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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Know Any Rich Benefactors?

After a century of existence, TOF's parish church is in need of extensive structural repairs, more than its congregation of mostly poor and fixed incomers can plausibly raise.  So if anyone out there knows Bill Gates or something, now's the time to give him a call. 


Neepery about the building is below the cut.  It would be a shame to lose it. 

Was Montaigne a Klingon?

Was the great humanist really a non-human?  TOF is suspicious.  Look at that forehead!  Is that not a Klingon ridge?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?



Apologia pro blogpost sua
My perceptive Reader may recall from last July a blog post regarding Titles and what makes a good one.  Fired with zeal to continue the series, I decided the next thing after Titles was the Idea for the story.  Where do you get ‘em from?  I often know where my own come from.  Not always, but often enough.  But only a fool estimates a population parameter from a sample of one.  So some while back, 9 February to be exact, I sent requests to the Committee of Correspondence asking them for examples of their own stories and where they had gotten the ideas for them. 
You can’t tell just by reading the stories.  Steven Crane got the idea for The Red Badge of Courage not from any experience of his own with war – he had none – but one day, after reading dryly written stories of famous Civil War battles and military leaders in Century Magazine, he reported thinking, "I wonder that some of those fellows don't tell how they felt in those scraps.”  And this gave him the idea of capturing the emotions of combat. 
Alas, my intentions were temporarily blocked by my close brush with death, which I mentioned in an earlier blogpost while still somewhat in a stupor in my hospital room.  One of the doctors said to me just last week on a follow-up visit, holding his forefinger and thumb in imitation of a micrometer measuring a very thin sheet of aluminum coil stock, “You were this close to being on the wrong side of the grass.” 
There’s a story in that phrase, somewhere. There is at least a title: "The Wrong Side of the Grass." 
In any case, I am only now getting back up to speed and something in my hindbrain jiggled and reminded me that I had saved the sundry responses, but had not assembled the essay.  I hope the Correspondents will be understanding over the delay.  
The root of this essay is a slide show I put together for a meeting of the Writers’ Café of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers’ Group, a.k.a. GLVWG, which is pronounced just as it’s spelled and is probably a town in Wales.  The slide show in turn was based on materials gleaned from 



Monday, April 23, 2012

Spring Housecleaning

 Washington Post opinion columnists are making suggestions for what we can throw out.  Thomas Ricks suggests we start by throwing out the all-volunteer military.  Yes, that's right.  The liberals want to bring back the draft!  The reason is that a president would think twice about getting us involved in wars if the military consisted of amateur draftees.  You know, like Viet-nam. 

Then Dana Milbank suggests we should get rid of the President's cabinet, except for State, Defense, Treasury, and AG.  Now, this isn't a bad idea.  There are way too many cabinet positions.  But a) he doesn't want to get rid of the massive bureaucracies they head; and b) the reason he gives is... odd. 
Cabinet officers have become figureheads by design. Because they are appointed with Senate confirmation, they can be hauled before Congress to answer questions. The president, therefore, has a powerful incentive to keep them out of the loop. White House advisers, by contrast, are often protected by executive privilege. These officials, many of them young and unknown, are the ones who hold the real power over the Cabinet members
Now that sounds to me like a good argument for getting rid of presidential advisors, authorization for which I find not in that Constitution.  Milbank apparently feels that their unaccountability is a plus!  Heaven forfend that they "hauled" before the people's representatives and made to answer questions!  Not to mention that they are young unknowns; i.e., anonymous, inexperienced, callow,.....

I miss the Sixties.  At least back then, the Left wanted openness and more accountability.  (At least those I knew.)  Now they want unaccountable, anonymous "advisors" to be in charge -- and a large draftee army. 


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Quotes of the Day

Betimes, TOF copies and squirrels away what seems for one reason or another a pithy quote or aphorism.  Then he forgets he has done so.  But today, he has seined the folder for recent additions and now inflicts them on you.

+ + +

“Life is hard. It’s harder if you’re stupid.”
-- John Wayne
+ + +

You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture.
Just get people to stop reading them.
-- Ray Bradbury
+ + +

+ + +

Civil society consists not just of autonomous individuals.
It also consists of communities, which have rights of their own.
-- Abp. Charles Chaput
+ + +

Raccoons eat the corn, squash and tomatoes. Sleet, snow, frost or freezing rain take care of everything else. One season of agriculture in New England explains Manifest Destiny.
-- P.J.O'Rourke
+ + +

Yes, one would have to be crazy to even consider the possibility that a highly-scalable,
massively-parallel system architecture based on a 4-bit digital code with super-dense,
multi-layered, multi-directional, 3-dimensional storage, utilizing retrieval and translation
mechanisms incorporating file allocation tables and bit parity algorithms,
all operating under top-down software protocol heirarchies
could possibly be the result of planning and forethought.

No, it is obvious to all enlightened folks that such a system could only have come about
through a long series of accidental particle collisions.
-- Eric Anderson, comm box comment
+ + +

We have forgotten what we used to accomplish with the public schools,
and now strive to achieve goals that would have been considered
failure by most teachers over most of the period of the public schools.
-- Jerry Pournelle
+ + +

As a female lecturer (not yet a professor) who’s also worked in the government
and private sectors, it’s sometimes apparent to me that masculinity in the
workplace is glorified, especially by older female supervisors.
-- Jenny, comm box comment
+ + +

We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available
 to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.
-- Phil Jones, Hadley Climate Research Unit
+ + +

There's no such thing as consumer protection
when the "producer" has the power of the state.
-- James Taranto, WSJ
+ + +

Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers;
so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.
-- Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, Part I Q73 A1 reply3
+ + +

The problem isn't distinguishing between right and wrong. ...
The problem is finding a way to justify doing the wrong thing.
And once you think you have found it,
the people still arguing for doing the right thing
may be dismissed as "simplistic."
-- David Warren
+ + +

The determinist does not believe in appealing to the will,
but he does believe in changing the environment.
He must not say to the sinner, "Go and sin no more,"
because the sinner cannot help it.
But he can put him in boiling oil;
for boiling oil is an environment.
G.K.Chesteron, Orthodoxy.
+ + +

Friday, April 20, 2012

Melodies of the Heart

For those who have always ached to possess this novella in a stand-alone format, here is your big chance.  Melodies of the Heart for the Kindle at the bargain price of $2.99.  It's the story that made some of its readers cry, even the second or third time they read it. 

Melodies of the Heart is the lead story in Captive Dreams, a collection of short fiction due out in July of this year.  At the link you have the opportunity to email Melodies@PhoenixPick.com in order to get a reminder when the full collection comes out.  You may also purchase a pre-release copy of the collection at a good discount, I am told. 

Some of you may grumble, "But TOF, why should we pay our hard-earned gold for a bunch of your old stories, which we have read in the long-ago?"

The answer is simple. 

New Blogger format for posting

Apparently, there is a Statistics page on Blogger that lets me know which posts have been most heavily visited, cumulatively.  The gross figures are:
Pageviews today
...........................354
Pageviews yesterday
.....................551
Pageviews last month...............
18,449
Pageviews all time history.......
114,679
 
Don't know if that'll line up right or not; but evidently My Faithful Reader has dropped in here an inordinate number of times.  I mean, it's probably nothing compared to high traffic blogs like atheistic Darwin rich-and-famous sex scandal with cute kittens.  (There's a string that'll pull 'em in!)

Now the most popular posts seem mostly to be the most recent, no doubt due to my surging rock-star fame.  A couple are no doubt due to OneBrow.  But I also notice that some posts with many views have also few comments.  So, look but don't touch? 

AMENDED: The first list consists of "Now" which explains why they were all more or less recent.  But I discovered another tab labeled "All Time" so here is the True List of All-Time Favorites:

Sep 1, 2011, 30 comments
7,530 Pageviews








Feb 13, 2012, 34 comments
3,001 Pageviews








Oct 5, 2011, 16 comments
2,118 Pageviews








Sep 18, 2011, 6 comments
1,687 Pageviews








Apr 2, 2012, 45 comments
1,664 Pageviews








Jan 4, 2012, 16 comments
1,636 Pageviews








Dec 19, 2011, 16 comments
1,572 Pageviews








Mar 29, 2012, 4 comments
1,511 Pageviews








Dec 2, 2011, 8 comments
1,440 Pageviews








Jan 8, 2010, 2 comments
1,420 Pageviews

















We also notice that the top ten list follows the Pareto principle.  That is, a small number of posts account for a high percentage of pageviews.   The most frequently viewed post is typically twice as often as the second, three times as often as #3, and so on.  Frequency generally runs more or less in proportion to 1/rank.

Viewers come mostly from the USA, with Canada and the UK coming in second/third and Australia after that.  TOF's razor-sharp intellect suspects the English language has something to do with the matter.  Perhaps if I wrote more in rooskaya yazik or auf deutsch?   
United States
3,280
Canada
204
United Kingdom
198
Australia
136
Russia
112
Germany
45
India
36
France
20
Brazil
15
Netherlands
14

Monday, April 16, 2012

For Some Values of "Unique"

The lead for an article on extrasolar planets runs:
HD 10180—a sunlike star in the southern constellation Hydrus—may have as many as nine orbiting planets. 
And concludes with the following quote from the study leader:
"So [our] solar system is only one example among a spectrum of different planetary systems we will find in the near future and [is] definitely not unique."
-- study leader Mikko Tuomi, astronomer at the University of Hertfordshire
Let us ponder this.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

And on a related topic...

...to the previous post, a few years ago before his current blow-up, John Derbyshire wrote:
“If you don’t like eugenics, you are not going to like the 21st century. ... The desire to have smart, healthy, good-looking offspring is wellnigh universal. If parents can get assurance of such an outcome for a few thousand bucks, why should they not purchase that assurance? In a free country, how will you stop them? And why would conservatives or libertarians want to stop them? 'Eugenics' has become such a scare-word that we’ll probably have to re-name the process to avoid all the shrieking and skirt-clutching; but it will be eugenics just the same.”
 And you thought the utilitarian approach to human beings was restricted to liberals?  On certain matters, the elites really do think alike.  But there are two objections to this hope for an earthly eschaton in which we will put on new bodies of a glorified nature.  One is technical and one is fundamental.

Thinking Bioethically

The problem is not a degree in philosophy.  The problem is the wrong philosophy....

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Let's Be Precise

IT PAYS TO BE CAREFUL.  In statistics, precision differs from accuracy; but sometimes folks might state a precision and give the impression that they've stated an accuracy.  "This poll has a margin of error of ±3%" is just one example.  I recall one polling season when a host of polls cited such a margin, but cited also estimated outcomes that differed by far more than that margin.  All but one of the seven or eight polls gave margins of ±3% around the wrong answer.*

(*The polls were each taken the day before the election by different organizations, and the election results were used as the standard reference.)

By analogy, accuracy is a statement of how far the shot is from the bull's eye.  Precision is a statement of how closely clustered repeated shots are (or might be).  That "margin of error" means that repeated polls under identical conditions (same questions, same questioners, etc.) but on different samples taken randomly from the same population, 95% of the repeated polls will likely fall within ±3%-points of the grand mean of all possible polls.  Quite obviously, one may have a tight cluster of shots, all of which are high and to the left (as in the lower left of the drawing).  That is, a precise estimate that is biased. 

IN STATISTICS, bias retains its original meaning of being simply "slant, or oblique" in this case from the unknown (and often unknowable) true value, as the shot cluster in the lower left panel is "oblique" from the bull's eye.  It no more implies deliberate nefariousness or cheating than the statistical term error implies a mistake or blunder.  The only way to assess bias is from a True Value (aka Reference Value).  For example, a gage block or other working standard traceable to master standards kept at NIST.  In the case of a political poll, we can take the actual election as the True Value, though we must keep in mind Dewey v. Truman: the sentiments of the electorate may have shifted over the time since the poll was taken and the election was held.*
(*This is very different from Landon v. Roosevelt, which was a case of bias induced by the sampling method used by the Literary Digest.)   

BUT THERE IS ANOTHER PITFALL to be wary of when hearing of precision.  Precision of what? 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pointilism and Global Warming

Unless you are fractal, scale matters.  Percival Lowell thought he saw canals on Mars.  Partly, this was because he wanted to see canals on Mars; but partly too it was because at the scale his telescopes could resolve a bunch of otherwise unconnected dots seemed to form lines.  

Consider Seurat's Grande Jatte.  Since artists were beginning to consider themselves intellectuals, the paining was intended to show the banality of bourgeois life (in this case, the Sunday promenade).  



Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
(Un dimanche après-midi à l’Ile de la Grande Jatte),
Georges Seurat, 1884-1886.




Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Di-Lemma

A reader with the monometopian name of OneBrow wrote in comment to an earlier post: 
As traditionally presented, the argument from motion rarely lists all the assumptions at the beginning. Assumptions such as "motion must be externally activated from potential" and "motion can not be in an infinite chain" get worked into the argument, often by declaring them to be obvious (the very notion of being an assumption). By then end of the argument, there are a fairly good-sized number of assumptions (each distinct argument having its distinct subset).
Now, in mathematics, a lemma is a proven statement used as a step in the proof of a bigger theorem.  There is no formal difference between a lemma and a theorem -- both follow the same rules of proof -- but there is a material difference.  The main interest centers on the matter of the theorem, while the matter of the lemma is of little interest in itself at the moment.  In the same manner a carpenter may use a hammer in the construction of a cabinet without any imputation that the hammer is simply assumed, and not itself constructed.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

The link is to a picture of the painting that hangs behind the altar of St. Bernard's Oratory, Easton PA, a part of Our Lady of Mercy Parish.  It is copyrighted by the artist Dana Van Horn and cannot be copied and displayed here, but you may click this link:

The Crucifixion, by Dana Van Horn

Monday, April 2, 2012

Commentary on Jerry Oltion

I had fallen way behind on my reading of ANALOG, so it is only lately that I have come across Jerry Oltion's essay, "What Science Means to Me"  [Jan/Feb 2012].  The Perceptive Reader will be unsurprised to learn that it means everything to him.  "My approach to life is scientific, and what understanding I have of life comes through analytic thought."  Evidently, synthetic thought is not to be used.  One imagines him waking to a clear blue sky and seeing stretched above him... the Rayleigh scattering of sunlight.  Well and good.  So do we all, whether we know it or not, and a knowledge of how the sky appears blue adds a lagniappe of pleasure.  (Saving only that there is something in the qualia of the sensation of blue that cannot be captured by light wave scattering or neurobiology.  More on this later.) 

For another 'tude, consider Werner Heisenberg.  While walking with Heisenberg one day, the physicist Felix Bloch, who had just read Weyl's Space, Time and Matter, felt moved to declare that space is simply the field of linear equations.  Heisenberg replied, "Nonsense. Space is blue and birds fly through it." "What he meant," Bloch later wrote, "was that it was dangerous for a physicist to describe Nature in terms of idealized abstractions too far removed from the evidence of actual observation."  Let us explore this dichotomy.