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

Monday, March 30, 2015

Drunk as a Skunk

There's a common cliche among leftists criticizing conservatives who insist on religious freedom: “Don't those morons know that this applies to their enemies?” On the contrary this started with a controversy about the religions of Native Americans, a group not normally thought of as right wing. The original law was passed with bipartisan support. It's the left that changed what passes for their minds about it. It looks like leftists are the morons who didn't know that this can apply to their enemies.

I'm reminded of the following quote from The Midas Plague by Frederik Pohl:

Howland was there, drunk as a skunk, disgracefully drunk, Morey remembered thinking as he stared up at Howland from the floor.

Why Indiana

I suspect the protestors are concentrating on Indiana because it does not have a reputation for being far right. They think Indiana can be embarrassed into submission but they think South Carolina can't. If they were merely fund raising they would protest other states but they need a scalp.

Why Now?

A far-fetched but plausible speculation: A few days ago, it suddenly became well known that conservatives could also field an army of people with too much free time. The Left had to come up with a scalp in a hurry to maintain the illusion of inevitability and this was their best shot.

Advice for the Left

If you must come up with something to embarrass the right, I recommend hiring an illegal alien and claiming that it's required by the Biblical commandment to be fair to strangers (Exodus 22:21).

Saturday, March 28, 2015

How to Prevent Maniac Pilots from Crashing Planes

Just let the passengers fly the plane. Daedalus of New Scientist recommended a similar system for buses:

My cyberdemotic friend Daedalus has been weighing the theoretical advantages of buses against the inconvenience of waiting for infrequent vehicles. Smaller and more frequent buses would be preferable but for the expense of manning them. Daedalus remembers the supermarket principle—let the customer do for himself what a worker once did for him—and suggests that the passengers drive the bus themselves. His ‘collective responsibility vehicle’ has a steering wheel, controls, and TV view of the road ahead, for every seat; and each passenger is invited to help drive if he can. A central mini-computer scans the signals from each steering wheel, accelerator, etc. discards the most extreme values and averages the rest for transmission to the traction unit. Thus individual aberrations (the road-hog, or the man who wants to haul the bus off-route to his own doorstep) have no effect, but the mass knowledge of driving and of the bus-route are pooled. Of course, if everybody wants the bus to take an unofficial route, democracy wins, as it should.
Think of it as crowd soaring or wiki-flying.

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Study I'd Like to See

There's a common technique in psychological research: Researchers give the experimental subjects fabricated data. Much of the time, the subjects refuse to believe it. This is classified as irrational behavior. I'd like to see a parody version of this in which the fabricated data point in a preposterous direction. (For example: “Recent research has shown that the Moon really is made of green cheese.” or “Mathematicians have discovered the number 5 comes after the number six.” or “There never was a World Trade Center. It was actually a giant pair of stereo speakers.” or …)

This might even rival the classic article in the BMJ on double-blind tests of parachutes.

A Note on “Agreeing to Disagree”

According to the Aumann's agreement theorem, disagreement might seem irrational. On the other hand, if we use a system of expressing “what your personal analysis says while simultaneously adjusting your private opinions (which might be revealed in your actions) closer to the opinions of the majority,” then disagreements are more apparent than real. In such a system, “agreeing to disagree” can turn into “You look for evidence for X and I'll look for evidence for Y,” which makes sense if one person knows more about X (for example, if it was the religion he was raised in) and the other more about Y. This even makes “confirmation bias” look more rational.

On the other hand, this makes refusal to listen to a dissenter far less rational. It should be reserved for persons who are not arguing in good faith.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fuzzy Matching and Data Compression

Could data compression be used to detect similar files? Many data-compression algorithms work by detecting repeated patterns. If two similar files were concatenated, they could be compressed far more than if two unrelated files were concatenated.

Monday, March 23, 2015

How's That Again?

From a book catalog:

Filling a much-needed gap in the current literature, this book expertly bridges the subjects of number theory and programming and features a multitude of examples and programming exercises in each chapter. It provides an introduction to elementary number theory with fundamental coverage of computer programming and is appropriate for students of mathematics and computer science alike who need to become acquainted with the most famous theorems, problems, and concepts of number theory. In addition, the authors provide a comprehensive presentation of the methodology and applications for readers with various levels of experience, and while theorems are provided, the authors avoid the standard theorem/proof format to aid in reader comprehension. The book features sample programs and research challenges at the end of each chapter for readers to work through, as well as an appendix that provides select answers to the chapter exercises.
I noticed this in the dead-tree version of Wiley's catalog and was able to find a bookseller with the thinko in its book description in time to send the url to the Internet Archive.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Case of the Missing Argument

One of the commonest left-wing arguments is “All the cool nations do this.” For some reason, it's absent from the net-neutrality debate. Of course, if we look at what the “cool nations” have actually done:

If the administration decides to look abroad for answers, it will see that see that countries such as Japan, South Korea and France have developed faster and less expensive broadband networks, but have also refrained thus far from implementing strict net neutrality rules.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

If Voters Resent Foreign Interference in Elections …

The attempts by the Obama administration to tilt against Netanyahu in the recent Israeli election might have energized Netanyahu's base simply because many voters resent foreign interference in elections. On the other hand, the open letter to Iran from Republican Senators might have energized the opposition for the same reason.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Two Problems with “Alternative Energy”

Problem 1: It doesn't allow for much expansion. A typical analysis of alternative energy supplies will frequently find that if we turn all energy production over to wind, rooftop solar, etc. and if we have magic batteries to even out the fluctuations we can barely manage to replace the present energy-supply system. If we want to bring the rest of the world up to U.S. standards, we'll need far more and if the population increases, we will need far more.

Problem 2: By the the standards of anti-nuclear environmentalists, the more effective alternative energy systems (wind with toxic battery backup, desert solar, hydroelectricity) should be shut down. They're not decentralized and have at least as much imaginary negatives as nuclear. If they can shut down nuclear energy, they can shut down nearly anything.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

It's π Day

It's 3/14/15, also known as Einstein's birthday.

Friday, March 13, 2015

What Will Turn out to Fight Cancer Next?

If vaccines can cure cancer… Are GMOs next? Will we soon find out about the amazing properties of high-fructose corn syrup, trans-fatty acids, and gluten?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Left Has the Right Beaten …

… when it comes to unhinged lunatic ranting. The reaction of left-wing activists confronted with right-wingers who claim to be concerned about factual accuracy is far loonier than the reaction of right-wing activists confronted with left-wingers who claim to be concerned about factual accuracy.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Creationist Nonsense and Transhumanist Nonsense

A common creationist attempt at an argument against evolution (for example, here) says:

They say we came from monkeys. Then why tf we still got monkeys??
In a related story, a common transhumanist attempt at an argument against traditional values (for example, here) says:

We're basically learning to produce bodies and minds. Bodies and minds are going to be the two main products of the next wave of all these changes. And if there is a gap between those that know how to produce bodies and minds and those that do not, then this is far greater than anything we saw before in history.

And this time, if you're not fast enough to become part of the revolution, then you'll probably become extinct.

We see the same fallacy in both places: The assumption that, if part of X becomes Y, all of X must become Y.

The really annoying part is that the bulshytt-emitting wing of transhumanism has been able to scare some bioconservatives into taking them seriously.

Saturday, March 07, 2015


There are three possible stories that can be told about the United States:

  1. The purpose of the United States is to limit the power of rulers.
  2. The purpose of the United States is to ensure that the People rule.
  3. The purpose of the United States is to fight for the interests of the White People who started it.
I was already aware of the fact that many left-wing activists take the third story seriously and that there are alleged right-wing activists who do so as well. Following the comments on some right-wing websites made me realize that story 3 is taken seriously by more than a handful of loons.

The really weird part is that those of us who defend story 1 are not only mistaken for people who believe stories 2 or 3 but sometimes mistaken for anti-American people who believe stories 2 or 3.

One more point: The election of President Obama sent the message that story 3 is no longer accepted by the voters, if it ever was. (The bad news is the Obama apparently thinks story 2 is not only correct but anything that might indicate the contrary is the result of right-wing perfidy and must be disregarded, but that's another rant.) I think the Nobel Prize awarded to Obama a few years ago was intended to go to the American people for electing Obama but the rules did not allow that, so it had to Obama instead. (There is the alternative theory that the Nobel Prize Committee was just plain nuts.)

Thursday, March 05, 2015

When Evidence Starts

One common meme lately has been the list of Foods Never to Eat (typical example here). In many of these lists, most of the foods in question do not have actual evidence showing shorter life expectancies or increased illness. They only have far-fetched associations (food X is associated with pesticide Y which is correlated with a syndrome in lab rats that in turn is correlated with cancer). To make matters worse, the lists ignore the fact that toxins have thresholds, below which they're harmless.

The exception is preserved meat. There appears to be actual evidence showing it's unhealthy. The good news is that there is a threshold (just like real toxins) below which it's harmless. Just keep your consumption of pastrami, sausages, etc. below 20 grams per day. (That's five ounces per week for those of us who prefer hexadecimal units.)

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Assumption of Censorship

One sign of paranoia: The belief that the Establishment is censoring you … even in the absence of evidence.

My introduction to this was the time I read: “You won't find these ideas in a university library!” in a university library. Another example is the belief that chain bookstores would never carry anything by Noam Chomsky. Shortly after I read that claim, I checked a Borders bookstore and found a shelf full of Chomsky's books. (Or is that why it's out of business?)

On the other hand, self-censorship appears to be common. I don't even mean self-censorship of what you speak but self-censorship of what you read. It's amazing how many have never heard of the ideas that liberals could be fascists (as described by Nobel prize winner Friedrich von Hayek as well as Jonah Goldberg or even Steven J. Gould) but also the evidence showing that “primitive peoples” did not preserve their environment intact, the fact that Hannukah is a celebration of armed resistance, and even the fact that the roundness of the Earth was well known in the Middle Ages. Maybe we should fight that instead of blaming an Establishment.

I'm reminded of this by the comments here on a possible Google experiment on filtering web sites by factual accuracy. Even if someone tries using that for censorship purposes, it's unlikely to last. For a while Google was shutting down anti-Obama blogs. They had to backtrack on that. The experiment might be an example of a common phenomenon: Leftists attempting to devise an objective test that they imagine will prove conservatives are scum. This is then followed by dropping it when the test gives answers they don't like.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Does Life Require Borders?

Patri Friedmann on borders:

One of the things life has taught me this decade is the importance of exclusion and boundaries, which are highly relevant to this metaphor. A thermodynamic system with poor borders (less insulation), will have greater thermal conductivity. It may do more work initially, but it will also move at maximum speed towards that final resting state where all energy is evenly distributed. Such a state is peaceful in precisely the same way as death; for without flows of energy, there can be no life (in vivo or in silico – as no computation is possible). I suppose those who think human extinction is fair or just will consider this the state of ultimate fairness. I don’t particularly care for that final solution.

So if you even care about life existing – let alone the infinite diversity possible therein – then (contra Caplan), boundaries (such as national borders) are an absolute necessity. No differences, no energy flow, no (thermodynamic) work, no life. As in the stars, so on the earth: romance flows from polarity; trade from comparative advantage; thermodynamic work from heat differences; evolution from variation; economic competition from competing alternatives. All progress is driven by differences; so to erase differences is (counter-eponymously) to end progress.

Alexander Cairns-Smith on borders:
The control of the environment by primitive genes depended, not on the individual acts of individual genes, but on effects depending on millions and millions of copies of them. There was thus no need for anything as neat as a cell. If you are a gene very close to the ground, if your modes of preferential survival and propagation depend on deflecting somewhat, and to your advantage, processes that are going on in any case around you, there is no need to be so cordoned off. Indeed it is better not to be.
I won't more than mention that there aren't many border controls inside the U.S. but that doesn't make the U.S. homogeneous.

Phyletic Gradualism or Punctuated Equilbrium?

Sean Davis is asking journalists:

…do you believe in phyletic gradualism or punctuated equilbrium?
My answer: Let's do both!

Phyletic gradualism is based on the idea that nature does not make jumps. Punctuated equilibrium is based on the idea that almost all the time, species aren't changing. Oddly enough both theories are compatible with each other in the presence of change. The Cantor function (also known as the “Devil's Staircase”) increases from 0 to 1 even though it is both continuous (the equivalent of phyletic gradualism) and the first derivative is defined and zero almost everywhere (the equivalent of punctuated equilibrium).

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