Archive for November, 2007

Analyzing the Quicksort Algorithm

I haven’t done a math post in a long while, and a probability post ever, so why not have a twofer?

First a little probability intro:

Sometimes we want to find the average value, usually called the “expected value”, of some random process. There’s a more intuitive way to ask about expected values: Which outcome is most likely? In other words, given the probabilities of multiple events happening, which event will tend to happen most? For instance, you might want to compute the average hand of poker.

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I was browsing the NOVA website and saw this program about cuttlefish, which is slated (unless I’m reading the page wrong) to air in April of next year.

Cuttlefish are one of my favorite animals, and gosh darnit are they cute!


Blogging Rule #23: Linking Counts as Blogging

There’s a pretty interesting article over at Wired by Clive Thompson about the rhetorical ploys pseudoscience advocates use.

Why Science Will Triumph Only When Theory Becomes Law

Much of the article is dead on. Creationists, quantum healers, and other crackpots frequently abuse scientific verbiage to make their arguments. As if what something is named affects whether it’s in the least bit true. Well, in the real world, apparently it does. That’s how superficial we are, I guess.

I hesitate resorting to rhetorical tactics of that kind, however. Sure, most people don’t care about subtle nuances of science-speak. But they should. Commandeering political language won’t do anything but hurt the science. This is the frame of mind you have to have when you’re thinking about this stuff. You have to acknowledge the possibility of error, or else how would you ever find the errors? And, by the way, this is how you distinguish between actual science and pseudoscience in the first place. How many pseudoscientists do you know that acknowledge that their hypotheses might be wrong? They may entertain the idea for your benefit, but they almost never seriously consider it. I mean, just look over at ERV’s dealings with the HIV denier, Leonard Horowitz, or with Michael Behe. They fake modesty toward their hypotheses in order to appear genuine. I wouldn’t trade that advantage away so easily. Maybe that’s just me.

Blogging Tip #241: Concede, then Harass

Are theists unreasonable and unthinking?

No, theism is unreasonable and unthinking. Most theists have reasons for thinking that a god exists. By my book (that book being the dictionary), that’s the definition of reasonable. Having reasons.

But just having reasons isn’t good enough. That’s the rock in your shoe, theists. You have to have good reasons. And the following aren’t:

You simply feel it’s true.

“Simply” being the operative word.

You were taught that it’s true.

So was I. Your point?

Everyone else believes it’s true.

Well, you’re just a teenybopper for religion, then, aren’t you? You might as well go out and buy an N’Sync album (or whatever the hell kids listen to), put on some Abercrombie & Fitch, and drink Starbucks. It’s all the rage!

Believing it’s true makes you a better person.

Believing I command automobile traffic makes me feel powerful. Those red lights? They stay red at my leisure. Beep beep, bitch.

Believing it’s true gives your life meaning.

You mean the same meaning that 95% of the people on this planet think their lives have? I’m sure it’ll be you God picks to go into heaven, or to reach enlightenment, or to be touched by His Noodly Appendage (ramen). *Cough*

Your society nurtured and rewarded the belief that it’s true.

Your society also used to nurture and reward the belief that women were baby-making maids designed by god to please men.

Disavowing its truth after all this time would make you a hypocrite.

Too late. If you really only profess to believe it, you’re already a hypocrite. You’re also a liar. Which is better? Being a hypocrite and a liar, or being a reformed hypocrite?

If you’re a pastor or minister, and you really don’t believe the stuff, you should feel totally ashamed of yourself. Be a decent human being and tell the truth.

You don’t know what you would do if you didn’t believe it was true.

You’d instantly melt into a mound of gelatinous gunk and slide into the nearest sewer. There, you’d be accosted by horny bacteria waiting and willing to plunder your liquefied form. As they rape your life essence, you’ll slowly descend into the pits of the River Styx, where Britney Spears music is played 24/7. After 4,500 years of “Hit Me Baby One More Time”, Charon, the Styx oarsman, will suck you up out of the river and cook an omelet out of you. He will use sliced ham, chives, and a bit of salt. His cholesterol is high, though, so he might mix in some milk to thin it out. Milk is good. I like milk. Mammals make milk. Not reptiles, though. Are you still reading this?

Keys and Balances

Which of the following two statements is best?

I will contemplate whether (proposition) is true.

I will contemplate (proposition)‘s truth.

The first one is like a locked door, and the evidences for the proposition are the teeth of a key. If the proposition is true, you should be able to unlock the door with ease–the teeth will match up with the lock. If it’s not true, then your key should jam as if one or some of its teeth were the wrong size. The evidence doesn’t match up. Modifying your key by removing the faulty teeth may work, or it may not. It may be that the combination of teeth on your key simply cannot work with this lock. It may be that this lock is artificial, and can’t open no matter which key you use.

The second one, on the other hand, is like a balance scale. One of the scale’s sides represents evidences in favor of the proposition, and the other represents evidences against. If there is evidence for the proposition, you can put a weight on the pro side. If there is evidence against it, you put it on the con side. Finally, if the pros outweigh the cons, then the proposition must be true. If not, then it’s false.

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