Showing posts from 2023

We Call it Soccer

The US played its best, and maybe only good game of World Cup, but lost thanks to brilliant goalkeeping by the Swedish keeper and the bizarre method soccer uses to settle ties when three US stars could not put the ball on frame from the 12 yard spot.  At the end it came down to a blocked shot that spun in by maybe a couple of centimeters. Well, that's football - too much like life.   Which brings me to a modest proposal.  Replace the thirty minute overtimes with as many 7-player 15 minute periods as needed to settle it.  Scoring should be much easier with fewer players.

The Poverty Paradox: Review

By Mark Robert Rank The titular paradox is poverty in the USA, the largest and one of the richest countries in the world.   Compared to other rich countries the USA has much more and worse poverty than almost any other.   Professor Rank dissects the causes and has some suggestions, few if any of which would fly with the modern Republican Party. Rank proposes what he calls the structural vulnerability hypothesis.   That means that political policies and economic circumstances punish the poor and make it harder to escape poverty.   Bad schools and bad neighborhoods promote poverty and make it hard to escape.   The US ranks high on the inequality scale and low on the social mobility scale. Rank argues that a major driver of poverty in the US is blame the victim thinking, the idea that if persons are poor, it is their own fault.   Much poverty can be traced to lack of social capital: education, other saleable skills, disability, poor health, or access to employment opportunities.   U

Review: The Inevitable War

By Graham Allison 2500 years ago, the Greek Historian Thucydides wrote: ““It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Allison, Graham. Destined For War. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. These words have proven prophetic. Allison and his colleagues have analyzed a series of changes in the balance of powers in the world and found that they have often led to war, perhaps most catastrophically in the early Twentieth Century when the rising power of Germany ultimately led to the First world War and its aftermath, including the Second World War.   Today it is the rise of China, which has now become the world’s largest economy and is in the process of becoming a military superpower which poses the threat.   Neither Thucydides 2500 years nor the Allison much more recently believed that war was truly inevitable, however.   Rather, it is the missteps of leaders and nations that lead to war, and Allison believes that if we are to avoid a t
  What is GPT doing … By Stephen Wolfram This is a short book which combines an description of how GPT, the revolutionary new AI technology shaking the world, works with an advertisement for some Wolfram products designed to augment GPT.   His description is pretty good but I couldn’t really follow his explanation of the crucial “transformer” component, the attention blocks.   ChatGPT was able to give me a better account. Wolfram pointed out some key failings of GPT.   It can’t really do deductive chains of any substance.   For example, ask it to compute 3^73 and it comes up with an absurdly wrong answer, off by a factor of roughly 10^34.   I tried giving it some hints, including using logarithms.   Again, it confected a plausible looking deductive chain and an answer only off by a factor of ten or so. Wolfram then argues that supplementing GPT with some deductive system like Wolfram language would have more capability.   Of course lots of people are working on such things.

Brexit, by ChatGPT

 I coaxed GPT-3 into writing this ditty on Brexit.  Those who know assure me that GPT-4 would have done much better. Amidst the Isles, a tempest doth arise, A nation's fate hangs in a balance dire, As Brexit looms, the future's shadow lies, And discontentment rages like a fire. The voters spoke, a cry for sovereignty, To cast aside the shackles of the EU, But little thought was given to the gravity, Of severing ties with a union so true. Now chaos reigns, uncertainty abounds, As negotiations flounder and stall, And fears of economic downturns, Cast a pall over the land once proud and tall. The border issue, an unyielding thorn, With Ireland caught in the crossfire's aim, And many wonder if the day will dawn, When peace is shattered, and war becomes flame. The Scots and Welsh, their patience wears thin, As England stumbles on a solo path, Their voices drowned amidst the Brexit din, Their hopes and dreams lost in the aftermath. And yet, one man seems immune to the strife, His


 I was surprised and a bit taken aback by DJT's indictment today. I hadn't even had time to put the champaign on ice. So what to do if he fuels up Trump Force One and makes a run for Moscow or Riyad?  Let him go or escort him back.  I lean toward letting him go.  Let him be caught in the ruination of Mordor when Putin goes down.

Book Review: Anaximander By Carlo Rovelli

  I first encountered Anaximander in a course I took in Ancient Greek philosophy, and I didn’t have the sense to be impressed.  Only four brief lines of his work survive, and to me they were utterly mysterious: All things originate from one another, and vanish into one another according to necessity; they give to each other justice and recompense for injustice in conformity with the order of Time. Rovelli, Carlo. Anaximander (p. 79). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Neither my textbook nor my professor pointed out that these rather mysterious lines contain a profound idea – the notion of natural law, the idea that the phenomena of nature are due not to the whims of this god or that, but the operation in time of natural laws, or necessity. This was a profound innovation.   All previous explanations of rain, storms, thunder, lightning and other phenomena seem to have attributed them to the actions of gods and spirits.   Anaximander’s idea thus began a long war between th

The End Times: ChatGPT

If you haven't  sampled ChatGPT yet, I recommend it.  Deep neural networks and the new technology of transformers are producing a technological revolution that is likely the biggest one yet.  ChatGPT and its relatives can write you a sonnet, a coherent summary of the role of sheaves in algebraic geometry, or a computer program in Python or other languages.  A related technology can produce plausible images of persons, monsters, or imaginary landscapes based on a few words of prompting text.  Yet another can take a minute or so of anyone's speech to produce hard to distinguish speech in the speaker's voice. Would you like to hear the Silmarillion as if read by J. R. R. Tolkien?  It can probably be done.  

Book Review: Annals of a Former World By John McPhee

  A former English major decides to take some trips down Interstate 80 in the company of geologists.  I 80 runs from Teaneck, New Jersey, to San Francisco, a journey of 2901 miles.  Annals is a title borrowed from one of the founding documents of geology, by James Hutton: “ To a naturalist nothing is indifferent; the humble moss that creeps upon the stone is equally interesting as the lofty pine which so beautifully adorns the valley or the mountain: but to a naturalist who is reading in the face of rocks the annals of a former world, the mossy covering which obstructs his view, and renders undistinguishable the different species of stone, is no less than a serious subject of regret.” McPhee, John. Annals of the Former World (p. 77). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. Science is always a detective story, but in geology it finds its purest form. McPhee’s book is about the stories those rocks reveal and the geologists who read and tell them.   The interstate system, with it

Inequality and Designated Victims

Hunter-Gatherer societies tend to be egalitarian.  Civilizations and agricultural societies generally, tend to be hierarchical.  Why so? One possibility is that the greater productivity and fertility of agricultural societies means that they are always bumping up against the Malthusian bound, the maximum population the land and technology can support.  Peter Turchin has explored this idea in his books, including War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires . He documents how Europe has suffered a repetitive cycle of depopulating wars, followed by peace and a rapid expansion of population until individual farmers have been forced to ever smaller farms or more marginal farmland until the society has become broadly impoverished, at which point widespread wars break out as adventurers and the desperate seek more land at the expense of others. These wars depopulate both losers and winners. Of course the other horsemen of the apocalypse who also do their part. But I want to focus on a