Monday, February 23, 2015

Learning About Data Science

Trying to get some use out of this blog, since the original use somewhat petered out, I will be using it to record a log, of sorts, concerning some explorations I am doing.

For today, I am looking at an online course on data science, by CalTech Professor Yaser Mustafa.

The first lecture:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Amendments I Would Like To See In An Ideal World (But Probably Won't See in This One)

As we all know, the US Government is currently in a case of horrible gridlock. I have a specific commentary on this that I'll put up later, but for now here are 2 constitutional amendments I would love to see to help address issues with the current US governmental setup. Of course these are 99.999% pipe dream, given that I can't see any politicians even having the wherewithal to propose these, much less enough at both the national and state level voting for them.

28th Amendment:
  • Article the 1st: In the event that Congress shall fail to pass a budget before the expiry of a previous budget, the previous budget shall continue in force until a new budget has been ratified.
  • Article the 2nd: Congress shall pass no law causing, nor through inaction fail to pass any law preventing, the United States of America to fail to meet any debt incurred, public or private.
  • Article the 3rd: The executive shall have the authority to take needed steps in order to make payments on such dept irregardless of, or in spite of, any acts ratified to the contrary, including incurring new debt, not authorized by Congress but equivalently insured, only in such situation as it is necessary to ensure compliance with the 2nd article. This shall not be construed in any way as granting the executive the authority or ability to bypass the explicit budgetary powers of congress enumerated in the Article 1 of the constitution in any other instance.
Reasoning: This allows us to avoid the ENTIRETY of the issue we are having now. If you don't like the budget, you have to pass a new one, you can't just refuse and have the entire system shut down. Also ensures that the US will not default, securing our currency, while stating explicitly and unambiguously that while the president has the authority to borrow more to pay back debts (thus ensuring that the 14th Amendments is actually enforceable), he is not in any way shape or form allowed to go around congress in any other instance.

Why it will not happen: Congress is loath to give away any power, even in a very specific instance. The ability to induce a shutdown, being horribly abused currently, is a tool in the hands of the minority, and, just like the filibuster, one which even the majority will not want to surrender for their own use when they are again the minority. And of course in the current climate there is no way the republicans in congress or in the states would agree to anything that gives up their ability to block democratic priorities, no matter how much good it would do for the economy and governmental function.

29th Amendment:
  • Article the 1st: The election of federal officials to the Congress shall be performed via the Alternative Vote, defined in Article 4.
  • Article the 2nd: The election of the President of the United States of America shall be performed via direct popular vote, utilizing the Alternative Vote, defined in article 4.
  • Article the 3rd: District lines utilized in the election of Senators and Representatives shall be drawn by a neutral committee or method, prioritizing geographic simplicity and maintaining integral town, city, and neighborhood borders. Voting patterns and ethnic, sexual, or religious demographics may not influence the distribution of these districts in any way.
  • Article the 4th: The Alternative Vote shall function as follows - the people shall indicate an order of preference, from most preferred to least, among available candidates, with the option of refusing to vote for specific candidates. The first choices shall be tallied. If no candidate shall have the needed votes to win office, the candidate with the least votes shall be removed from the ballot, and votes which were indicated for this candidate shall be redistributed among the remaining candidates according to the next listed preference of those who voted for the removed candidate, with those who did not indicate further preference being discounted. This process shall continue until a candidate shall have sufficient votes to win office, in which case it shall be awarded to this candidate.
  • Article the 5th: The appointment of justices of the Supreme Court of the United States of America shall be for a period of no less than 15 years and no more than 30 years. If a Justice shall be more than than age 70 years and have served 15 years or more, their term shall end at the conclusion of the current court session. Justices who have served on the Supreme Court are barred from any further practice of Law or consultation in legal matters in the United States or its territories for the remainder of their natural life. Congress shall pass legislation providing for a suitable benefit for justices after the expiry of their term, such that this bar shall not be a hardship.
  • Article the 6th: No Senator having served 2 terms, or having served more than 2 years of a term to which another was elected and 1 elected term, shall be eligible for election to the Senate.
  • Article the 7th: No Representative, having served 5 terms, or having served more than 1 year of a term to which another was elected and 4 elected terms, shall be eligible for election to the House of Representatives.
  • Article the 8th: No individual above the age of 70 may be elected to the Presidency, Senate or House of Representatives.

Reasoning: Sensible term limits for all offices are a must. The revolving door of incumbency creates a massive corruption machine. The lifetime appointment of justices made sense when lifetimes were 30-40 years shorter than they are now, but have become a problem with increasing life spans. 15 years ensures justices outlast a president, but not that they do so by over a quarter of a century. Barring justices from practicing law after serving avoids conflicts of interest and influencing judges ("I wrote that opinion, here is what I meant" during an argument before a lower court judge by a former supreme). The alternative vote prevents spoilers, avoids issues like the 2000 election, and ensures that people can safely vote for third parities without wasting their vote. It also informs electees of what their constituents are really interested in. The age limits are to avoid stagnationary and health issues (reps who don't understand modern technology or social structures, "back to the good old days" legislating, inability to vote due to illnesses, unelected representatives serving terms due to deaths in office from old age).

Why it won't pass: Career politicians will never pass anything that prevents them from being continuously reelected until they die in office. When getting elected once virtually guarantees you reelection as long as there is no scandal (even now reelection rates stand at >80%), gathering the votes to end the gravy train is virtually impossible. The only reason we have presidential term limits is because the president couldn't veto it.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Physicist Discusses: Star Trek Into Darkness

Into Darkness is a good summer movie. It is a passable Star Trek movie. I would recommend you go see it. It's certainly a fun time, though not without its problems. You can find plot reviews anywhere, so I'm going to talk about the problems from the view of a physicist and writer.

From here on out I will be talking about what the movie did wrong. I am not talking "trekkie" items either, I am talking about basic things that should have been caught by the writers or any science consultants they had. That they weren't indicates lazy writing, bad editing, and a lack of understanding in several subjects. They don't really detract from the movie from a fun point of view, but they do take you out of it if you think about them for a few minutes.


  1. Just because it is called "cold fusion" does not mean it has anything to do with freezing things. A cold fusion device would not create "freeze waves". All that the "cold" part implies is that the reaction is started without having to deal with the types of conditions you find inside stars (super high heat and pressure). Cold fusion is pretty well established as impossible in real life, but I'm willing to give a sci-fi movie a pass on that point and assume they figure it out later.
  2. Freezing the top of a volcano would make the eruption worse, not stop it. Volcanoes erupt because of a huge build up of pressurized liquid rock under the surface. As anyone who has ever shaken a carbonated beverage container can tell you, capping it makes the eventual explosion more violent, not less (unless you arrange a controlled leak, such as popping the cap just slightly so gas can escape). Unless they vented the pressure somewhere else (and maybe that is why they had the enterprise under the ocean, which is never really explained), they have just guaranteed the natives an even worse time in a little while.
  3. Kahn's plan is very cliche, but it is cliche because it is a workable plan (the one to get the senior staff together, not the one where he puts people in torpedoes). But the horrible, inexcusable incompetence of Starfleet makes the entire situation unrealistic. No one but Kirk in the entirety of Starfleet could see through Kahn's plan, which Kirk figured it out in less than 2 minutes with no prior information or knowledge about the situation. Further, the entire plan hinges on the fact that they apparently wrote in the regulations the exact room in which everyone important was to meet in the event of an attack. This isn't "Kahn figured out where they were", it is "every single person in Starfleet or who has read the starfleet regs knows where they are". At the very least Admiral Marcus should have realized that he was a target and moved the location.
  4. The most ridiculous thing in the whole movie is the "Transwarp Transporter". Kahn beams from Earth Kronos using a device slightly bigger than a suitcase. From the center of the Federation to the capitol world of a belligerent power. How can they be a threat, if we can just beam explosives at their planet without even taking them out of the factory? Why do we even need starships if we can just beam from planet to planet? Why didn't Admiral Marcus just beam the torpedoes at Kahn instead of sending out the Enterprise?
  5. Correlated with that is how Kronos is apparently 2 minutes from Earth at warp. How can you have two belligerent powers with capitols 2 minutes apart? Even an hour might have been believable, but having these two worlds this close together makes it completely unbelievable that they have not just gone to war and finished already.
  6. Neither Starfleet nor the Klingon's appear to have any kind of security sensors or defenses anywhere. No one sees Kahn's flyer, no one detects Kahn beaming to Kronos, the Klingons do not see the enterprise 20 minutes from their capitol, do not notice the shuttle till it is about to land, nor can they track it when it leaves. The secret Jupiter shipyard can't detect a shuttle flying right up to it making no attempt at stealth, no one in a small convoy of ships can see said shuttle just slipping in with them, and at no point while a battle is going on in lunar orbit or during the several minutes it takes the Enterprise and Vengeance to fall through the atmosphere does anyone notice and respond in any way until the Vengeance break the cloud deck. Also, there were several other ship captains and first officers in the meeting earlier; where are all of their ships while this is going on? Where are the orbital defenses around Earth or Kronos?
  7. Why does McCoy need Kahn alive? He has 72 other augments in stasis, one of whom he later pulls out while keeping him unconscious so he can use the stasis pod he is in. Couldn't he have gotten a blood sample from any of them?
There are also several basic character and sensibility failures.
  1. You would never put a large multilevel vertical atrium on a ship exposed to vacuum. As soon as there was a breach anywhere on the ship, you would expose all of the decks to space.
  2. We finally get seat belts in Star Trek, and they are really dumb computer controlled seat belts. What happens if something knocks out the computer? Why aren't they worn more often, since we clearly see you getting knocked around in several scenes?
  3. Why is Carol Marcus in this movie? She doesn't give any exposition that couldn't have been handled by Spock, she gets kidnapped by Admiral Marcus in 5 seconds and then basically ignored. I thought maybe they would set her up for a reverse Women in Refrigerators relationship with Kahn after she saw him kill her father, but she is absent for almost the entire rest of the movie and it is Spock who gets to go after Kahn in a rage.
  4. Uhura's entire role in the movie is to be in a relationship with Spock. Nothing she does in the entire film has anything to do with anything else.This is a waste of the character.
  5. Is there no one else working in engineering other than Scotty and his pal? Kirk bypasses the entire existing engineering staff and gives the chief engineer position to Checkov, an ensign whose primary post is tactical. In a real situation, there would be a 3rd officer who would take over from him.
  6. There was no need to bring in Spock-Prime (Leonard Nemoy). His presence is strictly fan service.
  7. I'm sorry Zachary Quinto, but you cannot do the Shatner "KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN".

Friday, May 17, 2013

April Showers Bring May Flowers And Late-Season Flu

This was not week I intended to take most of off. Not a pleasant one either. Anyway, it is letting up, so hopefully I can get back on a schedule of some kind soon.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

End of Semester

End of semester is a busy time. Seeing it from the other side makes you appreciate how much work goes into it by the professors and TAs.

There is making the tests, checking them (this is where I come in), making a gajillion copies (me again), proctoring the usually multiple test sessions, grading everything super fast (because we get about 5 days to do all of it), entering everything, and then most of a day just to decide fair cutoffs, make weighting changes, deal with student feedback... and of course the inevitable flood of  'HOW DID I GET THIS GRADE YOU MUST BE WRONG AHH MY FINANCIAL AID' type e-mails, phone calls, and unscheduled office visits.

I'm not going to call it pure chaos, but it is pretty close and awfully time consuming.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Evangelion: Q

I was going to write a post about the 3rd movie in the Rebuild of Evangelion series. Then I watched it.

What the hell was that? Can anyone tell me what the hell I just watched?