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 30, 2010

Not Necessarily Good News

On the one hand, President Obama has requested additional loan guarantees for nuclear power plants. On the other hand, he also used yesterday's subsidies as an excuse to squeeze more from the financial industry:

So I supported the last administration’s efforts to create the financial rescue program.  And when we took the program over, we made it more transparent and accountable.  As a result, the markets are now stabilized, and we have recovered most of the money we spent on the banks.

To recover the rest, I have proposed a fee on the biggest banks.  I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea, but if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need.

I'm reminded of the following quote from “Armaments Race,” by Arthur C. Clarke (a story in Tales from the White Hart):

“All the better for you. Sol's come over here to apply his talents to the British film industry.”

“There is a British film. industry?” said Solly anxiously. “No one seemed very sure round the studio.”

“Sure there is. It's in a very flourishing condition, too. The Government piles on an entertainments tax that drives it to bankruptcy, then keeps it alive with whacking big grants. That's the way we do things in this country.…

What we have here is a squeegee government analogous to the squeegee men who used to infest parts of Manhattan. The squeegee men would “clean” a car's windshield while the car stopped at a light and then demand money from the car's occupants. The squeegee government will “rescue” businesses and then demand money from the industry.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Long Overdue

I think it's an excellent idea for clowns to write books on urban planners.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Artificial Intelligence vs. Intelligence Amplification, Part III

A few years ago, I wrote:

There have been numerous attempts at producing artificial intelligence. Those attempts have been failures. The nearest thing to a success was Deep Blue as chess champion. I suspect a grandmaster assisted by a computer could probably beat an unaided computer for the foreseeable future.
More recently, Gary Kasparov wrote, far more authoritatively:

In what Rasskin-Gutman explains as Moravec's Paradox, in chess, as in so many things, what computers are good at is where humans are weak, and vice versa. This gave me an idea for an experiment. What if instead of human versus machine we played as partners? My brainchild saw the light of day in a match in 1998 in León, Spain, and we called it "Advanced Chess." Each player had a PC at hand running the chess software of his choice during the game. The idea was to create the highest level of chess ever played, a synthesis of the best of man and machine.

IA wins again.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Is Cthulhu a Democrat?

I just realized that the far-backwoods New England that the Democrats have been carrying recently is also noted as the place where many H. P. Lovecraft stories are set. Hmmmm…

Friday, January 22, 2010

Border Collies Are the Smartest Type of Dog

The researchers are Sirius about this.

Speaking of Rural Areas

It looks like the Democrats carried rural Massachusetts in addition to Boston and its inner suburbs. When you consider the swing to the left in northern New Hampshire (or, for that matter, the recent political history of Vermont), it seems quite clear that Larry, Darryl, and Darryl are now Democrats.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Me to Triumphalist Democrats


What was that you were saying about how Republicans could only win in the south or rural areas?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Question for James Cameron

News of the following lunacy has been making its way around the blogosphere:

EW: “Avatar” is the perfect eco-terrorism recruiting tool.”

JC: Good, good. I like that one. I consider that a positive review. I believe in ecoterrorism.”

“Avatar” might also be the perfect anti-eco-terrorism recruiting tool. As far as I know (I haven't seen it; I'm not a big movie watcher), It was written from the point of view of locals telling outsiders to get lost. As far as much of rural America is concerned, environmentalists are such outsiders. Maybe James Cameron should be asked what would be his reaction if someone was inspired to shoot environmentalists.

In related news, “Avatar” is regarded as pro-capitalist in China.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Other Promised Future

According to a comment by perlhaqr (seen via Geek with a .45):

2010. Two thousand and {bleep}ing ten. Dude. It's the future! Where are my space habitats? Where is my flying car? Where is my robot maid?

I made it to 2010 and all I got from the SF books of my youth is the lousy dystopian government. :(

We missed the other promised future as well. Where's the global thermonuclear war? Where's the worldwide famine? Where's the new Ice Age?

We were promised a new Ice Age! Wait a moment… we might have that

Even the dystopian government isn't that bad. I don't think Big Brother had to deal with uppity talk-show hosts and Mustafa Mond never had to campaign for a marginal Senate candidate…

Sunday, January 10, 2010

We Can Vote!

The following anecdote shows the application of democracy to places it usually doesn't go:

A group of kindergartners are studying a frog, trying to determine its sex.

"I wonder if it's a boy frog or a girl frog," says one student.

"I know how we can tell!" pipes up another.

"All right, how?" asks the teacher, resigned to the worst.

Beams the child: "We can vote."

A few years ago, John Derbyshire said:
I await with interest the coming poll on public beliefs about the Continuum Hypothesis.
In possibly-related news, Bill Gasarch is collecting votes on The Axiom of Choice vs. The Axiom of Determinacy.

I'm dubious about the power-set axiom in the first place.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Can This Lead to a Slippery Slope?

Mike Konzcal (seen via Megan McArdle) is discussing the possible problem of demented people being ripped off by financial firms using psychological tests disguised as credit-card applications:

Did you catch it? Questions 1,2,4,7 are taken from the ‘Mini-mental State Examination’ which is a quick test given by medical professionals to see if a patient is suffering from dementia. (It’s a little blunt, but we can always hire some psychologist and marketers for the final version. They’re cheap to hire.) We can use this test to subtly increase limits, and break out the best automated tricks and traps mechanisms, on those whose dementia lights up in our surveys. Anyone who flags all four can get a giant increase in balance and get their due dates moved to holidays where the Post Office is slowest! We’d have to be very subtle about it, because there are many nanny-staters out there who’d want to coddle citizens here.

Once regulators get involved, this could easily lead to mandatory psychological tests for investors. That might be bad enough but we must recall that leftists have been searching for reasons to dismiss conservatives as cognitively inferior for decades. (I have not forgotten that paper from the Berkeley psychology department, earlier discussed here.) We might see a society in which conservatives are forbidden to make investment decisions.

The next stage, of course, is a society in which nearly everybody is forbidden to make investment decisions. (ObSF: “SQ” by Ursula LeGuin.)

Any resulting bankruptcies will, of course, be blamed on capitalism and used as a pretext for more regulations.

Friday, January 08, 2010

In the Winter We Say “It's Freezing”

In the spring, should we say “It's melting”?

On the other hand, during much of this winter, the proper phrase is “It's frozen.”

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

What Do You Mean “Educated Class”?

A column by David Brooks has created a splash, much of it based on the following paragraphs:

The public is not only shifting from left to right. Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year.

The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.

The story is the same in foreign affairs. The educated class is internationalist, so isolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number of Americans who believe we should “go our own way” has risen sharply.

This “educated class” believes in ideas that range from dubious to preposterous. I'd like to know what the criteria are for membership. I'm reminded of a quote from G. H. Hardy:
Have you noticed how the word `intellectual' is used nowadays? There seems to be a new definition which certainly doesn't include Rutherford or Eddington or Dirac or Adrian or me. It does seem rather odd, don't y'know.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Sexy Vampires and Reality

I have heard that there are a couple of movies based on the concept of a girl falling in love with a sexy vampire. The really odd thing is that there's a similar phenomenon in the real world: Vampire bats will sometimes induce a chicken to act as though the bat were a rooster. According to an article in Natural History:

White-winged vampire bat (Diaemus) climbs onto the back of a hen, which crouches as if mounted by a rooster. The bat will then feed, typically from the rear portion of the bird’s fleshy comb. The bite is never violent and very often occurs as the bird shifts position slightly.


During the terrestrial feeding bouts of our white-winged vampires, we also recorded a parasite–host interaction that rivaled chick mimicry on the “weird-o-meter.” When a bat leaped or climbed onto a chicken’s back to get a meal, a male chicken would quickly grow agitated and dislodge the bat with a shake and a peck. A hen mounted in this fashion, however, would immediately assume a crouching posture, giving the bat the opportunity to scuttle forward and bite the back of the bird’s head or its fleshy comb. The hen would maintain this crouch until after the vampire bat had finished feeding and hopped off. With a little research into poultry behavior, we learned that this was the exact posture taken by a hen while being mounted by a male bird—for a completely different purpose.

If chickens made the Twilight movies, they would be documentaries.

But wait, there's more. Vampire bats will imitate chicks as well as roosters. Earlier in the same article:

It was on one of the first of those special feeding days that I noticed two of the white-winged vampires doing something incredible. They crawled across the floor of their feeding enclosure like a pair of spiders, and then one of the bats made a bold approach to a rather large hen. The bird cocked her head to one side, eyeing the bats. Her beak could have severely injured or even killed them, so I got ready to intervene. Sharing my concern, perhaps, one of the vampires stopped a couple of inches beyond pecking distance. The other bat, however, crept even closer, and then, amazingly, it nuzzled against the hen’s feathery breast. Instead of becoming alarmed or aggressive, the bird seemed to relax. The vampire responded by pushing itself even deeper into what I would later learn was a sensitive section of skin called the brood patch: a feather-free region, densely packed with surface blood vessels, where body heat is efficiently transferred to the hen’s eggs or to her chicks. As I watched, the hen reacted to the bat by fluffing her feathers, hunkering down—and closing her yes.

My God, I thought, these bats have learned to mimic chicks!

I'm waiting for a movie in which an incredibly-cute kid turns out to be a vampire … unless it's been done.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Explaining the Avatar Ecosystem, Part II

Peter Watts noticed the same problem with the Avatar ecosystem that Tam did (earlier discussed here) and has a theory to explain it:

About a planet sheathed in deep forest, and the six-legged fauna that lived there, and the ruthless Human industrialists who come to exploit its riches only to be fought by the gone-native descendents of an earlier expedition that had learned to live in harmony with nature?


Someone put a lot of thought into Pandora’s wildlife; it was beautiful to behold, it was amazingly diverse, it even seemed (for the most part) phylogenetically consistent. Across a wide range of species, everything from nostril placement to jaw structure was nicely suggestive of common ancestry. Except for the Na’vi, which are ridiculously anthropomorphic: tetrapod bipeds where everything else on the planet seems to have six limbs; binocular vision on a world where four eyes is the vertebrate norm. Evidently Cameron felt that his hero could not plausibly fall in love with a four-eyed banana-slug, but that a blue-skinned cat-woman just might pass muster. (I agree that the former premise would result in a much more challenging film, conceptually— but then, I like conceptually challenging films.)

The ultimate example of such a plot (in which the “natives” turn out to be descendants of earlier explorers) can be found in The Gray Prince by Jack Vance in which the oppressed natives on an alien planet revolt, followed by another revolt by the even-more oppressed ETs they grabbed the planet from. Then it gets even more entangled …

Friday, January 01, 2010

MD or MBA?

Last year, Overcoming Bias reported that patients treated by physicians from top medical schools weren't any healthier than patients from plebeian schools but they were treated less expensively. At the time, I commented:

This might seem odd. It's similar to a claim that top-ranked financial advisors cannot beat the market but can perform better first aid.
More recently, Overcoming Bias reported that MBAs can be found in operating rooms telling doctors how to use medical equipment:
Can’t you feel the shame? You pick a prestigious doctor to solve your problem, and instead he’s taking orders from some lowly MBA! Horrors. Such low status folks might, gasp, recommend things to make money, not like surgeons, who are far too high status and “professional” to care about such lowly things as money.
It looks like business schools are giving medical training and medical schools are giving business training.

By the way, I wonder how many people who would otherwise have become physicians decided to get MBA degrees instead because they were worried about the government nationalizing health care. Anyone who did so found that financial firms were nationalized first … and with less opposition.

I Toasted the New Year …

… with caffeine-free Diet Coke.

I've noticed people celebrating the New Year for the past few years have sometimes worn glasses announcing the year with holes in the numbers for eyes. For example, 2010 would have holes in the zeros. What will happen next year, when there's only one hole in 2011? This problem hasn't occurred since 1977.

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