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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Yet another weird SF fan

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Extraterrestrials and Calculus

One of the odder parts of the background for David Brin's Uplift series is that the Galactic civilization does not use calculus. They regard it as as something from a primitive people. According to the Niss machine in Infinity's Shore:

The result? A mix of the brilliant and the inane. Abstract differential analysis and cabalistic numerology. Algebra, astrology, and geometrical topology. Much of this amalgam was based on patently absurd concepts, such as continuity, or aptly named irrational numbering, or the astonishing notion that there are layered infinities of the divisibly small.
On the other hand, there are mathematical results about plain ordinary finite numbers that cannot be proved using finite number theory. Presumably, the Galactics would not know those theorems.

On the gripping hand, Goodstein's Theorem and similar results can be proved using second-order number theory. Second-order number theory also turns out to be as strong as the complex number system when exponentiation and complex conjugation are included. So if you object to Cantorian set theory but accept complex numbers, you can still prove Goodstein's Theorem, etc.

Devising such a proof will be left as an exercise for the reader.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The 2012 Presidential Election

If the 2012 Presidential Election is between Obama and a creationist … can I move to Australia? (Canada is a bit too close.)

My Science Debate question might come in handy during the primaries.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I Disagree with the Consensus

According to John Quiggin (seen via Winds of Change):

In one sense, the blogosphere has reached a near-universal consensus on climate change. Everyone who follows the issue at all closely agrees that there is no real debate. Instead, it's generally agreed, we have a situation where (1) a large body of people devoted to serious scientific research is confronted by (2) pushers of silly Internet talking points who are ideologically motivated, financially driven or just plain delusional . The only disagreement is which group is which.
I disagree with the consensus!

I see a large body of people devoted to serious scientific research confronted by another large body of people devoted to serious scientific research. Both sides resemble another couple of groups, but those consist of pushers of silly Internet talking points who are ideologically motivated, financially driven or just plain delusional.

In other words, the global-warming crisis people resemble (at a distance) anti-nuclear activists and, to make matters worse, are unwilling to criticize them. At the same time, the global-warming non-crisis people resemble (at a distance) creationists and, to make matters worse, are unwilling to criticize them.

My usual position is to be suspicious of people saying “they say” instead of “it is.” I was inclined to be on the “global warming isn't a crisis” side until the anti-warming people came up with their own version of “they say.” Clearly we need to take crisis measures. I recommend more nuclear power, burying carbon in landfills, and covering the oceans with reflective plastic.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The American Community Survey

The Census Bureau eventually took my ACS (mentioned here) over the phone. I was mostly polite although at one point there was the following exchange:

Me: Are you legally forbidden to use common sense?
Them: These questions were written by Congress.
Me: I take that to be a ‘yes.’

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Our Nuts vs. Their Nuts

Our nuts were partly right. For example, in a comment last August on the Paleo-Future blog, Mark Plus wrote:

The right's version of the doomsaying seems to attract less notice, and it usually involves finance: Social Security, Medicare, the Federal Reserve System, fiat money, regulations on business, etc. will allegedly cause a financial apocalypse. You can find warnings of this sort going back to at least the time of the New Deal, but for some reason their proponents don't attract the criticism and ridicule directed towards neo-Malthusians usually associated with the political left.
I still think our nuts were exaggerating, but they no longer look absurd.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Brief Note on Darwin Day

Last Thursday, we celebrated the 200th birthday of a man who had a revolutionary idea that overturned Establishment theories and … didn't rush into print with it. He didn't say “I am the Wave of the Future and must be right!” He didn't say “THEY are trying to suppress my ideas, so I must be right!” Instead, he collected the evidence needed to start testing the theory.

Maybe we can learn from his example.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Another Look at the “Doomsday Argument”

One way to look at the “Doomsday Argument” (detailed explanation here) is to consider the information content of the news that we are in the first trillionth (or some similar reasonable fraction) of humanity. It is around 40 bits. That means we should not be surprised at such news if there are more than 40 bits that indicate we are in the first trillionth of humanity. There are more than 40 bits pointing in that direction.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Starbucks Saves the World!

I recently posted that if global warming can be controlled by carbon burial, then we can control it by overcooking food and throwing it out. More recently, I've seen Starbucks coffee described as charcoal-fired mulch. If Starbucks burns its coffee grounds to the point of non-biodegradability and then throws them out, could they be alleviating global warming? Is Starbucks responsible for the halt in global warming in the past decade?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

If You Really Want to Be Ecologically Responsible

Please learn some physics. Otherwise, you might sound like this lady (seen via a comment on Coyote Blog):

Beth Barnes, 29, who works for the Kentucky Bar Association, unplugged the refrigerator in her apartment in Frankfort last May to be “a little radical,” she said. After reading online comments from others without a fridge, she learned she could move condiments to a pantry, and that butter can remain unrefrigerated for a week or more. The main concern was how to store dairy products, a major part of her diet.

Ms. Barnes decided to use a cooler, which she refilled daily during the summer with ice that she brought home from an ice machine at her office.

A small fridge might save energy. Keeping a fridge a little warmer might save energy. Cooling food with ice from an ice machine will only save energy if the ice machine is powered by pixie dust and unicorn flatulence.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Fixing the Undercount, Cui Bono?

Many of my fellow wingnuts (for example, in the comments here) have noticed that the proposed move of the Census Bureau from the Commerce Department to the White House might mean a more energetic attempt to count illegal aliens and have concluded that means it's about turning the government over to the illegals. I'm a bit dubious. The illegal aliens don't vote and even the second generation is too busy earning a living to engage in political activity. I think this is about extending the power of citizens living nearby.

In order to figure out how people living a few miles away from illegal aliens are likely to vote, we must recall that recent immigrants tend to do jobs that used to be done by adolescents. In other words, they will have the job best opportunities in areas with lower birth rates. Another way to look at it is that counting illegal aliens will amplify the voting strength of voters in areas with high abortion rates.

You can think of this as a way to delay the “Roe Effect” by providing a substitute next generation. In some ways, this is even better than a next generation since the next generation might disagree and dilute the Left vote whereas the illegal aliens aren't voting at all.

The one problem with this scheme is that the second and third generations will be able to vote and might not agree with the Left. So if leftists suddenly stop supporting the policy of automatic citizenship for everybody born in the U.S., don't be surprised and especially don't believe that that's a right-wing victory.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

We Already Knew Dr. Slackenerny Is a Procrastinator

If he weren't, he would have thrown up several frames earlier.

A Speculation on the Origin of the Housing Bubble

I recently realized that the jobs most at risk in the current recession are those that were thought to be least at risk a decade ago. For example, the two most common worries were that your job would be outsourced to the Third World or that the financial people would take over and lay off everybody. In order to avoid those fates, some people decided to get jobs fixing up houses on the grounds that house repair could not possibly be sent offshore. Some of them graduated to buying houses, fixing them up, and flipping them. Others decided to join the financial industry on the grounds that they'd be doing the laying off instead of being laid off.

The bright side of this is that the recession only has to undo a little over a decade of rumor-based bad career decisions, so the recession shouldn't be that severe.

Another lesson: If stuff that looked immune yesterday is most at risk, maybe a government job isn't the best choice.

Geeky News

The port of Castle Wolfenstein to 5K of Javascript does not work in the latest version of Firefox, but it does work in Opera.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Pope's Official Opinion

Judging by the Pope's recent reinstatement of the four excommunicated bishops (discussed here and there), the official position of the Roman Catholics is that it is possible to be a d@mn fool without being a damned fool.

Addendum: I wonder if some members of the Society of St. Pius X are antisemitic because we Jews go a lot further than they do and they regard us as competition.

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