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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.

Enjoy!

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.

Enjoy!

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.

Enjoy!

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.

Enjoy!

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.

Enjoy!

Issue 62: Truth in Advertising

There were so many points worth discussing in this month’s issue-lead in that it was hard to choose. That is until Gizmodo published a story in which former Facebook employees claimed that they routinely played with the ‘trending’ section in order to suppress political trends that were unpopular with Facebook management. It doesn’t matter how your individual politics breaks or whether you believe that their manipulations actually swayed public opinion or not. What matters is that Facebook lied to its user community telling them that the topics that appeared in the ‘trending’ section reflected what an impersonal, dispassionate algorithm determined the bulk of the user base was interested in, not what a handful of manipulators thought was best for people to read.

And to those out there who believe that it really doesn’t matter – no one is swayed by the trending section – note that Facebook believed it worked; why else would they do it. And, even if their actions did no damage, isn’t it the intention that matters? If a person, call him X, stalks another, call him Z, with intention to kill the latter and fails at the last moment due to something out of his control, surely X is still guilty of a moral transgression. Just because Z remained alive doesn’t change X’s intention nor X’s guilt.

And finally, it is naïve to believe that manipulating the messages that we see has no effect on what we think or feel. After all, isn’t that exactly how advertising works and why we have laws on the books about truth in advertising? Can we really believe that advertisers pay billions each year for something that is ineffectual?

We at Blog Wyrm would like our readers to consider whether they really want to continue on Facebook. Yes, there are lots of nice things that Facebook enables but is it really worth it if the management is playing with its user base, manipulating what is seen and read?

Well, enough said about this sad affair. We can promise that here at Blog Wyrm we never manipulate our readers. Inform them – always; Persuade them – sometimes. Lie to them – never.

Speaking of persuading, this month’s Common Cents compares the two Koreas, South and North, from the ground up. From this comparison, we draw the conclusion that the free market system is the best system for providing prosperity and development for the greatest number of people.

Under the Hood extends the wave analysis to cold, magnetized plasmas. In this column, the first of two parts, the basic structural analysis is fleshed out and some general conclusions about plasma waves are determined.

Last month, About Comics covered that iconoclastic comic series from the 1980s, The Badger. This month’s review centers on the new and possibly improved mini-series of the same name.

What connects Watergate, investigative journalism, and snow fall together? Why propositional logic of course. Come join this month’s installment of Aristotle to Digital where the nature of cause and effect and what can be inferred from what are discussed and dissected.

Enjoy!

Issue 61: Going Monthly

This issue marks a change in Blog Wyrm. As a two-person staff, putting out new content every week has been fun and challenging. We are really proud of what we’ve accomplished, but four long columns a week in addition to this short summary haven’t left a lot of time for other pursuits. So, for the foreseeable future, Blog Wyrm will be coming out once per month – on the last Friday of each month. Thus the philosophic observer is free to say that this issue is either the last of our weekly series or the first of our monthly. Regardless of which interpretation is preferred, the same core columns will still be there (as well as the occasional guest slots) but at a more relaxed pace for putting content together. The additional time will be devoted to some new projects that may eventually find their way here.

Can there really be too much of a good thing? You bet! And economists know just how to describe when enough becomes too much in dry and boring terms that really drive home why their trade is often called the dismal science. This week’s Common Cents shows just how these dour social scientists do it and why.

The 80’s are often credited as a magical time. Widespread peace and prosperity, great clothes and hairstyles, and a sea change in entertainment and music. Comics were no different. There were a host of new ideas for just what makes a superhero. Join About Comics as it takes a look at one of the most iconic and dysfunctional of these – The Badger.

Under the Hood continues to look at plasma wave phenomena. Simple waves in cold plasmas is the starting point. Don’t know what any of that means? Then read on and find out.

Aristotle to Digital finishes its three-part examination of propositional calculus by asking, can propositional calculus save your life? The answer is a resounding yes, especially if you are stuck in a dungeon trying to hunt a Wumpus.

Enjoy!

Issue 60: One Hit Wonders

An interesting discussion circulated the Blog Wyrm offices this week that is worth sharing. It was about so-called one hit wonders. It started with an overheard, snide remark about how pathetic one hit wonders were. The Blog Wyrm staff reflected on this rudeness and crafted this response. We should be so lucky as to have ever written a single hit song. And to any who deride one hit wonders we at Blog Wyrm respectfully ask just what remarkable thing you have done. That isn’t to say that we all shouldn’t shake our heads at the arrogant attitudes that sometimes spring from having a hit song – simply that we should not diminish the accomplishment just because the accomplisher is acting like an ass.

As an interesting side note, one of us remarked on an analysis once heard on the radio. The commentator was actually pointing out that it is likely far worse to be a two hit wonder than either a one hit wonder or an established artist with many hits. In the latter case (say the Rolling Stones), the entire catalog speaks to the lasting accomplishment of a group of artists who consistently could deliver. In the former case, the notoriety of the one hit wonder (say Rick Astley) has some lasting power (e.g. Rickrolling). The two hit wonder benefits neither from the novelty nor the consistency.

But you, dear reader, can certainly benefit from this week’s articles.

Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with saying that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of a little mind.” The operative word in that quote is ‘foolish’ and the operative wisdom is determining when doggedness transitions to foolishness. Unfortunately, it has often been the case in comics to dismiss the desire for consistency as a fanboy’s foolishness. About Comics disagrees.

Most of us dread using public restrooms. They are usually less than pristine in their cleanliness. But what is the best method for promoting cleanliness and what connection does this question have with economics? Read the current installment Common Cents to see how uncertainty in the market place and the Paper Towel Wars go hand-in-hand.

Plasma is often called the fourth state of matter. This curious situation of side-by-side coexisting charged fluids leads to strange collective behavior not seen in the more terrestrial examples of solid, liquid, and gas. This week, Under the Hood begins a look at wave phenomena in plasmas by looking at the formalism bases on Maxwell’s equations for the fields and the Lorentz force law for the particles.

Aristotle to Digital continues its three part examination of propositional calculus. This week’s focus is on formal proofs and how much easier it is to logically prove things when words aren’t in the way.

Enjoy!

Issue 59: Hockey in the Summer

Okay… this will be two weeks in a row where the Blog Wyrm staff has something to say about sports in the United States. Now don’t misunderstand, we actually aren’t huge sports fans but there is no doubt that professional athletic competition is a big component of American life. There is also no doubt that the two busiest times of the sporting year are early fall and middle spring, so there is a lot that can be said. But this week’s comment is more a matter of marketing and timing than one of actual sport. We find it hard to fathom the idea of how hockey, which, on the surface, is a ‘winter sport’, can persist well into the spring and can even overlap nearly into the summer. It just seems strange to be seeing the Stanley Cup finals in June. We watch from time-to-time each year but we still find it strange. Oh well!

What we trust is not strange is the fine crop of articles for this week.

Sound argumentation and clear reasoning is based on a disciplined and careful application of definitions and rules – the use of a logical system. This week, Aristotle to Digital begins a three part examination of one such logical system known as the propositional calculus. Despite its relative simplicity, this system possesses some powerful applications to artificial intelligence.

About Comics returns to the craftsmanship theme this week with an annotated summary of the recent ‘how-to’ publication by Mitch Gerads. Gerads is the artist on The Sheriff of Babylon and his step-by-step creation process has some interesting nuggets.

Elon Musk is a heck of a salesman and there is no doubt that the Tesla is an example of the wonders of modern engineering, but can electric cars really save the environment. Common Cents‘s economic analysis of electric cars and solar power suggests otherwise.

From day-to-day common applications to statistics to the most abstruse theories of spacetime and quantum mechanics, the Gaussian family of integrals seem to be everywhere. Part of their charm is their broad applicability, part of it is that they are tractable. This week’ Under the Hood shows just how tractable and easy they are to work with.

Enjoy!

Issue 58: Opening Day

It’s a bit hard for those of us at Blog Wyrm to believe, but baseball’s opening day has come. Once again, the Boys of Summer are taking the field, tempting us with a lazy day spent in the park, watching America’s past time. Memories of Harry Carey and ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ have come flooding back. The only fly in this all-American ointment is the prospect of snow in various baseball-playing regions. Perhaps we should wait a bit longer before calling them the Boys of Summer.

But you, dear reader, need not wait any longer for this week’s columns.

Can 11 lines of code really bring down computing on a global scale? Surprisingly the answer is yes. Even more surprising is the notion that it isn’t at all clear who really owned those 11 lines and who should. Come read about digital economics in the real world in this week’s Common Cents.

Death Face Ginny to some, daughter of Death to others, Ginny can be quite deadly. About Comics reviews the good and the bad of the ongoing Image series Pretty Deadly.

Expressing the angular velocity in the principal axis frame is one of the central elements of analyzing the motion of a rigid body. However the computation is complex and the usual presentations are confusing. Under the Hood offers a straightforward way that is conceptually clean and understandable.

Sometimes quite a lot can be packed into a small space. This week’s column in Aristotle to Digital, brief though it is, offers some profound thoughts on the question of knowing and uncertainty.

Enjoy!