Showing posts from April, 2019


Feral cats are killing off many of the indigenous small animals of Australia.  Australia has responded with a program of mass felicide. I n the deep winter weeks of last July, Shane Morse and Kevin Figliomeni nearly always got up before the sun rose. They awoke next to the remains of a campfire or, occasionally, in a roadside motel, and in the darkness before dawn they began unloading poisoned sausage from their refrigerated truck. The sausage was for killing cats. One morning near the end of the season, Morse and Figliomeni left the Kalbarri Motor Hotel on the remote western coast of Australia, where they dined on steak and shellfish the night before, and drove along the squally coastline. They kept their eyes fixed to the sky. If it rained, there would be no baiting that day.

Free College

I recently found an old tuition receipt from my undergrad days.  College wasn't free then, but it was cheap: $99 per term.  In constant dollars, that would be about $800 dollars today.  The average equivalent for state universities today is about $5000/term, up to $25,000 per term at private colleges, roughly tripling in real dollars since then.  Meanwhile, the US GDP per capita in real, inflation adjusted dollars has roughly tripled since then.  It's absurd to claim that our then much poorer country could afford nearly free college or at least cheap college then but can't now. Elizabeth Warren's proposal for free tuition at public colleges is an idea whose time is overdue, as is her proposal to forgive substantial portions of existing college debt.  College debt is now the largest component of personal debt in the US, and it exerts a crippling effect on the economy.  Heavily indebted students can't afford to buy houses, start businesses or establish families. A

Questions for the Ideal Future

When the robots take over will they let us have mock elections just for fun? When the Trumps go to prison, will they get to take their post Presidential secret service protection with them?

Rosenstein and GuildenBarr

Aside from the from the ridiculously transparent Barr/Rosenstein cover up, the other puzzle is how Mueller managed to whiff on what seems to have been a chest high slowball over the middle of the plate.  Despite overwhelming evidence, much of it public view, he wasn't quite convinced that Trump was guilty of obstruction.  Why not?  Well, he couldn't read Trump's mind, he claimed.  I guess all those people convicted of obstruction have more transparent minds than the guy whose every thought is a tweet. Among other enduring mysteries, there is the question of why he didn't interview Trump.  Was he intimidated by Trump's transparent attempts at obstruction, afraid of being kicked out of the Republican club, or what?  The no-collusion conclusion was also weird.  Many instances of contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians were found, and these transparently were attempts to use a foreign power to influence the election.  Not a crime says Mueller. Clearly,

Black Hole Picture Blues

Is the black hole picture a disappointment?  Well, at least one Slate Troll  seems to think so.   By which they mean is not very aesthetic. What it lacks is interesting optical detail.  Compared to simulations, it lacks complexity. Does it tell us anything scientifically interesting or surprising?  That's the question that interests me, and I have no idea what the answer is. If not, it's as if scientists finally got a picture of a unicorn, and it turns out to be a blurry version of Harry Potter's Patronus. On the other hand, the technical feat is interesting, and might prove useful for other studies of what's going on in the hearts of active galaxies.

Budgeting Quiz

Suppose you have a billion dollars earning a nice 5.256% continuous interest (5.3966% APR) and decide to spend, give away, or burn $100/minute.   How much would you have left after one year? For extra credit don't use pencil, paper, calculator or similar aids. Hint: Rent SECOND HINT for my disappointingly sluggish readership: You don't need the pencil and paper etc. if you remember the lyrics of Rent , How do you measure a year.  If you don't know Rent, you really should listen to it. PS Ignore taxes - you're a billionaire!

Junk the Max?

The more I read , the more I think yes. This obsolete mess seems to be a total piece of crap.  I know that I don't want to fly in one.

Intelligence and Heredity

Notes for a review of She Has Her Mothers Laugh: Adult height is a trait that is known to have large environmental and hereditary determinants.  Taller parents usually have taller children but changes in nutrition, sanitation, health also have large effects.  While it has proved possible to identify a number of important discrete environmental effects that make large differences, the hereditary component has proven much harder to pin down.  With the exception of a few rare genes that make big differences, hereditary effects seem to be spread over a large percentage of the whole genome.  In the largest scale studies, thousands of gene differences each seem to have small but measurable effects. Intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, may well be similar.  Nutritional deficiencies, in particular, are big culprits in low IQ.  Introduction of iodine in regions of low iodine soils have been known to raise average IQs by as much as 16 points - more than one standard deviation.  Exposure to

Is This The Way The World Ends?

Via MR from Dominic Cummings : This is why one of the world’s leading AI researchers, Stuart Russell (professor of computer science at Berkeley) has made this warning: ‘The capabilities of autonomous weapons will be limited more by the laws of physics — for example, by constraints on range, speed and payload — than by any deficiencies in the AI systems that control them. For instance, as flying robots become smaller, their manoeuvrability increases and their ability to be targeted decreases… Despite the limits imposed by physics,  one can expect platforms deployed in the millions, the agility and lethality of which will leave humans utterly defenceless … ‘A very, very small quadcopter, one inch in diameter can carry a one- or two-gram shaped charge. You can order them from a drone manufacturer in China. You can program the code to say: “Here are thousands of photographs of the kinds of things I want to target.” A one-gram shaped charge can punch a hole in nine millimeters of ste

Agriculture's Bonus

When agriculture came to Europe, the average European lost eight inches in height.  They didn't recover until well into the Twentieth Century. The industrial revolution also stunted people for a few decades - probably due to more disease rather than worse nutrition.

Ideas on the Progressive Left: Good, Bad, and Ugly

The horde of candidates running for the Democratic Presidential nomination are throwing all sorts of lefty tropes at the wall, hoping to find some that stick.  Here is my classification of the one I find worthwhile and not. Good: (1)Something like Medicare for America, an idea that expands health insurance to all Americans without eliminating private insurance.  This idea, in some version or other, is well tested and used in virtually every other advanced country. (2)Making college education cheap again.  We have done it before, most other advanced countries do it, and our vast pool of educational debt is a major drag on the entrepreneurial spirit of young Americans. (3)Subsidized child care.  Again, a well tested idea that frees more parents to work. (4) Take dark money out of politics.  Make every dollar be accounted for. (5)Statehood for DC and Puerto Rico. Bad:  It seems like Kamala Harris likes every stupid idea on my list. (1)Reparations - the two groups who legiti

Race and Skin Color

Compared to the other Great Apes, or Hominoids, if you prefer, we human are a remarkably homogeneous at the genetic level.  Surprisingly enough, populations of only a few thousand gorillas have more genetic variation across their species than the seven gazillion humans encompass.  This is likely due to our species passing through a few major bottlenecks in the last 100,000 or so years. This fact is a major reason that modern science is convinced that the concept of race is pretty meaningless so far as humans are concerned.  Still, we don't all look alike.  Our brains are exquisitely tuned to noticing small differences among us, and most of us can recognize thousands of different faces.  Not only that, but there are a few differences among humans that correlate with large scale origins (or oranges, as the maximum leader, himself a member of the orange tribe, might say), with the most obvious being skin pigmentation. Race, as they say, is a social construct, but skin color is a p

A Really Big Collider

Bee has been waging a multipronged attack on building a bigger collider.  She has lots of reasons why it's a bad idea.   I'm pretty sure she wouldn't like my idea either, but here goes: It's been an immensely fruitful strategy for at least 150 years.  Of course that's pretty modest evidence that it will continue to be. She likes to claim that previous colliders always knew what they were looking for.  That's far from the case. I do have an idea how such decisions should be made.  I think a general convocation of leading experts in every branch of science should be called and everyone can make their case.  Then the funders should decide who gets how much.  Similar procedures are already used in Astronomy and perhaps some other sciences, but this would be all all.  Of course individual funders could make their own decisions.

Is Boeing Screwed?

The other day, when I was running around trying to catch a flight, I got a call from my broker.  Don't sell your Boeing, he said.  This is nothing.  Well, I wasn't planning to sell Boeing, but if I had more time I think I would have given him an argument. I've written elsewhere about where critics say Boeing went wrong on the 737 Max.  The charge is, that in order to save a few billion, Boeing decided to go with an old design, and when the changes made the plane unstable, they attempted to put on a software bandage.  Now that it looks like the bandage came off catastrophically twice, they are proposing a new software bandage. The plane is still unstable, the airframe is a decades old design, and the control system is hopelessly obsolete in the age of fly by wire. If all of the above is true (and it's stuff I've read in the mainstream press), I don't want to fly in the damn things, no matter how many software bandages they cook up. The stories of self-de