October 19, 2006

What's the recidivism rate for suicide bombing?

Writing about web page http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/10/05/60minutes/main2066624.shtml

Apparently, on the TSA No-Fly list for March this year is included 14 of the 19 hijackers from 9/11. That is, 14 of the 19 terrorists who died in the plane crashes of 9/11. The US security services apparently decided to screen for and ban these individuals, in case, well… they try to do it again.

Maybe they should just watch out for the smell of decaying flesh and the constant groans of ‘Braaainns’ instead.


October 04, 2006

How about a lecture notes sharing scheme?

Something I’ve been thinking about – how about setting up a scheme to help students locate lecture notes for lectures that they have missed?

Currently, people have to find a friend that does the same module, which can be difficult if you were to choose a weird module or something. Essentially, what I’m thinking of is a scheme where people can post requests for notes (possibly with rewards), and which keeps track of people’s comments and ratings. (e.g. how long it took for the notes to get returned, if at all) People can just post what they want into pigeonholes, (or photocopies, really, if we fear that notes might disappear forever) and earn credit based on how many times they donated vs received etc.

How about it? Sound like an useful service?

(Also, if anyone doing third year Maths would like to put the lecture notes for Qualitative Theory of ODEs of 4 October in my pigeonhole in the maths building, I’d be very grateful. I’d get it back to you ASAP.)


You know, we weren't really serious about the American theocracy

Writing about web page http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/29/AR2006092901055.html

We were just exaggerating for effect, mostly… And then we see something like this

The Public Expression of Religion Act – H.R. 2679 – provides that attorneys who successfully challenge government actions as violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment shall not be entitled to recover attorneys fees. The bill has only one purpose: to prevent suits challenging unconstitutional government actions advancing religion.

What the bill means is that in the US, the government will be able to spam breaches of the constitution’s Establishment Clause, (The clause stating that the government can’t mess with people’s religion) and, uniquely out of all other possible issues, they will not have to pay if they lose and their action is declared constitutional. If the government breaks the law, their accuser will have to pay the legal costs!

Naturally, groups like CWA are ecstatic.

The passage of this legislation brings us one step closer to preventing legal groups, like the ACLU, from collecting attorney’s fees from the defendants they sue in establishment clause cases. Eliminating these monetary awards will free citizens to stand up for their constitutional freedoms and not face crippling judgments for attorney’s fees.

Check out the concentration of pure antitruth in that statement. The establishment act is about protecting citizens from the government. The cases affected are those of the ACLU vs the government and its employees, where the actions of the government infere with the free religion rights of the citizen. The only cases affected are those that groups such as the ACLU win – cases where the complained about action is not a ‘constitutional freedom’ of the government, but an act of unconstitutional oppression. Under the bill, government will be freed from ‘crippling’ judgements for fees, and those fees will be placed upon groups of private citizens and their representatives like the ACLU.

These people belong in a frigging mental institution. How can any sane person consider government interference in private beliefs as a freedom, and enforcement of constitutional restrictions on government power as persecution of the Christian majority? Are their Mary statues laced with heroin or something?


September 21, 2006

Time for Kyoto 2.0?

Writing about web page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming

It’s a fact universally acknowledged that the Kyoto Protocols just don’t work. Not just by denial lists, but by groups across the spectrum up to and including Greenpeace itself. The reasons given as to why it doesn’t work varies of course. Green groups think that it doesn’t go far enough. Denialists think that it’s based on a non-existent problem. Business groups think that it’s trying to stop and unstoppable juggernaut instead of trying to simply adapt to things.
Global Warming
Really, though, I think the reason that it doesn’t work appeals to a flawed psychology in its invention.

The real reason why Kyoto fails

Think about it – it’s a scheme where a number of states commit their resources in a way that benefits the rest of humanity. (possibly)

Analysing this using game theory throws up a simple fact – the best strategy in this game is not to join into Kyoto! Instead, it is far better to continue to pollute – in this case, you benefit from your industrialisation, whilst the suckers in the agreement do the real hard work so that you don’t suffer the consequences. The incentive in this scheme is to lie, to astroturf, to make up excuses and pretend that you don’t believe in the problems, because no matter if GW turns out to be real, you win from it. In the worst case scenario, you have breathing space from your accumulated wealth, poor nations are happily screwed over, and the agreement nations have to pay again when their actions fail.

The only motivation to join Kyoto is out of a sense of moral responsibility, and we all know how politicians are with moral responsibility.

It’s obvious by this stage that the world is not going to get its act together. It is inevitable due to simple human nature that all current political actions will be in vain. Either the projections will occur to some extent, or some random miracle will save us. We’re simple not going to do anything that changes the core of this reality.

What we need is an agreement that takes account of this fact.

My Kyoto 2.0

The central principle of my proposed Kyoto 2.0 is that if nothing we do today will affect whether or not we’ll be screwed tomorrow, we can at least make sure that we will be screwed proportionally to the amount of blame we have for it. Specifically, the proposal declares that:

Future adaptation efforts will be paid out of an international fund, with payments into the fund proportional to what the science of the time determines to be the responsibility of that nation to the problem.

What will this mean?

Firstly, it means honesty. Skeptics at this point in time generally believe that either nothing will happen, or that if something does happen, ‘better’ science will show that it was not their responsibility. K2 calls them on that belief. If they genuinely believe in this, then they have nothing to fear from the new agreement. If however they were lying to excuse their own greedy actions, then the new agreement stops them from taking advantage.

It also means fairness. It means the costs of adaptation will probably be paid by those morally at fault. This also happens to be the richest countries, so in general this means that no one should have to suffer too much due to lack of money. Because, I think, this agreement is so clearly just, it should be very hard for dodgy states to squeeze their way out of it.

Finally, it means flexibility. New inventions that eliminate the problem will not mean wasted money. But on the flip side, practical mitigation efforts will be rewarded if they turn out to have an effect, by reducing the degree of responsibility for the state involved. If a state believes that the consequences will be worse than others predict, green measures will be a wise investment.

Of course, as an adaptation based measure, there will be a danger that short sighted politicians will choose to bankrupt their future for short term gain. But hey, that’s going to happen anyway. At least with this, there will be some political pressure against screwing over one’s children.

Any thoughts?


March 23, 2006

Coming Soon: The Abolition of Parliament Bill

Writing about web page http://www.saveparliament.org.uk/

Yay for inflammatory and sensationalist titles.

Grah for this actually being rather appropiate.

Searching Warwick Blogs for the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill brings up two hits. Not very surprising, because for some reason this thing has had a very low profile in the media. A more paranoid writer might suggest this is by design, since the title of the bill itself is carefully crafted so that a casual reader would instantly zone out and ignore it.

Which is a shame, because this bill is

FUCKING SCARY

(wonder if this is going to get past the censors….)

Ok. Let me explain.

The Details

A boot stamping on a human face
What this bill does is allow, in the name of cutting red tape, any member of the cabinet to pass a change in primary legislation by a single vote. That's instead of the ages and ages of debating and discussion and back-and-forth that goes on currently.

What does this mean? It means that your MPs will have very little time to read and understand the content of what they are deciding on. And so, if they were to squeeze something dangerous into an innocent looking bill, there is a good chance of getting it through. Who would oppose the 'Bill to provide sick children with cuddly toys', which just happens to conceal a payload of ID cards?

But this is scratching the surface. Most commentators seem to have a failure of imagination here. Maybe they are scared of contemplating the true horror of what's going on. The opposition have been trying to curtail the power of this bill, by asking the government to make exemptions – rules that cannot be changed without the proper, traditional debate. The government has rejected all of these. What rules do the government want to reserve the right to change without debate? Here's a list: (Highlights are boldened)

Act of Settlement 1700
Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001
Bail Act 1976
Bill of Rights 1688
Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919
Church of Scotland Act 1921
Civil Contingencies Act 2004
Claim of Right 1689
Constitutional Reform Act 2005
Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
European Communities Act 1972
Freedom of Information Act 2000
Government of Ireland Act 1920
Government of Wales Act 2006
Government of Wales Act 1998
Habeas Corpus Acts 1679 to 1862
House of Lords Act 1999
Human Rights Act 1998
Identity Cards Act 2006
Immigration Act 1971
Local Government Act 1972
Magna Carta 1215
Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975
Ministers of the Crown Act 1975
Northern Ireland Act 1947
Northern Ireland Act 1998
Official Secrets Acts 1911 to 1989
Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949
Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005
Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Act 1706
Public Order Acts 1936 to 1986
Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000
Representation of the People Acts 1981 to 2002
Scotland Act 1998
Security Service Act 1989
Statute of Westminster 1931
Succession to the Crown Act 1707
Terrorism Act 2000
Terrorism Act 2006
Union with England Act 1707
Union with Scotland Act 1706
Welsh Church Disestablishment Act 1914.

So the government wants the right to create, without debate or discussion, a Britain where you can't vote, where you have no rights to legal representation, where there is a boot stamping on a human face forever.

And what's more, also open for amendment is this bill itself – it would be possible to extend this act to a true Enabling Act, removing Parliament from the process altogether. It would just take our MPs to slip up just once…. And BAM, democracy is abolished.

Let's consider safeguards… What safeguards? All it requires is for the minister drafting the proposal to have adequately considered the dangers. The minister sneaking in the dangerous regulation is given the duty of policing himself. What the government is doing here is asking for what is essentially a blank check, and saying, 'Trust us, we won't do anything bad with it.'

But why, we must ask. Why do you want these powers? Why do you want to have a loaded pistol pointed at our heads, as you claim to continue to protect and serve us?

How not to die

This bill is very close to being passed. The commons have done their first and second sittings already, and it needs only a 1 hour third reading before it's on to the Lords. And if it gets blocked there, then there's the Parliament act to force it through.

Better wake up people, because otherwise, there's no tomorrow.

Also, maybe the Student Union should be doing something about this. I know there's an anti-political mood in the air, but I do think we can have a broad and non-alienating consensus on this issue.


February 03, 2006

The Dollar Game

A friend related to me the following game: (Game as in Game Theory, I'm afraid)

A certain person is auctioning off a dollar. (Or a pound, or whatever) The deal is this – the highest bidder will win the prize, but every bidder – including losers – will be forced to pay whatever price they bid.

So what happens in the game? Notionally, two players can make a profit by agreeing to share the prize and refusing to escalate the situation. But such a deal is an inherently unstable one – each player has a lot to gain by screwing over the other. Furthermore, additional players can jump in and demand their share, blackmailing the cooperators by threatening to take all the prize for himself.

At each stage in the game, then, the player always profits by raising his offer to be above that of his rival. And unlike with the various pricing games we learn about in economics, this game doesn't just stop with zero profit. Even when the players are bidding above the prize, they still have an incentive to bid up a little more in order to try and claw back $1 worth of their losses. Extrapolating, we get to the conclusion that the players all end up paying infinite amounts of money for $1.

The only way to win the game is not to play.

Which is pretty cool. I wonder if this can be used to describe some real world situations…


February 01, 2006

Darwin Kicks ID's Ass

Writing about web page http://www.warwickboar.co.uk/boar/features/darwin_versus_god/

(Copy of a letter I sent to the letters page which probably won't get printed)

In this week's Warwick Bore, Alex Varley-Winter declares it to be a 'myth' that ID is just creationism. But that's wrong. The opposite is true – the judge in the recent case in America, stated specifically in his decision that ID is precisely creationism relabelled. Literally, as drafts of textbooks on creationism were converted into textbooks on ID simply by replacing the names.

Let's be blunt here. There are three kinds of people who believe in ID. They are the ignorant, the stupid, and the dishonest.

The dishonest are the worst. These are the arch-manipulators in charge at lobby groups such as the 'Discovery Institute' in America. These groups, it is known, follow the euphemistically titled 'Wedge Strategy'. The plan, explicitly stated and discretely endorsed, is to use issues like evolution to drive religion into government, with the ultimate goal of creating a theocratic state. Such institutions directly fund and support individuals like Dembski and Behe, and coordinate a careful strategy to destroy science and rationalism as a whole. For all their declarations that ID has nothing to do with religion, these people hold a step by step plan to use ID as a tool of mass manipulation. The creationists are simply organised in a way evolutionary science cannot be, because for all the conspiracy theories, there is no single towering Scientific Authority.

The stupid are the oracles of the dishonest, knowingly or unknowingly. None of ID's ideas are in fact new. Irreducible complexity was talked about by Darwin himself, and every example brought up has been clearly refuted by adopting a more realistic version of evolution – one where, for example, ireducibly complex situations can be reached by shaving down from a more complicated one, instead of just naively building up. Dembski's specified complexity is entirely invalid, because it treats evolution as a search algorithm when in fact it is not – natural selection isn't trying to find a certain exact solution. Then, we get the metaphysical stupids around them. The ones that argue, for example, that science can't explain everything. Or the ones who argue that ID needs to be given a change. The problem is that ID wants to be science, and the question answered by evolution – can current physical laws explain observed distributions of life – is a scientific question. It is a question in which we can seek direct verification from observation. In all its claims, ID has been shown time and again to be wrong or insufficient. It should not be 'given a chance', until it has come up with evidence or arguments that can stand on it's own two feet. ID itself, by it's vagueless over the idea of 'intelligence' (whose existence philosophers still debate) and 'design', has currently no explanatory power at all. It amounts to no more than 'stuff happens'.

Finally, there are the ignorants. The ignorants are the pawns of the ID movement. They are the majority who jam the polls. The ignorants represent two things – the failure of modern science education to convey the values and principles of science, and the concerted effort by the stupid and the dishonest to cloud their mind as to the facts of the matter.

The manipulators at the head of the ID movement want to twist science into a thing where skeptical thought is useless, where facts are equivalent to opinions. They want to twist religion from it's proper role as a source of comfort, inspiration and personal peace, into a shackle on ideas and a network of clumsy dogmas that can be used to beat up on discourse. For this reason, these people need to be resisted, and fought.


January 31, 2006

Oh Maths, Why Has Thou Forsaken Me?

Writing about web page http://www.channel4.com/4money/ontv/deal_or_no_deal/

Rich capitalist bastard mocking the proles.
A tv show, currently being show on Channel 4 on Saturdays called Deal or No Deal has caught my attention. The general gist of the show is this:

There are a number of boxes containing a known selection of cash amounts – what is not know is how the amounts are distributed. A player selects one box at random.

The game then proceeds round by round. With each round, one of the boxes is randomly selected, it's contents shown, and then eliminated. Every 2 or 3 rounds, the player is given an offer based on the average of the remaining box amounts. The player can take this offer and quit the game, or he can carry on, until eventually every box is eliminated except the one he initially selected, whose contents he wins. This is essentially the only choice the player has.

Question: How best does one play the game?

The obvious thing to do, as a statistician , is to stop playing when the expectation is decreasing. I.e. calculate the average win the next time you get an offer over all possible intervening outcomes, and stop once this is below what you currently have. The problem is that this doesn't work. It turns out that such expectations are exactly the same as the current average. (Proof is exercise for the reader)

A friend suggested an alternative – to stop playing the moment you are above the initial average – i.e. quit when you are ahead. The argument is that you remove the cases where you start off winning, but eventually lose. Unfortunately, you also lose the cases where you win and keep on winning. And guess what, these cancel out and you don't change your average winnings.

It seems that you can change the distribution of the winning probabilities only so much as you keep the average winnings the same. (Maybe this can be proven using some theorem from that of random walks?) So in the end, the best strategy is decided by the utility function of the player – how much is that extra 1000 pounds worth to him? Personally, I'd go for the reverse of my friend's strategy – quit when I fall below my initial expectation. This means that I guarantee a reasonable win, but have a long tail of probabilities going upwards, giving me a chance at the big one. Interestingly, this corresponds exactly to the much vilified idea of 'luck'. (Possibily an evolutionary explanation?)

Wikipedia has a good article on this, of course. It notes I've been a little bit naive with my analysis - the offer is a proportion of the expectation that is increasing with time. So essentially, the game lets players trade average winnings for reduced risk. It also references an unusually interesting social science article that I currently aren't arsed to read because I have two essays to write. The article (slogan = Tomorrow's Research Today! – really very creepy if you think about it) notes that the game is actually pretty good economics experiment into risk aversion, and there's a nice variety of different behaviours.

So, um, read it if you are interested.


January 04, 2006

Nice article about wikipedia

Writing about web page http://www.hyperorg.com/backissues/joho-dec29-05.html#wikipedia

I like what this guy has to say.

Ok, I can't really think of anything more profound at this moment.


December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas.

And so we come to yet another Christmas.

Funny thing, Christmas. It's the one holiday we have that is in fact totally pointless. Jesus – if he was the messiah, if he even existed – was not born on December 25th. It's not the solstice, or any other astronomically significant moment in time. It's just a date. A number drawn out by the random processes of historical convenience. (Man, the strain of that essay on RNGs is really having an effect…)

Most of the movies on TV now fill me with dread and revulsion. Endless exortions to return to the basics, to recover the spirit of Christmas and so on and so forth. This holiday, then, is the time our long dormant collective consciences can be tapped and channeled into a variety of deserving or undeserving causes. Resistance is futile. Surrender to Jeebus! To the poor Africans! To the buy one get one free!

You can only hear Jingle Bells so many times before you go on a rampage. I don't need a Christmas holiday. I need a holiday from Christmas.

Bah humbug.


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