Sunday, September 18, 2016

Just another geeky Sunday

Irritating science-related ignorance

Thunderous foot-in-mouth. Well, Thunderf00t has another video about SpaceX where he shows he doesn't understand why Elon Musk wants as much information as possible (i.e. other people's videos, to add to the ones SpaceX made and the 3000 streams of data collected). TF shows his usual depth by mocking SpaceX for not investing in "cameras costing 100 bucks." SpaceX had a lot of cameras on the pad and off, but the more information the better.



At this point is Thunderf00t going the Charlie Sheen way, where his audience just tunes in to see how bad he's going to screw up this time?

On the upside, I found, via Professor Moriarty (yes, like the Sherlock Holmes villain, except it's Philip, not James), a series of videos debunking TF's previous parade of ignorance (regarding the Hyperloop):


My modest contributions here and here. Also a comment I made on The Arts Mechanical, capturing the genesis of the problem with scientists commenting on engineering:


When he's not planning the paint-napping of the Mona Lisa to effect the sale of several forgeries to unscrupulous art collectors, Professor Moriarty collaborates with Sixty Symbols to explain Physics concepts:




Popular Science. More relevant than Thunderf00t's demonstration of what happens when scientists assume engineering is trivial, is Popular Science, which is a respectable STEM popularization magazine. And when Popular Science writers make mistakes, they have more widespread audiences.

In a pretty good article about Jeff Bezos joining the "lets get out of Earth" club, a Popular Science writer shows a clear misunderstanding of what's difficult about getting to orbit (rather than "space," arbitrarily defined as 100km altitude):


The problem isn't getting to altitude, the problem is giving the payload orbital velocity, which for Low Earth Orbit is in the order of 28,000 km/h. (My tweet said "height" because 140 characters, haters.)

This came up before when people were comparing Blue Origin's landing of a space-going rocket with SpaceX landing of the first stage of an orbital rocket. The velocities involved are completely different as is the fact that Blue Origin's rocket was basically going up and down, but the Falcon 9 goes mostly Eastward, so it needs to lose horizontal velocity as well.

This is a very common misconception, and one that many people don't understand. It doesn't help when popular entertainment feeds it:



If the missiles had gone straight up, as they say in the movie, they'd fall back to Earth.(Yes, that's me criticizing the Physics of X-Men Apocalypse.)



Book mini-review: Somewhither by John C Wright

This book came to my attention in a serendipitous way, which as I'll note at the bottom of the review is curious. It won an award at a conference, which in general has no impact on my choices since I read the free sample and decide then. (Except when I have a long history with the author, like Pratchett, Stephenson, Clarke, Pournelle, Heinlein, Benford, Brin, Bear, Sawyer, and maybe 10-15 others.)

So, for me the sample it is. And it was. And it did. Did convince me to buy. (My decision is not about the money, since fiction is very cheap; it's about buying a book I won't read and its file on my Kindle mocking me for eternity.)

Well played, Castallia House: a long sample is the way to go. This book was described as "science fantasy," which I was weary of. I like science fiction as long as it's mostly about the science part; in the past I've began reading fantasy once or twice only to stop after a few pages; it's not my thing.

Yes, I get that "Alex teched the tech and the enemy ship exploded" is about as scientific as "Chris invoked the secret ritual of the Obelisk and the enemy cavalry turned to dust." But I don't read scifi of the "Alex" type either.

(I read Terry Pratchett because that's not fantasy. Like the famous trilogy in five parts plus extra volume, Pratchett's work is social commentary on our world.)

The interesting combination of "science fantasy" is aptly described by one of the characters from, let's call it, "a magic-based civilization" commenting on our technological-based civilization:


The book-world is internally consistent and it fits (well, sort-of, but spoilers) with our actual reality (so that's the science part); there's a reasonable (again, sort-of but spoilers) backstory that sets up the differences.

My only point to pick with the book is that there's a lot of sadism, torture, and malevolence; it fits with the story and the general logic (and that's all I can say without spoilers), but reading it sometimes felt like being inside a Hyeronimous Bosch painting.

Of course, Somewhither is part one of a planned trilogy, so it's a bit irritating to have to wait until the next two are written. (But as Sir Humphrey Appleby aptly pointed out to the minister, "there are significant difficulties in circulating papers before they are written," so we'll have to wait.)

Meanwhile, I realized that this John C Wright was the same John C Wright who wrote the scifi series Count to a Trillion and sequels, which I liked a lot; when I say I'm not a people person, that's what I mean. I read the book descriptions and tend to skip that "author" tidbit.



Nassim and the Intellectuals

Nassim Nicholas Taleb expands his old "Intellectuals Yet Idiots" Facebook post to article length. Many hurt elite feelings ensue.

No, I won't summarize it, just read the whole thing. And the comments.

Here's Nassim in his Twitter persona, making friends and influencing people:


Ok, the end of the article (did you read the whole thing? Go read the whole thing!) is worth reproducing here:

Well, I'm safe, I deadlift. (Yes, this article about the decline of intellectual discourse ends with a "do you even lift, bro?" gym taunt and a photo of Zydrunas Savickas.)

Here's a ode to intellectualism. Or Zydrunas Savickas, one or the other.





Videos about many things

Numberphile features Persi Diaconis explaining what makes a fair dice:


And here's a paper on fair dice by Diaconis and Keller.


I watched a few train videos, too. No, I'm not on any recreational drugs. It's just relaxing to see these big machines in motion. And went over some of the back-catalogue of Agent JayZ's Jet Engine videos.

Agent JayZ gets the "most Canadian of Canadians" award for responding to people commenting on something that happened at an air show they hadn't attended with: [mildly tired tone] "It would be great if the people who weren't there stopped telling me, who was there, what happened."

Ah, those Canadians and their flaring tempers. Must be the snow.


Pure computer envy (but it should be running Linux):



Something more technical: K-means and image segmentation, by Computerphile



Related: as a professional presenter, I always use the very best in audio-visual techniques when explaining the difference between supervised learning (like choice modeling, left below) and unsupervised learning (like cluster analysis, right below).


Yes, that's quad paper. Better yet, quad paper with color pens. Oh how far we've come from explaining EECS with an automatic pencil on grease-stained napkins.



Gym-related geekery

I finally accepted that I'm recovering too slowly for a standard three-day split, so I'm moving to a four-day split, adding one day for accessory work and conditioning. But I'm doing it differently from the usual four-split day programs:

1. I'm still only going to work out three times a week, so I'll be on a nine-day recovery cycle instead of a seven-day recovery cycle. I know gymbros would have a problem with the math, but it isn't that difficult: just learn the sequence of workouts and check which one you did last.

2. I'm placing the accessories/conditioning workout between squat and bench day, rather than at the end of the three-day program. That's because doing conditioning so close to squat will hurt the squat much more than doing it close to bench hurts the bench.

This change will not affect my rowing and the low-intensity (not workout, rather active rest) "cardio" exercising while imbibing knowledge.

As per T-Nation's famous motivation poster, "Motivation is for newbies; veterans grind." But still, I found this excerpt from the Arnold Strongman Classic 2016 motivating:



It certainly motivated me to stop whingeing about my posterior chain on Saturdays (until now Friday was deadlift day) after I saw Eddie "the Beast" Hall deadlift 469 Kg:


(Though in my defense, scaled to bodyweight, I deadlift more than Eddie...)



Hidden nostalgia

The title is a play on: