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:
Someone who used to be sane (formerly War)
Someone who used to be serious (formerly Plague)
Rally 'round the President (formerly Famine)
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Other interesting web sites:
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Yet another weird SF fan
 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Two Quotes

From Barak Obama:

You didn't build that.
From Carl Sagan:
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Addendum: I'm not as original as I would like to be.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Technology for Big Planet

There's a moderately-common scenario in SF stories: a planet with a nearly-complete lack of iron and other heavy metals. Examples include: Big Planet by Jack Vance, The Man Who Counts by Poul Anderson, The Riverworld series by Philip José Farmer, Tatja Grimm's World by Vernor Vinge. This lack of metals makes it very difficult to start up a technological civilization.

I've been wondering if it is possible to start up a technological civilization on such a world anyway. For example, I think it might be possible to build Stirling engines out of nonmetals. Electricity might be more difficult but it should be possible to make an electrostatic generator. Graphite is somewhat conductive, so given an electrostatic generator and graphite bus bars it should be possible to make an electrolytic cell. The electrolytic cell, in turn, makes aluminum possible.

In short, it should be possible to have at least a mid-20th-century level of technology.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

More on Those Yiddish Curses

There appear to be some new entries in the Yiddish curses for Republican Jews. One of them is the following:

May your only “grandchildren” be cats, and may you be allergic, but may your pharmacist legally refuse to refill your Allegra prescription because it's manufactured by the same company that makes the abortion drug.
I suspect that an all-feline set of grandchildren will be more likely among people who take the following two curses seriously:
May G-d give you a daughter-in-law who is as kind as she is beautiful, as patient as she is rich, as wise as she is devoted, a virtuous woman in every way. And then may a ballot initiative invalidate her marriage to your fat lump Rebecca.
or
May your state outlaw the morning-after pill the day before your daughter comes home from the NFTY convention.

La Ronde

According to C. N. Parkinson (earlier discussed here), socioeconomic classes are recycled by a tendency for the top of the ladder to adopt downwardly-mobile habits and the bottom of the ladder to adopt upwardly-mobile habits.

Hanna Rosin's recent article on the “hook-up” culture (discussed here) accidentally provided something resembling evidence:

About two-thirds of the students came from what they called “more privileged” backgrounds, meaning they had financial support from their parents, who were probably college-educated themselves. A third came from less privileged families; they supported themselves and were probably the first in their family to go to college.

………

The most revealing parts of the study emerge from the interviews with the less privileged women. They came to college mostly with boyfriends back home and the expectation of living a life similar to their parents’, piloting toward an early marriage.

The women from less-privileged backgrounds were the upwardly-mobile and those from more-privileged backgrounds were the downwardly-mobile. I suspect the most chaste women were those that transferred out of the party school to a real university and were lost to the study.

In related news, the lowest abortion ratios in New York City (as of 2009) could be found in zip code 10282, otherwise known as the “1 percent.” (It edged out the Orthodox Jewish district 11219 by a statistically-insignificant amount.)

Debate Wanted

I think a debate is needed between Hanna Rosin (who claims that the “hookup culture” is empowering women) and Kay S. Hymowitz (who pointed out that the “hookup culture” is most prominent among women who aren't exactly empowered).

I think there's a lack of control groups. Ms. Rosin looked at women who “hooked up” and appeared to be getting ahead. As far as I know, she didn't look at females who didn't get to college in the first place (who are even less likely to marry and are more likely to abort or give birth out of wedlock) or the dissenting virgins (who might also be getting ahead). The closest approximation to a control group were those women who had boyfriends back home (who might have started “hooking up” even earlier).

I won't more than mention the sample size of 53.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Good Heavens

My viewers have more than doubled over the past two days, owing to my my response to Yiddish curses for Republican Jews.

Since “the customer is always right,” I'll add some more analysis (this time serious instead of snarky). One of the curses is:

May you live to a hundred and twenty without Social Security or Medicare.
Social Security is supposedly necessary to keep great-grandparents from starving to death and Medicare is supposedly necessary to keep great-grandparents from dying of illness. Presumably reaching a hundred and twenty in the first place meant you didn't need them. I'm reminded of the following William F. Buckley quote:
The economic model in capitalism is that a living wage must be paid in order for an economy to function. Mr. Carey insisted that part-time workers for United Parcel Service earned ``too little to live on,'' which prompts the question, Why aren't they dead?
It looks like the curse list was devised by people who listed mindless cliches with no evidence of thought or other mental activity.

What does this say about all the people repeating to each other that the curse list is “brilliant”?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

An Armed Student Would Feel Safe

Jerry Peterson has an armaments policy:

CU physics professor Jerry Peterson -- speaking for himself Monday, not the faculty group he leads -- said he wants his students to feel safe to engage in classroom discussions that could be controversial.

"My own personal policy in my classes is if I am aware that there is a firearm in the class -- registered or unregistered, concealed or unconcealed -- the class session is immediately canceled," Peterson said. "I want my students to feel unconstrained in their discussions."

Won't armed students be unconstrained in their discussions?

Besides, violent nerds tend to prefer hammers, knives, or bombs.

Yiddish Curses for Democratic Jews

Some of the Yiddish curses for Democratic Jews (responding to Yiddish curses for Republican Jews seen via Paul Krugman):
Republican versionDemocratic version
May your child give his Bar Mitzvah speech on the genius of Ayn Rand. May your child give his Bar Mitzvah speech on the genius of Karl Marx.
May you be reunited in the world to come with your ancestors, who were all socialist garment workers. May you be reunited in the world to come with your grandfather, who was a small businessman who voted for Hoover.
May you have a rare disease and need an operation that only one surgeon in the world, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, is able to perform. And may he be unable to perform it because he doesn’t take your insurance. And may that Nobel Laureate be your son. May you have a rare disease and need an operation that only one surgeon in the world, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, is able to perform. And may he be unable to perform it because he doesn’t take government insurance. And may that Nobel Laureate be your son.
May you have a large store, and have it all dismantled by vulture capitalists. May you have a large store, and have it taxed to death by vulture socialists.
May you spend your whole life supporting and voting for and sending money to Israel, and may you one day be actually forced to move there. May you spend your whole life supporting and voting for and sending money to Israel, and may you one day be actually forced to move there. (Wait a moment …)
May you find yourself insisting to a roomful of skeptics that your great-grandmother was “legitimately” raped by Cossacks. May you wish you had never been born.
May your insurance company decide constipation is a pre-existing condition. May you pay twice as much for milk of magnesia because your insurance company was compelled to take your dollars out for a wild night on the town.
May you feast every day on chopped liver with onions, chicken soup with dumplings, baked carp with horseradish, braised meat with vegetable stew, latkes, and may every bite of it be contaminated with E. Coli, because the government gutted the E.P.A. May you waste a ridiculous amount of time responding to an absurd web site only to realize it had been set up by blithering idiots who cannot tell the difference between the E.P.A. and the F.D.A.

Friday, August 24, 2012

File Format for 3D Printing?

If 3D printing is the Wave of the Future, is there an equivalent of PostScript or SVG for 3D?

I was reminded of this by reading of one of the problems of today's 3D printing:

It's interesting to examine the texture up close. It's possible to see the facets from the original Blender model (the round cylindrical parts are actually high-number polygons, so they are faceted when you examine them up close). In other places, the scan lines from the printing process are more obvious -- as in the top of the wheel quad in Figure 16.

I think we'll need Bézier surfaces to achieve atomic smoothness.

Addendum: After a little more reading, I found it's called OpenSCAD.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What Kris Kobach Should Have Said

According to Kris Kobach (somebody I had never heard of until today):

If you really want to create a job tomorrow, you can remove an illegal alien today
That should be: If you really want to destroy a job tomorrow, you can remove an unregulated customer today.


Without Contact with Reality

The title of this post is one of my favorite phrases to describe how leftists will pass a supposed fact from one to another without contact with reality. Congressman Akin showed that we wingnuts do it too.

To Leftists: Your reaction to Congressman Akin's statement is similar to our reaction when we hear you say that the Supreme Court declared that corporations are human beings or that Coca Cola is using up all the phosphorus on Earth or that desalinization will make the sea saltier or …

Monday, August 20, 2012

Never Bring a Knife …

… to a stapler fight:

A robber high on drugs held up a bookies with a kitchen knife - then fled when a female clerk pointed a stapler at him.

Jonathon Ridley, 21, burst into a Betfred shop in Ryton, Gateshead and threatened staff with a knife as he demanded cash.

But when the manager grabbed a stapler and told him to get out, he was taken aback and left without a penny.

Next week, the British government will pass a law requiring background checks before each stapler purchase.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Another Anachronistic Technology Speculation

What if lenses had been invented during the Roman Empire or Republic?

I think they had clear glass by then. If they had microscopes, it might have been possible for Hellenistic philosophers to discover the germ theory of disease. Using telescopes, Rome's military would have been able to see enemy forces long before the enemy can see them.

If Rome had Lensmen…

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Famine, Corn Laws, and Ethanol

According to The Daily Beast, Paul Ryan supports the free-market policies they imagine contributed to the famine in Ireland in the 1840s. The famine was aggravated by export of grain to England even during the famine. That, in turn, was due to the Corn Laws that kept England from importing grain from elsewhere. The Corn Laws were based on the idea that being independent of foreign resources was more important than feeding people.

The present-day equivalent of that policy is the corn ethanol mandate. Paul Ryan opposes it. Maybe it's the Irish in him.

I can hardly wait for Megan McArdle to get back to work.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Possible Reactions to Nationalizing Facebook

According to Philip N. Howard:

…it’s time we start discussing an idea that might seem crazy: nationalizing Facebook.
Possible reactions:
  • Incredulous stare.
  • You cannot use the Ring. It's nature is evil, and those who use it will be consumed by it.”
  • This guy is Canadian. Can we deport him? (No … because we can't use the Ring either.)
  • Can we nationalize The New York Times first? No?
  • Can we at least nationalize Slate first? No?
  • I looked up “nationalize AOL” on Google. I got 7 responses, 6 sarcastic and 1 spam.
  • First it's your guns then it's your library card. (From a Usenet .sig block)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

An Electro-Steampunk Speculation

Could Charles Babbage have created a relay-based computer? Could it have been combined with telegraphs to form a Victorian Internet?

I'm Now on Twitter

Aren't you thrilled?

Invention Wanted: Fenton Silencer

The Fenton Silencer from “Silence Please” by Arthur C. Clarke might be the best way of handling hecklers.

Am I in the Onion World?

First, I read:

As a rising star in Hungary's far-right Jobbik Party, Csanad Szegedi was notorious for his incendiary comments on Jews: He accused them of "buying up" the country, railed about the "Jewishness" of the political elite and claimed Jews were desecrating national symbols.

Then came a revelation that knocked him off his perch as ultra-nationalist standard-bearer: Szegedi himself is a Jew.

WE ARE EVERYWHERE!

Next, I read:

Americans demand Canadian-free shopping at Costco
BLAME CANADA!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Well-Intentioned Law Backfired

Ademo Freeman was convicted of wiretapping for recording police activity. The anti-wiretapping law was probably passed in the first place by people who imagined it would not be used on independent citizens keeping track of possible government abuses. Even the best-intentioned law can go awry.

The Great Bluff

The reason so many people are suspicious of wiretapping and other recording might be due to what I think of as the Great Bluff of the mid-20th century—in which statists convinced people who should know better that technology would always be on the side of the State. As a result, there is a common assumption that wiretapping would only be used by the State and that anti-wiretapping laws could only be anti-authoritarian.

Another instance of the effects of the Great Bluff was C. S. Lewis's opposition to space travel. On the contrary, it might be used to escape the Planners. “God's quarantine regulations” can be used by space travelers to quarantine the State.

This might even account for the belief in some quarters (discussed here) that nuclear energy must be a State technology.

Monday, August 13, 2012

This News Should Be Tweeted

What other medium is more appropriate for news of a forest fire on the Canary Islands?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

There's a New Sound

The sound that's made by worms. In related news:

No one who has heard the sound will ever forget the low, all-night roar created by the munching of thousands of voracious silkworms in a Japanese mountain farmhouse.
(seen via Debunker's Forum).

More Nonsense I Haven't Seen Lately

I've noticed a curiosity about the plutonium-powered Curiosity Mars Rover. It doesn't seem to have inspired much in the way of protests—unlike the plutonium-powered Cassini probe. Where are the kooks of yesteryear?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Answering a Feminist Question

Lizz Winstead asks:

If creating jobs is the number one priority for politicians in this country, why are they so focused on my uterus?
She has a point. The State should not have to pay for Sandra Fluke's uterus.

A Fallacy I Haven't Seen Lately

I just realized that I haven't seen the claim that paying higher wages is good for the economy because it enables workers to buy more in years, possibly decades.

On the other hand, that might be the cue for leftists to revive it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Where Do Libertarians Fit In?

Steve Yegge has divided the programming world into conservative (reliability comes first) and liberal (ease of development comes first). As for where libertarians fit in, I suppose we should prefer a system in which you can do what you want, provided you pay for it. I suppose that would be mostly static typing but all errors are warnings ….

Thursday, August 09, 2012

More Consistent Than It Looks

Many of my fellow wingnuts are highly critical of the supposed hypocrisy of leftists who protest the alleged hate crimes of the Chik-Fil-A management while turning a blind eye towards far worse persecution of homosexuals in the Middle East. This supposed inconsistency becomes more understandable once you realize that the fundamental principle of leftist thought isn't “defend dissenters” or “be fair to the poor” or even “progress.” The fundamental principle of leftist thought is “follow the crowd.” (The progress part comes in when they try to save time by getting ahead of the crowd.)

The persecutors of gays in Iran, etc. are thought to be following the local crowd and are thus acceptable. The Chik-Fil-A managers are thought to be dissenting from the crowd and are thus unacceptable. Similarly, a politician who opposed gay marriage a few years ago was acceptable then because he was following the crowd at the time, provided he has changed his mind since.

The ideal leader of the left is, of course, President Everybody.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A Near Miracle

Menachem Cohen has been compiling a definitive edition of the Hebrew Bible:

Poring over thousands of medieval manuscripts, the 84-year-old professor identified 1,500 inaccuracies in the Hebrew language texts that have been corrected in his completed 21-volume set. The final chapter is set to be published next year.
Speaking as somebody who started working in publishing before the days of word processors (and if you don't believe me I shall hit you with my slide rule), in my professional opinion this is a nearly-miraculous degree of accuracy for something that was hand copied for centuries.

Not an Argument against Vouchers

According to Mother Jones, school vouchers have paid for textbooks that Mother Jones readers disagree with. On the other hand, I regard the claims in their examples 7, 8, 9, 13, and 14 as plausible.

Even if you accept the claim that the examples are idiotic (I agree on example 11), if they didn't have a voucher system each school district in Louisiana would be one election away from fundamentalists taking over. There's also the minor problem that government schools also teach absurd stuff (back-up evidence seen here) and fail to correct left-wing fallacies.

There's an even bigger problem: When all schools are run by one organization, everybody will be making the same mistakes. When schools are run by many different organizations, any fallacies stuffed in “young skulls full of mush” can be corrected after graduation by people who learned better.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Experiment Supposedly Refuting Free Will

didn't. I won't more than mention that this research is noted for small sample sizes.

Me to determinists: Nyaaahhhh, nyaaahhhh, nyaaahhhh, nyaaahhhh, phphphphtttt!!!!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Statue of James Holmes Found

The resemblance between James Holmes and a 3000-year old statue is uncanny.

ObSF: Carmody Overlark and Kar-ibn-Mod in Fourth Mansions by R. A. Lafferty.

The Most Astounding Aspect of the Chik-Fil-A Brouhaha

… is that Mike Bloomberg turned out not to be the most fascist mayor in the U.S.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Can't Both Sides Lose?

It's a UN vs. UN fight.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Does This Mean Everything Else Is Worse?

According to government propagandists:

But universal public education still stands as one of America’s most successful government programs.
In other words, everything else is worse.

That reminds me … I recently realized that the goals of socialized medicine proponents can be stated quite simply: They aim to do to medicine what they have already done to education.

“Thirty Ghosts” and Statistical Significance

I'm sure my fellow sf fans are familiar with the following Arthur C. Clarke quote (I was reminded of this by The Omega Point (seen via Reality Carnival)):

Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. Since the dawn of time, roughly a hundred billion human beings have walked the planet Earth.
By now it's down to fifteen ghosts (one of them is Clarke's). In other words, the claim “All men are mortal” is no longer established to better than a 95% confidence.

Is this an argument against the usual treatment of statistical significance?

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

How Did the Inca Empire Have a Stable Economy without Markets?

IO9 asks the above question. I'll answer it with another question: Who says their economy was stable?

The Inca regime became an empire less than a century before it was overthrown by Spanish adventurers … and was in the middle of a civil war when the Spanish arrived. Maybe it was about to fall apart on its own. We don't know what kind of shortages they had but, judging by present-day attempts at evading markets, they almost certainly had shortages.

They didn't have a written language, so we cannot read any equivalent of Dr. Zhivago or The Gulag Archipelago. What little we do know comes from Spanish sources. The Spanish regime was almost as fascist as the Incas and might not have been inclined to preserve records of a similar failure.

 
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