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:
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Yet another weird SF fan

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Question on the Simpson Gun-Control Plan

I'm sure my fellow reactionaries have seen Dan Simpson's plan to achieve universal gun control. There's much that I could say about this abomination but others have said it better, so I'll ask a minor question about the following part of the plan:

Hunters would be able to deposit their hunting weapons in a centrally located arsenal, heavily guarded, from which they would be able to withdraw them each hunting season upon presentation of a valid hunting license.
”Heavily guarded”? By people armed with what?

It looks like there will not only be guns in this utopia but some of them will be aimed at humans.

I won't more than mention that people going after renegade gun manufacturers will need something more than slingshots.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Reconciling Data

On the one hand, there's research that purports to show a lack of correlation between IQ and accumulated wealth. On the other hand, there's research that purports to show a positive correlation between IQ and the ability to make good investment decisions (earlier discussed here).

For some odd reason, the first research appears to be going around the blogsphere faster than the second had.

Maybe it's the cost of grad school that does it … Robin Hanson has a suggestion on saving money on grad school.

On the other hand, the Cognitive Reflection Test that's correlated with the ability to make good investment decisions is partly an IQ test and partly a patience test. It's possible that the IQ tests that showed a lack of correlation are partly IQ tests and partly impatience tests. (They might be timed tests without “trick questions.”)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Only One Earth?

Not any more!

Gliese 581 c has the right temperature (we think) and is only a little hefty. (I'm sure the noted fraud Kevin Trudeau is willing to help with the latter.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I Always Knew I Was a Genius

The evidence can be found here (seen via TJIC).

I expect the Nobel Prize in letter counting this year.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Collatz Sequence in Flip

The following is a Flip program (seen via Good Math, Bad Math) to print out the Collatz sequence starting with 27:

  \                           /\
\   *\
 /   /
    /     \   /'            \
         /X   *
   @ ~   \.'''/
pX  X
 \                          X\
/   /
         v  #X ~'#.\

      /  >,, ^
\ ''''X      /      #    \     ~
      \  >,  \     <           '
            0 0                '
         ^ # <                 #
                   \.    X  /\/Q

Addendum: It looks like bleeping Windows XP is incompatible with ANSY.SYS.

A Suggested Headline

If there are headlines of the form “Loner Shoots up Classroom” when a loner commits mass murder, can't we have a headline “Joiner Explodes in Iraq” when a joiner commits mass murder?

It's Earth Day

When will we celebrate Mars Day or Trantor Day?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Non-Fiction Version of “Slow Tuesday Night”

I just realized that “Long-Term Growth As A Sequence of Exponential Modes” by Robin Hanson is the non-fiction version of “Slow Tuesday Night” by R. A. Lafferty.

Jail Might Not Be Needed

Judging by the decline in the number of number of “doctors” willing to do abortions (it's not limited to the United States), we might not have to throw anybody in jail.

Is There an Inequality Budget?

According to Randall Parker, societies have an “inequality budget”:

I see a lesson here that is applicable to the immigration debate: Human societies have a limit to the amount of inequality that people will tolerate. Given that many of the forces that generate inequality do so by incentivizing the most productive to generate wealth we should ask whether we should avoid other policies that generate inequality without generating much wealth.

To put it another way: Think of societies as having inequality budgets. A society has a fixed amount of inequality to spend. In my view it is better to spend that inequality on policies that cause economies to generate the most wealth per person and the most new technology and science. Policies that generate a lot of inequality with little increase in productivity of wealth creators (e.g. immigration of people who have low skills and low earnings power) essentially waste inequality that would be better spent on incentive systems for those with the most potential to generate wealth.

Beyond some level of inequality the masses will demand taxes and other measures to limit the extent of inequality. The masses probably wont' show fairness or wisdom when they demand such taxes and other restrictions on the power of wealth. But by supporting such policies they are catering to their own very deeply felt needs for higher relative status and a reduction in the feeling that wealthier people control their lives.

I find that hard to believe. In the United States, we make much less of an effort at smoothing inequalities than more homogeneous nations. Come to think of it, the United States was most energetically egalitarian when immigration was restricted. We became less egalitarian after we started importing inequality again.

I suspect that, to the extent there is an urge to redistribute, it's more likely to be prominent in a society with a bimodal income distribution, even if the modes are close together. If there is a large middle class, even if the rich and poor are far apart, the majority will resist income redistribution and only the very bottom will support it.

I'll Have the Brazil Nuts, Please

I've wanted to glow in the dark ever since reading The Stars My Destination.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Instead of Abstinence Education

There is some evidence that abstinence-only sex education has had no effect. One possible alternative for parents who don't want to be the grandparents of a bouncing baby pile of shredded tissue is to raise the age of puberty.

Why Mobile Phones Are Killing Beehives

According to some scientists, mobile phones are killing beehives:

The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees' navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive's inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.

It should be completely obvious that the bees are sending text messages to each other to form flash mobs. Once the bee mobs get to their destinations, they form demonstrations against the colony bosses. After listening to enough speeches about the dangers of bee overpopulation, they refuse to raise the next generation and, in order to have a minimal impact on the environment, go on strike and refuse to collect nectar and pollen.

Fake Quotes and a Real Quote

According to Tim Lambert, the quotes on this page were taken out of context.

The horrifying environmentalist quote I posted was, however, in context. (If you have a copy handy of Famine, 1975! and want to check, it's in the middle of Chapter 1 at the end of the section Population Dynamic Number One: The Death Rate, pp. 19—20 of my copy.)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Department of the Obvious

Last August, Scientific American ran an article on the defecation habits of wild bears demonstrating that they indeed …

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

An Alternative to OPEC

Apparently, nearly anything can support a solar cell:

New solar cells developed by Massey University don't need direct sunlight to operate and use a patented range of dyes that can be impregnated in roofs, window glass and eventually even clothing to produce power.
When they're built into asphalt or concrete, we can have electrified roads. We'll need batteries anyway for night use, but those batteries won't have to be portable.

Is Something Like Megan's Law Needed?

UPI reports:

DAMASCUS, Syria, April 5 (UPI) -- The head of a U.N. agency charged with caring for Palestinian refugees said the United States has offered to receive 7,000 Palestinians who fled Iraq.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Happy Sky Is Blue Day!

I was inspired by this post.

On the other hand, maybe the sky is green.

A Question about Informers

Would a police informer be somebody who is literally “Speaking truth to power”?

Do I Have to Defend Michael Egnor Now?

I firmly believe that any idea based on “they say” rather than “it is” must be opposed. That means I have to say something positive about Michael Egnor.

When I come up with something, I'll let you know.

Addendum: That was fast. Right after I posted the above I visited Respectful Insolence and found that Michael Egnor came up with a conclusive refutation of the claim that eugenics is a logical consequence of Darwinism.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Dueling Quotes on Religion and AI

From Futurepundit:

The development of true AI will likely shake up religious believers most of all. If a computer can think like a human the obvious implication is that human thinking not by itself evidence for a soul. If a machine can think as well as a human then why should we expect humans to have souls? I'm not saying there isn't an answer to that question. My point is that the question will become important once we achieve AI.
From Past Master by R. A. Lafferty:
The spirit came down once on water and clay. Could it not come down on gell-cells and flux-fix?
On the other hand, previous attempts at building an Artificial Person produced soulless monsters. In any case, the entire argument might be rendered moot if Intelligence Amplification outpaces Artificial Intelligence.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

This Question Sometimes Makes Sense

Dr. Helen is discussing possible reactions to being asked one's opinion of abortion on a first date. There are times when that question makes sense. For example, there are men who object rather strongly to being the father of a pile of dismembered tissue. There are women who object to being given a choice between being a single mother and shredding a child.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Is This Supposed to Be Evidence of Insincerity?

Jonathan Chait seems to think there's something insincere about conservatives advocating nuclear energy as a solution to possible anthropogenic global warming:

You can tell that some conservatives who want to fight global warming understand how the psychology works and are trying to turn it in their favor. Their response is to emphasize nuclear power as an integral element of the solution. Sen. John McCain, who supports action on global warming, did this in a recent National Review interview. The technique seems to be surprisingly effective. When framed as a case for more nuclear plants, conservatives seem to let down their guard.

In reality, nuclear plants may be a small part of the answer, but you couldn't build enough to make a major dent. But the psychology is perfect. Conservatives know that lefties hate nuclear power. So, yeah, Rush Limbaugh listeners, let's fight global warming and stick it to those hippies!

First of all, the fact that we reactionaries criticize the theories that global warming is primarily anthropogenic and that it is a problem is because we would rather not “stick it to those hippies”; we would rather ignore activists entirely. We are, however, willing to settle for sticking it to them.

Second, where did “you couldn't build enough to make a major dent” come from? If it came from distortions of an IAEA report, the summary on IAEA's website makes it clear that Common Dreams version was a distortion. (I've discussed this here.)

On the other hand, it might have been due to a report that there isn't enough readily available uranium. I've criticized this before and there's a more authoritative criticism here.

On the gripping hand, if it's because they are planning to not let us build, they have declared their own insincerity. In any case, I doubt if they can continue such a policy for long. After all, nukes may have carried a few states for the Republicans in 1980 and they might do so again.

But wait, there's more. The Chait article also includes the following:

The phenomenon here is that a tiny number of influential conservative figures set the party line; dissenters are marginalized, and the rank and file go along with it. No doubt something like this happens on the Democratic side pretty often too. It's just rare to find the phenomenon occurring in such a blatant way.
As I said a few years ago:
When leftists look at typical conservatives, they almost always see people who are mindlessly following leaders—who are presumably chosen for either their sterling characters or insitutional positions. That explains two common leftist tactics:
  • Point to examples of conservatives of less-than-sterling character and pretend that has discredited the principles they proclaimed. After all, in LeftWorld they had followers only because of their supposed virtues. In the real world, their followers already believed in the same ideas and are simply following someone who can express them well.

  • Try to take over institutions formerly respected by conservatives. Example include: mainstream churches, Ivy-league universities, the Supreme Court, and the CIA. The next step, of course, is to be shocked at the way conservatives won't surrender.

Meanwhile, the left should learn that people didn't believe in conservative causes because they listened to Rush Limbaugh; they listened to Rush because they believed in conservative causes. They didn't oppose communism because the CIA said to do so; they trusted the CIA because they thought it was pro-American.
Maybe the fact that those tactics have often failed at converting conservatives should make leftists rethink their opinion of us.

Another Horse Laugh

Peter Austin's argument on data mining (earlier discussed here) has been made even more concisely by James Lileks (on a study that purports to show that chocolate can be good for the arteries):

Someone has a good job spending grant money to try all sorts of arbitrary combinations. You never hear about the studies that fail. Eggs do not prevent those weird super-strength hairs in the ear; gargling Spam smoothies has no measurable effect on liver function, although it seems to strengthen the gag reflex. And so on. Right now, some researcher no doubt is assembling a proposal to test the effect of Pixy Stix on nasal congestion. (They seem to work, if you push hard enough.)

Geometry and Tyranny

The Hebrew word for Egypt “Mitzraim” means “narrow land,” no doubt because the populated parts of Egypt are limited to a narrow strip of land near the Nile. Could this have produced its totalitarian government? In Egypt, it was possible to set up a few watchposts that could keep potential rebels from going from place to place unobserved. This is more difficult in a two-dimensional system.

What would be the effects of going from two to three dimensions? For example, on the ground, two competing transportation systems will run into each other and might need government regulations. In a space colony, there's no need for two competing transportation systems to run into each other at all.

Question about Piled Higher and Deeper

Why isn't Mike Slackenerny fat? He engages in next to no physical activity, eats all the free food he can find, and is old enough for some pounds to have accumulated.

Take That, Anti-Nukes!

The current radioactivity in Chernobyl is no more dangerous than living in general.

Monday, April 02, 2007

This Sounds Underwhelming

I doubt if the ancestors would be that dangerous. Big, fierce animals are rare. Big animals have low reproductive rates and fierce animals starve easily. That was the problem with Jurassic Park.

If the human race agreed to do it, we could eliminate every lion on Earth within a month. Eliminating mice is likely to be impossible for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

April Fool's Day in Iran?

The Islamic Republic News Agency in Iran has published the following press release, purportedly from The Association of Iranian Jews:

The Association of Iranian Jews here on Sunday renewed its commitment to defend the national interests of Iranians with the advent of the Iranian new year (1386), which the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution declared to be year of "national unity and Islamic solidarity."
The association renewed its commitment in a message issued on the threshold of the Jewish religious festival of the Passover, which starts Monday night.

"In obedience to the instructions of Jesus, in the new Iranian year, which has been declared year of national unity and Islamic solidarity, Iranian Jews voice their readiness to defend all national interests of Iranians and to observe the guidelines set by Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei) for the sake of strengthening national unity and solidarity in the fight against present-day pharaohs," the message said.

It further said that Iranian Jews gave significance to the remarkable coincidence of the Passover festival with the advent of the Iranian new year.

Pesach (Passover) begins on the night of the 15th day of the month of Nissan. This annual Jewish festival celebrates the escape of Jews from the slaughter of the first-born in Egypt.

In obedience to the instructions of Jesus?

This must be a joke.

Is Saturn from Ikea?

John Tierney's explanation for the Saturn hexagon:

The best theory I’ve come up with so far, after brushing up on von Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods,” is that it’s the Hex Nut of the Giants, affixed to the end of a massive bolt that’s holding the planet together. I haven’t worked out yet how a race of titanic engineers managed to insert the bolt at Saturn’s south pole. Nor have I identified the location of their hardware store, but we need to start looking for it right away, because NASA’s video shows that it’s swirling counterclockwise dangerously near what looks to me like the end of the bolt. If this thing keeps unscrewing . . . .
This can only mean Saturn is an Ikea product put together with their usual hex nuts. We should have known that already. Saturn's light construction (it is the least dense planet) and attractive design (the rings) point to an Ikea origin.

The moon Miranda of Uranus also must come from Ikea. There's evidence it was reassembled. Clearly, it was put together the wrong way the first few times.

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