Monday, May 24, 2010

Eurovision Voting Fraud

Forget hanging chads in Florida. Some really important vote rigging is about to happen.

I was investigating the Eurovision Song Contest last week as a prediction problem. No really it is an area of major research into how corruption agreements implicitly develop between countries. There are papers here, here and here.

But then I saw the odds for this year and there is something really odd happening. The odds from Paddy Power are here
Azerbaijan 11/8
Germany 4/1
Israel 9/1
So Azerbaijan a country that no one can spell is hot favorite. Which would not be too suspicious if they had ever had a song that wasn't entirely made up of goats being strangled before. The singer Safura and her Drip Drop has her obvious talents on display but is there something odd going on here?

Wikipedia says
After the conclusion of 2009 Eurovision, it was reported in Belarusian media that unknown people had allegedly paid and bribed students from Belarus to vote for Azerbaijan in the contest, and had even transported them to the Belarusian-Lithuanian border in 10 buses. The cost of this alleged action was claimed to be about 55 million rubles. They purportedly voted for Azerbaijan using Belarusian SIM cards, and then received Lithuanian cards to repeat the process. The Azerbaijani entry "Always" received 10 points from Belarus and 5 points from Lithuania.

So why does an old soviet country, with a pretty dodgy political system, that is 95% Muslim want so badly to win the worlds gayest contest? Turns out its a giant fight with Armenia. There is a war going on between them using the Eurovision as a battleground. I cannot wait till they get Johnny Logan in as a peace negotiator.

The Azerbaijan state broadcaster blocked out the voting number for the 2009 Armenian entry like some corporate logos in a rap video. Then and you can only read this in a full Borat accent "in August 2009, a number of Azerbaijanis who had voted for Armenia's entry during the 2009 Contest were summoned for questioning at the Ministry of National Security in Baku, during which they were accused of being "unpatriotic" and "a potential security threat". One of those summoned, Rovshan Nasirli, said that he was told by his interrogators that they had the names and addresses of all 43 Azerbaijanis who had voted for Armenia".

What is the cause of all this? According to the over 2000 word wiki article on the "Armenia Azerbaijan relations in the Eurovision Song Contest" it is Nagorno-Karabakh an area they both claim.

So it looks like Azerbaijan are willing to buy masses of fake simcards, bus people to other countries, bribe students and track down a few dozen people who voted the 'wrong way'. I wonder what is going to happen this time now that they seem to take the eurovision seriously?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Craig Venter creates synthetic life form

There are stories about this everywhere. But one quote from wired sticks out

“Over the last five years the field has seen a 100-fold increase in the length of genetic material wholly constructed from raw chemicals,” said synthetic biologist Drew Endy of Stanford University. “This is over six doublings in the max length of a genome that can be constructed.”

Doubling in abilities in less than a year is amazing. Pretty much any exponential improvement like that ends up being a big deal if it carries on for a reasonable length of time. This is 1 million base pairs of synthetic DNA. A human is 3 billion base pairs. So at this growth rate that is less than 12 years. Not that you would artificially create a human or anything but it gives you some impression of how rapidly this technology could develop.

Sunday, May 02, 2010


If we do not learn our lesson from the property bubble and collapse we will wind up back in the same trouble again.

There is a semi ghost estate on my bus route. It is beside the M50 beside Finglas and an area called Scribblestown in murder news reports. The estate is opposite and beside a halting site.

This Heathfield estate seems less than half full. This week I noticed the sign they have flogging houses had a new banner on it. "NO DEPOSIT...NO WORRIES"

We have learned nothing.