essentialsaltes: (mr. Gruff)
It came from the Christian Forums...

Moron: "a single volcanic eruption releases more polution than all of mankind has throughout our history combined"

me: False (provides evidence)

Moron: The problem is that a lot of the data surrounding human CO2 output has been based on lies and misinformation over the years, so there's really no way to affirm they are using reliable and factual data. They may be right. No way for either side to know for sure.



It must be very curious to live in a world of nebulous clouds where nothing can be known.

Luckily we are not in that position. Just as a for instance, "In 2016, about 143.37 billion gallons (or about 3.41 billion barrels1) of finished motor gasoline were consumed2 in the United States"

Very few people are using it to fill their swimming pools, so if it is combusted in motor vehicles, each gallon of fuel produces "About 19.6 pounds of CO2"

(140 billion gallons) times (20 pounds of CO2/gallon) = 2800 billion pounds = more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

From my first link, "A 2013 review attempted to estimate the annual contribution of CO2 emitted from all volcanoes (active and passive) and other tectonic sources on Earth per year, coming up with a figure of 540 megatons per year" i.e. 0.54 billion tons

So the US consumption of motor fuel alone produces more CO2 than the output of all the world's volcanoes.

This is how we can know that your original statement is just false, and there is a way to know for sure.
essentialsaltes: (beokay)
Why Violence Has Declined takes a long, long, too-long look at rates of violence over the past umpty-thousand years from our hunter-gatherer forebears to today. Pinker has marshalled a shitload of facts and statistics, and though there may be some niggling details here and there, on the whole, he's pretty convincing that rates of murder, war, and violence have declined per capita. This does require an explanation, and I think Pinker certainly outlines many ideas that contribute, but he doesn't seem to present a very strong thesis for an explanation. Rather he takes us on a plodding journey through the museum of ideas that every political philosopher has considered. The book plods so much that I found much of it a chore to get through. Reading through the outline in Wikipedia is good enough -- just feel certain that each point is held up by a few hundred footnotes each.

One of the ideas that did stick with me was that many violent acts are considered acts of justice by their perpetrators. They are not doing wrong, they are taking justice into their own hands. That bitch stole my man -- smack. That driver cut me off -- blam. Obviously, these solutions are not terribly rational, and generally frowned upon by Leviathan. I think it could extend to larger actions -- riots in Watts and LA. It doesn't make any fucking sense, but there was some ache for a justice that was not going to come from traditional channels.

Now, I have plodded so slowly through the book that that idea lodged some time ago. And then as I mulled it over in my mind, I considered the Trump voters in the lead-up to the election. Can a vote be an act of violence? A stupid plea for justice when you're aching for a justice that was not going to come from traditional channels? Mmmmm... no, I can't quite bring myself to consider a vote for Trump to be an act of violence. And then the vote actually happened, and Trump won. I still can't quite elevate it to an act of violence. But I think a lot of my friends may consider it to have been an act of violence. And certainly we have seen (even given some level of pernicious fakes) that some Trump supporters have been emboldened to enact actual violence. And we've also seen protests of Trump that have also risen to the level of violence.

Now I have to tread carefully here, because I think there are significant differences between the two sides. It is not just that I am trapped in my bubble and not their bubble (and I'll get to the bubble later, especially since almost everyone who will read this is in my liberal bubble). At the same time, the people (considered as people) in the two camps. Are not all that different.

Now apparently the worst thing I could possibly do is to suggest that we should reach out and hug the other side and unite. Which is fine, because I'm not suggesting that. When Trump has rotten plans, they should be fought. And many of his plans are rotten.

But possibly I'm saying something even worse. That people are people. And people on both sides are not all that different. And to realize that, it definitely helps to spend time outside your bubble.

Many of you know of the long years I've spent in the mission fields of Christian websites, spreading the good news of rationality and fact-based argument. It is not easy work, because they are beset by demons that deceive them. And again, it's not about compromise -- I think the earth is 4.5 billion years old, and they think it's 6,000 years old. I'm not looking to compromise at 2,250,003,000 years old. Wait, I'm rambling a little too much, but maybe we'll come back to this.

Another bit of bubble escape was listening to the infuriating drive-time talk show on a Christian radio station, though I haven't in many years. Until election night. As I drove home, feeling pretty confident that it was going to be close (my prediction: Hillary 278 EV) but would go blue, I turned that station on hoping for election news and... delicious Christian tears. Because that's a thing now. Enjoying people's tears. And because I'm a bad person.



And I got those tears. But I did not find them enjoyable. pout

A young Latina called in to the show. Her voice shook with raw emotion, clearly crying. Hillary was going to win, and as everyone in the conservative Christian bubble knew (as did I since I'd been visiting), Hillary believed that "deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs have to be changed". And as it was being spun in the bubble, this young woman knew that President Hillary was going to forcibly change religious beliefs in America. She was genuinely, fearfully afraid that hers was the last generation that was going to hear the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

All bullshit, of course. But the tears and pain in that bubble were real. Just like they were real when Obama was elected in 2008 and was going to take everyone's guns.

Anyway, fast-forward a few hours, and suddenly the tears were on the other foot. (Shut up.) There were organized cry-ins. And, and... the other side mocked it. They were enjoying those tears! How could they be so cruel?



Not all that different.

But they're all racists!

Yes, half of Trump voters hold implicit bias against POC. And only a third of Hillary voters do.

Not all that different.

But Trump's spouting ugly racism!

Well, yeah. Again, I don't want to rest on any false equivalencies. But if you want to characterize the GOP as full of racists, then you should step inside the other bubble and look at yourself.

You support murdering babies. You literally want doctors to crush the skulls of infants with forceps.
You want perverts to molest our delicate American girlhood in the bathroom at Target.
You want religious expression to be locked inside the walls of churches.
You let the biased(*) lame-stream media do your thinking for you.

[* I'm too tired, but to its credit, the media finally decided that he said/she said journalistic equivalency was no longer valid. Trump was lying. They called him on it. They endorsed Hillary. But... it does feed the narrative that the media is biased against Trump.]

You want them to stop being racist and join the correct party? Well, maybe you should stop killing babies, and join the correct party.

You scoff when people say they aren't racist, but voted for Trump? Well, what do you think of Tim Kaine, who personally opposes abortion, but stood for VP of the Democrat Party? And he's by no means alone. There are Democrats who think abortion is murder. If you can be against baby-murdering, and vote for a baby-murdering candidate, then surely you can be a non-racist and vote for a racist candidate. Sure, it must be a terrible internal conflict. Sucks to be them. But they got their racism/baby-killing just like the people-of-yesteryear got Skinemax with the package.

Not all that different.

But they are so very fact-challenged!

Well yes. That's what I combat the most. You give them a snopes link, and they don't believe snopes. You provide the links on the snopes page to the NYT, and they don't believe the NYT. There are some people there whose solitary (it appears) information source is infowars(*). They were primed and ready to believe crap like a Kenyan born Obama, or a Jade Helm takeover of Texas. Because it fits their narrative.

(* I'm too tired, but if you're getting info from occupydemocrats or Huffpo... Not all that different.)

In our bubble, the narrative is that Trump is a sexual predator. And I'm morally certain that Trump has grabbed more unwilling pussies than trans people have assaulted anybody in a bathroom. So the woman who accused Trump of raping her when she was a teenager fits the narrative. But when the press conference was announced, my baloney detector started beeping. Because (for better or worse) before I am a Democrat or a liberal, I am a skeptic. A court of law is where these things are decided, not at press conferences or FBI memos. And when the press conference was cancelled due to 'threats', my suspicion grew. It was not impossible that threats had deterred some poor woman, but I was not buying it at this point. But a lot of other people were. They railed against the Trumpeters who had cowed this woman. Maybe Trump had bought her off. How many millions did it take him? And then two days later, she dropped the suit. No cause given. Bought off? Full of shit? We may never know. But a retracted anonymous accusation is not much to hang something on, unless the narrative is more important than evidence.

And if you point to snopes articles showing that some cases of 'postelection Trump supporter racism' are imaginary... some people don't want to hear that shit. It doesn't fit the narrative.

I've showed dozens of snopes articles to conservatives, and know what it feels like to be ignored. So when it comes from the other side, it just shows that...

Not all that different.

We all laughed (I did, I'm a bad person) at that stupid bint who cut a backwards B on her face.



But we were also mad. She perpetrated a pernicious lie to denigrate a particular political candidate.

We were furious. She lied to say a black man did this. I hate her.

And now Trump supporters tore the hijab off a woman. Stole her wallet. That feeds the narrative.
But it's bullshit. All a lie.

C'mon now, everyone. Let's laugh at her. And hate her. C'mon. She made a pernicious lie to denigrate a particular political candidate. She lied to say white men did this to her. I hate her. I really do. But more importantly...

Not all that different.

As promised, this book review has devolved. Let me pull it back, at least briefly.

"According to Hofstede's data, countries differ along six dimensions. One of them is Long-Term versus Short-Term Orientation: 'Long-term oriented societies foster pragmatic virtues oriented towards future rewards, in particular saving, persistence, and adapting to changing circumstances. Short-term oriented societies foster virtues related to the past and present such as national pride, respect for tradition, preservation of 'face' and fulfilling social obligations.'"

Those are not bad descriptors of the two societies living in their bubbles that exist within America. The liberal and the conservative.

One of my regrets about the election is that so much was about the personalities and less about the issues. I have read that the Clinton campaign gamely released insightful policy statements to the media, but they never reached me. Since the Donald sucked all the oxygen in the primary fight, one would have thought that the Clinton team would strive harder in the general to make sure its message got out, but it didn't. Honestly, perhaps I'm giving them credit for having a message, because from my standpoint, most of what I heard from the Hillary campaign was...

It's her fucking turn. She cashed in her chips to keep the competition away. Only that asshole Sanders and McWhatever didn't get the memo. "Trump is awful. I'm not Trump."

Though true, this is not compelling. She could've done better with "I will be the third Obama term."

Anyway, one of the few policy things that did come out (because I watch closely) is for the coal miners of America.

HuffPo:

"Hillary Clinton has a $30 billion, 4,300-word plan to retrain coal workers that covers everything from education and infrastructure to tax credits and school funding.

Donald Trump’s coal plan is a duckface thumbs-up in a miner’s hard hat and a rant about hair spray, President Barack Obama and China."

Retrain coal workers? That's "adapting to changing circumstances". That's a Long-Term society strategy. And it's right.

A duckface thumbs-up? Well, if you can see through the HuffPo bias, that's a strategy oriented on today. Short-term. For the white working class families that are struggling.

And now, for you in my liberal well-informed bubble. Surely you are cognizant of the current spot price for coal.

No? Well, there are lots of reasons for it, but coal prices have tripled recently. And although US miners have not (yet) seen much of a boon, due to the horrible EPA, and Obama rules about coal-fueled power plants, a Trump presidency is clearly going to change that. Yes, there are certainly problems with burning coal like there is no tomorrow, but... if you are a part of an unemployed coal-mining family in Pennsylvania or Ohio focused on today... then you are part of the Short-Term Society, and I can see reasons other than racism to vote for Trump. And they did. And they are legitimately mad when we say their votes were racist.

In conclusion:

WE'RE ALL A BUNCH OF APES WHO ONLY RELATIVELY RECENTLY LEARNED TO WEAR CLOTHES AND NOT KILL EACH OTHER SO MUCH.
essentialsaltes: (quantum Mechanic)
Plywood sheets come in different thicknesses. Virtually all of them are fractions of the form (odd #)/32 inches. I saw a few 3/8 inch, but the rest were 7/32, 11/32, 15/32, 17/32, 19/32, 23/32... It was crazy.
essentialsaltes: (wingedlionbook)
Swann's auction catalog of Art, Press, & Illustrated books has some pretty unique things.

A curious edition of Flatland, published by the Arion Press, with an introduction by Ray Bradbury. It's printed on 56 accordion folded pages (so you can lay out the whole text... flat) and housed in an aluminum case.



If that's not wacky enough... The Robin Book:



If that's not pretty enough, then how about the Kelmscott Press (William Morris) Works of Chaucer:



If that's not racy enough, imagine having to compose a properly dry auction catalog entry for this:

"An unusual, unexpected, and very erotically graphic publication that touches on all manner of taboos and the employment of otherwise innocent items like pickles."
essentialsaltes: (quantum Mechanic)
I always associated the New Math (not the new new Math of today) with oddball things like matrices, different bases, and an emphasis on abstract relations like commutativity. But apparently another new-ish thing of the New Math was 'borrowing' in subtraction. Although the idea of borrowing is centuries old, apparently many older Americans were taught an algorism to follow that involved 'carrying the one' onto the lower number. Obviously the result is the same. And they were abjured from additional tick marks, or actually adding tens (i.e. borrowing) so that (rather illogically) they were taught "3 from 2 is 9" rather than "3 from 12 is 9".



I only learn this news by careful watching/listening to Tom Lehrer's "New Math", in which it looks like there were two different methods, not that it makes much difference.



The horrors of the New Math was that it wasn't just a mechanical process, but we were supposed to learn that one ten is the same as ten ones. And this is good. It adds some sense to the algorism, since the older version is somewhat more arcane (to me anyway).

The new new math, as I understand it, continues this process of making it clearer what the association is. You start from the lower number, and basically count up to the larger number. This establishes what the difference is between them.



Probably one could determine which is the most efficient, or which produces the fewest errors, or which is the most 'true' to the underlying mathematics. None of these mean much in the end, so stick to what you love.
essentialsaltes: (nukeHugger)
I am not a geologist, and I can see how some actual knowledge of the different local conditions and geology would be important, but allow me to bloviate.

There have been some recent earthquakes in and around the Inglewood Oil Field, but we have been assured that they are not linked to drilling, fracking, water-injection or any other thing that the operator might have done or is doing. This is, probably, the case. I mean, it's not like earthquakes are unknown in Southern California. My gut tells me it's something like climate change. You can't blame climate change for *that* hot day, but climate change is making hot days occur more frequently. You can't blame water injection for *that* earthquake, but it has made earthquakes in general more frequent. And it might be that it actually hasn't changed the frequency at all. But let's look at the reasoning given in the article:

Hypothesis: "A typical human induced earthquake is shallow -- about a mile below the surface," but the recent quakes have been deeper than that, and therefore cannot be human induced.

Now, Oklahoma has seen a 60,000% increase in earthquakes, and has stated that this "cannot be entirely attributed to natural causes" and is "very likely triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells."

Prediction: Now, if typical human-induced earthquakes are shallow (about a mile) then most Oklahoma earthquakes should be only 1 or 2 kilometers deep.

Data: Today's Earthquakes for Oklahoma.

Analysis: Hardly any of them are only as shallow as 'a mile'. And if you scroll back, there are few that break 10 km, on par with the 6 or 7 mile depth of the Baldwin Hills quakes.

Conclusion: The unnamed seismologists who say typical human induced quakes are only a mile deep are full of shit. (or my geological ignorance has made me the shit-filled one)

[I considered that one difference might be, maybe Oklahoma wells inject deeper, and that's why the earthquakes are deeper, but figure 13 of this report (p.24) shows that the median well depth is "about a mile", and the deepest injection well in the state is 18,886 ft (5.75 km) (p.7). Median earthquake depth (p.9) was 3.75 km. Fracking in the Inglewood Oil Field apparently reached "a depth of about one and half miles".]
essentialsaltes: (nukeHugger)
“Results: About 144 million people in the US need to lose 2.4 million metric tonnes. The volume of fat is 2.6 billion litres—1,038 Olympic size swimming pools. The energy in the fat would power 90,000 households for a year and is worth around 162 million dollars"
essentialsaltes: (titan)
Published in English as The Three-Body Problem (<---spoiler-laden wiki entry), translated by Ken Liu, not to be confused with the author, Liu Cixin.

The book opens with some pretty brutal scenes from the Cultural Revolution, such as a physicist undergoing a fatal struggle session for teaching 'imperialist' physics. The historical milieu was interesting in its own right, especially from a writer inside China. But obviously, there's more to it than historical fiction. It's a novel of First Contact, and it's hard to talk about it in much detail without getting too spoilery. There are a lot of really inventive ideas in here, but also some things that stretched my disbelief suspenders past their breaking point, on both science-y stuff and character motivation. But I confess to being a little curious to see how things turn out (alas, the remaining books in the trilogy have not yet been published in English).

The Three-Body Problem of the title refers to the problem of characterizing the motion of three bodies interacting via gravity. Turns out it's incredibly complex. But Cixin mentions something I hadn't heard of. A funky figure eight pattern was discovered a while back, and even more recently (after the publication of this book) 13 more families of repeating solutions were discovered.

New Bookchallenge categories:
✓with a number in the title
✓'based entirely on its cover' (On a rare visit to a real live dead tree bookstore, it caught my eye. More because #1 the title caught my physics brain, and #2 on closer inspection it was a Chinese author, rather than 'the cover' but still.)
✓originally written in another language
essentialsaltes: (titan)
The Algebraist is not a Culture novel, but it's sort of Culture-adjacent. Some particular differences are that there is a more structured government, and AIs are banned as abominations.

A mustache-twirlingly evil (and fortunately seldom on-stage) invader is leading a force into a star system, and the system has to prepare in various ways for it, including chasing after a probably mythical MacGuffin that was learned of, almost by accident, in a conversation with a representative of the gas giant-dwelling ancient species in the system. On the smaller scale, four friends go on a little exploration, and one dies. The remaining three bump into each other over the ensuing years, dealing with the overall situation and their interpersonal relationships. Sex, violence, a little puzzle, some whiz-bangery... it's a pretty satisfying mix, but I'm a little surprised it got a Hugo nod (though I certainly enjoyed it more than the winner, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell).
essentialsaltes: (wrong)
You may remember [haha, no, of course not] when I dispensed with math as fictional [somewhere near the end of that rambling entry].

I had a similar epiphany about space and time. As one does. I mean I've known for a long time that space and time aren't what people naively assume they are, or even perceive they are. But it took some poking and prodding and internet tough guy arguing to really get a handle on it.

While conceding that space itself is not made of matter, someone was asking whether it was, nevertheless, a 'thing'. I was immediately leery of calling it a thing, but pressed on the issue ('how can nothing expand?') led to some deeper thinking.

Now the expansion of space is fraught with misunderstanding. All our standard analogies are really misleading: pennies taped to balloons, raisins in raisinbread dough. These treat space as though it really were a thing that stretched and expanded, carrying other things with it.

If you think that 'space streams' carry galaxies away on it, you're thinking of it wrong. If you think galaxies are pinned to space like they've been nailed into some stretchy jello, you're thinking of it wrong.

So what's right? What is space? What I ultimately came up with was:

"Space is, perhaps, our mental model of the world. We are betrayed by our senses into mapping objects into a three dimensional Euclidean space, and then implicitly reifying that model."

Temperature is modeled by a number that fits on a number line, but we are not tempted to reify that as a real physical dimension. It is only because distance behaves more or less like distance in Euclidean geometry that we assume that space is 'out there' for real, rather than just distance being a property shared between two objects, like the temperature difference between two objects. Well, not just that, it also seems to us in our perceptual visual field (or at least it does to me) like there's a three dimensional more-or-less-Euclidean space out there. Of course, all we really perceive are objects. We have no way of putting space-itself under the microscope, or look at it.

Anyway, so space is just a mental model and it isn't real. You all think I'm crazy. I think I'm crazy. My interlocutor thinks I'm crazy, and asks: "Would you say [space] has always been just a mental model? i.e. when Einstein first presented [GR], he had no intention of implying that space is a thing that actually bends and stretches?"

Oh crap, I'm in for it now. I'm a humble Physics lieutenant, and he's going over my head to the general.

Einstein thought a lot about the Problem of Space:
"It is characteristic of Newtonian physics that it has to ascribe independent and real existence to space and time ...

Newton himself and his most critical contemporaries felt it to be disturbing that one had to ascribe physical reality both to space itself as well as to its state of motion; but there was at that time no other alternative, if one wished to ascribe to mechanics a clear meaning.

It is indeed an exacting requirement to have to ascribe physical reality to space in general, and especially to empty space. ...

The psychological origin of the idea of space, or of the necessity for it, is far from being so obvious as it may appear to be on the basis of our customary habit of thought."

.......

On the basis of the general theory of relativity, on the other hand, space as opposed to "what fills space", which is dependent on the co-ordinates, has no separate existence. ...

Space-time does not claim existence on its own, but only as a structural quality of the field [i.e. the metric].


I honestly did not expect to find Al stating it so unambiguously. I'm not sure why it was so surprising to share the same view, since I had the advantage of standing on his shoulders, but it was still thrilling.
essentialsaltes: (devilbones)
BioLogos (Francis Collins' pro-evolution pro-religion organization) funded Jonathan Hill, a Calvin College researcher, to conduct a study of American views on evolution and creationism.

For decades, the traditional (and easily comparable) data has been from Gallup polls that have asked the following question, starting in 1982:

Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings:
(1) human beings have evolved over millions of years from other forms of life and God guided this process,
(2) human beings have evolved over millions of years from other forms of life, but God had no part in this process, or
(3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so?


Although this seems to carve things up neatly into theistic evolution, 'atheistic' evolution, and YEC, people's actual beliefs are, if not more subtle, at least more complicated. The results of these Gallup polls is that the largest response has always been for choice 3, the YEC option, with Americans agreeing with this option at 40% or more.

The current poll included 3,000 American participants, and provides a much clearer look into people's actual beliefs, and the different factors that influence (or correlate with) different beliefs.

Professor Hill offers his summary of the research, and there is a link to the entire study results. He focuses in his summary most on what recipe produces (his word, not mine) a YE creationist (or atheist evolutionist).

The National Center for Science Education has also posted a quick look into the data.

One of the tidbits that caught my eye: "only 8% of the sample met the further restrictions of believing in 6 24-hour days of creation which took place less than 10,000 years ago". Despite 40% picking the YEC option in the Gallup poll, putting together a complete suite of YEC beliefs actually shows that quite a small number are 6-literal-day YEC. Of course the same goes for full-on 'atheistic' evolution: "atheistic evolutionists, who accept human evolution but do not think God played a role (even if they personally believe in God), represented 9% of the sample."

"Not surprisingly, the pro-evolution almost always justify their stance by noting that it represents the best science, while those classified as creationists cite the authority of the Bible and defense of Christianity as the main motivations for their beliefs. ... This suggests that the two groups are in effect hearing two different questions, with one group hearing a question about science, the other hearing a question about religion. "

"a mere 32% of the creationists and only 19% of those who do not think God was involved in evolution agreed that science and religion are “ultimately compatible.” Over half (53%) of the theistic evolutionists disagreed, saying that the two are ultimately compatible."
essentialsaltes: (Titan)
A handsome book that mixes art and math. Maor is a historian of mathematics, and Jost is an artist. Together, they fight crime. Er, no. Together, they explain and illustrate a number of geometric (and broader mathematical) ideas. These kind of math/art mashups tend to be kind of lame, but this book has a pretty good batting average of art that does a good job of communicating or exhibiting mathematical ideas. Many familiar faces, from Euclid to Fibonacci to Sierpinski. But also a number of new things to me. Like Steiner's Porism, which would take me too long in words to describe, so I will leave an enigmatic GIF:



And one different way of looking at things. We all know(?) that the stars on the US flag are arranged in alternating rows of six and five. 6 + 5 + 6 + 5 + 6 + 5 + 6 + 5 + 6 = 50.

But if you look at the field at a 45 degree angle, you can see it as a sorta triangle of the odd numbers 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 9 = 25 (*) stars, sitting on top of the same thing flopped over.



(Teaser PDF with a few chapters.)


(* note in passing -- the sum of the first N odd numbers is N^2.)
essentialsaltes: (NukeHugger)
Scientific American has a remembrance of Martin Gardner [Preview only] on the occasion of what would have been his 100th year.

One detail caught my eye... a story I hadn't heard. In December 1975, 50-something "housewife Marjorie Rice" saw her son's copy of Scientific American, which had Gardner's column on tessellations. Apparently it asked the (open) question of whether there were more pentagonal tessellations of the plane than those known (3 new ones having been recently discovered). Marjorie doodled away at the idea for quite some time, developing her own idiosyncratic notation. To make a long story short, she discovered four hitherto unknown pentagonal tilings of the plane. She contacted Gardner, who put her in touch with mathematician Doris Schattschneider, who verified and publicized the discovery. There are 14 known pentagonal tilings, and one of the others was also discovered by someone inspired by Gardner's column.

It's also adorable that she made art patterns based on pentagonal tilings:

essentialsaltes: (ACEG)
How Music Works And Why We Can't Do Without It

Finally. I think this is the book I wanted about music. It wasn't Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy, and it wasn't The Singing Neanderthals. This is the one. (Although it's curious that Pinker's dismissive(?) comment about music being "auditory cheesecake" also appears early on in this book, which might be considered a response as well.)

It covers many different aspects of music from the basics of how brains interpret sound, harmonies, melodies, longer structures, emotion, and the analogies between language and music. Lots of accessible examples, from major works of the classical repertoire to nursery rhymes, The King and I, The Beatles and Zeppelin. And even if you can't read music, the book has a nice online site, where you can listen to the various figures in the text. And obviously the discussions in the text may give you ideas for new music to try out. I was intrigued by the description of the use of the prosody of spoken speech in Reich's Different Trains, and despite playing the Holocaust card, it's certainly an interesting experiment.

Another interesting thread that runs through much of the book is the idea that, even if you think you're 'not very musical' you probably have a ridiculous amount of musical ability in unexpected ways. It's maybe not too surprising that after hearing a short piece of melody, you can do better than chance at identifying whether certain other notes played at you either belong or don't belong to the 'key' the piece is written in. But apparently, you can do this for gamelan music, which uses not only different scales, but quite different pitch intervals from those in Western music. From listening to a half second sample of a song, you can do better than chance at assigning it to categories like rock, C&W or jazz.

Back to scales, in some ways the do-re-me-fa-sol-la-ti-do seems so natural and correct, that it's hard (for me) to imagine it not being somehow dictated by necessity. And yet it's a convention. And this book helped explain a lot of the issues around that. Probably old hat to people who have actually, you know, studied music academically, but it was eye-opening to me. I mean, we have 12 pitches in our diatonic scale. 12 slices easily. Why don't we have a heptave of six equal tone steps (with the 7th bringing us back to 'do')? Apart from sounding weird, it might be that there would be no such thing as a 'key' in that system. The hemitone steps in the standard scale provide some texture or pattern that your brain can latch on to, so that it can identify a key, and the key changes, in a song.

By the time I got to the end of the book, I had already forgotten all sorts of interesting things, so I think it will bear a rereading. I was a little surprised that Ball is 'just' a freelance writer (though also an "avid amateur musician"), because he seems so at home with all of the musical terms and all of the research. As someone with musical training, but no real knowledge of music theory or musical 'scholarship', I found it very accessible and entertaining. Being able to read music is helpful, but probably not necessary (especially if you use the website to listen to those excerpts.)
essentialsaltes: (Quantum Mechanic)
Of 20 countries, the US ranks #4 in average (mean) wealth per capita at $301,000. Yay!

But #19th in median wealth per capita at $45,000. Boo.

A person who has the mean wealth would really be wealthier than about 95% of the population.



PS The average human being has about one testicle.
essentialsaltes: (Dead)
For the past few days, I've been living about 2.5 lives, and not had time to catch up on it. Until now (?) We'll see how far I get.

click at your own risk )
essentialsaltes: (Quantum Mechanic)
A Mathematician's Apology is an interesting insight into the mind of a mathematician, an investigation of what mathematics 'really' is, and why one would want to mess about with it. It's a relatively brief work, written in 1940 when Hardy was in his 60s and, he sadly concluded, was quite finished as a mathematician. Probably the most famous quote from the work is Hardy's dictum that mathematics is a "young man's game." The edition I have on the Kindle also includes an introduction by CP Snow that is nearly as long as the work itself, and provides a lot more biographical detail, including details of his student life:

Hardy had decided-I think before he left Winchester-that he did not believe in God. With him, this was a black-and-white decision, as sharp and clear as all other concepts in his mind. Chapel at Trinity was compulsory. Hardy told the Dean, no doubt with his own kind of shy certainty, that he could not conscientiously attend. The Dean, who must have been a jack-in-office, insisted that Hardy should write to his parents and tell them so. They were orthodox religious people, and the Dean knew, and Hardy knew much more, that the news would give them pain-pain such as we, seventy years later, cannot easily imagine.
Hardy struggled with his conscience. He wasn't worldly enough to slip the issue. He wasn't even worldly enough-he told me one afternoon at Fenner's, for the wound still rankled-to take the advice of more sophisticated friends, such as George Trevelyan and Desmond MacCarthy, who would have known how to handle the matter. In the end he wrote the letter. Partly because of that incident, his religious disbelief remained open and active ever after. He refused to go into any college chapel even for formal business, like electing a master. He had clerical friends, but God was his personal enemy.


One of Hardy's claims to fame is having discovered the self-taught & idiosyncratic Indian mathematician Ramanujan, who had sent some of his bizarre discoveries to him. "[Hardy] was accustomed to receiving manuscripts from strangers, proving the prophetic wisdom of the Great Pyramid, the revelations of the Elders of Zion, or the cryptograms that Bacon had inserted in the plays of the so-called Shakespeare.
So Hardy felt, more than anything, bored. He glanced at the letter, written in halting English, signed by an unknown Indian, asking him to give an opinion of these mathematical discoveries."

Hardy was soon intrigued, and took the time to puzzle some of out. An interesting detail of which I was unaware is that...

"But I mentioned that there were two persons who do not come out of the story with credit. Out of chivalry Hardy concealed this in all that he said or wrote about Ramanujan. The two people concerned have now been dead, however, for many years, and it is time to tell the truth. It is simple. Hardy was not the first eminent mathematician to be sent the Ramanujan manuscripts. There had been two before him, both English, both of the highest professional standard. They had each returned the manuscripts without comment. I don't think history relates what they said, if anything, when Ramanujan became famous."

Snow also talks of Hardy's abiding love of cricket, and how he (Snow) would have to study up on the latest scores before visiting Hardy, in order to help cheer Hardy up in his later years of illness.

But to finally get to the man himself in his own words, Hardy more or less rejected the idea that the pursuit of mathematics is justified by its technological fruits:

"The mass of mathematical truth is obvious and imposing; its practical applications, the bridges and steam-engines and dynamos, obtrude themselves on the dullest imagination. The public does not need to be convinced that there is something in mathematics.
All this is in its way very comforting to mathematicians, but it is hardly possible for a genuine mathematician to be content with it. Any genuine mathematician must feel that it is not on these crude achievements that the real case for mathematics rests, that the popular reputation of mathematics is based largely on ignorance and confusion, and that there is room for a more rational defence."

He also considered that, even if mathematics was unimportant, it might well be right for those with an aptitude to pursue it. "Poetry is more valuable than cricket, but Bradman would be a fool if he sacrificed his cricket in order to write second-rate minor poetry."

There is virtually no mathematics in the work, but there are occasional allusions to things that were unfamiliar to me: "Farey is immortal because he failed to understand a theorem which Haros had proved perfectly fourteen years before; the names of five worthy Norwegians still stand in Abel's Life, just for one act of conscientious imbecility, dutifully performed at the expense of their country's greatest man." [I haven't the faintest idea what that refers to.]

Getting back to heart of the matter: "THERE are then two mathematics. There is the real mathematics of the real mathematicians, and there is what I will call the `trivial' mathematics, for want of a better word. The trivial mathematics may be justified by arguments which would appeal to Hogben, or other writers of his school, but there is no such defence for the real mathematics, which must be justified as art if it can be justified at all."

And here's one last awkwardly timed prediction: "There is one comforting conclusion which is easy for a real mathematician. Real mathematics has no effects on war. No one has yet discovered any warlike purpose to be served by the theory of numbers or relativity, and it seems very unlikely that anyone will do so for many years."
essentialsaltes: (Psychic)
why so many predictions fail -- but some don't.



One of my favorite things is the cover, with all the additional 'noise'.

Each chapter takes on a specific realm of prediction, or a particular aspect. Weather, baseball, poker, the economy, Bayes' Theorem, etc. Probably the best part of the book is Silver's interviews with various experts who explain a lot about how they make predictions, and in particular the focus on the limitations of these predictions. As he tells it, the book is divided in two halves: "The first seven chapters diagnose the prediction problem [this is the good stuff] while the final six explore and apply Bayes's solution."

Silver's own voice is not as compelling as that of some of the experts, and though he talks about his work in baseball stats and his brief time as a professional poker player, I was surprised that he doesn't talk all that much about his political predictions and poll-mashing. I also have some quibbles with some of his examples and analogies. But still, especially in the first half of the book, there's a lot of good material about modeling, prediction, and probability, and how to identify and avoid the traps we inevitably fall into (even when we know how to identify and avoid the traps).

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