Projects, experiments, and essays
This is long and pessimistic, so I've created a simple table of contents for ease of navigation.
There's a saying that It's an ill wind that blows nobody good, meaning that even the worst events tend to have an upside for some lucky weirdo. In 2020, I was one of the lucky weirdos.
This was an eclectic and low-brow year, with a lot of hardcopy mixed in that I'm not sure I'll capture properly.
A friend asked my thoughts on the safety of the new vaccines, given how quickly they have been created, and I figured it was worth talking about here as well.
Are we headed into the kind of major solar minimum that gave us the horrors of the Little Ice Age in the 1600s?
No, we are probably not living in a simulation.
This focused almost entirely focused on the Anglosphere, so my European and Asian friends are likely to find it less than accurate or relevant, but it seemed like a useful time to write up a few notes on how I feel about political parties, which requires me to give a brief, incomplete, and probably inaccurate history of corporate organization from the Middle Ages to the present day, because if you don't understand corporate organization, you can't understand modern political parties--at least in Canada--which are in my view nothing but corporate entities of a particular kind.
I have no clue what it's like to be a member of a racial minority. I am pretty much the definition of privilege: a straight, white, English-speaking, male, highly-educated, middle-aged, middle-class, card-carrying member of the professional elite.
Science is more of an art than a science.
It was an odd year for books. I read more popular fiction than usual, some of it good, a lot of it less so, or at least less to my taste. I'm only going to talk about the good stuff here.
It's been a long ten years, from round number to round number.
Case-control studies do the following:
Sometime in the late 80's or early 90's I read an article in Nature that argued we should expect "first discovery" dates in the sciences that involve digging up fossils to take periodic leaps backward.
Nuclear power is back in the news after a hiatus of decades, and I'm hearing a lot of arguments "against nuclear power" that come straight out of the 1970s.
I've wanted to cruise Desolation Sound for many years, but something has always come up. Hilary and I planned to sail north last summer as part of our honeymoon, but I had one of those experiences that every sailor has precisely once: I'd left some maintenance a season too long, and the exhaust was gummed up to the point where I need to do some fairly major work. Getting anything done on a boat in Vancouver is difficult and expensive, so I opted to do the repair myself, which took a long time and bollixed the trip.
The idea of emergent causation is not new, but defining a precise measure of it is.
There's been much ballyhooing about the "hiatus" in the thermodynamically meaningless "global average (dry bulb) temperature" (numerical averages of dry-bulb temperatures are a very poor measure of the physically meaningful and important global heat content). There are even people claiming that it falls outside the range of unphysical model predictions (model predictions are unphysical because important processes are given unphysical parameterizations to deal with computational limits: this does not make the models useless, but their detailed predictve power is necessarily low).
I've been putting together a Python framework for simulating deterministic theories of two-photon correlations, and using de Raedt's model as a simple test case. I'd really like to eventually handle Joy Christian's model, but that's for another day.
Case-control studies are used as a cheap alternative to population studies. The ideal way to study cell phones and cancer would be to randomly assign a large number of people to either "cell-phone user" or "non-cell-phone user" groups and then check in with them once a year for a couple of decades to see what the rates of various diseases are. Because things like brain cancer are very rare, the number of people in such a study would have to be huge, which gets very expensive.
What is the role of orbital variations in climate change?
Some quotes (a few words have been changed or omitted to hide identities):
My libertarian friends, back when I had libertarian friends, often imagined that anti-discrimination laws were unnecessary because "the market will take care of it".
I've long been dissatisfied with the state of the bookshelf art, and took it upon myself to prototype a new approach, with the constraints:
This starts off talking about suitcases and winds up being about one of the most general and important phenomenon in physics: simple harmonic motion (SHM). SHM is motion that is driven by a force that is proportional to the displacement of some part of a system from its equilibirium position, like the bob of a pendulum. When the pendulum is hanging straight down, everything is in balance (or equilibrium, as we like to say beause why use a fifty cent word when you've got a five dollar one lying around?). When everything is in balance, nothing moves. When nothing moves, life is boring.
Modern air travel is ridiculously safe. Aircraft are not designed using prayer, or crystals, or chi, or any other pre-scientific or anti-scientific "way of knowing" that is demonstrably far less effective than publicly testing ideas by some combination of systematic observation, controlled experiment and Bayesian inference.
I've been reading a lot about the "boat pox" that many fiberglass hulls suffer from. There is no shortage of ideas as to what causes this issue, but very little in the way of science, which is publicly testing ideas by systematic observation and controlled experiment.
Learning to navigate by the Sun, the Moon and the stars has recently risen to the top of my list of things to do, and I thought it might be useful to describe the results of my study thus far. Be warned that this is the product of about two days of searching around the Web, and that my experience in practical navigation is nil, and much of the terminology in what follows is entirely non-standard.
This note has two parts: one on why x-ray backscatter imagers aren't safe, and the other on why they don't work.
Since all I really want to do is get words on the page, Emacs is the obvious choice, although the flyspell-mode is sometimes laggy on trivial mis-spellings, particularly words beginning with "th".
Me, I dunno what I am. I can hardly call myself "post-modern", for reasons too complex to go into here.