Monday, August 30, 2010

Going Nomad

As we face the specter of an emergency move, I asked my wife if she'd be interested in becoming nomads.  She certainly is not!  Doing so would probably be even more difficult with a family.

It's something I've thought about occasionally.  What would we need to live a life of nomads?  How would I limit my possessions?  Since I am interested in machining, how would I make a portable workshop?  I haven't yet been able to find the time to sit down and explore these questions as much as I'd like.

This is something I've especially thought about, since learning about Paul Erdos.  He wandered from university to university, talked continually about mathematics, and encouraged as many people as possible to do research.  His possessions fit into a single suitcase, and the closest thing he had to a home was a room in another mathematican's house, which also included a bed and a file cabinet full of mathematical papers.

Farewell, EV Source

I started work at EV Source as a web developer several months after I finished my Doctorate in Mathematics.  Since the work was part-time, and since it didn't pay much at first, I took the position as a stop-gap measure; I nonetheless enjoyed working with Ryan as he ran his small business.

Although I started work for another company about a year ago, I have been working for EV Source during that time, gradually reducing my hours at EV Source as my hours at Perfect Search decreased.  This last week, I wrapped up my work at EV Source, and made myself available for questions.  I'm sad to do this, though:  in addition to enjoying my work at this business, it's also my last link to the time I spent in Logan, Utah.

While I also enjoy working for Perfect Search as a research assistant and data-cruncher, I still feel a little out-of-place.  I'll still be trying to figure out the best way to leverage my interest in mathematics, and earn a living at the same time:  I'm thus going to explore computer graphics, finite element analysis, and perhaps analog robotics, using Lisp and and eventually Haskell (two highly mathematical languages).

I'm also interested in working for a very small business, one that will agressively limit its growth.  Hence I'll also try to figure out if I can do this work on my own!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Separation of School and State

I have been reading John Taylor Gatto's "Underground History of American Education".  As I was reading John Taylor Gatto’s Presentation Remarks On The Fourth Purpose Film Series, I read this paragraph:
To bring about such a result requires that most of us have to be infantilized—made childish—lifelong if possible. School has been the training laboratory for this project for between fifty and one hundred years, depending on the location. It is the most ambitious piece of social engineering in modern history, and has been a brilliant success in reaching its goals. Of course, these are hardly the goals of ordinary citizens, of families, of religions, or of cultures, but they most certainly are the goals of management, whether of business, army, or government.

Between this, and the book I've been reading, it occurred to me:  if we want true separation of Church and State, then it is crucial that we have Separation of School and State as well.

This is because education is key to instilling the values and knowledge necessary to preserve liberty.  When the State is in charge of determining what values and knowledge we should acquire, the State is in charge of our life.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Paradox: Individualist Marxists?

It has been said that "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" is a terrible guide for personal action, but when deciding judgment, it's a very good rule of thumb.  This makes sense to me:  on a personal level, attempting to avenge every slight made against you is the stuff of feuds, and is especially tragic when the original party meant no offense, and would have gladly made things right if only you had brought the matter to their attention.  When judging between two parties, however, once it's made clear that an offense has been made, this is clearly a fair way to make amends.

Now, consider this saying by Karl Marx:  "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."  This saying has a similar private/public dichotomy.

As a guide for private action, this is fantastic:  I figure out what my interests and abilities are, and then match them to the needs of those around me, who will then pay me to do those things.  While this won't necessarily make me rich, it will certainly enable me to live comfortably...and with my material wealth, I can now seek out those who are in dire need, and figure out the best way to help them.  Sometimes it will be by giving them food and instructions on how to budget their paychecks; other times, it may be to help restore a house burned down by fire; yet other times, it may be to just tell them to do something useful with their lives.

As a guide for public policy, however, it is a disaster.  A bureaucrat at some level or another must decide what an individual's "abilities" are--and then confiscate them.  Thus, people are forced into careers they have no interest in, and if they have any success, their wealth must be confiscated, and given to those who are "poor", but are likely only poor because they aren't working hard at something they enjoy doing.  Of course, the bureaucrat only encourages people to become poor by providing for them, and by beating down anyone who shows any sign of succeeding.

Unless, of course, we're discussing the success of the bureaucrat.  He's just doing the People's work, mind you, so he deserves his wealth.

The difference between the two is this:  in the first instance, it is the individual taking initiative, and deciding the best ways to make the world a better place.

In the second case, it is the bureaucrat making the decisions, without regards for individuals.  The result is massive alcoholism, suicide, and camps filled with people who refuse to go along with the Utopian ideal.

Isn't it amazing what a difference Individualism makes?

Eek! Moving again? Let's hope not!

We just moved into our new place about a month ago.  Our son was born about three months ago, and so city code demanded that we get a bigger place.  And, while we could have made do with the smaller place, if necessary, having the bigger place is really nice!

But when we first moved in, we noticed a musty smell in the bedrooms.  In the master bedroom, that smell has mostly gone away, but in my son's room, it has remained steady.  And it has begun to affect my wife's asthma.

So last night, I moved as much as much as I could from my son's room.  Today, we'll finish moving things, and move stuff from my daughters' bedroom as well (their bedroom is also suspect, though not as much).  My children then slept in the living room.

Hopefully, management will be able to fix the problem!  If not, we'll begin the dreaded "let's look for a new place to live" routine, followed with "let's destroy our backs and pack everything now".

It wouldn't be so bad if everything were still in boxes, but unfortunately, we've done a lot of unpacking these last few weeks.  (Well, technically, my wife has done most of the unpacking; I've been at work most of the time.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Just what is an Epsilon, anyway?

As an introduction to myself, and to my blog, I have written the following:

Just what is an Epsilon?

Definition 1.   Epsilon is a Letter of the Greek Alphabet.

Definition 2.  When Calculus was first discovered by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, and refined by Leonhard Euler, the foundation of their discovery was...difficult to describe.  Newton called them fluxions.  Leibniz called them infinitesimals.  I'm not sure what Euler called them, but every time he needed one, he'd ask for a number greater than zero, but smaller than any other number.

As Calculus matured, mathematicians decided that they didn't like this fuzzy, intuitive concept.  They wanted real, down-to-earth numbers, darnit!  So mathematicians formalized this concept:
Give me any number greater than zero--which we'll call our epsilon given--and no matter how small it is, I will find another number, also greater than zero (which we'll call delta) so that, as long as the input of my function is smaller than delta, the output will be smaller than epsilon.
This is a bold claim, and it's been the bane of calculus students for centuries.  But it's really a simple idea:  give me something small, and I can make sure that my function will fit nicely into that itty bitty region.

And it is this tiny idea that has made so many powerful things possible:  travel to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond; rides on roller coasters; tall buildings, long bridges, and high-flying airplanes; business analysis; growth of populations and decay of radioactive materials; understanding of electricity, heat, and water flow; and so much more.

Thus, epsilon is synonimous, not just of the small, but of the great power of the small as well.

What does Epsilon have to do with anything else?

The power of the small isn't just limited to numbers, or to engineering.  The power of the small is an important social principle as well.  Every economy is, of necessity, based on individuals making daily decisions on how they should live.  The individual is the smallest minority.  Any society that empowers the smallest minority--the individual--will thrive.  Any society that hampers the individual will sicken and die.  And the only way to empower individuals is to trust them to make the best decisions for their own lives.

We live in an era where State intervention is the norm:  onerous regulations and fines prevent individuals from exploring new employment opportunities, and even push small businesses out of business--or sometimes just prevent their growth--leaving only big corporations to provide us with goods and services.  Hideous taxes prevent individuals from spending time with their families.  Perverse incentives have been created by our governments to spend rather than to save.  All this drains our motivation to try new things, or to do what's best for ourselves and those we love and care about!

This is not to say I'm against big corporations...but corporations need to start somehow, and the best ones start as a couple of nerds tinkering in a garage somewhere.  Corporations also need competition, so they could continue to provide the best service--and so they could be killed off, when they don't.  Without nerds tinkering in their garages, there is no means to create the competition that ensures the vibrancy of our ways of life.

Hence, this is a place to advocate for the Small, and to highlight the obstacles that they face.

Who am I?

My name is Alpheus, and I am a mathematician.  At one time, I wanted to be a college professor...but after a few semesters of teaching, I realized that I needed to do something different.  I am still trying to figure out how to best leverage my love of mathematics, so that I could provide for my family, and have enough free time to pursue other interests as well.

I have also become increasingly aware of how intrusive our American government, and even our State and Local governments, have become--and how these intrusions interfere with our pursuits of happiness.  Politically, I've come to describe myself as a "conservative libertarian":  I have come to understand that, while we need to seek to learn what is good, and then do it, I have also come to understand that the less that Government interferes with that, the better off--and the better morally--we are.

And so it begins...

For several months now, I've been toying with the idea of starting a blog.  I've had a theme--the defense of the small against Government--but I've always hesitated, because I wanted to create some sort of well-organized website, and because I doubted that I'd have the time to blog.

It was a comment I made on another blog that finally pushed me over the edge.  At "Snowflakes in Hell", Sebastian highlighted a study by Don Kates, where Kates uncovers a correlation of gun technology available to English citizens, and murder rates:  As gun technology improves, murder goes down; as gun prohibition increases, so does the murder rate.

This started a lively discussion about correlation; at one point, mikeb302000 stated:

Alpheus, You may feel that you’ve got a God-given right to self-defense and that in order to exercise that right you need to own guns. I can accept that, although I disagree, I can accept that you feel that way. But the rest, about correlation and causation is just double talk. You sound like a flim-flam carny hustler repeating the same old nonsense until you believe it yourself.
You said, “This is enough to destroy the claim that “more guns means more crime”!”
Well, here’s why that won’t fly. It’s about the comparison of states with more guns vs. states with fewer guns.
It's hard to describe what it is about this comment that irritated me.  Part of it is the statistician in me, annoyed at the misuse of statistics in an attempt to prove a claim that has been discredited over and over again.  But, beyond statistics, is the libertarian in me, who desires to live free, without my rights being infringed upon--and here is a comment that attacked one of our core rights:  our right to self-defense.

Thus, I responded as follows:
Mikeb302000, as I looked at your link, I noticed that the link mentioned “gun deaths”. I was wondering what the overall murder rate for Hawaii was like, and I was about to look it up…but I discovered that Joe Huffman beat me to it!
It doesn’t matter if “gun deaths” go down. What good is it to lower gun suicides, for example, if suicides by some other method go up, and the rate stays the same? We could accomplish that by a “Committing Suicide? Don’t use a gun! Use a rope instead!” advertising campaign…but such a campaign would be sick, and would do nothing to accomplish the true goal: to reduce the suicide rate overall.
I served my mission in England, and in my second month there, my companion and I were mugged (a very interesting experience I won’t go into…). About a week later, my companion was talking to someone who was a little gloomy, because a friend had recently died. When my companion asked how this person’s friend died, the answer was “while he was getting mugged, his head was bashed in with a hammer.”
Now tell me: what’s worse? Dying by being shot? Or dying by having your head bashed in with a hammer?
As for my feeling that I have a God-given right to self defense: it isn’t just God-given. It is woven into my soul by a combination of God, evolution, and my own desire to live–for myself, and for my wife and children and friends. When someone threatens my life, or the life of those I love, I will do what I can to preserve it. And those that expect me to give up my life for the “greater good” are evil in every sense of the word–because the “greater good”, to the extent that it exists, requires the preservation of the innocent.
In England, crime is ramping up. It isn’t just ramping up because guns are banned. It’s ramping up because the right to self-defense itself is infringed. You can go to jail if you instill fear in would-be criminals! If you defend your life and property–even if you are miles away from help–you can get a longer sentence than those who you shot! If you are attacked, you are told not to call “Help me, I’m under attack!” while doing your best to shield yourself with that briefcase you are carrying–you are required to yell “Call the police!”, as if the police could get to you in time to save your life…and as if you can expect that you will only be attacked when other people are around you, to call the police!
When you deny the right to self defense, you deny the right to life itself. You expose yourself as the Collectivist you are…and you side yourself with those Collectivists–the Robespierres, the Nazis, the Communists, the Socialists of the world–who sacrificed millions for the Greater Good, and in the end, created a living hell for those who weren’t executed.
Finally, it doesn’t matter that you provide statistics that show gun “control” works in a single location: For every level of murder and suicide, we can find cities, or even countries, with strong gun laws, and we can find cities with weak gun laws. That you can find a place with strong gun laws but low gun murder only confirms that there is no correlation–it doesn’t establish correlation! And before you can even talk about “causation vs. correlation”, you need to establish correlation!
It is this comment that somehow pushed me over the edge.  I don't fully understand why...but it seems to be a mixture of anger that someone would dare to attack my very existence; of the discovery of passion, that I really would like to change the world; and of accomplishment, that somehow I really could do this!

So now, I will join the fray of the blogosphere, and start digging out those random thoughts that are tucked away in notebooks, on envelopes, on business cards, and on napkins, if I could find the boxes where I tucked them away.  After all, I just moved a couple of weeks ago!

It remains to be seen if what I post will be worthwhile...