Friday, May 15, 2015

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

An interesting application of the anthropic principle to inflationary cosmology. I'm impressed with the successful "predictions" of the cosmological constant. Note that the "multiverse" involved here is not the "many worlds" of the Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics nor a space of theories like the string theory landscape. It's just a universe with different regions---"bubbles"---expanding differently.

It would nice to explain why the cosmological constant is what it is. Yet, no one tries to explain why the earth's orbital radius is what is beyond saying that it needs to be roughly what it is to support life. Where does this analogy break down? We have observed many other, apparently lifeless solar systems; it is possible but improbable that we might someday find indirect evidence for a bubble beyond our own in the cosmic microwave background.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Until I read this recently, I didn't realize that the Bohmian interpretation of quantum mechanics had been successfully extended to special relativity and field theory. As even staunch proponents of the Everett "many worlds" interpretation admit, the Bohmian and Everett interpretations are observationally equivalent. So, which is preferable, a theory of one universe with non-locally interacting particles and a locally evolving wave function, or a theory of a multiverse with just a locally evolving wave function? I'm now strongly in favor of the Bohmian option.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Loosely related to my previous post, consider the following evaluation of Vancouver's trend of wealthy foreigners buying homes in the city.
[W]hen highly educated folks making six figures still can’t afford to live in your city (and it takes over an hour’s commute to get to downtown from slightly more affordable areas), you simply don’t have the conditions to grow a knowledge economy....

Entire downtown neighbourhoods and chunks of the west side are growingly becoming ghost towns as permanent residents are replaced with investors who don’t occupy their units....

A massive capital injection from abroad makes Vancouverites feel wealthy, while the city is in no real terms wealthier. Talented people continue to leave and with them the future of our city.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Regarding (presumably pie-in-the-sky) discussions of radical tax reform, I find it helpful to focus on real resources instead of dollars.

For example, imagine a radical 100% tax on all personal wealth over $1M that is not charitably donated. Food is cheap, millions of people in the world are hungry, and there's a lot concentrated personal wealth we could throw at the problem. There exist Bill Gates, several other billionaires, and many millionaires. Yet, if all of Gates' wealth is redirected toward immediately feeding the hungry, where do all the bags of grain come from? The Gates mansion does not have that much food in it. The bags of grain come from a combination of many people and animals eating less grain and of farmers producing more grain (and of more people working on farms instead of elsewhere, and of more raw materials being used to build farm equipment, fertilizer, pesticides, and the like, instead of other things, and of more fuel, water, and electricity being used by farms, and...)

Generally speaking, taxes do not take away real resources from wealthy people, except to the extent that it reduces wealthy people's consumption of goods and services. What matters is consumption. Moreover, personal wealth taxes can be evaded by creating a corporation structured so that you tightly control it and "investing" your personal wealth in this corporation. If the government also heavily taxes corporate wealth, then (along with many other crazy changes) almost everything will end owned by "non-profits" that pay their executives fat salaries and "re-invest" most of their remaining net income in things like comfort, prestige, and power. Exhibit A is all the money universities and hospitals pour into their campus buildings and grounds.

As folks like Scott Sumner keep saying, let us tax consumption alone. Replacing all income taxes with a value-added tax (VAT) does this. Less radically (for the US), instead of taxing personal and corporate income as we do now, the Internal Revenue Service could tax personal income minus personal savings. Your capital gains, dividends, and interest income should not be taxed, but your negative savings, i.e., net withdrawals from their savings/brokerage/etc accounts should be taxed.

Morally speaking, if a rich man lives a modest lifestyle, why should he be more than modestly taxed? How is his net worth, his labor income, or his capital income morally relevant? If someday the rich man exercises his option to live lavishly, only then tax him lavishly.

From another angle, why tax my dividends at one rate and my wages at another? Tax $1K income saved at 0%, regardless of where it come from. Tax a person's Nth $1K of annual consumption spending at a progressive rate r(N). Yes, there will still be tax deductions and tax credits that complicating things, but equalizing tax rates across income sources is still a nontrivial simplification.

If my personal consumption includes lavish job perks from my employer (which might be myself), then how are these taxed? The Right Way to solve this problem is stop taxing income and go pure VAT. The inferior but less radical solution is a corporate/self-employed consumption tax with complicated rules, but no more complicated than the current income tax rules for corporations and the self-employed.

The Achilles heel of taxing income minus savings is imputed rent. If I own a house and live in it, that is consumption, but it is not obvious how valuable that consumption is. In effect, I am both landlord and tenant, paying myself some unknown rent. Is the IRS going to estimate and tax every home owner's imputed rent? The "estimate" part isn't a show-stopper; it wouldn't be any more difficult than what property tax assessors already do. The howler is the "tax" part, which would effectively be a federal home property tax. Again, the Right Way is a VAT. A bit closer to political reality would be the policy of just not taxing imputed rents and maybe not taxing housing rent of any kind.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Don't bet against Einstein, space-time foam edition.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

From an article about the future, an interesting bit of history:
Vikings, for example, invaded England starting in the eighth century and married into the society. Children in England, hearing their fathers’ “broken” Old English in a time when schooling was limited to elites and there was no media, grew up speaking that kind of English, and the result was what I am writing now. Old English bristled with three genders, five cases and the same sort of complex grammar that makes modern German so difficult for us, but after the Vikings, it morphed into modern English, one of the few languages in Europe that doesn’t assign gender to inanimate objects. Mandarin, Persian, Indonesian and other languages went through similar processes and are therefore much less “cluttered” than a normal language is.
The article predicts a 90% loss of spoken language diversity and an decrease in spoken language complexity over the next hundred years.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sunday, December 28, 2014

For the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and mind’s delight,
For the mystic harmony
Linking sense to sound and sight,
Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

"Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else." Thus said no less than Erwin Schrödinger. I do not think such philosophical generalities entail theism, but I think they reject reductionist materialism. Perhaps I lack imagination, but I think purely physical descriptions of the brain, however tightly they manage correlate the neural to the mental, never will satisfactorily explain how or why there is anything mental for the neural to correlate to in the first place.

I am aware of two categories of potentially satisfying accounts of this correlation. The first is the dualist appeal to a mystical enforcement of a correlation between a noetic realm and a material realm that are otherwise causally separated. The second category holds that there exist, roughly speaking, laws of consciousness that complement the laws of physics.

In the former category, the particles/waves that make up a human brain have a physical form suitable for being bound to a mind, but the brain is mindless without supernatural intervention. In the latter category, each elementary particle of the physical universe, or perhaps I should say the wavefunction of the universe, is already endowed with mental or pre-mental properties that naturally assemble into a consciousness when, for example, a human brain develops.

In the former category, the birth of a new consciousness is supernatural; in the latter category, it is quite natural. In the former category, postmortem consciousness is unsurprising: if a soul can be chained to a body, then it presumably can be unchained. In the latter category, postmortem consciousness would require a postmortem physical body or some kind of substitute "body." In the former category, whether "higher" animals have minds is a mystery; in the latter category, they very probably do. Both categories are compatible with theism and both categories are compatible with atheism.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Because the human "clock" is probably very close (24:11?) to 24 hours, I (and, probably, you) should not think we are "naturally" wanting to stay up later and later and would be happier on a planet with 25-hour (or longer) days. My working conjecture is that it's artificial light. "The human clock consists of a cluster of nerve cells (the suprachiasmatic nucleus) barely a hundredth of an inch in size, located deep in the brain and connected to the eyes’ optic nerves."

A well-known related theory is that blue light has the greatest effect. I'm currently (self-)experimenting with reddening my home desktop LCDs as much as possible in hardware. However, effects of this treatment on when I actually fall asleep have so far been non-obvious. I would need to more carefully collect data and experiment with undoing the reddening for a while to be sure, but if the effect is small enough that I can't perceive it directly, then the effect is not worth the hassle of avoiding blue light. Relatedly, an N=12 study found that, "as expected, only the blue light reduced nocturnal melatonin. In contrast, both blue and red lights affected cortisol levels."

On the other hand, reddened screens at night are easier on my eyes, whether they help me sleep or not.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My wife alerted me to this little gem by John Calvin:
But if the Lord has been pleased to assist us by the work and ministry of the ungodly in physics, dialectics, mathematics, and other similar sciences, let us avail ourselves of it, lest, by neglecting the gifts of God spontaneously offered to us, we be justly punished for our sloth.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The relativistic rocket. The last sentence should arguably be the first: "After only a few years of 1g acceleration even the cosmic background radiation is Doppler shifted into a lethal heat bath hot enough to melt all known materials."

Monday, August 11, 2014

On adjective order. The claim I found most interesting (as a non-expert in linguistics) was "GSSSACPM more or less applies to languages around the world." Alas, the citation was to a gated eBook chapter.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Rosetta's Celestial navigation: The gravity assists (video) and the closing maneuvers (3D animation).

Friday, May 09, 2014

All of Bach? They promise one piece per week and they count 1074 works remaining. So, will they keep updating their website for the next twenty years? The Web itself is only 21 years old.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Friday, January 31, 2014

Here's a 2002--2012 educational longitudinal study conducted by the US Dept. of Education of Americans who were HS sophomores in 2002. (N ~ 15,000) The results are generally unsurprising, but let me point out Table 6 (page 16), which shows, among other things, a small and negative correlation between education and job satisfaction.

My main point is that the differences were small (probably statistically insignificant), but if you're curious about the "negative" part... On average, respondents (who were all be about 25 years old in 2012) with bachelor's degrees or higher were slightly less satisfied with their jobs than high-school drop-outs; both of these groups were more satisfied than college drop-outs.

On the other hand, education is strongly correlated (see page 17) with something the study names "work support," which is a linear combination of multiple survey responses that the authors identified through principal factor analysis (page A-13). (I couldn't find any explanation for why they call this quantity "work support.")

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The smells of organic chemistry.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Isaac Asimov in 1964:
The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long- lived batteries running on radioisotopes. The isotopes will not be expensive for they will be by- products of the fission-power plants which, by 2014, will be supplying well over half the power needs of humanity. But once the isotype batteries are used up they will be disposed of only through authorized agents of the manufacturer.
What might have been. Today I can read about the 30-year RTG in the Chinese moon rover:
Using plutonium-238, the battery will be able to power the 100-kilogram vehicle for more than 30 years, said Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China's lunar exploration program.

"The nuclear power system will make China the third country apart from the United States and Russia to be able to apply nuclear technology to space exploration," Ouyang said.

The moon rover is China's most advanced robot with complete automatic navigation and operations. It will be powered by the sun during daytime and by nuclear power during the night.

But where's my nuclear powered car? I'll settle for a 90Sr model...

Friday, December 27, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The big picture.
The Lord God said to the serpent,
"Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."
The Lord says to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool."
The Lord says,
"It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
So shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
"Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."
The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A 3D, animated map of the globe's current surface winds.

Source code.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Robert O'Callahan on avoiding burnout.