Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Monday, March 28, 2011

Quote of the Day

"The trouble with mornings is that they come when you're not awake."
--Archie Goodwin, in "A Window for Death," by Rex Stout

How Long Does It Take

to fix a highway?

Depends on how big the earthquake is, right?

Once There Was a Time...

when folks worried not about being overweight.  Quite the opposite, it seems. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Obama, Ockham, Wind Turbines, and Sex

Another Milestone Passed!

An anonymous Twitter notes that "Obama has launched more cruise missiles than all other Nobel Peace Prize winners combined."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Wit and Wisdom of Ravn Olafsdottr

"When diligently sought, it is best to be someone else."

“All this miigimoos stop when enemy appear.  Well, perhaps not all miigimoos.” 

"We need bigger ship.  Accoommodate Doonovan’s egoo."

Mashdasan ran a hand across his cheek and chin.  “Don’t be too certain, Deadly One.  My loyalty is to the Confederation and to the Names.” 
“Good.  So be mine.  Hooray for Confederation.  Huzzah for Names.  We do secret handshake later.  Will you give me back my ship?” 

"Love doos not mean you nayver spank the little rascal."

"Always problem with undercover.  Better job you do, more your friends shoot at you."

"The Lion’s Mouth sends you out in pairs, don’t they?” 
Ravn nodded.  “Usually.  Second kills first if first falters.  Nice system.  Encourages heartfelt commitment to job.” 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

An Feis Phadraig!

Today is St. Patrick's Day, or as we Irish call it: "amateur night at the bars."  In consideration of the day, we offer a bit of music.  Normally, I don't like over-orchestrated harp music, but one takes what the net hauls in, and Fanny Po'er and O Carolan's Concerto are among my favorite O Carolan tunes. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dodeka Pi Day Coming Up in the Spiral Arm!

For those who missed Pi Day on 3/14 be aware that pi in duodecimal notation is

3.184809493#918664573X6211##151551X05729290X7809X492..
(where X is 10 and # is 11 compressed to single digits)

Is There *Nothing* This Theory Cannot Explain?

Monday, March 14, 2011

In the Garden of Whimsy

Pi Day!


Today is Pi Day.  So along with the Alamo and the Maine, remember the pi.
π r²

But as a friend once told me, "Pie are not square; pie are round.  Cornbread are square." 

If we superscribe a circle with squares of side r, it is clear that the area of the circle is less than four of these squares (left).  Four such squares is 4r².  If we inscribe the circle with squares of diagonal r, the area of the circle is clearly greater than four of these squares.  Thanks to Mr. Pythagoras, we know that if the diagonal is r, the side is SQRT(2X), so the area is r²/2.  Four of these is 2r².  Therefore, the area of a circle must lie between 2r² and 4r², and 3r² seems a reasonable guess.  If not for those curvey lines....  So it turns out to be "a little bit more than 3."  To wit:
3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209749445923078
164062862089986280348253421170679821480865132823066470938446095505822
317253594081284811174502841027019385211055596446229489549303819644288
109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091456485669234603486104543
266482133936072602491412737245870066063155881748815209209628292540917
15364367892590360011330530548820466521384146951941511609...
How's that for a pi in the face?  All hail, the mighty PI. 

However, there is seldom need for anything more than 3.14159; or even 3.1416, if we round.  Every really real circular object can be measured to a specific number of decimal places, and so the ratio C/d will always be a rational number, no matter how many decimals are in our instrument.  So what is this "irrational" pi anyway but a pure spirit, not found anywhere in the real world?  Hunh?  Credulous believers in PI even call it "irrational," but "rationalists" know there is no such thing in reality.  A fig for your pi.

There is apparently a movement afoot to replace π with 2π in radial formulae, calling it τ (tau).  There is a certain elegance in notation in trig if you do this.  Unfortunately, the area of the circle becomes τd²/8 (or τ r²/2 if you prefer), which is not so elegant.  The circumference of a circle is 2π r, which would be τ r.  So τ is the ratio of the circumference to the radius (C/r) while π is the ratio of the circumference to the diameter (C/r) or the ratio of the area to the squared radius (A/r²).  Notationally, tau may simplify linear formulae while pi makes more elegance dealing with square formulae.  Perhaps we should define a number for V/r³. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Great Fire

Back in 1853, the folk who lived atop German Hill had desired to build their own church rather than climb down the cliffs, cross the river, and climb the hill on the other side to attend St. Bernard's.  Too many Irish there, anyway.  So they built a church atop German Hill: white-washed brick with a steeple in front.  The church was dedicated by the fourth bishop of Philadelphia, Rev. John Neumann, who was one of two saints associated with the parish.  (The other was Dorothy Day, who established a Catholic Workers farm on Morgan's Hill.)  
But by 1885, the old white-washed brick church was too small for the German congregation.  During the funeral of Fr. John B. Frisch, the seventh pastor, people had knelt in the grass outside all day, in the pouring rain.  Though perhaps this was as much a tribute to the greatness of the man as to the smallness of the building.   A new church was built on the same site. 

This was the life's work of Fr. James Regnery, 13th pastor of St. Joseph.  He found the church nearly in ruins, the school inadequate and the sisters’ residence in poor condition.  Also, he was confronted by a debt of $11,000 – and this was in 1885 gold dollars!  “Being fitted by nature and grace as a genius of finance,” Fr. Regnery was equal to the task and liquidated the debt, refurbished the convent to provide bright and cheery quarters for the sisters, and then turned his attention to the church building.

Infantile Regression

Here is an illustration of the limitations of linear thinking alluded to in a previous statistical post: When is an Average Not an Average?  Both charts involve everyone's favorite topic: Global Warming/Climate Change/Climate Disruption. 

The first is a time series of the satellite data compiled by RSS [Remote Sensing Systems].  The series, plotted by Bob Tisdale, was for the purpose of comparing the recent revision of the data algorithm -- certain satellite feeds have been added, others discounted or weighted differently -- to the previous revision.  (Overall effect is that v.3.3 produces slightly cooler temps than v.3.2)  But our purpose here is to observer the linear regression thrown through the data series, for everyone needs a good laugh now and then.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

SF ga yomitai!

Eifelheim, the Gift That Keeps on Giving

The annual SF ga yomitai! has just been published in Japan, and I have the go-ahead to tell you this.  In a letter to my agent last month, we were told the following:

Tokyo Sogensha, the Japanese publisher for Michael Flynn's Eifelheim, has just brought us great news.  Eifelheim has just been chosen as the "Best SF for 2010."  It's a ranking organized by an annually-published SF guidebook, SF ga yomitai! (We Want to Read SF!). The ranking is decided by SF writers, editors and critics; and Eifelheim got a No. 1 in the ranking for foreign SF novels for which Japanese editions were published in 2010.

This is not the Seiun Award, but a ranking voted on as we are told by "writers, editors, and critics."  Coming on top of the French Prix Julia Verlanger, Eifelheim seems to be getting more than a few nods elsewhere.  (French cover to right→)

The truly remarkable thing is that the main setting (14th century Black Forest) and the context (Aristo-Thomist philosophy, European feudalism) would seem incredibly alien to Japanese readers, although there may be elements of similarity with samurai culture.  Well, for SF readers, the exploration of alien worlds may be part of the charm.  But I still wonder how they translated some of the terms!  Great credit must be given to the translator to take such a particular text and transform it for such an utterly different language.  His name, I am told is Youichi Shimada.  So a great deal of credit must go to him. (Or her.) 


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Global Warming Drives Up Food Prices

You can't argue with the facts. Observe the UN FAO Food Price Index:

Now, it turns out that wheat held steady and rice declines slightly, so the increase is due mainly to maize (corn). The biggest exporter of maize is the US, and this past year, 40% of the US maize crop went to ethanol rather than into food. That's 40%. So, yes, food crops have decreased due to global warming; viz., the hysteria over it has diverted food away from the mouths of the poor into the gas tanks of the well-to-do in order that they may feel really good about their moral superiority.

Sorry for the intemperate remarks, but I'm one of those "feed the hungry" nuts.

Breaking News or Broken News

My brother K sent me this link. He used to work for a newspaper, but the newspaper folded under the pressure of things like this. Warning: there is naughty language used in the report.

Friday, March 4, 2011

When is an Average not an Average?

Now and then, one reads that the average American is a woman.  There are certain construals under which this might be true; but social criticism is not today my theme.  My theme is, yes, wait for it: statistics, more fun than which is impossible to have sitting down.  

Now, in fact, what folks usually mean is that a slight majority of Americans are women.  This is largely because teenaged boys are allowed to drive.  OK, that was insensitive.  But the fact is that mortality is greater among men than among women.  This is why auto insurance premiums were once higher for boys than for girls, before Our Government, in its on-going search for Fairness decreed that insurance companies must no longer take into account the real world.  Rates then rose for young women drivers, providing an opening for a discussion about the true meaning of social justice and fairness.  Or would, if that were what this is all about.

But to say that the "average American" is a woman is to distort the meaning of average.  In one sense, the category Woman being the more numerous, it is a sort of mode, but the axis of categories is, well, categorical, not numerical.  The mode is the most frequent value in a sample or population.  If the most frequent value is 3.14159, we would have pi a la mode.  But the arithmetic average is what we mean.  (Pun intended!)  The arithmetic average American has one testicle and one ovary.  Take a sample of people, count the number of testicles on each - look, how you go about doing so is your own business - and divide the sum by the sample size.  It will actually average just under one, because, well, let's not get into that.

An old statistician's joke runs "If you stick your head in the oven and feet in the freezer, on the average, you're comfortable."  Which is why most statisticians have not quit their day jobs and headed off for Vegas and the comedy clubs.  But the point is pointed.  An average is a measure of central tendency, and not all algorithmically calculated averages measure a central tendency.  Sometime, there just isn't one, and in that sense, there is no average.  What is the central tendency of males and females.  What would be the number of Persons in the Hypostatic Union of the Godhead if the sample included traditional Christians (3), muslims and Jews (1), Taoists and neopagans (2), and atheists (0).  One can easily imagine an evening newsreader and the blogosphere soberly reporting that in popular opinion God now contains 2.1 persons, and speculating on the meaning of this for the future of theology.  Aside from indicating that newsreaders have no future as theologians, it is meaningless drivel.  But I digress.

In static populations, distinct strata may each have its distinct mean value.  An overall mean would be meaningless, as above.  In fact, the purpose of many statistical tests, like One-Way ANOVA (which would be a great name for a test pilot), is to discover if several strata have a common mean or not.

In dynamic processes, the distinct strata may be subsumed within the periodic samples or may appear as distinct fluctuations or shifts from time to time.  In this case, calculating a constant mean for the series can be a fatuous exercise, though often done simply to provide a benchmark against which to view the fluctuations and to test the null hypothesis that the mean value is constant for the series.