Supersonic Man

May 21, 2016

a suggestion I intend to send to my legislators

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry,life,Rantation and Politicizing — Supersonic Man @ 12:28 pm

Senator Lois Wolk, Assemblymember Bill Dodd, Senate candidate Mariko Yamada, Assembly candidate Dan Wolk, and Assembly candidate Don Saylor,

Are you tired of dealing with pennies? I sure am. They take time and effort out of one’s day even if all you want to do is get rid of them. I don’t think any other economy keeps such a worthless coin in circulation — in Mexico, for instance, you never see anything smaller than a half peso. The US Treasury has been considering eliminating the penny from our coinage for twenty years, but hasn’t been able to move forward due to pointless obstructionism from assorted directions.

But fortunately, we don’t have to wait for the federal government to act. We can solve the problem right here in California. We can make it so people can use pennies if they want to, but nobody will need to. How can we do this? With a minor adjustment of the sales tax code.

All we have to do is make a rule that when buying retail at a location which accepts cash, the tax amount is rounded up or down by a cent or two, so that the total purchase price including tax is always a multiple of five cents. Note that this applies to noncash purchases as well, as long as they’re made at cash registers, so the amount remains consistent. But it would not apply to mail order purchases as they don’t offer a cash option. This means that we would not burden merchants in other states with adjusting to any new complexity.

The result would be that nobody who pays cash would need to either bring pennies, or receive them as change. People would become accustomed to nickel prices and before long, merchants might get into the habit of advertising nickel prices also. The other states would envy our penniless lifestyle and start copying us, and eventually the Treasury will stop minting pennies. And California will once again be seen as taking a leadership role.

But before that, we need someone to lead this idea in Sacramento. I’m hoping that among you, the legislators and candidates to represent me in Napa County, are the ones to do so.

I hope that this change can be accomplished by simple legislation, without requiring a ballot measure. If one is needed, I am confident that would pass, without requiring any substantial campaign effort.

Thank you for your attention, and I hope this idea appeals to you.

May 17, 2016

let’s try something easier: special relativity

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 5:21 pm

Here’s a way of explaining special relativity which I wish I had run across at a much younger age.  Thanks to author Greg Egan for finally getting this through my dense headbone.  For the first time, I kind of feel like all that stuff about time dilation and increased mass and so forth makes some sense.
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May 3, 2016

a possibly inept attempt to understand the hidden variable problem in quantum mechanics

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 10:40 pm

I’m trying to wrap my head partway around Bell’s Theorem, and what implies for the quantum interpretation conundrum.  I’m sort of hoping that I can explain it to myself in a halfway coherent way here.
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top science fiction writers

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 1:33 pm

Who would be my picks for the top ten or so science fiction writers of all time?  Let’s take an initial stab:

(the inarguable immortals)
H.G. Wells
Olaf Stapledon
Philip K. Dick
Ursula K. LeGuin

(maybes)
Arthur C. Clarke
Frederik Pohl
Alfred Bester
Cordwainer Smith
Kurt Vonnegut
Frank Herbert
John Brunner
Roger Zelazny
Greg Bear
Octavia Butler
Vernor Vinge
Kim Stanley Robinson

(tempting, but probably not justifiable)
R.A. Lafferty
Greg Egan

(ought to read more before rejecting)
Bruce Sterling
Doris Lessing

Names I will definitely not be listing include Asimov and Heinlein… and also Sturgeon and Bradbury.

April 21, 2016

precious substances

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 6:38 am

Are there any substances that are worth a million dollars a kilogram?  I don’t just mean stuff that costs a thousand dollars a gram — I mean stuff which it it possible to buy a whole kilogram of.
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March 28, 2016

some fatuous computer industry predictions

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,the future! — Supersonic Man @ 11:15 am

I think I’ll call some trends in where the computer industry is going to go in the coming years. And yes, these are pulled straight from my lower gastrointestinal tract.

  • Is Windows going to start dying off?  Yes, but it will be very slow.  Home use will disappear before office use.
  • What will replace it?  A windowed variant of Android, or something Android-compatible, which doesn’t even exist yet.
  • Will that be Google’s planned merger of Android with ChromeOS?  Maybe, but I think it may be more likely to come from an independent outfit.  And if it’s advertised as being half Android and half ChromeOS, it’ll really be 90% Android.
  • Will ARM architecture replace Intel ’86 architecture?  Yes, but only temporarily.
  • Then what will win out in the long term?  Something designed for massive parallelism, like a GPU.  I predict that in The Future, when comparing the size and power of different computers, the main stat that will be quoted is the number of kilocores.
  • Will these cores be similar to full-blown processors such as an ARM core, or will they be more basic and stripped-down like a GPU core?  I think the trend may be from the former toward the latter — quantity over quality.
  • Will we still be using Android variants when things get into kilocore country?  Nah, something fundamentally more advanced will replace the whole current idea of desktop-like interfaces.
  • Will neural networks be important?  Maybe.  They’ll remain a specialized minority of architectures, but I think as the massively parallel architecture evolves toward having more cores and less in each core, it will converge toward neural-net architecture and then replace it.
  • What about software?  I think it will be stored in portable binary format and adapted to individual architectures with JIT compilation and/or automatic local optimizers.  The actual coding of highly parallel algorithms will rarely be done by hand, and will usually depend heavily on automated assistance.
  • What about quantum computing?  It’s impossible to tell how big an impact it will have.  It’s essentially a form of analog computing, and as such may be confined to niche specialties… but you never know: it could end up beating conventional computing at its own game and become much more general-purpose.  If this happens, the need for automated assistance in coding goes double.
  • Will we eventually use computers through direct brain interfaces?  Yes, but progress toward that will be frustratingly slow and gradual.
  • Will these new architectures lead to Artificial Intelligence?  Yes, though in a quite limited sense for the shorter term.  See this article for how I think that will go.
  • Does this mean that a computer will take your job?  It sure does, and it’s going to be a very difficult social challenge to adapt to.  See this further article.

March 23, 2016

demonyms

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 7:45 pm

I grew up sort of unconsciously assuming that there were fairly straightforward rules, fairly consistently applied, for how to turn a place name into the term for the people who live there. Once I actually looked, it turned out I had not appreciated how complex and inconsistent it is. I think it was during the 2000 election controversy, when people on TV kept talking about “Floridians”, that it sunk in for me that there’s no requirement for similar sounding place names to be consistent: it could just as easily be “Floridan” and “Nevadian” as the other way around.

I think I will now inventory the demonyms for people who live in the US states and territories, according to what rule they empirically seem to have used. And I’ll throw in Canadian provinces and Australian states too.

Global rule to apply before other rules: if the place name is a plural, convert it to singular before looking for a rule to apply below.
Cases following this rule: Mariana Islands, Virgin Islands, Northwest Territories.
Exceptions: none.

First rule: if the place name ends in “ia”, just add “n”.
Cases following this rule: California, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, South Australia, Western Australia, Tazmania, Victoria.
Exception: District of Columbia (people just say “Washingtonian”).

Second rule: if the place name ends in “a” but not in “ia”, just add “n”.
Cases: Alaska, Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Samoa, Alberta, Manitoba. (Also, America.)
Exceptions: see next rule.

Third rule: if the place name ends in “a” but not in “ia”, and you don’t want to follow the second rule, you can replace the “a” with “ian”.
Cases: Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, North and South Carolina. (And Canada.)
Remaining exceptions: none.

Fourth rule: if the place name ends in an “ee” sound, add “an”.
Cases: Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Northwest Territories.
Minor exceptions: Kentucky (the “y” is replaced with “i”), Tennessee (the last “e” is dropped), Northern Territories (just “Territorian” with no “Northern”).
Real exception: Australian Capitol Territory (similarly to D.C., it gets covered by “Canberran”).

Fifth rule: if it ends in a vowel sound not covered above, replace that vowel (and any silent letter following it) with “an”.
Cases: Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Ontario, Puerto Rico.
Exceptions: see next rule.

Sixth rule: if it ends in a vowel sound not covered in the first four rules, and you don’t want to follow the fifth rule, add “an” without removing anything.
Cases: Idaho, Ohio.
Remaining exception: Utah (it’s “Utahn”).

Seventh rule: if it ends with “as”, replace the “s” with “n”.
Cases: Kansas, Texas.
Exceptions: none.

Eighth rule: if it ends in a plosive or unvoiced consonant sound, but not with “as”, add “er”.
Cases: Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Mariana Islands, Virgin Islands, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Queensland. (Also, New Zealand.)
Minor exceptions: Connecticutt (the last “t” is dropped), Quebec (any of “Quebecker” or “Quebecer” or “Québécois”).
Real exception: Nunavut (“Nunavummiuq”).

Ninth rule: if it ends with a voiced nonplosive consonant sound, add “ian”, or just “an” if the last letter is a silent “e”.
Cases: Delaware, Oregon, Washington, Labrador, Saskatchewan.
Exceptions: see next rule. Also, Michigan can follow this rule, but it’s optional, as it has two competing official demonyms.

Tenth rule: if it ends with a voiced nonplosive consonant sound, and you don’t want to follow the ninth rule, add “ite”, after dropping any silent “e” at the end.
Cases: New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Wyoming (most people pronounce this nonplosively).
Remaining exceptions: see next rule.

Eleventh rule: if it ends with a voiced nonplosive consonant sound, and you don’t want to follow the ninth rule or the tenth rule, add “er”, or just “r” if the last letter is a silent “e”
Cases: Maine, Yukon.
Remaining exceptions: Michigan (the second official demonym adds “der”), Guam (“Chamorro”), New South Wales (“New South Welshman”).


I’ve restricted this list to English-speaking nations, but I excluded the British Isles themselves: the adjectival forms “English”, “Scottish”, “Irish”, and “Welsh” have their own rule, and for added inconvenience “Englishman”/”Scotsman”/”Irishman”/”Welshman” are gendered. “Briton” doesn’t fit with anything else. And I wouldn’t know where to begin with smaller regions such as Middlesex or Yorkshire or Cork. Given the existence of a case like “Manx”, I don’t even want to look.

And once we get into nonanglophonic areas of the world, anything can happen, even if sticking to Englishized names.

February 9, 2016

Batteries

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,the future!,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 11:45 am

Battery technology is going to be extremely important to our future.  If someone just came up with a rechargeable battery that improved the energy density of lithium-ion cells by a factor of, say, about six, the effects would be tremendous.  It wouldn’t just suddenly make the electric car really competitive with fossil-fuel powered cars, it could pretty near wipe out small internal combustion engines altogether.  Motor scooters, lawnmowers, maybe even chainsaws would go electric, as would heavy trucks and buses.  The reduction of air pollution would be dramatic.  Vacuum cleaners would start going cordless.  Laptop computers could start being as powerful as desktops.

We could build robots that could walk around for longer than fifteen minutes before needing to plug themselves in.  We could make strength-enhancing exoskeletons.  All kinds of high powered portable doodads.

Also, the economics of shifting from fossil fuels to renewables would become a lot more attractive than they already are.

February 8, 2016

“Jerusalem”

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry,life — Supersonic Man @ 1:00 pm

I’ve always been fascinated by the hymn (if such it is) “Jerusalem”, or “And Did Those Feet In Ancient Time”, by William Blake and Hubert Parry.  In the British Isles, particularly in England (where it’s almost become an unofficial national anthem), it’s inescapable, but here in the States we’re not often exposed to it.  In my younger days I would catch glimpses of it, you might say — a fragment of a verse stuck into an episode of Monty Python, for instance.  And it always seemed to have a magic about it — some quality that other such songs did not possess.  That effect starts with William Blake’s words, which are an odd mix of religion, patriotism, and activism which sound like an inspiring call to arms, but which still mystify us as to exactly what we’re being called to do:
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December 19, 2015

A historical timeline of the word “nerd”

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 4:22 pm

An expanded version of this post has been moved to my website.  This is just an early draft — the official version is quite a bit longer, and has pictures.

Note that the “previous post” button below this post doesn’t work.  This is due to an outright bug in WordPress — maybe more than one.  I found this post to be difficult to compose, due to both the website and their mobile app misbehaving.  That’s one reason new material rarely gets written in this blog, and in the cases where it does, why it doesn’t remain here. (more…)

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