William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Gift Suggestions

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We’ll soon return to our tales of woe and wrongs of decadence and degeneracy of scientism and sin of over-confidence and underdealing; but for now, still replete in our postprandial Thanksgiving glows, filled with bonhomie and no small amount of gizzard gravy, pumpkin pie, and rye whisky, and with the thoughts of the goodwill of all mankind rising in our breasts, it’s time to be thankful.

Besides my obvious and overflowing gifts (of a personal nature), I’m grateful for you, dear readers, especially those with whom I don’t see intellect to intellect.

But forget all that, because now, in the true spirit of this most holy of secular holy days, one week removed, it’s time for shopping!

Who out there lacks a crazy uncle who spooks your family and friends with tales of conspiracy and skulduggery, tales which start to make a little too much sense but which you hope are wrong but you can’t see why? If not, then let me recommend Ianto Watt, everybody’s uncle and the last Welsh Barbarian, the author of The Barbarian Bible: The True History of Man Since the Fall of Troy. From the Amazon description:

In Watt’s world view, four groups dominated the last two thousand years: Imperial Rome (now represented by the United States), Holy Rome, The Chosen Ones, and the Barbarians. Each group is fundamentally opposed to the other three, forming uneasy alliances only to strike at (and betray) each other. Just to make it interesting, each group also has a major impostor.

Watt’s arguments are likely to offend many in the English-speaking world, the seat of modern Imperial Rome. At the same time, he aims his iconoclastic sarcasm at all four world groups (and their impostors), making scathing commentaries on religion, politics, culture, and social assumptions. Controversial, offensive, and revolutionary, Watt’s opinions generate heated debate in all who read them.

Or why not by your (male) loved one the best novel in the English language, starting with volume one, Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian? Incidentally, do NOT buy Norton’s box set, which is machine produced and riddled with errors.

Books make the best gifts. What would you recommend for people to give?

I can’t yet offer my book, The Philosophy of Uncertainty: An Introduction, but perhaps soon, soon. Meanwhile, if you want to demonstrate to yourself some of its fundamental concepts, such as there is no such thing as probability, then you can’t go wrong with purchasing multiple packs of these:

 

Why isn’t probability ontological, i.e. real? Consider the secret of riffle shuffling, which I learned from Persi Diaconis, who was briefly one of my advisers when I was at Cornell (I shared an interest in amateur magic and exposing fake psychics). Here’s how you can prove there is no such as “randomness”.

Take an official Playing Cards to the Stars! deck and note the order of the cards, whatever it is. Then riffle shuffle them once: I mean, roughly split the deck and fan each side toward one another. When finished, the order of the cards has not changed inside each splits. True, the cards in the (say) left split are interspersed with those on the right, but the order of both the left and right are the same. Prove this to yourself by trying it.

Now repeat the shuffle. The order again has not changed, though the interspersed “layers” are four. It takes more work to reconstruct the original sequence, but if you try it, you’ll get the idea. You can do this four more times and the same order holds, more or less, assuming you have roughly half the deck in each riffle. But if you do the procedure seven or more times, the original order cannot be reconstructed. (Why? Well, crudely, there are 52 cards, which are always split about in two, and after 7 splits involves more than double the 52 cards.)

This is why you hear you must shuffle at least seven times. But in each shuffle, each card is caused, by a combination of forces, to take the places they do. This too is obvious when you try it, especially slowly. After a while, you can’t tell by the result what the original sequence was. “Randomness” as a thing doesn’t exist.

Lastly, nothing beats a subscription! Get one for yourself, and one for your mother. Hurry, the human race may expire at any moment.


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(If you’d rather contribute a fixed amount, go to the bottom of this page.)

Addendum As a spiritual work of mercy, I’ve been thinking of organizing a fund to send emergency combs to the British Isles. Let me also know your interest in participating in this.

15 Comments

  1. Books make the best gifts. What would you recommend for people to give?
    Non-fiction: Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.
    Fiction: Charisma by Barbara Hall.
    Both a couple of years old and available on Amazon. Read the reviews for insight into contents of each.

    Emergency combs?

  2. “…and after 7 splits involves more than double the 52 cards.”

    Can this be rephrased in a more basic English so that a dumbie like me can understand it?

  3. Briggs

    December 4, 2015 at 11:57 am

    Bob,

    Try it with a deck of, say, 6 or 8 cards.

  4. On the other hand “The outdoorsman,” and ‘Michigan native”, has been to the hair dressers! Good boy Ted.

  5. Gary,

    Kahneman’s book is on my wish list. Hopefully someone gets it for me!

    Other recommendations:

    The Transformation of War by Martin van Creveld
    Anything written by John C. Wright
    Anything by Ed Feser

  6. The only way the human race expires is if someone put a “use by” date on the population. When that date is reached, the human race just goes “poof”! So no putting “use by” dates on people.

    There was a tad bit of sexism in your “Or why not by your (male) love one the best novel in the English language”. As Joy noted, there are a wide variety of interests across both sexes. My favorite holiday is Father’s Day, when all the good gifts go on sale!

  7. A T-Shirt reading: Tell me how great I am on a scale of -1.74 to e^?.

  8. A small joke bested by your comment box — trying again.

    A T-Shirt reading: Tell me how great I am on a scale of -1.74 to e^pi

  9. “Hear,Hear” to “Master and Commander” et seq.

    For the green relatives, lots to choose from – including your own work! – but Steyn’s “A Disgrace to the Profession” will probably be most gracelessly received.

    For loved ones, how about “Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps: Mapping the Modern World”? Lots of fun, and only $US20.

  10. Peter Houlding: I agree with your suggestion of the Steyn book. Your second suggestion sounds interesting—I’ll have to check that one out.

  11. A perfect riffle shuffle and a perfect faro shuffle will return the deck to the original order in 8 shuffles as Hugard and Braue, 1940, demonstrate.

  12. Briggs

    December 7, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    mysterian,

    Excellent point; quite right. Thanks.

  13. “…decadence and degeneracy of scientism…”

    Scientism isn’t decadent or degenerate, it is merely misguided. A person or set of beliefs can be wrong for any number of reasons, and not necessarily because of some imagined decline in the morality of those who hold to those beliefs.

  14. However, it could be real decline in the morality of those who hold to the belief.

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