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, May 30, 2015

I Told You So

A few years ago, I warned about the possibility of terrorists infiltrating the government.

It's starting.

Maybe secret NSA surveillance is not necessarily a good thing.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Fifteen Celsius

I started breathing 59 years ago today or, as Tom Lehrer puts it, I'm fifteen Celsius.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Statistics Abuse

According to The New York Post, “You’re 45% more likely to be murdered in de Blasio’s Manhattan.”

Let's look at more complete statistics:

  • First, shootings are up but crime is down. (More guns, less crime. It's not just a slogan.)
  • Second, the increase in the homicide rate from the same period in 2014 to 2015 is not statistically significant.
  • Third, the increase in the homicide rate from the same period in 2013 to 2015 is a flat zero.
When environmentalists cite similar statistics, I'm ready to ridicule them.

The propensity among some conservatives to take these statistics seriously reminds me of a conversation I had the first time I went to Manhattan by myself:
“Were you mugged?”
“Not that I noticed.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Usual Whine Is Missing

Nearly any discussion about engineers at Pajamas Media (typical example here) will include an extended comment thread full of people claiming that holders of H1B visas are competing with “Real Americans” (yes, those are sneer quotes) and driving down wages.

For some reason, that was missing from the comments on the Left's attempted War on Nerds. There was a discussion of attempted oppression of nerds with no mention of H1B visas. Nobody accused the hipsters of trying to drive down nerd wages.

Maybe it's the non-nerdy engineers who are being replaced by the H1B people. Or maybe the commenters in the right-wing division of the Professional Whining Class don't know how to pretend to be engineers.

Addendum: I fixed the link.

Monday, May 25, 2015

What Were the “Wheels within Wheels” That Ezekiel Saw?

According to most translations of Ezekiel 1:16, the creatures Ezekiel saw included a “wheel within a wheel”. Other translations have the phrase “wheel intersecting a wheel”. (In Hebrew, it's “האופן בתוך האופן”.)

The second translation seems to be nonsense since an object cannot rotate around two different axes at the same time … in three dimensions. Maybe Ezekiel saw a four-dimensional object rotating around two different axes.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Uh Oh

There's a pro-nuclear petition.

Does this mean I have to come up with something anti-nuclear now?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Set Theory and the New Math

I attended elementary school during the heyday of the “New Math” (now best known for the Tom Lehrer song). During that time, I happened to see a book in the public library about one of the topics mentioned in the New Math classes: Naive Set Theory by Paul Halmos. I insisted on taking it out. I mainly learned that there was quite a lot of math I had yet to learn.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Half a Loaf Is Worse Than No Bread

The above appears to be the motto of the activists protesting Facebook's free Internet service.

Come to think of it, that is also the basis of minimum-wage and rent-control laws.

On the other hand, maybe all this is based on the assumption that, once low-quality X is banned, high-quality X will appear by Magic.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Better Mad Men Ending

A better Mad Men ending: Don Draper apparently dies but wakes up as Dick Whitman with a humdrum job, an intact liver, and his first wife.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Recent Progress

According to Scott Sumner:

My grandma was born in 1890 into a middle class family in small town Wisconsin. Her home probably lacked indoor plumbing, most home appliances, electric lights, telephone, TV, radio, car, etc., etc. Slightly improved from life in ancient Rome. She lived to see jet air travel, computers, atomic bombs, antibiotics, and died the week they landed on the moon.

I was born in a world of indoor plumbing, atomic bombs, jet air travel, home appliances, computers, cars, telephones, TV, radio, antibiotics. I'll turn 60 this year, and live in a world of indoor plumbing, atomic bombs, jet air travel, home appliances, computers, cars telephones, TV, radio, antibiotics, plus the internet and cell phones. Yeah, I'd say change is slowing down, really fast.

I thought I'd make a list of things I have now that I or my family didn't have 50 years ago and include the approximate date I or we acquired them:
  • 1970 color television
  • 1976 pocket calculator
  • 1982 home computer
  • 1985 vcr (and descendants)
  • 1989 air conditioning
  • 1991 dishwasher
  • 1993 answering machine
  • 1994 internet connection
  • 1996 microwave
  • 2002 cell phone
  • 2012 e-book reader
There's been some progress.

Progress before and after 1919 or 1972

According to H. G. Wells (writing on improvements in the process of scholarly research between the time of the Library of Alexandria and 1919):

It is curious to note how slowly the mechanism of the intellectual life improves. Contrast the ordinary library facilities of a middle-class English home, such as the present writer is now working in, with the inconveniences and deficiencies of the equipment of an Alexandrian writer, and one realizes the enormous waste of time, physical exertion, and attention that went on through all the centuries during which that library flourished. Before the present writer lie half a dozen books, and there are good indices to three of them. He can pick up any one of these six books, refer quickly to a statement, verify a quotation, and go on writing. Contrast with that the tedious unfolding of a rolled manuscript. Close at hand are two encyclopedias, a dictionary, an atlas of the world, a biographical dictionary, and other books of reference. They have no marginal indices, it is true; but that perhaps is asking for too much at present. There were no such resources in the world in 300 B.C. Alexandria had still to produce the first grammar and the first dictionary. This present book is being written in manuscript; it is then taken by a typist and typewritten very accurately. It can then, with the utmost convenience, be read over, corrected amply, rearranged freely, retyped, and recorrected. The Alexandrian author had to dictate or recopy every word he wrote. Before he could turn back to what he had written previously, he had to dry his last words by waving them in the air or pouring sand over them; he had not even blotting paper. Whatever an author wrote had to be recopied again and again before it could reach any considerable circle of readers, and every copyist introduced some new error. Whenever a need for maps or diagrams arose, there were fresh difficulties. Such a science as anatomy, for example, depending as it does upon accurate drawing, must have been enormously hampered by the natural limitations of the copyist. The transmission of geographical fact again must have been almost incredibly tedious. No doubt a day will come when a private library and writing-desk of the year A.D. 1919 will seem quaintly clumsy and difficult; but, measured by the standards of Alexandria, they are astonishingly quick, efficient, and economical of nervous and mental energy.
I read the above passage in the early 1970s. At the time, there had been little change since 1919. The progress since the early 1970s has been much greater.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

“…The Geometry of the Dream-Place He Saw Was Abnormal, Non-Euclidean, and Loathsomely Redolent of Spheres and Dimensions Apart from Ours”

H. P. Lovecraft must have hated New York.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Two Suggestions for States-Rights Conservatives

  1. It's common for states-rights conservatives to claim that state governments can enforce immigration laws that the Federal government does not see fit to enforce that strictly. Could the opposite also apply? Could New York state, for example, grant green cards (that only apply in New York) on its own? The Federal government has sole power over naturalization, but need that include sole power over residency?
  2. It's also common for states-rights conservatives to claim that any attempt by the Federal government to regulate abortion is usurping state prerogatives. On the other hand, since the Federal government has sole power over naturalization, it has the power to naturalize all fetuses. Once that happens, state governments will be forbidden to discriminate against fetuses.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Offending Religions, the Precedent

As far as I can tell, the closest precedent to the “Draw Mohammed” art exhibit was the “Piss Christ” art exhibit. It might be worth checking if people condemned one but not the other for both sides.

For the record, my reaction to “Piss Christ” was to defend defunding it:

People should not be compelled to support opinions they disapprove of. Money talks and we all have the right to remain silent.
Clearly, I must call for revoking any NEA grants to Pamela Gellar.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

It's Starting

I recently quoted Paul Graham as saying:

I suspect the biggest source of moral taboos will turn out to be power struggles in which one side only barely has the upper hand. That's where you'll find a group powerful enough to enforce taboos, but weak enough to need them.
and then predicted
The above quote has an obvious application to the tempest in a teapot in Indiana. It also applies to the current allies of libertarians, especially if they win by a small margin. Next year's taboos might come from people we're applauding or defending today.
More recently, we see

Parents in Idaho called the cops last week on junior-high student Brady Kissel when she had the nerve to help distribute a book they’d succeeded in banning from the school curriculum.

The book in question was Sherman Alexie’s young adult novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Published in 2007, it won the National Book Award and has become popular with young teens, supposedly for its universal themes of fitting in, making sense of race, and sexual discovery.

The sex part (and let’s face it—probably the race part) led parents to lobby Junior Mountain High School to remove it from the syllabus, citing its sexual content (it discusses masturbation) and supposedly anti-Christian content.

Not every would-be censor is on the Left.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Jack Vance on Police States

From The Star King by Jack Vance:

Humanity many times has had sad experience with superpowerful police forces… As soon as (the police) slip out from under the firm thumb of a suspicious local tribune, they become arbitrary, merciless, a law unto themselves. They think no more of justice, but only of establishing themselves as a privileged and envied elite. They mistake the attitude of natural caution and uncertainty as admiration and respect, and presently they start to swagger back and forth, jingling their weapons in a megalomaniac euphoria. People thereupon become not masters, but servants. Such a police force becomes merely an aggregate of uniformed criminals, the more baneful in that their position is unchallenged and sanctioned by law. The police mentality cannot regard a human being as other than an item or object to be processed as expeditiously as possible. Public convenience or dignity means nothing; police prerogatives assume the status of divine law. Submissiveness is demanded. If a police officer kills a civilian, it is a regrettable circumstance: The officer was possibly overzealous. If a civilian kills a police officer, all Hell breaks loose. The police foam at the mouth. All business comes to a standstill until the perpetrator of this most dastardly act is found out. Inevitably, when apprehended, he is beaten or otherwise tortured for his intolerable presumption. The police complain they cannot function efficiently, that criminals escape them. Better a hundred unchecked criminals than the despotism of one unbridled police force.
In other words, more centralized control over local police forces is a terrible idea.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

How DARE You Express Disapproval!

There have been several recent controversies about laws (or proposed laws) prohibiting people from expressing disapproval of someone else's behavior during working hours: expressing disapproval of guns or birth control pills or abortifacients or, most recently, gay marriage. I just remembered I had encountered a similar attitude before: In the 1970s, I would leave parties when they started passing around “funny cigarettes” and some people objected. I have not heard of any recent attempt to outlaw leaving parties early but it might just be a matter of time…

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