## Bio

I grew up in Minnesota, got a degree aerospace engineering from Iowa State University, then went to work in the flying objects business in northern California.  I launch things into space that may or may not come back down.

Fun Fact: Because of the fortuitous timing of my move from Minnesota to California, my life was subject to a weird nexus of showbiz and politics: in two different states I lived under governors who were cast in the movie Predator.

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## Mark Wilson's Profile

Name:
Mark Wilson
Hometown:
Minnesota, then California
Joined:
May 24, 2010

 A sextant is a nautical tool used in celestial navigation--by finding a known object's altitude (the angle between the horizon and the sun, say) at a known time (noon, say), you can calculate your latitude on the Earth's surface.

Have you read Dava Sobel's Longitude?

### Re: Where the Gun Violence Is

This also goes a long way toward explaining this country's deceivingly high murder statistics.  The vast majority of our gun-nutty country is just as safe as any Eutopian gun-free zone.

This is a good illustration of how we generally fail to understand the power law distribution (related to the 80-20 rule).

In the ubiquitous Gaussian/normal distribution (bell curve), the average is also the most common value.

However, when you have a Pareto/power law distribution -- where there are a few cities with a very large number of murders, and a large number of cities with few murders -- a linear average like "murders per capita" tends not to represent any city well:

Gaussian and Paretian distributions differ radically.  The main feature of the Gaussian distribution . . . can be entirely characterized by its mean and variance . . . A Paretian distribution does not show a well-behaved mean or variance.  A power law, therefore, has no average that can be assumed to represent the typical features of the distribution ...

In other words, the few very large values pull the mean well above the vast majority of places, giving the impression that the whole country is far more dangerous than reality.

Edited on May 7, 2013 at 9:46pm

### Re: Relativity

 No one answered my question about the experiments done to prove that the speed of light is constant. Did Einstein just assume that? · 2 hours ago

Would you admit experiments that have proved the speed of light is not subject to Galilean transformations?  The only alternative would be that it's constant, right?

### Re: Relativity

xkcd comes through with a timely cartoon:

### Re: Relativity

 Larry KolerMy definition of time is EXACTLY as it has always been until Einstein and his ilk started confusing us.

...which is?  You've given a list of characteristics that time lacks, but have not provided a definition.

Two of the most important features (discoveries?) of relativity are that the speed of light is constant and that, therefore, our understanding of time was not quite correct.  I don't see why this is so objectionable.

By way of analogy, our understanding of color changed once we discovered it was a sensory phenomenon related to the wavelengths of light.  The color of light is not inherent and fixed, but changes as a function of the source's relative speed.  Why don't you object to that as well, to say the definition of color is what it always has been, and what Doppler was talking about is some concept related to "color" but is not truly color?

### Re: Relativity

I think Tim H. has given you quite a good set of answers and challenged you on the substance (far better than I could), and I have nothing to add to it.

I'm not claiming expertise since I just use Newton for 99.9% of my own work.  But I'm not illiterate and I don't just accept this stuff out of some deference to authority.

What is your definition of time?

### Re: Relativity

 Mark, you can't change the definition of something without there being a thorough hashing out of what time is. Who's done this? You guys just believe this stuff with no reflection at all. If instead you would acknowledge this simple point here I could be convinced that I'm discussing this with people who grasp the profundity of what Einstein did. Instead, this world changing aspect is ignored and you yield to authority or tradition rather than think this stuff through.

I'm not here to play the victim, but this is actually quite an insult, and a presumptive one at that.  Are you saying anyone who doesn't come to the same conclusion as you has done "no reflection at all" and is guilty of "yield[ing] to authority ... rather than think this stuff through"?

Come on.

### Re: Gays Among Us

 Fake John Galt: Sooner or later there will be lawsuits to straighten it out.

Pun intended?

Seriously, do you think a lawsuit or series of lawsuits would help this issue?

### Re: Relativity

 Larry Koler: Einstein has invented another quantity that is related to time but, of course, it's not really time. Same with space contraction. Silly stuff....Time has always been an independent variable in all the world's languages -- until Einstein started getting it confused with his new "time" notion. ... I don't believe in the universe that has time flexible in the way that you do.

What is this, a statement of faith?  I'm not detecting a basis of argumentation in your posts, Larry.  You're combining an argumentum ad lapidem with an argumentum ad antiquitatem without providing any evidence for your position.

### Re: Sitting on a Gold Mine

I think it's weird to see the term "northern tip" applied to South Dakota, a rectangular state with a perfectly horizontal northern border.

### Re: Relativity

 Larry Koler: One day the world scientists will look back on this era of blind faith in "science" and laugh. Einstein was a great genius but what he is most known for in the popular science world is relativity and it's really too bad that he over-reached himself. · 3 hours ago

Larry, what are your thoughts about gravitational lensing, and Gravity Probe B?

Do you also reject the constancy of the speed of light?

### Re: Relativity

 David Williamson: Tim,The twin paradox must apply to real twins!

Define "real".  =)

### Re: Public Lives, Private Lives

Fair point about Wellington.  I suppose in the abstract we tend to imagine these virtues and vices in isolation, which is what I pictured when reading your post: an otherwise normal human with a conspicuous lack of sexual morality.  But humans are complex and multidimensional creatures, and there are so many different virtues and vices that you're almost always bound to get a mixture of the laudable and the regrettable.

Still, your post seems to call for the outright dismissal and disregard of personal/familial/sexual immorality.  I stand by my first comment that these serve as a useful indicator of character, but I'll grant that you have to consider the whole person whereas we conservatives tend to overemphasize this one area.

Edited on April 28, 2013 at 3:37am

### Re: Public Lives, Private Lives

 Andrew Stuttaford: One Carter was enough, more than enough.Should we insist that our politicians are virtuous? No. Should we hope that they are wise? Oh yes. But virtue and wisdom are not always the same thing.  · 1 hour ago

Nor are they in conflict. You seem to imply a virtuous and wise president would be like Carter.  What about men like George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush.  Correct me if these men have some marital indiscretions I'm unaware of.

### Re: Public Lives, Private Lives

It's not about marital fidelity per se, it's about character -- an indication that the person means what he says, follows through on a promise, is not rash or subject to moments of compromised judgment, is not vulnerable to blackmail, is loyal to the people who have a right to his loyalty, and can keep his priorities in order.  These are all traits we should require in our representatives.

Edited on April 27, 2013 at 3:52am

### Re: The Friday Neologism Contest

What the industry practices now: delayviation.

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