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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Non-Human Elveshams

In “The Story of the Late Mr. Elvesham” by H. G. Wells, Egbert Elvesham carried out a Grand Theft Me in which he swapped bodies with a much younger man. I've wondered about the possibility of transplanting a mind from a human body into an animal brain, preferably a large animal brain such as that of a cetacean or an elephant. That might be an interesting topic for an SF story. I don't recall if it has ever been done although the opposite took place in Beyond Humanity by Justin Lieber.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Note on the “Em” Revolution

For the past few years, Robin Hanson has been speculating on the effects of an ems, human emulating robots. One obvious possibility is that robots (who can work cheaply) will drive wages down to near zero. That might not be a problem if prices are also near zero. On the other hand, not all the components of prices come from wages; some come from land or capital. In other words, if you own a home or other large good, you had better hang on to it. Someday you might have to make ends meet renting it to the ems.

Another way to look at this is that people who are prepared need not worry.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Read These Together

The following (seen via Arnold Kling) sounded quite alarming:

In 1998, about 28 percent of American men 80 and older had a functional limitation; by 2006, that figure was nearly 42 percent.
The above would have sounded even more alarming if I hadn't read the following first:
In 1976, 8.3% of students in U.S. public schools were officially disabled.  By 2010, the disabled share was up to 13%.
Maybe we're counting disability differently nowadays among both young and old. I'd like to know if the percentage of disabled pets is increasing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Note to Pajamas Media

I have no objection to sponsored email but the ads should not shout “THIS IS BULSHYTT!” They should not start off:

This Hushed-Up Cure for Heart Disease, Diabetes, Alzheimer's and Cancer Has Been Censored, Banned, and Blacklisted... Until Now!
In case you were wondering the ad purports to be about telomerase, a substance so secret that it's been covered at PJ Media. Besides, the use of “natural” products by researchers is not top secret.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Argument from Authority?

The following style of argument is sometimes found and is very annoying:

The scientists in this field say X.

Wait a moment… Here's a scientist in this field who says Y.

“I think that’s called argument by authority.”

Apparently, someone saying “Science proves my side right” isn’t using an argument from authority until he/she cites a specific scientist. This is the opposite of [CITATION NEEDED]. They might even explain why some people cite a “landmark study”, but can't be bothered to give you a reference.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Suggestion on How to Handle ISIS

Maybe we can ask China for help.

Unlike many potential allies, China is interested in keeping oil prices down.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Leaker Wanted

If the Democratic 2012 victory was made possible by a unified central database, it should be possible for a leaker to grab a large part of it. There must be a scandal in there somewhere.

Paging James O'Keefe …

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Both Sides Can Cite This

According to The Wall Street Journal's review of The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward E. Baptist:

For example, the Consolidated Association of the Planters of Louisiana—a local bank chartered in 1827—enjoyed a lucrative relationship with Baring Brothers of London, a firm that lobbied successfully to persuade the Louisiana legislature to back the association's bonds with public credit. Thus if the association failed to pay off its bonds, Louisiana's taxpayers would be liable for the debt. Baring would eventually handle some $2.5 million in bond sales for the association, marketing to clients in Britain as well as the European continent.
Both sides in the debate on whether slavery is capitalist or not can cite the above.
  • Liberals: See? I told you so. Governments bail out businesses just like capitalism.
  • Conservatives: See? I told you so. Governments bail out businesses just like liberalism.
These are all reasons to believe if you already believe

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Amazing News about Philosophy

Philosophy turns out to be useful for something after all.

Now all philosophers need is rigor and sense ….

Friday, September 12, 2014

It's Programmer's Day

The 0x100th day of the year.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Meta-Analysis Needed

It looks like the most problematic social science papers in recent years have been on the topic of priming effects (example here and sarcasm there and my earlier comments yonder). This research is commonly cited by people claiming free will doesn't exist.

There's another problem field in social science: neuropsychology. It is noted for small sample sizes and being used as an excuse to disbelieve free will.

We need a meta-analysis. Is there a correlation between whether the media reports of a social-science study emphasize its supposed challenge to free will and the shoddiness of the study? Shoddiness might be measured by either the smallness of the samples or the lack of replication.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

One Way to Identify a Racist

Someone who wants to “reinforce the border” is not necessarily a racist. He/she might be excessively paranoid about rest of the world and excessively trusting of the US government (please note that a border fence, for example, can be used to keep people in and that the border controls are likely to be run by possemaniacs or sadists) but that might not be racism. It's racism when someone only wants to fortify the southern border and ignores the northern border.

Monday, September 08, 2014

A Few Thoughts on Possible Scottish Independence

Who will have control over North Sea oil and gas? Could Scotland be tempted to go down the Venezuela route?

Will Scotland retain the British monarchy? Or will they insist on the heir of Bonnie Prince Charlie? Who is that, anyway?

Will this inspire similar movements in the rest of the British Isles? Will the Heptarchy return? Will East Anglia rise again? Will the same people cheering this also cheer Ulster independence? What about independence for Connacht, Leinster, and Munster?

Sunday, September 07, 2014

An Old Complaint about Reagan

Back in the 1980s, one common complaint about Reagan (typical example here) was that he was less than enthusiastic about enforcing laws that he wanted Congress to repeal. We see an echo of that today in conservative complaints about Obama's lack of enthusiasm for enforcing immigration laws.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

How to Be Beheaded

If you're about to be beheaded, please don't be meek about it; that's unlikely to save you. Margaret Pole can be a role model:

She was dragged to the block and, as she refused to lay her head on it, was forced down. As she struggled, the inexperienced executioner's first blow made a gash in her shoulder rather than her neck. Ten additional blows were required to complete the execution. A probably apocryphal account states that she leapt from the block after the first clumsy blow and ran, pursued by the executioner, being struck several times before she died.
Alternative possibility: Have a bomb in your belly (ObSF: “If This Goes On…” by Robert Heinlein) set to go off if you're decapitated and your heart stops.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Radical Immigrants to Minnesota Raise Their Children to Overthrow the US

It's time to deport the Finns.

On the other hand, many of them went to their idea of a Promised Land.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Douglas Adams, Enormous Integers, and Infinity

John Baez's discussion of enormous integers and infinity:

Here’s a puzzle due to the logician Harvey Friedman. It too has an unexpected answer.

Say you have a finite alphabet to write with. How long can a word be if no block of letters in this word, from the nth letter to the 2nth, is allowed to appear as a subsequence of a bigger block from the mth letter to the 2mth?

If you have just one letter, this is the longest it can be:


If you have two, this is the longest it can be:


Puzzle: How long can the word be if you have three letters in your alphabet?

Friedman showed there’s still a finite upper bound on how long it can be. But, he showed it’s incomprehensibly huge!

Now Friedman is one of the world’s experts on large cardinals—large infinite numbers. So when he says a finite number is incomprehensibly huge, you sit up and listen. It’s like seeing a seasoned tiger hunter running through the jungle with his shotgun, yelling “Help! It’s a giant ant!”

reminded me of the following Douglas Adams quote:

The car shot forward into the circle of light, and suddenly Arthur had a fairly clear idea of what infinity looked like.

It wasn't infinity in fact. Infinity itself looks flat and uninteresting. Looking up into the night sky is looking into infinity—distance is incomprehensible and therefore meaningless. The chamber into which the aircar emerged was anything but infinite, but it was just very very big, so big that it gave the impression of infinity far better than infinity itself.

I'm reminded of the saying “This is not mathematics. This is theology.” (about the more abstract parts of mathematics).

Monday, September 01, 2014

“Can” vs. “May”: The Difference is Important

Leftists are opposed to Uber, etc. because of the following simple syllogism:

  1. Under laissez-faire capitalism, businesses can do anything they want.
  2. Businesses want to suppress competition.
  3. Laissez-faire capitalism will thus lead to monopoly.
They went wrong at just one word: They think laissez faire means “businesses can do anything they want” instead of “businesses may do anything they want.” I suspect some of them simply do not know there is a difference.

On the other hand, according to stereotype, English majors are more likely to be leftists. Shouldn't they, of all people, know the difference?

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