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, May 31, 2009

A Colorful Question on a Fruitful Topic

Why is blueberry juice red?

Death to Triangles?

There's a Bourbaki slogan: Death to Triangles! My reaction is that we don't have to kill triangles when we can waterboard them instead.

Meanwhile, Michael Flynn has proved that we can't kill triangles because triangles don't exist.

Real message: It's interesting how apparently-plausible atheist arguments look less plausible (both here and in the preceding post) when you cross out “God” and write in “programmer” or “triangle.”

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Divine Revelation and God as Programmer

After two days of Shavuot, the Jewish holiday commemorating the revelation at Mt. Sinai, I wondered if it was compatible with God as programmer analogy I discussed a few years ago:

If intelligent creatures in a simulated universe tried creating their version of physics, they might be able to get as far as identifying the characteristics of the machine language used. On the other hand, the source code is clearly more fundamental (from the point of view of the programmer) but they could find out that only by looking at large-scale patterns.

We can imagine philosophical debates between the reductionists and believers in the Source Code in which the reductionists correctly point out that nothing that violated the rules of the machine language had ever happened and think that meant they won the debate.

I then realized that many compilers will include the symbol table as part of the binary and that, from the point of view of beings in the simulated universe, a symbol table will look like a divine revelation.

It is entirely possible that there might be several symbol tables in different parts of the Program.

Speaking of simulated beings …

Paul Almond has posted an argument criticizing the claim that God exists outside of space-time and created it. This looks much less convincing when you think of a simulated being criticizing the claim that the Programmer exists outside of the array of bits and created it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rodgers and Asimov

Isaac Asimov once observed that the chemical name paradimethylaminobenzaldehyde can be sung to the tune of an Irish jig. I just realized that it can also be sung to the tune of “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.”

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Peak Phosphorus, Again

This time it's Scientific American being hysterical about an alleged phosphorus crisis. (My earlier comments on phosphorus shortages are here.) This article includes the common environmentalist tactic of mentioning a fact that reduces their claim to a triviality followed by dismissing it on thin grounds:

The International Geological Correlation Program (IGCP) reckoned in 1987 that there might be some 163,000 million metric tons of phosphate rock worldwide, corresponding to more than 13,000 million metric tons of phosphorus, seemingly enough to last nearly a millennium. These estimates, however, include types of rocks, such as high-carbonate minerals, that are impractical as sources because no economical technology exists to extract the phosphorus from them. The tallies also include deposits that are inaccessible because of their depth or location offshore; moreover, they may exist in underdeveloped or environmentally sensitive land or in the presence of high levels of toxic or radioactive contaminants such as cadmium, chromium, arsenic, lead and uranium.
“No economical technology” means that it can't compete with present-day rich sources. That doesn't mean it will still be non-economical when the alleged crisis arrives. (I'm reminded of the way environmentalists will point out that nuclear energy costs more than coal, followed by claiming that we must rethink capitalism because coal is damaging and nukes are expensive.) For that matter a world that is using phosphorus at a high rate is unlikely to have much in the way of underdeveloped land and the alleged problem of “environmentally sensitive land” is simply another reason to tar and feather environmentalists.

To take one plausible scenario, if the price of phosphorus rises to that of copper (a metal extracted from ores where it is as common as phosphorus is in ordinary rock), the total cost of the phosphorus consumed in the United States will be less than 1% of the US GNP. I think we can afford it.

By the way, the dead-tree version of the article included a graph illustrating a price run-up of phosphorus prices. For some reason, the online version omitted that—which might have something to do with the price declines since the article was written.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Eugenics and Cancer Cures

Will eugenics produce a race of supermen able to cure cancer? Or will societies where people with Down's syndrome “don't get out of the delivery room” overlook potential cancer cures? According to an article in Science Daily:

Most cancers are rare in people with Down syndrome, whose overall cancer mortality is below 10 percent of that in the general population. Since they have an extra copy of chromosome 21, it's been proposed that people with Down syndrome may be getting an extra dose of one or more cancer-protective genes.

The late cancer researcher Judah Folkman, MD, founder of the Vascular Biology Program at Children's Hospital Boston, popularized the notion that they might be benefiting from a gene that blocks angiogenesis, the development of blood vessels essential for cancer's growth, since their incidence of other angiogenesis-related diseases like macular degeneration is also lower.

So… when you read the Fark cliche “still no cure for cancer” …

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Are They Gone?

I haven't gotten a call from a phone spammer in over a week.

Addendum: Oh … BLEEP! They're ba-ack.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Proper Response to Wanda Sykes

The proper response to her alleged joke about Rush Limbaugh is to quote the following from the SF writer R. A. Lafferty (in “About a Secret Crocodile”):

There is a secret society of only four persons that manufactures all the jokes of the world. One of these persons is unfunny and he is responsible for all the unfunny jokes.
Maybe it should read “…she is responsible for all the unfunny jokes.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Chili Control: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Chili can be used as a weapon (seen via Instapundit):

Wanda Bray didn't submit easily to a home invasion robbery on Tuesday.

When two men broke into her home to rob her, she fought back.

"The woman fought them off," said Capt. David Honeycutt of the Claiborne County Sheriff's Department, of the 58-year-old Bray. "She threw a bowl of homemade chili and got after them with a broom."

This exposes one of the most important social problems facing America today—the unlicensed, unregistered, and unregulated use of chili.

A woman was able to repulse home invaders using chili. This time chili happened to be a defense. Next time the robber can turn the chili on its owner. We may soon be faced with the prospect of countless numbers of chili-wielding criminals terrorizing neighborhoods across the United States.

We should not feel complacent about this and assume decent citizens can use their own chili. Professional, hardened criminals can always use such dangerous substances better than an amateur. Fighting chili with chili should be left to the police. Chili also does not eliminate the causes of crime and only teaches the criminal to use force instead of reason to solve problems.

We must also consider the effect of chili on the social fabric. If a customer in a low-income neighborhood goes into a restaurant and sees chili on the menu, he might perceive that as a expression of the owner's prejudices. That could produce riots and chaos worse than New Orleans after Katrina.

The possibility that chili may become weapons in family quarrels is even more serious. For every bowl of chili used to repulse a criminal, many more are used to inflict pain on members of the same family. We can attempt to solve this problem by chili safety education (chili is not for children, always assume every chili dish is made of habaneros, and never serve chili to someone as a joke) but that will alleviate only part of the problem.

We must also beware of slogans such as “chili doesn't burn tongues; people burn tongues.” It is people with chili who burn tongues.

I call upon all enlightened statesmen to overcome to awesome power of the NCA (National Chili Association), remove chili from our school lunches, organize a boycott of Mexico and Thailand, and introduce legislation mandating the registration and licensing of these instruments of torture.

Okay, so I recycled this

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Two Reactions to Being a Nerd

When I took another look at the idiocratic article I discussed recently, I noticed the following passage:

(Think back to when you were a marginalized nerd in high school. Yeah, you. Did the “popular kids” spend a lot of time arguing with you? Explaining why you were goofy and wrong? Getting upset when you said nerdy things? No. They paid no attention to you. Such are social hierarchies built and enforced. If you think public life is not just a larger version of the same thing—if you think it’s some kind of salon where the best facts and arguments win out—well, good luck.)

Some nerds react by trying to join the “cool kids” and even outdo them in being anti-intellectual … and some of us react by rejecting the idea of “coolness.”

The Best Part of Obama's Economics

No big business will ever again ask for a bailout. They'll trust themselves to bankruptcy courts first.

As a bonus, large unionized firms will find themselves cut off from long-term capital. Before this, private-sector unions were down but not out. Now they're out but have not yet been taken off the field.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Obama Helps Baby Seals …

… by refusing to protect their enemy the polar bear.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Idiocracy in Action

The rhetoric in these articles on “douchebags” (seen via Greenie Watch) reminds me of the political debates in “The Marching Morons” by C. M. Kornbluth somehow.

Addendum: A possibly relevant quote from Alternet (see via the Liberal Fascism blog):

There's been a shift in rhetoric. Over at Orcinus, Dave Neiwert and I have argued for years (with plenty of expert support from social psychologists) that strong words are often a thought rehearsal, a premonition of possible strong action to come.
It works both ways.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Brain Study from “Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me”

Last Sunday, “Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me” ran an item on a brain study that purported to show that the same part of men's brains are activated by looking at partly-dressed women and looking at tools such as wrenches and screwdrivers. This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “machine screw.”

Meanwhile back in the real world, the noted wet blanket Neurocritic criticizes the more far-fetched coverage of the study.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Problem in a Cover Story

The capsule biography of Dr. Fred Bell (seen via Orac) includes the lines:

While working University of Michigan Dr. Bell had the priviledge of working under the mentorship of Dr. Katz. Dr. Katz came over here, as an honored scientist, previously working for the 3rd Reich under Adolph Hitler. Wernher von Braun and Dr. Katz both were transferred here by the American government under an operation known as Operation Paperclip.
Saaaay what? Isn't Katz a Jewish name? Would a Jew work for the 3rd Reich?

Friday, May 01, 2009

How to Confuse a Pollster

If a pollster is trying to correlate the oppositions to abortion, capital punishment, and torture, maybe you could say, “As a pro-lifer, I don't approve of capital punishment; I think torture is far more appropriate for some crimes.”

I was inspired by a recent poll causing self-congratulation in some quarters. After all, if liberals agree with themselves more than anybody else does, that MUST mean they're right!

Meanwhile, Classical Values (with their own torture poll) might start another torture poll:

Maybe I should update the Classical Values Torture Poll, and ask readers which punishment should be applied to spoofed Caller ID telemarketing spammers.
Can we at least waterboard them?

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