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

Thursday, June 26, 2003

The Ultimate Low-Cost Producer

The American software industry has recently been “threatened” by competition with India, causing speculation that previously libertarian programmers might start becoming protectionist. I find that hard to believe. After all, open-source programming is an even lower-cost producer than India and I've heard little protest about it.

Meanwhile there are mitigating factors:

  • Cheaper programs mean more computer use and the more computers are used, the more paid advice will be needed. Giving such advice is easier and more reliable when you can look over the customer's shoulder.
  • If software customers are saving money on cheap programmers, they can buy more of your stuff.
  • If Indians are richer they can also buy more of your stuff.

Warnings for Richard Dawkins

If you pat yourself on the back too hard, you'll dislocate your arm.

You might also find the New Age loons trying to rehijack the term. It has the connotations they want as well the ability to point to the same Enemy.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Beware of Geeks Bearing GIFs!

The patent on the compression used in gifs has expired. Now open-source programmers will be able to use GIF-processing programs instead of running GIF-free sites.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The Latest EU Lunacy

According to a proposed regulation from the Council of Europe, web sites—even personal weblogs (they crossed out the restriction to “professional” media)—must allow anybody criticized on that site to reply. I don't have much to say about it that hasn't already been said on Samizdata and Little Green Footballs, but I noticed an odd phenonmenon in the discussion on Slashdot.

After looking at the Slashdot thread, I think I figured out the basis of the regulation: Media are regarded as natural phenomena, not as the creations of individuals. Someone who wants to reply can't reply unless he/she/whatever can magically get hold of one of those media. This also means the right of reply won't shut down any of the media any more than it would shut down a mountain.

This also explains the bizarre fixation on Fox and talk radio common on the left. If Fox et al. print something right-wing, that must exclude the left. They don't believe it's easy to devise alternatives. They especially don't believe Fox started as an alternative to liberal media.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

How Space Won't Be Commercialized

Space commercialization is currently being discussed at The Laughing Wolf. I have wondered if technical progress might have caused the collapse of the classical dream of space commercialization (asteroid mining, etc.). In classical scenarios we need asteroid mining to deal with resource shortages. It has turned out to cheaper to use materials more efficiently and extract them from lower-grade ores. If technology had stayed at a 1960 level, we would use more minerals, extract less, and see major shortages. Asteroid mining might pay for a few materials and that would create economies of scale. At the same technology level, many of the communications, weather, or spy satellites would have to be manned. It might be cheaper to supply them from space so asteroid mining might pay even for common materials. The power supply would have to be nuclear and we might even have an orbiting fast breeder reactor similar to “Blowups Happen.”

On the other hand, in this timeline it's cheaper to extract minerals from the six hexillion tons of Earth, satellites don't have to be manned, and the people who might have given us the planets have given us the Internet etc. instead.

I'm reminded of the following quote from “Bounded in a Nutshell” by Charles Sheffield:

The first stars were coming out, twinkling softly through the mellow haze. Somehow they looked a little dimmer and farther away than before.

There are alternative scenarios for space commercialization. Space services are sometimes profitable … except they don't currently call for much human involvement. Space experience (e.g., tourism) are likely to be slow to develop and highly unpredictable. Worst of all, they are likely to involve mundanes.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Microbes on Parade

I have entered the New Webblog Showcase of The Truth Laid Bear. My votes in this week's contest go to:

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Is Math Right or Left-Wing?

According to Keith Devlin, it's left-wing:

What is a proof? The question has two answers. The right wing (“right-or-wrong”, “rule-of-law”) definition is that a proof is a logically correct argument that establishes the truth of a given statement. The left wing answer (fuzzy, democratic, and human centered) is that a proof is an argument that convinces a typical mathematician of the truth of a given statement.

While valid in an idealistic sense, the right wing definition of a proof has the problem that, except for trivial examples, it is not clear that anyone has ever seen such a thing. The traditional examples of correct proofs that have been presented to students for over two thousand years are the geometric arguments Euclid presents in his classic text Elements, written around 350 B.C. But as Hilbert pointed out in the late 19th century, many of those arguments are logically incorrect. Euclid made repeated use of axioms that he had not stated, without which his arguments are not logically valid.


Toth thinks that this situation will occur more and more often in mathematics. He says it is similar to the situation in experimental science - other scientists acting as referees cannot certify the correctness of an experiment, they can only subject the paper to consistency checks. He thinks that the mathematical community will have to get used to this state of affairs.

When it comes down to it, mathematics, for all that it appears to be the most right wing of disciplines, turns out in practice to be left wing to the core.

Strange. That sounds deregulated to me…

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