Who has got the cure for the sit-at-home blues? Ask Dr Grabthar. Now with bigger, easier to read font!

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

[General Geekiness] Ask the Mathletes (Pt2)

Today's Specific Advice Column comes from Mathlete Mike (seen here dressed as Fidel Castro).

Right, you're about to commit fraud. To be specific, you are about to embezzle. No buts, you are. The price of petrol has finally thrown you off the edge. To keep the hounds at bay, you need to cook the books. You need to put a mound of false data into the accounting system to make it look as though nothing is wrong and you are able to buy that Ferrari 575 with money from an old, previously unknown, aunt's inheritance. And you'll be able to afford the petrol to keep it going from the interest you've accumulating from the change left over.

Step 1 to Cook the Books: Generate some false data

Let's say that the numbers you have to make up are stock prices. You
look at the paper. Hmmmm, they appear pretty random. You can't be
bothered doing a complete statistical analysis, but they look all over
the place, so you may as well make yours pretty random. I mean it's
pretty obvious that a stock price could be anything and therefore any
number is as likely as the next. You certainly can't see any pattern in
these numbers. I mean, if you could, you wouldn't be embezzling, right?

OK, how do you do this? Do you just pick numbers out of your head?
Possibly, but, well, you want to make this random, right, so that no one
looking at the data thinks, "Ah, they just made that data up from out of
their heads"? So how do you make random data? How about Excel? That does
random numbers. Technically, it's only a pseduo-random
number generator
, but, ah, they will not know the difference! Cool,
exactly what you need. You need to come up with 10,000 separate numbers,
each somewhere between $0.01 and $10.00, to hide what you've been doing.

Easy. You just use the RANDBETWEEN() function to produce 10,000 amounts
between $0.01 and $10.00. You have to look it up in the Help section,
but for once Microsoft's help is helpful and you work out the exact
function to be "=RANDBETWEEN(1,1000)/100". This will give you a dollars
and cents amount. Excellent, copy that cell into another 9,999 cells and
there you have it! Couldn't be easier (assuming you know how to quickly
copy one cell into 9,999 others). Spreadsheets are a forger's best friend.

Of course, now you'd better check and make sure it is random. There
might be some pattern in Excel's random number generator that will give
it away. What's a quick check? How you use the COUNTIF() function to
count the number of times each number appears?

Thinking back to high school statistics, each dollar amount from 0 to 9
(ignoring the cents) should appear about 1000 times each in a set of
10,000 numbers (e.g. 0 should appear about 1000 times, 1 should appear
about 1000 times, etc). I mean, they're all equally likely, are they
not? Now, you should probably give or take a few here and there - I
mean, having each number appear exactly 100 times would be a bit of a
giveaway, as nature isn't always so precise.

[Note that the dollar amounts 0 and 10 are a bit of a special case, as
10 should statistically only appear ten times ($10.00 - there can't be a
$10.01, etc, as we're only capable of generating up to $10.00), and 0
would be expected to appear 990 times ($0.01 to $0.99, no $0.00) in our
sample size of 10,000. However, we can ignore these foibles in our
little scheme.]

OK, so you use the COUNTIF() function to count the appearance of each
dollar amount between 0 and 9. And to your delight, you find that every
number does indeed seem to appear about 1000 times each. Even better,
you note, some numbers are a little bit down (you note that $2 only
appears 964 times), while some are a little bit up ($4 appears 1071
times). That'll fool them, you think.

Step 2 to Cook the Books: Enter the false data

Copy and paste into your accouting system, if you're lucky. Enter by
hand if you're not.

Step 3 to Cook the Books: Kick back and enjoy your ill gotten gains

That is, until the police knock on your door. How did they know? You
data was beautifully random. It was perfect. There was no way it
could've given you away. Or was there...

As you rot in jail, your guards laugh at you and say you weren't the
first and you won't be the last, and here, read these things before
doing it next time:
- Benford's
Law (at Intuitor.com)

- Benford's Law
(at Wikipedia)

[General Geekiness] Ask the Mathletes (Pt 1)


In this first for Grabthar’s Hammer the Mathletes will answer your questions on various topics.

Dear Mathletes,

My girlfriend thinks we don’t talk enough, but whatever, we talk all the time. I ask her how the Vikings will go this season and whether Roger Clemens ERA will stay below .200. She says we're drifting apart. What am I doing wrong?

Confused in Carson City

p.s. She also thinks Gaussian (complex) integer primes are cooler than quarternions. What’s with that?

Dear Carson City Confused,

We Mathletes know little about the ways of women – other than those of the pixelated variety. Mathlete Ben says “Weird girlfriend, gaussian integers are only two dimensional; how could they be cooler than quartenions?” He says what we were all thinking.

Yours truly,

The Mathletes

Dear Mathletes,

Last week I integrated a complex B-spline over a 4-demensional matrix which I then wanted to invert. But instead of the elegant solution I expected I got an attractive quartic surface given by the implicit equation:

25[x3(y+z)+y3 (x+z)+z3] + 50(x2y2 +y2z2) – 125(x2yz+y2xz)+60xyz=0

(a variant of Norstrands Weird Surface).

I need this in order to solve the recent spate of murders in my area. My brother is about ready to give up on me at this point.


In need of your assistance,

That guy from that show Numb3rs

Dear Guy (whose FBI brother was also the Doctor in Northern Exposure),

Ummm…Did you carry the one?

Mathletes

Greetings and Salutations O Great Mathletes,

I have become vexed by a most heinous calamity. My band of friends and I – on a perilous journey of adventure – have become steadfastly stuck. On one side perilous cliffs on the other…Orcs! Lots of them too! Our chief spell-caster has run out of fireballs and we are running low on health potions. Please help us in our time of need!

Your servant

Lord Horlamin Fletcher Greatsoul (Half-Elf Paladin)

Dear Lord Fletcher,

In situations like this we like to turn to our trust 1xD20 and roll some serious shit against Orc armour class. If you guys are puny sub-class weaklings then maybe get your thief’s “bag of holding” (you do have a thief in your party right?), figure out who the fastest person is, have everyone else jump into the bag and away your merry band shall run!

Remember kids, situations like this can be avoided if you use protection.

Mathletes (Registered DMs)

Hey “Mathletes”!

Quit using our name or we’ll come over there and punch you right in the quartenions!

Gary Snidelberg (President)

The World Mathletics Association

Dear World Mathletics Association,

We understand your frustration but in the words of Sir Isaac Newton: “Kiss my Endomorphic Ring”.

Southside Mathletes rep-ra-zent!

[Sports]...and get rid of those side burns, hippie!




This is Johnny Damon, Boston Red Sock(?), world series hero, and Lou Diamond Phillips look-a-like. Johnny Damon has a problem. He broke a lot of hearts in New York last year when he, some how, blasted his way out of batting slump to knock the Yankees out of the play-offs. He is a good player, has been one of the few to string together long hitting streaks and is challenging for the batting title this year. So of course The Bombers will try to bring him to the Bronx. Now this isn’t the big problem. While everyone hates the Yankees when they play against them, to a man, they’d be lying if they said that deep down they didn’t want to play in the pin-stripes. So this isn’t going to be too big an issue for old Johnny D shifting to his once bitter rivals. But Johnny D does have a problem. This guy is known for his flowing mullet and bushy beard. He'll get the big bucks and a chance to win some more World Series with the Yanks but his luxurious flowing mane doesn’t quite fit with the Yankees Short Back and Sides, Johnny Unitas “Haircut you could set Watch too” philosophy. Here’s an artists impression of a tame Jonathon Randwick* Damon.

*Not his real middle name.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

[Sports] Baseball down to the wire


I got Bats, getchya Bats here. You want one love? here it comes, that'll be $15 bucks.

“Its getting down to the wire now, not many games to go” I told Hadyn excitedly. “Really he said, and how many games are left in the season?”

“why just forty odd” I replied, not really listening to myself. Hadyn began chorltling to himself and wandered muttering “….the end is pretty close? Pah!”

I hadn’t really thought about it. Major League Baseball kicked off on the 5th of April (roughly) and has been chugging along at better than a half a dozen games per day ever since (save for the all star weekend and some other breaks). That’s about 150 days, and each team has played about 120 games at this point. Probably close to 1500 games have been played. That’s quite the regular season, and if you think that a lot of those 30 teams have sold out a lot of the 60 odd home games etc, lots of money too etc.

Okay but anyway, back to the interesting bit. Things are getting very sticky as teams’ battle for division titles and the league wildcards. Baseball probably has the fewest post-season places available of any sport. After crunching a few numbers (not my strong point) Baseball appears to be the most difficult sport to actually qualify for post-season play when compared to other major sports formats.

NRL (Rugby league)

8/15

53%

A-League

4/8

50%

NBA

16/32

50%

NPC (First Division)

4/10

40%

NFL

12/32

37.5%

Super 12

4/12

33%

MLB

8/30

26%

So things are pretty hot at the top when it comes to qualifying for the MLB play-offs and probably why teams don’t get terribly upset when they go 10-15 years without making them. Especially when your name is Toronto or Texas.

THE AMERICAN LEAGUE

AL East

Everything everybody hoped and some of what I predicted. Baltimore have fallen by the wayside and now serve the purpose of messing up the top teams chances. They have recently been trying to stop the progress of the Oakland Athletics with no success. The current leaders of the division, holding a slender 1.5 game lead over the Yankees (73-56), are the Boston Redsox (74-54). Now Boston have lead this division for most of the year since knocking off the Orioles (61-68) in late June. They had high hopes of racing away and cruising comfortably into the play-offs to defend their crown. They have played well and put together several long winning streaks but try as they might they have not been able to throw off the annoying Yankees. The upcoming series between the two in New York may yet decide the final placings. Tampa (55-76) have been pissing everyone off lately with wins over the Redsox and the Yankees. They have the beginnings of something down there, and Manager Lou Pinella, while a colourful and controversial character, has the ability to pull the franchise into something resembling competitive, having lead Seattle to a record setting 117 win season in 2001 (I think). The Jays (65-65) are hanging in there but lack the steel to match the big two. The really entertaining thing is that the team that finishes 2nd in this division is in real danger of not qualifying, something that hasn’t happened for a few years. The other teams in the American league are pushing them very very close. Predicted Finish: Yanks, Sox, Jays, Orioles, Rays.

AL Central

They continue to defy me but the Chicago White Sox (79-48) just refuse to go quietly into the night, have kept winning and remain entrenched atop the AL Central. Pitchers Mark Bherle, Jon Garland, and former Yankee Jose “El Duque” Contreras have been throwing up a storm and they continue to win games. However, surprising (at least to me) the Cleveland Indians (73-58) are scrambling up the slope behind them and now sit just 8 games back. The Sox still look a little fragile and seem to struggle when facing other division leaders which could see them caught in a dramatic final week.

My pick, the Minnesota Twins (68-62) are struggling a little. Pitching hero Johan Santana does his best but too often the batting lets him down. Detroit (62-66) and Kansas City (42-86) now have the job of spoilers which they are doing very well, stealing wins from Boston and New York respectively. Predicted Finish: Chicago, Indians, Twins, Tigers, Royals

Al West

I am going out on a limb here and picking the AL wildcard will come from the AL West.

“…but this division usually has one very late starter who can sneak up and steal a wild card from some in the east before anyone realises what’s happened.” Was what I said back in late June and unbelievably it may in-fact come true! Currently there is a massive fight for the lead in the AL West between Oakland (73-56) and Anahiem (73-57). And these guys are scrapping hard. Oakland stole there most recent series and the lead after Anahiem had been leading the division for a month. The Rangers (61-68) have all but collapsed and died. This could be due to pitching problems, but they have been getting lot of shit these days over Alfonso Soriano, who was going then he wasn’t then he was again, now finally he isn’t. Though who knows what could happen tomorrow. Seattle (55-74) have the same job as Detroit and Kansas City, again they seem to be doing pretty well after pinching two in row from the White Sox over the last few days and may yet nick third place from the tiring Rangers. Predicted Finish: Oakland, Anahiem, Seattle, Texas.

American League Wildcard

Like I, said this will come right down to the wire. One of the top two teams in the AL East will miss out, Im pretty sure of that. Oakland just keep getting better. You might recall I said this A’s fans would like to think it will be them [winning the wild card] but with the formerly formidable pitching rotation now in tatters (Mark Mulder is pitching up a storm in St Louis, Tim Hudson getting some wins in Atlanta), this appears unlikely. Oh how wrong was I. I stand corrected and I apologise to all those Oakland fans out there. At the moment there is a four and half way tussle for the Wildcard. The Angels, Yankees, Oakland, Cleveland and half of Minnesota will bash each other up right till the end. If the Yanks catch Boston then they too will be in the mix. Cleveland just seem to be peaking at the right time but the Angels have strong hitting and will take it down to the wire. Predicted Finish: Angels, Indians, Boston, Minnesota.

THE NATIONAL LEAGUE

NL East

There must be something in the water along the US eastern sea-board cos the teams in the east are giving us the best fight possible. Only 7 games separate first place from last. 2nd place has changed hands about 10 times in the past 2 weeks, with Florida (70-61), The Phillies (70-61), Washington (67-63) and the New York Mets (68-62) all trying to chase down Atlanta (74-56). The difference so far has been the bat of match winner Braves Slugger Andruw Jones who has a major league leading 42 home runs. The Braves continue to look strong and barring some freakish occurrence (Katrina? Is that you at the door?) will secure something like their 13th straight NLE division title. The race for 2nd place and probably the wildcard will be the most intense in MLB. Id like to see the marlins make it cos I like them, but if the Nationals made it in their debut season that would also be pretty cool. Pedro Martinez has been enjoying a real renaissance in New York and would also deserve a trip back to the play-offs. Screw Philly. Predicted finish: Atlanta, Philadelphia, Florida, Mets, Washington.

NL Central

The best team in baseball, the St Louis Cardinals (83-48) continue to crush all comers. They have a 14.5 game lead over Houston (68-62) who in turn hold a 5 game lead over division surprise team Milwaukee Brewers (64-67). The Brewers are 1.5 games ahead of Chicago (62-68) and the Reds of Cincinnati (62-68). I’d picked the Cubbies early season on the strength of some very solid pitching and that they’d finally gotten rid of waste-of-space Sammy Sosa. Unfortunately injuries and poor form have all meant the loyal Cubs fans will have to wait yet another year to see their team get to the World Series. It’s closer than it was 5 years ago though. The Pirates of Pittsburg (54-77), another favourite of mine, struggled early on but over the last month have one of the best records in the league. They have spent the season blooding new young pitchers and next year that should pay off. Keep an ear out for the name Zach Duke. No one will catch the Cardinals and they will go back to the World Series. Predicted finish: Cardinals, Houston, Reds, Brewers, Cubs, Pirates.

NL West

This division disgusts me. If there wasn’t a rule saying the division winner qualifies for the play-offs there would be no representation from the NL West. Currently not on team is about the .500 winning percentage mark. Every single team in the NL East has a better record than any of the teams in the West. The pitiful Padres (64-65) lead the division from the Lousy LA Dodgers (60-72) and the Awful Arizona Diamondbacks (59-71). Shitty San Francisco (57-72) and Crappy Colorado (52-79) make up the horrible numbers. This division needs Barry Bonds and Eric Gagne. No superstars makes for a very very dull division. Predicted Finish: San Diego, Arizona, LA, Giants, Rockies.

NL WILDCARD

This will go to someone in the East. Only the Astros can challenge from outside and they might be just a little too far back to catch the front runners. My pick is Philadelphia. They are peaking at just the right time and a known as very strong finshers.

Predicted Finish: Phillies, Marlins, Mets, Astros.

Righto, see you in the Play-offs

Gibbs

Monday, August 29, 2005

[Politiks] Billbored

Here is a great little piece of art work from this website

The joke is explained here for those of you who aren't geeky.

[General] Weekend Statistics

Number of birthdays attended: 1

Number of cocktails drunk: 1 (dammit!)

Number of cars driven: 2

Number of hybrid cars driven: 1 (Toyota Prius)

Satisfaction level for Toyota Prius: 95%

Recommended retail price of Toyota Prius: NZD$43,500 (this price has been locked by Toyota NZ)

Percentage chance of purchasing Toyota Prius: 45%

DVDs bought: 2

Xbox games bought: 1 (Godzilla)

Xbox games played: ~12

Percentage of sunshine enjoyed: 100%

Number of times viewed new All Black haka: 2½

Number of times enjoyed new All Black haka: 2½

Number of times was able to correctly recall name of new All Black haka: 0 (Kapa O Pango: “team in black”)

Amount of happiness gained by All Black victory over Springboks: 15 happi-metres

Number of Bay of Penty victories: 1

Points BOP won by: 1

Number of BOP supporters who cared that it was only one point: 0

Number of cooked breakfasts: 2

Best cooked breakfast: Ford’s Café (Thorndon, Wellington)

Cups of Coffee: 15

Parents overseas: 1

Number of bottles of alcohol bought for me duty-free: 1 (42 Below Feijoa)

Number of times tried to restart computer: ~20

Number of times I have re-installed Windows since purchasing computer: 3

Number of times I have coveted friends iBook: 8

Sony Viao’s enquired about: 3

Percentage chance of purchasing Sony Vaio: 52% (climbing)

Friday, August 26, 2005

[General] Mathletes on steroids

Sigh.

No matter how hard I try, the most controversial things that I can say on my blog seem to be based around whether mathematics is discovered or invented, is it science or art.

Here are the responses to my short piece on UD. (These have been shortened because they were each the size of a normal post. Scott also commented but actually talked about UD and not maths)

Ben:

…You comment on Pi, and refer to it as "the ratio of every circles circumference to its diameter", and then you go on to say, "...in some other universe the ratio of circumference to diameter might be [something else]”

This is far more shocking to hear than, for example, you suggesting that Space Bisons created life through intelligent rock design.

I would have hoped you would have considered Pi to be something more along the lines of "the smallest positive real so that sin(x) = 0." The fact that there may be some relation to circles to be a truly fascinating, yet almost bewildering, coincidence…

…I also feel inspired to dwell on parts of the Mandlebrot set for a while, now there is complex beauty from the simplest of systems.

Mike (in response):

Re pi - it is completely entwined with circles, so it's not really that big a coincidence!

I mean pi's very definition is that it is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

As for sin(w), where w is in radians or degrees or whatever, it's just the height of a unitary circle above (or below) the x-axis starting at the point (0,1) and moving anti-clockwise. Cos(w) is the distance from the y-axis. (Had to look that up, thank you Mathworld, mathematician-geek heaven.) The unit used for w is pretty arbitrary: pi (as in radians) is used because it simplifies calculations. "The smallest possible real so that sin(x)=0" could be 180 (as in 180 degrees), or 200 (as in 200 gradians), or whatever.

And the interesting thing is that if you put a circle into curved space, you can change the value of pi. There are instances where pi even becomes rational. Couple of links: Cosmic Questions and Ask Dr Math.

Mandelbrot sets rock…

Ben (in reresponse):

I always find it rather disappointing when maths gets related to real world things. I much prefer totally abstract idea. I guess a circle could be considered abstract. But geometry just seems a little to "real world" to be taken seriously.

I like prime integers. These are good. I remember having an argument with someone about whether God had any limits one what he could create do with the universe. I argued that God can not change the prime numbers. The whole concept of integers is a basic one that is a completely abstract thought. It matters not what type of universe you are in, the abstract concept of integers and their primes is outside that and exist even if there was no universe or anyone to think about them. God would be limited to looking at the primes; there is no ability to rearrange them.

Gaussian (complex) integer primes are super cool too.

I never looked into quaternions integer primes. That would be fun. That inspires me to go and look at some.

Primes make pretty pictures. I used one for an Album cover once.

Speaking of quaternions, I always wanted to make a 3D Mandelbrot using quartenions (well I would only use the real, i, and j part, and leave k [as] 0 or I would end up with 4 dimensions). But could never think of a good way to actually display it…

The Mandelbrot is soothing…

Mike (in rereresponse):

Ha haarrr! I'm an engineer. It's my job to take all your wishy-washy mathematical "abstractions" and turn them into real world applications!

Bejeebers, I had enough trouble with imaginary numbers without getting into quaternions! I've got to stop writing all my sentences ending in!

Yeah I know; that’s what I was thinking.

Let’s talk about our old friend Pi (π) shall we? Thanks to Mike for finding what I was too busy lazy to find: that Pi changes under different circumstances. In some curved spaces Pi (either as the ratio of circumference to diameter OR as the limit of x as sin(x) → 0) has a different value.

Is mathematics a science or an art?

art1 [ ärt ] n.

  1. Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature.
  2. a. The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium. b. The study of these activities. c. The product of these activities; human works of beauty considered as a group.
  3. High quality of conception or execution, as found in works of beauty; aesthetic value.

sci·ence [ sns ] n.

  1. a. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena. b. Such activities restricted to a class of natural phenomena. c. Such activities applied to an object of inquiry or study.
  2. Methodological activity, discipline, or study: I've got packing a suitcase down to a science.
  3. Knowledge, especially that gained through experience.

My money’s on art. Sure people use maths every day, but the stuff that people are actually creating is very unlikely to be used in everyday life anytime soon. There is an argument that has any science pegged as a form of art. However, here is a quick litmus test: Maths can be a Science or Arts degree major at Auckland University. As far as I’m aware no other science has that option.

Is science discovered or invented?

Is science innate and immutable in the universe or is a construct of mankind. It is pretty difficult to argue that maths is just a construct of the human mind especially given that our context is IN THE HUMAN MIND. (Any non-humans who read this, your opinion would be greatly valued.).

This is no longer in science or art or mathematics but rather philosophy (which, yes, could be considered art). Substructural logic is a complex topic that is similar to what I’m trying to get at here. Take Universe A, give it only three of the necessary logical structures it might need and then have fun trying to make Universe A into the Universe we all know and love. For example, what about a universe where A=A is not always true. You end up using all kinds of funny symbols with strange names (we would be saying things like “if A hats B then…”).

So let’s look at Ben’s “God’s Limits”:

Does God have any limits on what he can create or do with the universe?

My answer (and I stress my) is not once he has set out the basic rules. So the instant God (who we assume is a force outside of the universe in the first instance) decides that, say, the speed of light is 299,792,458 m/s then everything else that is associated with that is also set. E must equal MC2 and all atomic structures are set, electron orbits are set (or as much as they ever are, stupid quantum physics). And prime numbers are there too.

See God couldn’t set up a universe where we have a circle (as we traditionally know them) and also set the value of Pi (as we traditionally know it) to be 5. It wouldn’t work. He would have to construct a whole other universe and start with Pi=5 and go from there.

It’s kind of like taking the materials and blueprints for a boat and trying to build a rocket. You’ll just build a boat.

Prime numbers are funnier still. If there is something then it follows that there is at least one of it (keep your nose out Quantum Physics). If you have a concept of “one*” then you can build from that and create laws of logic (if they exist) and create the entire real system. I can’t remember the amount of times I have created the natural numbers then the Integers and then the Rationals and then the Irrationals (and hence the Reals).

*I should point out that “one” is the nonsense syllable I have assigned to the idea of a single existing entity in our current logical structure.

It gets kind of hard to imagine a universe that doesn’t have the concept of something being itself (and hence there being no concept of “one”). It’s hard to imagine because we are inside the system itself.

I believe that there is no reason that the Prime numbers have to exist. If only because “abstract” is itself abstract and to go all Zen for a moment: Do primes exist if there is no one to comprehend them?

There that ought to get you all fired up. Ha! We are such geeks!

ps. would Madelbrot sets be as cool if they had been discovered by Prof. Lickbuttock?

[General] Celebrate good times!

Fuck you Mark Ellis!

Former All Black and television personality Marc Ellis was convicted and fined $300 and $130 court costs after pleading guilty to one charge of possessing the drug ecstasy in Auckland District Court today.


Have fun trying to get into the States or Singapore or heaps of other countries (actually why don't you head to Bali with your boogie board?)

[General] Onion

I have been saying it for the past...god knows how many years now: The Onion is brilliant!

[General] Return of the Hamsters

Some of you may have noticed that the Script Progress bar on my sidebar hasn't been moving much. In fact a little while ago it moved backwards.

But it's amazing what two nights with little to no sleep make. Last night Mike and I nutted out all of the main sections and sent it to the director. I'm happy to say that, while it is a little bit off a proper shooting script, it is looking much better and much darker.

We were asking each other questions like "What do you think is scarier...?" and "What do you think the demon hamster should say?"

But the fucker is gone! And considering that the production is in London, and has no budget to fly us there (dammit), I doubt we will be asked to do on-set rewrites.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

[Politics] Don Brash is Walter Mitty

Watching TV after it has already been reported in th news is an interesting experience. You sometimes wonder if everyone is inhabiting the same world.

I was sad enough to tape the election debate on TV One, and didn't get to watch it till after all the hoohah about Don Brash the gentleman. The question seemed to be whether Don was capable of being a good leader if he was polite to ladies.

I had already had some foreshadowing that TV debates sometimes cause divergent realities when reading the Listener article on interviewers. One guy pointed out noone got to see the worm in the infamous debate that won Dunne his bizzilion seats in the last election. Apparently the worm was only added at tenish that night to give emphasis to the political commentators rants. But enough media watched THAT show to convince everyone in NZ that there had been a worm on the live debate.

Divergent realities. Just like Fight Club (read the book. It is good).

Watching the ACTUAL debate (as opposed to the one made up by Don Brash), one is left wondering whether the media actually bothers to watch these things, or just listens to other media dudes. Don Brash was not polite. He spoke over, interupted and insulted Helen Clark on numerous occassions. Not to mention the audience's rudeness.

They were a fifty-fifty mix of Labour and National voters. And as soon as they were announced, the National guys started cheering. They were loud and annoying the whole way through. The Labour guys eventually got in on it, and the debate probably suffered for this ridiculousness. It is the same in parliament.

Simon Power, the National guy who was once being groomed for greatness, spends every second making appropriate sounds. When a National MP speaks, he's clapping and laughing, when a Labour MP speaks he' booing and yelling. I thought he was an intellectually handicapped adult they'd let in to fill the seats in case TV3 decided to take some more shots of the whole place. But no, Simon Power is just a dumb wank.

Helen talked over poor Don more than he did her. This seemed to be because Helen had memorised not only her parties policy, but Don's too. So she was always correcting him about exact policies. Don was in no way "polite" to Helen, so it seems odd that the media began focusing on whether politeness was a virtue in our modern age (including a Stuff poll).

Don should grow up and admit Helen is smarter than him. Just cause your mummy dresses you like a geek, doesn't make you a smart guy. If a girl kicks your ass on national TV, don't go back there. Don't give her the chance to humiliate you again. Quit. Grow some Kiwifruit.

I'm not voting for Helen, but anyone could see Don was way out of his depth. I find it sickening he can't just admit that and move on. In some ways it reminds you of those bygone days people remember with false fondness. Guys that would let a lady through the door first (and beat their wives). It was safe to walk the streets at night (and men could rape their wives and not be charged, as there was no crime in raping someone you were married to). Where you didn't hear about these horrible things you see in the newspapers these days (because you didn't hear about them...).

Go Don. Take us back to those halcyon days.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

[General] Anyone out there?

Jose has just posted some more literary genius over at Rants Pants. This time it’s all (or at least mainly) about David Lange’s memorial at the Supertop.

Tom reflects on the first six weeks of his blog’s existence.

Mike figures the time has come to restart the blogging after his holiday and take it to those spammers! Yeehaw!

Ben takes a nice look at Don “Don” Brash’s Leaders’ Debate performance, and shows you how to make your own magazine cover!!!!

Here is an tantalising taste of what you can find on Kung Fu Monkey at the moment:

Yes, that's right America, your kids got sent overseas in inadequate body armor with no real allies, doing more tours of duty than in Vietnam, to establish an Islamic government which most likely will be best buddies with Iran. How's THAT taste, Kansas?

Also the newest entry to my Blog bookmarks: NY Jets Blog.

And the Incredible Hulk is still around but with a different (and slightly more toxic) colour scheme.

And finally…


If you haven’t been to Kitten Wars yet. Go now! Vote for Sox!

All Hail SOX!

[General] Art with meaning


Yay Banksy! Wooo!

Graphiti artist and prankster Banksy has outdone himself by painting images on the Palestinian side of Israel's West Bank barrier wall. The paintings show idyllic images on the other side. One of the images is a ladder that reaches to the top of the wall.

Banksy's other (smaller and less controversial) art work and that of some of his friends, can be found here (under "Art").

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Monday, August 22, 2005

[General] Un-telligent Design (finally and slightly unfinished)

In the beginning…

This micro-essay was started after President George spoke of his support for Intelligent Design in schools. I had decided to just let it sit because so many others had weighed in with very valid arguments. And what else can you do after saying: “it’s shit science”? But now it’s personal as the debate has come to New Zealand. On the weekend the Sunday Star Times ran a story about a Christian lobby group called Focus on the Family that sent 500 kits (a DVD and workbook resource) to New Zealand schools. To the Times’ credit they called it “creationism” (which is what Intelligent Design really is) the whole way through the article.

Here are two quotes from the article:

Pakuranga College principal Bali Haque knew nothing of the kit, and said it would be kept in the library if it had arrived. "It has no place in the classroom."

Science Educators association president Bev Cooper said the intent of science and biology curricula was to present information supported by science. "[Intelligent design] is not science and therefore has no place in the compulsory school curriculum."

Way to go Bev Cooper! But Bali Haque what are you saying? If I send you a DVD and workbook about how the government is controlling our thoughts with mind-ray technology would you put it in your library? Which section would you put it under: fiction or non-fiction? Where in your library would you put Focus for the Family’s DVD? Hopefully you would put it in the 213 section of the Dewey Decimal system (or maybe 215 as a negative example).

Let’s get into it then and put some of my Honours degree in science to good use. There is a LARGE body of evidence on the internet just go out and find it (or read all the way to the bottom where I have put some links). I can hopefully ad some of my own perspective to the argument (if you can even call it that). Before I start, let’s hear what, issue-focussed newspaper, the Onion has to say: Scientist Refute Theory of Gravity.

Hee hee hee, but seriously here we go.

Semantics

“Intelligent Design versus Evolution” implies that Evolution is unintelligent randomness. Which evolution actually is, in a way, but the THEORY of evolution isn’t.

And that’s the other thing about the semantics; Intelligent Design is not a theory. Intelligent Design is a guess. What’s the difference?

Theory:

  • A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.

Guess:

  • To predict (a result or an event) without sufficient information.
  • To assume, presume, or assert (a fact) without sufficient information.

Both of these are taken from yourdictionary.com. I have been quite generous with the meanings, especially “guess”. But it basically comes down to this. Theory is based on repeatedly tested facts; Guess is based on insufficient information.

Here is a little something else. Some have attacked the Theory of Evolution as not being a “fact” but “just a theory”. As seen above, theories are not facts; theories are based on facts. Moreover, theories destroy facts, to take the view of Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart in The Collapse of Chaos (1994). See, you could have a book filled with millions of entries about exact planetary positions in our solar systems or you could have a nifty little theory of gravitation.

Oh, and one more thing. I refuse to give Intelligent Design the abbreviated name: ID. “ID” was dreamt up by some PR firm someplace (possibly the same people who called public relations: “PR”). Instead, and to save me typing, I will call it UD: Un-telligent Design [sic]. “UD” (said as a word) also sounds nicer to the ear than “ID”, it sounds slow and ponderous and dull.

There is actually a small irony in the abbreviation of Intelligent Design to ID. Again from yourdictionary.com:

Id:

  • In Freudian theory, the division of the psyche that is totally unconscious and serves as the source of instinctual impulses and demands for immediate satisfaction of primitive needs.

Yeah, I thought that was funny too.

So at the end of this short section on semantics we have come up with a new phrase: “The theory based on repeatedly tested facts versus the guess about why things are doing what they are doing”.

B-B-B-Bad Science

Everyone from stoned university students to (DNA discoverer) Professor Francis Crick has thought that maybe life on earth is some big cosmic science experiment. It’s right up there with “maybe the universe is just an atom” [in some larger being].

My degree is in mathematics, pure mathematics. As such I understand the lust for finding simple (what are now called beautiful) answers to complex questions. As a species we find simplicity fascinating. This is what I have heard UD described as: “a beautiful theory to answer the fundamental question of life”. As we mentioned previously UD is a guess, but what actually is the guess?

The basics of UD seems to be that stuff (and I am talking broadly here) is way too complicated to be the result of randomness over millennia.

Now, as I said, I’m a pure mathematician. What do we pure maths geeks love? Complexity, Good God do we love complexity. Why? Because complexity just keeps popping up. We maths geeks call that emerging. Emergent complexity from seemingly simple systems is the basis of most of Chaos Theory. Then we had the “recent” phenomenon of emergent simplicity that tends to follow emergent complexity.

Most cases of this complexity, that followers of UD believe denotes design, occur when you look closer at something. Let’s take the example of a rock. It’s just a rock and is fairly simple, look closer and you’ll see an infinitely complex structure. That must have been designed…right?

The only thing that designed the rock was the rock, so to speak. From the rocks frame of reference (or universal context) the rocks had forces acting on it and became the rock we all see today. It’s just plain old laws of physics working on atoms and geology until we get…a rock. The rock understands this, are we dumber than a rock? Quick answer: yes.

I look at π (pi=3.14159265358979323846264338327950288) and I say “wow that is one crazy, complex mother f****r”. An infinite number of decimal places, no repeating pattern and yet it is the ratio of every circles circumference to its diameter. Some would say “look that is so complex it must have been designed”*. But it’s not designed; it is conforming to the rules of this universe. In some other universe the ratio of circumference to diameter might be 3.1415986535828932384864 (trust me, it’s a different number) or 3 or -95.73 or hydrogen (which, I admit, would be a pretty whacked out universe).

*if this was any other argument I would reply “Who, the f**k, would design something to be that difficult?”

The [ahem] beauty of π (or indeed any of the irrational numbers, of which there are an infinite number) does not imply design. It implies an adherence to the rules of physics and space-time relativity. A change in those rules would mean an alteration of all other constants. Basically I believe that complexity suggest no design rather than the other way around.

The Big Guns

Most people when arguing about UD like to bring out the best weapons and wave them around. Like Occum’s Razor, the guy who wrote the Wikipedia entry sure liked this one. Logical arguments and the like rip up UD pretty quickly. Where’s the fun in that?

The idea behind science is you look at what is happening and try to figure out how or why that is happening. UD looks at everything and says: god.

But that is no better than cave men. How does fire work? God. How does the sky stay up? God. Why are we here? God.

Oh I’m sorry, instead of God please read “higher intelligence”. Indeed any higher intelligence; like the Flying Spaghetti Monster (hallowed be his name, arrrrr).

Those who believe in UD must surely, by the same “scientific process”, believe in Yeti, Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster. In fact there is probably more evidence (and less hoaxes) to support these beasts than UD. [Dom has pointed out that there are no bombings by extremist Yeti-believers either].

Akk! I have run out of time! Oh, well I was drifting slowly off topic anyway. Please read some of the links below. Try and guess which ones are pro and which are anti-UD.

References and other places