Archive for the 'Uncategorized' category

Unfortunately, I don't have any wonderful posts all ready for
our launch. At the moment, I'm the only administrator at Scientopia,
and I've been so busy working on just getting the site up and running
that I haven't had any time to actually finish any posts.

But there's stuff in progress! I'm working on two different series
of posts.

First, in my request for topics back at SB, a ton of you were interested
in topology. I've written about topology before, but it was four years ago
when GM/BM first moved to ScienceBlogs. So most of you guys probably
never got to read it. I'll be taking those posts, updating them, and
reposting them.

The other series is on fuzzy logic. I really love logic - in particular,
I love what I call atypical logics - that is, logics that do something
different from basic propositional or predicate logic. Fuzzy logic is
particularly fun - it's built around the fundamental idea of
vagueness. That is, what happens to concepts like "tallness", where
there are some people who are clearly tall, and there are others
who are kind-of tall, and still others who clearly aren't tall.
And yet, there's absolutely no strict dividing line between those. But
capturing those in logic is difficult!

And, of course, if you're doing fuzzy logic, you really need fuzzy set theory
underneath it. After all, in normal set theory, a predicate defines
a set. But if a predicate is completely true for some values, and it's
only partly true for others, then what does a set mean? What does
membership mean?

We'll find out soon!

Goodbye, Scienceblogs

So my decision is made. I'm closing up around here. I'm in the process of working out exactly where I'm going to go. With any luck, Seed will leave this blog here long enough for me to post an update with the new location. But I'm through with Seed and ScienceBlogs.

Seed, Conflicts of Interest, and Sleaze

As my friend Pal wrote about, Seed Media Group, the corporate overlords of the ScienceBlogs network that this blog belongs to, have apparently decided that blog space in these parts is now up for sale to advertisers.

We've been advertiser supported since I joined up with SB. I've never minded that before. Providing a platform and bandwidth takes money, which has to come from somewhere. The way that ads have been handled before has been no problem: the ads are clearly distinguished from the content. There's no way that you're going to mix up one of my posts with a paid advertisement.

Until now.

Seed has, in its corporate wisdom, decided to let Pepsico buy its way into a blog on ScienceBlogs. Pepsi writes SMG a nice check, and suddenly their content gets mixed in to the ScienceBlog RSS feeds, the ScienceBlog feed to Google News, etc., exactly the way that my blog posts do.

This is not acceptable.

For now, I'm suspending my blog for a few days. If Seed decides to back out of this spectacular stupidity, then I'll start posting here again. If not, then I'll go looking for a new home for GM/BM. The money that I've made from the ads that Seed has sold has been nice - but it's not worth my integrity.

If Blogs here are for sale, then I'm gone.

Stepping Up Divison By Zero to Perfect Encryption

rehash of the "Nullity" nonsense from a couple of years ago, but with a new spin.

If you don't remember nullity, it was the attempt of one idiot to define division by zero.
He claimed to have "solved" the great problem of dividing by zero, and by doing so, to be able
to do all manner of amazing things, such as to build better computers that would be less prone
to bugs.

Today's garbage is in the
same vein: another guy, this one named Jeff Cook, who claims to have "solved" the problem of
division by zero. But this one claims that this gives him a way to prove the Reimann
hypothesis, to rapidly crack RSA public key encryption, and to devise a new "theoretically
unbreakable" encryption algorithm.

The grandiosity of this Mr. Cook is astonishing. He's started a company (which is looking
for investors!); here's a quote from his company's homepage:

Great scientific discoveries mark the milestones of human history.

Such are the accomplishments achieved by the men and women of Singularics. Standing on the
shoulders of giants such as Albert Einstein and Bernhard Riemann, we have reached up through
nature's veil and seen what lies hidden there more clearly than anyone else before us. Our
discoveries have yielded a new mathematical framework, one that provides a profound
understanding of nature's basic mechanics. We have discovered The Science of
Singularics™
, the study of the singularity.

We have already found a variety of important applications of Singularic Technology™,
but perhaps the most immediately useful are Neutronic Encryption™, a new theoretically
unbreakable public key encryption algorithm and Singularic Power™, a new form of clean
power generation.

Neutronic Encryption, our next generation public key encryption algorithm, will play a
vital role in the digital age by ensuring that the electronic information of governments,
industry and individuals is kept secure and private in a world where cyber-terrorism is on the
rise.

We have also developed a new primary power generation system capable of delivering
abundant, clean and inexpensive energy that can satisfy power requirements on any scale.
Singularic Power production technology generates zero pollution and can therefore play an
instrumental role in promoting a harmonious coexistence between human civilization and the
Earth's fragile ecosystem.

To date, our analysis of the mathematics and physics at the singularity has lead us to
eight important new inventions, most notably in the fields of information security and clean
energy. All eight inventions (patents pending), have significant and immediate application in
the global market.

It is our vision to use these advances to bring about great improvements for everyone
through new technology, intelligently applied.

Mr. Cook doesn't have too high an opinion of himself, does he?

Apples vs Orchards: Comparing Inauguration Costs

People keep sending me links to this, so I'll make a short post about it.

In the hubbub surrounding the Obama inauguration, there've been all sorts of incredulous press pieces discussing the supposed outrageousness of the costs of this inauguration compared to others. I've personally heard this reported on the BBC world service, CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. In these
reports, the cost of the Obama inauguration is generally reported as
between 150 and 160 million dollars. When they provide a contrast, they talk about how Bush's second inauguration cost \$40 million.

The problem is, this is a metric error. They're comparing apples to orchards.

When they cite the Bush inauguration cost as \$40 million, they're talking
about the cost of the inauguration parties - that is, the cost of the festivities themselves. That cost does not include security. It does
not include the cost of paying police to shut down the city streets. It doesn't include the cost of cleaning up after the crowds. It's just
the cost of the parties.

The Obama figure of \$150-\$160 million includes everything - police, security, setup, and cleanup.

A fair comparison? If you exclude the security costs, Bush's second
inauguration cost \$42 million; Obama's is expected to cost around \$45 million. If you include the security costs, Bush's second inauguration
cost somewhere around \$155 million. (The exact figures are still not public
knowledge; Bush and company treated it as a "national security matter" which
did not need to be disclosed.)

Yet another fake controversy brought to you by the supposedly liberal-biased media.

Innumeracy and the U. S. Supreme Court

As long time readers of this blog know, one of the things that drive me crazy - in fact, one of the things that led me to start this blog - is the rampant innumeracy of our society. The vast majority of
Americans have no real knowledge or comprehension of numbers or mathematics, and what makes that even worse is that most really, truly, fundamentally don't care.

A vivid example of that is demonstrated in a recent Supreme Court ruling in a case dealing with the use of sonar in submarine training
by the US navy in waters inhabited by whales.

Infinity is NOT a number

Writing this blog, I get lots of email. One of the things that I get over and over again is a particular kind of cluelessness about the idea of infinity. I get the same basic kind of stupid flames in a lot of different forms: arguments about Cantor's diagonalization; arguments about
surreal numbers; and worst of all, arguments about nullity.

Petabyte Scale Data-Analysis and the Scientific Method

Once again, there's a silly article somewhere, and everyone hammers me with requests to write about it. It's frankly flattering that people see
this sort of nonsense, and immediately think of asking me about it - you folks are going to give me a swelled head!

The article in question is a recent article from Wired magazine, titled "The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete".

"Market based" College Evaluations

I'm a bit late to the party on this, but I couldn't resist
saying something.

A rather obnoxious twit by the name of Richard Vedder has set up a
front-group called "The Center for College Affordability and Productivity". The goal of this group is purportedly to apply market-based mechanisms to the problems of higher education
in America. When you take a look at their "research", you'll quickly recognize that this is astroturf, plain and simple.

A typical example of this is described in an article Dr. Vedder recently wrote for Forbes magazine about a supposed research study done by his organization on college rankings. According to Dr. Vedder, the popular "US News and World Report" college rankings are no good, and that market-based principles can produce a better, more meaningful ranking. The rationale for this new ranking system is that the standard rankings are based
on the input to the schools: schools are ranked based on the quality of students admitted. Dr. Vedder wants to rank schools based on outcomes: how well the school achieves the goal of
turnings its students into educated, successful people after they
graduate. According to Dr. Vedder, his ranking system tries to rank
schools based on several "output" measures: "How do students like their courses?", and "What percentage of students graduate?", "How many awards do the students recieve?", and "How successful are students after they graduate?"

Mars Probe Parachuting Velocity

As you've hopefully all heard by now, the Mars Phoenix lander made a perfect
landing over the weekend, and is already returning images. NASA managed to not
only achieve a perfect landing, but to use Mars reconnaissance orbiter to catch a
picture of the Phoenix descending with parachutes deployed!

Alas, NASA's Phoenix press people aren't nearly as good as its technical people. As an alert reader pointed out, in their press release about capturing
the photo of the probe with parachute deployed, that they said the following:

Phoenix released its parachute at an altitude of about 12.6 kilometers (7.8 miles) and a velocity of 1.7 times the speed of sound.

That looks relative innocuous, right?

Wrong.

The statement about velocity is meaningless.

The speed of sound isn't a constant. It varies, enormously, depending
on the medium. In air, its speed is dependent on the chemical makeup of
the air, and on its density, temperature, and pressure - among other factors. So what speed of sound are they talking about?

The speed of sound where the probe was entering the Martian atmosphere? That would make sense as a measurement, but be totally uninformative to us back on
earth, since we don't know the speed of sound in the upper atmosphere of Mars.

The speed of sound on earth? That would be informative to us - since we
have an idea of the speed of sound here, but it wouldn't make much sense as a measurement there - the point of using the speed of sound would seem to
be related to giving us a sense of the kind of forces acting on the Phoenix
as it decelerates. But the speed of sound on earth doesn't tell us that - because the kind of shock waves we would expect is dependent on the speed of sound in the atmosphere it's passing through.

You can talk about speeds compared to the speed of light - because there's a meaningful upper bound - the speed of light in a vacuum. And that's what we usually mean when we talk about the speed of light. But with sound, that's not
true. The speed of sound can vary quite dramatically in different mediums. It's a big enough difference that it's part of a common experiment done by
elementary school students! (I can remember doing an experiment in fourth grade science with a wall, where we were measuring when you could hear a rock hit a wall; one person had their ear against the wall; the other was standing a couple of feet away from the wall, and the person with the rock was about 10 feet away. The time difference was noticeable. It was very small - but distinctly noticeable. The speed of sound in air is 1260 feet per second; so a sound takes roughly 1/10th of a second to move 100 feet. The speed of sound in stone is in the range of 21,000 feet per second - which is virtually instantaneous to a human being at a range of 100 feet. So you're looking at a roughly 1/10th second difference.)

So how fast was the Phoenix moving when it deployed its parachute? I haven't
a clue. My best guess would be around 580 meters per second - assuming that
they were using the speed of sound in earth atmosphere at standard temperature and pressure. The speed of sound in the Martian atmosphere - which is quite a lot thinner than earth's - would be slower, so 580 m/s is a decent upper-bound estimate.

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