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Issue 72: Listening to Words

At a recent lunch, a colleague of ours pointed out how he had begun to hone his listening skills and that he increasingly realizes just how often people tend to take for granted that everyone else uses words in just the same way that they do. For example, when negotiating a schedule, he says that he often hears his employees reaching agreements with each other – agreements that can’t be met but which sound good all the same. The reason the agreements sound good is that each person hears a set of words and imagines that the meaning is precisely what they want rather than what the other is actually intending. By listening carefully and slowing everyone down in order to more carefully define their terms, he’s been able to avoid a lot of headaches.

So we thought that this month’s Blog Wyrm would focus on words and meanings and perceptions in a variety of contexts.

Everyone knows that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, right? It’s one of Newton’s three laws and a pillar of physics. But sometimes what is meant by equal and opposite action and reaction is more complicated than at first glance. Under The Hood explores the various meanings and nuances of this old idea.

Understanding words precisely is a sign of intelligence. Being able to play with them and layer multiple meanings is also a sign of intelligence. Both attributes are needed for artificial intelligence to pass the Turing Test. But sometimes, as this month’s Aristotle To Digital argues, being confused may be the most important aspect to help an AI blend in.

Can words and ideas deeply affect the economy? Yes! when they persuade large numbers of people to ignore great job opportunities simply because these jobs aren’t cool. Thankfully, Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs, cares about this jobs gap. Read this month’s Common Cents to see what he has to say (and, amusingly) how he says it.

Finally, this month’s About Comics looks at the evolution of words and ideas in comics over the decades from the early days in the Golden Age to the modern comic.


Issue 71: Sigh… The Oscars

February is usually a hard month. It’s typically cold and dreary. Historically, it brings a lot of snow. Every 4 years (well almost…), it gains a leap day, throwing off segments of the population as well as posing the standard conundrum as to the correct way to calculate the age of the people who are born on this day. Not to mention how hard it is to spell. But far more tiresome than any of these, is the yearly celebration of the narcissistic and the banal: The Oscars.

Nowhere else in the entire world can one find a bigger collection of spoiled, self-centered, ‘artists’ who use a faux awards ceremony as one part advertisement, one part ego stroke, and one part political stump speech. These artists tell us to love not hate while the characters they portray gun down everybody in sight. They tell us not to waste or pollute while cars, planes, and buildings are destroyed with gleeful abandon for the sake of their art. They tell us that torture doesn’t work while they manically portray some deranged caricature of mobster who always gets the information he wants by beating it out of some poor stooge. They tell us that what counts is what is on the inside, while they diet and train and liposuction and tanning booth their way onto the red carpet. They decry greedy capitalists, big business, and the sins of money while simultaneously demanding bigger and bigger paychecks so that they can spend profligately. Why we collectively watch this trash that masquerades as a venue for their much-deserved recognition is beyond me.

Fortunately for those of you who like counter-programming, Blog Wyrm has a fine spate of columns this month.

Starting off the rotation is an interesting analysis of decision making in the face of uncertainty. Aristotle To Digital dissects the Secretary Problem and shows that knowing precisely when to stop can be a very difficult thing indeed.

Ever hear of the twisted cubic? It’s a wonderful, elegant, simple-to-define space curve with some interesting properties that makes it an object of fair amount of mathematical research. Just the thing to demonstrate the nature of minimal frames, a topic that has been ongoing within Under The Hood.

There seems to be a universal argument in all creative undertakings as to who deserves the lions share of the credit. Is it the actor, or writer, or director and so on. Comic books are no different. This month’s About Comics discusses this perennial, fan-favorite source of drama.

What do haircuts and wine tasting have in common? If you didn’t say regulations and licensing then you need to read this month’s Common Cents where all will be revealed.


Issue 70: That’s 240 in Dog Years

Well Blog Wyrm has reached another milestone – 70 issues. And all in the space of about 2 years. Not bad! Imagine if we had put out one per year. That would be 240 in dog years (not sure what that old expression really means but why not slip it in – we’re celebrating here). One per year would make us a septuagenarian and we all know what that means:

Yep! The world would be our oyster. Well, enough with the jocularity and pointless banter and onto the columns.

Ever wonder how can we explain the sorry situation that exists within the American citizenry with regards to a working knowledge of the rules of economics? Well the blame rests squarely on the those innocuous board games that everyone is playing. Don’t believe it? Well this month’s Common Cents will prove it beyond a reasonable doubt (assuming that your reasonable doubt makes allowance for tongue-in-cheek shenanigans).

Speaking of shenanigans, an old and somewhat comical word, one need look no further than some of the colorful turns of phrase offered by our political class in their finest moments – when they are walking that fine line in a speech where they try to be all things to all people. And certainly the famous oration If By Whiskey by one Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr. is often argued to be the pinnacle of political double-speak. But there are always two sides to every story and, as Aristotle To Digital demonstrates, Soggy may have more in common with ancient Greek philosophy than anyone ever thought.

On a more sober note (see what I did there), About Comics looks the great love story from J. O’Barr , The Crow. This graphic novel, which has all but disappeared from the comics discourse, was one of the great works from the 1980s. It went on to inspire a movie franchise and a number of spin-off works.

Finally, Under The Hood plays with the method of moving frames and shows how minimal frames can arise in a variety of ways.


Issue 69: Holiday Break

To quote Andy Williams, it is the most wonderful time of the year. The main reason for this is that the Blog Wyrm staff has been enjoying celebrating Christmas with our family and focusing on domestic pleasures. As a result, we’ve decided to take a month off and return at the end of January with new content. See you then and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Issue 68: Thanks for the USA

Each November, much of the USA gets geared up for a variety of holiday events. Turkeys meet their rightful end, kitchens are occupied with intermittant squabbles about the right way to cook, schedules are rearranged around football and Black Friday, and the transition to Christmas carols and poor holiday movies seems to come earlier and earlier. It is really easy to become jaded and turned-off by the whole spectacle. But we at Blog Wyrm would like to remind our readers that the thing we should be most thankful for is the very system of the United States that allows us to be crazy fools, from time-to-time. The same holds true in our political and economic circles. All of these can be summarized in one word: freedom. Let us all be thankful for the freedom that living in the oldest and greatest experiment in democracy.

We can also be thankful for the really cool columns coming out this month.

Unfortunately Jack wasn’t able to successfully complete her Halloween Challenge on Green Screen. However, she’s keeping up with her current streak of out-of-the-box material. Not only is it the first full-length feature on a television series, it also happens to be about an anime. Don’t let that scare you away, though; this show is chock full of details virtually any audience can enjoy.

This month’s Aristotle To Digital examines the application of regression within logic throughout the ages. While many things in life change, the use of this logical tool has remained essentially the same over 2500 years yielding a variety of really amazing results ranging from ontological justifications of Man’s purpose, to the existance of God, to the foundations of mathematical set theory. This is one tool in the human toolbox that looks like it will never become obsolete.

Under The Hood continues its analysis of waves and the wave equation with particular focus on the Lorentz transformation and how the speed of the wave become invariant to all observers. This famous and important result is the cornerstone of relativity theory.

About Comics finishes the two-part series on the Watchmen mini-series. Despite its highly-lauded position within the literature of the twentieth century and its beautifully-constructed facade, Watchmen is, at its core, a vapid and simplistic exploration of nihilistic philosophy.

Do you think that a pencil is simple? Do you think that it is easy to manufacture? Read this month’s Common Cents as it argues that the division of labor and the Invisible Hand guide society in into making it look easy when it is anything but.


Issue 67: The October Classic

By the time this issue of Blog Wyrm publishes, the world may know the outcome of one more game in the truly historic World Series matchup between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs. Perennial losers both, the Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908 and the Indians since 1948. On the surface, it is hard to decide who to root for since both teams tug at the heart strings for support with their down-on-their luck history and their diehard, loyal fan base. From shear length-of-drought, one may be tempted to root for the Cubs. But Blog Wyrm would remind the reader that the Cubs are the only team in baseball that has ever turned a simple fan into a pariah.

The famous Steve Bartman incident, which took place on October 14, 2003, showed not only how petulant Cubs fans could be but also how low-class several members of the team were and still are. Blaming the Cub’s NLCS collapse on a single play, many in Chicago were ready to tar-and-feather Steve Bartman instead of putting blame where it was due – on the players. Bartman’s quality of life was irrevocably destroyed. The only reason that Blog Wyrm isn’t ready to completely argue for the total rejection of the Cubs is that Bartman maintains his loyalty and support for the team even to this day.

So if you root for the Indians in the Fall Classic that’s great. If you root for the Cubs, do it for the right reason – that a win by them may finally bring some measure of peace into the life of a guy who didn’t deserve all the grief the Windy City heaped upon him.

Now onto the columns.

Under The Hood explores how waves and the wave equation look to different observers with different points-of-view. Contrary to the usual ‘lore’ found in some physics circles, there is a reasonable mathematical and physical interpretation of the wave equation after it has been subjected to a Galilean transformation. Since this behavior is central to the arguments that lead to Special Relativity, it is particularly important to understand just how far one can get with the classical picture.

Continuing last month’s theme on how complexity can arise from simple rules repeated often, Aristotle To Digital discusses Conway’s game of life. This form of cellular automata pretty much launched a revival in that field and makes for a fun home programming project. It is amazing to see the boundless patterns that emerge from these simple rules. And, by the way, the how system is Turing complete, meaning that one can actually program the Game of Life using the Game of Life – very meta, in the strictest sense of that term.

When are money and wealth the same thing? Almost never! But that hasn’t stopped a huge portion of the known world from conflating the two with sometimes humorous and other times disastrous consequences. Join Common Cents as it reviews Jane Gleason-White’s book Double Entry and reflects on the creation of wealth amidst the assignment of credits and debits on the accounting ledgers of the world.

For a different “October Classic,” our own Jack attempts a Halloween-themed marathon in Green Screen. She attempts to watch and review a different creepy movie every day of the month! Follow her on her quest starting with the Halloween Challenge post and continuing through the “Next Post” link at the bottom of each one. How far did she get?

And finally About Comics begins the first of a two-part installment on the acclaimed Watchmen mini-series. Widely held as one of the most important literary works of the 20th Century, the 12-part comic series by Moore and Gibbons set the bar for what comics should/could be. But does it really deserve that lofty position? Read and find out.


Issue 66: How (and How Not) To Get Your Kicks

Well this month’s issue is number 66 and, in tribute to that old, old song, we are going to discuss proper and improper ways to get your kicks. On the proper side, by all means enjoy the fall weather, when sunny, or kick back with a nice drink and a good book when its rainy. Spend some time talking with friends and enjoying family. Play a board game or catch a movie. Go to the gym or head out for a bike ride. But under no circumstances should you do what these folk did in South Africa.

According to an article from IFL Science, two ‘activists’ penetrated BayWorld a marine amusement park in South Africa and made off with Buddy, an African Penguin who lived at the park. Without even bothering to understand the situation and the myriad points-of-view, these pin-headed zealots elevated their personal philosophy to the only thing that mattered and, in the process, most likely resulted in Buddy’s death. See Buddy was born and raised at the park, essentially meaning that he was domesticated and incapable of living out in the wild. Claiming that they couldn’t bear penguins kept in captivity, the pair released Buddy back into nature because that’s where all animals belong. In addition to almost certainly ending Buddy’s life prematurely, these activists also consigned a chick that Buddy was caring for to death. All this destruction and, it seems, that it never occurred to them to think that maybe Buddy was better off where he was. Not to mention the fact that they stole someone else’s property under the theory that they knew exactly what was best. Perhaps the Blog Wyrm staff should journey to South Africa and liberate their cell phones and big-screen TVs under the theory that we can’t bear quality electronics to be held in captivity by for senseless people.

If only those two had been following Blog Wyrm, they would have realized that things aren’t always what they seem on the surface and that one needs to think through things and not just emote and then react.

This month’s Aristotle To Digital shows how a simple algorithm, in which an integer is halved if it is even or multiplied by 3 and then added to 1 if is odd, can lead to surprising complexity when applied many, many times. The Collatz Conjecture claims that this process should eventually settle into the same pattern regardless of the starting point but, as the name suggests, no proof has ever been found.

As another example of a surprising amount of complexity packed into a simple idea is the concept of plasma oscillations. That the individual positive and negative charges in a plasma can move cooperatively in an analogous fashion to point masses on a spring is a discussed in detail in Under The Hood.

This month’s installment of About Comics finishes the three-part comprehensive study of the short-lived New Universe publication line. This installment looks at the 4 longer runs that formed the central core of the experiment and the strange and surprising evolution of these books.

And in the final slot, Common Cents ponders whether serious economics should stop focusing on game theory and instead just focus on games. From MMORPGs to Fantasy Football, microeconomies spring up all the time and seem to make a great laboratory for performing experiments in the dismal science.


Issue 65: Hectic Time of the Year

It’s hard to believe that, for all intents and purposes, Summer 2016 is gone. Back-to-school activities vie for our attention while the last days of vacation dwindle. The heart of the baseball season is interleaved with the beginning of the return of another year of football. The new fall fashions, designed for cooler temperatures, belie the hot weather outside. Truly it is on the most hectic times of the year.

Luckily, this month’s Blog Wyrm can lift you up and away from all the commotion and provide quality entertainment and information.

Speaking of back-to-school shopping, Common Cents narrates some important observations about business cycles gleaned from a recent return to college and wonders how can a failing business become profitable again.

Next up is About Comics, which continues with its comprehensive look at Marvel’s publishing experiment of the New Universe. This installment looks at the 4 shorter runs that made it only through the first year. While brief in duration and initially rocky in their storylines, these series helped to flesh-out the backdrop for the longer series that continued on.

Ever wonder why new scientific studies tend to contradict older ones? Is it that we are just getting more sophisticated or is there some underlying systemic problem with the modern scientific enterprise? These questions are explored in this month’s Aristotle To Digital and the results may surprise you (and, hint, discourage you as well).

Motion of individual charged particles in a background magnetic field is a key ingredient in understanding many plasma processes. And that is what makes it so confounding that many textbooks in the field present an incomplete description of the solution. Under the Hood shows how to get the correct and complete solution using straightforward matrix methods.


Issue 64: Just Why is September the Ninth Month?

Learning Latin can be a dangerous thing for the mind. As any student of that predominantly dead language would tell you, the Latin prefix ‘sept’ means seven. A classic example of this is the word septuagenarian describing someone who is in their seventies. Likewise, the prefix ‘oct’ means eight as in octagon and octopus and so on. So just why is September the ninth month, October the tenth, November (‘nov’ = 9 as is a novena) the eleventh, and December (‘dec’ = 10 as in decathlon)? Were the Romans mad? And why bring this up in July?

Well, the reason is that the months of July and August were inserted into the calendar, displacing what had been the seventh month of September down by two slots. And why were July and August inserted? To honor the two new Roman gods – Julius and Augustus Caesar.

There is also another Roman connection is this months lineup. The Romans valued farming. As this month’s Aristotle To Digital shows us there is a very strong connection between farming, continued survival, mathematics, and the concept of infinity.

July of 1986, in addition to being a month-long commemoration of a dead Roman emperor, was also the month in which the White Event occurred in the fictional Marvel spinoff – The New Universe. About Comics presents the first in a three-part series looking back at that short-lived publication line and its lasting influence.

No one in their right mind would ever draw a strong comparison between the Ford Pinto and the Tesla Model S, would they? After all, the former is emblematic of all that was wrong with the ‘cheap’ cars of the 1970s and the latter is a modern, digital-age marvel. But as Common Cents points out, the two vehicles have an interesting parallel developing around how the market perceives them and their forthrightness on their respective safety records.

Waves in cold magnetized plasma exhibit dispersion relations that are rich, complex, and surprising. Under the Hood examines the behavior of ordinary and extraordinary waves propagating perpendicular to the external magnetic field.


Issue 63: Have a Happy, Relaxing Summer

Another summer solstice has come and gone and yet it doesn’t feel particularly like summer at all. What with the weather being a bit more rainy and moody than usual, the US presidential race being more shrill than ever, and the slaughter in Orlando and the Brexit result pounding through the headlines, it is hard to just relax and enjoy the summer. But that is exactly what we should be doing. Modern life, while far less physically demanding than earlier times, has its own costs and toils. The primary one being the general wear and tear on our time to be silent and at peace with ourselves. Well, the Blog Wyrm staff is vowing to relax this summer and we hope each of you also have a relaxing and peaceful season of the sun.

Reboots, and retcons, and timelines oh my! Revamping older comics tropes to fit new aesthetics is common these days. Publishers want to tap new and/or changing demographics in order to sell product and stay in business. But only company has raises the comics version of a mulligan to an artform – DC comics. About Comics their latest Rebirth effort in context of the numerous ctrl-alt-deletes that they have engaged in the last 30 years.

Would you work if you had a guaranteed income? Even a modest one? Well the citizens of Switzerland just wrestled with this question in a national referendum. Common Cents examines the arguments for and against and the underlying economic principles.

John Stuart Mills is certainly not a household name. Indeed, it is likely that few have ever even heard of him. Whether that fact is socially unfortunate is left to others to argue. What is known is that his methods for hypothesizing cause from an observed effect are used by all, even if they don’t know how many he identified nor the unusual names he gave them. Join Aristotle to Digital for a discussion of Mill’s methods and how they are applied in everyday life.

Waves in cold magnetized plasma exhibit dispersion relations that are rich, complex, and surprising. Under the Hood examines the behavior of longitudinal and transverse waves propagating along the external magnetic field.