11 January 2009

Workout notes It is snowing outside (lightly) and so I opted for the treadmill. I “ran” (sort of) 10 miles in 1:53:53; one should keep in mind that I have a manual model that you have to have at an incline in order to make it work.

Hence an “easy” pace on this treadmill is about 11:30 mpm; this would be like 10:30 mpm outside. On the other hand, one can walk a bit faster on this thing than one can walk outside; for some reason this treadmill “rewards” the pulling motion of walking and “penalizes” the “bouncing” motion of running.

In any event, I moved for just under 2 hours and got a workout. 🙂

Other topics It is possible to be an excellent scientist and/or mathematician but still descend into being a crackpot. Here are two sad cases:


Freeman Dyson is a well-known mathematician and physicist. Number theorists know him from his earliest papers on continued fractions and Diophantine approximation, but then he got seduced by theoretical physics and most of his subsequent work was in that field.

In his later years (Dyson is now 85), though, Dyson’s output has become increasingly cranky. He’s commented favorably about intelligent design; yet when I questioned him via e-mail, he admitted that he had not read any of the work of Michael Behe and William Dembski, the ID movement’s most prominent advocates.

Despite having no training in climatology, Dyson has sneered at the consensus of climate scientists about global warming. (The hallmark of the blowhard is to spout off in areas outside his competence.) Actual climate scientists, such as Michael Tobis, begged to disagree. Dyson used a review a review of two books on global warming, to cast doubt on the seriousness of the problem, and accused climate scientists of being contemptuous of those who disagree. Dyson’s maunderings were taken apart by the actual climate scientists at RealClimate. […]

All this is in the past, so why should Dyson get a Blowhard nomination this month? It’s because of an article that recently appeared in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society. Here is an excerpt:

“The mathematicians discovered the central mystery of computability, the conjecture represented by the statement P is not equal to NP. The conjecture asserts that there exist mathematical problems which can be quickly solved in individual cases but cannot be solved by a quick algorithm applicable to all cases. The most famous example of such a problem is the traveling salesman problem, which is to find the shortest route for a salesman visiting a set of cities, knowing the distance between each pair. All the experts believe that the conjecture is true, and that the traveling salesman problem is an example of a problem that is P but not NP. But nobody has even a glimmer of an idea how to prove it.”

This is not even close to correct. The distinction in P versus NP has nothing to do with being a problem being “quickly solved in individual cases”, but rather, that the answer can easily be verified once a small amount of extra information is provided. As stated, Dyson’s example of the traveling salesman problem is not even in NP, since he states it in the form of finding the shortest tour, as opposed to checking the existence of a tour of length less than a given bound. (If I give you a traveling salesman tour, nobody currently knows how to check in polynomial time that it is the shortest one.) And finally, he blows the punchline. The decision version of traveling salesman is known to be in NP, but most people believe it is not in P. Dyson got it backwards.

And we see something similar in physics:

Frank Tipler is a crackpot. At one point in his life, he did very good technical work in general relativity; he was the first to prove theorems that closed timelike curves could not be constructed in local regions of spacetime without either violating the weak energy condition or creating a singularity. But alas, since then he has pretty much gone off the deep end, and more recently has become known for arguments for Christianity based on fundamental physics. If you closely at those arguments (h/t wolfgang), you find things like this:

If life is to guide the entire universe, it must be co-extensive with the entire universe. We can say that life must have become OMNIPRESENT in the universe by the end of time. But the very act of guiding the universe to eliminate event horizons – an infinite number of nudges – causes the entropy and hence the complexity of the universe to increase without limit. Therefore, if life is to continue guiding the universe – which it must, if the laws of physics are to remain consistent – then the knowledge of the universe possessed by life must also increase without limit, becoming both perfect and infinite at the final singularity. Life must become OMNISCIENT at the final singularity. The collapse of the universe will have provided available energy, which goes to infinity as the final singularity is approached, and this available energy will have become entirely under life’s control. The rate of use of this available energy – power – will diverge to infinity as the final singularity is approached. In other words, life at the final singularity will have become OMNIPOTENT. The final singularity is not in time but outside of time. On the boundary of space and time, as described in detail by Hawking and Ellis [6]. So we can say that the final singularity – the Omega Point – is TRANSCENDANT to space, time and matter.

All of the signs of classic crackpottery are present; the vague and misplaced appeal to technical terminology, the spelling mistakes and capital letters, the random use of “must” and “therefore” when no actual argument has been given.

Oh boy. I suppose that there is a lesson for me there, given that I’ve never reached the point where I would actually have laurels to rest on.

Update: this is Dr. Tippler:

Academia Physics graduate school applications are down this year.

Here is a caution to those who think that applying to graduate school merely because one didn’t get a good job offer right after graduation is a good idea.

On the other hand, one of my professor friends got into a Ph. D. program precisely because of the TA pay and benefits; it turns out that he loved mathematics, published his thesis and went on to get a college teaching job. So, I suppose that you never know.


From this article at the Daily Kos; it is worth a read. The article was about historical accounts of when this “guest star” appeared (1054 CE); remember that at that time, superstition was the official policy and not limited to a bunch of Biblical literalist crackpots and new-age woos.

Science A new, human made molecule has the power to self replicate.

A new molecule that performs the essential function of life – self-replication – could shed light on the origin of all living things.

If that wasn’t enough, the laboratory-born ribonucleic acid (RNA) strand evolves in a test tube to double itself ever more swiftly.

“Obviously what we’re trying to do is make a biology,” says Gerald Joyce, a biochemist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. He hopes to imbue his team’s molecule with all the fundamental properties of life: self-replication, evolution, and function.

Joyce and colleague Tracey Lincoln made their chemical out of RNA because most researchers think early life stored information in this sister molecule to DNA. And unlike the stuff of our genomes, RNA molecules can catalyse chemical reactions.

“We’re trying to jump in at the last signpost we have back there in the early history of life,” Joyce says.

Rather than start with RNA enzymes – ribozymes – present in other organisms, Joyce’s team created its own molecule from scratch, called R3C. It performed a single function: stitching two shorter RNA molecules together to create a clone of itself.

Further lab tinkering made this molecule better at copying itself, but this is not the same as bringing it to life. It self-replicated to a point, but eventually clogged up in shapes that could no longer sew RNA pieces together. “It was a real dog,” Joyce says. […]

Hat tip to


Some are still angry at Obama because he picked the bigoted Rick Warren to give his invocation. Nevertheless, actions speak louder than words. Look at some of the families that Obama picked to be in his “whistle stop” inauguration tour:

The Washington Blade reports that “lesbian couple Lisa Hazirjian and her partner Michelle have been invited to join” President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden on their Whistle Stop train ride to the nation’s capital leading up to the inauguration. “Hazirjian, who is from Ohio, serves as an at-large board member of Equality Ohio, as a member of the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats and as a volunteer for Cleveland Families Count, an organization formed to defend the new domestic partner registry in the city.” Obama, who is supportive of civil unions, has said he is “not in favor of gay marriage.”

That is an excellent sign.

Peoria Peoria pundit reports on some of the change that is taking place at the Peoria Journal Star:

Jerry Klein is out at the Peoria Journal Star. Klein retired several years ago, but the respected columnist and arts writer continued to write a column for Sunday paper (although frequency had dropped recently). He was told today that this column was being dropped. How much money GateHouse is saving by dropping a less-than-weekly column, I don’t know.

To me, people like Jerry Klein represents exactly what I despise about Peoria. His columns rarely inform and his opinions are given without anything to back them up; he is a perfect example of what can happen to a human being that lives in an intellectually dead community and makes no effort to keep learning and growing.

On the other hand, if you want to know what is being talked about in the barbershop on Saturday mornings, well there you go.

My wife called Klein the “intellectual of the Dinette Set”; I see Klein as the archetype of the polyester/expanded waistband set.

IL-18: Aaron Schock is off to a running start; evidently pay discrimination is not that of a big deal to him.


January 11, 2009 - Posted by | 2008 Election, Barack Obama, education, evolution, mathematics, morons, obama, Peoria, Peoria/local, politics, politics/social, ranting, republicans, running, science, training

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