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

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Debate Wanted

I would like to see a debate between Edwin Lyngar (who supposedly quit libertarianism because it was too reactionary) and the ex-libertarians described here:

Many reactionaries are post-libertarians, i.e., not libertarians. A rite of passage into reaction/neoreaction is the renunciation of libertarianism. I was never a libertarian, so it’s taken me a bit of time to fully understand the relationship between libertarianism and neoreaction, but I understand it now. Libertarians make personal freedom axiomatic, and refuse to consider the negative externalities of that freedom to traditional structures like society and the family. This is anathema to reactionaries.
Is libertarianism too reactionary or not reactionary enough?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Is Comedy a Weapon of the Left?

Is comedy a weapon of the left or is it simulated comedy? I've noticed that the audience at left-wing comedy programs tend not to laugh at the PC nonsense. They may applaud; the may cheer; they rarely laugh. They usually reserve laughter for stuff that's actually funny.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Maxwell House Is Next, Part II

A few years ago, I mentioned that caffeine is associated with arrhythmia. More recently, I've developed a case of occasional arrhythmia and I've found that cutting back on caffeine seems to help. Amazing… a snarky remark that turned out to be useful.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Yield from Serpentinisation

You may have read of hydrogen produced by serpentisation as an energy source. I doubt if it will be that important; the yield is very low. The reaction is:

9Mg2SiO4 + 3Fe2SiO4 + 14H2O → 6Mg3Si2O5(OH)4 + 2Fe3O4 + 2H2
In other words, it will take 468 tons of rock to produce one ton of hydrogen.

I wonder if it's possible to get usable energy from pyrite? I think the yield will be higher.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Another Brief Note on the Duck Dynasty Flap

On the one hand, A&E firing Phil Robertson is not a violation of his freedom of speech.

On the other hand, the people cheering for it do think similar actions are violations of freedom of speech. They don't think it's a violation in this case because they also think it's not censorship when they do it.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Brief Note on the Duck Dynasty Flap

My first reaction was that being offended at the comparison between homosexuality and bestiality is a clear example of intolerance of animal rights, the next logical step in political correctness.

My second reaction was that animal rights has been the next logical step in political correctness for over a century. It's the ideology of the future and it always will be.

A century ago, if you told someone that in 2013 someone in the duck-hunting supplies business would be in trouble with progressives, the conclusion would be that the vegetarians were after him.

Another conclusion is that “evolving standards” don't always evolve in the direction anticipated. I suspect this controversy will be seen in the future as a triviality.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Brief Note on AI

Paranoid speculations on AI are getting into the news again. I find those a bit hard to believe.

A large fraction of the speculations on AI come from people who imagine that a very large and complex software project can be completed without a very prolonged debugging period. In other words, I suspect it came from the Obamacare programmers.

A specialized software project (for example, a project to dismantle desert islands) might not need such a long debugging period.

On the other hand, the dangers of an AI might resemble the dangers of a universal State. On the gripping hand, all earlier releases of Leviathan have crashed.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Is This a MathJax Bug?

The \shoveleft and \shoveright control sequences don't seem to work even though they're included in the documentation.

The following:
should look like:
(albeit more compact) but instead looks like:

Monday, December 16, 2013

Less Wrong vs. Less Wrong

A few years ago, we saw the following on Less Wrong:

The short answer: it's very much like how a few minutes of philosophical reflection trump a few millennia of human cultural tradition.

More recently, we see:
But when a solid majority of the experts agree on a conclusion, and you see flaws in their statistics, I think the default assumption should be that they still know the issue better than you and very likely the sum total of the available evidence does support the conclusion. Even if the specific statistical arguments youv'e seen from them are wrong.
So … the Less-Wrong training trumps experts in one field but not another? Or are they saying that expert opinion is more certain than statistics but less certain than philosophy? Or is that it's trendy (in some quarters) to believe the people science journalists say are experts but not theologians?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Physics and Transportation Speed

As is well known, the increase in transportation speed characteristic of most of the 20th century came to a halt a few decades ago. This is usually expressed in terms of “What happened to yesterday's dreams?” or even “What happened to yesterday's reality?” To be more specific, there's the common rhetorical question, “If we could put a man on the moon, why can't we put a man on the moon?” (with similar questions about the Concorde, etc.).

From a physics standpoint, you can think of speed as proportional to the square root of energy divided by mass. Since per capita energy use has continued to increase over most of the past few decades (even if not at the pace of the 1960s) and per capita mass use has, if anything, declined, we should expect speeds to continue to increase.

I suspect the stagnation is more illusion than reality. I think average speeds have continued to increase, but the ability of our society to concentrate energy in just one nation or just one project is disappearing. A couple of decades ago, William Gibson said “The future is already here—it's just not very evenly distributed.” Since then it has gotten better distributed.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

What Happens When Speculators Are Banned

A few decades ago, in order to fight a plague of cheap onions, someone who should have worn a helmet while playing football pushed through a law banning onion futures. That law might cause a revolution in India.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Brief Note on the Problem Of Maria

After reading An Update On The Problem Of Maria, I realized that the problem of Maria was solved by a possibly-standard technique for getting rid of troublemakers in abbeys without offending anybody. Governesses for the children of rich widowers might be married after a little while.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Why Does Something Like This Go Viral?

People patting themselves on the back came up the slogan:

When there is a huge solar energy spill, it's called ‘a nice day’
In the real world, when there is a huge solar energy spill, it's called a Carrington Event, one of the most dreaded (among people who know something) possible catastrophes.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

A Brief Explanation of the “Wisdom of Crowds”

Let's compare the median estimate of a crowd with the estimates of individuals. If the median estimate is an underestimate, half of all individuals will be less than the median estimate and thus further away from the truth. There will also usually be some individual estimates above the median that are also further away from the truth than the median. In other words, most individuals will be further away from the truth than the median estimate and similar reasoning applies to overestimates.

On the other hand, a crowd of people who are adjusting their beliefs to follow the crowd will be less accurate than a crowd of people who aren't adjusting their beliefs. The consensus is more accurate only when we don't talk about it.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Now We Know Booze Rots Minds

According to the Bloggs test (discussed here and here), we can use the following heuristic to analyze a study:

  1. Figure out what Joe Bloggs (an average reader) would conclude from the report. If the report was strongly stated, it was probably either written by an activist who was trying to get people to believe that conclusion or by someone who based it on the activists' press releases.
  2. Determine the strongest potential piece of evidence that would point in the same direction. If that evidence were true, the report would have mentioned it.
  3. In the absence of such evidence being mentioned, conclude that it doesn't exist.
According to the New Republic, there are studies that show that infancy and childhood IQ is correlated with drinking more, increased education is correlated with drinking more, and increased adult IQ is correlated with preferring wine to beer. In other words, the studies appear to show that drinking makes one smarter but did not mention the strongest evidence of all: a correlation between adult IQ and total drinking.

Until now, there was the possible excuse that databases of infancy and childhood IQ and education levels were available but databases of adult IQ were not. That excuse is incompatible with the study showing that smarter (or at least more pretentious people) prefer wine to beer.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Question about Stuxnet

The apparent security leak I discussed here might have been the vector for Stuxnet.

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