Shannon Sags

Into week out. Got to venture into the park this morning but the indisposition limited my constitutional in magnitude. And the summerishness continues to intensify. Sometimes I am glad to be senior so I can get away from these annoyances sooner.

Speaking of annoyances, I ran across an article [Link] complaining about the inadequacies of Shannon’s information theory. The most intriguing thing about this is that someone thought it news. I can recall reading papers at conferences on how broken Ma Bell’s information theory was fifteen or twenty years ago. Apparently this is one of those cases of non-academics aren’t relevant or being too far ahead of the academic herd. I am going to continue to entertain both conjectures absent any stronger evidence than academic ‘bitchin’. 

The problem is that Shannon entropy counts encoded information only and that by counting characters only. The more letters in your alphabet, the more accessible states and hence the more entropy. And the statements “dogs eat” and “Spot ate” have the same entropy but oh, so different!, information content. 

If your dog is named Spot, of course. Otherwise it’s the same. 

So information is contextual and depends on how it relates to knowledge.

And Shannon information theory doesn’t do that. 

But it does explain a lot about why journalism is so bad.

Ideal Motorcar Law

I survived the expedition to Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill with only a few close encounters of the stupid driver kind. This led me to muse upon the following:

Car_Cost * Car_Volume = fudge_factor * Driver_Schmuckness,

where the variables are self-explanatory except fudge_factor which is maths for constant-to-be-determined-by-technicians. The resemblance to the Ideal Gas Law motivates the name.

Worse today. Have to assay US431, Alibam’s answer to the Dixie Dieway.

Back to the Park!

Ice Cream day. Have already executed one naughty. I snuck off to the park and took half of a constitutional. It is a measure of my indisposition that it took essentially the same period of time as a full constitutional modally takes. Still quite a ways to go.

I am reminded that today is the birthday anniversary of William Whewell, the English academic who originated the designation “scientist”. That seems enough to redeem the day from the religionists.

Besides, shabbat was over a dusk yesterday so the constitutional was righteous. 

Sorry Physics

Ice Cream day. Still indisposed. Slow retirement of the indisposition and I fear I have about run the course of the exponential decay part of the curve and am now in the linear part, which is slower.

I have been amused observing the same maths behavior in the healing of humal hurts and the relaxation of molecular excitations. Especially since I did some of the work on the latter. Back in my graduate schule days, when I had adult supervision over the physics. Now I just have adult supervision over the not-physics.

Speaking of physics, I noted an article [Link] reporting the submission of an article (to Phys Rev Letters) with 5K authors. And yes, it is an elementary particles/standard model paper. I think the most authors on any paper I was part of was four, maybe five. I am too lazy to go look. 

We have to recognize here that this is a matter of who did the research work and not who wrote the paper. So strictly, this isn’t about authorship although we use that name. 

I have to admit that it is hard to write a paper with someone else. Very hard. And the paper is never as good as if I wrote the whole thing. And never as good as it would have been if I had rewritten it a year or five later. 

So excellence is a bit of a moot point.

I suppose I rather sorrow for those five thousand. How can they have any sense of accomplishment? I know that sounds like ego talking but there is also a bit of expression of work satisfaction. 

I am not proud of much of the work I did in my career. Most of it was bureaucratic Yankee Army work. Necessary to placate some policy or law or regulation. A cost of survival, as it were. But there are bits that rose above this that were worthwhile. And none of them done with five thousand other people. 

I suppose it’s like murder (with apologies to Agatha Christie.) If enough people murder someone, no one gets blamed/punished. If enough people get their name on a paper, no one gets credit, just mention. 

I’m glad that there are people who can work under these conditions otherwise some branches of physics would dry up and blow away. But I still sorrow for them. 

Heat Hammer?

Thor’s day. The horrible heat continues. (humor) When the clerk arrived to open the gym this morning I was already bemused by several “hot” comments from the other queued for entry. 

The podcast was an episode of the English Ubuntu podcast and started a new season. That meant I was only about two months behind. Viva Pack Rat Paranoia! Rather not too bad. I am now firmly convinced that I do not want, nor need, an Ubuntu cellular telephone. From their descriptions the swiping spectrum is so dense that I will never be able to get it down. I fear swiping is not one of my talents. In fact, I am a swipe klutz. Half the time when I try to finger press a key or button on a screen I get a totally unwanted, often catastrophic, effect. On the good side, It makes me much happier for calculators with good keys. And my Northgate keyboards. Although I am using a Filco right now and it is acceptable. And yes, keyboards today do satisfy Sturgeon’s Rule. At least 0.9 of them are stercus

I have been studying Stochastic Differential Equations (again!, maybe the fifth time?) and have made enough progress this time to discover that they aren’t very useful as posed by the math wonks. This is not a surprise. When I was a senior undergraduate one of my maths professors, whose degrees were in civil engineering but taught applied maths because, frankly, mathematicians don’t teach applied maths well. 

He told me once that “Physicists don’t really do maths; they just beat them into submission.” 

I suspect it it time for some beating.

Grail Quest

Saturn’s day and the air temperature is less than yesterday’s this time. Definitely a brisk! constitutional in the park. And blissfully absent crashing drug addict. So I had some solitude to listen to podcast and my cerebration. Which mostly is wrestling with stochastic differential equations (SDEs).

SDEs have been a grail quest of mine for several years. They pretty much came on the scene after my formal schuling so I never had a chance to take a course in the subject. There may have been courses but their existence didn’t get past my mind screen of now-stuff. I first ran across them about ten or fifteen years ago and decided I needed to study them enough to see if they would be a useful tool. 

The problem was that I found myself in the position of a neolithic hunter-gatherer who asked about how to make stone tools and was handed a rock and told to get to it. I started my quest by buying a “textbook” on SDEs. Lots of theorems and rather unintelligible proofs but no tool usage. The examples never got beyond the trivial and were never adequately explained. 

I should comment here that one of the problems of being a not-Mathematician is that what is important for a mathematician to say in a maths book is not what is important to an S&E for tool use. Most of what a mathematician wants to make sure gets covered is not really relevant to someone who want to use a tool. I don’t care very much how the screwdriver is made if it has the right properties as a tool. So there is a lot of information but no indication of what has to be applied to use the tool.

This makes for a hideously frustrating situation. Lots of trial and failure. And eventually ennui and walk-away. 

So periodically the itch has returned. I go out and survey the market. All the courses are for real mathematicians – that probably ought to be indicative? No “dummy” books. I visit college bookstores and browse the course texts; I visit Amazon and Barnes and Ignoble and do searches. I buy anything that offers “applications”. Time and again, trial and failure and fleeing the black flies. 

I suspect this attempt will end the same. But I am still trying. And it is, tritely, very trying. 

Film at Eleven. If Eleven ever comes.

 

Collection and Collective

It occurred to me the other day, while arguing right-of-way with a bumpkin that Greater Metropolitan Arab is one of those places where driver run STOP signs if no one else is using them.

I didn’t have any problem getting to the park this morning but then no 4-way STOPs along the way. The weather was a bit off. Air temperature in mid-40s and a mild wind. Just enough to be cooling. My ears are just now recovering sensation. The podcast was an episode of “The Pen Addict” which should stretch through the week out.

The thought trail I wandered off on this morning was “what makes us have these nit noid special interests?” I am not talking about our disciplines; physics is not nit noid except to asentient bogs. Nor am I talking about things like cooking which are peripheral to survival. Rather I mean things like an addiction to pens or notebooks or calculators or slide rules or collecting pins or stamps or coins. We rationalize these activities, especially the collections, as a form of wealth accumulation although almost universally they prove to be anything but. Beanie Babies being a case in point. 

It would be nice if we could say this was a by-blow of intelligence but that ain’t so. Several animals collect stuff. I have read that crows collect ‘shiny things’ and that pack rats collect something, I am unsure of the qualifier. So this behavior cannot be simply a matter of high overhead brains. But since it manifests in many, if not all, humans it must have some beneficial aspect. 

It seems to be related to whatever drove us to abandon hunter-gathering and adopt sedentary agriculture. Clearly hunter-gatherers were limited in what collections they could have. Maybe a favorite rock or two so long as they were capable tools or unburdensome jewelry, but no stamp albums or ceramic figures in glass cases. 

An aspect of this has to be some form of us-them. There is clearly an aspect that whatever one does in this special way has to distance one from the mass but also have some (few?) colleagues so that comparisons and critiques are possible. Unique collections or interests are often viewed as a form of insanity, which incidentally is clearly a social and not a physiological illness, but as soon as there are a few who do this thing it enjoys social tolerance if not acceptance. It’s a bit like religion: if one does it, it’s terrorism but if two (or more) do it, it’s a church. Which is intriguingly a complete reversal of how religion should be. 

Selah. For now.