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, January 31, 2015

More Old News

There's nothing new about the theory that the past, present, and future all exist together in a four-dimensional space–time. It dates back at least to Lagrange, had a literary description in The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, and the modern version of it was part of the Theory of Relativity.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Has Global Warming Resumed?

After the past week's weather, I sure hope so.

I've come to the conclusion that “snow” is a four-letter Anglo-Saxon word.

Rain is a necessity. Is there any excuse for snow?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

U.S. Once Had Universal Child Care

U.S. once had universal child care. I doubt if we want to follow all the policies of that era.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

This Is Old News

According to Newsweek, scientists have discovered how to unboil an egg.

It's always been possible to unboil an egg. Just feed it to a chicken.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Trying to Get Edenism out of My Head

The trouble with Edenism (a recent brand of crackpot anthropology based on a handful of peculiar skulls that may have been due to a combination of head binding and hydrocephalus, some racial stereotyping with the serial numbers filed off, drug-induced fantasizing, and one or two actual facts) is that it's sticky. After reading about it, it's easy to start classifying people on the street or in history books, even if the classifications make no sense.

For example, I've recently been reading about the origin of descriptive set theory and can't help thinking of René Baire as a Starchild or Henri Lebesgue as a Mousterian Neanderthal or Jacques Hadamard as a Melonhead or …

I suppose I'll have to find another crackpot theory to stop this.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fetal Lives Matter

This cartoon is a handy argument against the claim that pro-lifers believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

You Can't Always Tell a Book by Its Cover

For example, Ecological Imperialism by Alfred Crosby is not what it sounds like. On the other hand, Words of Power: a Feminist Reading of the History of Logic by Andrea Nye is what it sounds like.

In other words, you do have to read the book (or see the film).

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Falsifying Philosophy

Harvey Friedman, a philosopher specializing in the philosophy of mathematics, is well known for Friedman's Grand Conjecture:

Every theorem published in the Annals of Mathematics whose statement involves only finitary mathematical objects (i.e., what logicians call an arithmetical statement) can be proved in EFA. EFA is the weak fragment of Peano Arithmetic based on the usual quantifier-free axioms for 0, 1, +, ×, exp, together with the scheme of induction for all formulas in the language all of whose quantifiers are bounded.
On the other hand, Harvey Friedman is also well known for
… attempts to justify large cardinal axioms by demonstrating their necessity for deriving certain propositions considered "concrete".
I think the “giant ant” I mentioned here was part of that research. On the gripping hand, the concrete propositions look like statements that logicians pulled out of a vulgar body aperture just to be ornery.

I was puzzled by this for a while. He was arguing in favor of one conclusion while providing something that might be evidence against it. I then realized what he was doing: He was trying to falsify a statement. This is so rare in philosophy, that it was hard to recognize. Philosophers have talked about falsification for years but it always seemed to for others to do. Now that a philosopher is applying the concept of falsification, it might be time for philosophy to climb the science hierarchy.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Omelets vs. Frittatas, Continued

I came up with a way to have three-sided frittatas: When the bottom is set but the top is still runny, lift up the frittata, let some of the egg run underneath, and fry that for a second side. When that's done, turn the frittata over for a third side.

It's probably easier than frying Gabriel's Horn.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Omelets vs. Frittatas

The most important difference between omelets and frittatas is that omelets are fried on only one side whereas frittatas can be fried on two sides. As a fan of the Maillard process, I think the more surfaces fried the better.

I'm starting research into the topological investigations needed to produce a three-sided frittata. (ObSF: “No-Sided Professor” by Martin Gardner)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Fighting Hate Speech

If “hate speech” is something absolutely horrible, clearly the alleged perpetrators deserve something absolutely horrible … such as hate speech aimed in their direction. In other words, anyone who tries assassinating enemy cartoonists (instead of insulting them) is demonstrating that they don't actually believe that hate speech is horrible.

Yes, I've said this before, but it bears repeating.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Explaining the Wisdom of the Crowd, Continued

Duty calls.

Wired appears to disagree with the Wisdom of the Crowd Theorem (and right after I blogged about it). They got two things wrong:

  • The theorem says that the median estimate is more accurate than most individuals; it says nothing about the average.
  • Even despite that, the average guess was more accurate than 60% of the individuals … and the median guess was more accurate than that.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

There's Hope for the Statists (Tobacco-Control Edition)

According to a speculation at Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, major reason for the opposition to the e-cigarettes is that it interferes with the use of tobacco control as an excuse to extend State power. On the other hand, there's hope for the statists yet. They can always call for government-subsidized e-cigarettes. If anybody objects, accuse them of starting a “war on tobacco users.” Look for them to quote mine pro-tobacco libertarian rhetoric in support of the idea.

There's another side to subsidies: If there turns out to be a problem with e-cigarettes, no matter how small, the subsidies can be used as an excuse to regulate. There may even be a law that the waste from subsidized e-cigarettes can only be be disposed of in a repository in Nevada that the authorities can order closed.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Sometimes There Really Are Problems with Vaccines

When there really are problems with vaccines, the Medical Establishment (you know … Big Pharma) admits it. Maybe other parts of the Establishment can learn from that instead of trying to figure out what the “right balance is between being effective and being honest.”

By the way, why do conspiracy theorists concentrate on the most honest part of the Establishment?

In a related story, I seem to have come down with an upper-respiratory infection.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Scott Alexander Weight-Loss Plan

Maybe I should try this sometime:

My recent post on nerds and feminism was something I wrote in anger and anxiety—I’ll admit that I actually lost some weight because I was pacing so much after reading the article that inspired it.
I just have to write a record-setting long rant. That sounds like it beats dieting. On the other hand, although I'm pretty good at short rants (most of these blog entries), I'm not sure if I have the stamina for a long one.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

… And There Is Great Rejoicing

Our prayers have been answered. The Millennium is at hand. It's time for parades and fireworks.

The latest MathJax (currently in beta testing) can finally use \hfill!

Addendum: Also \hfil and \hfilll.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Playing Dumb on Climate Change?

According to Naomi Oreskes:

Where does this severe standard come from? The 95 percent confidence level is generally credited to the British statistician R. A. Fisher, who was interested in the problem of how to be sure an observed effect of an experiment was not just the result of chance. While there have been enormous arguments among statisticians about what a 95 percent confidence level really means, working scientists routinely use it.

But the 95 percent level has no actual basis in nature. It is a convention, a value judgment.

95 percent might have made some sense back in Fisher's day. After all, it was very difficult to test 20 hypotheses at once back then. Today, it's possible to automatically devise hundreds or thousands of hypotheses and data dredge to verify them.

The above applies more strongly to hysterical hypotheses about the consequences of global warming than to hypotheses about global warming itself. It's hard to come up with a few zillion hypotheses about one time series.

But wait, there's more:

[Insisting on a 95% confidence level] makes sense in a court of law, where we presume innocence to protect ourselves from government tyranny and overzealous prosecutors—but there are no doubt prosecutors who would argue for a lower standard to protect society from crime.
I think we do have to protect ourselves from government tyranny and overzealous EPA regulators.

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