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

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

Monday, 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."


  1. Wow. . . You're a Deming-ite?

    Been a long time since I've seen or heard mention of X-bar and R charts. . .

  2. I met him on a couple occasions and corresponded with him briefly. My boss at the time had been a buddy of his during WW2.

    1. Mr. Flynn;

      Are you going to continue your blog any time soon? I quite enjoy your writing.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. I though X-Bar Theory was sth in linguistics (modern analyses of certain language specific grammar rules) ... was I wrong? (Modern ling. = as in Chomsky related, not ideologically, unless you consider his grammatical analyses an ideology about grammar.)

    1. X-bar refers to the average (mean) of a series of Xs. In statistics, it is not a theory, simply a calculation.

    2. Ah, statistics.

      Wonder if that inspired the terminology of the Chomsky disciple(s)?

  5. Any chance you'd be willing to compile your Great Ptolemaic Smackdown as an eBook or series of PDFs?

    I'm teaching medieval literature and have referred students to read your series, for background on the medieval model of the universe. But it might be easier to read in book format than on a blog.

    1. I'll have to give it thought. There may be questions of copyright on some of the illustrations.

      Meanwhile, Guy Consolmagno has a nice essay in Medieval Science Fiction on "Medieval Cosmologies."


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