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

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Other interesting web sites:
Aspies For Freedom
Crank Dot Net
Day By Day
Dihydrogen Monoxide - DHMO Homepage
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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

I'm Disappointed in ScienceDebate

The ScienceDebate team didn't use my questions.

To make matters worse, the questions they did ask are inviting answers along the lines of “send scientists billions of dollars to study the problems.” Such answers are likely to get more support from scientists than they deserve.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Prediction

It's only a matter of time before the left side of the blogosphere starts referring to the well-known Down-syndrome baby Trig Palin as a “future welfare recipient.” It's what you can expect from people who are eager to accuse conservatives of violating conservative principles, when all they're doing is violating leftist stereotypes of conservatives.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Resartus, Google, and Linear Algebra

Mencius Moldbug is trying to help start something called Resartus:

For simplicity, I'll describe Resartus in the present unconditional tense, as though it actually existed and I, not Lex and Daniel, was its designer and administrator. Please remember that neither of these statements is true. The consuls may or may not use any of the ideas below. If you don't like their decisions, please don't complain to me.

Resartus is a social revision engine. … Resartus is designed to complement Wikipedia - a remarkably valuable and useful service, though untrustworthy in general and often malignantly deceptive on controversial issues. Think of it as Wikipedia for controversial material and (perhaps eventually) original research, and you won't be too far off.


A social revision engine exists to help you, the reader, make up your mind about a controversial issue without appealing to external authority. For example, Wikipedia's policy suggests:
Material that has been vetted by the scholarly community is regarded as reliable; this means published in peer-reviewed sources, and reviewed and judged acceptable scholarship by the academic journals.

Material from mainstream news organizations is welcomed, particularly the high-quality end of the market, such as The Washington Post, The Times in Britain, and The Associated Press.
Here at UR, we refer to these fine institutions collectively as the Cathedral. Note that La Wik does not stoop to filling us in as to why we should believe the Cathedral. It is simply infallible, like the Vatican. Om mane padme hum. "Trust the computer. The computer is your friend."

The process by which the "scholarly community" and the "mainstream news organizations" produce their reliable material is quite different from the process by which the Vatican produces its. The claim that the former is infallible - or even nearly infallible, or even fallible but eventually convergent toward the truth - is not one to be scoffed at. The Cathedral is a grand old edifice, a fabulous achievement of Western civilization. It is full of many fine people, many of whom do excellent work. As a whole, I don't trust it at all and I think it needs to go. But this is just my own two cents. If you do trust the Cathedral, you have much less need for Resartus.
One way to accomplish the goal of making it easier to find non-consensus opinions is to start with something like Google. Google will mainly deliver consensus opinions first but minor changes could enable other viewpoints to to be delivered and distinguished from each other and the consensus.

Google is able to deliver consensus viewpoints first by creating a matrix of which pages link to each other and first using linear algebra to find the eigenvector with the largest eigenvalue and then using that eigenvector to rate sites. Apparently, that eigenvector will deliver conventional liberal sites first. If Google (or Resartus) kept track of eigenvectors with the dozen or so largest eigenvalues, and users could select which one they wanted, other viewpoints would be easier to find.

I suppose the largest eigenvalue would be associated with conventional liberal sites, the second component would be associated with conventional conservative sites (also known as “the Great Library of Tlön,” with my earlier comments here), and others would be associated with libertarians, marxists, paleoconservatives, etc. This might even be a remedy for the common idea that, if you are opposed to the consensus view, you must believe in standard conservatism.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

An Engineering Proverb and Top Doctors

There's a well-known engineering proverb: A brilliant engineer is someone who can do for one dollar what any fool can do for two. There's evidence the same principle applies to medicine. According to a recent study (seen via Overcoming Bias):

Patient sorting can confound estimates of the returns to physician human capital. This paper compares nearly 30,000 patients who were randomly assigned to clinical teams from one of two academic institutions. One institution is among the top medical schools in the country, while the other institution is ranked lower in the quality distribution. Patients treated by the two teams have identical observable characteristics and have access to a single set of facilities and ancillary staff. Those treated by physicians from the higher-ranked institution have 10-25% shorter and less expensive stays than patients assigned to the lower-ranked institution. Health outcomes are not related to the physician team assignment, and the estimates are precise. Procedure differences across the teams are consistent with the ability of physicians in the lower-ranked institution to substitute time and diagnostic tests for the faster judgments of physicians from the top-ranked institution.
In other words, Dr. Charles Emerson Winchester III might seem pricy, but he can save you money.

This might seem odd. It's similar to a claim that top-ranked financial advisors cannot beat the market but can perform better first aid.

On the other hand, it's common for X to be recommended on the grounds that it does the important task Y, but Y is done to the same extent anyway, and X instead enables Z. In this case, X is prestigious medical education, Y is healing patients, and Z is saving money. In another example, time-saving houshold appliances don't save time but provide cleaner houses, dishes, and clothes. Similarly, artificial sweeteners don't help people lose weight, but at least they can eat better-tasting food. In yet another example, faster transportation doesn't shorten commutation times but it does enable transportation to neighborhoods with larger backyards.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Instead of Hot-Air Balloons

Instead of hot-air balloons, would it make more sense to use hot-water balloons? After all, steam is lighter than hot air and has more lifting ability.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Warning to Climate Skeptics

Much of the time, climate skeptics sound like the economists covered in this article (seen via EconLog):

“Until society realizes that the flawed, growth-oriented neoclassical lens it has been using to guide economic decisions distorts reality and is leading to an ecological disaster, I am not very optimistic about humanity’s long-term prospects,” he confides.

But after three decades of questioning whether the world can continue to support our consumption habits, Rees has had trouble convincing his colleagues in economics that their economic model needs an overhaul.


Despite her interest in feminist economics, Julie Nelson’s publication record is so impressive that she qualified for tenure at one of the top 30 US university economics departments. But she’s disheartened by the state of mainstream theory.


These accounts are symptoms of a pervasive system of thought control in economics. But no one knows more about how unwelcome ideas are kept from being expressed in economics departments and tainting the minds of curious students than Fred Lee, a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He has documented over a hundred cases where economists who wouldn’t drink the neoclassical Kool-Aid got pushed aside – a problem that began over a century ago when the working classes started to teach themselves Marxist theory.

The rhetorical style is starting to sounds familiar, doesn't it? I don't think we want to sound as nuts as they do.

Addendum: In the course of looking at other comments on the above, I saw a link to the following:

Old professors retired to new pursuits are replaced by new professors pursuing old ideas. The new recruits were carefully screened for their orthodoxy. They studied at leading departments, where they demonstrated their commitment to markets, economic growth, free trade and learned to respect the consumer as king. They were not exposed to other disciplines and they will never read an article published in the natural sciences.
Out of what bodily orifice is he pulling that last assertion?

On the contrary, there's evidence that economics programs might even prefer hard-science majors:

Preparing: Math. The most important thing in admissions is your math background (more than economics itself - I suspect most econ PhD programs would love physics and engineering majors).  You should definitely have multivariable calculus and linear algebra.  Statistics (that is, real statistics from the math department), real analysis and differential equations help too.  You're not really going to use all of it - though it really befuddles you at first, you'll eventually realize that a large part of the math in economics involves taking a derivative, setting it equal to zero and doing a bunch of algebra. Nonetheless, a strong math background - not just the classes, but good grades in them - is vitally important as a signaling device to convince programs that you'll be able to handle the rigors of the first year.
There's even an economics professor with a PhD in physics.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Undecidable “Elementary” Geometry

According to Augustus De Morgan (quoted in A Long Way from Euclid by Constance Reid):

What distinguishes the straight line and circle more than anything else, and properly separates them for the purpose of elementary geometry? Their self-similarity, Every inch of a straight line coincides with every other inch, and of a circle with every other of the same circle. Where, then, did Euclid fail? In not introducing the third curve which has the same property—the screw. The right line, the circle, the screw—the representation of translation, rotation, and the two combined—ought to have been the instruments of geometry. With a screw we should never have heard of the impossibility of trisecting an angle, squaring a circle, etc.
In some ways, the elementary geometry of points, lines, and circles is radically different from elementary geometry including screws. The former is decidable, a fact also covered in A Long Way from Euclid. (Betweeness and congruence can be expressed in terms of lines and circles and vice versa.) The latter, on the other hand, is undecidable. It includes a model for the Peano Axioms: The points on one side of a given point in the intersection of a line and a screw.

This is probably well-known but I haven't seen it anywhere …

Addendum: Mícheál Mac an Airchinnigh had some speculations along these lines over a decade ago:

It seems reasonable to put forward the working hypothesis that there is a geometry of curves which is computationally equivalent to a Turing Machine. Such a geometry of curves we call Geometria

On the other hand, the following claim differs from my result:
One might consider trying to construct geometrical equivalents to essential programming features. For example, it seems reasonable that the spiral ought to correspond to the loop.
In my construction, spirals are more analogous to counters.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Life as a Science-Fiction Story

This portrayal of life in 2008 sounds like something written by a grumpy right-wing SF writer in the mid '70s. (If it were written by a grumpy left-wing SF writer, it would include people dying in the streets from pollution and the excess wealth would go to major corporations instead of indulged kids.)

The biggest differences between reality and the hypothetical SF story is that Britain is the epicenter instead of the United States and it doesn't include a juvenile delinquent being rescued by space industrialization.

The Literati Haven't Changed

In the nineteenth century, a professional wordsmith made an astronomical mistake:

The novels of Sir Walter Scott (who was a contemporary of Gauss) were read eagerly as they came out, but the unhappy ending of Kenilworth made Gauss wretched for days and he regretted having read the story. One slip of Sir Walter's tickled the mathematical astronomer into delighted laughter, “the moon rises broad in the northwest,” and he went about for days correcting all the copies he could find.

In the twentieth century, professional wordsmiths made an astronomical mistake:

Correction: August 16, 2008
An article on Friday about the planned construction of two large solar power installations in California described incorrectly the operation of the solar panels in one, to be built by SunPower. Its panels pivot from east to west to follow the sun over the course of a day —not west to east.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Science Fiction and Reality

From Past Master by R. A. Lafferty:

But owing to his having only one kidney, Paul was now unable to drink water at all.
Overheard in a hospital:
There's some kidney involvement, so I'm not allowed to drink water …

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I'm a Discredited Author and I Approve This Message

The essay I'm Sigmund Freud, and I Approve This Message by Paul Waldman (seen via The Brothers Judd) is not a parody:

Meanwhile, McCain himself was sent out to pose in front of working oil rigs, to testify to his thirst for pulling more black gold from the earth. The message couldn't be plainer: See that itty-bitty, little tire gauge? If you vote for Obama, that's how big your penis is. If you vote for McCain, on the other hand, your penis is as big as this rig, thrusting its gigantic shaft in and out of the ground! Real men think keeping your tires inflated is for weenies.

There may not be a sign tacked to a bulletin board at McCain headquarters reading, "It's the sexual insecurity, stupid," but McCain's team of operatives, many schooled at Karl Rove's knee, know just what to do when an opportunity presents itself. They've been playing this tune for so long, they don't need to look at the sheet music: Our guy is a real man, their guy is a sissy, rinse, repeat.

I was about to call this a non-falsifiable argument until I realized that there was no actual argument. I guess it's a non-falsifiable irrelevance. (I've said that before, haven't I?)

I won't more than mention the fact that Freud is no longer taken seriously in psychology.

For that matter, real conservatives are unimpressed with other attempts at exploiting “sexual insecurity.”

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Left-Wing Young-Earth Creationists?

Apparently, the Obama campaign is planning an anti-nuclear-waste ad for Nevada, presumably on the grounds that the nuclear waste repository might leak. In view of the fact that there was a natural nuclear fission reactor on Earth a billion or two billion years ago and the resulting nuclear waste did not move from its place, the Obama faction must not believe fossil evidence.

On the other hand, maybe they want to appeal, not to all Americans, but to swing voters in purple states. That explains support of ethanol for Iowa and opposition to nuclear waste in Nevada. If they come out in favor of cheese-fueled power stations for Wisconsin, we'll know that their tactic is to appeal to the Bud Johnson vote.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Obama Salute

The Obama salute looks very like a goatse.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Is the Left the Nerd Side of Politics?

Where did the idea that the left is the nerd side of politics come from? Which side of the political spectrum got its prejudices from people who floated through college in a semi-conscious haze and made up for that by getting their ideas from people who were just as stoned? Which side of the political spectrum is opposed to the energy source discovered and maintained by nerds (i.e., nukes)?

On the other hand, there are leftists willing to give credit (although they think it's blame) to right-wing nerds.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Will Cheap Energy Lead to Blowing up the World?

The above question was asked at Marginal Revolution (seen via TJIC):

In Cleveland I posed a variant of the following question: let's say that you can blow up the world if a) you can exceed 1550 on your two main SATs, b) you are willing to spend $50,000, and c) you sincerely wish for world destruction for one month straight.

How long would the world last?

We may someday envy the problems we have now.

I doubt if cheap energy will destroy the world. (By “world,” I mean civilized society in general and not just the mudball we currently live on. Right now, the world is smaller than the Earth but that won't always be the case.) Cheap energy will also mean cheap mass and that can act as protective armor.

For example, the World Trade Center attack involved an energy release on the same order of magnitude as a small nuclear bomb. There's another way to look at this: A structure took a small nuke and nearly survived.

Peak Phosphorus?

The latest bullbleep crisis is “peak phosphorus.” According to the noted troll weev (earlier discussed here):

So we're at a new resource shortage. Global peak phosphorus happened in 1989. Phosphorus can be recovered though, so it isn't too critical, but it is definitely bad for growing grain. We consistently as a planet consume more grain every year than we produce. Eventually those fat stockpiles are gonna hit bottom, and then shit hits the fan. We have already seen tortilla riots in Mexico, and commodities shortages and export controls in nearly half the world.
You can find a debunking of “peak phosphorus” here. (By the way, considering that the stockpiles we're drawing down were probably the result of farm price supports, the alleged food shortage might simply be the result of moving away from a silly policy.)

The really odd thing is that the current alleged phosphorus crisis was apparently passed around from loon to loon for years without coming in contact with reality. A few years ago, I even saw a claim that Coca Cola will use up the world's supply of phosphorus in 40 years:

one exampel, just Coca Cola will whit in 40 years used all fosfor on the earth
I knew the left side of Nuts R Us hated Coca Cola, but this is ridiculous.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Obama's Energy Plan

  • Tax production.
  • Subsidize consumption.
  • Claim this will lead to independence.
Run that by me again?

But wait, he has more constructive plans:

  • Spending 150 billion dollars on allegedly-renewable technology. (Will Joseph Romm approve?)
  • Call for 150 mpg cars and a reduction in electricity demand by the far-off date of 2030.
Okay. He wants subsidies that are called unaffordable when applied to nuclear energy, a plan with a goal date that's considered too far in the future to contemplate when applied to offshore drilling, and a call for 150 mpg cars. That last reminds me of a well-known Shakespeare quote:

I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?

On the other hand, maybe the best analogy is the Underwear Gnomes:
  1. Spend 150 billion dollars.
  2. Energy independence.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Secular Version of “The Great Desecration”

I've been trying to think of an appropriate secular analogy to P. Z. Myers's Great Desecration. I think I've figured out a possible analogy. It is that blasphemy against The State: destroying currency (earlier discussed here). Remember, from the point of view of a secular leftist:

“The march of God in the world, that is what the state is.” — Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
There is a difference between blaspheming the State and blaspheming the Church: The State really is able to burn you at the stake nowadays.

Disclaimer: I am not a believer in either religion under discussion (the Roman Catholic Church or Statism) so I might have misunderstood something.

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