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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E-mail address:
jhertzli AT ix DOT netcom DOT com

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My other blogs
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
Boing Boing
Debunkers Discussion Forum
Deep Space Bombardment
Depleted Cranium
Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Magazine.
Foreign Dispatches
Good Math, Bad Math
Greenie Watch
The Hand Of Munger
Howard Lovy's NanoBot
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
Respectful Insolence
Seriously Science
The Speculist
The Technoptimist
Tools of Renewal
XBM Graphics
Zoe Brain

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

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Headlines Sound More Worrisome When Combined

Machine machinations: Smart robot capable of hunting for its own "food"

These Robots Love Meat

They've already started combining the ideas (seen via Accelerating Future).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Who Has Been Running Wall Street Anyway?

While rereading Malcolm Gladwell's description of Ivy League admittance policies (earlier discussed here), I noticed the following passage on the effects of athletic scholarships at “elite” universities:

Male athletes, despite their lower S.A.T. scores and grades, and despite the fact that many of them are members of minorities and come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds than other students, turn out to earn a lot more than their peers. Apparently, athletes are far more likely to go into the high-paying financial-services sector, where they succeed because of their personality and psychological makeup.
Hmmmm… Preventing this kind of nonsense in the future might be as simple as abolishing athletic scholarships. (Also see this analysis of “Chet.”)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reverse Counterfactuals

Mencius Moldbug has speculated:

If we want to get really imaginative, we can imagine what I call a "reverse counterfactual." First, imagine that the military dice had fallen otherwise and the American Rebellion was suppressed. Second, perform the standard counterfactual exercise of imagining what an intact British Empire would look like in 2009. Third, imagine the counterfactual universe invents some device that can send invisible observers into our 2009, and make a documentary for the edification of the Imperial audience - showing this awful alternate 2009, in which the Massachusetts disturbances of the 1770s were not quashed with firm, manly vigour.
Let's consider what those documentaries would have said at various times in the past:
  • 1860: The American Republic has failed and is breaking up into its constituent parts.
  • 1933 or 1971: The economic system encouraged by the notorious Whig Adam Smith has failed and is being replaced by an economy guided by the better class of people.
  • 1980: The currency of the American Republic is becoming worthless; it is under the threat of nuclear annihilation by people who have taken revolutionary rhetoric even further than they have; most of the young people can make their lives tolerable only with euphoriant chemicals; and the American habit of allowing the lower classes to be armed has produced a crime epidemic.
  • Last summer: Adam Smith's America is sending its wealth overseas to economic systems run by a land-owning nobility because of its attachment to the idea that the lower classes have some kind of right to move pointlessly from place to place.
It's easy to come up with a reverse counterfactual documentary. It's less easy to explain why today's reverse counterfactual should be taken any more seriously than a past counterfactual.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Save the World with Landfills and Nukes

According to James Lovelock (the inventor of a large fraction of “green” cliches):

Most of the "green" stuff is verging on a gigantic scam. Carbon trading, with its huge government subsidies, is just what finance and industry wanted. It's not going to do a damn thing about climate change, but it'll make a lot of money for a lot of people and postpone the moment of reckoning. I am not against renewable energy, but to spoil all the decent countryside in the UK with wind farms is driving me mad. It's absolutely unnecessary, and it takes 2500 square kilometres to produce a gigawatt - that's an awful lot of countryside.
On the other hand, he says there is something we can do to reverse the CO2 accumulation now:

There is one way we could save ourselves and that is through the massive burial of charcoal. It would mean farmers turning all their agricultural waste - which contains carbon that the plants have spent the summer sequestering - into non-biodegradable charcoal, and burying it in the soil. Then you can start shifting really hefty quantities of carbon out of the system and pull the CO2 down quite fast.

In other words, we need landfills … full of non-biodegradable stuff. We need nukes to stop putting CO2 into the air and landfills to reverse it (should that turn out to be necessary).

Wait a minute … Weren't we well on the way to a nuke-and-landfill based economy before the d@mn hippies interfered?

Meanwhile, I intend to do my part to save the world. I'll overcook something and throw it in the garbage.

Addendum: Australians are doing their part.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Starbucks Wants Us to Volunteer

Starbucks wants us to volunteer for national service (seen via TJIC):

What if you gave 5 hours to help your community?

What if we all did?

Join the call for national service. Pledge 5 volunteer hours and we’ll salute you with a free Tall brewed coffee.

In related news, it's possible to become a pro-life community organizer.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Out of What Bodily Orifice Did They Pull That Headline?

Why did an article on the Obama team in Washington have the headline “Revenge of the Nerds”? I have no reason to believe there are any Libertarians in this administration.

The Left Reinventing Conservatism Again and Again and …

It's getting to be a habit with them.

The latest instance is George Monbiot (seen via Bng Bng) coming up with the same idea, allowing competition in currencies, that Friedrich Hayek had decades earlier.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This Historic Moment

This was bound to happen someday, but it occurred sooner than I had expected.

We finally have a President who's younger than I am.

This wouldn't have happened if McCain had been elected.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Useful Philosophy?

Making philosophy useful has implications that go beyond the actual uses. Being useful is one of the best ways to ensure that you aren't fooling yourself.

That reminds me … My reaction to fractal geometry was that it was evidence that the more abstract, apparently irrelevant, parts of mathematics were real. (You mean we can actually do something with this?) It reminded me of the scene in The Incomplete Enchanter when Harold Shea realized that he was a warlock.

Suspend Your Disbelief?

Peggy Noonan asked us to suspend our disbelief. I'm reminded of J. R. R. Tolkien's review of Puss-in-Boots on stage: “As it was, though done with some ingenuity of lighting, disbelief had not so much to be suspended as hanged, drawn, and quartered.”

Thursday, January 15, 2009

More Evidence That the '70s Are Back

One reason I'm reluctant to enter the local Whole Foods supermarket is that it reminds me that the 1970s are back. For example, on my most recent foray behind enemy lines I saw the product described here:

Introducing HEMP BLISS the world's first certified organic hempmilk.

In case anyone was wondering, if that reaction means I support the War on Some Drugs, it does not. For one thing, the War on Some Drugs is an effective way to get druggies to vote. Potheads in particular are at their most dangerous in the voting booth.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Happened to …

Jews for Life?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Real Life vs. Calculus?

According to Arnold Kling:

The Obama Administration is being populated with outstanding academics, like Larry Summers and Cass Sunstein. It is not surprising that the academic world is expressing a lot of confidence in giving them huge amounts of power. These are people who are more than three standard deviations higher in IQ than average, but I still suspect that this leaves them more than three standard deviations below what would be needed to justify giving these technocrats $10,000 from every household in America to spend at the their discretion (I'm adding the remainder of the TARP to the stimulus, since it is getting harder and harder to distinguish the two concepts from one another). The folks working on the stimulus package are not people who have spent time in middle management in a large organization, where you see how life differs from a calculus problem or a term paper.
Speaking as a mathematician, I can tell you that, not only does real life not resemble calculus problems, but calculus problems don't resemble calculus problems. That is, mathematical problems that are studied because they're interesting don't resemble the artificially-simple problems fed to college students.

For example, when I was a college freshman, I figured that deriving a closed-form expression for the length of arc of a circle was simple. I then figured that deriving a similar expression for the length of arc of an ellipse should be within reach. It turned out to be a bit more complicated than that. (Actually, I covered several sheets of paper with increasingly-complex formulas before I gave up and realized that there was far more to the problem than I had thought.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Casus Belli for Interstellar War?

At the Volokh Conspiracy and Samizdata, there are discussions of what uncontroversial aspects of today's society will seem barbaric a century from now. Maybe we can get around our mundane prejudices by considering displacing the controversy in space instead of time. What uncontroversial aspects of human society will seem barbaric to extraterrestrials?

There is the obvious candidate of intelligent herbivores being horrified at eating meat. I once came up with the idea of intelligent autotrophs horrified at eating anything (also see Permanence by Karl Schroeder).

I recently thought of another possibility: What if we encounter intelligent single-celled creatures who think of multicellular creatures as horrible totalitarian regimes? What if we're invaded by beings seeking to liberate our blood cells?

On the Way Back, II

I have uploaded a revised Hilbert curve file to my Netcom/Earthlink site.

You can find a funeral for Microsoft's support for XBM here.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

An Ill Wind

The Madoff scandal has an upside. Some pro-abortion organizations have lost money (seen via NRO's Corner):

Picower was one of a handful of foundations willing to stick their necks out and significantly fund the three organizations that handle virtually all major reproductive rights-related litigation and legal advocacy in the United States. Now the Center for Reproductive Rights needs to make up a $600,000 shortage in 2009; Planned Parenthood is out $484,000; the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project is off $200,000.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

On the Way Back

I have devised a way around the Dynamic Inline Image problem discussed here and I have uploaded a revised circle limits file to my Netcom/Earthlink site. On the other hand, it only works with Firefox.

Addendum: According to Wikipedia:

XBM support was removed from Internet Explorer 6, although it is still supported in Firefox and some other browsers, including Safari and Opera.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

I Think I've Got It

The following should be MathML in both Firefox and Explorer+MathPlayer:

Did it work?

Addendum: It works in Opera. It doesn't work in Chrome or Safari.

Monday, January 05, 2009

This Is a Test

This is MathML in forms suitable for both Firefox and Explorer:
Okay. It's a simple example.

This Is Bleeping Annoying

According to the Inline Dynamic Image Test, the javascript in the XBMgraphics blog doesn't work with the version of Firefox (3.0.5) on my computer.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

We Need a Protest Song …

… about the annoying forms we supposedly have to fill out.

There are some protests on both the right and the left but we need a song to go with the protests.

Maybe I'll do something symbolic, but I don't know how I'd get my cat to lick the envelope.

An Alternative to the “Alternative” Slogans

Instead of “Think globally, act locally,” I recommend:

Think where you act
Act where you think

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Smugness Watch

According to Jane's Law:

Jane's Law: The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.
We can see an example of smugness here. They're assuming that they will be in power forever and that “nationally required science standards” will not be written or rewritten by a Huckabee appointee.

One type of smugness that I recall from the Clinton era (but which I haven't seen yet this time) is the “all-or-nothing” argument: that if we accept anything said by academics or the mainstream media, we must accept all of it. For example, anyone who is skeptical that anthropogenic global warming is some kind of crisis cannot cite weather reports because the weather reports come from the same Establishment. I'm still looking for this.

As for insanity … I'll keep an eye on a few left-wing blogs. I'll assume they'll mention nine out of every five examples of actual insanity.

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