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, May 31, 2014

A Quantitative Way to Look at Global Warming

We can look at global warming in terms of the social cost of carbon. If we translate the claims of the various sides into claims of beliefs about the social cost of carbon, we can translate “97% of scientists agree global warming is a problem” to “97% of scientists agree the social cost of carbon is greater than zero.” This is not an argument against someone claiming that the social cost of carbon is only $10 per ton of carbon. In the other direction, “the activists won't stop until they collapse Western Civilization” can be translated into “the activists won't stop until they impose a carbon tax of over $1000 per ton of carbon.” This is not an argument against someone claiming that the social cost of carbon is $100 per ton of carbon. Can we turn the argument into a discussion of which social cost of carbon is correct?

Disclaimer: It looks like some of the calculations in my last post on the topic confused cost per ton of carbon and cost per ton of CO2. You may want to do your own calculations.

Addendum: An analogy that just occurred to me. You can think of the cap-and-trade vs. carbon taxes controversy as a controversy about dealing with negative externalities by means of commanding that a quota be filled vs. monetary payments. In other words, it resembles the 1960s/1970s controversy of conscription vs. paying enough for a volunteer army (which was a controversy about dealing with positive externalities by means of commanding that a quota be filled vs. monetary payments).

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Read First, Understand Later

I have often found that I now understand something I read or saw years ago and did not understand then. For example:

  • In Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke, Karellen's initial speech was in “English so perfect that the controversy it began was to rage across the Atlantic for a generation.” More recently, I realized the controversy was whether he was using a British or American accent.
  • Prelude to Space, also by Clarke, mentioned “Britain's last millionaire.” At the time, it was expected that confiscatory income taxes would be the wave of the future and eliminate extremes of wealth. (My earlier post on confiscatory income taxes and SF is here.) By the time I read it, it seemed a comment on de-industrialization instead.
  • Yet another Clarke story, “Silence Please” mentions the well-known composer Edward England. At the time, I hadn't heard of Benjamin Britten.
  • The People of the Wind by Poul Anderson mentioned that there was a human precedent for the political structure of the Ythrian Domain but it was a bloody failure. Much later I found that it resembled the constitution of the late, unlamented Soviet Union. (A similar system was used on the planet Alphanor in The Star King by Jack Vance.)
  • In the story “5,271,009” by Alfred Bester, the main character was temporarily restored to sanity by what was called “niacin plus carbon dioxide.” I later realized that it was a justification of smoking tobacco. Niacin is also known as nicotinic acid.
  • In “Will You Wait” by Alfred Bester, the Devil was running for Congress. Alfred Bester's Congressman at the time was John Lindsay.
  • In “The Foundling Stars” by Hal Clement, “‘Nineteen decimals’ had been a proverbial standard of accuracy for well over a century;” and that's because it's 64 bits (currently known as double precision).
  • The ending of “The Cabin Boy” by Damon Knight turned out to be an allusion to a sea chantey I will not repeat here.
  • In Country Lawyer by Bellamy Partridge, the career of a country lawyer included the last will and testament of a lady of ill repute. At the time I read it, I had no idea of what was meant by “Everybody in town knew what she was, thought of course some of the men knew better than others.”
  • In Mathematics and the Imagination by Edward Kasner and James R. Newman, the examples of the common use of the word “probably” included the following:
    Money quickly, abundantly, and mysteriously earned during prohibition (it was judged, without consulting Bradstreet's) was probably the fruit of bootlegging.
    This was probably an allusion to Joe Kennedy.
  • When I read Grimm's Story by Vernor Vinge, I didn't recognize the pun in the sentence “Just ventilating the structure required the services of twenty draft animals.”
  • The episodes of Peabody's Improbable History ended in puns that I was too young to understand the first time I watched it. For example, in one episode, King Charles get his head stuck in a beehive because everyone knows he was bee-headed.
  • The first time I read 1984, I didn't realize that the name “O'Brien” meant he was a member of a formerly oppressed minority.
  • 1984 also included allusions to stuff I hadn't heard about. It wasn't until I read Darkness at Noon that I understood some of the allusions.
  • Similarly, Fourth Mansions by R. A. Lafferty included allusions to Teilhard de Chardin I didn't understand at the time.
  • When I saw Ghostbusters, I didn't realize it was based on H. P. Lovecraft's work.
  • When I saw the “Lemming of the BDS” episode of Monty Python, I hadn't heard of Marathon Man.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Suggestions for the Museum of Math

At long last, I finally got around to visiting the Museum of Math in Manhattan. I have a few suggestions for exhibits:

  1. Zooms of the Mandelbrot set.
  2. Self-inverse fractals
  3. Escher's Circle limits
  4. The Life cellular automaton
  5. Green sticks in the Zometools exhibit (those make a regular octahedron possible)
  6. Four-dimensional geometry
  7. Surreal numbers
  8. Last, but not least, countable ordinals

Monday, May 26, 2014

It's the Real World after All

It looks like p-adic numbers are actually useful for something after all.

The p-adic numbers are the basis for some of the spaces I discussed here:

In some of the spaces studied by mathematicians, every point of a
sphere is a center.

"There seems no center because it's all center." --- C.S. Lewis

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Blown Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

The following bulshytt (example here) has been going around:

If the multiverse theory is true, then there must be a universe where the multiverse theory is false.
First, “more than one” does not mean “infinite.” Second, “infinite” does not mean “anything physically possible.” Third, “anything physically possible” does not mean“anything you can think of.”

It makes just as much sense to say:

If the multiple-planets theory is true, then there must be a planet where the multiple-planets theory is false.
What does this imply about the common reaction: “mind = blown?”

I was reminded of this by Mark Chu-Carroll's dissection of a similar piece of nonsense.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Brief Note on the “War on Boys”

Is the “War on Boys” occurring in the schools actually a problem? Higher education is not for everybody and one of the tasks of schools is to ensure that unscholarly people stop wasting their time. The traditional school does that very well as far as boys are concerned.

The problem is that the traditional filter against unscholarly boys does not work for unscholarly girls. Even unscholarly girls are willing to sit in one place and do desk work. Maybe we need a “War on Girls” as well.

On the other hand, the emergency back-up filter against unscholarly girls is working just fine. Unscholarly girls who insist on higher education anyway are shunted into degrees that are easily identifiable as meaningless, similar to unscholarly boys on the football team. (If you can reliably identify a ‘side’ you are supposed to take in class, the degree is meaningless.)

Addendum: Is the emergency back-up filter working too well? Could it have caused the decline in women computer science grads? Maybe it needs debugging…

Thursday, May 22, 2014


There was actually a professor who said that professors are overpaid.

The original version of this said “underpaid.” Apparently, my fingers automatically typed “dog bites man.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Possible “Trigger Warning”

WARNING: Contains literature. May induce thinking and other undesirable consequences. Read at your own risk!

Place on all books/ebooks/whatever.

Addendum: Rich Lowry beat me to it.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Problem with Spurious Correlations

The correlations at Spurious Correlations all (or at least the first two pages) seem to be time series. Shouldn't there be geographic correlations as well? For example, what about the negative correlation between UFO sightings and abortion rates?

Update on a Possible MathJax Bug

The commands \shoveleft and \shoveright do work, but only inside {multline}. They don't work in MathJax inside {array}.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Commonly-Accepted Premises I Don't Share

Have you ever gotten into a pointless argument with someone who regarded one of his/her essential premises as obvious enough to not be worth defending or even stating? I've started making a list of such premises that I don't agree with. For example:

  • Any behavior that is caused is incompatible with free will. In other words, if you do something for a reason, you are not free.
  • History moves one way.
  • ‘Government’ is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.
  • Nobody has an opinion on his/her own. Everything is thought by collectives of one form or another.
  • The right-wing consists of people who have cowardly given in to authority whereas the Enlightened Ones have the guts to talk back to The Man.
  • Central planning is simply a plan made by one person.
  • Everybody knows ‘regulatory capture’ is what happens when businesses influence the government to regulate less.
  • If ‘everybody knows’ something, it must be true.
  • In the preceding line, ‘everybody’ only applies to those willing to go along with what ‘everybody knows.’
  • If a sufficiently-large number of people do something, they cannot be blamed. Either they are right or they have no choice.
  • Human are animals. (Since many sane people also believe this, please note we're plants.)
  • The amount of government is approximately constant. Regulating X means deregulating Y. Adding regulations will not strengthen the government.
Yes. I am adding to this.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Science Is Settled

Colony Collapse Disorder is caused by kids on dope.

I'm just waiting for @trutherbot to mention the alleged bee crisis…

Monday, May 12, 2014

Is This Supposed to Be a Criticism?

Apparently, nativists have recently tried attributing pro-immigration opinions to Asperger's syndrome. Does that mean open-borders people are responsible for the Internet the nativists use to spread anti-immigration opinions?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Explaining the Increasing Authoritarianism on the Left

The increasing authoritarianism on the left reminded me of The Sociological Counterpart of Cheyne–Stokes Respiration from Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner. It might be due to the decline in ‘liberaltarianism.’ If leftists have fewer libertarian allies who can say “Are you nuts?” in response to authoritarian suggestions, those suggestions may be taken more seriously.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

MathJax vs. LaTeX

The following sounded familiar:

You discover that one day, some idiot decided that since another idiot decided that 1/0 should equal infinity, they could just use that as a shorthand for "Infinity" when simplifying their code. Then a non-idiot rightly decided that this was idiotic, which is what the original idiot should have decided, but since he didn't, the non-idiot decided to be a dick and make this a failing error in his new compiler.
Meanwhile in my day job, I recently found that MathJax does not add equation numbers to blank lines. For example, the following will have an equation number in \({\rm\LaTeX}\) but not in MathJax:

It was easiest to change it to the following to get consistent results:

I don't think it's quite in the idiot category but it's still annoying.

I disagree with the article on one point. I pour myself caffeine-free Diet Coke instead of Scotch.

Friday, May 09, 2014

A Rule for Reading Neoreactionaries

Just pretend you're reading something from a leftist. Nativists, for example, sound amazingly similar to the anti-overpopulation people. Paleo dieters sound like the natural-food fans. Human biodiversity sounds like the writings of environmentalists trumpeting the latest research on the hazard of the month and then ignoring yesterday's similar research that went nowhere. It looks like collectivists can't help imitating each other.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Crimea and Brendan Eich

You can think of both the Crimea invasion and the Eich firing as an attempt by a side that had recently lost a battle or two to look more powerful by picking a fight it could win. The Crimea invasion occurred shortly after Ukraine refused to be a puppet. Eich was fired shortly after Phil Robertson was reinstated.

Friday, May 02, 2014

The Paleo Diet Has Jumped the Proverbial Shark

Now leftists are saying we should eat more protein and they're blaming the carbohydrate+umami-enhancer diet on business.

Meet the new fad, same as the old fad.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

It's Ba-ack!

I recently mentioned that it's been years, or possibly decades, since the last time I had heard the claim that paying higher wages is good for the economy because it enables workers to buy more. Well… It's ba-ack! To make matters worse, the nativist commenters at Instapundit also think we can provide prosperity by making labor artificially more expensive.

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