From the Archives: Evaluating FiveThirtyEight

This is a repost of a simple analysis I did in 2012, evaluating the presidential predictions of FiveThirtyEight.  What a different time it was.  If readers are interested, I could try to repeat the analysis for 2020.

The news is saying that Nate Silver (who does election predictions at FiveThirtyEight) got fifty states out of fifty. It’s being reported as a victory of math nerds over pundits.

In my humble opinion, getting 50 out of 50 is somewhat meaningless. A lot of those states weren’t exactly swing states! And if he gets some of them wrong, that doesn’t mean his probabilistic predictions were wrong. Likewise, if he gets them right, that doesn’t mean he was right.

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Review of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

This is my (semi-)monthly repost.  This review was originally published in 2015.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (HPMOR) is one of the best-known pieces of fanfiction ever written, meaning it was even read by people like me, who otherwise despise fanfic.  This is my (spoiler-free) review.

I should begin with the caveat that I hardly remember most of HPMOR.  Like much of internet fiction, it has updated very slowly over a long period of time.  I started reading HPMOR over three years ago, and I know because there’s something in my blog archives about it.  Frankly it would have been better suited to reading over a short period of time rather than a period of years.  But this is hardly relevant now, because the fanfic has now been completed and you can read it at your leisure.

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Spinning Box experiment

For my monthly repost, I thought I’d reach way back to bring you this post from 2008.  I was a physics undergrad back then!

Here’s a physics experiment that you can try yourself right now. It’s fun, I promise.

First, you have to find a small rectangularly-shaped object. Nothing valuable or breakable. A box works fine. A book works too, but you may have to tape the book shut for best results. It is important that there are no square sides on the object. All sides must be rectangles!

The box is about the dimensions of a novel, with one axis going from cover to cover, one from spine to page-edge, and one from top to bottom.

Here’s my 3-d model of the box (created with Mathematica). Your own box might differ slightly in its shape, but it should be more or less the same. What are those sticks, you ask? They’re just imaginary lines I drew to mark the three principal axes. If you have an object like a cube or a sphere, one axis is as good as another. But for an object shaped like above, there are three special axes of rotation, called the principal axes.

Now, take the box and toss it up into the air. Give it some spin as you toss it. First, make it spin around the blue line, then the green line, and then the red line.* Observe any differences between the three. I will wait.

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Fractals from Newton’s Method

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2008, over ten years ago!  This is the one that explains where my avatar comes from.

Today, I will explain how I created this:

Three-colored fractal

This is a fractal. A fractal is a pattern that contains smaller versions of itself. But it’s not just any fractal. It’s a fractal I created from something called Newton’s method.

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A season for giving

This is a repost of a short essay I wrote earlier this year, and published on Tumblr.  This is the last of the articles I wanted to import from Tumblr, so now Tumblr can burn down for all I care.

My mother is a hoarder, and her large house is approximately 90% filled with junk. I have, on multiple occasions, given her origami models, either as gifts, or because a lot of it’s just sitting in a storage box in my apartment anyways. I later see these scattered around the house.

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Paper: On the Racialization of Asexuality

Every month I repost an article from my archives.  Since this week is Ace Week, I thought it might be appropriate to repost one of my articles about asexuality.  This is a fairly recent article, from 2018, summarizing an academic paper from 2014.

I borrowed a copy of Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives, which is an anthology of scholarly articles published in 2014.  Sennkestra wanted to write summaries of each chapter, but ran out of time, so now I’m doing that.  For the first chapter, I selected “On the Racialization of Asexuality“, by Ianna Hawkins Owen.  You might remember the author from our interview with her several years ago.

In the introduction, Owen says,

Many authors have claimed, in one way or another, that “little or no” scholarly attention has been directed to asexuality in humans prior to the twenty-first century.  In response to such observations, I offer that asexuality as a concept has long been invoked in the study of race.

So what you can expect from this article, is the reinterpretation of historical images and ideas as “asexual”.  Now, this is something that ace activists commonly complain about in  academic approaches to asexuality: using overly broad definitions of asexuality in order to include historical examples that at best are irrelevant to the modern day, and at worst are basically stereotypes.

But this is different!  Owen writes about historical stereotypes and misunderstandings of asexuality, and explicitly describes them as such.  Then she shows evidence that these misunderstandings still influence reactions to asexuality today.

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