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End Days

No, not the apocalypse or even the robot apocalypse but the end of days because…we learn something?

Probably one of the more bizarre op-eds to hit the New York Times was by philosophy professor Preston Greene, who warns us not to try a test to see if our reality is really just a computer simulation. His logic is that the simulation ceases to be useful one it realizes it is a simulation. Who knew philosophers were into comedy?

The basis for tests like the one disturbing Prof. Greene is that you can’t simulate the whole universe without…a spare universe.  A rather daunting task. So the current logic is that any simulation would have approximations for more distant venues (and that Earth is the actual focus of study), and that somewhere those approximations would become apparent.

It doesn’t take much thought to question the internal logic and then the external logic here.  The internal logic says that a self-realizing simulation would be terminated as it wouldn’t be useful.  That all depends on what the point of the simulation would be. If it is to understand how civilizations react to learning they are simulations, then there is no risk.  Or if it is to study anthropogenic climate change, it might not matter either. And in practice, it isn’t clear that being in a simulation really would change how you go about your life, so would such recognition matter?  After all, people have lived their lives thinking that their path was ordained by God–how is this really different?

Frankly, if it was that important that the simulation would be unaware, you’d probably stick in some routine to warn of an impending test that might show this was a simulation so you could fudge the results of the test.

On the external side, you learn that philosophers aren’t very familiar with running simulations. For a real study, you want to make simulations that are focused on something you are interested in studying; ideally you leave out all the other junk that doesn’t matter–even if you could put it in. Does the rise and fall of civilization really depend on getting the ratio of lutetium to hafnium right in zircon crystals that were eroded and redeposited several times over the past 3 billion years? That Pluto have a geologic history? That the Earth’s magnetic field reverses from time to time? To make the Earth that geologists see, you’d have to simulate the whole history of the planet down to the isotopic content of individual mineral grains over about 4 billion years. Why would you bother? There is an amazing amount of information in some of the most prosaic of materials that actually makes sense.  Why trouble running a simulation for billions of years when you could just say “let’s start with these isotopic ratios everywhere at 5000 BC?”–particularly when you want to run “very many” simulations which could be rather time consuming.

So any kind of intellectual investigation seems unlikely (too much irrelevant detail). Who would make such a total and complete simulation?  Frankly, it would be some hobbyist who wanted to make a perfect simulation–probably in competition with another hobbyist.

It is hard to guess at motivations of some quasi-descendents who could master the resources of a solar system just to make a simulation–maybe outright boredom. But the logic that there would be lots of these simulations and therefore the odds are low of any one individual being “real” instead of simulated sits on a raft of pretty questionable assumptions.

Is J.J. Abrams Saving Science?

Its taken GG quite awhile to figure out the game J.J. Abrams is playing, but with the last Star Wars trailer release, things are finally starting to clear up.  You see, he is really trying to save science from the clutches of the movies.

Now, GG has been a tad critical once or twice but now sees the light. All that disregard of, oh, time or space or energy or light speed or aerodynamics or, well, physics in general wasn’t ignorance.  No, seeing in the preview the wreckage of a Death Star plopped out at sea reminded GG of the big spaceships in The Force Awakens that somehow landed on a planet in more or less one piece–clearly implausible, but now, having dropped a bigger piece of Death Star structure into an ocean now clearly challenges basic engineering, both as the craft had become nothing more than little sparkles when last we saw it and also because in plummeting to ground it would have broken apart even further and then ended up facing real gravity in a strange direction that would have surely collapsed the thing. (Not to mention it probably would have rusted profoundly sitting in water).

No, this ever-increasing incredulity is Abrams clearly saying to us all: these are total and complete fantasies.  Nothing would ever look anything like this, not TIE fighters skimming along the ground, not energy blasts instantly visible from distant star systems, not blasters or laser swords or Force ghosts…. No matter how real filmmakers can make the impossible look, it remains impossible. Don’t learn your science here, young ones!

So J.J., we applaud your efforts to free the public from any illusion that fancy special effects reproduce reality in any way shape or form.  Bravo!

Dunning-Kruger Dog Owners

Seems that a lot of pundits are having fun with evaluating various political figures as suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is often summarized as being unaware of how ignorant you are and so thinking you are quite competent (it is rather the flip side of the imposter syndrome, where people think they are less competent than they objectively are). Something similar to the Dunning-Kruger effect seems to affect many dog owners, who are seemingly unaware of just how stupid their dogs are.

Now stupid in this context isn’t really dog stupidity (though it can include that), it is more dog misbehavior according to human standards. And in a dog-centric place like Boulder, demonstrations of dog owner obliviousness are widespread.

For instance, Boulder has rules for dogs allowed off leash on many trails.  Dogs are supposed to respond immediately when the owner calls; owners (well, guardians–you don’t own dogs in Boulder, but we’ll use owner for the broader non-Boulder public) are to keep the dog under close visual observation.  Dogs are supposed to leave other dogs and wildlife alone.

Frankly, it amazes GG that there are quite a number of dogs that behave extremely well under this program. And there are quite a few dog owners (like GG) fully aware that they and/or their dogs are unsuited to this and so keep their dogs leashed (GG’s golden would chase any wildlife to the ends of the earth if off leash). And then there are the Dunning-Kruger-ish dogs and their owners.

This third class of dog owners think their dogs are well behaved, a surmise not demonstrated by their canine companions. These owners are often found calling out to their dogs from hundreds of feet as the dog happily does whatever he or she finds interesting. And after about 5 or 10 or 20 calls, the dog bounces back to the owner, who greets the wayward pup as “such a good dog.” Such owners are offended if their utter inability to control their dog is pointed out: an open space ranger some years ago saw a dog run off, eat the eggs of a ground-nesting bird and then return to the owner, whom the ranger confronted. “Oh no, not my dog, he was right here with me the whole time.”

These folks are the reason there are dog feces scattered about in open space areas, and why there is less wildlife in many areas than there might be [though lets not let feral and outdoor cats off the hook]. (Boulder does try to protect more sensitive areas by requiring a leash on some trails and banning dogs altogether on others).

GG can look out over a small patch of open space behind his house and sees the off leash dogs wandering all over the place, some behaving OK and then others not so much. A woman running on a trail ran a good 100 yards past her large white dog, who, after sniffing around a bit, deposited some stool by the trail before rushing off to be greeted by his oblivious owner.

Occasionally the karma gods intervene. She ran a second time down the trail (ignoring the fresh stool) and the dog sprinted farther than she went this time.  She turned back and was calling from nearly the full length of the field, perhaps 200 yards. And after a bit her dog was sprinting back towards her–except the dog was now two-toned, white on top and black on the bottom. Hopefully he greeted her with open, wet, muddy paws…

Un-time-ly illogic

Well the end of Daylight Savings Time is near and so the demands for year-round savings of daylight increase as the sun drops lower towards the horizon.  Federal action must be taken! We must all be on DST! California voters get to vote on this, Florida passed a law asking for this– except that neither can take effect until the federal government acts. Congress forbid states from going on Daylight Savings all year long.  They can stay on standard time all year (which is what Arizona does, to the confusion of visitors to Laughlin who fly into and out of Bullhead City, whose clocks are only an hour different in the winter). But move that clock an hour ahead? No.

Well, you know you can fake it, right? Just go to standard time (which is allowed under the law) and start school an hour earlier, work from 8 to 4 instead of 9 to 5.  How hard is that? It is even a bit liberating–leaving work at 4 might feel like you are playing hooky every day.

But wait, I hear you cry, even that still wastes daylight! Here in Denver there are 15 hours of daylight near the summer solstice–even with DST the sun gets up at 5:30 in the morning. Who needs that! That’s at least an hour and a half of daylight we’re wasting.

So since we all now use cellphones and computers to tell time, and since they all can make these calculations with ease, GG proposes Uniform Sunlight Time (US time!).  In US Time, every morning the sun rises promptly at 8 am. So in the summer months the sun sets here in Denver 15 hours later, at 11 pm. Lots of saved daylight.  And in the depths of winter when we are down to a miserable nine hours and 22 minutes of daylight, the sun sets at 5:22 pm so the average wage earner gets a few rays after work. No more putting a pillow over your head at 6 am in the summer as the sun blasts through your curtains! No more oversleeping that business meeting at 9 because it was darker than the inside of a dog when you went to get up! And all that saved light!

But…but…but–that would change the length of a day! Spring days would be something like 24 hours and 2 minutes and fall days would be about 23 hours and 58 minutes. Well, if you want to get picky, days don’t stay the same length as it is–if you don’t believe it, put a rod in the ground and every day at precisely noon, see where the shadow points. It won’t be the same direction every day because high noon to high noon is almost never 24 hours. Why? Because of the Earth’s elliptical orbit around the sun. Solar noon moves by about a half hour relative to our 24 hour clock over the year. This 24 hours stuff is just an average over the year anyways; why not monkey with it?

Now we probably don’t want to redefine the length of a second every day.  We could, but that probably would mess things up (after all, you probably wouldn’t want to have to change the stickers on computers every day to correct their processor speed for that day–today only 2.0018 GHz!). So just like going on Daylight Savings, we simply tidy up when most of us are asleep, say at 2 am. From the winter to the summer solstice we spring forward a minute or two, so we might go from 2:00 am directly to 2:02 am, and in the other half of the year we fall back a little. No big deal. We could even mildly adjust the frequency of AC power to get mechanical clocks aligned with this while all our digital toys automatically take care of the switch.

GG is sure that this will solve all our problems with time. So feel free to write your Congressman or Congresswoman–GG is sure they would be delighted to hear about something they could actually do and be a pleasant diversion from partisan screeds they currently find in their in boxes.

Yes, its time for US Time!


“You attract more flies with honey than vinegar” the old saying goes.  It would seem a pretty marginal publisher got the word and is trying it out:

*Dear Dr. **C. H Jones**,

* *Greetings from Nessa Journal of Geology & Earth Sciences (NJGES)*

Recently we have come across your presentation at the *”Seismology of the Americas Meeting Latin American and Caribbean Seismological Commission Seismological Society of America May 2018 Miami, Florida” *with the title *”**Exploring the Extent of Wave Propagative Effects on Teleseismic Attenuation Measurements within the Sierra Nevada**”*. I presume that it will outstandingly attract the readers and will receive applause from the people of all walks of life. I believe it will enrich the knowledge and experiment of people who are involved in all these researches and experiments.

Man, what temptation! “receive applause from the people of all walks of life”! GG cannot wait to walk out to the mailbox to thunderous applause from the neighborhood, or be mobbed in the grocery store for having published in the legendary NJGES!

Though to “outstandingly attract the readers” might mean standing out on a street corner with a sign “please read and applaud.”

Aloha CNN; NY trillions of times

Residents of Honolulu were probably looking out their windows if they checked CNN this morning…


If you can’t read the small type…


Honolulu is of course on Oahu, several islands away from the Big Island where the eruption actually is occurring.

While CNN showed off their unusual understanding of geography, the NY Times pushed Earth’s history back to far before the beginning of the universe:


Wow, 202 trillion years ago the Earth wandered somewhere different?  What was Earth even doing back then, given there was no universe? [The article correctly talked about 202,500 years].

Wilderness Learning, Part 1

What is wilderness for? These days, it often seems to be a big outdoor gym, with folks trying to out-do one another on a time climbing a wall, running a trail, kayaking a river. While advocates for Wilderness Areas argue for a sort of spiritual renewal, is there anything there beyond recharging one’s emotional batteries or notching some personal best?

It seems a question worth asking in a day and age when we are revisiting what should and should not be allowed to go on in Wilderness Areas. To that end, GG is dropping the third person to talk a bit about personal experiences in wilderness that might be a bit different from expectations. This is pretty different from the usual fare here, both in length and tone, so consider yourself warned, and while the insights I hope to show in these posts could probably be distilled more thoroughly, I hope that the broader context of my (mis)adventures is of interest.

Read More…