The Real Sherlock Holmes

How real is Sherlock Holmes, and what is the nature of his reality? On the one hand, Holmes is a fictional character from writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but on the other there is a Canon of 56 short stories and four novels defining that character. It’s hard to deny at least some reality to something so well defined.

Others have extended the concept of Holmes far beyond the original in books, movies, TV shows, and more. The original texts are in the public domain, so there is considerable freedom to explore the idea of a crime-solving duo comprised of a brainy detective plus a faithful sidekick.

As a result Holmes has a well-defined center and very fuzzy boundaries!

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What Emerges?

Venus emerging from the sea.

I’ve been thinking about emergence. That things emerge seems clear, but a question involves the precise nature of exactly what emerges. The more I think about it, the more I think it may amount to word slicing. Things do emerge. Whether or not we call them truly “new” seems definitional.

There is a common distinction made between weak and strong emergence (alternately epistemological and ontological emergence, respectively). Some reject the distinction, and I find myself leaning that way. I think — at least under physicalism — there really is only weak (epistemological) emergence.

But I also think it amounts to strong (ontological) emergence.

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Merry Christmas 2019

The Solstice has passed, but Christmas Day is tomorrow, and New Year’s Eve lies just ahead. Another year behind, and 2020 awaits. May it be a good one for you and yours!

My small annual gift, here’s a little Christmas Music for you:

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Winter Solstice 2019

The Winter Solstice was at 04:19 GMT on December 22. For me, in Minnesota, it happened at 10:19 PM CST last night. And today, the first official day of winter, it’s sunny and currently 41° (F) out.

At least we got snow for Christmas. We don’t always.

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Fall: or, Dodge in Hell

I finished Fall: or, Dodge in Hell, the latest novel from Neal Stephenson, and I’m conflicted between parts I found fascinating and thoughtful and parts I found tedious and unsatisfying. This division almost exactly follows the division of the story itself into real and virtual worlds. I liked the former, but the latter not so much.

Unfortunately, at least the last third of the book involves a Medieval fantasy quest that takes place in the virtual reality. The early parts of the story in the VR are fairly interesting, but the quest really left me cold, and I found myself skimming pages.

I give it a positive rating, but it’s my least-liked Stephenson novel.

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Sideband #66: Abacus Multiplication

Today’s earlier post got into only the beginnings of abacus operation — mainly how to add numbers. To demonstrate how they have more utility than just adding and subtracting, this Sideband tackles a multiplication problem.

This also illustrates a property of abacus operation that doesn’t arise with addition. With pen and paper, we multiply right-to-left to make carrying easier. Because of the way an abacus works, multiplication has to work left-to-right.

The process is simple enough, but has lots of steps!

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Abacus and Slide Rule

Ye Olden Tools of Yore

I’ve been meaning to write an Abacus post for years. I used one in my first job, back in high school, and they’ve appealed to me ever since. Many years ago I learned there were people who had no idea how an abacus worked. Until then I hadn’t internalized that it wasn’t common knowledge (maybe a consequence of learning something at an early age).

Recently, browsing through old Scientific American issues before recycling them, I read about slide rules, another calculating tool I’ve used, although, in this case, mainly for fun. My dad gave me his old slide rule from when he considered, and briefly pursued, being an architect.

So killing two birds with one stone…

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Small Wonders

Two things that get me out of bed every day and keep me going through a world I often find brutish, mean, and stupid, are my sense of curiosity and my sense of wonder. It’s another Yin-Yang thing: the Yin of the world’s crap balanced by the Yang of so many neat things to discover and explore.

Those neat things exist on all scales, from the vast to the tiny. (The crap, on the other hand, tends to come in human-sized, in fact in human-shaped, packages.) From quarks to galaxies, the universe is an interesting place.

For today’s Wednesday Wow, I bring you some smaller wonders…

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Determined Causality

The ideas of free will, causality, and determinism, often factor into discussions about religion, morality, society, consciousness, or life in general. The first and last of these ideas seem at odds; if the world is strictly determined, there can be no free will.

But we are confronted with the appearance of free will — choices we make appear to affect the future. Even choosing not to make choices seems to affect our future. If reality is just a ride on fixed rails, then all that choosing must be a trick our brains play.

These questions are central to lives, but answers have remained elusive, in part from differing views of what the key ideas even mean.

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Local Brews

Since high school, I’ve wondered if the USA is just too big to ever make sense. How is it possible to govern a nation that ranges from Bangor to Baton Rouge and from Richmond to Redmond. Finding a political center to such a diverse group of people seems a daunting task.

As our nation grew, so did business, and now we have businesses “too big to fail” because their failure would wreck us. Our capitalistic approach to business seems based on unchecked obsessive growth. Bigger is always better!

The rise (or perhaps return) of local beer brewing offers an interesting lesson in how it’s possible some things should stay small and local.

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