A Frabjous, Albeit Delayed, Day

David Mermin thanked me for finding a glitch in one of his papers. I can retire now, right?

The matter concerns “Hidden variables and the two theorems of John Bell” [Reviews of Modern Physics 65, 3 (1993), pp. 803–15]. Specifically, we turn our attention to Figure 4, the famous “Mermin pentagram,” reproduced below for convenience.

mermin-hiddenvariables-fig4

The caption to this figure reads as follows:

Ten observables leading to a very economical proof of the Bell–KS theorem in a state space of eight or more dimensions. The observables are arranged in five groups of four, lying along the legs of a five-pointed star. Each observable is associated with two such groups. The observables within each of the five groups are mutually commuting, and the product of the three observables in each of the six groups is $+1$ except for the group of four along the horizontal line of the star, where the product is $-1$.

In that last sentence, “three observables in each of the six groups” should instead read “four observables in each of the five groups” (in order to agree with the diagram, and to make sense).

Glitches and goofs can happen to anybody. I’m embarrassingly prone to them myself. I also have the pesky kind of personality that is inclined to write in when I find them. This has led to a journal-article erratum once before, and now that I think about it, it provided the seeds for two papers of my own. As they say about Wolverine, being per-SNIKT-ety pays off!

(Incidentally, it took two months for this latest erratum to appear. A sensible system could have done it in as many days, but that’s scientific publishing for you.)

Daria Makes A Deal, Chapter Eight

Now and then, I see someone mocking the idea of fanfiction—typically, “Tumblr fanfic” in particular. And it’s understandable. I mean, when the canonical material rises to such heights as, um, Batman V Superman, and Tumblr can only offer Martha Kent fighting off time-travelers who come back to kill young Clark, well, is there even really a choice to make? With the “Captain America is Hydra” story arc, Marvel provides readers with the innovative and unprecedented story of Bad Guys Use Space Thing To Make Big Good Guy Bad. Seriously, for sheer inventiveness and entertainment value, how could Tumblr or AO3 even compete?

*snerk*

Yes, fanfiction did give the world Christian Grey. But it also gave us Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter having Christian Grey for dinner, which has to count for something.

For previous installments of Daria Makes A Deal, see the chapter index. (For my research in quantum information theory, see my recap of recent publications.)

Fair warning: I got the Granada TV Sherlock Holmes series for Christmas and have been watching a lot of that lately.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Daria noticed herself climbing a rope up towards a treehouse.

“This is odd,” she said. “I shouldn’t have nearly the upper-body strength to be doing this so easily.” She took a good look at the knotted hemp rope.

Daria tried to work her memory backwards, to see if it offered any clues about her current situation. She recalled the fracas in the hotel lobby, and then Tom and Saavik were looking at her as though she were unwell, and she was telling them that she was just tired. She remembered thinking that she could pass off any odd behavior as due to her recent discovery of her own apparent bisexuality. Which sounded plausible enough. And so she had begged off, pleading the ineffectuality of caffeine, to hide in the room where she had awoken from her dream—

It had been only a dream, but that meant nothing at all.
Continue reading Daria Makes A Deal, Chapter Eight

Spitefic: Access Denied

And now, the third installment in my Atlas Shrugged spitefic series! For the previous entries, see here and here.

Today’s vignette is inspired by a scene which so perfectly embodies an intellectually and morally bankrupt “philosophy” that it becomes viscerally repulsive. I figured that this scenario would be a better served if the cast of characters were enlarged and some substitutions made. We begin with Dagny telling the guard to let her, Hank and Francisco pass. Again, the italicized lead-in is a quotation from the original.
Continue reading Spitefic: Access Denied

Daria Makes a Deal, Chapter Seven

Fair warning: In my dubious wisdom, I have decreed that it is time for a flashback. This is where we get to see the cascading aftereffects of Jane Lane’s summer in the art colony play out in her college years. For previous installments of DMAD, see the chapter index. The escapade with Jodie Landon was recounted in Chapter Two.

CHAPTER SEVEN

The wind down Huntington Avenue is cold.

It is the Sunday before Thanksgiving, 2001.
Continue reading Daria Makes a Deal, Chapter Seven

Daria Makes a Deal Chapter Index

Present Day. Present Time.
AH HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
Serial Experiments Lain

Are dolphins making self-glorifying edits on Wikipedia?
Cetacean needed, next on #SickSadWorld!

It’s thirteen years after high school, and Daria Morgendorffer is eager to turn her life around. Standing for her principles put a serious crimp in her academic career, and finding out that her fiancé was less than faithful brought a definitive end to her domestic plans. She wants to start over, but her best chance to do so is to seize an opportunity that is fantastic in all the wrong ways…

Potent Quotables, “PC Police” Edition

Here is an instance where Noam Chomsky is on point. It comes from a 1994 interview prompted by the furor over The Bell Curve.

Part of what is happening is simply a scam. The trick is to take some position that will be greatly welcomed by the powerful (say, the editors and readers of the Wall Street Journal, etc.) with no need for concern about the status of the alleged empirical grounds or the validity, or even sanity, of the arguments.

Service to power will suffice to guarantee rave reviews, massive exposure, huge sales and the other corollaries to service to power. Then, the authors pray that someone will condemn them—if not, they can invent it. At this point they can portray themselves as tortured victims of powerful forces—like Black mothers, the radicals who (as we know) run the universities, etc.

The original gets huge media exposure, and the suffering of the victims who dared to brave the Black mothers and radicals who rule the world even more so. As I say, it’s a scam, quite a comical one in fact, but one that works brilliantly in a highly conformist intellectual culture, with remarkable intellectual and moral standards.

The “political correctness” comedy has many of the same features. In fact, the remarkable issue of the New York Times Book Review that was led off by a long praise of Herrnstein–Murray had many examples of the scam: effusive praise for a book that “dared” to say the elite had merit, even notice of the “brave, heroic” book by Harold Bloom that had the courage to say that students should read Shakespeare.

One must be awe-struck in admiration of this heroism. In the intellectual culture, it is all taken quite seriously, an interesting indication of that culture’s character.

Daria Makes a Deal, Chapter Six

PREVIOUSLY, ON DARIA: Thirteen years or so after high school, Our Heroine is a washed-up academic with a series of advanced degrees, failed relationships and irregularly successful writing efforts behind her. She left her cheating boyfriend and moved back to Boston, to live with her friend Jane Lane. Jane, now running an art shop specializing in custom movie and TV props, introduced her to a social circle featuring both old and new faces. Soon, friendship got the better of caution, and Daria found herself agreeing to cosplay Edward Elric at a science-fiction and fantasy convention.

At the convention, Daria finds herself out of place, but at just the right time to be a sympathetic listener for Saavik—a clerk, aspiring actor and Tom Sloane’s girlfriend. Their night takes a turn for the fantastical when a woman from Daria’s past arrives with a business proposal… from the Sandman, Dream of the Endless.

Content note: Frank discussion of physical intimacy. On-screen portrayal thereof at maybe a soft R. Brief violence. One instance of homophobic language. Adult 4chan Man.
Continue reading Daria Makes a Deal, Chapter Six

A Potent Quotable

Here is physicist John Archibald Wheeler, interviewed in the documentary The Creation of the Universe (1985):

There’s nothing deader than an equation. You write that down in a square on a tile floor. And on another tile on the floor you write down another equation, which you think might be a better description of the Universe. And you keep on writing down equations hoping to get a better and better equation for what the Universe is and does.

And then, when you’ve worked your way out to the end of the room and have to step out, you wave your wand and tell the equations to fly.

And not one of them will put on wings and fly.

Yet the Universe flies!

It has a life to it that no equation has, and that life to it is a life with which we are also tied up.

I saw that documentary as a kid, and that little speech was one part that stuck with me ever after. For the story of how Wheeler made this point to his physics classes, see arXiv:1405.2390, page 292.

Evergreen

In 1940, Jorge Luis Borges published “Definición de germanófilo” [“Definition of a Germanophile”], in which he explained what kept happening when he tried to discuss the threat of Nazi Germany. I quote a passage from Eliot Weinberger’s translation:

I always discover that my interlocutor idolizes Hitler, not in spite of the high-altitude bombs and the rumbling invasions, the machine guns, the accusations and lies, but because of those acts and instruments. He is delighted by evil and atrocity. The triumph of Germany does not matter to him; he wants the humiliation of England and a satisfying burning of London. He admires Hitler as he once admired his precursors in the criminal underworld of Chicago. The discussion becomes impossible because the offenses I ascribe to Hitler are, for him, wonders and virtues. The apologists of Amigas, Ramirez, Quiroga, Rosas or Urquiza pardon or gloss over their crimes; the defender of Hitler derives a special pleasure from them. The Hitlerist is always a spiteful man, and a secret and sometimes public worshiper of criminal “vivacity” and cruelty. He is, thanks to a poverty of imagination, a man who believes that the future cannot be different from the present, and that Germany, till now victorious, cannot lose. He is the cunning man who longs to be on the winning side.

And the thing about the politics of the blood is that it keeps on pumping.

Daria Makes a Deal, Chapter Five

PREVIOUSLY, ON DARIA: Our Heroine has a new friend, Saavik, a clerk and aspiring actor who entered Daria’s life by way of being Tom Sloane’s girlfriend. They’re up late together at a science-fiction convention (cosplaying as Edward Elric and Motoko Kusanagi respectively). After a movie in the small hours of the morning, they encounter a woman from Daria’s past, a character that Daria believed she had never really met in the first place. And the visitor is here to tell Daria about a certain proposal….

Content note: One character gets a glimpse of another character’s fantasy that’s a touch TMI.

CHAPTER FIVE

“Perhaps we’d better discuss this outside,” Halloween said.

“Outside?” asked Daria. “In the snow?”

“Doesn’t look like snow,” Saavik said, crossing the lobby to the revolving door and pushing her way through.

Daria followed. The wind that met her as she emerged was as gentle as she expected it to be cutting. She reached out her gloved hands and gathered a few of the… “Cherry blossoms?” They caught in Saavik’s wig and melted to water, like snowflakes, on her face.
Continue reading Daria Makes a Deal, Chapter Five

On “Invention”

When I was a little younger than Ahmed Mohamed is now, I invented the distance formula for Cartesian coordinates. I wanted to make a simulation of bugs that ran around and ate each other. To implement a rule like “when the predator is near the prey, it will chase the prey,” I needed to compute distances between points given their $x$- and $y$-coordinates. I knew BASIC, and I knew the Pythagorean Theorem. However many people had solved that before me, it wasn’t written down in any book that I had, so I took what I knew and figured it out.

Those few pages of PowerBASIC on MS-DOS never amounted to much by themselves, but simulating ecosystems remained an interest of mine. I returned to the general idea now and then as I learned more.

And then, hey, what’s this? It looks like a PhD thesis.

“I bet every great mathematician started by
rediscovering a bunch of ‘well known’ results.”
—Donald Knuth, Surreal Numbers

"no matter how gifted, you alone cannot change the world"