Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Much is thereby explained

There have been sightings in various parts of the country of Creepy Clowns with fixed and painted smiles painted on their faces.

There is also an election underway.

Coincidence? I think not.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


One of the problems with Trump Derangement Syndrome is the difficulty of consistency.

A1. Recently, a website calling itself The Daily Kos announced that Trump had revealed his antisemitism in a speech in which he criticized his enemies as being entangled with "globalization and international bankers." These terms, we are assured, are markers for Jews.
Donald Trump lashed out at global elites who undermine American sovereignty through “international banks” — and many observers couldn’t help but notice the underlying anti-Semitic message.

A2. But where then is the Daily Kos' denunciation of the Occupy movement of a few years ago, which likewise denounced "international banks" and "globalization"?

B1. During the primaries, the morning news show ran a clip in which Trump asked his rally to make a pledge, raising his right hand in the right angle pose used in taking the Court Oath. A commenter pointed out that it was similar to the Nazi salute. No one replied that the comment was stupid and no clip was run showing people taking an oath in court.

B2. Immediately after the aforesaid clip, on the same news show, a story ran on a Bernie Sanders' speech. At the conclusion, he swept his right arm out, straight-arm, in a dramatic and rhetorical gesture. No one pointed out that this resembled far more closely the Nazi salute.

C1. On news show after news show, a parade of women claiming to have been sexually assaulted by Donald Trump some years ago has been heralded as proving him unfit to be president.

C2. On news show after news show, a parade of women claiming to have been sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton some years previously was dismissed as the ravings of trailer trash and had in any case no relevance to Clinton's fitness to be president.

A certain respect for consistency would demand that the same judgement be reached in both cases or at least cogent arguments be advanced as to why the cases are different. W.F.Buckley once commented that one man pushed an old lady in front of a bus and a second man pushed her out of the way of the bus. But what's the difference? They both push old ladies around!

The reason for the inconsistency might simply be cold, calculated propaganda or deliberate hypocrisy. But it might also be short attention span or profound cultural blindness. Many, especially among the young, for example, may not remember the "bimbo eruptions" (as the violated women were called during the run-up to the 1992 election) or remember the role that Hilary played in slut-shaming them.  Many today were not then born or were too young to be paying attention to grown-up stuff.

The Ladder of Inference guarantees that the self-same events will be seen in entirely different lights by devotees of different ideologies because prior beliefs always color observations, in politics no less than in science. (Duhem gave the example of two physicists who interpret the results of an experiment as resp. proving or disproving the same hypothesis because they followed different concepts of what pressure is.) 
BTW, a second error is often made. To point out that attacks on X are overwrought, hysterical, and apparently hypocritical does not assert that X is in fact worthy of support. So don't suppose that this is the case. It only means that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
All of this applies in similar measure to the Other Side. Those making excuses for Trump today who brooked no excuse for Clinton in 1992 are hypocrites as big as those who made excuses for Clinton in 1992 but will brook no excuses for Trump today. The major difference is that in 1992, no Democrat broke ranks because of Clinton's sexual assaults while today the Regular Republicans have been reacting with disgust and disavowal.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Laminated Moose Zombies

Woo, as they say, hoo. Received from Trevor at ANALOG:
"Yeah, I’m into “Laminated Moose Zombies,” and I think it’s conceptually fleshed-out (pun intended) and plausible enough to work in ANALOG, so I’m going to take it."

Son of TOF, a rabid fan
This is the story that TOF co-wrote with Dennis Flynn, a rising young writer who lives up in Alaska, who also happens to be Son of TOF.

Opening paragraph (which may have been posted previously)
Anchorage during Breakup is a halfway pleasant place. The weather warms nicely into the low to mid forties, the forget-me-nots prepare to blossom, and the zombies start to melt out of the ice.
That’s when Sergei and I swing into action, patrolling the roads along Muldoon between Tudor and JBER and keeping an eye peeled for the undead. It’s not hard work. They aren’t even the “walking” dead, let alone the zippy ones they tried to sell us in those movies a generation ago. They’re more like the “crawling dead,” or “slithering dead.” Technically, they aren’t even “dead,” since the fungus that moves them is very much alive. But try telling that to drivers when they see roadkill inching its way down Boniface or when some poor herbie working night shift in a mortuary finds a corpse swinging its arms or kicking its feet. Morticians have to wear brown pants these days.

Monday, October 10, 2016

As a Matter of Fact

A reader recently asked whether a collection of TOF's non-fiction was planned. The answer is no, but TOF thought that a list of non-fiction might be called for. Herewith:

1. "Universal Range Spaces and Function Space Topologies" (1971) Studia Universitates Babes-Bolyai (Seria Math.-Mech.)
TOF does not dare attempt to explain what it is about, except loosely as follows. A function assigns to each element of a domain space Y a unique element in a range space Z: Z = f(Y) = Y² is an example. A topology defines a "closeness" between two elements in a space. A function space: Z^Y treats all the functions f:Y→Z as elements in a space, with a topology defining closeness among them. TOF proved a couple of theorems about topologies on Z^Y.
In aid of this paper I have migrated two posts from The Auld Blogge onto The TOF Spot for the amusement of the easily amused.

2. "Things Your Mother Never Told You About X-bar and R Charts" (1982?) Transactions of the ASQC Annual Quality Congress.
This was a paper delivered at the annual conference of the American Society for Quality Control, but TOF would have to hunt up the year. An X-bar and R chart is a statistical device for discovering whether a change in a process can be assigned to a particular cause. This paper addressed some common misconceptions about the charts.
A X-bar and R chart compares variation from sample to sample
against the average variation within a sample to determine whether
the long-term variation exceeds the short-term variation. In the
example above, it does; and the process is said to be
"not in statistical control."
3. "What Do Control Charts Really Mean?" (1983). ASQC Qual. Cong. Trans.  pp 448-453
Another ASQC paper, this one ITRC on non-standard control charts, using medians instead of means, extreme values, and so on. 
4. "The Road to Hell" (1984) w/John Bolcar. ASQC Qual. Cong. Trans.  pp 192-196
This was a set of case studies in the interpretation and use of quality control charts, showing that the matter was not always cookbook straighforward. TOF has this reference at second hand since it was cited in one of Juran's Quality Handbooks. Woo-hoo. John was one of my quality engineers.

5. "Garbage Out: The Fine Art of Putting Garbage In" (1986). ASQC Qual. Cong. Trans. p. 149 et seq.
Before you can analyze data you must first collect it, which is easier said than done. This paper, also delivered at an ASQC conference, addressed a number of ways in which you can screw up your sampling. The conceit of the paper was the pretense that you're trying to produce garbage out and these are helpful tips for doing so.
Items #2-5 exist in hard only, if they exist at all, in a file cabinet unlockable by Heisenberg's key. That is, a key whose precise location cannot be pinned down.

6. "An Introduction to Psychohistory" (two parts) Analog (Apr and May 1988)
This was a 2-part article about whether a science of history was possible. Part I was the mathematics of history; Part II was the biology of history. It was reprinted in German in 1991 as an appendix to Heyne Verglag edition of Asimov's Foundation series.
7. "An Astounding 60 Years" Analog (Jan 1990)
TOF was asked by Stan Schmidt, then the editor of Analog to write this article, which is an overview of the first 60 years of the magazine. It's name was Astounding for the first 30 years before John W. Campbell changed it to Analog. Opening paragraph:
It was on or about March 10, 1944, when Counter Intelligence Corps agent Arthur E. Riley knocked on the doors of ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION editor, John Woods Campbell, Jr., and demanded to know what the hell was going on.  The March 1944 issue of ASTOUNDING had just hit the stands with the story, “Deadline,” by Cleve Cartmill.  Although set on an ostensibly alien planet, involving an ostensibly alien war, the story had contained some rather disquieting lines. 
8. "FAT-Eating Logic Bombs and the Vampire Worm," w/ Edward Rietman (Analog, Feb 1993)
Dr. Reitman wrote the original article and TOF was asked to help with the wordsmithing. The whole idea of worms and viruses and the like was pretty new at the time.The opening paragraph:
The Worm from Hell
Shortly after 6:30 PM on 2 November 1988 dæmons struck the Net.  Computers across the country went catatonic.  Berkeley’s Experimental Computing Facility and the Rand Corporation at Santa Monica were among the first to crash.  An hour later, the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab froze, then Lawrence Livermore and the University of Maryland.  Other nodes toppled like dominoes: Stanford, Princeton, Los Alamos, NASA’s Ames Research Center, the Army Ballistic Research Lab.  By the early morning hours, InterNet was virtually paralyzed.  Only AT&T and Bell Labs were immune. 
The article also made some predictions:
The processor of the future will be filled with the electronic analogs of platelets, antibodies and other such useful critters.  Autonomous programs will run in the background “automatically updating software, diagnosing hardware problems, seeking out information stored in vast data banks or doing routine garbage collection” (Markoff, 1991).  
9. "Pson of Psychohistory" Analog (June 1994)
A very short note in which TOF tried to prognosticate, with variable success. Economic cycles were approximately correct, but individual politicians did not fulfill their assigned roles.
10. "De Revolutione Scientiarum in 'Media Tempestas'" Analog (Jul 2007)
Written in the form of a medieval Question, this article explored the potential for a scientific revolution in the 14th century. It was a companion piece to "Quaestiones super caelo et mundo" which won the Anlab award that year and for which I gave an acceptance speech in Latin, found here.
11. "The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown and Down and Dirty Mud-Wrassle" Analog (Jan/Feb 2013)
This was a summary of the historical transition from the geostationary to the geomobile models of the World, but we had to jettison the diagrams and figures. A more extended, detailed version (with the diagrams and figures) appeared later on this blog. Opening paragraph:
HISTORY MUST BE CURVED, for there is a horizon in the affairs of mankind.  Beyond this horizon, events pass out of historical consciousness and into myth.  Accounts are shortened, complexities sloughed off, analogous figures fused, traditions “abraded into anecdotes.”  Real people become culture heroes: archetypical beings performing iconic deeds.  (Vansina 1985)
12. "Spanking Bad Data Won't Make Them Behave" Analog (Jul/Aug 2014)
This article was a description of various problems with data. There was to have been a Part II, applying the lessons to Global Warming data, but TOF never got around to writing it. Opening paragraph:
Facts are elusive critters.  Far from being self-demonstrating, they are meaningless without context.  “Theory determines what can be observed,” Einstein once remarked to Heisenberg.  We cannot accumulate answers without first asking a question.  Pierre Duhem put it this way:
“Take two physicists who do not define pressure in the same manner because they do not admit the same theories of mechanics.  One for example accepts the ideas of Lagrange; the other adopts the ideas of Laplace and Poisson.  Submit to these two physicists a law whose statement brings into play the notion of pressure.  They will hear the statement in two different ways.  To compare it with reality, they will make different calculations so that one will find this law verified by facts which, for the other, will contradict it.”  [Emph. added]
– “Some Reflections on the Subject of Experimental Physics” (1894)
So much for the notion that facts alone can settle questions. 
13. "The Autumn of Modern Science" Analog (Apr 2016)
This was a compressed history of the end of the Modern way of doing science, foreshadowed in a few blog posts here and as part of an extended series on the end of modern civilization.  It appeared as a guest editorial in Analog. Opening paragraph:
Thoroughly modern milieu
During the sixteenth century, progress, which had meant a spatial motion, began to mean “improvement.” By 1580, modern had become an adjective and acquired the connotation “new.” This terminological ferment signaled the emergence of new ways of thinking: the Modern Ages.
14. "A Dialogue Concerning the Inner World System" Analog (Oct 2016)
This was a shorter, revised version of a blog post here regarding genetic engineering, written in imitation of Galileo's Dialogo. It appeared as a guest editorial in the magazine. Opening paragraph:
Scene: The Rialto of Venice, Salviati espies Simplicio approaching and greets him.
Salviati: What news on the Rialto, good Simpicio?
Simplicio: Well-a-day, my friend. Work progresses on our engineerings genetical. Soon we shall be "the sort of people we should be."

A Blast from the Past, continued


Putting on My Top Hat

I warned you. Nostalgia is a terrible force. Could we but harness it, our energy problems would be solved. Ah, the good old days...


Topology is a branch of mathematics concerned with whether or not two points are close together, and how this closeness is affected by mappings from one space to another. On what basis can we say that two point a and b are "close"?

A topology on X is a family of subsets that constitute the "open" subsets of X. The familiar open sets of the real number line (a,b) constitute such a topology on E^1. The difference between the set of all real numbers and Euclidian 1-space is the open set structure, or topology. This is the difference between a set and a space.

Now it's nice to know that the family of all open sets consists of open sets. What topology does is build this up from beneath. IOW, we start with no preconception of what constitutes an "open" set and a set of rules for what a topology is. Basically, a topology is a family of sets that is closed under union (each union of members of the family is a member of the family) and closed under finite intersection (each finite intersection etc.) And, oh yeah, Ø and X are members, too.  It turns out (fortunately) that open sets are open sets under these rules. Phew.

A set can have more than one topology. The coarsest (smallest) topology is just that consisting of {Ø,X}, that is: the null set and the space itself. In such a topology, there are no small neighborhoods. If you want to say where a point is, it's in X. Sorry, can't pin it down any closer. This is called the indiscrete topology. The finest (largest) topology is P(X), the Power Set, which consists of the set of all subsets of X. This is the discrete topology.

Consider the set X={0,1} consisting of exactly two points with the discrete topology. 
T = P(X) = {Ø, 0, 1, X} This space is called 2. 
(Nice to know where 2 comes from when you start out with only 0 and 1.....)
The same set with the topology T = {Ø, 0, X} is called Sierpinski Space or S. Notice that {1} has no small neighborhoods in Sierpinski space, since the only open set containing {1} is X itself.

That's enough of that.


A function is a continuous map from one topological space to another. Notation is f:Y→Z. For example, the square maps E^1 into E^1 (actually into the non-negative part of E^1) by mapping 0 to 0, 1 to 1, 2 to 4 and so on and in between. This is illustrated below for a few points in Y.

This illo shows how a few open sets in Y are mapped into open sets in Z. For example:
f:(-2.8284271etc, +2.8284271etc) → (0,8)
f:(1,2) → (1,4)
f:(-2,-1) → (1,4)

f:(-1,+1) → (0,1)

Lastly, consider other functions mapping the same interval (0, 1.5 etc.) into Z.
-4 maps it into (-4) a "constant" map
Y^2 maps it into (0, 2.25)
-Y maps it into (-1.5, 0)
Y+2 maps it into (2,3.5)
4Y maps it into (0,6)

Function Spaces

It is natural to ask: what sort of topological space can we make of the set of all continuous functions from Y->Z.
In what sense can we say two functions f and g are "near" each other?
Who cares?

Tune in again next time for the next exciting installment in this mesmerizing topic. 


No third installment was posted. It began to seem all too esoteric a topic of an internet post.

Mathematica Antiqua

This is a reposting of something that was on the Auld Blogge at LiveJournal. I cannot now use LiveJournal since some sort of virus has squatted on the page and insists on popping up new tabs that promise to remove the very obstacle in questions. However, I was able to use navigation keys to capture and paste the material here for posterity

A Blast from the Past

Last week (sic) I received a comment on this blog from my old topology professor, Doug Harris. This has sent my brain on a stroll down memory lane. I wrote a master's thesis under him that resulted in an original theorem or two. I have always taken great pride in the fact that they were of no practical use whatsoever. It appears now that the field of function space topologies has now become a hot new topic, and so the danger has arisen that someone somewhere may actually cite "Flynn's Theorem."

Now I remember a much younger professor, with darker hair. Of course, I also remember a much younger graduate student several pounds lighter. When I was there, he was the topology guy. Later, he moved into computer science, internet, and stuff like that; although he still has an interest in topology and is working on an interesting spectral theory of commutative rings with unit. He writes at that

"My later work discovered some specific simple topological spaces which could act as "prime numbers" for constructing and characterizing very general classes of spaces. That is, any space in the class can be constructed from my spaces, which is the easy part, but if my spaces are constructed from other spaces one of the other spaces must be one of mine: that is the hard part, the primeness, and is something very unusual in topology."

One of the theorems in my own master thesis was that any function space topology in a class could be described as a subspace of a product of a particular space of the class, which I called the universal space of that class. So there is a distant analogy here that tickles me. The theorem was later published in a math journal, and so is my first publication, albeit not SF. Okay, so I had some stories published in my high school literary magazine; but they don't count because I was one of the two editors. But I digress. By some weird coincidence I had come across a copy of the paper and had been thinking about the Old Days. I had even pulled down Schubert, Dugundji and some other texts and was doing a little recreational reading. And then along comes the comment from Prof. Harris. How weird is that?

(Not that weird. I pulled those books out of storage when Margie built me an office with lots of bookcases, and from time to time I ave looked in one or another of the books. Tensor Analysis on Manifolds. Rings of Continuous Functions. Fundamentals of Linear Algebra. Woo hoo. So I have looked in the Topology books before without calling up spirits from the vasty deep.)

Some of you may be wondering, What the @#$%^ is topology, and thinking it has something to do with maps. It does; but not those kinds of maps. Perhaps I will post on the subject and elevate the tone of this blog. But for a sum of money I will not. You have been warned.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Fan Mail

The following letter was received by ANALOG magazine in response to a Guest Editorial by TOF:

I applaud Michael F. Flynn for his guest editorial in the June 2016 issue, although since I’ve never read Galileo’s Dialog I may have missed some of his cleverer implications.  I didn’t laugh at Simplicio, but I did snicker a bit.  I suppose a lot of human progress has been driven by heedless infatuation with new possibilities, but I find it refreshing and reassuring that there are people like Mr. Flynn to look while the rest of us leap.
-- Tony Dwyer
 TOF blushes.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Think about it

A Brilliant Idea

by Rober Scherrer at Cosmic Yarns:

Marvel Superhero Day at School

My daughter's school is sponsoring "Marvel Monday," when everyone is supposed to dress up as a Marvel superhero. What to do? I suggested that she go as the Fantastic Four's Sue Richards, who can turn invisible. Then just skip school that day.

Wonder and Anticipation, the Likes of Which We Have Never Seen

  Hello family, friends and fans of Michael F. Flynn.   It is with sorrow and regret that I inform you that my father passed away yesterday,...