Sunday, December 30, 2012

Post-Modern Evolution

From time to time TOF has touched upon the peculiarities of the various theories of evolution: Lamarck, Blythe, Darwin/Wallace, Mendel, Kimura, Shapiro, et al.   Prior posts include:
And some of the topics that have bubbled up include
  • the persistence of teleology in evolutionary thought (apparently tworked off Fodor, who dissed natural selection precisely because it was inescapably teleological)
  • the importance of the environment, including the organism's own behavior at shaping evolution
  • that genetics and molecular biology may be more important than natural selection
James Shapiro
Some of these thoughts were initially triggered years ago by an essay for the educated lay public by James Shapiro that deconstructed both Michael Behe (the ID-guy) and Richard Dawkins (the science popularizer).  Both, he said, were dealing with obsolete metaphors of genetics.  This resulted in a correspondent immediately denouncing Shapiro as a shill for the Discovery Institute.  He wasn't and isn't, but it is interesting to note that the first reaction of the Third Way-denialists was to make up something scurrilous about the guy. Similar thing happened to Eldrege and Gould when they introduced punctuated equilibrium.  Students of the history of heresies will recognize the behavior instantly. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Odds and Ends

How Can We Possibly Explain This Mystery?

"Despite Tax Increase, California State Revenues in Freefall"--headline,, Dec. 8


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"Christmas Time is Here, By Golly

Let's not forget what
office the dude held
Disapproval would be folly...."

It snowed for Christmas Day, but we had to hurry to shovel it off the sidewalk before it melted.  That's what TOF calls snow: just enough to be a decorative accessory for the holiday.  Number One son -- he is the only one, but that doesn't mean he isn't the first -- tells us that in Anchorage AK, where he lives, the snow doesn't melt quite so quickly.  First, there's not enough sunlight for the task...

The knob at one end is used to punctuate
important points in a discussion.
We skyped with him for about an hour when we were over at Pere's house for dinner.  Bro' Sean did most of the cooking and brought it up with him.  Sara and the boys completed the crowd.  Adam announced that Gliese something or other was smaller than the sun, but that no one on his school bus would believe him.  He received a home planetarium among his haul of treasures, and guessed ahead of time that one large flat package must be a book about space.  He also warned us that an asteroid came real close to Earth last week. 

TOF received an Irish shillelagh.  It is made of stout blackthorn and is suitable for either walking or discussing politics.  TOF also received a booklet of 100 dumb decisions that cost battles or elections, etc.  They included such decisions as Napoleon's decision to reject the terms he was initially offered after Leipzig and Bush I's "read my lips" speech.  Evidently, bad decisions are not made by Democratic presidents unless they involve interns or the Vietnam War. 

Dashing through the snow may require more than one horse
It is now snowing again, turning to sleet as we speak; but rain is in the offing, so it may melt off tomorrow.  This year has been a colder-than-normal year, in tune with the inflection point of the global warming curve.  Astrophysicists are saying that the weather may continue colder until 2030 or so.  TOF hopes not.  It's more fun to see huge mounds of snow on Currier & Ives engravings than on one's front yard.   

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Meditation Upon Reading in the Historia Francorum

In Tolkien's The Two Towers there is a scene in which Aragorn and the other defenders of the Hornburg, hard by Helm's Deep, are beseiged by an army of orcs.  The odds are overwhelming, and there seems nothing else than to go down fighting.

And indeed, after two days of searching the horizon in vain, on the third day Aragorn spied Gandalf astride a white horse cast in a pearly glow, leading the Riders of Rohan down upon the orcish rear, peeling them away from the seige and destroying them.

Now, Tolkien was a scholar of the era and so could not have been ignorant of a certain passage in Gregory of Tour's History of the Franks.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Experimental Critique

On the temporary page
1. The New Station of Francis Delacorte
the following comments were received.  TOF had desired to learn whether his limning of Francis Xavier Delacorte as he comes on stage in The Shipwrecks of Time has communicated the character he had in mind.  The comments were:
  1. Frank, definitively. One may infer that from his general uneasiness in the new situation. Coming probably from a working or ower-middle class he's almost certainly sure to be used to communal socializing, such as calling one by the diminutive, no matter how strange or exotic the name is. He may also feel a little inferior to his colleagues with more of an academic background.
    He's probably also a withdrawn and cautious, but honest and most of all human bloke, reserved in his actions because of the social conventions of his time. It would be quite interesting to follow him through the process of honesty and righteousness (in the old Christian sense of the word) taking the upper hand through a series of mystery-centred events.
    Oh, and as an ex-j.d. he's probaly still quite fit, which may serve a purpose in the story.
    Serves well?

  2. If this was set in 1980 or 2010, I'd be entirely in agreement with Tomasz that it'd be "Frank", a street-smart name, and not "Francis", an effete bow-time name.

    ...but in 1965? And from Fishtown, an ethnic Catholic enclave? I've known one or two blue-collar, Catholic-school raised, third child of six types who've gone by Francis or Francis Xavier or such. The Catholic culture of that era gives "Francis" a flavor that it didn't have at other places and times.

    I'm betting on "Francis".

  3. A curious sort of ex-gangster, this. He doesn't have the convert's zeal Flaco has; it's as though he just carried a switchblade because that's the kind of place Fishtown was, and went for the doctorate because that's how he was raised. Not the kind of person to buck a prevailing trend, I think. I reckon him a kind man and a thoughtful man, but not really a man of action if he can help it. He wouldn't rip me off on a car, but I think haggling would make him uncomfortable.

  4. From his attitude to the elderly Negro, and to Bull Connor, and his distaste at being served, he seems to be a decent fellow. We'll have to wait to find out more about him, and he probably isn't all of a piece, but that's a start.
 Tomasz is curiously prescient in a number of ways.  The others also had some interesting things to say.  We even have someone who remembers Flaco!!  I'm going to stick with Frank (or Francis) for one more scene that takes place a little later in the same chapter.


In the new scene, Frank has arrived at his new job and meets three of his co-workers.  Two will show up later in the chapter, another is yet to be hired, and the Prof, the Director of the Institute is out of the office. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why SF Once Prospered, But Now Does Not

Because kids once dreamed dreams like this:
Dec 1922 edition of Science and Invention

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Adamic Fusion

Received my daily dose of Adam Astronomy a few minutes ago.  He came to my office and announced without preamble:
If it weren't for supernovas we wouldn't be alive because the sun wouldn't be alive.  Cause, cause they explode (cue visual and sound effects) and the dust starts to stick together, and it gets thicker and thicker, and it all pushes together and then a star is born.  The rest of the dust comes together to make pebbles.  Then the pebbles hit each other and make boulders, and when the boulders hit together they start to make round, and pretty soon you have... [dramatic pause] planets!  And that's where we live.  
In his extended lecture, Adam dropped other tidbits.
On some planets, methane is like water and water is a gas.  And if there was life there it would drink methane.  But they wouldn't be aliens, because that would be just the way they live. 
+ + +
The moon orbits the earth, the earth orbits the sun, and the sun orbits a black hole! 
+ + +
Pluto is a dwarf planet.  It's bigger than asteroids.  Meteors and comets are really small.  
+ + +
Mercury is bigger than the Moon, but not much. 
+ + +
There is a Moon of Saturn that's bigger than Mercury.  [But he did not remember the name.] 
+ + +
Saturn had a moon that got hit by a comet.  It pushed it toward Saturn and pretty soon Saturn ripped it apart [sound effects] and made... a ring.  The ring is mostly dust and ice. 
+ + +
Jupiter is my favorite planet. 
Move over Carl Sagan.  I really wish I had a recorder. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Right Stuff Day

World's first test pilot makes world's first flight test
+ + +

Dry Wit

David Warren who formerly wrote a column for the Ottowa Citizen or some such newspaper in the great white north has appeared in the blogosphere with Essays in Idleness.  He has a hand for the turn of phrase.  A few examples harvested at random:

More Notes from the Untergang

Time for the miscellany again. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Slinkies by Wile E. Coyote

An Oddity

While researching for The Shipwrecks of Time, I was reading Paul the Deacon's 8th cent. History of the Lombards and came across this odd story:
In the farthest boundaries of Germany toward the west-northwest, on the shore of the ocean itself, a cave is seen under a projecting rock, where for an unknown time seven men repose wrapped in a long sleep, not only their bodies, but also their clothes being so uninjured, that from this fact alone, that they last without decay through the course of so many years, they are held in veneration among those ignorant and barbarous peoples. These then, so far as regards their dress, are perceived to be Romans. When a certain man, stirred by cupidity, wanted to strip one of them, straightway his arms withered, as is said, and his punishment so frightened the others that no one dared touch them further. The future will show for what useful purpose Divine Providence keeps them through so long a period. Perhaps those nations are to be saved some time by the preaching of these men, since they cannot be deemed to be other than Christians.
On the surface, this is simply one more telling of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus; but it has some peculiar features; to wit:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Other Page

Just as the Universe is said to consist of two or more branes, the TOFSpot consists of two or more pages.  The toggle is over on the left under "PAGES" (appropriately enough). 

The Other Page consists at present of an excerpt from The Shipwrecks of Time, namely a scene with the author's secret title of "Frank On-Stage," meaning it is the scene in which Francis Xavier Delacorte makes his appearance in the story.  It will be up for a time for anyone to comment on.  It will be succeeded at sundry times by other bits of writing past, present, and future. 

So far, only one person has commented on the page!  Let's get cracking, mon dudes!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Fair and Balanced

There is a news report from North Carolina on a proposal for a pro-life license plate struck down by a federal judge. 
[Judge James] Fox said in his judgement that the state's plan violates the First Amendment. The proposed license plate featured two children with the words "Choose Life" printed above them.
"The State's offering of a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice plate constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment," he said according to MyFox8.
This is truly a novel reading.  The First Amendment requires that you be silenced if someone else does not speak. 

It is humorous to realize that the pro-choice folks are objecting to a message that starts "Choose..."  Evidently, they are not so much in favor of choice than they are of making certain specific choices.  Who knew? 

The solution is obvious.  A companion license plate that reads "Choose Death!" 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Statistics Time!

"Despite Massachusetts' historic leadership on pay equity--in 1945 it became the first state to require equal pay for comparable work--the gap between men's and women's salaries here is now among the biggest in the country."--Boston Globe, Dec. 10

For those who don't understand how this is possible, consider a very simple situation with 100 weremen and 100 women and two jobs: Customer Service Rep and Chemical Engineer, and absolute equality in pay.  
  • ...............................Weremen.....................Women
  • CSR @500..............30 =15,000..................70 = 35,000
  • Chem Eng @900.....70 = 63,000..................30 = 27,000
  • Total.....................100 =78,000..................100=62,000

And women make only 0.79 for every dollar made by a wereman, even though both get paid exactly the same salary for each job. 

Now allow for the fact that some proportion of women will choose the vocation of motherhood and homemaking over salaryman.  

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Testing, One, Two, Three

The Tree of Life in an interesting layout, showing mass extinctions.  Not all extinct species are shown.  
Time from Earth-birth is radial, shown by concentric ovals.  Interesting to note how some families/phyla burst into radiance following a mass extinction of a predecessor.

The Great Tree of Life
Learn about infographics software.

If you click on the graphic you get a larger version in a separate window.   

Paging TOF

TOF has recently discovered that he can add pages to this blog.  Quelle surprise!  And is now experimenting with this new-found superpower. 

A few days ago he added a page that features all the covers of his books; at least those still in print.  Right now that's all there is there; but it may develop into a set of links to Amazon or B&N or other places of that ilk.  Eventually, one may un-clutter the main page: review quotes, the book covers on the left.  (These seem to carry over to the other pages.  TOF does not know if the different pages can be differently designed.  Right now, it does not look as if.) 

A new page has been added today which will feature temporary posts of passages from stories.  Sometimes a scene or just a bit of writing.  TOF may even post entire short stories from the Long Ago.  Or long essays unlikely of sale anywhere.  After a while, most of these will be one with last winter's snow, an entity whose permanence my mother used to find proverbial whenever young TOF cast about for some missing toy.
Young TOF: Mommy, where is my space helmet?
The Mut: Where is last winter's snow?  
And before you ask, yes.  TOF did have a space helmet.  So did his brother Dennis.  There is a photograph.

Today's Offering is a passage from the current novel-in-process and is simply an introduction of one of the characters.  If the mood sustains, the next few passages will be of the same genre: introductions to other characters from the book.  There will be opportunity for feedback, which need not be fawning approval.  Critique is welcome or, for past stories, critical review.  TOF knows what he was trying to do in these passages, and harbors curiosity as to whether the Reader knows it.  For example: TOF knows the character Francis Xavier Delacorte, but what sort of person do you think he is from this brief step on-stage. 

Ends and Odds

Yes, it's that time again: Clearing the Tabs!  Wherein TOF posts a number of links which he saved as of possible interest for his Reader and wishes to get up there before his collander-like mind forgets why he thought them interesting.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Shipwrecks of Time

The setting of Part I of The Shipwrecks of Time,  as many of you know, is Milwaukee WI in Aug 1965-Aug 1967.  I am now up to the period of May 1966.  There was on Marquette University a weekly mass at the Joan of Arc chapel on Wednesday eve. which was much favored by former nuns and priests.  Since one of the characters in the novel is a former nun, I figured to set a scene here, perhaps as a prelim for something later at St. Barnabas and the demos at Judge Cannon's house.  Lo, and behold...

Friday, November 30, 2012

On the Razor's Edge

1. Received author's copies of the mm paperback for In the Lion's Mouth.  18 copies now on the shelves. 

2. Received the copy-edited manuscript for On the Razor's Edge, and in going through it have plucked a couple of lines here and there that caught my eye for one reason or another.  In no particular order, a miscellany of lines:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Argument from Chance

The sixth way is taken from the randomness to be found in things. Among  things that exist we observe that some come to be by chance, as for example the striking of Earth-1 by a marsbody at precisely the right angle and speed to throw off a lunar divot.  Or the end of a ball in a slot on the roulette wheel.  Although the motion of the ball is governed by deterministic laws, the final cause - viz., which numbered slot it winds up in cannot be predicted. 
However, we note that in paradigmatic random situations, such as a casino, great care and planning must be taken to ensure the requisite randomness.  Equipment must be fabricated and installed, rules enacted, systems established for accounting for the results, attracting players, and so on.  Thus while much of what happens in a casino happens by chance, the casino itself cannot happen by chance.  It is thus clear that a random universe does not arise by chance, but by careful planning. 
But careful planning requires a Planner.  Etc.

(Sexta via sumitur ex fortuiti qui in rebus inveniuntur. Invenitur enim in rebus aliquid in esse veniunt a casu, ut pro exemplo quod planeta magnitudinis Martis percuciet terram-I justum ius celeritate et angulus ut planeta magnitudinis Lunae abruptus est.  Etc.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fourth Way Corrigan

The well-known science popularizer, Richard Dawkins, once rebutted Aquinas' Fourth Way in an article in the Times (UK).  He first paraphrased Aquinas' argument thusly:
We notice that things in the world differ. There are degrees of, say, goodness or perfection. But we judge these degrees only by comparison with a maximum. Humans can be both good and bad, so the maximum goodness cannot rest in us. Therefore there must be some other maximum to set the standard for perfection, and we call that maximum God.

and then he comments
That's an argument? You might as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make the comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we call him God. Or substitute any dimension of comparison you like and derive an equivalently fatuous conclusion.
whereupon Western philosophy crumbles.  What a knockdown!  Astonishingly, no one in history, not even Voltaire, ever noticed this before.  Instead, they sought to rebut at least one of the premises (usually the minor premise).  

Now the Fourth was never TOF's favorite argument, it being rather subtle, and TOF cannot say he follows it.  But let us see what can be made of it. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Wonderful World of Statistics

This is a table apparently making the rounds that is supposed to demonstrate that people who voted for Obama are smarter, not stupider than people who voted for Romney.
h/t Yard Sale of the Mind
There is something endearingly sad in the spectacle of people convinced of their own moral and intellectual superiority making such elementary errors of statistical inference. 

The Problem of Metrology

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Gathering of Flynns

Yesterday, as has been our custom of late, the Incomparable Marge and TOF attended to the turkey at Flynn's on the Hill, a catering hall run by a Uncle Francey.  A fair sampling of Flynn were there, though some absences.  Cousin Fran had to work the toll bridge.  Uncle Tommy and his crew were doing their own thing, as were the Lillys.  Even so, Pere was there with all his other brothers and sisters. 

Cousin Molly (right)
The Big Game had been played earlier, to the discomfit of the P'burg Stateliners and the corresponding joy of the Easton Red Rovers.  This was the 106th meeting of the two schools, and TOF's 1-1 cousin, Molly, was Queen of the Game (the King, by custom, comes from the other school).  She wore her tiara to the dinner, but one of the weenie Flynns kept trying to put it onto other heads, most inappropriately on Cousin Jim's.  The Flynn have long had students in both schools and so have been pleased regardless of the outcome.  TOF Himself was benignly neutral, having attended a different high school entirely, viz., the unapologetically-named Notre Dame Crusaders. 

Dinner was served buffet style and and the bar was serve yourself.  All the usuals: turkey, cranberries, Irish whiskey,...

Also present along with Pere, aged 87 was Linda Ryan Flynn, aged 6 months.  She is the daughter of Timmy, son of Timmy, son of Francey and -- for the time being -- the Youngest Flynn, as Pere is the Oldest. 

On the Bravery of the Late Modern Intellectual

Post-modern equivalent of
shocking one's parents
The self-described ex-Catholic Irish poet, Colm Tóibín, has written a novella in the familiar manner of a memoir within the novella, although apparently making the daring choice of not using the present tense.  This is said to be a "deft strategic move."  The literati are awash in awe at his daring, edgy, unsentimental choices, since there is in their view no more swampy mire than sentiment.  In a world in which we are enjoined to "question everything" except the unexamined assumptions of the literati, this is said to be a paragon of its kind.

An admiring review in the New York Times notes that "none of the negatives that have made Christianity a byword for tyranny, cruelty and licensed hatred have attached to [Mary]."  More of a byword than communism?  That bywords are no more reliable than anyother slogan or "meme" seems not to occur to the reviewer.  She writes that "In my youth, stores sold items called 'Mary-like gowns,' which meant you could go to your senior prom looking as undesirable as possible in the name of the Virgin."  She regards this as a negative.  Apparently, the objective is to go to your senior prom looking as desirable as possible in the name of horny boys.  To be a sex object, as it were.  Here comes Honey Boo-boo. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On Adams World

Adam, the Littlest Grandchild, he of the invisible friend who died and became a zombie, is now in second grade.  Tonight he informed TOF that the Milky Way galaxy was going to collide with Andromeda.  When will this happen? asked TOF. 
In one-point-six billion years, he said.  Not point-five, mind you. 
The stars will not hit each other, he assured me.  But gravity will be messed up.  He performed a dance showing the upmixing of gravity, accompanied with sound effects.  Gravity, it seems, will go here and there and there.  Earth may wind up in a different solar system. 
I suppose that if he is thinking 1.6 billion years ahead it explains why he forgets what he is supposed to do tomorrow. 
+ + +
I have learned that Jupiter is a monster planet that can swallow the earth.  It's a killer planet.  It has a hot moon called Io and a cold moon; and a storm that never stops.    This kid is a fountainhead of knowledge. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

For Peat's Sake

A number of years ago...  In fact, a great number of years ago...  I participated in the writing of a fun novel titled Fallen Angels.  The 'guffin of the book was that all the greenhouse gasses had been cleaned out of the atmosphere, shutting down global warming and thus triggering an ice age.  Nyuck, nyuck.

Now this is a common enough literary trope -- reversal of expectations -- but the matter was already becoming politicized and so reaction to the book was largely political, even though a closer inspection of the premise reveals that it accepts the fact that carbon dioxide does tend to warm the earth.  It simply supposes that Other Stuff is going on at the same time; viz., another ice age is starting and global warming is staving it off.  Remember, this was just at the tail end of the Global Cooling hoo-hah, a phase of history now falling into George Orwell's "memory hole."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Eleventh Hour

of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Harry Singley
and his wife Helen Schwar
A little late this year, but here is a letter written by Sgt. Harry Singley, 304th Engineers, Rainbow Division, AEF, my mother's father. 

First day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive
26 Sept. 1918
"It was on Sept. 26 when the big drive started in the Argonne Forest and I saw all kinds of things that I never witnessed before.  We started out on the night of the 25th.  At 9 o'clock we commenced a tank road and worked our way almost to the German's front line trenches.  At 2:30 one of the greatest of all barrages was opened.  It was said that between 3500 and 4000 guns, some of them of very large calibre, went off at that hour just like clock work.  We worked on this road under shell fire until about 3:45 and then went back until the infantry went over the top at 5 oclock.  We followed with the tanks.  That is the way the Americans started and kept pounding and pushing ahead until the great day on Nov. 11.  ...

Harry Singley, 304th Engineers,
Rainbow Division
It was some life.  I am proud that I went through it, for nobody on the Hill will have anything on me...  I was a little with sneezing or tear gas.  It made me sick but I remained with the company for I did not like to leave my detachment at any time for if something would happen, I thought, there would be plenty of help.  I felt much better in a few days.  A small piece of shrapnel splinter hit me below the knee.  Otherwise I was lucky. ..."

"Somebody will wake up soon when the boys get back to the States..."

Monday, November 12, 2012

On the Razor's Edge

The book cover is received.  The copyedited text is on its way Flynnward.

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Phlinn's Philcon Schedule

No readings or kafeeklatsches, apparently

Sat 1:00 PM in Plaza III (Three)—Time Travel for the Millions (1115)
If everyone could do it, how would this affect daily life? What are the most frivolous uses of time travel we can think of? What would be a time traveler's practical joke?John Ashmead (mod), Andrew C. Murphy, Gail Z. Martin, Michael F. Flynn, Glenn Hauman

Sat 3:00 PM in Plaza IV (Four)—Creating Religions in SF & Fantasy (1125)
Some authors have managed to invent plausible religions. A few have even crossed into reality. Other fictional religions come across as Catholicism (or other faith) with doodads tacked on, or as contrivances to make characters act according to the plot. How can you make "fake" religions work?
Judith Moffett (mod), Michael F. Flynn, Daniel Grotta, Eric Kotani, Tom Doyle

Sat 4:00 PM in Autograph Table—Autograph Session 4:00 - 5:00 (1279)
Jonah Knight, Michael F. Flynn

Sat 5:00 PM in Plaza II (Two)—Great Novels...And Why We Don't Like Them. (1137)
That are novels that are unquestionably great, yet we still can not manage to enjoy them. What makes these novels great, and why do they not appeal to us?
Ellen Asher (mod), Ty Drago, Gregory Frost, Michael F. Flynn, Ray Ridenour

Sat 6:00 PM in Plaza V (Five)—Who am I, what am I, where am I? - Consciousness and the Brain (988)
Consciousness has recently become a significant topic of research in psychology and neuroscience. How do subjective feelings come from brain processes? What has been learned, what is still a mystery?
Michael F. Flynn (mod), Tobias Cabral, Rebecca Robare, Catherine Faber, Lawrence Kramer

Sat 9:00 PM in Plaza VI (Six)—Inside Other Minds: Can we Ever Really Imagine an Alien Psychology? (984)
Given the difficulty humans have understanding each other, is it really possible to imagine a totally alien psychology? Can we put ourselves in the place of the truly Other and train ourselves to think differently? How well has SF achieved this so far, and what are the examples of notable successes and failures?
Rebecca Robare (mod), Samuel Conway, James Prego, Alexis Gilliland, Michael F. Flynn

Sun 10:00 AM in Plaza IV (Four)—Killing Hitler For Fun and Profit (1153)
How have various authors treated the idea of trying to change the past? CAN you change the past, and if so, what are the consequences?
Andre Lieven (mod), KT Pinto, Michael F. Flynn, Alex Shvartsman, Glenn Hauman

Sun 11:00 AM in Plaza III (Three)—Extreme Alternate History (1182)
Go beyond "a different outcome for famous battles" to other ways that history could have played out. Think how the world would really be different if something small and innocuous had occurred.
Allyn Gibson (mod), Michael F. Flynn, Sarah Hunter, Evelyn Leeper, Brian Thomas, Ray Witte

Sun 2:00 PM in Plaza III (Three)—Space Opera and the Checkout Counter (1187)
Space Opera is one of the most successful forms of science fiction in terms of sales. Are there inherent reasons for its continued success?
Alexis Gilliland (mod), Michael F. Flynn, Shelby Morgen, Nathan Lilly, Michael Ryan

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hurricane Warning

Some perspectives.  Part of the purpose of this 11 minute film is to hype the deeds of the WPA, and we note the recurrence of stock phrases such as "shoulder to shoulder" that were popular in the 1930s.  But the fascinating thing is how little they had to work with back then.  Also, the good ol' 1930s Newsreel Voice. 

The 1938 hurricane was dubbed "The Long Island Express."  (Our modern naming conventions were not then in use.)  It flooded Manhattan all the way up to Canal Street. 

Waves 20-50 feet high crashing on the shore registered on seismographs in Alaska.  More than 600 people were killed, many of them children.  Katherine Hepburn barely escaped.  The History Channel did a show on the hurricane a while back, and it is intriguing how closely the Long Island Express matched conditions for this year's Sandy.  Instead of dying out over the colder North Atlantic, it was pinned between two highs and prevented from turning east.  Plus the autumn equinox and a full moon meant it was driving unusually high tides before it. 

The eight-part History Channel show starts here:

Of particular interest is how little meteorologists had to go on in 1938.  No radar, let alone satellite imagery.  Even the idea of using physics rather than experience was brand new and contrary to today, the one young junior meteorologist who called it right was ignored by the senior forecasters. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Illegal Aliens

Three years ago, almost to the day, TOF in his alternate ego as m_frank, posted semi-seriously some 31 different answers to Fermi's paradox on the old LiveJournal site.  Various thoughts and ruminations have impelled him to revisit the list and give it a new coat of paint, or at least a new vest and some additional comments.
+ + +

Klaatu and his ride
One of the major tropes of science fiction is the Alien From Space.  Recall Klaatu, War of the Worlds, Earth vs the Flying Saucers, and other such visitations.  Heinlein gave us the Mother Thing, the Bugs, Lummox, et al.  Van Vogt gave us the Rull; Zenna Henderson, the People; Weinbaum, Tweel; and so on.  TOF himself has been responsible for perpetrating the Hraani ("The Common Goal of Nature") and the Krenken (Eifelheim)

These alien folk have served admirably as metaphors for various aspects of humanity or human societies; but as one mainstream critic supposedly noted with surprise, in SF a trip to Mars is not only a metaphor for the stresses of human society, it is also supposed to represent on some deeper level an actual trip to Mars.  If this is so, then we have a problem.

Where are the actual aliens?
+ + +

Thursday, November 1, 2012


The gift that keeps on giving.  Apparently, it has been selling remarkably well in Japan, for I have just received a royalty check of more than a handful of dollars.

The Feast of All Saints

The come in all shapes and sizes, don't they?  Here's a list I've used before.  It is arranged along a not-too-subtle principle, which you are free to guess.  Sometimes it's good to know how exclusive the club is.  Those in the know are free to add the usual responsorials. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


The untergang of the abendlandes is earmarked by terminological confusion.  That is, it would be if untergangen had ears.  At least it is in terminological ferment, and ferment might make good beer, though usually it is dark and skunky.  (Skunky being a technical term in brewing that means....  Well, you can easily imagine what it means.  However, the good news, should you be desperate enough, is that no organism harmful to man can survive in beer, so while skunky beer may stink like a politician's promise, it won't make you sick.  Well, not physically.  Psychosomatically, who can say.  You can, however, hold your nose and quaff.)

Where was I?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

At Last It Can Be Revealed!

Lunacon 2013, reduced to desperation and barrel-bottom scraping, has persuaded TOF to be their Author Guest of Honor, in lieu of a more honorable author-guest. TOF will of course do his darnedest, and is pleased as Hubert Humphrey's punch, as well as tickled pink.  (Thus demonstrating his masterful command of the English tongue.) 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An Invitation

I have received an invitation from some circum-cupa fundum-strigilians.  Details to follow. 


Kateri Tekakwitha
painted from life, 1690
The Lily of the Mohawks
Kateri Tekakwitha will be formally canonized next Sunday.   

There is a certain nonchalance on the part of Catholics regarding their saints.  René Goupil, killed by Mohawks with a blow to the head, is today the patron saint of anesthetists. St. Lawrence, roasted on a griddle, is the patron of short-order cooks.  St. Barbara, whose father was struck by lightning after he had beheaded her, became the patron saint of artillerymen.  (When I was in Artillery ROTC, the corps paraded each year down Broad St. to St. Barbara's Church for the annual Artillerymen's Mass.)

Pithy Quotes
By 1960 the price of a good 1900 reproduction of, say, a Louis XVI table had risen, sometimes to fantastic heights -- probably because people knew that with the disappearance of craftsmanship even such reproductions were no longer reproducible.
-- John Lukacs, The Passing of the Modern Age

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A blogger yclept

A blogger yclept Adam Gropnik at The New Yorker has averred, relative to that topic, that "It is conscious, thinking life that counts." It is not the lives of all members of the species radically endowed with the capacity for conscious, thinking life–it is all those actually presently enjoying the conscious life.  

Were I he, I should be wary of falling asleep and thereby not counting.  
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Friday, October 12, 2012

An Algebraical Conundrum

Alcibiades: I approve of A.
Socrates: But then surely you have a reason for your approval?
Alc.: Certes.  I approve of A because it lacks property X!
Soc.: But then you must also approve of B, because B also lacks property X.
Alc.: What?  No!  That is awful.  A is worthy because of... because of condition Y.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Clearing the Tabs

Yes, it's time to clear the tabs once more.

1. What does the Catholic Church call a medieval woman

who was a herbalist and wrote books about it?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Historical Unconsciousness

There is a peculiar form of cognitive dissonance abroad: namely, the webster who at one and the same time glories, praises and lauds the use of empirical evidence and then fails to honor it when repeating his favorite fables. 

A recent column in the New York Times summoned these folk like Gnorrs from the woodwork out.  The column concerned the latest discovery of the Real Jesus™ as described in vast detail in eight partial lines on a scrap of papyrus modestly entitled by the professor: "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife." It runs thusly: 
1 “... [can]not be my [disciple]. My mother gave me life...”
2 ... The disciples said to Jesus, “...
3 ... deny. Mary is not worthy of it...
4 ...” Jesus said to them, “My wife...
5 ... she can be my disciple...
6 ... Let [the] wicked man bring [forth...
7 ... I am with her, so as to...
8 ... an image...”
Whereupon the entire edifice of Western Civilization crumbles...
It's hard to get a meaning from this, let alone a context, especially since (according to Francis Watson) 'The English language differentiates “woman” from “wife”, but Coptic does not.'  My own impression is that this is a portion of a well-known passage in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (#114) ripped down the page (every line is partial on both ends) and tendentiously translated.  Harvard Theological Review has reportedly suspended publication pending the resolution of doubts expressed by Coptic scholars, including a carbon-dating of the ink.  Meanwhile, its provenance is unknown.  Sounds like another "James ossuary," imho. 
But the story per se is not today my topic, but rather some of the comments in the comm box elicited with dreary predictability by the story. 

It's still the same old story....
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Tears of October

TOF is pleased to announced that his archeological trollings in kept treasures have revealed that he too once committed poetry in his storied youth.  Is there no crime of which the college student is innocent? 

Yes.  For as feckless as he once was the TOF-that-was never inflicted these hapless poems on a wider audience.  TOF will drop them on the unsuspecting public one at a time, much like the Chinese water torture, until the victims cry out NO MORE!!!

TOF have not laid eyes on these gems for many decades.  Let's see how they run.  There are, apparently, two 'collections'.  The Tears of October and Mythologies.  Join us now as TOF returns to the errors of his youth. 

A Potpourri of Quotes

While clearing out a storage locker, TOF found a box full of (wait for it) overhead transparencies.  Whoa.  These were various quotes used for humorous effect during training classes, in the days before PowerPoint forced us all into the predetermined sequentialism of the e-equivalent of the 35 mm slide show.

TOF will share this accumulated wisdom and then discard the acetates.
+ + +
The Wonderful World of Statistics
"If I had only one day left to live, I would live it in my statistics class.  It would seem so much longer."  -- Anonymous.

"The government are extremely fond of amassing great quantities of statistics.  These are raised to the nth degree, the cube roots are extracted, and the results are arranged into elaborate and impressive displays.  What must be kept ever in mind, however, is that in every case, the figures are first put down by a village watchman, and he puts down anything he damn well pleases."
-- Sir Josiah Stamp, Her Majesties Collector of Inland Revenue

On the Usefulness of Probabilities in Dealing with the Real World™
"They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist...."
-- Last words of Gen. John Sedgwick, Battle of Spotsylvania, 1864

Their judgment was based more on wishful thinking than on sound calculation of probabilities; for the usual thing among men is that when they want something they will, without any reflection, leave that to hope, while they will employ the full force of reason in rejecting what they find unpalatable.
-- Thucydides IV, 108

The Far-Seeing Prophets of Olde
"What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives travelling twice as fast as stagecoaches?" 
-- The Quarterly Review, 1825

"All mankind has heard much of M. Lesseps and his Suez Canal...  I have a very strong opinion that such a canal will not and cannot be made..."
-- Anthony Trollope, novelist, 1860

"...The region last explored is, of course, altogether valueless.  It can be approached only from the south, and after entering it there is nothing to do but leave.  Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality."
-- Lt. Joseph C. Ives, US Corps of Topographical Engineers, 1861
referring to the Grand Canyon

"The possession of this Russian territory [Alaska] can give us neither honor, wealth, or power, but will always be a source of weakness and expense, without any adequate return."
-- Orange Ferris, US Congressman, 1868

"There is no plea which will justify the use of high-tension and alternating currents, either in a scientific or commercial sense."
-- Thomas Edison, 1889

"The ordinary 'horseless carriage' is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and though its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle."
-- The Literary Digest, Oct. 14, 1889

"The Panama Canal is actually a thing of the past, and Nature in her works will soon obliterate all traces of French energy and money expended on the Isthmus."
-- Scientific American, 1891

"I must confess that my imagination, in spite even of spurring, refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and foundering at sea."
-- H.G. Wells, Anticipations, 1901

"The actual building of roads devoted to motor cars is not for the near future, in spite of many rumors to that effect."
-- Harper's Weekly, Aug 2, 1902

"We hope that Professor Langley will not put his substantial greatness as a scientist in further peril by continuing to waste his time, and the money involved, in further airship experiments.  Life is short, and he is capable of services to humanity incomparably greater than can be expected to result from trying to fly..."
-- New York Times, Dec. 10, 1903
The Wright Brothers' flight was exactly a week later

"De Forest has said in many newspapers and over his signature that it would be possible to transmit human voices across the Atlantic before many years.  Bases on these absurd and deliberately misleading statements, the misguided public... has been persuaded to purchase stock in his company."
-- US District Attorney prosecuting Lee De Forest, 1913
This had actually been done accidentally seven years before!

The NY Times Has Forgotten Their Assessment of Langley
"That Professor Goddard and his 'chair' in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react -- to say that would be absurd.  Of course, he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools..."
-- New York Times, Jan 13, 1920

Put These Two Predictions Together, and....
"Nobody now fears that a Japanese fleet could deal an unexpected blow at our Pacific possessions...  Radio makes surprise impossible."
-- Joseph Daniels, former US Secretary of the Navy, Oct. 16, 1922

"As far as sinking a ship with a bomb is concerned, you just can't do it."
-- Rear Adm. Clark Woodward, USN, 1939

On Class and Style
"There is fine Waterford crystal, which rings delicately when struck, no matter how thick and chunky it may look; and then there are Flintstone jelly glasses.  You may drink your Dom Perignon out of either one, but friends, there is a difference."
-- Stephen King

Lee De Forest Has Forgotten His Own Life
"While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming."
-- Lee DeForest, "Father of the Radio," 1926
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Not Your Grandfather's "Explosive"
"That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done...  The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives."
-- Adm. William Leahy, USN, speaking to President Truman, 1945

Okay, So Goddard Was Right; But....
"There has been a great deal said about a 3,000 mile high-angle rocket.  In my opinion such a thing is impossible for many years.  The people who have been writing these things that annoy me have been talking about a 3,000 mile high-angle rocket shot from one continent to another, carrying an atomic bomb and so directed as to be a precise weapon which would land exactly on a certain target, such as a city.  I say, technically, I don't think anyone in the world knows how to do such a thing, and feel confident that it will not be done for a very long period of time to come...
-- Dr. Vannevar Bush, US engineer, to Senate committee, 1945

This Would Be With Those Impossibly Precisely-Aimed Rockets
"Landing and moving around on the moon offers so many serious problems for human beings that it may take science another 200 years to lick them."
-- Science Digest, 1948 (It took 21 years.) 
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"Economic forecasting houses like Data Resources and Chase Econometrics have successfully predicted fourteen of the last five recessions."
-- David Fehr, former Harvard Business School professor
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1. Enthusiasm ("How could it hurt?")
2. Disillusionment ("How were we supposed to know?")
3. Panic
4. Search for the guilty.
5. Punishment of the innocent.
6. Praise and honors for the nonparticipants.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Art and Artistry

A correspondent with the insufficiently envoweled name of roystgnr has commented on TOF's post "Observation on the State of Modern Art"
I vaguely recall modern art enthusiasts once *bragging* about a double-blind study in which art students preferred modern artists' work over children's and chimps' a whopping *two thirds* of the time. Pathetic.

Or was that sympathetic? You do have to feel for visual artists in the post-photography age. Now that the mere real is more easily captured by kids with camera phones than by professional painters, apparently the only contributions remaining for the artist to make lie in the surreal... so isn't it tempting to give up on enhancing realistic images entirely and just focus on abstract composition?
This prompts TOF into an unaccustomed (cough cough) philosophical mood. 

The intellect is perfected in two ways, scientia and ars, or "science" and "art" in modern parlance.  Science was in the original sense of knowledge; and art was the application of that knowledge to something practical.  In brief: "know what" and "know how."  Physicians and engineers, indeed any menial who worked with his hands, were therefore counted as artists. 

The original term was "artisan."
"Artists in the sense that we understand and use the word, meaning practitioner of fine art, didn't exist in Leonardo's time it would be more appropriate to use the word artisan in its meaning of craftsman or skilled hand worker."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Observation on the State of Modern Art

One of these was produced by a chimpanzee:
It has been said by John Lukacs that the quality of art can be judged by how difficult it is for a hack to imitate it. 

h/t James Chastek for the links to the art

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Who Am I to Contradict Them?

altColleen Chen reviews the October 2012 issue of Analog, the which contains my novelette, "The Journeyman: On the Short-Grass Prairie."  It runneth as follows:
In “The Journeyman: On the Short-Grass Prairie,” by Michael F. Flynn, Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand is on the run, pursued by the brothers of the man he killed. We already should know he’s a hero by his name, but then we read this: “On all the Great Grass, he feared no man; but fearing a score of men was another matter. One Serpentine, he could meet knife-to-knife. Half the clan, maybe. But not all the Serps all at once. It would be a songbound feat even to evade them.” So now we really know he’s a hero.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Movies You Would Pay to See

or not.

  • The Sirens of the Ram.  The exciting story of a firehouse that adopts a mountain goat as its mascot.
  • The Three Amigos.  A theological film.  
  • Titanic.  A man accidentally overdoses on Viagra and watches in horror as his vessel splits in two and sinks forever.  
  • A Thousand Crowns.  The epic story of John Henry the dentist.
  • Zulu!  British astronomers manage to designate the prime meridian.
  • The Tin Commandments.  Metallurgical training film.
  • Hairy Porter and the Goblet of Fire.  Sasquatch finds work carrying luggage and discovers contraband liquor in one of the suitcases. 
  • Four Bidden Planets.  A quartet of worlds is invited to join the Galactic Federation in this sci-fi thriller.
  • Forbidden Plants.  A sequel to Reefer Madness
  • Sy Lent on the Lamp.  Banker Silas Morning takes an old lamp as collateral and gets a surprise when he rubs it. 
  • The Bjorn Identity.  Biopic of the famous Swedish tennis player.  
  • Citizen Cain.  In this sequel to Adam and Eve and Ted and Alice, their son goes out into the world to found cities.  
  • The Malt-Ease Fountain.  Jerry Lewis as the Soda Jerk who invents a beer-flavored soda.  Everyone has a good time.  
  • Casino Royal Dutch Shell.  Motorists place bets on what a gallon will cost in the next hour.
  • The Hunt for Lead October.  A Soviet submarine sinks. 
  • The Russians are Coming!  The Russians are Coming! Pornographic film set in St. Petersburg
  • Any Haul.  Woody Allen stars as an inept burglar who will steal whatever he can get.
  • Abattoir.  Peaceful Earthlings visit a planet with simple primitives, who welcome them, feast them, then slaughter them in their sleep for no particular reason.  
  • A Beautiful Mine. The anthracite fields of NE Penna. are a featured backdrop in this paean to coal miners' daughters.  
  • Bunny and Clyde.  Young Clyde Jenkins raises rabbit on the farm to sell as pets but is soon arrested by the federal rabbit inspector SWAT team.  The audience is horrified to learn that there actually is such a thing as a federal rabbit inspector SWAT team.
  • Casablanca.  A bank-robber learns too late that he has bought an entire case of non-lethal bullets.
  • Goal-Minder's Daughter.  A young girl wants to follow in her father's footsteps and play for the NHL
Update: And from karrde comes this overlooked gem:
  • Saw-Shank Redemption.  Inspiring tale of a butcher and his family who struggle to keep the meat-saw running during the Great Depression.   
Martin has gone mad:
  • Fence and Fenceability: The Pawn Stars work undercover with the Las Vegas police
  • Batman Begins the Beguine: When Bruce Wayne's parents die tragically he travels to Europe to study dance only to cut the trip short when he realizes he will miss the annual Gotham city swing dance contest.
  • Ferris Bueller's Day of the Triffids:  Ferris decides to skip school and sleep in only to find he is the last sighted man in a world of flesh eating plants. Hilarity ensues
Stephen Barringer contributes
  • Total Recall: A safety scandal brings down a Big American auto manufacturer when every single model has to be returned. 
  • Anchorite: The Legend of Gone Burgundy: A historical mediaeval epic about a comically pompous hermit freed from his cell after twenty years, only to find the civilized chivalrous kingdom he grew up in has been overrun by barbaric Franks. 
Uppest date
Stevo Darkly goes naughty:
  • Half Moon Street: Documentary of the Folsom Street Festival in San Francisco, with a focus on the chaps, spanking skirts and other leather fashions that partly expose the buttocks. 
Uppity date
Joe goes for the low-hanging fruit:
  • Star Wars: Mockumentary about two actors who vie against each other to land a role in an off-Broadway production.
  • Star Dreck: Sequel to the critically-acclaimed Star Wars, where the winning actor must come to grips with the fact that the play stinks, and do what he can to save it--and his career.
  • Lord of the Blings: Finale to the Star Wars trilogy. After having been rejected for the off-Broadway musical, the losing actor starts a career as a rap star, complete with stereotypical accoutrements. Plays off the joke of a thespian submerged in the gangster rap culture.
Uppermost date
Stevo Darkly commented darkly:

  • Tsar Wars: Russian rebels overthrow an evil empire, which is replaced by an even more evil empire.
  • The Other Bowlin' Girl: Two sisters contend for the affection of Henry, the Eighth Best Bowler in the State.
  • The Lizard of Oz: A goanna accidentally crawls aboard a Qantas jet and, somewhere over the Rainbow Springs of Mataranka, discovers it's not in Australia anymore and there's no place like home.
  • Finding Memo: An office worker desperately searches for the recently distributed update to the procedures for preparing TPS reports.
  • Schindler's List In Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually develops a tendency to lean to one side.

More welcome. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012


While cleaning out the storage locker, TOF located and retrieved several boxes of books and shlepped them home, where they now occupy the best part of two racks of shelving.  The thought occurred that these could be made available to Faithful Reader for a modest donation.  Therefore, TOF proposes the Great Housecleaning Challenge!

  • Send a check made out to Our Lady of Mercy Church in Easton PA
  • plus a separate check for postage 
  • and address for shipping your selected book, 
and TOF promises in return at least some small pittance of reading pleasure in return.

All copies will be autographed unless you prefer otherwise.  

Available books below the cut................

Friday, September 7, 2012

TOF at Chicon 7

TOF attended Chicon 7, the World Science Fiction Convention and both he and the convention escaped unharmed.

TOF has always liked Chicago as a city.  It is the one major city that most resembles New York, that has that old 1930s/40s feel to it.  He also likes the three-layer streets, which have a SF feel to them.  Why not have all the trucks move on the lower level streets and the passenger cars on the higher level?  Indeed, why not indeed rent the same square footage three times?  The city scape is also more interesting.  In the New Cities, the skyscrapers are all glass boxes with not much of interest to them; but Chicago has skyscrapers from the first time skyscrapers were bespoken, and they have architectural interest in their facades and roofs.  They were built in a day when craftsmen included details that the street level could not see.

The Lost Tools of Learning

from "The Lost Tools of Learning," by Dorothy Sayers:
"Before you dismiss me with the appropriate phrase--reactionary, romantic, mediaevalist, laudator temporis acti, or whatever tag comes first to hand--I will ask you to consider one or two miscellaneous questions that hang about at the back, perhaps, of all our minds, and occasionally pop out to worry us...
"Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side? Or have you ever pondered upon the extremely high incidence of irrelevant matter which crops up at committee meetings, and upon the very great rarity of persons capable of acting as chairmen of committees? And when you think of this, and think that most of our public affairs are settled by debates and committees, have you ever felt a certain sinking of the heart?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Captive Dreams sez they have only 18 copies left in stock.  I assume that does not apply to the Kindle version.  But if you want one in your hot little hand, act soon. 

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, reports. (Philadelphia News, Weather and Sports from WTXF FOX 29 <>)

"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. 

In The Belly of the Whale: Publisher's Weekly Review & Pre-Order Links

 Hello Fans of Michael Flynn. I am pleased to let you know that Dad's novel In the Belly of the Whale will be released by CAEZIK on July...