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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jhertzli AT ix DOT netcom DOT com


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Small Sample Watch
XBM Graphics


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)

Interesting weblogs:
Back Off Government!
Bad Science
Blogblivion
Boing Boing
Debunkers Discussion Forum
Deep Space Bombardment
Depleted Cranium
Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Magazine.
EconLog
Foreign Dispatches
Good Math, Bad Math
Greenie Watch
The Hand Of Munger
Howard Lovy's NanoBot
Hyscience
Liberty's Torch
The Long View
My sister's blog
Neo Warmonger
Next Big Future
Out of Step Jew
Overcoming Bias
The Passing Parade
Peter Watts Newscrawl
Physics Geek
Pictures of Math
Poor Medical Student
Prolifeguy's take
The Raving Theist
RealityCarnival
Respectful Insolence
Sedenion
Seriously Science
Shtetl-Optimized
The Speculist
The Technoptimist
TJIC
Tools of Renewal
XBM Graphics
Zoe Brain

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, November 30, 2007

The Political Wars on Science

Much has made recently of a supposed “conservative war on science” with the global-warming controversy as a centerpiece. The right side of the political spectrum has responded with the traditional “I know you are but what am I?” and claimed there's a “liberal war on science” with the IQ controversy as a centerpiece. I am very dubious about both sides.

On the one hand, there are theoretical and empirical reasons to believe global warming is both anthropogenic and significantly deleterious and there are also theoretical and empirical reasons to believe group differences in measured IQ are both genetic and important. On the other hand, there were theoretical and empirical reasons to believe similar ideas in the past (for both sides) that turned out not be the case. In addition, some of the most fervent advocates for the claims are would-be totalitarians, which makes adopting the ideas much riskier than skepticism.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

That Monolithic Pro-Life Movement

The two most fervent pro-lifers running for President this year are Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul. Do they agree on anything other than abortion?

Where Did Conservatives Get the Idea that Immigrants Are a Fifth Column?

They got it from liberals, of course. For example, liberalrob (a commenter on this post of Megan McArdle):

Leaving aside the estimated 12 million poor who successfully came over our impervious borders at the current moment (that'd be a pretty respectable army if some bright boy gave them all guns, wouldn't it?), let me borrow a phrase from our current Vice President and say that that is pre-9/11 thinking. No, the angry poor don't currently have a massive armada of ships poised to invade our shores. That doesn't mean they might not get one. Look how close Osama is to getting his own atomic bomb; if things fall his way in Pakistan, he just might.

………

And all it takes, really, is the right guy (or gal) to come along and organize those people, equip them minimally, whip them into a frenzy of righteous indignation at their mistreatment, and point them in the right direction. Maybe it sounds preposterous to you that that keeps John Bowe awake at night. It has something of a racist "fear of the brown people" feel to it, I agree; but it also has a kernel of truth to it. Desperate people are susceptible to demagoguery, and few are more desperate than these exploited workers.

On the other hand, it might make more sense to call their bluff. It was a bluff when they warned of a “long hot summer” full of urban riots if Reagan were elected. It was a bluff when they threatened to make the country ungovernable if Bush were re-elected. It was a bluff when they claimed the Israeli crackdown on Palestinians would intensify the terrorism.

The “root cause” of fifth-column activity is the belief that the Establishment will back down in response to intimidation. If it doesn't the fifth column will disappear.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Problem with Ron Paul

The problem with Ron Paul is that his isolationism (discussed here) is annoyingly consistent. A standard liberal thinks “Yankees go home” is a legitimate slogan and “Mexicans go home” is bigotry. A standard conservative thinks the opposite. Ron Paul apparently thinks everybody can go home.

On the other hand, what if your ancestry is partly from one area and partly from another and you'll have to be dismembered to go home? That might explain the support Ron Paul has gotten from opponents of “race mixing.”

Monday, November 26, 2007

Disasters Are Getting Smaller

According to an Oxfam report:

From an average of 120 disasters a year in the early 1980s, there are now as many as 500, with Oxfam attributing the rise to unpredictable weather conditions cause by global warming.

………

The number of people affected by disasters has risen by 68 percent, from an average of 174 million a year between 1985 to 1994 to 254 million a year between 1995 to 2004.

In other words, a typical disaster used to affect nearly 1.5 million people but now affects only around half a million.

What could explain this pattern of more but milder disasters? Could Oxfam be counting smaller disasters? No, that couldn't be it. They are unselfish and they are believed by people wearing “Question authority” buttons so they must be accurate in all respects.

Addendum: Dailypundit points out another math problem here:

Well, lessee. First, an increase from 174 million to 254 million is an increase of 46%, not 70%. (The idiots simply divided 174 by 254 to come up with that ridiculous number.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Downside to Having a Thanksgiving Meal at a Restaurant

A small child in the next booth pointing at my head and saying, “That man has no hair on top of his head!”

This was not a unique occurrence.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Fable for New Urbanists

The Coyote blog post on city planning reminded me of the “New Urbanism” movement. New Urbanism was largely based on Jane Jacob's criticism of compusory suburbanization zoning laws. I think the the following story (grepable version here) is apropos:

A friend, whose family was slightly more affluent than my own in its time, had been condemned to endless piano practice despite the fact that she was virtually tone deaf. Painstakingly, she memorized enough piano compositions of one sort or another to complete the course and then never ceased to bewail the fact that she had not been allowed to have dancing lessons, for it was dancing that she had really wanted to learn.

I said, “At least you won’t make your mother’s mistake with your own daughter.”

“Certainly not,” she said fiercely. “Whether she likes it or not, my daughter is going to dance.”

Explaining the Flynn Effect

It looks like utter fools are refusing to have children:

Had Toni Vernelli gone ahead with her pregnancy ten years ago, she would know at first hand what it is like to cradle her own baby, to have a pair of innocent eyes gazing up at her with unconditional love, to feel a little hand slipping into hers - and a voice calling her Mummy.

But the very thought makes her shudder with horror.

Because when Toni terminated her pregnancy, she did so in the firm belief she was helping to save the planet.

Incredibly, so determined was she that the terrible "mistake" of pregnancy should never happen again, that she begged the doctor who performed the abortion to sterilise her at the same time.

He refused, but Toni - who works for an environmental charity - "relentlessly hunted down a doctor who would perform the irreversible surgery.

Finally, eight years ago, Toni got her way.

At the age of 27 this young woman at the height of her reproductive years was sterilised to "protect the planet".

The descendants of the rest of us will thank you.

This might be enough to compensate for below-average birth rates at the other end of the bell curve.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Data-Compression Speculation

It's a well-known fact that efficient data compression programs produce results that resemble random data. What happens when random data is decompressed?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Know Nukes

It looks like nuclear reactors aren't as dangerous as we thought (seen via The Brothers Judd:

This hard-line stance was partly rooted in history. On Aug. 6, 1945, a US bomber dropped an atomic bomb code-named Little Boy over Hiroshima. The bomb detonated at an altitude of 600 meters (about 2,000 feet), directly above the center of the city and the resulting fireball, generating temperatures in excess of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, swept away all of downtown Hiroshima, killing 140,000 people. Three days later, a second atom bomb was dropped over Nagasaki, killing 70,000.

The more recent meltdown at the reactor in Chernobyl in 1986 reminded the world of the dangers of the atom. The incident was referred to as "nuclear genocide," and the press wrote of "forests stained red" and of deformed insects. The public was bombarded with images of Soviet cleanup crews wearing protective suits, bald-headed children with cancer and the members of cement crews who lost their lives in an attempt to seal off the cracked reactor with a concrete plug. Fifteen years after the reactor accident, the German newsmagazine Focus concluded that Chernobyl was responsible for "500,000" deaths.

………

To answer these questions, the Japanese and the Americans launched a giant epidemiological study after the war. The study included all residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who had survived the atomic explosion within a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) radius. Investigators questioned the residents to obtain their precise locations when the bomb exploded, and used this information to calculate a personal radiation dose for each resident. Data was collected for 86,572 people.

Today, 60 years later, the study's results are clear. More than 700 people eventually died as a result of radiation received from the atomic attack:

  • 87 died of leukemia;

  • 440 died of tumors;

  • and 250 died of radiation-induced heart attacks.

  • In addition, 30 fetuses developed mental disabilities after they were born.

Such statistics have attracted little notice so far. The numbers cited in schoolbooks are much higher. According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, 105,000 people died of the "long-term consequences of radiation."

Will the people who blocked development of nuclear power apologize?

Declare Victory and Retreat

No. That's not a strategy for Iraq, that's the strategy of of people who claimed that research on embryos derived from human fetuses was necessary. As long as they're retreating, we don't have to shout that that part of the ESC research that was necessary could be done on stem cells from animals. (We should whisper it in order to let them know we can counterattack if the retreat stops.)

Some of the opponents of ESC research will also have to retreat since some of them are opposed to life extension in general. I doubt if there are that many of them.

Two Degrees of Separation

I'm sure you've heard of Six degrees of separation. I'm just two degrees away from RMS and Serge Brin:

P.S. Richard Stallman is not the most famous computer scientist who knows me. Serge Brin, co-founder of Google, had two courses from me as an Undergraduate. I definitly wish I had gotten involved with Google early early on since its a good product and it would be nice to be able to contribute to my bank account in this way.
Bill Gasarch and I were both members of the The Science Fiction Forum at Stony Brook in the 1970s.

The Nitwit Interpretation Lives!

The Nitwit Interpretation of quantum mechanics—that you can prevent events from having a definite existence by refusing to perceive them—(discussed here and there) turned out not to be a straw-person argument; it's being put forth apparently seriously by alleged scientists:

The good news is: the longer the universe survives, the better the chance that it will mature into a stable state. We are just beyond the crucial switching point, Mr Krauss believed.

The bad news is: the quantum effect, a truly weird aspect of physics that says whenever we observe or measure something, we reset its clock.

Mr Krauss and colleague James Dent pointed to measurements of light from supernovae in 1998 that provided the first evidence of dark energy.

These measurements might have reset the decay clock of the "false vacuum'' back to zero, back before the switching point and to a time when the risk of catastrophic decay was greater than now, said Mr Dent and Mr Krauss.

They have a little bit of a point in that the absorption of photons from an event will have an effect. On the other hand, it doesn't make a difference if those photons are absorbed by human eyes or by dead matter.

Addendum I: Britain is trying to save the universe.

Addendum II: James Lileks has additional comments.

Addendum III: The Nitiwit Interpretation came from an alleged science reporter and not the scientists themselves.

I'm Reminded of Dayenu

TJIC's discussion of events in Iraq:

Defeat the Baathists? Check.

Find, try, and hang Hussein? Check.

Shut down Iraq as a rogue nation with WMD capabilities? Check.

Lure Al Quaida forces to Iraq, and defeat them? Check.

Discredit Al Quaida through the region? Check.

Scare Quadaffi into coming in from the cold? Check.

Do it all while experiencing effectively zero combat losses? Check.

Achieve Friedman-defined “formal political reconciliation” ? Uh…I dunno…maybe? What does that even mean?

QUAGMIRE ! QUAGMIRE ! FAIL ! FAIL !

reminds me of the Passover hymn Dayenu:

How many levels of favors has the Omnipresent One bestowed upon us:

If He had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against them--Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had carried out judgments against them, and not against their idols--Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had destroyed their idols, and had not smitten their firstborn--Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had smitten their firstborn, and had not given us their wealth--Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had given us their wealth, and had not split the sea for us--Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had split the sea for us, and had not taken us through it on dry land--Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had taken us through the sea on dry land, and had not drowned our oppressors in it--Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had drowned our oppressors in it, and had not supplied our needs in the desert for 40 years--Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had supplied our needs in the desert for 40 years, and had not fed us the manna--Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had fed us the manna, and had not given us the Shabbat--Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had given us the Shabbat, and had not brought us before Mount Sinai--Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had brought us before Mount Sinai, and had not given us the Torah--Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had given us the Torah, and had not brought us into the land of Israel--Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had brought us into the land of Israel, and had not built for us the Beit Habechirah (Chosen House; the Beit Hamikdash)--Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!

Come to think of it, a unified kingdom with a Temple lasted only one generation so I suppose a “formal political reconciliation” wasn't exactly achieved.

Monday, November 19, 2007

More Bullbleep on Depleted Uranium

According to a recent article in The Guardian on alleged health problems caused by depleted uranium:

It is 50 years since Tony Ciarfello and his friends used the yard of a depleted uranium weapons factory as their playground in Colonie, a suburb of Albany in upstate New York state. 'There wasn't no fence at the back of the plant,' remembers Ciarfello. 'Inside was a big open ground and nobody would chase us away. We used to play baseball and hang by the stream running through it. We even used to fish in it - though we noticed the fish had big pink lumps on them.'

Today there are lumps on Ciarfello's chest - strange, round tumours that protrude about an inch. 'No one seems to know what they are,' he says. 'I've also had a brain aneurysm caused by a suspected tumour. I'm constantly fatigued and for years I've had terrible pains, deep inside my leg bones. I fall over without warning and I've got a heart condition.' Ciarfello's illnesses have rendered him unable to work for years. Aged 57 and a father of five, he looks much older.

I then started looking to other descriptions of the same research and found the following:

During the 1960s and ‘70s an estimated 5 tonnes of uranium was emitted into the environment, in a residential area of Colonie, NY, USA. Local residents are concerned that they were exposed to airborne particulate, and have campaigned for a health study. The current research could provide valuable baseline data for such a study.

The researchers led by Professor Randall Parrish collected hundreds of soil and dust samples last July, with the help of local residents and Dr John Arnason of SUNY at Albany. Soils and dusts have been examined using scanning electron microscopy, and reveal micrometer diameter uranium-rich particulate (invisible to the naked eye). These particles may be resuspended and inhaled. The samples have also been analysed by mass spectrometry, revealing contamination several hundreds of times greater than background near source, and trace contamination 35 cm below surface and as far afield as 5.8 km.

Can you see what is wrong here? At a density of 2.8 g/cm3 and a concentration of 4 ppm of uranium, there are over 400 tons of natural uranium less than 5.8 km from the plant up to a depth of 35 cm. If they could identify that trace contamination, the plant must have been in a uranium-free area in the first place.

The Good Side of Red States or the 1950s

According to a recent study:

Perhaps most surprising, the Virginia study found that adolescents who had sex at younger ages were less likely to end up delinquent than those who lost their virginity later. Many factors play into a person's readiness for sex, but in at least some cases sexual relationships may offer an alternative to trouble, the researchers say.
Does that mean that everybody who ridiculed the red-state hypocrites (or 1950s hypocrites) on the grounds there is a higher teen birth rate in red states (and there was a higher teen birth rate in the 1950s) should apologize?

Wait a moment … The higher teen birth rates turned out to be due to married teens. Are the non-delinquents mentioned above also more likely to be married?

On the other hand, this might merely mean that having a sexually-active twin will produce delinquent behavior.

Can Outsiders Make an Impact on Science?

Yep.

Note that he was not crushed by a jealous Physics Establishment. If The Powers That Be don't take your theory seriously, it's not because you're an outsider.

He was exceptional in two ways. He was older than the usual ground-breaking researchers and was outside the academic world for a while. Those two facts might go together. I have noticed that mathematicians who make discoveries at relatively advanced ages (Sylvester, Kronecker, Hausdorff) have often spent a decade or two outside of mathematics research. Maybe a fresh look is what's needed and such a fresh look can be regained.

It's Slow Light

It's now possible “to halt light and bottle it”:

A FUNDAMENTAL law of physics says that nothing can go faster than light, which zips along at around 300m metres a second. But light can also travel at a more leisurely pace, slowed, for example, by air or water. This week a group of researchers led by Ortwin Hess of the University of Surrey, in England, announced a plan to stop light completely and store it, using materials that possess some odd properties. If the plan works, halting and hoarding light in this way could eventually lead to better computers.

If only Bob Shaw were still alive.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Brief Note on “The Outsourced Brain”

David Brooks has attained a state of nerdvana (as Dogbert would put it):

I have relinquished control over my decisions to the universal mind. I have fused with the knowledge of the cybersphere, and entered the bliss of a higher metaphysic. As John Steinbeck nearly wrote, a fella ain’t got a mind of his own, just a little piece of the big mind — one mind that belongs to everybody. Then it don’t matter, Ma. I’ll be everywhere, around in the dark. Wherever there is a network, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a TiVo machine making a sitcom recommendation based on past preferences, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a Times reader selecting articles based on the most e-mailed list, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way Amazon links purchasing Dostoyevsky to purchasing garden furniture. And when memes are spreading, and humiliation videos are shared on Facebook — I’ll be there, too.

I am one with the external mind. Om.

It is a bit eerie how one of the most preposterous cliches of Golden Age science fiction—that of human minds merging into one Overmind—is almost coming true.

What! No Lawsuits?

Those flying imams will have to contend with another precedent:

Robert Byrd, chief of transit police for the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, said passengers on Train No. 108 out of East Chicago told the ticket collector they believed a man on the 6:46 a.m. train was dressed strangely and acting suspiciously.

The man was described as wearing a head piece with a box on the front of it. Passengers said the box had wires sticking out of it. Other wires led down his arm, they reported.

………

The man explained that he was Jewish and was in the middle of reciting his daily morning prayers when the South Shore crew tried to question him.

The box on his head did not contain wires, he said, but rather, leather straps which bind the box to his head. More leather straps bind another box to his arm.

If there were no lawsuits in this case …

Taxi!

That's the best caption for this picture.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Cabinet in Search of a President

It looks like the Republicans have a marvelous cabinet available, but I'm not sure if any of them would be a good President:

  • Secretary of State: Newt Gingrich

  • Secretary of the Treasury: Ron Paul

  • Secretary of Defense: John McCain

  • Attorney General: Rudy Giuliani

  • Secretary of Commerce: Mitt Romney

I suppose I must support Thompson for President; I can't think of an appropriate cabinet post for him.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Really Intellectual Stuff

A recent poll from the Norman Lear Center indicated that liberals watch more television than conservatives. This was cited as evidence that liberals are more broad minded.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Gibberish Equations in a Spoof Article

I'm sure many of my fellow right-wing technophiles have come across discussions of a spoof article purporting to show that global warming could be attributed to benthic bacteria with further flames on how many of us wingnuts were taken in (gloating here, annoyance here and there, and whining here). Much of the discussion is about how the spoof should have been obvious because the alleged mathematical formulas in the article were complete gibberish.

I happen to be an expert on gibberish equations. Those formulas looked like they might have been the result of careless editing in TeX. For example, if somebody who doesn't know what he's doing is told to make sure the first character in the formula

$$A + xyz\over abc - 42$$
is in a calligraphic font, he might turn the formula into
$$\cal A + xyz\over abc - 42$$
which will become:
This resembles the formulas in the spoof article.

Another way formulas can turn into gibberish is if they are converted to MathML but happen to be in the Symbol font, a Mathematica font, or Dingbats. (I've seen it happen.)

Addendum: It should not be too difficult to create a hoax that appeals to the prejudices of the most fervent believers in global warming.

Wait a moment … It's been done.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Why Left-Wing Bloggers Frequently Use Foul Language

Gateway Pundit is discussing the fact that left-wing bloggers are far more likely to use foul language than right-wing bloggers (according to one estimate, by a factor of 18). I suspect it's for the purpose of ensuring they aren't quoted by the right wing.

There is the alternative theory that they regard foul language as part of an exorcism ritual. Say a vulgar word for a body part or a biological function and conservatives will melt, just like the Wicked Witch of the West.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Only Undergrad? Hmmph!

According to the Blog Readability Test (seen via Classical Values and Science After Sunclipse):

cash advance

An Interesting Fact

According to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory:

According to the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP), the average radioactivity per short ton of coal is 17,100 millicuries/4,000,000 tons, or 0.00427 millicuries/ton. This figure can be used to calculate the average expected radioactivity release from coal combustion. For 1982 the total release of radioactivity from 154 typical coal plants in the United States was, therefore, 2,630,230 millicuries.

Thus, by combining U.S. coal combustion from 1937 (440 million tons) through 1987 (661 million tons) with an estimated total in the year 2040 (2516 million tons), the total expected U.S. radioactivity release to the environment by 2040 can be determined. That total comes from the expected combustion of 111,716 million tons of coal with the release of 477,027,320 millicuries in the United States. Global releases of radioactivity from the predicted combustion of 637,409 million tons of coal would be 2,721,736,430 millicuries.

For comparison, according to NCRP Reports No. 92 and No. 95, population exposure from operation of 1000-MWe nuclear and coal-fired power plants amounts to 490 person-rem/year for coal plants and 4.8 person-rem/year for nuclear plants. Thus, the population effective dose equivalent from coal plants is 100 times that from nuclear plants. For the complete nuclear fuel cycle, from mining to reactor operation to waste disposal, the radiation dose is cited as 136 person-rem/year; the equivalent dose for coal use, from mining to power plant operation to waste disposal, is not listed in this report and is probably unknown.

(seen via a comment on Depleted Cranium).

Speaking of Homelessness …

I wonder how many of the people claiming to be concerned about the homeless support the rent controls and growth controls that increase the homeless rate?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Right Color, Wrong Comic Book

Matthew Yglesias has claimed that neoconservative foreign policy is based on Green Lantern comic books. Another green superhero makes even more sense.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I Smell Organic Fertilizer

There's an odor coming from a report from The National Alliance to End Homelessness (according to The New York Times). They're claiming:

Although they make up 11 percent of the adult population, they make up 26 percent of the homeless on any given day, the National Alliance report calculated.
Let's see. We have a not very believable claim that plays to stereotypes of dysfunctional vets in a field with a past history of bullbleep claims. This comes from essentially just one organization but it started a meme that's been going around the blogosphere at the speed of tachyons. This looks like an orchestrated campaign. Blog entries decrying this alleged scandal are a dime a dozen and I want to know who's supplying the dimes.

To think some people think the right wing has a well-oiled “noise machine.” I didn't even hear about the latest campaign by the right-wing noise machine until it was covered by left-wing blogs.

On the other hand, we must recall that the left was right about lead, which is associated with severe brain damage and voting for Democrats.

To make matters worse, even if it is debunked it will resurface at odd times over the next year.

Addendum: Don Surber, as an actual veteran, has more authoritative comments.

Addendum II: M. Simon has some comments on who isn't supporting veterans.

I'm Okay, You're Not So Hot

According to late-breaking news:

While confidence in government has increased modestly in recent years, the public is increasingly suspicious of itself; in the most recent Pew Values Survey, fewer than six-in-ten (57%) say they have a good deal of confidence in the wisdom of the American people when it comes to making political decisions, a seven-point decline over the past decade and a much steeper 20-point decline since 1964.
This might mean that 57% of Americans think they're smarter than the median … unless it means that 57% of Americans get up each morning, look in the mirror, and say “You idiot!”

Credit: I lifted the title of this post from here.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I Think Something Is Missing

News of a study comparing marijuana users who didn't use tobacco with those who used both weeds is starting to go around the blogosphere. I noticed the researchers (at least as far as the abstract is concerned) apparently did not divide non-marijuana users into tobacco using and non-tobacco using groups. To quote from the abstract:

Participants  A total of 5263 students (2439 females) aged 16 to 20 years divided into cannabis-only smokers (n = 455), cannabis and tobacco smokers (n = 1703), and abstainers (n = 3105).

Outcome Measures  Regular tobacco and cannabis use; and personal, family, academic, and substance use characteristics.

………

Conclusions  Cannabis-only adolescents show better functioning than those who also use tobacco. Compared with abstainers, they are more socially driven and do not seem to have psychosocial problems at a higher rate.

Since most of the pot users in the study also used tobacco, it looks like the combined characteristics of both kinds of pot users was probably worse than pot abstainers in general. It might be worthwhile to check if the ability to notice problems like the above is correlated with drug use or absence of drug use.

In case anybody was wondering, I was in college during the drug experimentation era, but I was in the control group.

Couldn't They Pick Different Games?

My first reaction was the same as Paul Hsieh:

I don't think I'd do well at either half of chessboxing.
My second reaction was that I might do slightly better at scrabble-sumo-wrestling.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Instead of Foundation

Apparently, Paul Krugman wanted to be Hari Seldon:

Asked to name his great inspiration, he says: Isaac Asimov's Foundation series--a tale of super social scientists who can accurately pinpoint laws of mass social behavior that allow them to predict, and manipulate, all of human civilization and future history. "That's always what I wanted to be," saith the economist turned pundit. Good luck with that project, Dr. Krugman.
If only he'd read The End of Eternity (also by Asimov) instead. In The End of Eternity, all of history is planned by the Eternals, planners who really are all-wise because they have time travel and can see what the effects of their actions will be, … and they still manage to make a mess of things:
“Any system like Eternity which allows men to choose their own future will end by choosing safety and mediocrity, and in such a Reality the stars are out of reach.”

Another attempt at being Hari Seldon?

Some of the commenters to the Reason article mention that Al-Qaeda is Arabic for Foundation. That shouldn't surprise us. The career of Mohammed is easier to understand if you think of him as a Hari Seldon of the seventh century—trying to create a system that will lead to a Second Empire ….

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Google vs. BoingBoing?

Google's new motto is having effects. I was wondering how many web sites link to BoingBoing and found that a Google search gave zero results.

A Right-Wing Moby?

In 2004, Moby suggested that leftists might infiltrate right-wing web sites:

"You target his natural constituencies," says the Grammy-nominated techno- wizard. "For example, you can go on all the pro-life chat rooms and say you're an outraged right-wing voter and that you know that George Bush drove an ex-girlfriend to an abortion clinic and paid for her to get an abortion.
That explains the reactions I've gotten when I mention that I'm a reactionary wingnut who's in favor of relaxed immigration laws and actually believes Darwin's explanation of the fact of evolution. Infiltration hasn't been effective at injecting leftist memes into conservative minds. It has been effective at closing the minds more tightly.

In 2007, Half-Sigma got the same brilliant idea:

So the key to infiltrating Daily Kos is to pretend to be a liberal. After you establish your liberal credibility by bashing Bush, big corporations, and perhaps alluding to some grand conspiracy involving Haliburton, you can then slip in an heretical comment. Half of politics is group identity rather than actual policies.
That explains the reactions some people have gotten when they mention that they're leftists who are in favor of nuclear energy. Infiltration hasn't been effective at injecting conservative memes into leftist minds. It has been effective at closing the minds more tightly.

By the way, when I tried searching for the phrase “For example, you can go on all the pro-life chat rooms and say you're an outraged right-wing voter and that you know that George Bush drove an ex-girlfriend to an abortion clinic and paid for her to get an abortion,” I got far more hits on Ask.com or Yahoo than on Google. Hmmm … It looks like Google's new motto is “Don't be inclusive.” Maybe they were threatened by a SLAPP.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Humans and Really Really Large Numbers

The following conundrum can be found at Overcoming Bias:

3^^^3 is an exponential tower of 3s which is 7,625,597,484,987 layers tall.  You start with 1; raise 3 to the power of 1 to get 3; raise 3 to the power of 3 to get 27; raise 3 to the power of 27 to get 7625597484987; raise 3 to the power of 7625597484987 to get a number much larger than the number of atoms in the universe, but which could still be written down in base 10, on 100 square kilometers of paper; then raise 3 to that power; and continue until you've exponentiated 7625597484987 times.  That's 3^^^3.  It's the smallest simple inconceivably huge number I know.

Now here's the moral dilemma.  If neither event is going to happen to you personally, but you still had to choose one or the other:

Would you prefer that one person be horribly tortured for fifty years without hope or rest, or that 3^^^3 people get dust specks in their eyes?

I'm reminded of the well-known saying “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” A ratio of 3^^^3 is an extraordinary claim and I'm not sure the evidence needed to establish it can be stuffed into human minds as presently constituted.

Given that any such ratio is currently dubious, one part of the claim or the other is bound to be less certain. I can think of two possible back stories for the decision:

  • We can establish the Union of Dust-Free Socialist Republics that will prevent a calculated 3^^^3 dust specks if we only torture just one dissident for fifty years.

  • We have an anti-dust vaccine ready, but an article in The Journal of Really Dubious Medical Research claims that after it has been used 3^^^3 times, an Alien Space Bat will be attracted to human civilization. It will then kidnap somebody to torture for fifty years.

In the first case, we should stop the torture and in the second case, we should stop the dust.

The really disturbing part

The really disturbing part of the above reasoning (to this Platonist mathematician who's unwilling to be expelled from the Cantorian paradise) is what it implies about axioms of infinity. If human beings are unable to think properly about very large finite numbers, consider how much more we are unable to comprehend infinite numbers …

I'm reminded of the saying “This is not mathematics. This is theology.” (about the more abstract parts of mathematics). There's also the following passage from The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

The car shot forward straight into the circle of light, and suddenly Arthur had a fairly clear idea of what infinity looked like.

It wasn't infinity in fact. Infinity itself looks flat and uninteresting. Looking up into the night sky is looking into infinity—distance is incomprehensible and therefore meaningless. The chamber into which the aircar emerged was anything but infinite, it was just very very big, so that it gave the impression of infinity far better than infinity itself.

On the other hand, if there's anything to Roger Penrose's speculations, maybe we are able to think in terms of infinity … which doesn't explain why thinking in terms of very large finite numbers is so difficult. Maybe the MIPS are infinite but the IO is limited. Maybe after the Singularity, we'll be able to absorb the data needed to make a decision. Maybe I've been using the term “maybe” too often in this paragraph.

One possible way to rehabilitate axioms of infinity is to think of them as establishing the consistency of finite mathematics. A consistent system cannot yield its own consistency but it can prove the consistency of simpler axiom systems, especially when a model of the simpler system is embedded. So the axiom of infinity will establish the consistency of finite mathematics and the power-set axiom will establish the consistency of finite mathematics plus the assumption of the consistency of finite mathematics, etc.

Addendum: If something similar to the above defense of the theological type of mathematics were applied to religion itself, I'm sure it would be regarded as a threadbare excuse at Overcoming Bias.

 
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