Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Strangling the Economy

Science drives economic progress.
Science is done in the universities.
The business influences and methodologies are making it more and more difficult to be a professor.
Few americans are willing to become physicists anymore. This dates from just after the moon landings.
(In K-12 fully 50 % of new teachers quit the profession within 5 years. At all levels teachers are poorly paid
and badly treated.)
The high price of fuel/energy results from poor funding of research into things like fusion energy.
Much medical diagnosis could be done more economically by computer expert systems.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Definition of "algorithm"

There are a number of different definitions of the term "algorithm." My present thoughts are an extension of the work of Noson Yanofsky.
"Programs" decompose desired functionality into a complete sequence of exact operations like: if then else,
equals, add, subtract, multiply, divide, greater than, less than, unequal, AND, OR, for next, goto, do while, do until, etc.  These operate on real numbers, integers, vectors, matrices, character strings, etc. Programs are executable in some programming language.
"Algorithms" decompose desired functionality in terms of an incomplete description using informal operations (perhaps in pseudo code) like: look up, insert, replace, return, etc.  These operate on models, states, goals, sets, costs, sequences, etc.  Many different programs (in the same or different programming languages) may implement  the same algorithm.
Algorithms are a stage in the refinement process from an informal specification toward the creation of an executable program.

Friday, January 21, 2011

An Advantage To Being An Engineer

If, as a physicist, you develop a system of turbulent thermal insulation and its theory this may not be so important if inertial confinement fusion is chosen for power reactors.
As a teacher, what you accomplish is a function of how bright your students are and how hard they work.
A computer scientist who develops analog or hybrid computers may be made obsolete by the progress in digital machines.
As an inventor, the creation of the tandem mirror or tandem cusp may not be very significant if closed magnetic fusion systems are chosen. Similarly, a magnetic hairpin limiter for a Tokamak may be obsolete if we use laser fusion systems.
A philosopher who has spent his time developing a theory of value pluralism will have wasted his time if value monism proves to be correct.
An engineer may have an easier time judging his success and the value of his work.
An aerospace engineer will know if his rocket climbs into space.
A software engineer will know if his control software keeps the plant working within the desired parameter range.
As a vacuum engineer I know over what range of vacuum pressures my chamber operates.
(But, of course, an engineer's product may be of uncertain reliability, safety, and cost and people may not want it.  You can design an aircraft but a competitor's product may get the contracts.  Your software may be subject to security risks or crash frequently.  A cheaper substitute may be available.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

NASA manned space plans

I am fearful that NASA is going to build something on "the cheap" that will turn out to be both crappy and dangerous.

It would be better that we either:

1. Tax the rich so that we can pay for something good.


2. Stop U.S. manned space flight for a decade or so.


3. Fund the russian manned space effort. It makes no sense for the US, Russia, China (and India?) to all have similar manned spacecraft and independent launchers. Not to mention Dragon, Falcon 9, Delta IV, and Atlas V.  There is too much duplication of effort. Cooperation could save a lot of money.  Each nation need not have its own national launchers and spacecraft.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Capitalism's Fatal Flaws

Capitalism has a number of fatal flaws.  Three of these are:
1.  Utility theory and the monetary system assume value monism.  But, in fact, value pluralism is correct, not value monism. (See, philosopher, axiology and references therein.)  If you have bad values you make bad decisions.
2.  For a hundred years we have known that groups can make better decisions than individuals can. (The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki, Random House, 2004)  We should not have chairs, deans, presidents, bosses, CEOs, rather, decisions should be taken by worker's councils. Democracy is more efficient than dictatorships. This is why I am a DEMOCRATIC socialist.
3. The world capitalist system depends upon growth. It is a Ponzi scheme. But world resources are limited. Our economy needs to stabilize and, in fact, shrink a bit.  If things continue as they have I fear our species will enter a period of (more or less violent) Volterra oscillations.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Historical Preservation of Electronic Records and Objects

More and more theses and other scholarly materials are being made available only in electronic form.  This has been a concern of mine since the time a few years ago when I found that I had an electronic file that no one on our campus could open. While written texts can be preserved for hundreds or thousands of years "electronic records that are not moved out of obsolete hardware and software environments are very likely to die with them." (David Bearman, D-Lib Magazine, April 1999, vol. 5, #4)  Bearman recommends the "migration (of) electronic records systematically before they become inaccessible, so that they are always available to current generations of software and hardware."  Unfortunately, I have not been doing this and I don't know of anyone who has.

I recently heard a military historian voice concern that David Petraeus' emails would not be preserved like Eisenhower's diaries were.