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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E-mail address:
jhertzli AT ix DOT netcom DOT com

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Small Sample Watch
XBM Graphics

The Former Four Horsemen of the Ablogalypse:
Someone who used to be sane (formerly War)
Someone who used to be serious (formerly Plague)
Rally 'round the President (formerly Famine)
Dr. Yes (formerly Death)

Interesting weblogs:
Back Off Government!
Bad Science
Boing Boing
Debunkers Discussion Forum
Deep Space Bombardment
Depleted Cranium
Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Magazine.
Foreign Dispatches
Good Math, Bad Math
Greenie Watch
The Hand Of Munger
Howard Lovy's NanoBot
Liberty's Torch
The Long View
My sister's blog
Neo Warmonger
Next Big Future
Out of Step Jew
Overcoming Bias
The Passing Parade
Peter Watts Newscrawl
Physics Geek
Pictures of Math
Poor Medical Student
Prolifeguy's take
The Raving Theist
Respectful Insolence
Seriously Science
Slate Star Codex
The Speculist
The Technoptimist
Tools of Renewal
XBM Graphics
Zoe Brain

Other interesting web sites:
Aspies For Freedom
Crank Dot Net
Day By Day
Dihydrogen Monoxide - DHMO Homepage
Jewish Pro-Life Foundation
Libertarians for Life
The Mad Revisionist
Piled Higher and Deeper
Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism
Sustainability of Human Progress

Yet another weird SF fan

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Markets Are Faster than Government

XKCD noticed a problem (identifying @ssholes) and advocated a government solution. Before any government could grab credit, a business started solving the same problem.

I'm not sure if the business will also charge a “negligence fee.”

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Most Sensible Thing the UN Has Done in Decades

The UN has appointed an ambassador to space aliens:

THE United Nations was set today to appoint an obscure Malaysian astrophysicist to act as Earth’s first contact for any aliens that may come visiting.

Mazlan Othman, the head of the UN's little-known Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa), is to describe her potential new role next week at a scientific conference at the Royal Society’s Kavli conference centre in Buckinghamshire.

At least now we know what to do when asked, “Take me to your leader.”

Addendum: There's an update.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A JavaScript Bug and Stephen Hawking's Theology

I just found that a JavaScript program I had been working on had a bug in it: Some of the variables had not been initialized and, instead of being empty strings, printed out “undefined” when I tried displaying them. I then realized I had made the same mistake Stephen Hawking had made when he said:

Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist. … It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.
According to Stephen Hawking's theory, the universe as we know it can develop from the cosmological equivalent of an empty string. (Actually, I'm not so sure about that. His theory might involve the universe developing from zero, which requires even more to be defined.) Zero is not the same as undefined. If a physicist says he has evidence the universe started from zero, the question of how the zero was created is not meaningless.

I'm reminded of a famous anecdote about teaching statistics:

One of my college professors liked to ask his classes, “What is the difference between zero and nothing?” After allowing the students several minutes of metaphysical and sophomoric discussion he would write “0” and say, “That's zero.” Then, with a flourish he would erase the zero explaining, “And that's nothing.”
To a physicist, the differences between undefined, nothing, and zero might seem like quibbling. To a mathematician or a computer programmer, it's not.

Digression: The theory, by the way, is still speculative. If I recall correctly, the “no-boundary” condition requires a finite universe and it is currently unknown if the universe is finite or infinite. On the other hand, that really is just quibbling.

To return to the creation question: Some people have been claiming that it makes sense to assume this universe is a simulation running in a larger universe. I'd like to see a debate between those people and Stephen Hawking.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mad Scientist's Laboratory for Sale!

Tesla's laboratory is on the market and about to be sold by Agfa. I disagree with the call for government involvement. There's bound a be a rich geek interested in buying the property.

I'm not sure if it comes with a death-ray generator …

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mexico ≠ Mexicans

Our glorious leader correctly (for once) said:

Long before America was even an idea, this land of plenty was home to many peoples. The British and French, the Dutch and Spanish, to Mexicans, to countless Indian tribes. We all shared the same land,
In response, Real Clear Politics said:
Mexico declared its independence on September 16, 1810. It was recognized on September 27, 1821.
Repeat after me:
State and society are not the same thing!
State and society are not the same thing!
State and society are not the same thing!

Aren't we wingnuts supposed to know stuff like that?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Much-Needed Gap in the Blogosphere Has Been Filled

The Flat Earth Society is here (seen via a comment at Respectful Insolence).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Two Types of Loonies

There are dangerous loonies and harmless loonies.

More on dangerous loonies

The above-mentioned dangerous loony said:

In a video interview this week, White House Office of Science and Technology Director John P. Holdren told that he would use the "free market economy" to implement the "massive campaign" he advocated along with Population Bomb author Paul Ehrlich to "de-develop the United States."

Environmentalism looks like a bait-and-switch operation. First, we are given the bait that the “green” technologies of alternative energy, compact fluorescent bulbs, and toilets that have to be flushed several times are just as good as the ungreen technologies and then, once they've banned the ungreen technologies, they turn around and say we must “de-develop.”

Some of my fellow wingnuts may be dubious about the use of the term “free market economy.” What he means is that the Greens will first pass regulations that make the unfavored technologies unaffordable and then accuse us real free-market people of being hypocrites for supposedly being pro-bailout.

Friday, September 17, 2010

This Must Have Been One of the Mouse–Human Hybrids

A mouse in Taiwan roared (seen via TJIC):

A mouse bit a venomous viper to death after it was thrown into the snake's cage as a lunchtime snack.

The tiny rodent killed the snake after a fierce 30-minute battle, emerging with "barely a scratch on him", according to on person who saw the fight.

I supposed that mouse was one of the mouse–human hybrids that future Senator O'Donnell was worried about.

The Jindal administration will appoint the mouse Secretary of Defense. We'll have to get on their good side.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Milestone at My Day Job

I have actually used eTeX for something useful.

Of course, one of the things I found was that I had installed it wrong a few years ago…

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How to Outlaw the Proposed Ground-Zero Mosque

Justice Breyer explains that all you need is a big enough riot:

Last week we saw a Florida Pastor — with 30 members in his church — threaten to burn Korans which lead to riots and killings in Afghanistan. We also saw Democrats and Republicans alike assume that Pastor Jones had a Constitutional right to burn those Korans.  But Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer told me on "GMA" that he's not prepared to conclude that -- in the internet age -- the First Amendment condones Koran burning.

“Holmes said it doesn't mean you can shout 'fire' in a crowded theater,” Breyer told me. “Well, what is it?  Why?  Because people will be trampled to death.  And what is the crowded theater today?  What is the being trampled to death?”

I'm sure the opposition to the mosque is taking notes. How many Tea Partiers with Molotov cocktails will be needed?

On the other hand, I'm disappointed that a judge who believes in freeing the mouse isn't in favor of freeing much else.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


I have rewritten the JavaScript on my Netcom/Earthlink site to produce BMP instead of XBM.

It seems to work with all major browsers.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Note on the Politics of Science and Engineering

Jeffrey Ellis (seen via TJIC) has been speculating on why scientists seem to be to the political left of engineers. I think it might have something to do with the fact that in the most prominent controversy in the past few decades involving both science and politics (creationism) right-wing crackpots have been on the wrong side whereas in the most prominent controversy in the past few decades involving both engineering and politics (nuclear energy) left-wing crackpots have been on the wrong side. (I tried combining the controversies in my suggestion for a Science Debate topic.)

Recently, the Anthropogenic Global Warming controversy (which has to do with both science and engineering) has been heating up. Many scientists will look at it and think “the yahoos are ignoring facts again” and many engineers will look at it and think “the hippies are interfering with energy supplies again.” The fact that the yahoos and hippies are on opposite sides makes things harder to sort out.

My take on it is:

  • The scientists are right: There is such a thing as AGW.
  • The engineers are right: It is not a crisis; it can be fixed easily provided the bleeping hippies don't interfere.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Just Get out of the Bleeping Way

According to Mark Kleiman (seen via Megan McArdle):

When the people who built this country got bitten by bedbugs, they didn’t go whining to the nanny state for a chemical fix. They scratched.
If the claim that DDT is useless for bedbug infestations is as accurate as the claims from the same people about nuclear power …

On the other hand, Mark Kleiman has defended nukes, so the standard left-wing line might be right … but that's not the way to bet.

I know you are but what am I moment

According to a Huffington Post commenter:

This is a tired old meme at this point. Bedbugs developed resistance to DDT back in the 40s and it continues to today.

Further if the ban on DDT was the cause, why did it take 20+ years for this outbreak to develop.

If DDT resistance was the cause, why did it take 50+ years for this outbreak to develop?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

It's Been Done

A few months ago, I suggested:

I'm waiting for a movie in which an incredibly-cute kid turns out to be a vampire … unless it's been done.
It was called Låt den rätte komma in. It came out a couple of years ago in Sweden and an English-language version called Let Me In is about to escape. (I think that's a better phrase for this type of movie than “about to be released.”)

Monday, September 06, 2010

This Is Bleeping Annoying, II

The workaround I devised for the Inline Dynamic Image problem has stopped working in the latest release of Firefox. According to Wikipedia:

XBM support was removed from Internet Explorer 6 and Mozilla Firefox 3.6, although it is still supported in some other browsers, including Safari, Opera and Chrome.
Maybe I'll start using Opera (the scrappy independent web browser). It has both MathML and XBM support.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Neopagans Are Sometimes Useful

While watching an episode of Bones, I heard the following line (quoted here):

Nobody worships Odin anymore.
Thanks to Dan Halloran etc., we can dismiss that cliche.

Neopaganism might even include the One True God. (I have earlier mentioned different religions worshiping the same God here.) I don't know enough about it to be sure and people who say they know more seem to disagree.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

A Brief Note on the Discovery-Channel Terrorist

I'm sure nearly everybody on the Web has heard of the loony who tried taking the Discovery Channel hostage. I noticed one piece of good advice in his manifesto (quoted here): “… get hell off the planet!” Someday we will.

I also can't get over the phrase “parasitic human infants.” Let me guess. His girlfriend got pregnant, refused to get an abortion, and was about to sue him for child support. Judging by the phrase “immigration pollution and the anchor baby filth that follows that,” she may have been an illegal alien.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Listening to the Radio?

According to the latest research:

Mental activity such as crossword puzzles, reading or listening to the radio may slow the decline of cognitive skills initially, but speed up dementia later in old age, according to new research.


Researchers evaluated the mental activities of 1,157 people age 65 or older who did not have dementia at the start of the 12-year study. People scored points (on a five-point scale) for how often they participated in mental activities such as listening to the radio, watching television, reading, playing games and going to a museum.

The more points scored, the more often people participated in mentally stimulating exercises.

During the next six years, the study found that the rate of cognitive decline in people without cognitive impairment was reduced by 52 per cent for each point on the cognitive activity scale.

For people with Alzheimer's disease, the average rate of decline per year increased by 42 per cent for each point on the cognitive activity scale.

Listening to the radio? Watching television???

Let me guess. The people without cognitive impairment were “reading, playing games and going to a museum” whereas those with Alzheimer's disease were “listening to the radio, watching television.”

I Don't Recall Blood in the Streets

Taking Points Memo tries to portray the three-week government shutdown of the mid-1990s as a horror story … and fails.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Some People Are Reluctant to Think Quantitatively

Christopher Ryan, author of Sex at Dawn (recently mentioned by Megan McArdle), demonstrated his limited quantitative skills by comparing mice and elephants:

To believe this, one really has to ignore just about every aspect of human life. If human life is so sacred, why not protest avoidable poverty, tens of thousands of unnecessary infant deaths due to lack of water purification that costs pennies? Why not work to support anti-malaria measures that would save milliions of sacred human lives? Why not work to end war or to protect children from environmental contaminants that kill thousands every year? Why not oppose capital punishment that kills innocents or long prison sentences for victimless crimes?
Okay. He mentioned one elephant (malaria). On the other hand, his allies are more likely to oppose insecticides than our allies.

I won't more than mention that the industrial development that produces the “environmental contaminants” just might help end “avoidable poverty” and enable more people to afford the pennies needed for water purification.

As for his last supposedly-unanswerable question:

On the other hand, if it's simply being a Homo sapiens that makes life sacred, why is a three week old fetus more deserving of our concern than a three year old child in Guatemala – or one living in poverty within miles of where you're reading this now?
The child in Guatemala is more likely to survive without my help.

As for Sex at Dawn, I suspect it won't make any more sense.

A Speculation on Obama and Thorium

My first reaction to Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium was that there's no way a professional leftist would support nukes. I then recalled the left-wing tendency (earlier mentioned here) to reinvent right-wing ideas and pretend they originated them.

Let's see… This reinvention usually requires the ability to blame conservatives for the problem they're trying to solve. (They don't always have to do this—they can sometimes rely on the assumption that anything that sounds odd could never have anything to do with conservatism—but the association between us reactionaries and nukes is a little too clear cut.) They could quite easily blame right-wing fossil-fuel interests or the depleted-uranium industry. They can even use the common trope that “capitalists don't pay any attention past the current quarter” (which doesn't explain Silicon Valley). (Blaming capitalists for not innovating in the face of regulatory uncertainty is an up-and-coming left-wing cliche.) They can try for an unnecessary subsidy, wait for libertarians to criticize it, and then use that as a reason to blame us.

In other words, brace yourselves.

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