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

Friday, September 30, 2016

Outer Space Settlement Killer Apps

The most obvious reasons for space colonization (to deal with resource shortages and to take care of satellites) are technically obsolete.

Another possible use is regulatory arbitrage, i.e., escaping obnoxious laws. This comes in two varieties:

  1. Escaping laws against activities that people do not want nearby. Problem: competition from places on Earth (Las Vegas, Switzerland, or even seasteading or Antarctica)
  2. Escaping laws against activities that people do not want anywhere. Problem 1: Colonies in deep space are sitting ducks and planetary surfaces are almost as easy to bomb as Earth's surface. Problem 2: Do you really want to help Roko's basilisk?

The best guess for a killer app is zero-gravity tourism. (We might even have zero-gravity residence as in “Abercrombie Station” by Jack Vance.) It's something unavailable on the Earth. Once we have a demand for large amounts of mass in orbit, it will make sense to have asteroid colonies as well to supply them. The asteroid colonies in turn might also be used to regulatory arbitrage since they are more defendable than either deep-space colonies or planetary surfaces.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Suggestion for a Research Program for Social Science

It has recently been discovered that people with “science curiosity” don't always agree with people who actually know something about science, in particular the science-curious people are more likely to agree with left-wing theories than science-knowledgeable people. What other differences are there?

Are the science-curious people more likely to be atheists? Are they more likely to think of energy as something mystical? Do they have the foggiest idea of what “infinity” means? Do they think the moon disappears when you close your eyes? How stoned are they anyway?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Explaining an Absurd Line in a Review

According to Ezra Glinter, while reviewing The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death's End by Cixin Liu:

While Liu's humanity on the whole is conservative, some characters—both heroes and antiheroes—are determined to save civilization at all costs.
(seen via NRO Corner).

As far as I can tell, here “conservative” means a disbelief in change, with a corollary that it is no necessary to react to change. That might even be true of some conservatives. On the other hand, Leftists also disbelieve in change, although on the left that usually takes the form of a belief that it's possible to change one thing and any other changes that might cause can be disregarded (e.g., that businesses won't react to minimum-wage laws).

Friday, September 23, 2016

Million? I Thought You Said Billion!

The following factoid has been going around the Web:

  • 1 in 3,408 chance of choking to death on food

  • 1 in 3,640,000,000 chance of being killed by a refugee in a terror attack

Source: US National Safety Council, Cato Institute
This is a potentially misleading statistic since the more relevant fact is the chance of being murdered by a foreign-born terrorist in general, which is 1 in 3.6 million per year.

On the other hand, it doesn't matter because either figure shows the absurdity of the Skittles analogy.

PS: Trump hotels aren't so safe either.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

America and the “Splinter Cultures”

I've started reading Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer (about the fact that the British colonial settlers of North America were not a homogeneous group and could be divided into Puritans, Cavaliers, Quakers, and Borderers) and it sounded familiar. It resembles the Splinter Cultures of the Dorsai series by Gordon Dickson. The Friendlies were an analog of Puritans, the Cetans were an analog of Cavaliers, the Exotics were an analog of Quakers, and the Dorsai were an analog of Borderers.

One lesson we can learn from it is that the US was multicultural from the start.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Specific Examples of Multiplying Maximum Extent by Maximum Intensity

If you want specific examples of the following stupidity:

There's also the belief that to determine the importance of anything, you can multiply its maximum extent by its maximum intensity.
you can consider the belief that open borders is a “dog whistle” for White genocide. If the extent of areas where white people can be found does not change but the maximum percentage goes from 100% to 90%, that means 10% of whites have been killed off, at least in StupidWorld. In addition, if another race is 100% in at least one area and can be found in all areas, that means it has taken over StupidWorld. (This also explains how the same people can claim that race X is taking over and that race Y is also taking over without seeing any contradiction.)

You can also find a similar idea in environmentalism. If at least one person has died because of pollutant X and if pollutant X can be found everywhere on Earth, that means the human race is done for … but enough about dihydrogen monoxide.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

General Political Stupidity

I've been trying identify the causes of political stupidity that are independent of sides. Two the commonest causes are: 1) the belief that there are only two sides; 2) ignoring the possibility of change.

If there only two sides …

If there are only two sides, politics becomes a zero-sum game. Anything done to the other side will not backfire and you will not offend potential allies. In addition, anybody dissenting from your platform must be a traitor.

If change won't happen…

If change won't happen, you can get away with treating human beings as chess pieces to be moved off, on, or around the board as desired and who won't actually react to that.

“High” and “increasing” are synonyms; “low” and “decreasing” are synonyms.

Today's anything can be projected into the indefinite past and future. You can assume historical controversies can be easily mapped onto today's.

Variation: Anything that does change, changes in the direction favorable to our side's argument.

Other causes

There are other causes. For example, there the always popular belief that pointing to the existence of a problem means the solution you're offering will work.

There's also the belief that to determine the importance of anything, you can multiply its maximum extent by its maximum intensity.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

We're Waiting

We were promised a sea-ice collapse! When will we get one?

My Reaction to a Fark Headline

Fark recently ran the following capsule summary of a news item they were linking to:

Huge organization known for tripling and quadrupling down on mistakes, corruption, and bad policy endorses Presidential candidate who most closely emulates similar behavior
I honestly had no idea of which candidate they meant until I used the mouse-over.

Addendum: It happened again!

Friday, September 16, 2016

A Sixteen-Year Political Cycle?

Calvin Trillin, in his essay “The New, New Right” (quoted here in a different context) noticed that conservative political activism tends to revive every sixteen years. At the time, that was limited to 1946, 1962, and 1978, but it has continued with 1994 and 2010. Will the pattern continue?

There's a possibly-associated phenomenon. Six years after the revival, it goes awry and is hijacked by a moderate and/or a crackpot. (Moderates: Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush the Younger, and Donald Trump. Crackpots: Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace, and Donald Trump).

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Trump Movement Summarized

The Trump movement is apparently based on the theory that any American who wants to buy from foreigners, hire foreigners, sell to foreigners, or rent to foreigners is part of a basket of deplorables.

The outrage with which the Trump supporters greeted the phrase “basket of deplorables” is almost hypocritical enough to be classified as leftist.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

What Does This Imply about Human Biodiversity Research?

According to a recent study of publication bias:

Findings of statistically significant differences between groups or treatments tend to be treated as more worthy of submission and publication than those of non-significant differences.
What does this imply about human biodiversity research?

In a related story, in linguistics there appears to be a lack of evidence that genetic explanations of language are more reliable than “blank slate” theories.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Why Does Deep Learning Work?

According to Henry Lin and Max Tegmark, Deep Learning works because it reflects the structure of the universe on every level. The theory that the universe has the same structure on every level sounds familiar.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Nuclear-Powered Piston Engines, Some Figures

A few years ago, I came up with a plan for getting power from controlled nuclear fusion: nuclear-powered piston engines:

Imagine a piston engine in which the cylinders are the size of the Vehicle Assembly Building and the spark plugs are replaced by nuclear bombs.
Let's see… A megaton is \(4.184\times10^{15}~\text{J}\). A typical pressure in a piston engine is about 1 MPa or \(10^6~\text{J}/\text{m}^3\). In other words, you would need a volume of \(4.184\times10^9~\text{m}^3\). That would be a cube a mile on a side.

The Vehicle-Assembly Building isn't big enough. Even the Boeing Everett Factory isn't big enough. Even a building the area of the largest Target import warehouse and the height of the Burj Khalifa misses by a factor of 30. Bummer.

This isn't a matter of “Wait for next year!” It's a matter of “Wait for next century!”

Monday, September 05, 2016

There Goes the Neighborhood!

The coyotes are moving in.

The coyotes originally came to these parts to protest at Acme's headquarters but decided to settle in.

Meanwhile, out west a roadrunner hears the call of the Big Apple …

Saturday, September 03, 2016

A Consequence of Time Lag in Learning Mathematics

Time lag in learning mathematics is a well-known phenomenon:

I think the answer is supplied by a phenomenon that everybody who teaches mathematics has observed: the students always have to be taught what they should have learned in the preceding course. (We, the teachers, were of course exceptions; it is consequently hard for us to understand the deficiencies of our students.) The average student does not really learn to add fractions in an arithmetic class; but by the time he has survived a course in algebra he can add numerical fractions. He does not learn algebra in the algebra course; he learns it in calculus, when he is forced to use it. He does not learn calculus in a calculus class either; but if he goes on to differential equations he may have a pretty good grasp of elementary calculus when he gets through. And so on throughout the hierarchy of courses; the most advanced course, naturally, is learned only by teaching it.

This is not just because each previous teacher did such a rotten job. It is because there is not time for enough practice on each new topic; and even it there were, it would be insufferably dull. …

It has a corollary: Nobody understands cutting-edge mathematics, not even the people discovering it. That might explain why people took the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics seriously. Quantum mechanics could not be understood until it was used to discover other things.

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