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The Atlantic has a good article on NDEs (near-death experiences). The author's report of an NDE conference is consistent with my experience participating in online NDE discussions over the years. People who've had NDEs and believe in an afterlife often take a stance of I've seen for myself and that settles it.

The article is pretty long but it's good reading. Among other things, it touches on a key issue in any dualistic model of personhood: if the mind has a non‑physical component, where and how does it interact with the brain? The question occurred to Descartes, who conjectured that the pineal gland was the interface. The Atlantic article describes someone's more recent proposal, not that it's much better than Descartes' stab at it.

There are many open questions about consciousness, but the questions about NDEs are particularly sharp ones.

Happy equinox (at 22:45 UTC, 15:45 PDT), everyone. Nothing lasts, especially not in Wikipedia. If you edit a page, you'll probably live to see your work be removed or superseded. Last June, I added this example to the Dangling modifier page:
Like most dogs, Mitt Romney says his dog Seamus liked fresh air.
with credit to Jeanne Moos who said it on CNN. I'm not surprised that it was removed (yesterday, along with a bunch of other examples) but rather that it lasted as long as it did.
De Morgan was explaining to an actuary what was the chance that a certain proportion of some group of people would at the end of a given time be alive; and quoted the actuarial formula, involving π, which, in answer to a question, he explained stood for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. His acquaintance, who had so far listened to the explanation with interest, interrupted him and exclaimed, "My dear friend, that must be a delusion, what can a circle have to do with the number of people alive at a given time?"
- W. W. Rouse Ball,
Mathematical Recreations and Essays
Around 30 years ago, when a friend and I were figuring out what value capacitor to use in a crossover network, he asked what π was doing in the formula. (Note that—as usual—it's 2π .) For most of the 1970s, the largest number known to be prime had only about six thousand decimal digits, fitting nicely on a page of line printer paper. In 1979, I printed 221701‑1 in an edition of 19 to give to friends. When I told my math professor I'd been printing out big prime numbers, he said, "aren't those for envelopes?"

I got a newly-released CD in the mail yesterday and they threw in a poster from a numbered edition of 100. I got number 99, which reminded me of the choice of whether to number things starting at 0 or 1. Programmers know that zero-based numbering rocks and that the advantages of starting at 1 are mostly variations on "because it's always been done that way."

For non-programmers: consider the celebration of round-numbered anniversaries. My car recently hit 100,000 miles, heralded by a bunch of digits in the odometer turning over at once. Contrast that to how a one‑based calendar works. It's natural to group years by their shared digits (e.g., "the seventies") but killjoys rear their pedantic heads every ten years to insist that the new {decade, century, millenium} starts at ...1 .

The next time I make a limited edition of something, specimens will be numbered starting at 0—even if that means inscribing them with n∊[0,18] . The US Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002 in the wake of several egregious corporate accounting scandals. It added (among other sections) 18 U.S. Code § 1519:
Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.
How broadly should that sentence be interpreted? Is it only about records, or does any obstruction of justice by concealing a tangible object count?

A recent case, Yates v. United States, hinged on whether throwing illegally-caught fish back into the sea constituted concealing tangible objects under 18 USC § 1519. Last week the Supreme Court said no, in a 5-4 decision that didn't split along the usual partisan lines.

Given the level of intelligence not exhibited by the US legislature, parsing the laws they write is not my idea of a good time—although I can see how others are drawn to that line of work.

From the oral argument, it looks like the court wanted to limit the statute because it potentially imposed penalties out of proportion to crimes like the one at hand:
Chief Justice:
The fish were—how many inches short of permitted were the fish?
US Attorney:
The fish were—it varied fish by fish, Your Honor.
The most entertaining reading in Yates is in the dissent by Justice Kagan, who thinks fish are tangible objects:
A fish is, of course, a discrete thing that possesses physical form. See generally Dr. Seuss, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960).
Today is Dr. Seuss's 111th birthday.