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

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Misrepresenting JC

I finally figured out what was odd about this cartoon, aside from displaying the prejudices of its cartoonist.  To make it applicable, the quote from Jesus ought to be:
"Take all that other people have and give it to the poor, while keeping a percentage to pay for your offices and perks."  
But it just doesn't have the same ring.  Especially since the bulk of the money thus collected never gets near the poor.  (If it did, you could take poverty spending, divide it by the number of poor people, and learn that there can't possibly be any poor people left.)

When it comes to giving of one's own money, perhaps a study of the relative giving unto charity of various groups might be instructive. 
 
Perhaps the cartoonist doesn't know how bureaucracy works. 

He may also be unclear on the Chinese aphorism about giving a man a fish vs. teaching him to fish. The former is superficially charitable, but ultimately makes people dependent on the Fish-giver.  This may be the purpose of it all. 

None of this is intended to display enthusiasm for Caesar in any of his sundry guises. 
+ + +
+ + +
Meanwhile, in other news, two teenagers held at gunpoint a houseguest of our next door neighbor, right out in front of their house.  A third kept watch for police up at the corner.  They fled when the neighbor came out and started screaming at them.  Their neighbors on the other side -- Sean, Pat, if you're reading this, you know who I mean -- caught some of this on their security cameras.  There hasn't been an incident like this since the old projects were torn down.  But the new public housing is in place now. 

On the Reasons Why Correlation Does Not Constitute a Scientific Law

Such a calculation of "significance" takes account only of the numerical data of this one experiment.  An estimate of σ is not to be regarded as a number that can be used in place of σ unless the observations have exhibited randomness, and not unless the number of degrees of freedom amounts to 15 or 20, and preferably more.  A broad background of experience is necessary before one can say whether his experiment is carried out by demonstrably random methods.  Moreover, even in the state of randomness, it must be borne in mind that unless the number of degrees of freedom is very large, a new experiment will give new values of both σ(ext) and σ(int), also of P(χ) and P(s).  Ordinarily, there will be a series of experiments, and a corresponding series of P values.  It is the consistency of the P values in the series, under a wide variety of conditions, and not the smallness of any one P value by itself that determines a basis for action, particularly when we are dealing with a cause system underlying a scientific law.  In the absence of a large number of experiments, related knowledge of the subject and scientific judgment must be relied on to a great extent in framing a course of action.  Statistical "significance" by itself is not a rational basis for action.
-- W. Edwards Deming, Statistical Adjustment of Data, (Wiley, 1943), p. 30. 
Boldface added

Only a series of experiments under a wide range of conditions will establish whether a relationship is robust and holds in a variety of circumstances.  Alas, no one wants to publish papers that say, "Yeah, I found the same relationship, too."  Or to re-run the same experiment under different conditions.  Feynman was once critical of an experiment using heavy hydrogen because the comparison was made to another, published experiment using light hydrogen on another apparatus.  The comparison should have been made using light hydrogen on the same apparatus as the heavy hydrogen; but time was not made available because "we already know the answer for light hydrogen."  

Feynman knew quite well that the same experiment might give different results when run on different apparatus.  And if this is an issue for physics, how much more so for social "science"? 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Evil in Philadelphia

This account appeared in Jerry Pournelle's mail bag.

Philadelphia woman faces $600-a-day fine for feeding needy neighborhood kids
Published August 14, 2012
A Pennsylvania woman who offers free lunch every day to low-income children in her neighborhood faces a $600-a-day fine next summer if she continues because she did not clear the food giveaway with township officials.

Angela Prattis donates her time to distribute the meals — supplied by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia — and adheres to strict paperwork, like filling out weekly reports and being visited bi-weekly from a state worker, MyFoxPhilly.com reports. (Philadelphia News, Weather and Sports from WTXF FOX 29 <http://www.myfoxphilly.com/>)

"Angela saw it as a way to contribute to the community in a positive way," Anne Ayella, a member of the archdiocese, said. "There was nothing in it for her."

Prattis laughed and said, "I don’t make a dime."


Prattis lived in the township for three years. She reportedly distributes the meals to the 60 or so children at a gazebo on her property during the summer months, when children are home from school.

The Delaware County Times reports that another resident alerted the council about the distribution a few weeks ago. The council investigated and ruled that the practice is not permitted without a variance, the paper reported.

"You have houses here, the roofs are falling in, and they could be focused on a lot of more serious issues than me feeding children," she said.

Chester Township, which has a per capita income of $19,000 a year, says Prattis lives in a residential zone, hence handing out food to children is not allowed. The township says she needs to go before a zoning board to ask for a variance, which would cost her up to $1,000 in administrative fees.

"I don’t think it’s my responsibility to go to her to say, ‘why don’t you come to talk to me to see if there’s something that we can do to help your program,’" William Pisarek, the Chester Township business manager, said.

Prattis told The Delaware County Times that she is not going to stop feeding the children in the area.
There is a discussion elsewhere on the web regarding the problem of evil.  One need look no further than this evil woman deliberately and maliciously feeding poor children without government permission!  Worse yet, she was working with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and therefore had Catholic Cooties.

But then there is William Pisare, who doesn't think it’s his responsibility to see if there’s something that we can do to help her program.  Into which circle of Hell did Dante throw the likes of him?





One cannot but think that there is an organized conspiracy against Western civilization, to drive out of the public square everyone but the Open-Handed State Bureaus who in response to the Iron Law of Bureacracy are ever-anxious to make as many people as possible dependent on their services.  Those people in Chester were exhibiting far too much initiative.  They were doing things without being told to do them. 

"Everything within the state; nothing outside the state; nothing against the state."
- Benito Mussolini

Captive Dreams Has Escaped, err Been Released

Amazon-dot-com is pining for customer reviews of CAPTIVE DREAMS.  Do not leave them in the Pine Barrens with the Jersey Devil.  Amazon saith thusly:

'Mike Flynn's stories begin by intriguing your brain and end by piercing your heart.  Few other writers can combine cutting-edge science and emotional situations with Flynn's skill and sensitivity. Read these stories, and you will never forget Mae Holloway, nor Ethan Seakirt, nor Karen Brusco, nor any of the others who must live with the dilemmas that even the most hopeful science can bring.'
--New York Times Bestselling Author Nancy Kress

Fine literary writing meets Science Fiction. A thematic tour-de-force exploring the concept of being human through the eyes of imperfect protagonists struggling with their demons. More than just great SF, these are just great stories told with style, wit and sensitivity. Six memorable stories, each independent, but each tangentially touching on the others. Melodies of the Heart, Captive Dreams, Hopeful Monsters, Places Where the Roads Don't Go, Remember'd Kisses, Buried Hopes

'Michael Flynn has quietly become one of the best sf writers of our time. CAPTIVE DREAMS shows his intelligence, his compassion, and the dry wit with which he seasons them both. Don't miss it!'
--New York Times Bestselling Author Harry Turtledove

Hey, don't blame TOF.  He didn't write that.  It's from Amazon's Book Description.  But I ain't gonna argue with it none.  (How's that for fine writing.)  I do wish, pace Harry Turtledove that I haven't been so quietly.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Wonderful World of Statistics - Part I

Yes, it's that time once again.  So sit yourself down, kick your feet up, and pop a couple of brewskies, and ready yourself for:

The Allegory of the Fluoropolymers

Once upon a time, when the world was younger and TOF still had to work for a living, TOF came to the Land of the Fluoropolymers somewhere in the wilds of central New Jersey.  Among the many sterling qualities of these fluoropolymers - indeed of all polymers and many other substances beside - is the viscosity of the material.  Viscosity may be thought of as the flow of that which is thick.  High viscosity is "thick" and low is "thin."  It is measured (usually) in centipoise (cps) although TOF has been in situations measured in poise and (once, memorably) in which it was measured in kilopoise.  (The latter involved not liquids dripped through a Zahn cup, but solid plastic pellets pushed through an orifice.  TOF will leave you with that thought.)  The science fiction masterpieces of Flynn have sometimes been called not "hard SF" but "high viscosity SF," much like the wit of TOF, which is also said to be thick. 

Stranger than your philosophy, Horatio!

There's Gotta be a Story Behind This One
"Coley Mitchell, Lab Tech, Found Drunk, Partially Clothed, Surrounded by Escaped Monkeys"
--headline, Puffington Host, Aug. 20

Saturday, August 11, 2012

War Among the Pagans

(h/t Mark Shea)

Leprechauns (lupercorns) are tricksy and deceiving.  Could this be why Loki always was trying to trick Thor?  Was Loki a Lu(per)Co(rn)?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Of course, we all know that this is simply a prefigure of the War in Heaven between Michael - an Irish name, right? - and Lucifer.  And if we remember that the classical Latin c was pronounced always as k, there is some hidden relationship between Loki and Luci(fer).

See?  It all makes sense.

Friday, August 10, 2012

When Will We Be Poised On the Razor's Edge?




Received the following intelligence from a Knowledgeable Source:
On the Razor’s Edge will publish next July. I saw some very cool-looking art the other day. Not quite final yet,

As regards the cover, I sense a Running Motif (see above).  I can make a wild guess regarding the background, but suspect that the foreground may feature a nicely rounded space ship.  Betting line forms on the left.  But let us recall the words of Ravn Olafsdottr in Lion's Mouth: 
Attend my tale and learn
Why once great cities burn!
Will red be the dominant color this time?  Inquiring minds want to know.  

A Foretaste:

Stressed Men Prefer Chubby Chicks


Stressed Men Prefer Chubby Chicks


The estimable Dr. Briggs reveals yet another giant leap for mankind in the course of Science Marching Onward.  Old fogies like TOF can remember when Science used to March On to moon landings or cures for smallpox; but then we live in rather more timid times.  That does not prevent intrepid researchers from reaching universal conclusions from limited samples. especially since they achieved Statistical Significance and used super-scientificalistic fMRI brain scans.  If they had a digital read-out that would be the cream in their ever-loving coffee. 

Unmentioned is the niggling problem of sampling theory: in what was were the 81 WEIRD students representative of any population larger than themselves?  The conclusions of a sample can only be extended to the population from which the sample was randomly drawn.  Dr. Briggs tells us:

Here’s a title for you, “BMI Not WHR Modulates BOLD fMRI Responses in a Sub-Cortical Reward Network When Participants Judge the Attractiveness of Human Female Bodies.” How about that? I had my money on WHR.

What? Waist-to-hip ratio, of course. The preferred marker of attractiveness for many men. I myself like to reward my sub-cortical network with larger WHR and not higher BMI. But that’s just me, and I’ve been under a lot of stress.
The remaining drollery can be found here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Commemoration of St. Edith Stein

a.k.a., Sr. Teresa Benedicta a Cruce




b. 12 October 1891, Breslau, Germany
d. 9 August 9 1942, Auschwitz-Birkenau 


“Come, Rosa, we’re going for our people.”


Monday, August 6, 2012

Bad Data! Bad!

Started a new fact article for ANALOG entitled "Spanking Bad Data Won't Make Them Behave" about the problems of definition, measurement, sampling, and adjustment of data, illustrated with various personal experiences from my storied youth.

The good news is that it is up to 5000 words already.  The bad news is that the standard limit for such articles is 4000 words.  And I'm not finished yet.  Ah, well.  I must hone me boning knife.  

An excerpt from the first draft:


"A fact has no 'why.'  There it stands, self demonstrating."
– Robert A. Heinlein, "The Year of the Jackpot"
Nothing is more elusive than a fact.  Far from being self-demonstrating, it is meaningless without contextual information.  When did World War II begin?[1]  One hundred and twenty determinations of the speed of light in vacuo have yielded various values.  A few examples:
Year
Experimenter
Method
Speed of Light
1879
Michelson
rotating mirrors
299,910 kps
1882
Michelson
rotating mirrors
299,853 kps[2]
1928
Mittelstaedt and Birge
Kerr cell
299,786 kps
1936
Anderson and Birge
Kerr cell
299, 771 kps
1950
Bergstrand
geodimeter
299,793 kps
1956
Edge
geodimeter
299,792 kps
Notice that not only were different results obtained with different methods, but also in repeat determinations with the same method – and often by the same researcher!  The overall trend was toward slower light speeds (see Fig. 1). 

Figure 1: Trend in measured light speed.  The fitted line is a quadratic regression, added just for slaps and giggles.
There are several possible reasons.  That light is actually slowing down is attractive for us SF types, but unlikely for a number of reasons.[3]  Another could be that successive methods of measurement have been more accurate.  But another reason may not occur to anyone. 
There ain’t no such thing as the speed of light. 
#
When Measurement Goes Bad
Has Flynn lost his flipping mind?  Consider some examples of measurement:  ...........


[1] You probably said Sept. 1939.  But the Pacific war began in July 1937; and the world war as such did not begin until Dec. 1941 merged the European and Pacific wars into one.
[2] Yeah, I know.  Makes you wonder about that aether thingie. 
[3] But see João Magueijo, Faster Than the Speed of Light (Perseus Pub., 2003). 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Passing Thoughts

1. When a company's financial performance fails to measure up to the predictions of the analysts, why does the company's stock go down and not the stock of the financial analysts?

2. If the Soviet attempt to stage missiles in Cuba provoked an international crisis, why is it no big deal if Russia actually does so?  And what does this tell us about JFK, or Obama?

3. Why is the IRS among the best-loved government agencies?  And what does this decision mean for outsourcing?

4. Everything old is new again.  In a two part article for ANALOG entitled "An Introduction to Psychohistory," I included a chart showing the number of US race riots by year.  Now it seems that my "cliology" has become "cliodynamics".  Does this mean I was ahead of my time or that the authors are behind the curve?

5.  If the purpose of contraception and abortion was to reduce the rate of unwanted babies, why hasn't it worked?  (At least as of 1996.)  And why are there serious proposals to have shotgun weddings without the weddings? (first item)

6. So does bad music cause global warming, or does global warming cause bad music?  And see also this.

7. If a program has demonstrably failed, why is the solution always to intensify the program? 

8. So now the US military will be involved in Syria as well as Uganda.  Good thing we didn't elect that rabid interventionist, eh? 


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Happy Birthday, dear Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de la Marck, Happy Birthday to you!

Johnny Lamarck,
birthday boy
Johnny Lamarck was born today in 1744 and achieved note for being among the first to devise the idea of evolution and origin of species.  Curiously, natural selection had earlier been proposed by Edward Blyth, but as a means of ensuring fixity of species!  While we are taught today to scorn Lamarck as one of the fools of the history of science, we do have the following encomium:

Lamarck was the first man whose conclusions [concerning the origin of species] excited much attention. This justly-celebrated naturalist first published his views in 1801, and he much enlarged them in 1809 in his “Philosophie Zoologique,” and subsequently, in 1815, in his Introduction to his “Hist. Nat. des Animaux sans Vertébres.” In these works he upholds the doctrine that species, including man, are descended from other species. He first did the eminent service of arousing attention to the probability of all change in the organic, as well as in the inorganic world, being the result of law, and not of miraculous interposition. Lamarck seems to have been chiefly led to his conclusion on the gradual change of species, by the difficulty of distinguishing species and varieties, by the almost perfect gradation of forms in certain organic groups, and by the analogy of domestic productions. With respect to the means of modification, he attributed something to the direct action of the physical conditions of life, something to the crossing of already existing forms, and much to use and disuse, that is, to the effects of habit. To this latter agency he seemed to attribute all the beautiful adaptations in nature; — such as the long neck of the giraffe for browsing on the branches of trees. But he likewise believed in a law of progressive development; and as all the forms of life thus tend to progress, in order to account for the existence at the present day of very simple productions, he maintains that such forms were now spontaneously generated.
Charles Darwin, "An Historical Sketch of the Progress of Opinion on the Origin of Species," an essay added to third edition of The Origins of Species.  
So Chuck thought well of his predecessor.  (Interesting that the origin of species from other species is a "doctrine" that evidently preceded any sort of scientific theory to explain it.)  Unless Lamarck did have such a theory:
"Great alteration in the environment of animals leads to great alteration in their needs...  Now, if the new needs become permanent, the animals then adopt new habits which last as long as the needs that evoked them....  Every new need, necessitating new activities for its satisfaction, requires the animal, either to make more frequent use of some of its parts which it previously had used less, and thus greatly to develop and enlarge them; or else to make use of entirely new parts, to which the needs have imperceptibly given birth by efforts of its inner feeling."
Leave aside the "inner feeling" whackadoodle and what we see is that Lamarck had anticipated the modern idea of the "extended phenotype."  Classically, the environment was perceived as a sort of static and passive thing toward which the animal was well or poorly suited.  Thus, when a finch was born with a beak ill-suited to nut-cracking, it would be unfit and selected out.  (This was Blyth's view.)  If a finch by happenstance was born with a more powerful beak, it would be better at the job of nut-cracking and become in Darwin's phrase a "favored race."

What was overlooked was why the finch was trying to crack nuts in the first place?  Surely, there were other jobs available!

What defines a trait as "better fit" or not depends on what the critter is trying to accomplish.  Darwin observed that organisms had an inner drive to continue living.  Born with a long thin beak unsuited to nut-cracking, our mutant finch need not go off into a corner and die.  Instead, she tries this or that or the other thing, trying to survive and reproduce.  It might be that she tries pecking insects instead; and lo! it works and she thrives and a race of insect-pecking, thin-beaked finches redefines what it means to be "fit" for her descendants.   

IOW, the organism actively participates in its own evolution.  Natural selection may indeed sculpt a species toward greater fitness to its niche; but what Lamarck almost saw was that the animal's own habits, derived from its need to survive, help define that niche. The mistake lay in thinking that the striving alone can effect an evolution without the material to work with. 

Something once quite doggy became a seal, a bearish critter took up walrusing, and elephantic thing became a manatee.  We can't suppose that a fortuitous set of mutations just so happened to be favorable for a bear to take up swimming when all her sisters were bearing.  It is much more likely that the walrobear, cursed with certain walrusy traits, set about trying to survive and in the process managed to get by along the sea shore, thus redefining the criteria for future selection. 

So, all hail Johnny Lamarck!  Who almost got things right.

Oxygen Day!

On this day in 1774, Joseph Priestly invented oxygen, an innovation for which the world had hitherto been holding its breath. 
+ + +
Priestly was a member of the Lunar Society, a collection of science fans who met on the full moon (so the light could guide its members home after the meeting.  The membership included Josiah Wedgwood (as in Wedgewood china) and Erasmus Darwin (the two grandfathers of Charles Darwin), Boulton and Watt, Benjamin Franklin, James Hutton, Joseph Banks, William Herschel, et al.  Readers of Patrick O Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series may recognize Banks.  Boulton and Watt are the steam engine guys.  Herschel discovered Uranus with both hands, two of its moons (Titania and Oberon), and two moons of Saturn.  Hutton developed the idea of "deep time" and geological stratigraphy.  Franklin needs no introduction.  We hope.  Wedgewood was the china-pottery Wedgewood.  Scientifically, he invented the pyrometer to measure temperatures in kilns, but more importantly, he was a mover and shaker in the anti-slavery movement. 

All in all, those meetings must have been a lively affair.