Archive for the Uncategorized Category

The Fear of Empty Spaces

Posted in Uncategorized on August, 2019 by melendwyr

It’s been, what, two years since I could bring myself to put things here?  They’ve been pretty awful years for me.  And possibly for you.  But that’s not so relevant.

I think I’ll see if I can’t find a way to fill up some of the empty spaces screaming at me.


Good news, everyone!

Posted in Blogging, Uncategorized on June, 2017 by melendwyr

Now there’s a title that will inspire dread in every geeky heart…

On the plus side, I have steady work now, which means I no longer have to worry about starving to death on the streets.  On the negative side, it’s kept me so busy that I haven’t had much time to devote to my all-important hobbies, like gardening or occasional blogging.

Hopefully I can manage to get more of those things in.

The Phoenix and the Firebird

Posted in Uncategorized on February, 2015 by melendwyr

It’s been nearly a year since I did much of anything with this blog.  Sometimes I’ve had nothing to say.  Other times I’ve had plenty to say in other venues, and didn’t bother repeating it here.

Perhaps soon I will think of something worth posting.

Skin Game

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May, 2014 by melendwyr

Jim Butcher has written fifteen books in his Dresden Files series, not counting the short story anthology.  The latest, Skin Game, was released today.  I’ve picked up a copy.

Butcher’s skill at spinning yarns has increased steadily since his humble beginnings as a creative writing student crafting a genre crossover between noir and fantasy as a class project.  He was twenty-five then.  We’ve had one book a year since then.  And each has been better than the last, with a possible exception for the pivotal novel Changes – not because it is lacking, but because it marked a watershed moment in theme for the series, and so cannot be adequately be compared to its surrounding works.

The new novel?  Extraordinary.  New mysteries are hinted at, subtle premises established more than a decade ago are revealed in a new light, old beloved characters are brought back in thoughtful new roles.  Instead of sprinting from one supernatural disaster to another, desperately trying to keep Chicago in one piece, Harry Dresden has had a lot of time off… to the point of sanity erosion.  Being left alone almost of the time on his unmapped island in Lake Michigan hasn’t done a great deal for his mental stability.  He’s so lonely that he’s taken to chatting with the entities imprisoned beneath the island, something he had previously lampshaded as near to criminally irresponsible.  But his old nemesis and new boss Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness, shows up with a task for him to  perform, and she’s not going to take ‘no’ lightly.

I can’t decide which delighted me more:  the plot turns and developments which I didn’t see coming, or the one I successfully called many years ago.  So very satisfying.

Competing Trends

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March, 2014 by melendwyr

Over at Gregory Cochran’s blog, I’ve been having a very minor argument with the host.  (Well, he posted a response or two, then I suspect ignored me, but that’s something of an argument.)

He argues that there is unlikely to have been a substantial drop in IQ since about the Victorian Era, and has offered multiple reasons why that’s so.  I generally find his reasoning compelling; however, the argument that I find less than convincing is that such a drop would have crippled the progress of higher mathematics and this has not taken place.

I see no reason to assert that a decline or drop of performance in the field of mathematics has occurred.  But neither can I find reason to assert that it has not.

When we can identify a continuing trend in the development of human knowledge – such as Moore’s Law – we usually can’t figure out why it’s stable and clear enough for us to pick up on.  Not knowing what causes such trends, we can’t predict when they’ll stop.  In the case of Moore’s, it has been noted that people predicted the trend would continue only for a decade – and have continued to predict that for the past thirty and more.

It is pretty clear that there’s a ‘low-hanging fruit’ effect in the sciences.  The basics of most sciences were within reach of amateur investigators, and the cutting edges frequently require technology that no individual could afford to own, and/or knowledge leading up to the edge that requires years of study to acquire.  Sometimes, in highly abstract and rich fields such as mathematics, a particularly gifted and inspired neophyte can find and strike out in a shocking new direction.  But each time that happens, the number of unexploited new directions is reduced.  So all else being equal, it should be harder and harder to make new discoveries the more that’s discovered.

It is also clear that our understanding of what’s easy and what’s hard changes with time.  At one point algebra was advanced mathematics studied by the luminaries in the field, and now bright elementary students are expected to be able to pick up the rudiments.  This would tend to shorten the time it takes to find new things and reduce the difficulty to do so.

Human populations have exploded –  from about one billion people in 1800 to seven billion today.  All else being equal (which is certainly not the case, but the details are both controversial and obscure) there should be seven times as many people of any skill level, talent, or genius as there were roughly two hundred years ago.  The degree to which having more people to work on problems affects the time associated with progress is complicated, but I think it’s clear that it should have a net hastening effect.

Flynn Effect, anyone?  We don’t know precisely what it means to actual accomplishment, or what’s responsible for it.

We can name more and more conflicting trends in intellectual innovation.  But our ability to model and understand those trends isn’t impressive.  For most, we can only make rough approximations as to their effects, and as for what happens when they begin to interact?  Forget it.

The exciting developments in the field of mathematics are beyond both my intelligence and my education.  But I’ve been told that mathematical proofs are becoming so complex that it can’t be ascertained whether they’re logically valid or not.  Instead, teams of mathematicians have to give their opinions.  Does this represent increased or decreased progress in the field?  I have no idea, and no one else seems to have a clear grasp either.

Cochran’s argument is an appeal to normality, asserting that the status quo is appropriate and correct.  But that has a great deal to do with our initial assumptions and very little to do with rational conviction.  Can we determine, from first principles, what the level of achievement in mathematics would be if there were unquestionably no decrease in mathematical talent in the population at large?  Can we even determine whether or not the nature of progress in the field has actually changed?  The answer in both cases is ‘no’.  Perhaps the level of talent is the same or even greater than it used to be, and we’ve pushed the field so far into the potential for human cognition that it’s truly becoming harder to grasp without tremendous genius and years of focused effort.  Or maybe the potential is being lost.  Or maybe it’s our educational system, or the way in which research is conducted or… any one of a million other things.  And that’s presuming that the nature of generated proofs has actually changed!

Unorthodox Revenue Stream

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on February, 2014 by melendwyr

Careeningly wildly through the Web, as I am wont to do, I came across the following:  Why Facebook Subscribers Stopped Seeing Updates.

I have never understood why entities like Facebook are so sought after, as it didn’t seem to me that they have any real function or way to produce value or revenue for the owners.  Now we’re starting to see how it can be made profitable:  condition people to be accustomed to using a site, then find ways to charge for said use.  And not necessarily charging the viewers, either.  Much as with credit cards, the average person wouldn’t pay for the service, so you charge the entities that the average person patronizes through the service.  A different kind of user.

I wonder who else is paying Facebook so that they can continue to connect with people through it.

Glitch is closing. :c(

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on November, 2012 by melendwyr

You may or may not have heard of Glitch, the game of giant imagination.  I was thinking of writing a post to showcase this weird, beautiful, peculiarly humorous browser game.
But it’s now too late, because the game is closing.

The provided link does a good job of highlighting all the quirky features that made the game interesting.  If you can find someone with unused invitations, you can still take a look – so catch a glimpse before it’s gone forever.

What Has Been Seen…

Posted in Uncategorized on July, 2012 by melendwyr

…Cannot Be Unseen.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you:  25 Outrageous Fashion Ads From The 1970s

Circular Reasoning

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April, 2012 by melendwyr

I was reading Charles Stross’ novelette A Colder War recently and was struck by its mention of a “Great Filter” in reference to the seeming lack of intelligent, technological life in the universe.  A search for the term quickly showed that it arose from a discussion of the Fermi Paradox by Robin Hanson.  I have a few problems with the arguments Hanson makes in the discussed essay.

The most obvious is that Earth may well have already been colonized by extraterrestrial life.  Chemolithotrophic bacteria are thought to be terrestrial, but it’s been speculated that they exist elsewhere and may have originated somewhere other than our planet.  Perhaps the kind of life that dominates the universe is so familiar to us that we don’t recognize it under our noses.

A somewhat more subtle issue is with the assertion that we’ve had great success understanding the universe without referring to complex processes of life.  Well… sort of.  Interestingly, Carl Sagan addresses this issue in fiction in his novel <u>Contact</u>, in which a conservation with an alien being indicates that some of the things we can see in the night sky are the beginning stages of a vast engineering project.  We never noticed because we derived our ideas about how astronomical processes work from our observations – and thus those observations necessarily do not contradict our ideas.

I remember reading another author who suggested that we could observe distant galaxies and possibly determine whether it had advanced life by checking the number of supernovae in them against our ideas of their natural frequency – if there were far fewer, that galaxy contained advanced life (because it was stopping them) and if it had far more, it had contained advanced life (because it found a way to use stars as weapons).

The argument only holds if we make certain assumptions – clearly, that advanced life could and would affect the behavior of stars – but also that most galaxies are devoid of life.  Since our grasp of the internal physics of stars is currently derived by what we can deduce by observing large numbers of them from a vast distance (in both space and time), if many galaxies contain organisms that alter the supernova rate our understanding of what’s ‘natural’ will be incorrect.

It’s not obvious to me that moderately advanced life would have effects that we could detect at a distance, given our scientific and technological limitations.  But I strongly suspect that sufficiently advanced life could be leaving its signature all over the place without our awareness, because it determined what we consider to be natural.  Can a colony of bacteria really distinguish between a forest and a strip mall?

Rubbernecking and Rudeness

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on January, 2012 by melendwyr

Walking through downtown to get to my bus today, I ran smack into a crowd awaiting the passing of the Joseph Paterno’s funeral procession.  They lined the entire major intersection five deep, covering the crosswalks, the bus zones, and an entire lane of traffic.  There was barely space for a vehicle to make it past the crowd – and several buses had difficulty pulling out and away.  Not that it was possible to reach those buses, due to the people blocking both sides.

I actually missed my bus because of the trouble pushing through the people standing within the intersection.

Now, if they had been overcome with grief, I would understand the discourtesy.  But there seemed to be more of a desire to gawk, and perhaps to be able to tell friends afterwards that they saw the procession.

I can’t think Paterno would have approved.