Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Why we will not fix global warming

I used to work in an office with eight postgraduate students. The office was overly hot. Everyone complained about this heat. One day I persuaded everyone to turn off their computers before they went home if they were not running a simulation. The next day the office was not overly hot until about 1pm. This gave us four hours of pleasant temperature at a cost of two minutes of booting up in the morning. Every one of these smart people agreed the cause of the heating problem and they agreed the solution. And a week later six of them were leaving their computers on overnight.
They were not running simulations but they felt that their computer could be left on as it was not adding much to the heat problem. So a small change by a group of individuals who all recognised the problem and the solution failed because individuals did not take responsibility for their slight effect on the environment. We had failed to control warming in a room by reducing heat emissions.

Now take global warming. 6 billion people will have to change. They do not agree on the cause of the problem. Their sacrifices will benefit their grandchildren rather then themselves. They will have to sacrifice foreign holidays, car transport, imported food and much more. This is much greater then having to boot your computer in the morning.

If eight smart people who agree on a simple fix to a present warming problem fail what chance is there for billions of disagreeing people on a complicated and difficult series of changes to benefit the future?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Richard Dawkins’ atheism arguments
The “No one should believe in God because there is no scientific evidence” argument I find unconvincing because I believe loads of stuff that I cannot prove

1.Other people having consciousness. We just assume they do but it is impossible to prove. Even if you hook up an MRI and say their brain lights up in the same way as yours does that does not really prove they have a true inner life. We kind of just have to assume that they do.

2.Mental illness. Believing in god is not that different to believing in schizophrenia in terms of evidence available. Yes something weird is going on but we do not know what it is so until we do locking people up and forcibly drugging them seems a bit harsh.

3.Smell, you fancy your partner because of their smell. This is impossible to rationalise to some primitive reptilian part of your brain. Your sense of smell responds not to logic and reason but genetics. No amount of reasoning can make you fancy someone.

I am fascinated by anti-cryptography how to make a message so simple anyone can decode it without any of the assumptions we usually make when sending messages. Have a look at the Arecibo Message Take a few minutes to try figure out the message we sent into space it will give you some idea how difficult it is even to try operate without all the discrimination, presumptions and stereotypes we use all the time.

Probable Cause

Britneys hair, abortion, police checks where is your probable cause?
You guys got nothing on me. Where's your probable cause?
You're a known hijacker. You're sweating like a guilty motherfucker. That's my p.c. Save us the time. Tell us where the truck is.
Fenster knocks on the table.
HELLO? Can you hear me in the back? P.C.
He looks under his chair.
Where is it? I'm lookin'. It's not happening. What's going on with that?

Before testing for something you need a reasonable expectation a reasonable suspicion that it is true. That is why we have search warrants and why rare diseases should only be tested for if there is a family history of them. If you test everyone for something that is rare even with a very accurate test you end up mainly with false positives

Say 1% of people have something nasty you want to test for. Say the test is 99% correct if it says you are on drugs. That means that the test is actually 50:50. 2 people in a hundred will be found to be on drugs, only one will be.

For nasty things that are rarer such as inherited diseases or being a terrorist the innocent:guilty ratio based on an “accurate” test is even worse.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Your wager

Pascal bet that either there was a God or there wasn’t. If there wasn’t believing in him would not be of any consequence so it was worth betting that there was. Atheists say he was wrong because he did not tell us which of the millions of gods it would be best to gamble on.
I realised today that I have to gamble that the universe has some use for me. You know what that use is for you and you cannot get away from yourself. So you are going to have to come to terms with it. It might not make you famous, rich or save the world and no one else might understand it but you are stuck with it. There will always be people to tell you that you are too old or too young, too smart or too dumb. These people do not have to look out your eyes into the mirror each morning. They do not have to listen to that voice in your head before you sleep. They do not know what the universe has planned for you, only you know that. So start doing it.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Zen and the art of Vista
I used Windows Vista on Friday. It is rare that you come across such a Kafakesque bureaucratic nightmare that you would rather go to the post office then try to do anything with your computer. Think of the film Brazil without the comedic interludes.

Another thing that occurs with the endless dialogues is you eventually start becoming philosophical about life. Do I really want to delete this file? What do I really want to do? Where is my life going? Why is their a file system rather then nothing?

Eventually you reach a sort of Zen of inactivity where trying to get your machine to do anything is like a crash course in Phenomenology. I hope this OS never gets used in anything dangerous. 2000 would crash your tank, XP would have been taken over by the opposing army, and Vista will be off with some dining philosophers pondering existence like the smart bomb at the end of Dark Star.

BOMB #20
False data can act only as a distraction. Therefore. I shall refuse to perceive you.

Hey, bomb.

BOMB #20
The only thing which exists is myself.
Pimp my Brain
TV3 have a new program where they give ugly people makeovers, including plastic surgery. Then they will go on about how this is improving peoples confidence and is really a spiritual journey or some such rank illogical bollocks.Surgeons are supposed to be in the business of making people well rather then that of hacking up perfectly healthy flesh.

Anyway this gives me an idea for a program. We get a wife beating alcoholic. We get them to agree to a voluntary lobotomy for thier behavioural disorder. It is like a mental makeover show. It is essentially the same thing as plastic surgery for the ugly, cutting out what we regard as socially unacceptable.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Rock against Global Warming
Panic over we can all relax now go back to your lives U2 and the Chilli Peppers are going to have a concert to combat climate change.
I know some people say that stadium pomp rock and LA punk funk does not really have much effect on climate physics but I think we can dismiss these doubters as depressing.
I would like to see the other side of the argument though. Like the Darwinian evolution versus magic debate. Why is no one standing up for carbon dioxide? All the cool rock stars want to hang round with Oxygen but Nitrus Oxide is never invited to the party. Well it has been at some of the parties I go to but that is not the issue

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Conning the Sensible

How can the national lottery make large numbers of sensible players pick similar numbers? These are the players who use some form of random number generator to pick their numbers.

No one sensible trusts electronic voting systems as they are currently exist. However numerous other algorithms are enforced by computers that are not even open in the sense that we know how they should work. For example the quick pick in the lotto.

This algorithm is supposed to pick a random set of six numbers that have not been already picked. No one can guarantee randomness so the lotto terms and conditions must say “we are not to blame if our random number generator turns out to be faulty”.

Large sets of numbers are picked every week by the same people. If you know that a certain set of numbers is always bought on a Saturday you can generate it as a “random” quick pick on the Friday. Should the numbers be a winner you have not generated an already existing number so it is difficult to prove that the lottery is giving falsely random quick picks.

It is hard to tell that the numbers generated by the quick pick genuinely are random. Many lists of numbers look random to people if they include less sequential numbers then they should and if they cluster numbers around a low value.

The lottery could generate pseudo random numbers that appear random and unless large samples of these quick pick numbers are available non randomness is difficult to prove.

I do not believe that either of these schemes are practical. The lottery makes too much money to risk losing their licence to an out and out fraud like this. Too many people would have to be involved and they do not have the plausible deniability of schemes to con the foolish.

Also an independent observer observes the lottery draw itself, the national lottery would have to be complete chuckle monkeys if they did not also have an observer ensuring the correct operation of other aspects of the draw such as the selection of quick picks.

So in order to cheat the sensible a lottery could bias the selection of quick pick tickets. This would be a bad idea but users of the lottery should insist on an independent analysis
of the quick pick system as errors in pseudo random number generators are common.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Conning the Foolish

A foolish lottery player picks numbers based on obviously popular combinations. For example choosing numbers based on birthdays, house numbers and the other small numbers that make up our lives.
How do you make people to pick the one number you want? One way is to keep mentioning the number and once it is in their head the first thing they will think of will be the one you mentioned. “you could be the one” could be used in the advert etc. Anyone who has watched Darren Brown get people to pick an object can tell you this form of suggestion is not just paranoia but does have an effect
For example Darren Brown correctly predicts a single word that Iain Banks will choose completely at random from all of his published books before the book, page or word has been selected.

Another more way to influence the random numbers people pick is to use the play slip to influence them. People seem to regard odd numbers particularly prime ones as being more random.

Geometric patterns are important, whole theories exist on how to pick lotto numbers using magical shapes on the payslips.

The area of information theory called Kolmogorov complexity tells us that the number of patterns that can be defined geometrically (i.e. “Make a cross”) or with any regularity is a tiny fraction of all patterns.

What the lottery can do is make these geometric patterns appear more obvious and attractive to players by making the payslips.
Other patterns exist in the numbers picked by the foolish. Which I will deal later in selecting intelligent plays.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Libel and Mathematics
John Allen Paulos’s book “once upon a number” discusses the probability that OJ Simpson murdered his ex wife. Two pieces of statistics are raised that relate to the Ian Bailey Libel trial

1.“ But we know that Nicole Simpson is dead, and the more relevant fact is that 80 per cent of women in abusive relationships who are murderered, are killed by their partners.”
Evidence has been presented that Ian Bailey has been abusive to his partner.
2. OJ Simpson had a cut on his hand which Paulos suggested had a probability of 1 in 200 of occurring on any night where he was not engaged in violence. Ian Bailey has similar but more extensive cuts on his hands and head.

As a civil case libel is based not on reasonable doubt but on the less weighty measure of balance of probability. As such these statistics are important. If it was so unlikely that Ian Bailey would get such an injury on the day in question surely this is important to any newspapers case that he was a reasonable suspect in the case?

Monday, February 12, 2007

How to win the lottery

The only way to win the lottery is to run it. So if you run it how do you maximise your revenue? You maximise the number of times you have big jackpots. Certain people bet on every jackpot but a sizeable number only bet when the jackpot goes above a certain number of millions.

To increase the number of times the jackpot is large the lottery should increase the number of people betting on the same numbers. So if the lottery can get large numbers of people choosing numbers that are chosen by other people the lottery will be won less often and there will be more big jackpots.
There are three classes of lottery players
• Foolish-pick obviously popular combinations
• Sensible-use some truly random method to pick combinations
• Intelligent-use knowledge of foolish plays to pick unpopular combinations.

This is the start of a series of articles on how the lottery can manipulate ticket buyers into choosing similar numbers thus increasing the number of tickets they sell.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Wake up and smell the bullshit

Politicians have started to head for the comforting heights of cliché for the upcoming general election. The latest phrase is “wake up and smell the carbon” nothing worse then diamonds stinking out the gaff, pencil leads malodorous stench ruining the area.

Where did the expression "wake up and smell the coffee" come from? Presumably it is from teasmades which became yuppie cool in the 80’s. No one uses these anymore so why not update the expression to how we currently live?
"Wake up and have that half hard morning piss of truth"
"Wake up and remove that weird crumby stuff of hypocrisy from your eye"
"wake up and engage in some sort of existential Faustian contract with the snooze function"
Have you got any others?
Sponsor an ex murderer?

“Publicans will call today for buses for customers who cannot drive because of the Garda’s strict breath-testing campaign.”
say the vintners association

So you have just admitted to being complicit in the deaths of 100
people a year and you want to get sponsorship now this is over?
Can we have a fundraiser for rapists who just have a wank instead?
Ok the vintners did not make anyone drink and they certainly did not make anyone drive, but imagine this scenario. A man buys some bullets off a shopkeeper he goes outside and shoots the gun in random directions, next week he comes in again. The shopkeeper knows he is going to do something illegal and dangerous but he serves him anyway?

Now the IRA have taken a respite in murdering people maybe we should sponsor the loss of the business the Cheq makers of Semtex are experiencing?