It's Always Snowing There

World heavyweight champion Tyson Fury has tested positive for cocaine. As a result he may lose his belts.

Come on, he lives in England. He just had to walk into the loo of his local pub a couple of times and that would be enough to produce a positive test.

Where did the idea that it is sinful to use "curse words" come from?

The Bible only says one thing about "cursing": Don't take the Lord's name in vain.

If I say, "What the f*ck is that?" the Lord's name does not appear anywhere in that sentence.

I think what has gone on here is a conflation of upper-class behavior with righteous behavior.

Cursing is something done by dirty, sweaty, working men when they are angry.

When a rich person is angry, he has other outlets: he forecloses on your house, or fires you. So, no need to curse!

Apple dictation weirdness

I spoke the following words: "I have reviewed at least three books on of the history of science..."

The Apple dictation software put them into my document exactly as above. But then it suddenly deleted a bunch of them leaving me with: "I have reviewed at least three books science..."

Notice that the new sentence isn't even grammatical. What the heck could be going on? It "heard" all of the words, and then... decided it did not like some of them?

Introduction to Algorithms, Lecture Three

Many people have no clue how thermostats work

My tenant found the house too cold. I realized that the problem was that I had turned the furnace off at the start of the summer, and had forgotten to turn it back on. But when turning the thermostat up to 70 had produced no result, my tenant then turned it up to 85.

Her view of the thermostat was that it was some sort of magical wish granter: if one wishes for 70, and one's wish is not granted, then perhaps wishing for 85 will result in a grant of the wish for 70.

I don't mean to pick on her: many, many people seem to treat thermostats in this way. They walk into their office, and the temperature is 80. They would like it to be 70, but they want it to "get there fast," so they set the thermostat to 60.

Professors, Don't Let Your Students Grow Up to Be Proprietary Software Users

I am currently cutting over all of my course management to rely on open-source, text-reliant software and files.

I have been through several course management tool cut-overs at several schools, plus experiencing the general difficulty of bringing one's accumulated knowledge and data forward from one position to the next, and with the last new course management tool I had to adopt, I had had it!

Of course, you have to use whatever course management software your school requires: well, they require it, and the students are used to it. But you can just fill up the content area of that tool with links to your open-source repository, where the real meat of your course resides. To do this:

A GitHub repository should take the place of your Moodle / Blackboard / Canvas / Whatever course module as the focus of where you collect your course materials. When you rely on GitHub for this function, you get:
  • Complete portability of your accumulated course-specific files from one institution to another: a school may deny you access to their course management system after you leave, but they can't deny you access to your own GitHub repository!
  • The ability to share the work you have done as broadly as you want. No one needs a University ID to view your GitHub repository.
As a substitute for PowerPoint and course management "external resource" links, rely on HTML files. PowerPoint allows you to include lots of images supporting your lecture? Well, so does HTML. Your course management software gives you the ability to link to multiple videos, audio files, external web pages, and so on, to give your students supplementary materials? Well, so does HTML. In fact, HTML was built to allow one file to link to other stuff.

What's more, all of the work I have done with proprietary formats has been subject to multiple crashes, cross-platform incompatibilities, and so on. That doesn't happen with HTML files. In addition, since HTML is text-based, it is easy for you or a programmer you hire to process and transform those files with simple Perl, Python, awk, or shell scripts.

The above doesn't mean you should never use proprietary software for your courses: there are times when a PowerPoint presentation may provide the "pop" you need bring out some point with some fancy animations or transitions. There are times when an Excel spreadsheet can be just the ticket for capturing how the parameters to some model affect its output. But you can store these files in GitHub as well! So, basically, if you go open source, you can incorporate proprietary whenever you wish. But the reverse is hardly true.

And here is my first effort following these precepts.

Politics Is Not Only About Liberty

Or any other single good. As Eric Voegelin wrote:

"The political interplay of [every functioning society] is patrician. It is based on the fact that one thinks a lot about what the others do, but does not say it; that one is always aware that in the society there is more than one good to achieve, not only the good of freedom, but also the good of security, the good of welfare, and that if I specialized in one or other of these goods, I could thereby bring the whole society into disorder, because I could destroy the balance between the realization of goods on which the society is based. . . . If I harden myself with a particular idea and pursue only this goal, this one good, then in reaction there arises the counterstasis, the counter-hardening, and with this the impossibility of social cooperation."

Will-ful Ignorance

Will Wilkinson thinks he's got the religious dead to rights:

"It’s happening in all wealthy, liberal-democratic countries. The needs served by religious belief and participation seem to weaken as people become more prosperous and oriented toward individual self-realization."

Religion is just something poor, backward people need: once people start devoting themselves to relentlessly pursuing material wealth and fulfilling their own egos, religion drops by the wayside. Who could have imagined? Well, except...

"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."

The autonomy of physics

As with mathematics, physics should be free of interference by philosophers. And when I discuss Zeno's paradox of motion, I am philosophizing.

In no way whatsoever am I trying to revise modern physics, or tell physicists how they should look at space, or inform them about what mathematical techniques they ought to employ. Physicists should use whatever models and techniques help to advance physics. And they certainly don't need a philosopher's advice to decide what those things are.

"Don't Shoot Him!"

The New York Times has on its front page for Sunday (we get the Sunday Times on Saturday in NYC): '"Don't Shoot Him!" Wife's Plea to Charlotte Police'

This is incendiary. More relevant and less inflammatory would have been '"Drop the Gun!" Cop's Plea to Charlotte Shooting Victim'

The second person who pitched Trump to me...

Was the best sales person I know.

Sometime in May, he said to me "It's all over."

"The GOP nomination?" I asked him.

"No, the election: Trump is going straight to the White House. Clinton is a horrible sales person."

Watching her the last few months, I have to agree. If the Democratic Party was giving away a luxury villa overlooking the Mediterranean, we'd all sign up for it. But after Hillary pitched it to us for a half hour or so, we'd say, "You know, thanks anyway, but I really don't need a villa."

Any Maor Dude with Half a Pile of Uranium

Relevant to our recent discussion of the continuum:

"The rate of decay of a radioactive substance -- in the amount of radiation it emits -- is at every moment proportional to its mass m: dm/dt = -am. The solution of this differential equation is m = m0e-at, where m0 is the initial mass of the substance (the mass at t = 0). We see from this solution that m will gradually approach 0 but never reach it -- the substance will never completely disintegrate." -- e: The Story of a Number, p. 103


Here we get a clear glimpse into the problem of mistaking a formalism for reality. When he wrote this, Maor seems to have forgotten that this differential equation is just a model for radioactive decay, and not radioactive decay itself.

Because the model implies that the amount of radioactive material present at any time changes along a continuum, and that it changes exactly according to this equation. (It could not do the latter unless it also did the former.)

But, of course, the amount of uranium or plutonium or whatever present in some mass does not change continually. We cannot have 1.54957623 atoms of uranium in a rock: we can only have two atoms, or one atom. And once radioactive decay reduces the amount left to one atom, even that last atom will sooner or later decay, and we will have zero atoms of uranium left. And so, contra Maor, all of the uranium will eventually disappear.

Since we are typically dealing with a vast number of uranium atoms in any radioactive sample, modeling the decay process as though it were a continuous function is a useful fiction. But if we mistake the model for reality, we reach erroneous conclusions, such as "there will always be some uranium left in the sample."

I suggest that similarly, modeling space as if it were a continuum is a useful fiction. But if we mistake the model for reality... I leave the rest as an exercise for the reader.