2007-06-28

 

Left on red?

In Ontario (a province in Canada), we can turn right on a red light. We can also turn left on a red light, if we are on a one way street turning into a one way street.

But I wonder about doing a U-turn on a red light? I do it (when safe to do so), but I worry that I might be breaking some traffic regulation. My reasoning is that I am turning left from a single lane into an adjoining single lane and not crossing oncoming traffic (if you ignore the fact that my turn is wide and ends up in the right hand lane).

You can turn left on red in Quebec (another province in Canada) too, except in Montreal (a city in the province of Quebec).

Image nabbed from here.

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2007-06-27

 

Let the facts speak for themselves

One of the things I love about science is that everything happens without human intervention: measurements were made, errors were introduced, the data shows, ... as near as you can tell, the experiment, the document, the peer review all happened spontaneously without human intervention.

The language is carefully chosen to remove perception of bias – after all, who can argue with data?

Well, I can. The data shows nothing. In fact, data is meaningless. Data only acquires meaning within a context. And a context has bias.

You don't believe me? Here is some data: 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21.

Some of you probably recognized it as the first 8 terms of the Fibonacci sequence. Is it the number of petals on flowers, the seeds in a sunflower, the curvature of a nautilus shell? Without context, it has no meaning.

The data in a scientific paper has no intrinsic meaning. It acquires meaning only in the context in which it is presented and, despite the detached language used, the context is constructed to give meaning to the data.

One of my favourite examples is a piece of medical diagnostic software I got my hands on (this used to be a competitor of the company I worked for, but after a couple of purchases, we were one big happy family). The software boasted minimum accuracy of 75% (documents submitted to the FDA). When I ran the software on their test cases, I got very shocking results on one file - there were almost 1400 false positives in a file with only 4 real events. This is a very high noise to signal ratio - 1400 results to identify the 4 real ones? Yet, they claimed with a straight face they met the 75% requirement because they correctly identified 3 out of 4 real events. Here is the context, "How many real events were correctly identified?"

When someone tells you to let the data speak for itself, they are really telling you to interpret the data in the context they have provided. Nobody ever spends time explaining the data, they spend time explaining the context. And the bias is in the context.

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2007-06-25

 

"You know, the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common,

they don't alter their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views, which can be uncomfortable, if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering. - Doctor Who, The Face of Evil.

The real meat of this quote is "the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common, they don't alter their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views", but I prefer the whole quote because, one, it gives the entire context and, two, it sounds much less didactic.

I think it is very true, since I experienced it first hand back in 1977. I was a big sci-fi fan back then (and still am) and loved watching Star Trek, but was hungry for more good sci-fi (after all, how many times can you watch the same episodes over and over again? Quite a lot, actually). On TV there was The Starlost, Planet of the Apes, The Tomorrow People, Space 1999, The Six Million Dollar Man - while those shows could offer some entertainment, they did not have the same impact as Star Trek.

As the momentum and praise for Star Wars grew, so did my interest. After all, here was some sci-fi to watch on the big screen, with modern special effects, etc ...

I was not terribly impressed by it. There was a lot of talk about the amazing special effects, I still noticed the blue-screening. I thought the story was poor and uninteresting.

So how do 11 year old friends react when they are pumped with hype and convinced this is the greatest movie ever and I say, "I didn't like it."?

Simple. They deny I ever saw it, "What are you talking about? You never saw it," thereby altering the fact that I saw it. Clearly, had I seen the movie, then I would have loved it. Since I did not like the movie, it is obvious I did not see it. QED.

Those eleven year olds grow up and become adults.

Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. - Robert Louis Stevenson

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2007-06-20

 

OMG! OMG! OMG!

My brother is getting married this Saturday.

Tania is the flower girl (unfortunately, she came down with chicken pox on Monday).

Jason is the ring bearer (he had his tonsils removed exactly two weeks ago).

One thing I have never understood is why women act so surprised when they are proposed to. After all, if you are in a relationship, you must have some idea of where it is going. No?

When I asked my borther's girlfriend if she was surprised, she said "Very much so. It was totally unexpected."

I remember finding this odd 20+ years ago when watching America's Funniest Videos. Periodically, they would show clips of women who had been proposed to. I always thought their reactions were silly. After all, it is not like they won the lottery. They were in a relationship that presumably had a direction and purpose and, presumably, marriage was the expected outcome.

For the curious (and showing once again how different I am from others), Sofia is the only girlfriend I ever had and I made it clear to her at the outset that my intent was marriage. (Now, if only I could apply such focus and intent to the rest of my life.)

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2007-06-19

 

Meating in Montreal

One of the neat things about grocery shopping in Montreal is the slightly wider variety of food I can find. There is no need to walk into a specialty store. I think every major grocery store I have been in sells horse meat. Most sell bison as well.

Horse is very, very lean. Ground horse meat is cheaper than lean ground beef and leaner than extra-lean ground beef.

I recently bought some non-traditional meats (red deer, horse and bison) and used them to make a stew (I just told the family it was beef because they tend to be picky about eating non-traditional animals).



Photo credits: Richard of ForbiddenPlanet

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2007-06-18

 

"He's mowing his lawn again?

What? Does he, like, cut it everyday?"

Tania, my 8 year old daughter, commenting on our neighbour yet again mowing his lawn.

He is retired. He has been for a while, but this year he has become obsessive about all manner of yard work. It may be a consequence of his suffering a heart attack earlier this year.

Sofia says she has seen him mowing the lawn twice a day (morning and evening).

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2007-06-17

 

Seven Songs

A few weeks back, breal invited me to participate in a musical meme. The rules are simple, list seven songs you are listening to now and why.

In my case, I was not in a music listening mood at the time so I postponed it until I was. Although, in my case it is more like seven artists I am listening to.

Why do I like these songs? Simple, they mess with my neurochemistry and make me feel good. It is not the lyrics or the music I enjoy, but the whole effect. For example, I like Tutti-Frutti by Little Richard, but when sung by Pat Boone, it is awful. Usually, I am tied into one particular version - for example Aretha Franklin does an excellent job with Chain of Fools, but so does Little Richard (he wrote it) - which is rare.

The best way to enjoy them is to ignore the videos (I find them distracting), crank up the volume, close your eyes and let the music wash over you. Like the Steppenwolf song Magic Carpet Ride says "Close your eyes, girl. Step inside, girl. Let the sound take you away."

I Love Myself Today by Bif Naked, a Canadian artist, from her album Purge. This is an excellent album with lots of good songs to listen to.
Out of My Head by Junkhouse. A Canadian band that released two albums. This is from their first album, Strays, and is another excellent album with lots of good tunes on it.
The River by The Tea Party, yet another Canadian band. This is their from their first album, Splendor Solis, which is another excellent album chock full of good music.
Somebody to Love by Jefferson Airplane. I listen to it from the collection The Worst of Jefferson Airplane. Aside from this song and White Rabbit, I don’t like any other of their songs. This video has both of their best songs - what luck.
We Gotta Get Out of This Place by The Animals. I listen to it off The Best of The Animals, another CD full of great tunes.
Little Queenie by Jimmy Swaggert's cousin, the Killer himself, Jerry Lee Lewis. I Listen to it off a generic Jerry Lee Lewis compilation.
Good Golly Miss Molly from the self proclaimed queen of Rock and Roll, Little Richard. Again, I listen to it off a generic Little Richard compilation.

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2007-06-14

 

Evolution of Free Will

The question of free will has been bugging me since around April 2005, prior to that, it was a given that free will was absolute - every choice or lack of choice was your decision to make (Sartre we are condemned to be free).

From a physics point of view, the development of free will is nonsense, since free will transcends the deterministic nature of the physical universe (ignoring for the moment spooky quantum behaviour). Consequently, free will cannot exist. Therefore, we are deterministic, but ... we have the illusion of free will. We believe we make choices, we believe we a distinct from others. But why would such an illusion evolve? What is the benefit of thinking we have free will? I haven't seen any good theories on this; generally, it is ignored or left unanswered. When answers are given, they tend to be of the “it makes us feel good” variety. Feeling good about ourselves means we will be more likely to reproduce and pass those characteristics on, as opposed to those who find life sucks and do away with themselves before they can reproduce (pass their genes on).

Recent posts on breal's blog and a series of exchanges with MOI have led me to think a little more about it. Here are my latest thoughts:

People exhibit a dichotomy, on one hand people tend to avoid being too different from others; on the other hand, people claim to exercise independence of thought and choice. If people did exercise independent thought and choice, I would expect to see much less clustering behaviour - but I do not, people definitely cluster.

It can be argued that people have limited ranges of comfortable sensory input, so it is reasonable for this to limit available choices and, indeed, drive choices toward a median (for example, preferring a sweetened beverage over plain water). So clustering is natural and expected. Sounds sensible, however, one would therefore expect choices to constantly be driven to the same locus. They are not. Fashions, tastes and trends change, yet, people cluster around the new loci. If our sensory input ranges were truly limited, then we would expect people to continue to listen to classical or big band, but they do not, these are non-mainstream, not of interest or appeal to the majority. It is unreasonable to assume evolutionary pressures have evolved musical taste so quickly. A more reasonable explanation is that people independently choose to like the new music. Yet this independent choice is an illusion, because they have really just chosen to be like everyone else. What is the evolutionary benefit of that?

It is unfair to say that people are mindless sheep; there are differences between individuals.

I have two explanations (which, to the best of my knowledge are original - yep, you heard it here first) and they both relate to survival (not surprising given I am trying to understand it as a product of evolution).

One: As individuals, we compete for resources in order to survive. If everybody is clustered together and trying to survive of the same bit of land, chaos and violence would rapidly ensue resulting in the loss of genetic information (recall Richard Dawkin’s proposed the gene as the smallest survival unit in his book The Selfish Gene). If violence did not occur, eventually the land would be unable to sustain the population.

So by being independent, striking out on our own, we seek to distance ourselves from the group / community. But not really. Let's face it, there is safety in numbers. We are safest from predators, if we are in the middle of the group rather than on the periphery where a hungry predator picks us off. Consequently, we have this built in drive to be independent and to do our own thing, but it is countered by a desire of not endangering ourselves. So, instead of crossing the mountains and settling alone 300 miles away, we instead opt to move down the road a few yards. Therefore, we cluster, despite wanting to strike out on our own.

Two: an alternate view, or possibly complementary view is that our primary function is to ensure we pass our genetic information to future generations. One way to do this is for us to believe that we are unique and special and our genes definitely need to get to the next generation because no one else is like me. To badly misappropriate Pascal, I think, I choose, therefore I am fit to reproduce, unlike those sheep over there. If the differences are too great, then reproduction likely would not go ahead, so once again, you choose to be different by conforming, more or less, to the crowd.

Image nabbed from here.

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2007-06-13

 

"Wanting to meet an author

because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like paté.", Margaret Atwood, Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing

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2007-06-08

 

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect.

Attributed to Mark Twain.

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2007-06-05

 

An F for writing

When writing by hand, I prefer to use a pencil instead of a pen. Though, if I am forced to use a pen (as at work), I prefer an easy flowing medium ballpoint (I would love to try out a large ballpoint, but have not found one). I absolutely cannot stand fine or ultrafine ballpoints – they are only good for ripping pages – besides which, the ink never properly flows out of them. The same goes for those mechanical pencils with the fine leads (0.5mm et al.).

I like a nice wood pencil with six sides. It can be yellow or blue or natural in colour. The colour doesn't matter.

More specifically, I like an F pencil. I can manage with a 2H, but I find it a bit too hard.

After sharpening the point, I draw curves and lines to get the point gently rounded for use.

I like the feel of the pencil as it glides along the page. I like the look of the letters and words and strokes.

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2007-06-04

 

Vinnie

An old man lived alone in the country. He wanted to dig his tomato garden, but it was very hard work as the ground was hard. His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament.


Dear Vincent,

I am feeling badly because it looks like I won't be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I'm just getting too old to be digging up the garden plot. I know that if you were here my troubles would be over. I know you would be happy to dig the plot for me.

Love,

Dad



A few days later he received a letter from his son.


Dear Dad,

Don't dig up that garden! That's where I buried the bodies.

Love,

Vinnie




At 4 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left. That same day the old man received another letter from his son.


Dear Dad,

Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That's the best I could do under the circumstances.

Love,

Vinnie

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