Sunday, March 30, 2014

George Boole's Laws of Thought

Everyone who knows computing knows the Boolean operators AND, NAND, OR, XOR, and NOT.  They allow us to construct conditional statements, and programmatic branching.  Electrical engineers learn the rules of Boolean Algebra with two values OFF and ON; and with three operators,  PARALLEL, SERIES, and a simple switch for NOT.   0 and 1 are OFF and ON. The three operators  of Boolean algebra are + X and ~ corresponding to OR, AND, and NOT. They are the same as PARALLEL, SERIES, and SWITCH.  George Boole had a different view entirely.  His 1853 book, An Investigation of the Laws of Thought on Which are Founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities, is a treatise on epistemology.  

We learn that correct thinking by logic is a reduction by syllogism.  All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.  If A =B and B = C, then A = C. The middle or the mean term is factored out. Boole granted that syllogism is one kind of valid method. However, rather than reducing statements, Boole argued by expansion for a deeper and extended understanding of seemingly simple truths.  His algebra is deceptively similar to – but different from – the forms we learned in high school; and so the learner here must pay close attention to these laws of thought. 

If x is “red” then xx means “red red” which is nonetheless still “red.”  If the essential attribute under consideration is “red” then red red things with their redness removed do not exist: xx – x = 0. Taking from Leibniz, Boole lets 0 be non-existence and 1 be the universe.   If x is our subject, then (1-x) is everything else in the universe except x. Boole rewrites xx-x as x(1-x) = 0 to give Aristotle’s Law of Contradiction: A thing cannot both have and not have the same attribute in the same way at the same time.  Boole calls this “duality.”  Also following Leibniz, Ayn Rand delivered that as  “A or non-A.”  

In 400 pages, Boole carefully applies the essential truths he discovered. He extracts more meaning – and more exacting meanings – from common statements.  However, his insistence on closely laying every step of this long journey, couched, as it was, and, indeed, of necessity, both historical and personal, must have been, in Victorian prose, renders this important work so Germanic as to be nearly unreadable.  It is well worth the effort.

“Wealth consists of things transferable, limited in supply, and either productive of pleasure or preventive of pain.” 
w = wealth
s = limited in supply
t = transferable
p = productive of pleasure
r = preventive of pain

Boole specially defines 0/0 to mean the undefined.  He includes this to stand for the indefinite class: those things not included in the present statement but which exist nonetheless.

Given that this book is 400 pages and Ayn Rand’s Introduction to the Objectivist Epistemology is 164, Boole boldly goes beyond the orbit of concept formation.  He nonetheless is in the same material space: he identifies reality; and ties concepts to objects. Boole explores the relationships between the processes of thought and perception and the expression of them through language. 

Boole even applies his method to statements about God.  His goal is not to address God’s existence but to expand and analyze statements about God asserted by Baruch (“Benedict”) Spinoza and Samuel Clarke.  (“… considered the major figure in British philosophy between John Locke and George Berkeley.” – Wikipedia here.)  From there, he examines Aristotle’s logic and Fermat’s probabilities.   The last third of the book is about the logic of probability theory.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Central Texas Bee Rescue

Crayons made from
natural bees' wax
Forty years ago, we were warned about African bees and Brazilian bees - and about global cooling.  Now, bees are endangered.  Human culpability seems ruled out, but the fact remains that even in the natural order of things, the bees we need are in trouble. And we can help them to our own benefit.

We can find and relocate bees to nurture them for the betterment of our food crops.  Apiaries can be urban. Even Manhattan NYC has them. And the honey sells well.  We bought some from the Austin Honey Bee Protection Agency (website here) when we met a representative of the Central Texas Bee Rescue at our local food co-operative.

You can find many ways to help, to get involved, or stay uninvolved while pitching in.
"Central Texas Bee Rescue and Preserve is dedicated to saving and protecting the future of our nation's bee population. We want to become the extermination alternative. We feed, house, and continue to nurture the bees at our sanctuary. We have harvesting projects for soap, candle, and lip balm production as well as honey and bee pollen. Through our umbrella organization, the American Honey Bee Protection Agency, we work to educate the community, fight the use of pesticides in our community, and maintain the ecological health of the central Texas region." --

This is certainly not only local to Austin, Texas.  If you do nothing else, buy yourself some local honey and enjoy it.

Also on Necessary Facts
Pi in the Sky Over Austin
Awesome Austin Foods
Around Austin

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Market for Voting

What does a capitalist renaissance look like? Most self-identified "conservatives" want some kind of a return to the original Constitution. That means no income tax, and usually no direct election of senators. Whether it includes voting rights for adults under 21, women, and former slaves (or even legal slavery) is not clear. The broad course of history suggests that no restoration ever brings back the past.  

Owned by Nanking University.
Preferred stock usually comes without voting rights.
The Italian Renaissance did not return crucifixion as a mode of execution; neither did it bring back slavery - or the Latin language. In fact, a key element to the Quattrocento was the validation of vernaculars in the former Roman lands and Germania.  Even so, Latin remained a common language. Carl Friedrich Gauss published Theoria residuorum biquadraticorum, Commentatio secunda in 1832. (It was then translated into German.) However, in 1843, he offered Untersuchungen über Gegenstände der Höheren Geodäsie - Erste Abhandlung.  So, the world of 2076 or 2189 might have constitutional republics, complete with national flags, and local languages.

Owned by a woman
in her own right
60 years
she could have voted
in a political election.
I see something else on the horizon.

(This post was edited from comments made on the "Galt's Gulch" discussion board of the Atlas Shrugged movie producers.)

The 1909 novel The Secret of the League: The Story of a Social War by Ernest Bramah has been suggested as a forerunner of Atlas Shrugged.  In the final resolution, voting in national elections is given the form of voting in a joint-stock company: one share, one vote.  Shares in that story cost ₤500 (like $250,000 now, perhaps).  In a capitalist future, buying a voting share would be proof of citizenship; and it would nullify the status of "illegal alien." 

The same theory applies here: you buy in, you buy citizenship. And it applies to children. When Herbert Spencer was really a liberal in the 1830s, he advocated for voting rights for children: they work; they pay taxes; they should vote. QED. 

Moreover, shares (citizenship) could be bought and sold repeatedly. The price of a vote would rise close to elections and fall in the off season. People could change "citizenship" i.e., voting rights often, repeatedly, and for a profit (buy low, sell high). In point of fact voting for President of the USA is not cost-effective but voting in the Mayoral Primary is highly important. So, the shrewd citizen should sell their vote before the one and buy it back before the other. 

But it would not be a permanent consequence. Why is citizenship different from any other service or commodity? 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Around Austin

The Wheatsville Co-op recently opened a second location closer to us on the south side of Austin, but the main store is still convenient sometimes.  

While they were making the sandwiches, I met Staci, a product rep from Hops & Grain, a local brewery.  Texas has a lot of Germans. In fact, some argue for Texas German being recognized as a dialect. (See Wikipedia, here.)  You never actually hear it on the streets; but we do have towns named New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, and Weimar, and some others. So, they brew a lot of beer, or try to.  Coming from the Great Lakes, I am just not impressed.  Eliot Ness came from Cleveland and there’s a reason why the Prohibition wars were fought in Chicago, not Dallas.  Schlitz claimed to make Milwaukee, not Houston, famous.  Texas beer lacks a dimension; and I do not know what that is; but I know that it is missing. This is a southern state. Until the revolutions of the 1960s, you could not buy beer on Sunday.  Now, you can, but not before noon.  Beers could not advertise their alcohol content. Recently, that changed, but many still keep the old labels.  For all of that, Hops & Grain of Austin has some good brews.  Staci was a good marketer.  I bought a six-pack of Alt-eration. (See also my nod to Pedernales Brewing under "Awesome Austin Foods" linked below.)

Outside at a table, eating my sandwich, and reading a book, I saw this girl come up and ask the other really old guy what those birds are.  “Grackles,” he replied. He told her way more about them than anyone needs to know. If you ask me, they are worse than pigeons, just noisy rats in feathers.  But she was interested in the natural history of grackles.  It was a moment at the co-op.

The next day, on my way to run errands, I crossed a pair of street-level railroad tracks. There, I saw a camera on a tripod. I had seen it before, but this time, I stopped.  The train cleared the crossing, and I pulled ahead and pulled over.  Right after I got out of the car, the gates came down again.  I introduced myself and Stuart told me that this train had been waiting for 45 minutes.  
He has a YouTube channel, “myrailvideos”. (See here.)  I was wearing a Taggart Transcontinental t-shirt.  He probably did not get the reference, but a train is a train; and we chatted while he recorded the rolling stock.  About 15 minutes later, I caught up with it on the Mopac.  The signs on the highway all say “Loop 1”, but everyone local calls it the Mopac.  Even so, many do not know of the Missouri-Pacific Railroad, which merged with the Union Pacific in 1980.  (Government regulations and lawsuits delayed the completion of the merger until 1997.)   Wikipedia here but also Missouri Pacific Historical Society here


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Incident Report

On Thursday, March 20, 2014, at 0725 hours, I was crossing the parking lot on the west side of the Texas Department of Public Safety complex at 5508 North Lamar Boulevard in Austin, walking from the CapMetro Rapid bus stop to the front door of the A Building, when my right foot struck a parking curb stone and I fell forward striking my left knee, my right knee, my left hand, left shoulder, and left side of my face on the pavement, in that order. 

The parking lot is not lit; and like all of the other areas, is designed for vehicular, not pedestrian, traffic.

I reported the incident to the security guard at the front desk who told me to contact my supervisor.  After cleaning up the superficial but conspicuous wounds, I reported for work, and told my supervisor what happened.  At 11:30 AM, I was taken to a contract clinic for a drug screen and other medical inspections.  

I have not had a tetanus shot in over ten years.  However, the clinic was out of tetanus serum, so I rode with their driver to another site. 

The technician there gave me a sheaf of papers to sign. One of the pages said that DTP (diphthera-tetanus-pertussis) serum is contra-indicated for children over seven, for juveniles, and for adults.  I asked her about that and she replied that I was not getting DTP.  I asked to see the vial. She said that she discarded it into a secure bin.  I asked for the lot number and she gave me that. 

I was released at 3:30 PM and reported back at work.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

How to Start Your Own Country

Long before admirers of Ayn Rand dreamed of creating their own “Galt’s Gulch” secret retreat, adventurers and utopians started or tried to start their own independent communities.  California’s Utopian Colonies by Robert V. Hine described many. However, a subtle difference separates those who dream of their own nation. How to Start Your Own Country by Erwin S. Strauss is a taxonomic review of several modern ventures. 

Realize, though, that an entire subset of numismatics is given over to micro-nations just because so many of these ventures are known from the 19th century forward.  Many issued their own stamps, coins, and notes.  Indeed, the “Pine Tree Shillings” of Massachusetts, all dated 1652 because no king was on the throne, are evidence of that colony’s intention to make itself an independent nation, invading even New Hampshire (temporarily) and taking Maine from France (until relinquished to the USA in 1820).   Here in Texas, the local banner flies no higher than the flag of the USA, but can be much larger.  So, if you want to start your own country, you are not alone.

How to Start Your Own Country is a classic.  Published first by Loompanics in 1979, a second expanded edition was produced in 1984, copyrighted to the author and published under the banner of “Breakout Productions” though still geo-linked to Loompanics.  Strauss is best known to science fiction fans.  His father was a diplomat who got the family out of Nazi Germany before the ax fell.  Strauss grew up in Washington DC and claims a feel for the way diplomacy works.  He attempted his own “Jolly Roger” scheme to launch a gambling ship on the high seas, free of government interference, but abandoned it as ultimately unworkable. 

Obverse of "Republic of Minerva" coin.
Gold and silver.
The Republic of Minerva was defeated
by a boatload of natives with at least
one rifle.
To fund that venture, Strauss signed on as an engineer on an Alaska Pipeline in 1972.  Clearing the decks for that action, he sold his vitamin business to Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw.  His degree in electrical engineering from MIT was jeopardized when he was suspended for a year for contracting the publication of standard textbooks in Hong Kong so that he could undersell the campus bookstore, in part because he was not paying copyright royalties to the professors.  No one could be friendlier to libertarians and Objectivists – and no one could be harsher.  In one parody, he was cast as “Mr. Strauss” the “Mr. Spock” of a starship Free Enterprise: he is ruled by logic, and not influenced by emotion.

 Of all the ventures, Sealand was and is the most successful because they had a workable business plan.  As a “pirate radio” station they had a service to sell and an audience to sell to advertisers.  Contrary to that, many libertarians thought that just wanting to be free and gathering freedom-loving individualists would be enough to ensure success.  It was not, empirically never has been, and logically cannot be.  Most of this book consists of an anthology of tragicomic operettas of brave libertarians tripping over their shoe laces.

Except for Sealand.
That worked.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Pi in the Sky over Austin

Coming home at 6:30 PM, I looked up and saw a strange cloud formation... it resolved...  3 141592...
Five sky-writing aircraft from AirSign, a Florida aerial advertising company, will write out π, the Greek letter pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. The calculation produces an unending series of digits, beginning with 3.141592. In a press release, the company said that its pilots will produce “several hundred characters” of the numerical sequence.  Tomorrow, the company explained, is March 14, or 3.14,  national "Pi Day."  Building on that, the company says the planes will begin their 90-minute writing process at 6:28 p.m. because “6:28 is pi times two, a number some believe is the truer reflection of the power of the circle.  (The Austin-American Statesman here.)
They circled twice continuing the expansion.

If you want a quick approximation, 355\113 = 3.141592... which is better than 22/7 = 3.1428...  and it has an order and symmetry that makes it easy to remember: 3 55 over 11 3: all the numbers are odd, 1-3-5: 355113 starts and ends with 3.  It's a piece of cake, well, okay, a piece of pie...

Happy Pi Day 2013
Patterns in Pi

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Morality and Ethics

Ayn Rand called her theory of egoism "Objectivist ethics." In her essays, she wrote mostly about morality and very little about ethics. She took the English language as she found it. Despite the fact that she knew perhaps four languages (Russian, French, German, and English), Rand did not delve into linguistic analysis. In other languages, "ethics" and "morality" do not exist as separate words. In English, we commonly use the words interchangeably, just as we do for "weight" and "mass" or "speed" and "velocity." When we have technical discussions, the distinctions become important. 

On the "Galt's Gulch" discussion site of the Atlas Shrugged movie producers, the question was posed, "Is Morality Absolute?" (Read all 100+ posts here.)  My response was that morality is absolute, but moral choices are not, or they would not be choices. Rand was very clear on why a rational, volitional being needs morality. 
The work you choose depends on who you are.

Who you are also determines your work ethic.

Alone on his island, Robinson Crusoe could choose to fish, or plant, or hunt. But he had to choose. The fact of choice is a moral absolute. The content of the choice is not: it is contextual. In society, pursuing a specific career is a moral choice. Many options are available. The fact that you must choose something - even choosing to be a moocher - is a moral absolute. What you choose is not absolute, but contextual; and context determines what is objectively moral, regardless of the ethical implications. 

Ethics is social conduct. I look to the fact that ethology studies the behavior of animals without any presumption of "morality."   In academic philosophy, the confusion between ethics and morality prevented any rational discoveries. Generally, when considering egoism, academic philosophers ask if egoists can be moral. They assume altruism (as an absolute) and measure all conduct (ethics) against how nice you are to other people.  In Rand's doctrine, social conduct for an egoist begins with an assumption of benevolence towards others - and expectation of the same in return. Every day we all say "Thank you" to customers and suppliers. 

In that discussion in the Gulch, frequent poster khalling challenged me to explain the difference between objective and absolute. It was an important question, a point that often confuses admirers of Rand's novels and non-fiction, especially Atlas Shrugged. In that story, the Washington gangs and their coteries of looters and moochers deny the absolute: for them everything is relative, except their demands.  But Ayn Rand called her philosophy Objectivism, not Absolutism.  The objective is that which is empirically observable and rationally explicable.  The rational-empirical method depends on certain absolutes, and does discover absolute truths, but, largely, it is contextual, especially regarding human affairs. The standard of life is absolute; your choices for your happiness depend on your context. So does ethical conduct in society.

Completing a masters in social science, I took a graduate class in "Ethics in Physics." I found that technical societies for geologists, geographers, engineers of all kinds, have different statements of professional ethics. They all boil down to "be nice; do no harm." But they are all different in detail, and properly so. The work of a geographer is materially different than that of a geologist. 

I also attended a seminar in the teaching of ethics to graduate students in counseling. As I recall, their statement of ethics runs 25 pages. Moreover, the point of the seminar was that to practice as a counselor - to practice ethically - you need to do more than attempt to apply the ethics document. Life is more complicated than that: the document is a guide. Ethical choices are highly contextual. 

I was working in transportation when a colleague suggested that I take a class in computer programming "so the people in data processing can't hand you a bunch of baloney." I took a class and liked it. I went to work as a programmer. On a project, no one wanted to write the user manual. Having published a few articles and two small books, I did the documentation. I became a technical writer. When the current recession started, I took a part-time job as a security guard. As the economy continued to slide, I needed a four-year degree to even apply for work as a technical writer, so I earned one in criminology. Those were all moral choices, but ethics had nothing to do with it. 

khalling wrote: "Ethics and Morality are blood brothers just like geometry and algebra can be expressed in similar ways." In fact, of course, blood brothers are genetically unrelated. Becoming blood brothers is more like a marriage ceremony. If you look at any modern textbook in geometry for mathematics majors, you will find no drawings. It is all algebra. I understand the point: proper ethical conduct in society depends on a correct morality of self-interest. As for the analogy to geometry and algebra, having re-read Introduction to the Objectivist Epistemology for a discussion on "Galt's Gulch", I now just started George Boole's Law of Thought - and I had a similar observation: reading Boole after Rand was like finding the algebra in geometry.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Public Good be Damned

On the "Galt's Gulch" website of the Atlas Shrugged movie producers, one of the regular writers asked about "Page 1069: What's Next?" (See here.) Everyone there knows that the paperback edition of the novel runs 1068 pages.  In other words, what indication (if any) suggests that the political agenda - or the wider philosophical program - of the strikers would be long-lasting?

The message of Atlas Shrugged is that the evils of taxation and regulation are the result of producers accepting an unearned guilt. If any previous generation had spoken the words of Rearden at his trial, d'Anconia at the reception, or Galt on the radio, the game of the looters and moochers would have been over. Only William Henry Vanderbilt is on record - and even so he was also proud of his philanthropy.
"In 1883, reporter John Dickinson Sherman questioned him about why he ran the limited express train: "Do your limited express trains pay or do you run them for the accommodation of the public?" Vanderbilt responded with: "Accommodation of the public? The public be damned! We run them because we have to. They do not pay. We have tried again and again to get the different roads to give them up; but they will run them and, of course, as long as they run them we must do the same." The interview was then published in the Chicago Daily News, but Vanderbilt's words were modified. Several accounts of the incident were then disseminated; The accounts vary in terms of who conducted the interview, under what circumstance and what was actually said. William received bad publicity and clarified his response with a subsequent interview by the Chicago Times. In that interview he was quoted saying: "Railroads are not run for the public benefit, but to pay. Incidentally, we may benefit humanity, but the aim is to earn a dividend." (Wikipedia here).  But an isolated instance is not enough to reverse a cultural trend. 
 Following Rand, many Objectivists claim to admire Ancient Greece, especially the Athenian Golden Age 480-400. But in fact, Athens itself was no friend of philosophy until after the death of Socrates, though it nurtured philosophy and art by attracting "metics", Greeks from other towns.Unable to speak in the Assembly, they wrote books and lectured in gardens. However, that launched a 500-year culture of open inquiry, learning, and exploration, both physical and intellectual. It was at Alexandria in Egypt that the word "cosmopolitan" was coined. No one was persecuted for questioning the existence of the gods, or asserting their own self-interest. Read about Aristippos of Cyrene. 

But it was not perfectly explicit or consistent. Merchants were still looked down upon. Slavery was accepted as an institution. Not the Cyreniacs, Hedonists, Epicureans, Peripatetics, Platonists, Stoics, or anyone else developed a consistent and complete philosophy of reason. But it lasted 500 years anyway. 

Rand's thesis was that once clearly articulated and demonstrated, the truths of Objectivism will endure like any other science.

Moreover, politics derives from ethics which rests on morality. In the story, Hank Rearden's oppression by the government is only the external expression of his exploitation by his family: his mother, brother, and wife all hate him - and he accepts their premises. That is most starkly evidenced in his own view (initially) of his romantic relationship with Dagny Taggart: he accepts the looters' view that sex is a base instinct - and that a woman must be protected from the shame of it.  Dagny, of course, has a more rational understanding.  

So, William Henry Vanderbilt's reply was salient, but not inclusive. It could not be: volition being as it may, we are born into our contexts; and he knew nothing of bobbed hair, bloomers, flappers, or women elected to the U.S. Senate.  So, even Vanderbilt could not articulate a post-Nietzschean egoism derived from Aristotle.  That mission is ours.

Capitalist Culture 
Venture Capital
Freedom in an Unfree World

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Austin Energy Regional Science Festival 2014

Bright young minds are always fun to be around. This was my third year judging the junior high school and senior high school entrants at our regional science fair.  This time, I also judged both upper and lower elementary school participants. My area is behavioral and social sciences.  I worked closely with a dozen other professionals as we judged about 70 junior and senior contestants. It is a learning experience for everyone. 
The Austin Energy Regional Science Festival website is here

I had the opportunity to review the works of several young scholars whose research made the awards. Among them were third, fourth, and fifth place middle schoolers Will Pasquarette ("How does the type of music affect the ability to recall a memory?"), Dara Christensen ("How does the sense of smell affect your memory?"), and Mark Holstrum ("Notetaking").  I also judged for seniors Katelynn Marsan ("Effects of Biased Verbal Instructions on Student Performance") and Saloni Gyani ("Alteration of Memory and Perception through Optogenetics"), who took first and second place honors.  Ms. Marsan also garnered a special Superintendent's Award. Ms. Saloni was recognized for a special award by the American Psychological Association.

But "85% of success is showing up," said Woody Allen.  Of the nearly 3,000 entrants, I saw only a few who were unprepared. Still, they showed up, saw the process, learned from their peers, and discovered what is expected. The requirements are not trivial. Students, parents, and teachers are responsible for many significant and official forms and filings; and more often, it is the adults, not the kids, who failed to address the details.  

This year about 800 junior and senior high schoolers
and 2000 elementary schoolers participated.
That speaks to several levels of challenge. Cream rises, and the winners are usually obvious by inspection; but the distance from first to fifth is short, and the gap from fifth to "thanks for showing up" is even narrower. One of the outstanding entrants in one of my sessions was bumped down twice by successive rounds of review by other judges. Nothing was wrong with the student's work. Others were judged to be better.  

Also, it is a fact that schools with fewer resources field fewer contestants. That said, one of my teams was shocked to find that one  student needed to know more about statistics, so she sent emails to all of the mathematics and science teachers in her school, and got no replies. She got better responses from UT graduate students: several of them showed her the math that she needed to teach herself.  

Public school, private school,
and home-schooled students all competed
Another barrier is that sociology is considered the idiot child of the science family with the S in STEM being redundant of TEM. The truth is that social science education includes the scientific method as a rubric, expressly, consciously (even self-consciously), and repeatedly. Moreover, social scientists are taught the evolutions of the paradigms that brought us to our current state. The physical sciences seldom teach the scientific method explicitly. Worse, they deliver a product that is wrapped for consumption as if it were always this way. From Ampere to Gauss to Maxwell to Heisenberg, it is a straight line. They never learn the original statement of Ohm's Law - or that it was rejected by the scientific community for personal reasons.  (See "Is Physics a Science?" here on NecessaryFacts.)

So, while physics and astronomy, the chemistries and the engineerings all enjoy the benefit of judging by degreed professionals, the standards are not so strict in behavioral and social sciences.  

It is true that any literate and intelligent person can follow the judging forms.  The questions we ask and the answers we listen for are easy to understand.  The difficulties come from differentiating among the honored winners, first through fifth, and distinguishing them from the very many worthies who also showed up.