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About syrakusos

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    Rational Empiricist
  • Birthday 11/10/1949

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    Michael E. Marotta
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    Senior technical writer for enterprise information systems serving complex organizations. Content strategist and knowledge presentationdesigner for projects serving electrical power, telecommunication, insurance, and manufacturing... Post and patrol for large crowd events, as well as for business, technology and retail customers. Responsible for greeting, clearing and directing visitors and employees. Inspection of premises and grounds via closed circuit television cameras.
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    West Wing, Die Hard 1-4, Big Bang Theory
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    Numismatics, Physical Security and Computer Security, Aviation

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  1. How the Martians Discovered Algebra

    I woke up at 2:00 AM and have to be in the office early anyway... so, I worked the Bissell Algorithm for Pythagorean Triples and it did not come out right for me. I want to check my arithmetic, of course. In the mean time, I am disappointed that no one else here bought the book. Let me tell you a story... When I was about 8 or 10, one summer, a neighbor kid from the next block that some of the other kids knew had family over from out of town. They went to an Indians game. The out of town cousin caught a foul ball that was hit into the stands. He brought to to show us. No one believed him. Many years later, it occurred to me that the problem was the Dead End Kids. There was an implicit sense of life assumption that nothing great would happen to any of us. We all knew the Abraham Lincoln myths about America. Everyone's family was there seeking something better. But this was far deeper than that. And I have seen this elsewhere in life and it is operative here. Major Premise: I am an idiot. Minor Premise: Bissell hangs out with me. Conclusion: Therefore, Bissell is an idiot. I am not going to stomp off mad and never come back, just to come back anyway, but I can discuss this with Roger offline.
  2. How the Martians Discovered Algebra

    I am about 20 pages into the book and enjoying it. I read at bedtime, so I do not work the problems, but I will work through your method for generating Pythagorean Triples. I recently read an old book that presented 300 proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem. (Reviewed on my blog, here: )
  3. How the Martians Discovered Algebra

    How the Martians Discovered Algebra by Roger E. Bissell arrived yesterday. It is nicely done. CreateSpace did a good job. I ordered the book on July 18, 2017, and got a programmed response to that. I received a confirmation on July 22 with a promise of July 31 arrival. The book arrived via UPS on July 26. Just reading a random page for now, it reminds me of George Boole. We are taught to think of syllogisms as reductions. Boole presented his algebra as a way to expand statements. So, too, does Bissell (as far as I have read) expansively explain that 0 + 5 is not "five added to zero," but starting with no action, you begin with the existence of five items. (More later...)
  4. Existing User

    We are all "phenoms" here; that's for sure... I wonder, though, if you would be willing to create a Noumenal button under your own control for ideal work. Of course, by deontology that would mean that we would look to such posts as standards to follow, even if no one benefited, even if everyone were harmed. No, better not. SOLO already went down that road.
  5. Existing User

    I am not arguing for a change. I like the whimsy. Besides, it might be a basic feature of the Invision BBS software, and be totally beyond MSK's control. If you know Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, that kind of humor was one of Francisco d'Anconia's attributes : "I never deny anything." (BTW, Bob, just a personal annoyance, and I think we discussed this a couple of years ago: Your habit of quoting the entire post that you are replying to just clutters up the board. It also makes you look like you have a base-10 two-digit IQ.)
  6. Existing User

    I just now realized that the prompt in the upper right sign-in block raises some metaphysical questions. The prompt is not for "Registered User" or "Approved Customer." It asks if you are an Existing User. Is it not metaphysically impossible to be a non-existing user? And would it not be a logical contradiction to attempt to be an existing non-user if you were using the site at this moment, regardless of your contractual status? For one thing, you can view without signing in. I do that, sometimes, just to see what is happening. And the site software does allow you to log in anonymously, does it not? And if you just view the homepage and click off, you have still used, and are therefore an existing user (of low engagement).
  7. How the Martians Discovered Algebra

    The truth of progress is somewhere between "social forces" and "the great man." Obviously, someone invents new ideas. But many of the seeds never took, apparently having died for lack of fertile soil. I point to the discussion of the Antikythera Device here in OL, especially my comments, not Baal's. I got my information from the best lecture, not Nova or Discovery. And I referenced the papers of the best discovery for those who want to explore the details for themselves. The point here is that the Antikythera Device, attributable perhaps to Archimedes or perhaps to a collaboration among Euclid, Apollonius, and Archimedes, was not a singular creation. It was obviously the result of a long development and could not have existed in isolation. Yet, where are the other evidences? We know from references about coin-operated prayer machines, and the steam engine of Heron. But we have not much else... I point also to a reference that the First Citizen ("emperor") Claudius wrote a multivolume history of the Etruscans. He may have included a grammar of the language. All of that, too, is lost, and it came from the center of power of the time. I am not one of the doomsayers here an in O-land who seem to look forward to the coming collapse of civilization. (See The Future and Its Enemies by Virginia Postrel.) Civilization is not collapsing. The end is not in sight. ... no matter what they want to believe. That said, however, if you consider the Bronze Age Collapse, and the decline of Rome, it is clear that all of this is very fragile. It deserves respect and protection. If Archimedes had had the zero, we would likely be pretty close to where we are today. See The Invention of Enterprise by Joel Mokyr, ed. and Against the Gods by Peter L. Bernstein. Every civilized society - and many other cultures - has "merchants" but capitalism only came from the confluence of Renaissance and the invention of statistics. The Romans of Archimedes' time had merchants. But their society valued conquest more. Successful merchants turned their enterprises over their freedmen and slaves, and retired to the countryside to live as gentleman farmers. You could have given them Alan Turing, and it would not have made any difference. (And I apologize for sidetracking the discussion of Roger's book. I will make up for it in a later post. The book is due here Monday.)
  8. How the Martians Discovered Algebra

    Thanks, Roger. I ordered the book.
  9. Martin Landua, R.I.P.

    We are supposed to always speak well of the dead, lest they come back and haunt us. I believe that Martin Landau's best work was in Woody Allen's Crimes & Misdemeanors. When he and Barbara Bain took over Mission Impossible and moved on to Space: 1999, I was already influenced by Ayn Rand and found Martin Landau and Barbara Bain to be examples of existentialism in the performing arts: the meaninglessness of life expressed as shallow comments about routine activities. That is why I really liked his performance in Crimes & Misdemeanors, where he played an average person who attempted an out-of-bounds action without considering the consequences. There's a lesson there...
  10. Antikythera Device

    For a concise biography of Eratosthenes and his works see, Circumference by Nicholas Nicastro (St. Martins 2008) which I reviewed here: As for the Antikythera Device, as I understand, while we have the back of the machine fairly well figured out, the front face is still largely conjectural. One question not answered was how the machine was intended to be powered. It calculates the position of the Moon over time with precision not seen for another 2000 years. But in order for that to work, you need a starting reference. The machine was in transit when it was lost. To be used again, it needed to be set up and calibrated. It it not likely that the gearing was meant for hand-cranking back and forth. That would be like an idiot playing with a clock or wristwatch to see the numbers change. Rather, the machine would be in one place and would be running constantly, a quantitative orrery.
  11. Antikythera Device

    Baal's link took me to an anti-aging conference. Here are some of my resources on the Antikythera Device. The device may have been a collaboration among Archimedes, Eratosthenes, and Apollonius. Archimedes is known to have constructed "spheres" that showed the movements of the planets. Eratosthenes was the Librarian at Alexandria. Apollonius was the best geometer of the time. Even if Archimedes built it entirely on his own, the device shows successive stages of work. It also displays remarkable sophistication that did not come in an instant of insight, but long repetitions of better effort. Just cutting the gears was an achievement. Although the device was singular, many similar mechanisms must have existed, yet all are lost. Dr. Anthony Freeth heads the team that has decoded much more of the Antikythera device. Papers are here: ISAW Papers 4 (February, 2012) The Cosmos in the Antikythera Mechanism by Tony Freeth and Alexander Jones Eclipse Prediction on the Ancient Greek AstronomicalCalculating Machine Known as the Antikythera Mechanism by Tony Freeth Building the Cosmos in the Antikythera Device by Tony Freeth & SKA_018.pdf You can view a 2-hour lecture at Stanford here. (I did it in three sittings, but it was worthwhile.)
  12. The libraries at the University of Texas at Austin shelve 83 volumes by Ayn Rand. Of them, 30 have been stolen. Of those, eight are marked in the catalog as “Missing.” In other words, they left the shelves without being checked out. The others were just not returned by the last borrowers who effectively got away with their crimes. I identify these facts as evidence of a deeper political problem, first posited 2500 years ago by Sophocles in his drama, Antigone. More recent, and known well to admirers of the works of Ayn Rand, are the trial scenes from The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Not so famous, but cutting more deeply into the fabric of law is Ayn Rand’s courtroom drama, Night of January 16th. The question is whether or not you have a duty to obey the law. It is important to understand, first, that Ayn Rand was opposed to duty. Obviously, for some admirers of the works of Ayn Rand, the prospect of a free copy of one of her books was stronger than any irrational duty to the public order. However, it is also true that Rand’s dictum above must be placed in its proper context because she was far more eloquent in her condemnation of “looters” and substantially incisive in her praise for their antithesis, the producers. Moreover, the moral and political aspects of her philosophy of Objectivism were primarily about the positive virtues of production, creation, and active reason, against which are revealed the negative, destructive, and empty actions of the irrational and non-productive. The primary concern is not whether the owner of the bookstore sends her children to a government-subsidized daycare center, but where you got the money with which you bought the book. If you did not buy the book at all, if there was no earned money exchanged, then the failure was yours long antecedent to the gross action of mere acquisition of the book. he essential question here is: “What justifies stealing from the public library?” It leads to a far wider set of questions and actions. I assert that if it is acceptable to steal Atlas Shrugged from the library, then it is acceptable to take a tree from a public park, or a computer from city hall, or the President’s limousine from the White House. And, ultimately, it would be acceptable to take anything from anyone who accepted any public benefit, whether a social security check, “land bank” payments for not growing crops, sending their children to public schools, or (of course) borrowing books from the public library (and returning them). Some libertarians claim that it is moral to steal from the library, or any other government entity, because their assets all come from taxation, and taxation is theft. When you steal a library book, you only take back what was yours in the first place. This also applies by extension to stealing back what was yours from any business that benefits from government subsidies, whether General Motors or Tesla, Inc., a local hospital, or the florist whom you spot coming from the library. Moving right along, for a philosophical Objectivist (or simply an “admirer” of the works of Ayn Rand) such justifications, extend to their irrational mystical altruist collectivist neighbors. Their theory is that anyone who goes to church or votes for Democrats is fair game, especially when the risks are very low. Your neighbors who are tax looters or welfare moochers stole from you first; you are just taking back what was yours. If you can get away with it, why not? Among the many accurate and precise tools of logic that Ayn Rand employed in her expositions was identifying the error of context dropping. In terms of the social consequences of personal morality, it is the error of moral equivalency. It also a powerful tool in Objectivism that moral success begins in metaphysics and epistemology. So the moral failing of the looter of the library begins with errors in metaphysics and epistemology. Ayn Rand called it “reifying the zero” i.e., attempting to make a “something” out of nothing. (See “Axiomatic Concepts” in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.) Stealing a copy of Atlas Shrugged from the library is not the moral equivalent of buying one from a bookstore. In Sophocles’ Antigone, the heroine was so outraged by the desecration of her brothers’ bodies, whatever their crimes against the city, that she disobeyed the commands of the tyrant Creon, in full acceptance of the consequences. In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark is prepared to go to prison if his appeal to the creative spirit fails. In Atlas Shrugged, Hank Rearden refuses to hand over his metal and tells the government that he cannot stop their trucks and guns if they come to take it. And he is willing to go to prison rather than to acquiesce in the theft of his property. In Night of January 16th Karen André has committed or conspired in so many crimes that the play does not even come close to a bill of indictment. She makes no appeal to a higher law or a greater good or a better morality. She does not explain herself at all: no outsider’s opinion is consequential to her. On the other hand, the hooligan who steals a copy of Atlas Shrugged from the public library makes no public statements, issues no manifesto, and stands not in defiance of authority but slinks away with loot. It might be informative for a bold privateer to wheel several shelving carts out the door while distributing leaflets condemning the philosophical and economic fallacies of “public goods.” (And when the campus police arrive, he should have a clever cloaking device unless he intends to go to jail for his beliefs.) But that is not the case. Instead, other people whose taxes have paid for goods and services are deprived of the benefit of their bargain by a third party. We call that theft. "Rand fans" are not the only people given to "crimes of conscience." The Roman republican martyr Cato the Younger (Marcus Porcius Cato,Uticensis) became a symbol for Christians and ultimately republicans of the Enlightenment. But, again, Cato the Younger took his own life rather than submit to Gaius Julius Caesar. It remains that the jihadi who kill themselves while they kill others in suicide attacks claim obedience to a higher law, also. The actions are not morally equivalent because the consequences are not morally equivalent. Do you have a duty to obey the law? In the explicit sense identified by Ayn Rand, that a duty is an obligation that supersedes self-interest, you do not. But that begs the question: What is self-interest? Rand devoted herself to answering that question. If you do not understand why productively earning the money with which to buy a book is in your self-interest while the easy pickings of the public library are not, you need to do some reading. It is a common error in our common education that we want even our “story problems” to be short, when in fact, the most important aspects of living well require more than a slogan to explain. (This article originally appeared on my blog, NecessaryFacts.)
  13. "Watches Prove that Beaches Weren't Designed"

    I get the point, but it does not address the deeper issue. You can prove that 2 + 2 ≠ 6 because the statement is not isolated from all the rest of arithmetic. All you have done is take one truth (2 + 2 = 4) and misstate it into a falsehood. And your objection does not tie the analytic to the synthetic. You cannot prove that the Moon has not been used as a base by aliens. You cannot prove that God does not exist. And all the rest. How are empirical observations, or the lack of them, different from logical truths?
  14. "Watches Prove that Beaches Weren't Designed"

    Yes, of course all of those are only the result of attempting to prove a positive assertion and running into a contradiction that falsifies it. Then, you turn it over and make it a disproof. That is just a subset of how proofs are done in algebra. Andrew Wyles's proof of Fermat's Conjecture is a great example. Perhaps I need a better way of stating my hypothesis, but I do not want to separate the rational from the empirical. .
  15. I patronize the local atheist boutique to buy bumper stickers, pens, pencils, lapel pins, and badges. This one sat on my desk for a couple of weeks. Then, I had a reply. "Watches only prove that beaches were not designed to be watches." The fallacy goes to the root of arguments for atheism. You cannot prove a negative assertion. When you try, you run into non-sequiturs. Complete essay here: