other things.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Two Type of Caveman Politics

According to Glen Reynolds:

These evolved instincts served hunter-gatherer cavemen well (which is why they’ve survived) but they don’t work very well in a world where health care, instead of being something that members of a tribe provide for people they’ve grown up with, is something that has to be procured from strangers who make a living providing it. And, as McArdle notes, trying to sell socialism by pretending that society is one big family doesn’t actually help: “Nationalizing the health care system does not fix this fundamental disconnect between our evolved instincts and the inevitable necessities of a modern economy.”
Another example of caveman politics: The theory that anybody new coming in diminishes the wealth or the jobs of the rest of us.

Current politics in the US is a matter of two groups of cavemen fighting it out.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Decisions, Decisions …

I've already decided to vote Libertarian for President. (It's bad enough that a President might nominate Earl Warren; I don't want to vote for an Earl Warren Republican.)

On the other hand, the Libertarians are also running candidates for Senator in my state and Congressman in my district. The incumbent Democrat (Charles Schumer, the New York state embarrassment) got 66% of the vote last time, so I suppose swing voters will have little effect. The Congressman, Steve Israel, got 52% of the vote last time and is retiring. The Republican candidate may have a chance. What's more important is that a Donald Trump defeat will look more impressive in an otherwise Republican year, so I suppose I have to support non-Trump Republicans. I plan to vote Libertarian for President and Senator and Republican for Congress.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Where the ETs Are hanging Out

There's evidence a relatively-nearby galaxy is mostly dark matter.

According to the Kaehler–Oh–Krummenacker theory, that might mean ETs there are conserving solar energy.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Paranoid Theories about Epipen

What if the purpose of the Epipen price hikes (from a company run by the daughter of a Democratic Senator) is to get voters upset at Big Pharma in order to elect the the Democrats, the supposed enemies of Big Pharma?

A similar theory: What if the purpose of is to fool conservatives who should know better (the Epipen monopoly is a matter of crony capitalism, not intellectual property) into defending Epipen and therefore discredit capitalism?

I assume that the Epipen people should have known they could not get away with it, so I came up with purposes in which “not getting away with it” is the point. On the other hand, maybe they really are idiots…

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

One Problem with Lawsuits over Inherited Art

The lawsuits over inherited art stolen by the Nazis might be used as a precedent by Palestinians claiming their land was stolen in 1948 or even by people claiming reparations for slavery. I have criticized such claims on Usenet (whatever happened to that?) on the grounds that

In the United States, events that occurred for than 40 years ago are regarded as part of the "dead past" and relegated to museums.
That might also apply here.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Should We Push Government Activity to Higher or Lower Levels?

Well… It depends. Government spending should usually be pushed to lower levels (when possible). The advantages or disadvantages of a new bridge, etc. can be seen more easily nearby, especially when it's paid for by the local people.

Government regulation, on the other hand, should sometimes be pushed to higher levels. It has very large externalities. For example, zoning laws in suburbs frequently increase rents in the inner city. In the other direction, anti-gentrification regulations push the upper middle class out of cities and increases commutation times. This even applies to national governments. The US ethanol mandate increases prices all over the world. If a UN resolution called for the US to stop the ethanol mandate I might even have a strange new respect for the UN.

I was reminded of this by the controversy over the attempt to have the Colorado state government rein in regulation of fracking by local governments.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Screening Immigrants

Screening immigrants might sound like a good idea (it's even part of American traditions too) but it can be easily abused. For example, the Page Act of 1875 was based on screening immigrants but, in practice, it was used to exclude Chinese women. (It was succeeded by the frankly bigoted Chinese Exclusion Act.)

If you're any type of conservative (whether paleocon, neocon, theocon, tea partier, 1% person), do you really want to bet that today's civil servants won't be prejudiced against people you want to admit?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Another Thought about Cultural Marxism

The Trump movement is causing me to take Cultural Marxism more seriously. I had earlier dismissed concerns about Cultural Marxism on the grounds that most of it was already present in the US. The Trumpkins are making me take Cultural Marxism seriously, not because of their arguments but because the are an example of the same phenomenon.

The earlier band of Cultural Marxists took ideas already present and gave them a slant that benefited the Soviet Union. For example, both “perople have the right to cross borders” and “people have the right to reject foreign influence” were already present in the US. The Cultural Marxists reconciled them by encouraging the idea that if you get to a place by land, you are thought to have a right to stay there and possibly even take it over. If you get to a place by water, you don't. (I've mentioned this before.) This makes Russian imperialism look more legitimate than imperialism from the rest of Europe.

Another effect of Soviet influence: The Soviet Union was an oil exporter, so they gained from anything that helped suppress energy production in the US. For example, suppressing nuclear energy would fit. Price controls on oil and natural gas would fit. Concern about the greenhouse effect would fit in the days before international agreements on climate change.

This influence went on hold for a decade while the Russians were unable to keep much secret. It has recently revived but they had to switch sides because, now that we have international agreements on climate change, they had to drop concern about the greenhouse effect. The Trump movement, in addition to being effectively allied with the Russians on other issues, includes a surprising number of people, judging by the comments here, who are willing to suppress fracking. I doubt if that's true of home-grown American conservatives. I didn't believe the Trump movement was backed by an oil exporting nation until I read those comments.

On the other hand, maybe I'm getting too suspicious.

Monday, August 08, 2016

A Note on New York's Clean Energy Standard

New York state's Clean Energy Standard actually includes support for nuclear energy (in a related story, Hell froze over).

On the other hand, it also includes s*bs!dies (of $17.48 per MW-hour). On the gripping hand, this might be justified if anthropogenic global warming really is a major problem. So… let's see how much this costs per ton of carbon. Natural gas (the major current competitor) emits 1.22 pounds of CO2 per kW-hour, there are 2204.62 pounds per metric ton, and 12 grams of carbon will produce 44 grams of CO2. Putting all that together, we get $115.82 per ton of carbon. This is more than the average estimate according to IPCC but is within the range. (You can tell the IPCC is doing actual science, unlike the IPCC worshipers with “science curiosity,” because they include error estimates.) The subsidies for “renewable” energy, on the other hand, are $45 per MW-hour. That's $298.17 per ton of carbon. This is pushing the upper envelope.

The implication for the intellectual honesty of anybody who complains about the $17.48 and ignores or applauds the $45 will be left as an exercise for the reader.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

My Party Nominated Samuel Burchard

In the current election, the best hope for Libertarians would be a right-leaning group that strongly distrusts the current Republican nominee, for example Mormons. So Gary Johnson said:

"I mean under the guise of religious freedom, anybody can do anything," Johnson said. "Back to Mormonism. Why shouldn't somebody be able to shoot somebody else because their freedom of religion says that God has spoken to them and that they can shoot somebody dead?"

Johnson concluded by saying he saw "religious freedom, as a category, of being a black hole."

This rivals Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

On Naming Institutions after Nasty People

At Yale, they're considering renaming buildings named after people who are currently considered nasty. On the one hand, we might not want to honor them. On the other hand, we should not simply erase them from history. My recommendation is to name nasty things after nasty people. For example:

  • The Pete Seeger Sewage Treatment Plant. (If idealists who defended slavery don't get a free ride, I see no reason idealists who defended Stalinism should get a free ride.)
  • The Karl Marx Toxic Waste Dump.
  • The LBJ postage due stamp.
An alternative possibility is to wait a century, look for things considered nasty in 2116 that the leaders of the renaming movement of 2016 were involved with and name the nasty stuff of 2116 after them.

We should vote on that now. If we wait until 2116, we might find the potential organizers in 2116 are unwilling to organize.

Friday, August 05, 2016

“Science Curiosity” Moves the Goalposts

Social scientists embarrassed at the fact that the most numerate people were unwilling to believe what they were told (which counts as irrationality in SocialScienceWorld) moved the goalposts from numeracy to science curiosity. People with more actual knowledge of science tended to be polarized about such issues as global warming or fracking. On the other hand, people with more “science curiosity” tended to be less polarized, i.e., they were more likely to agree with left-wing propaganda.

The important part is how science curiosity is measured. It's based on “whether people had read books about science, attended science events, or were inclined to read science news over other types of news.” That's a bit ambiguous. The books might include Nuclear Power Killed my Poodle (cited in Science Made Stupid) or Space–Time and Beyond and similarly for the events and the news items. We might be speaking of people who “f*cking love science” but don't know anything about it. Some of the other measures of science curiosity are even worse. People with science curiosity are more likely to watch TV shows about science and read news stories with “Surprising” in the title, i.e., they were more likely to read clickbait.

The clincher is that the article did not mention nuclear energy or GMOs.

I suspect this research simply means there is a correlation between gullibility and television watching.

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