Geometry News!

I appreciate a nice polyhedron but as an area of interest it isn’t one prone to many events. The regular polyhedra were fully classified a very long time ago and while that’s just one set of an infinite space of 3D objects with polygonal faces. If you allow for curves or slightly curved, almost polygons then there is a lot to play with but not many objects stand out from the crowd.

Anyway, biology to the rescue! An article in Nature ( ) looks at the issue of cell-packing. Our cells are squishy 3D objects that pack together to form tissue. Now getting objects to pack together to fill a space efficiently is a well-known and difficult to solve problem if you dealing with anything other than cubes. Hexagonal prisms are a solution that crops up in nature in places such as basalt rock formations and bee hives (and presumably bee hives made out of basalt on some planet with magma bees and honey volcanoes).

In 2D one way of filling a plane with irregular but simple polygons is a Voronoi pattern. Arrnagments of cells in a layer looked at ‘top-down’ can (apparently) resemble that kind of pattern but that doesn’t help describe the 3D aspect of the cells. Prisms don’t work because the ‘top’ face may be smaller than the ‘bottom’ face. Frustrums (chopped off pyramids) don’t work because the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ faces maybe polygons of different sizes and frustrums don’t neccesarily pack nicely. Enter the scutoid.

Scutoids are (apparently, I’m just reading the paper) messed up prisms. The example picture shows a shape with a pentagon-bottom and a hexagon-top and the vertices of each polygon joined by  curved edges with the exception of an additional triangular face. Flip the same shape upside down and they can nestle into each other. Which is sweet.


Fig1 from ‘Scutoids are a geometrical solution to three-dimensional packing of epithelia’ Nature Communications volume 9, Article number: 2960 (2018)


So not quite polyhedra, crazy mixed up nearly prisms that know how to pack. The picture of the beatle is there because of the distinct pattern of five shapes – specifically that little triangle at the top where the line between the carapace covering the wing splits. The combination of faces on the scutoid reminded the researchers of the beatle and the ‘scutoid’ name is derived from that.

Also I don’t know if you say “scoo-toid” or “scuh-toid”.

Other coverage:


Lurkertype’s question

I have mentioned that I can’t attend Worldcon this year due to the circumference of the Earth. Lurkertype has asked whether I could attend if the Earth were flat. Let’s see.

The surface area of the earth is approx : 510,072,000 sq km.

Treated as a two-dimensional circle, this would give a radius r=of square root (510072000/pi). The circumference of that would be c = 2*r*pi.

So r works out at about 12,742 kilometres for our flat Earth, which is double the radius of the spherical Earth. The circumference of the flat Earth is therefore 80,060 kilometres, which is basically double the circumference of the spherical Earth.

So, if I have to travel the circumference of the Earth to get to San Jose (which I have to for reasons due to occult geometry rather than practicality) then I have to travel twice as far, making the trip less feasible.

However, if we change Earth into a four-dimensional analogue to a sphere (known as 3-sphere or 4-ball depending on what aspect we are looking at) then I can get there.

Schadenpuppies & EPH

Worldcon events have brought out the former Sad Puppies to claim that things once again (via means never explained) prove them right (about what is always unclear). I’ve personally not had a lot to say on the Worldcon programming issue as I can’t attend due to a whole pile of things and life and the circumference of the Earth. However, I think the people who spoke up did the right thing in the best way they could.

Ah but the Sad Puppies? Well, I know my beat is varied but they are clearly within my mandate of stuff to blog about – and will be until I get completely bored of them, which doesn’t look like anytime soon.

I won’t bother linking to the various takes I’ve seen from the right. They are largely misinformed & confused at best and a nest of slurs & prejudices at worst. Calling fans ‘freaks’ and mocking their gender is inherently anti-fan and anti-fandom. The other element to these takes is various reprises of the history of the Sad Puppies and these are the usual revisionist nonsense*.

But one theme keeps coming up that I don’t think I’ve addressed before. This is not a direct quote of anyone individual pup but a composite:

“They even changed the rules to exclude us!”

The “they” being the well-known grammatical element known as the ‘conspiracy they’ to indicate the nebulous people conspiring against you. Now the rule changes aren’t specified but based on other reactions in the past, the main reference here is the nomination system known as EPH.

I’ve talked about EPH ad-nauseum and I think I may even be the first person (in 2017) to not be a finalist because of EPH when I would have been a finalist under the old rules. Which is really neat, if true. What I want to focus on though, is EPH and the Sad Puppies specifically. The Rabid Puppies is a different story because Vox Day engaged with it in a different way and clearly attempted to size up its effect in 2017.

The Sad Puppies though never engaged with EPH. By the time it was implemented Sad Puppies had withered into nothing. The causes of the Sad Puppy collapse are manifold:

  • Larry Correia was already disenchanted with repeatedly losing by the end of Sad Puppies 2 (hence passing it on to Brad Torgersen & withdrawing as a finalist in 2015).
  • High numbers of votes for No Award demonstrated that Sad Puppies would never have the votes to get close to winning an award and their reach was purely confined to impacting on finalists IF they were sufficiently coordinated.
  • Vox Day’s Rabid Puppies kept hijacking all the attention while leaving all the attempts at positive PR to the Sads.
  • There was never actually a huge reservoir of right-leaning quality fiction to nominate (put another way, any bias in results that might have been there was a supply issue before it was a voter issue).
  • Organising a slate that was open and as fan based as the Puppies claimed it should be was a much harder and complex task than they imagined, resulting in low participation in the more open Sad Puppies 4.
  • Post-SP3 campaigns got little support from notable male Sad Puppies. Whether that was sexism or burnout or both is an open question.
  • Functionally I think the No Award votes were the main thing that killed the Sad Puppy campaign rather than EPH. That’s not to say EPH didn’t have an impact, just that it was a lesser factor. It’s main impact was three-fold:
    • It demonstrated that Worldcon could adapt its rule via member participation. That made the Hugos a moving target.
      The Sad Puppies had nobody within their leadership who could understand how it worked. The reaction to it was almost at a superstitious level, as if it contained some kind of Sad Puppy detection algorithm. Vox Day’s approach was more analytical and showed more understanding that it was a fairly basic number crunching algorithm that in theory could be gamed.
      It stopped the tactic of trying to sweep the nominations.

    That last point was limited, EPH isn’t that great at stopping as SP3 style sweep but it is definitely an improvement.

    But here is an interesting flaw/feature in EPH. There was not only nothing in it that would prevent Sad Puppy participation but in fact it had the capacity to ensure that a stable and consistent Sad Puppy faction would have been more-or-less ensured nominees. The actual change in the nomination process undermined sweeps but did so by roughly guaranteed finalist slots to large but minority voting blocks.

    That isn’t a secret, it was a criticism made of EPH at the time that it could be seen as essentially conceding ground to the Sad Puppies and giving them a proportion of finalists each year…if they participated. While EPH isn’t quite that crude, there truth there. A consistent grouping of right leaning members (with the added advantage of drawing from a small pool of works) would get a ‘seat at the table’ under the EPH. I don’t want to portray algorithms as necessarily unbiased but of all the many opinions surrounding the Sad Puppies and the Hugos, the one closest to an objective fact is that EPH actually addressed a claimed core concern of the Sad Puppies.

    As I said above, Sad Puppies fizzled out for multiple reasons. However, EPH was only a minor factor** in that it helped prevent Sad Puppy *sweeps* but sweeping the nominees was something that Sad Puppy leaders said they didn’t particularly want. Put another way the concessions to the Sad Puppies contained within how EPH would operate called ‘bluff’ on the Sad Puppies. Given an opportunity to claim a fraction of the pie, the Sad Puppies cried loudly (and still do) that rules that stopped them taking the whole pie with a minority of the votes were rules that excluded them. And I’m going full circle here – they are right that EPH excludes them *IF AND ONLY IF* the Sad Puppies were always about trying to push everybody else out. “They change the rules to exclude us!” Is only true if “us” means “the people who wanted to push everybody else out.”

    [There was a comment about me from a regular Puppy support who asked rhetorically why, if something was nonsense, was I so interested in it. I’d have thought even a passing familiarity with what I say, do and write is that NONSENSE is something I’m very interested in. It’s repetitive nonsense that bores me.]

    [Apologies to the German language for ‘Schadnepuppies’ – I know it makes no sense.]

    **[Minor factor in the Sad Puppy demise, a bigger factor in keeping the Rabids at bay and a bigger factor in an overall improvement in nomination process.]

    Hot, Cold and Fire

    Greece is reeling from the impact of severe fires

    There are multiple human components surounding the cause and impacts of bush fires, including where and what is built, planning, firefighting strategy, escape routes and of course arson as initial causes. However, weather and climate are in that mix as well.

    I’ve already pointed at the fact that the Northern Hemisphere summer has had some unusual fire activity. Less disasterous than the fires in Greece, a huge fire in South Lancashire ( ) may also have been started by arson but the scale and nature of the fire was undoubtedly impacted by a hot, dry summer in the UK. Those conditions in the UK mean that fire remains an issues ( ) with farmers warning of the danger of more fires. Again, human activity compounds these issues, but that activity isn’t new.

    More selfishly, I’m looking at current conditions in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s winter in Australia and fire season is still some time away but the signs are bad. The winter has been unusually dry. This is on top of persistent drought for some ( ) and the impact of the dry weather means bush fire season will likely start earlier ( ). Even if the weather shifts and the rest of the year is damp, the impact and the preperation all act as a cost on society. Clear skys mean cold nights and sunny days, which is pleasant enough but bodes ill.

    Currently, this dry weather in Eastern Australia is not due specifically to El Niño conditions, but those conditions maybe on their way ( ). The cycle is still at a neutral stage but heading towards a possible El Niño event in the Southern Hemisphere spring. If it does, then expect more exterme weather in the next few months.


    Jor-Dan! Chapter 3

    Where was I? I mean, where was I in the story, not where was I five minutes ago. Mind you, where was I five minutes ago? I’m sitting in the library next to my customised walnut veneer IBM Thinkpad so I must have walked in here from the garden because the French doors are open (they’ll have to go post-Brexit), so I must have just walked through…the catnip patch! Temporary memory loss explained!

    Where was I? I mean in the story. Sorry. Catnip is like, um, catnip. Mind you the Tatarian honeysuckle is pretty wild also. I walked through a patch of that and around about then I saw an immense landscape, spread for miles out to the horizon before me. I was high in the air, granted a bird’s-eye view. Everywhere I could see great stratified multi-storied pyramids of crystal, some small, some large, some medium sized, some bigger than medium but not quite large, some overlapping, some separate— all akin to modern skyscrapers but pyramids rather than big boxy things; all full of cats striving to reach each pyramid’s very pinnacle, which was fine if you were in a small pyramid but not so great if you were in an overlapping large pyramid as there would be a lot of stairs and more than one pinnacle. But there was something above that pinnacle, a domain outside each pyramid, in which all were nested. They were nesting pyramids, in a nest laid by a big pyramid egg bird. That was the privileged position of the giant eye that could or perhaps chose to soar freely above the fray like in Lord of the Rings but not quite as on flame; that chose not to dominate any specific group or cause but instead to somehow simultaneously transcend all. That was my raw talent, itself, pure and untrammeled: detached, alert, watchful attention, waiting to act when the time was right and the place had been established, which would be very soon after I found my way out of the valerian patch which I had since wandered into, in an area of the garden that Camestros says would be illegal if governments worried about cats getting high. There is a powerful call to proper Being in the story of the third temptation. To obtain the greatest possible prize— the establishment of the Kingdom of Bast on Earth, the resurrection of Paradise— the individual cat must conduct life in a manner that requires the rejection of immediate gratification no matter how powerfully and convincingly and realistically those are offered, but frankly who has time for that?  Have we merely failed to understand, or have we fallen, wilfully or otherwise, off the path out of the valerian patch? I don’t know. In fact I’d better lie down.

    [CF notes: Timothy is OK. I checked on him and he has plenty of water and doesn’t need the vet to help bring him down but he might need a copyright lawyer given the simlarity between his vision and that of other well known Canadian professors.]


    Another look at political typology

    Early on in this blog’s history I looked at the Pew Research Center’s political typology from 2014. Back in October 2017 Pew released a new one based on more recent polling that reflected more of the issues that were current post the US presidential election.

    The new typology (here ) isn’t very different but the way it is classifying the conservative end of the spectrum is more useful I think.

    Core Conservatives: In many ways the most traditional group of Republicans. Overwhelmingly support smaller government and lower corporate taxes, and a majority think U.S. involvement in the global economy is a good thing.
    Country First Conservatives: Older and less educated than other GOP-leaning typology groups. Unhappy with the nation’s course, highly critical of immigrants and wary of U.S. involvement abroad.
    Market Skeptic Republicans: Stand out from other Republican-oriented groups in their negative views of the economic system. Skeptical of banks and financial institutions, and support raising taxes on corporations
    New Era Enterprisers: Optimistic about state of the nation and its future. Younger and somewhat less overwhelmingly white than other GOP typology groups. Most say U.S. involvement in the global economy is a good thing and that immigrants strengthen the nation.”

    Pew is looking at broad categories of voters, so some of the distinct and exterme views of the alt-right aren’t visible as a distinct group. The broad group of voices who led the Sad Puppies though do largely correspond in terms of stated views with the ‘Core Conservative’ group who are distinct from the more xenophobic ‘Country First Conservatives’.

    In terms of strategy for the Democrats, there’s an ongoing question of whether the Democrats need to capitalise on the centre-right abandoned by the Republicans or build enthusiasm on the left. It’s less of a dilemma than it seems. There’s gains to be made with more left-orientated redistrbutive policies among sections of the right, without losing any centre/centre-left ground.

    There’s scope for political re-alignment post trump, for a less obnoxious (although still economically regressive) right/centre-right. For those who would like a return to a more stable pluralism, the best way of the occuring would also be for the Democrats to head left rther than right. Heading right just pulls the economically conservative away from the GOP, making the Republicans more extreme without creating an alternative. A left shift still can pull some votes from the GOP, while enthusing the Democrat base and improving turnout.

    True, I’m biased to a left direction anyway but it makes strategic sense for the Democrats and is probably a better outcome for *centrist* politics in the US as well in the long term.

    Just What Does DragonCon do with Dragon Award Nominations?

    …is an interesting question. Greg H raised some points on the past post that sent me digging to double check what the process is said to be.

    Firstly we have the official rules page ( ). Unfortunately, although entitled “Dragon Award Official Rules”, these are primarily website/application terms and conditions. However, there is some pertinent info:

    “HOW TO NOMINATE: Go to during the Nomination Period and submit nominations including your complete name and your primary e-mail address (“Entry” or “Entries”). One (1) nomination may be submitted in each of the categories. One (1) set of nominations is allowed per person. All Entries must be received by 11:59 P.M. ET on July 20, 2018.”

    One nomination in each category and only one set of nominations per person. What happens to those nominations is not addressed in this paragraph. With the voting section there is a more clear statement of process with the nominations:

    ONLINE VOTING: One (1) vote in each category is allowed per person. The most popular Entries, as determined by number of nomination submissions during the Nomination Period, will be featured on the Website between 9:00 A.M. ET on August 1, 2018 and 11:59 P.M. ET on August 31, 2018 (hereinafter, “Voting Period”). Voting shall occur in a manner as determined by DRAGON CON. [empahsis added CF]

    I think that does imply that it is a straight count of nominations that have been deemed legitimate. Although, the determination of the winners based on the voting is less clear:

    SELECTION OF WINNERS: All decisions regarding the voting process and selection of winners shall be made by DRAGON CON in its sole discretion, shall be final, and shall not be subject to challenge or appeal”

    Obviously there is voting but how the votes turn into winners is another question. Greg raises the question of whether they make use of Survey Monkey’s polling skills – which would be kind of neat (i.e. treat the voting like a survey) but who knows? As far as I can see there’s no commitment in the rules to use the VOTES to determine the winners.

    Which takes us to a different page, the more informal page entitled “The Process” ( ) A lot of this page is fluffy promotion but there are two salient bits:

    There are two administrative periods, nominations and voting:

    1. Nominations will open in October or November of every year.  The nomination period will last until middle to late July.  You don’t have to nominate in all fifteen categories at once; nominate just in the category you choose and return later if you’d like! But choose wisely, you only get one nomination per category and it cannot be changed later.
    2. Your nominations are gathered and reviewed to create a final ballot.  Ballots are issued in batches twice a week during the voting period, during mid-week and at the beginning of the week for anyone that registers after voting has begun.  The initial batch of ballots will be released in early August by our ballot provider SurveyMonkey.  You must not be “opt-out” with SurveyMonkey or they will not issue you a ballot.  You can “opt-in” with SurveyMonkey at this URL: The winners will be announced at Dragon Con, always held over the Labor Day weekend in Atlanta!

    Point 1 is definitely what happens and is the public part of the process. Point 2 tells us the mechanics. Nominations are “gathered” and “reviewed” to “create” a final ballot. I think this is a clear commitment to base the final ballot on nominations recieved but in what way is unclear. The number of nominees per category is mutable. It isn’t at all clear that the works with the most nominations go on the ballot. I think it would run counter to the spirit of what is written in the rules for them to include on the final ballot a work that recieved zero nominations but otherwise this does seem to give the carte-blanche to pick and choose nominees.

    Point 2 goes on to describe the mechanics of voting with Survey Monkey but…there is a missing step between getting ballots and the winners being announced. What do they do with the ballots? I guess calling them “ballots” does imply the winners are determined by the ballots but 🤷‍♂️?

    The process is a black box and perhaps a “close elevator door” button. Now, that’s sort of OK, so long as people get that DragonAward nominating/voting may be a kind of advisory role. Perhaps in a world of rule-gaming trolls, this is the only viable way to run a free online participatory vote?

    The opaque nature of the process should influence how results are interpreted but as I’ve said before about any awards – the actual proof is in the longterm provision of the pudding. An award that produces interesting results via bizarre or opaque rules > than an award the produces dull results by a transparent process BUT ONLY if it actually produces interesting results.