Friday, July 29, 2011

Innovation and Discovery

The merchants of Sumeria invented fiduciary instruments on clay tablets 3000 years before the first coin was struck.  Coins, philosophy, and democracy were invented all at the same time in the Hellenic hinterland of Middle Eastern civilization.  It is often the case that new ideas and the new cultural activities that spring from them come from the frontiers, not the centers.  Those centers are vital, analogous to the heart and brain of a person.  But we explore with our fingertips ...
The Chronicle of Higher Education online for July 24 featured news about a robotic retrieval system for archive storage installed at the University of Chicago.  The University of Chicago is an important school.  Like Harvard, MIT, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, UNC Chapel Hill, Berkeley, Stanford, and a dozen others, it has instant name recognition.  However, the first automated retrieval system was installed at Cal State Northridge in 1991.  I benefited from ours at Eastern Michigan University. 
“The ARC was built as part of the new Bruce T. Halle Library in 1998 at a cost of $1.6 million...Eastern was the second university in the U.S. to install an industrial strength inventory control system adapted for library use ... ” (ARC Handout; courtesy of Keith Stanger, Information Services Librarian.)
Like Cal State Northridge (36,000 students), EMU (24,000 students) is a midrange school, not special, not famous for scientific research or football.   Yet, at least in my case, EMU did deliver world class education.  
I made the mistake of blowing through criminology with a lot of community college credits.  We have an “articulation agreement” between Washtenaw Community College and Eastern Michigan University. As a grad student, one summer, I met an undergrad whose feet never touched the ground running through two short summer terms toward a bachelor’s.  He missed a lot.  I would have, too, but as a graduate, I had Gregg Barak for crim theory and then for global crime.  An expert dialectician, he can argue any side of any topic; and we did that.  He loves facts and has no patience for unfounded opinions.  Long having enjoyed tenure, he has had the freedom to write textbooks which influence the next generation of criminologists.
I also profited from having Young S. Kim for the undergrad class in social science research.  Dr. Kim assigned two peer-reviewed articles each class and he encouraged us to read them carefully, even to check the arithmetic.  Kim and Barak are co-authors with Judge Donald Shelton on the only statistically rigorous studies of the so-called “CSI Effect.”
Majoring in criminology, I had a lot of sociology classes.  As an undergraduate and graduate, I benefited from Prof. Ronald Mark Westrum, a pioneer in complex organizations, along with Charles Perrow of Yale.  Ron Westrum was my prof for complex orgs, undergrad seminar, technology in society, and social problems.  For him, I wrote papers on the FBI as a complex organization, the history of coinage as a technology of commerce, and the benefits of healthy aging, among five or six others.  
I first enrolled as a freshman in 1967.  I never stopped going to school.  I enjoy learning, of course, but working in information systems since 1977, I had to ride the leading edge in computer programming with repeated classes in languages and applications, from BASIC to Java, and accounting to robotics.  When I came to EMU, I transferred in 180 credits from the College of Charleston, Case-Western Reserve, Cleveland State, Lansing Community College, New Mexico State, and Washtenaw.  Big and small, I’ve seen them all.  I feel sorry for kids who forego the opportunity to profit from small classes, and close interaction with the actual professor whose name appears in the catalog for that class, rather than being tutored by a grad student who lacks not just lifetime experience, but deep academic experience.  
When I enrolled at the College of Charleston, I was assigned Mark van Doren’s Liberal Education. Back then, C of C was a small four-year school with 450 enrolled.  One of our professors for European history was György Heltai who worked in the government of Hungary after WWII and was arrested, imprisoned and tortured in a Stalinist purge.  The professor of classics, Alexander Lenard, published his Latin translation of Winnie-the-Pooh.  My professor for chemistry, Carl Lykes, spent his summers at the Savannah River Nuclear Power Plant.  It was just a little old college, nothing special, but a place where world class intellectuals shared their working lives with any interested student.  
Over the years, I have had the “coasters” and “dodgers” excoriated in the recent report to the University of Texas by consultant Rick O’Donnell.  But I also benefited from “stars” and “pioneers.”  Like the invention of coinage, philosophy, and democracy, or the lightbulb, airplane, and computer, excellent education is drawn to the cultural centers, but it may not begin there.  
As Plato is famous for his Cave and Republic, F. A. Hayek’s stamp is “spontaneous order.”  Ludwig von Mises warned of “planned chaos.”  Certainly, I plan to be on a bus by 3:30 PM and be picked up by a taxicab at a transit center at 4:30 PM.  I have some control over those events only because the providers have known intentions of their own  which bring me at least one unplanned order of events.  It certainly works better than going to a government office, filling out some forms, and requesting two modes of transport for a personal motive.  When the Washington planners talk of high-speed rail, they do not think of Mike Marotta’s transient desires... or yours...  
Discovery, invention, and innovation cannot be planned.  Some schools have been successful with their robotic library retrieval systems.  But I know that the system does have failures - Perrow calls them “normal accidents” - and when the robot goes down, no one gets any books until a service technician shows up.  You can plan your actions; you cannot plan their consequences.
I usually blow off Chronicle articles.  I read this one.  And it worked out in an unplanned way.  As soon as I saw the headline, I planned to write this post.  The serendipity came toward the conclusion.   
The case for keeping print within reach is more complex than fuzzy rhetoric about the joy of serendipitous browsing. The research habits of Adrian Johns, a history professor at Chicago, give you a sense of why.Mr. Johns specializes in the history of the book; his recent work, Piracy, traces the intellectual-property wars from Gutenberg to Bill Gates. When a reporter visited his bright, fifth-floor office re­cently, the bespectacled British historian had just returned from a trip to Glasgow. He was interested in Robert Andrew Macfie, a 19th-century sugar magnate and member of Parliament who ran the first big campaign to abolish intellectual-property rights. A lot of Macfie material hasn't been digitized: pamphlets, election manifestos, correspondence. Much probably never will be, because there's little economic incentive.
Now I know about Robert Andrew Macfie.  

Objective Intellectual Property Law
Copy Rights and Wrongs
Open Secrets

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Should Home Mortgages Enjoy Tax Benefits?

(This essay began in slightly different form at The Pretense of Knowledge: A Shout-out to Von Hayek.)

Should the federal government reduce the deductions for interest paid on home mortgages?  If you put "budget battle mortgage deductions" in a search engine, you will see that this has been a proposal going back to February 2009.  (See the July 21, 2011 article at here.)

"Tax breaks" (so-called) are always problematic.  On the one hand, the money is yours, not theirs, so when they decide not to take it, they are not really giving you anything.  Tax breaks for the rich should be called not robbing the plunderable -- after all, taxing poor people does not pay as well, just by definition.

However, taxes are how we pay for services from fire, police, and schools, to parks and other infrastructure.  Granted that these could or should all be privatized, the truth is that they are not.  So, what one person does not pay in taxes, another must, either now directly or in the next generation via inflation.

Owning land and owning your home was traditionally the demarcation of privileged class.  That is why so many of the founders of the American republic argued for their right to pay taxes based on tangible property.  Being merchants, living in the city, they did not own land.   But paying taxes was the basis for the right to vote, as it should be.  Thus, we had poll taxes, until they were outlawed for federal elections by the 24th Amendment in 1964.  

This Glasgwegian capitalist was
homeless until about 30 years old.
(In the capitalist fantasy, What Might Have Been; The Story Of A Social War by Ernest Bramah (1907), the UK is finally reorganized like a joint stock company with one share equal to one vote, shares costing 500 pounds, and no limit on the number you can own. The book has been suggested as a lost precursor to Atlas Shrugged, though nothing in Ayn Rand's journals suggests that she read it.)

The poor of America, coming from Europe, easily understood the status accruing to land ownership.  At Pretense of Knowledge, is a chart from the Joint Committee on Taxation JCS-3-10 showing the tax deductions enjoyed by households with incomes of $100,000 per year and less.  Before the latest meltdown, almost any steady income and a modest down payment would qualify you for a loan. 

Having your own home was easier when the land was open and 90% of us were farmers.  Owning a home in the city was always harder and city dwellers - rich or poor - were most often renters.  If you think of the old Make Room for Daddy (Danny Thomas) or I Love Lucy shows, as New Yorkers, they lived in apartments - Lucy's was more modest than Danny's, which had a walk-up to the bedrooms left and right.  

Everything has a price.  The federal government granted tax breaks based on the interest paid on mortgage loans.  The early years are all interest, of course.  So, this was an incentive for young families.  The system worked fine as long as employers in particular and the local economies in general were doing well.  However, with a downturn, the home owner is not free to move to the next place.  Now, we see not just the downside, but the nadir.  

If, instead of mimicking manorial barons and yeomen, Americans had understood deeply the bourgeois ethic, our cities would look much different, and our mobility would ensure both our freedom and our prosperity.

Moreover, landlords really do not pay property taxes.  (Interesting word, "land lord."  Lord is a contraction for "loaf warden" a deeper echo from the stone pit of feudalism.)  Farmers do pay taxes, of course.  Homeowners do, too.  But the rentee pays the landlord's taxes, though as with any business, many commercial rentors face tax bills without rentees to cover them.  In Ann Arbor, the final demise of Borders follows abandonment by Pfizer in 2007, even if the automotive industry were not moribund.  So, times can be hard for everyone.

But commercial rentors ("landlords") do not enjoy tax breaks on the interest of those rental properties.  The laws favor the single family in a single home.  Again, as long as we pay for public services with taxes, it is impossible to not tax one person without taxing another more.  That still leaves unanswered the more basic question:  How is the interest paid on a mortgage different from any other interest, whether paid for a credit card, or paid by a corporation to its bond holders?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

(These comments are edited from an original post to the Rebirth of Reason discussion board.)

This week and next, I am in Austin, Texas, to find work.  I have not had W-2 income in Ann Arbor for over a year, and I was never employed full time since we moved there in 2005.  We completed our degrees, which was our goal.    Watching NUMB3RS, we saw ads for Rick Snyder's campaign for governor - "The toughest nerd in politics."  But I cannot wait for a Republican to discover free enterrprise.

 A few years ago, after we moved back to Michigan, I heard NPR's Terrie Gross of "Fresh Air" interviewing Mrs. Lynn Cheney, the wife of the former Vice President and Terrie Gross simply was so focussed on lesbian politics that she failed to perceive Lynn Cheney's actual purpose for the interview: her funding of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.  You see, out West, they had racism and prejudice and all that nonsense, but if you kept your word and helped your neighbors without making them beholding to you, then you stood as tall as any man.  Out West, people are equal despite the law.  Back East, you cannot be equal without the law.
"... where the only law is Right."

The first woman to be governor was Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming (appointed). The first woman in Congress was from New Mexico, when they were a Territory.  The first woman elected governor was Miriam A. Ferguson of Texas.  

We have been planning this move for about three years, but it never gelled.  In 2008, we checked out Portland, Oregon, Cincinnati, and Madison, Wisconsin.  No place seemed better or better off, and in Portland and Madison, people said that we would like there because "it's just like Ann Arbor."  

I considered New Hampshire. It has good numbers and the Free State Project.  Nice place. But I'm a cowboy, not a yankee.   We lived in Albuquerque and loved it.  New Mexico is poorer than Arizona, but we know that left wing socialism is economically worse than fascism. You have to pick your demons. Myself, at some level, I can take the poverty in preference to the prison, but Michigan has sunk below my pain threshhold. 

Until this year, I never considered Texas.  From my studies in criminology, I know Houston to be a whole peck of troubles, beginning with the police.  Dallas is Big. It has skyscrapers and suburbs. It is "like" any other American city its size. I worked a project for AEP's purchase of a power company in Dallas. I flew down on Mondays and home on Fridays for about two months. Nothing at all stood out for me, which is why I never considered moving there, though I did think of Fort Worth, which still has that substrate of having been a cow town.  This year, Austin came up on repeated searches of demographic and economic data.  Perhaps the deciding factor was the bumperstickers we saw in Ann Arbor: "Keep Austin weird."  

Arriving on Tuesday, the 19th, I have been riding city buses to see the town.  I met a realtor with rentals to see what we could get for how much.  I shopped at the Wheatsville Food Co-op and saw several of its competitors in and around Hyde Park, the area with with bookstores, Vietnamese carryout ("Bite Mi"), and some alternate media, including the Austin Chronicle, and at least one, maybe two, gaming cafes.   (I found the area from a real estate search engine asking if we needed a kiln or proximity to yoga classes.)  I had a walk-in interview with a security firm I know. It went well enough: no management jobs now, but lots of opportunity for posts and patrols, which no longer exist in Ann Arbor.  On Thursday, I met with an IT recruiter.  On Friday, the 22nd, I had lunch with the Austin Tech Republicans, a group I met via LinkedIn. Our guest speaker was Austin BayHis topic was "Cyber War."  Colonel Bay earned a Ph.D. in English at Columbia.  (More on that later.)

After five days in Austin, it is clear that I could work 80 hours a week at a range of part-time jobs paying $7.50 an hour.  That is no longer possible in Michigan.

The final closing of Borders only underscores the intellectual bankruptcy of the groups behind Gov. Rick Perry as it does the supporters of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm.  Chasing smokestacks, they want to "bring jobs" to Michigan.  Unable to let go of the 20th century, they are unprepared for the 21st.  Austin has beggars at the freeway exits; and I see people sleeping under bridges; but here also is enterprise.  You cannot tell a bodega from a car dealership because everything is for sale.  With the temperatures near 100-F, I saw a woman standing a median, selling bottles of cold water.  When I introduce myself, it seems perfectly normal that I have three different business cards.

Of course, it is not utopia.  Yesterday, I heard a discouraging word - several of them - from a drunken guy whose wife and daughter were leaving him.  I took out my cellphone for 911, but he turned away from them and walked off.  Also discouraging is the lack of stetsons.  Even downtown, guys wear suits, but not hats.  Like a topology problem, Austin is surrounded by Texas, but not really in Texas.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Coming Power Outage

With temperatures soaring in the South and Northeast and more of the same coming to the Midwest, rolling brownouts and blackouts are to be expected.

(These comments are edited from an original post to Michael Stuart Kelly’s “Objectivist Living” discussion board.  MSK posted a note that he was unable to manage the board temporarily, as his neighborhood near Chicago suffered a power outage.)

‘Baal Chatzaf' wrote: “I have been pushing for years to build a fleet of breeder reactors ...” This is the technocratic fallacy, the idea that any problem, no matter how big or small, localized or pervasive, exceptional or systemic, needs only an engineering fix. It is generally true – if not axiomatic – that any perceived “problem” if it is, indeed, something that can and should be remedied, is only a market inefficiency wanting entrepreneurship. 

Ba'al Chatzaf attemped to give his plan an escape route, but only begged the question: “... power outages would be virtually eliminated except in cases of storms and other disasters.”  Yet, that is the problem, is it not?  It is not that no one knows how to produce enough electricity, but rather that the system is not resilient (redundant) against failures.  What is a “storm” or a “disaster”?  These are just failure modes that can be predicted.  In the Midwest, we have tornado season; in Florida, they have hurricanes.  Every winter the temperature drops below freezing; the “Blue Northern” brings ice storms.  Every summer, temperatures soar; everyone wants to be cool at the same time.  These are predictable events.  In fact, any year when they did not occur would be notable.

Power lines need not come down.  In urban areas especially, they are underground, not overhead.  Substations can isolate transient failures and power can be rerouted.  Electricity can come from a variety of sources by an array of modes.  And electricity is not the only energy source.  

One difference between the failures of summer and winter is that in the winter, we heat with natural gas and even wood.  I don’t know what a coal-burning air conditioner would look like, but there are many ways to cool a home or a high rise office building.

How often have you parked, fuel tank empty, in front of the closest gas station, waiting unpredictable hours for it to open?  How many times did you call off Thanksgiving Dinner because you were short half a pint of heavy cream?  One time, I was in New York City when the sole of my shoe split and I actually had to shuffle two city blocks to find a shoe store.  The essential factor in those cases was the lack of a regulatory agency approving everyone’s plans for production and distribution.

But it was not always so.  Detroit Edison was founded in 1903.  “There was no higher goal for a young American male to pursue during this period than to be a ‘self-made man’—to make a great deal of money through dint of his own hard work and ‘pluck.’” (“Entrepreneurship in the United States, 1865–1920,” by Naomi R. Lamoreaux in The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times. Edited by David S. Landes, Joel Mokyr, & William J. Baumol. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2010.)

Thomas Edison lost his famous wars against Tesla and Westinghouse.  But that is exactly the point: he could lose; and did.  Now, the inheritor, DTE Energy, cannot lose because they have no competition.  Thus, progress has stopped; and we are sliding back, literally, into a darker age.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Modes of Survival

Jane Jacobs was a brilliant, self-educated advocate for community.  Although she considered herself a socialist, she was a deep thinker.  She is best known for her urbanist books: The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Economy of Cities, Cities and the Wealth of Nations.  She also created a cogent and provocative analysis of the ways that we organize: Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics.  She perceived politics and commerce as adhering to two mutually exclusive codes of ethics. 

Systems of Survival was in the form of the Dialogues of Plato: guests at dinner parties discussed the topic at hand.  The leader of the chat presented current newspaper clippings to illustrate her points.  As they argued the pros and cons, the symposiasts created two tallies: the Guardian Syndrome and the Commercial Syndrome.  As the treatise developed these were presented as hierarchies. 

The Guardian Moral Syndrome
A.                 Be loyal
B.                 Be obedient and disciplined
C.                 Treasure honor
D.                 Adhere to tradition
E.                 Respect hierarchy
F.                 Show fortitude
G.                 Exert prowess
H.                 Be exclusive
I.                   Take vengeance
J.                  Make rich use of leisure
K.                 Be ostentatious
L.                 Dispense largess
M.               Deceive for the sake of the task
N.                Shun trading
O.                Be fatalistic

Loyalty is the primary virtue of the guardian.  A thousand years ago, when I was a Cub Scout, the pledge was to “obey the law of the pack” and to “follow Aquila.”  The United States Armed Forces offer a grown-up version: “I, [Your Name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” 

The Merchant or Trader follows a different ethos.  Nominally, the virtues often seem analogous, but at root, the Commercial ethic involves different values.  For the trader, meeting strangers is the essence of their calling.  The Phoenicians circumnavigated Africa by dumb barter. They dropped off goods.  The natives took the stuff, and left other items in exchange.  If what was offered was not enough, the traders waited, visible but distant, until more was brought.

The Commercial Moral Syndrome
  1. Collaborate easily with strangers and aliens
  2. Be honest
  3. Shun force
  4. Come to voluntary agreements
  5. Respect contracts
  6. Use initiative and enterprise
  7. Be open to inventiveness and novelty
  8. Be efficient
  9. Invest for productive purposes
  10. Be industrious
  11. Be thrifty
  12. Promote comfort and convenience
  13. Dissent for the sake of the task
  14. Compete
  15. Be optimistic

Honesty for the Merchant is analogous to Honor for the Warrior… but not quite the same thing.  The Guardian will deceive for the sake of the task.  (Cops lie to suspects in interrogations as a matter of routine.)  On the other hand, the Merchant will dissent to achieve the task at hand.  In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, all the capitalists run away to avoid coercion.  Ragnar Danneskjold becomes a pirate, saying, in effect, “Sorry, guys, but I have to do this for the higher good.”  If that is too mythic, consider the formation of dozens to hundreds of Silicon Valley firms by “traitors” who left one firm to create another.  The “task” was always to create the better system: if your employer would not, then form your own firm to serve the needs of the customers. 

Jacobs pointed out that we get corruption and moral failures when the two modes are confused and intermingled.  Cops must not sell favors.  Businesses must not start wars

The Commercial versus The Guardian
  • Shun force versus Shun trading 
  • Come to voluntary agreements versus Exert prowess
  • Be honest versus Be obedient and disciplined
  •  Collaborate easily with strangers and aliens versus Be exclusive
  •  Compete versus Respect hierarchy
  •  Respect contracts versus Be loyal
  •  Use initiative and enterprise versus Take vengeance
  •  Be open to inventiveness and novelty versus Adhere to tradition
  •  Be efficient versus Make rich use of leisure
  •  Promote comfort and convenience versus Treasure honor
  •  Dissent for the sake of the task versus Deceive for the sake of the task
  •  Invest for productive purposes versus Dispense largess
  •  Be industrious versus Show fortitude
  •  Be thrifty versus Be ostentatious 

  • Be optimistic versus Be fatalistic

Some of these express similar virtues: “Be honest” and “Be obedient and disciplined”’ and “Respect contracts” and “Be loyal.”  But others are clearly opposites or contraries: “Use initiative and enterprise” versus “Take vengeance” and “Be efficient” versus “Make rich use of leisure.”

The harsh truth is that the Guardian syndrome is the animal mode; and the Trader syndrome is the human mode.  The Cub Scouts (and the Marines) are modeled on a wolf pack.  Since at least the last Ice Age – if not the one before that – we humans invented a different way to get along.  Trade and commerce evolved from ritual gift exchange.  Now we harness lightening and enjoy flying carpets.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Nerd Nation: Natalie Portman, Danica McKellar, and Felicia Day

In their ground-breaking papers on the so-called “CSI Effect” Kim, Shelton, and Barak identified a general social “tech effect.” About 28% of Americans have bachelor’s degrees.  The master’s is the new bachelor’s.  Complain as we might about public education – including nominally private schools that lockstep along – the fact is that college and university education are the baseline for acculturation.  So, it is not surprising that droves of divas have degrees.  Competition being what it is, brainiacs nestle among today’s working actresses.

Padmè Amidala has an
Erdös number of 7
Natalie Portman (Princess Padmè Amidala in Star Wars; but a slew of credits, including producer and director) was co-author on two academic journal articles before she left high school.  Her real name is Hershlag. 
  • “A Simple Method To Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar,” Ian Hurley, Natalie Hershlag, and Jonathan Woodward, The Journal of Chemistry Education., 1998, 75 (10), p 1270.
  • “Frontal Lobe Activation during Object Permanence: Data from Near-Infrared Spectroscopy,”  Gaudette T; Kagan J; Baird A.A; Walz K.A; Boas D.A; Hershlag N., NeuroImage Vol: 16 Issue: 4
Abstract - The ability to create and hold a mental schema of an object is one of the milestones in cognitive development. Developmental scientists have named the behavioral manifestation of this competence object permanence. Convergent evidence indicates that frontal lobe maturation plays a critical role in the display of object permanence, but methodological and ethical constrains have made it difficult to collect neurophysiological evidence from awake, behaving infants. Near-infrared spectroscopy provides a noninvasive assessment of changes in oxy- and deoxyhemoglobin and total hemoglobin concentration within a prescribed region. The evidence described in this report reveals that the emergence of object permanence is related to an increase in hemoglobin concentration in frontal cortex.

The OrgTheory blog here had a “nerd-off” between Felicia Day and Danica McKellar.  I am easily the last person in the world to have not watched Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, but I found Day because of The Guild.  I discovered the gamers while surfing for Dragons and Dungeons.  (The True Dungeons live action role-playing game - LARP – is played at Gen Con Indy and they use money-like tokens to keep track of potions, weapons, etc.  I wrote them up for the Numismatist.)   

Felicia Day did not take to being passed over for roles after being Vi in "Buffy" so she built her fan base from online social interaction.  Her production of The Guild was an award winner. (Here is her Codex award montage.)   The sociologists at OrgTheory were hot on Day.  Her homepage (here
Dragon Age
 recommends getting your facts about her career from Wikipedia and IMDB.  "Felicia Day had a dual major at UT Austin, mathematics and music, graduating at the top of her class with a concentration in violin performance." (She alludes to being a violinist in The Guild.)  Day immerses herself in the fantasy culture and appears as a guest of honor at cons.  Her coming appearances include:
  • San Diego Comicon: July 21th-24th
  • Chicago Comicon: Aug 12-14th
  • DragonCon Atlanta: Sept 2-5th
  • NYC Comicon: Oct. 13th-16th
  • Blizzcon Anaheim: Oct. 21rst-22nd
  • Long Beach Comicon: Oct. 29th-30th

Danica With Hair
We knew Danica McKellar from The West Wing where she played Elsie Snuffin,the half-sister of NATO brat and speechwriter-with-game Will Bailey.  When I read the “nerd-off” on OrgTheory, I traced her over the web and was deeply impressed.  McKellar majored in mathematics at UCLA.  She has an Erdös number of 4 for being a co-author on “Ashkin–Teller models on Z^2” by L Chayes ,  D Mckellar ,  B Winn, Journal of Physics A: Mathematical and General Volume 31 Number 45 (1998).  You can read the paper on her website here. 
For a region of the nearest-neighbour ferromagnetic Ashkin–Teller spin systems on Z^2, we characterize the existence of multiple Gibbs states via percolation. In particular, there are multiple Gibbs states if and only if there exists percolation of any of the spin types (i.e. the magnetized states are characterized by percolation of the dominant species). This result was previously known only for the Potts models on Z^2.
Danica McKellar also wrote three books, generally targeted to girls.  Note the different locations here at the Ann Arbor District Library.
  • Math Doesn't Suck, New York : Hudson Street Press, c2007. (Youth Y510 McK)
  • Kiss My Math, New York : Hudson Street Press, c2008. (Teen 510 McK)
  • Hot X: Algebra Exposed, New York : Hudson Street Press, c2010. (512 McK)
Also on Necessary Facts: