All posts for the month March, 2011

Shock, horror – Top Gear drove car aggressively during track test ?!? I actually thought the Tesla came out really (really) well in that test, absolutely no surprise the practical economics and reliability couldn’t stand that kind of thrashing, but it was actually possible to thrash it. How dumb do Tesla believe the market is ? I seriously researched one as a result. At least Clarkson didn’t attach an outboard motor and sink it or let Hammond launch it off a ski-jump.

Talking of energy, was there ever any doubt over Tepco writing-off the Fukushima plants the day they chose to turn the salt-water cooling hoses on them ?

And, still talking of energy, I see the Oil&Gas Co’s are reviewing UK North Sea investment project economics following last week’s UK budget. Yes, the cost changes affect the project economics, but I love this remark

“… the new combined tax rate faced by Statoil would be 62% of its UK profits, compared with a rate of 78% levied by the Norwegian government in its home market.”

I’m in a genuine quandary. I’m a big advocate of UK electoral reform (both houses), but I cannot see myself voting yes in the upcoming referendum, (same as I cannot see me supporting the idea of popular votes for the second house).

The AV system proposed remains a first-past-the-post system. There is weighted value for first, second, third preferences (*), but the winner takes all. No changes to constituencies of representation, no proportionality, no balance, no shared responsibility. Still open to gerrymandering of constituencies too. And by all accounts, the actual weightings proposed look like barely changing outcomes for any previous election scenarios. Most people still end up governed / represented by someone they didn’t vote for, so criticising “them” politicians remains the default stance for most of “us” citizens. Sigh. If anything I suspect it will increase tactical vote-splitting incentives too. At least it looks like a minimum turnout limit on the vote being valid – best thing maybe not to vote (can’t believe myself) or turning up and spoiling the paper in a no-confidence vote perhaps the best option.

And in the supreme irony, the referendum itself is a simplistic yes / no first-past-the-post vote itself, one choice. No “No, buts” or “No, because”, “My preference is” … no alternatives, nothing, nada. Like the latest census, a total waste of valuable public resources, eliciting minimal valuable information in return, at a time when we can least afford it.

Point missed; opportunity missed. What do you think ?

[Post Note : (*) I should be clear. The AV systems proposed – is indeed still a first past the post system – but the counting does not involve weighting of the preferences per se, rather reallocation of last place based on your preferences until the first place gets over 50% of those equally weighted votes cast – the winning post is 50% rather than a simple majority and the first past it wins – clear FPTP. In a sense the winner will in fact represent a greater number of people who voted for them – albeit with lower preferences – which is indeed a step in a progressive direction, but I’m guessing there can be no enforcement of people having to express additional preferences beyond their first choice, so the difference may be even more marginal and open to tactical considerations. This single referendum issue really depends on a holistic view of how people genuinely feel enfranchised (or not) by constituencies and parties at local and national levels, including both houses and head of state at the national level. The whole thing needs a plan or strategy longer than a single electoral cycle. The psychological (hence tactical / strategic game-play interaction) complexity is real, no matter how much Hurd and others rant the banal matra of  the single vote FPTP being simplest and anything else requiring “higher maths”. Fixing the enfranchisement is the core issue. If people cast their single (simple) vote but still believe all politicians are “dickheads” they can disown when they disagree, then we have a problem that needs fixing. I don’t think we’d like the alternatives to democracy. What was it Churchill said ?]

Dame Judy Dench voiceover for Daniel Craig in drag for international women’s day a couple of weeks ago makes it’s own point.

Love the comment thread ironies. The usual trolls and neanderthal misogynists and gay-bashers, but the idea that Sean Connery wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress sparked the Zardoz memory (nightmare surely) – and lo, Zardoz crops up in the thread too. Faith restored.

Falmer has been coming for so long, that most of us (away fans) have despaired of it ever becoming a reality – even the Seagulls home announcer. I still dislike modern all-seater stadia, and I seriously miss the away end terraces at Chesterfield, Colchester, Cambridge, anywhere beginning with C, but Brighton’s Withdean has to have been the pits of the pits.

Well you can see the future for yourself now. Now if (if ? when !) Brighton get promoted, and we don’t …

I commented on a post of Johnnie Moore’s a couple of weeks ago, along the line of meme’s being mimicked by their own analogue, genes – as funghi, bacteria, virus infections, etc – affecting (human) host brain behaviour. The cordyceps fungal infections of insects are used by Dennett to illustrate meme behaviour.

Over the weekend another post from Neurophilosophy along the same lines. The common ground is the bacteria causing risk-taking behaviour in the host species (rats & mice) – correlation – which may or may not improve the propagation of the parasite’s genes ?

In all these cases, particularly the given viral language of infections, it’s important not to fall into the trap of assuming the arrangement is necessarily bad for the host (individual or genes), just because it is good for the visitor’s genes. Parasites can be symbiotic.

Galen Strawson describing his four level view of free will, ends up describing it as a proof of a problem between free-will and determinism, whereas it is the solution IMHO.

  • If I am responsible for my decisions and actions, then that responsibility is somehow related to what I am, the set of resources available to me to make my decision.
  • But if that’s the case then I need to have responsibility for what I am. (Because, if what I am were purely pre-determined or randomly defined externally, then that external decided resource would be the basis of any decision I make. I couldn’t be held responsible for either me or my decisions.)
  • But if I am taking responsibility for what I am, I must have previously been making decisions towards being / becoming what I am (and knowing what I should need to be).
  • But if that’s the case …. those decisions were based on what I am (was) … etc.

Sounds like infinite regress – well Duh ! Yes, but no.

It’s a Hofstadter strange-loop, a generator, iterating on each cycle, the very basis of evolving morality, evolving anything. Freedom evolves to give us elbow room as Dennett puts it.

All the usual stuff – Libet et al. Actually, not a bad edition of In our Time, the panel coming down on the idea that free-will is NOT incompatible with determinism. They are both real. There is a “wholist” holistic view needed of the person making any decision – whole of physiology and system physiognomy (including whole of nervous system, endocrine, etc …), and whole of evolved life, both species and individual “mind”. No homunculus or ghost-in-the-machine representing my mind, just the whole me.

Frustrating that Melvin never seems to join up the dots or gets past the naive stance of either / or. Getting there, though.

Leon sent me a link to this paper a couple of years ago, to which I responded “interesting” – he knows I’m interested in memes. I didn’t actually read beyond the title until today.

The essence of memes is that there is something “self-serving” about patterns of information (*1) which is independent of any rationally intended human purposes in using them. The same is as true of (say) project management procedures and practices as it is of any rational processing of information – my agenda is that this is a problematic feature of management and governance in the most general sense, not just businesses and projects, any decision-making-to-act process, knowledge-management practices, even the rational domain par-excellence science itself. So I have no doubt about the problems of failing to see the memetic aspect of project management activities – it’s is of course where my concerns began in Oil & Gas industry and Information Management projects, 15 or 20 years ago – the reason I’ve been blogging since blogging was invented …. but this is not about me.

In fact none of this is new in management circles, just the new(ish) memetic language, and part of the problem now is that memetics itself is contentious to some people (*1). But even without memetics, the idea that decision-rationality = action-irrationality has been part of action-science management theories (eg Argyris / Brunsson et al) and probably longer before that with (say) Parker-Follett – guru to the gurus in management.

In any “professional” management situation it is difficult (anathema) to suggest that doing a rational thing is the irrational (wrong) thing to do. You’re mad, surely. “Before we make this decision to act, we should study and agree upon this issue – right ?” Wrong. Act and experience the outcomes (with “care”, in the knowledge of the issue). It’s been called analysis-paralysis for years, but it’s not just “analysis”, it’s following any rational, objective process that delays action, because it is the action that provides experience. Experience is worth more than theory, in practice.

Performing rational (project) management analyses, modelling and management decision-making processes tends to lead to more (project) management activities – ie self-serving – rather than achieving the value-adding goals of the enterprise or project. (IT / IM projects, particularly new, integrated business and/or government (civil or defense) systems, are often legendary in terms of project failure, however they are actually post-rationalized. Not surprisingly there are newer “agile” IT project management processes that force the action and feedback cycle milestones.)

(*1) Patterns of information, known as memes because they are copied (not the other way around), come in many levels; patterns (upon patterns) upon patterns of information (statically defined) and patterns (upon patterns) of their (dynamic) relations, procedures, patterns of use, communication and processing. Because genes – the biological analogue of memes – are based on 4-bases (*2) and n-chromosomes in any given species (*3), there is a popular misconception that genetic copying in biological reproduction is well defined in terms of atomically discrete “digital” genes, whereas memes are somehow more woolly – anything from a single word representing an identifiable concept to the whole idea of ideas, concepts, interpretations, representations even internet crazes, fashions, cultural patterns (even whole religions and cultures) etc. Many people baulk at the idea that “cultural units” (memes) can be considered as discretely as “biological units” genes. Now, reducing things to discrete objects (genes or memes, or anything else) is part of a wider issue, but genes and memes, their own definitions and the processes and patterns involving their transmission and reproduction are equally complex and ultimately flaky – just equally useful in describing the processes involved – information processing processes both (*4). The analogy is in fact a very good one. It’s about what IS copied and communicated, not prescriptive about what they should be, or how they might be represented when communicated and processed. Naturally, simpler patterns of information (memes or genes) – patterns of information which are simpler to represent – are communicated, processed (and replicated) more easily, so unsurprisingly discrete objects are much more “popular” than complex patterns of information – another self-serving aspect. Simple ideas rule, but often simple may be dumb.

(*2) Even the 4 DNA / RNA bases are not in any sense absolute. They just happen to be the basis of the most prevalent and most studied organic biological forms. Other biochemical possibilities exist. And of course even in R/DNA based life, there are many other non-R/DNA cell structures involved in the processes too. Doesn’t change the essential pragmatic truth of genetic reproduction.

(*3) And even the definition of a discrete species is highly context dependent and controversial when it comes down to it. Different definitions are accepted for different practical purposes.

(*4) Objective reductionism is full of contentious topics when it comes to more subjective things like free-will and consciousness, but this is true even at the most fundamental levels of physics too. Arguments in these topics need to be conducted extremely carefully – avoiding “misplaced-objectivity” and “greedy reductionism” – more self-serving memes.

[Need to come back and link to the implied sources throughout.]

[Post Note : Existentialism and Evolutionary Psychology – Heidegger, Foucault, Dennett and many more in Jon Whitty’s project management presentations. A man after my own.]

Nuclear Power radiation risks are largely in the mind.

[Post notes thanks to Facebook activity.

From Smiffy

From Smiffy and XKCD

From every man and his dog, George Monbiot is a convert

Anyone who was already pro nuclear power, and has had their beliefs reinforced by Fukushima, probably already recognizes the real risks … not the radiation, but the radioactive materials entering the body – giving you a long ongoing personal dose – from escaping materials – airborne / waterborne from a loss of containment … including long term processing and storage of fuel and spent fuel.]

Lucky enough to see FC Barcelona with 91,000 others under the stars at the Nou Camp on Saturday evening. With Barca clear of Real’s galacticos and both well clear of the rest we weren’t sure if they would field their star team against lowly Getafe, but we needn’t have feared. Starting line-up included Messi, Iniesta, Villa, Xavi, Alves, Macherano. Iniesta had an off-day – so many incomplete passes – David Villa showed how frustratingly one-footed he is for a winger, but the rest did not disappoint. Xavi and Macherano ran the show, Alves and the other full-back-winger ran miles (with the ball); Alves and Bojan scored, but Barca should have had 5 or 6 if they’d bothered to shoot and a couple of pens before Getafe’s consolation made for an unexpectedly exciting final ten minutes. Mostly felt like an exhibition match, despite the 2:1 result.

The great thing about seeing a game like that live is the venue and event itself, choosing what to watch – unlike the editorial “action” as seen on TV – or the thick of the competitive action watching the team you actively support – and it was hard not to watch Messi. Plenty of other “tourists” taking photos, wearing the No.10 shirt and doing the same.

Messi is one of a kind. There were periods of many minutes at a time where he barely plodded three paces in any direction, others when you’d notice he’d apparently sprinted / ghosted into another position. Always receiving passes from team-mates already surrounded by three or more opponents, and always stumbling effortlessly free to find three more to beat before getting bored and either passing or returning to take on the first three again if no opportunity presented. Childlike, almost comedic bright orange feet and baggy shorts on the little man. Deceptive.

(As well as minute’s silence for the Japan earthquake fall-out, a full three minutes pre-match applause for Abidal undergoing three-hour surgery on a liver tumour in the same week.)

Weird, after being mesmerized by Messi, I don’t have a single shot of him in the 20-odd pics I took. Still, a good weekend to lose yourself at the Nou Camp instead of the Stadium of Light ? Coincidentally, lots of Liverpool fans on the A19 driving south from Sunderland on our way home from NCL airport.

Interestingly last time I mentioned Messi was a reference to this piece by Robbo. Worth a read.

Trust and information go hand in hand. There is no information without trust. Limited data maybe, information of real value; no.

Interesting to read this piece on Three Mile Island in the light of the current Japanese problems:

“The understated equivocations of their spokesmen – and their genuine uncertainty about the situation – engendered mistrust, particularly among those in the vicinity. Media coverage citing concerned nuclear experts served to heighten fears.

Soon, misinformation about a hydrogen bubble, which had formed in the containment vessel after zirconium fuel rods were exposed, turned into full-blown and mostly unfounded anxiety about an atomic explosion.”

Mostly Unfounded, yet, despite a massive (but contained) meltdown seen with hindsight only, a monumental event historically, created by Media Coverage.

Perversely and counter-intuitively yet again, less is more – less communication is better – yes, free communication makes things worse. Is that a political statement ? If I were a conservative-techno-phobe that would not be an interesting statement, but I’m a web-savvy-liberal. Must I post the W3C Fig 7 picture again for the techies ? Trust at the top – clearly trust and information feed off each other, but it’s the trust that’s paramount.

Working thesis: Current information value depends on a current stock of trust, current trust depends on previous experience (of information, and action, and … ) not on current information. No amount of “data communication” now, can fix a pre-existing lack of trust. Something like that :-)

BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin explains what has happened at the Fukushima plant:

“The power plant is supposed to be earthquake-proof and shut down automatically in response to the quake,” he says. “But this starved power from the stations’ cooling systems. Then the back-up diesel cooling system also failed. Reactor number 1 overheated, and it is said that hydrogen released exploded, causing the concrete roof of the plant to blow off. Now that’s been repeated at Number 3 reactor, Numbers 2 and 4 have problems with cooling.”

Repeated ? I think not.

Need some clarification on specific Daichi and Daini plants now. Fukushima 1 has reactors 1 to 4 in the one block and two further reactors (5&6 ?) in a second block immediately north. Fukushima 2 has four further reactors 12/15 km south of Fukushima 1. (Update F1 is Daichi, F2 is Daini)

Anyway, key point whatever the existing and ongoing difficulties with cooling water systems, and whether all the plants were actually shut down successfully (control rods fully home) before these cooling water difficuties …. the two explosions so far were quite different.

F1-Daichi-R1 was a very clean and fast explosion initially – Hydrogen ? – with all the smoke appearing to be concrete dust, with lighter weight panels flying away from the building. (See the initial shock wave rising vertically above the building, before the smoke, and no fire or subsequent visible emissions.)

F1-Daichi-R3 was not. There was a hydrocarbon yellow flash and a plume of black smoke, with large heavy pieces falling quickly back to earth around the building. And the live footage seems to show steam and ongoing fire escaping from that building ?

F1-Daichi-R2 (and R4 ?) now seems to be having cooling difficulties.

[Update: 4, 5 & 6 were already shutdown before the quake / tsunami, with fuels rods in the holding ponds as the reactors underwent workThe other good news is that Daini  / Fukushima 2 do not appear to have had the post-shut-down cooling failures (cooling pump electric power and water supply failures), so in principle the design is earthquake safe. This one will run and run.

So, the real problem now is that Daichi-R2 explosion seems to have cracked primary containment – how did that happen ?!? The pressures involved however seem miniscule, so the residual heating energy in the shutdown state must be small – don’t panic and maintain ad-hoc cooling seems the order of the day ?]

I have an adage that no-one ever seems to buy, that aiming to make oneself redundant is a primary driver (for me and quite a few people I know, at least). If something takes effort to explain and sell, implement and extract value, then there is work for consultants, sure, but boy it becomes boring very fast, if that thing doesn’t get easier for people to pick-up and use. The object really is to put yourself out of a job, and move onto more interesting (rewarding) work, rather than giving the same presentations to the same conferences year after year.

I was struck by the same motive in laying quantum theory(ies) to rest in this paper by Christopher Fuchs of Bell Labs.

The issue is, when will we ever stop burdening the taxpayer with conferences devoted to the quantum foundations? The suspicion is expressed that no end will be in sight until a means is found to reduce quantum theory to two or three statements of crisp physical (rather than abstract, axiomatic) significance. In this regard, no tool appears better calibrated for a direct assault than quantum information theory. Far from a strained application of the latest fad to a time-honored problem, this method holds promise precisely because a large part – but not all – of the structure of quantum theory has always concerned information. It is just that the physics community needs reminding.

For me the quality of information is a root topic, and whilst being a David Deutsch fan, I’m not an Everettic – the multi-verse flavour of many worlds is usually a kludge IMHO.

Fuchs is the keynote speaker at Quantum Interaction 2011 in Aberdeen, 27 to 29 June.

Is it possible to imagine that any mind – even Einstein’s – could have made the leap to general relativity directly from the original, abstract structure of the Lorentz transformations? A structure that was only empirically adequate? I would say no.

The quantum system represents something real and independent of us; the quantum state represents a collection of subjective degrees of belief about something to do with that system … The structure called quantum mechanics is about the interplayof these two things – the subjective and the objective.

My emphases. Wow, that’s a scientist talking. And the obligatory apology to avoid the new-agey jibes.

I should point out, however, that in contrast to the picture of general relativity, where reintroducing the coordinate system – i.e. reintroducing the observer – changes nothing about the manifold … I do not suspect the same for the quantum world. …

Observers, scientific agents, a necessary part of reality? No.
But do they tend to change things once they are on the scene? Yes.
[space-time with and without mass present]
If quantum mechanics can tell us something deep about nature, I think it is this.

Previously, I have not emphasized so much the radical Bayesian idea that the probability one ascribes to a phenomenon amounts to nothing other than the gambling commitments one is willing to make on it. To the radical Bayesian, probabilities are subjective all the way to the bone. … Believe me … if the reader … fears that I will become a crystal-toting New Age practitioner of homeopathic medicine – I hope he will keep in mind that this attempt to be absolutely frank about the subjectivity of some of the terms in quantum theory is part of a larger programme to delimit the terms that can be interpreted as objective in a fruitful way.

And nearing conclusions:

Quantum states – whatever they be – cannot be objective entities.
A quantum state is as a state of belief about what would happen if one were to approach a standard measurement device.
Quantum entanglement is a secondary and subjective effect.
A measurement is is just an arbitrary application of Bayes’ rule – an arbitrary refinement of one’s beliefs – along with some account that measurements are invasive interventions into nature.

Subjective. Subjective! Subjective!!

It is a word that will not go away.
The last thing we need is a bloodbath of deconstruction.
At the end of the day, there had better be element in quantum theory that stands for the objective, or we might as well melt away and call the whole world a dream.

So finally:

A grain of sand falls into the shell of an oyster and the result is a pearl. The oyster’s sensitivity to the touch is the source of a beautiful gem.

A’s attempt to surreptitiously come into alignment with the B’s predictability is always shunted away from its goal. This shunting of various observer’s predictability is the subtle manner in which the quantum world is sensitive to our experimental interventions. Maybe this is our crucial hint! The wedge that drives a distinction between Bayesian probability theory in general and quantum mechanics in particular is perhaps nothing more than this ‘Zing!’ of a quantum system that is manifested when an agent interacts with it.

It is this wild sensitivity to the touch that keeps our information and beliefs from ever coming into too great an alignment.

Can’t help seeing the macro-level, non-linear “game theory” view in this final statement.

BTW in a nutshell.

Measurement (interaction / participation)
disturbs information about a physical system,
NOT the real physical system itself.

“If I ruled the world, I would downgrade rulebooks and replace them, wherever possible, with humane, intelligent discretion.”
Richard Dawkins

Blimey, maybe the scientist is losing his scientism and sees the wisdom in judgement and discretion. Actually the piece is just a single example of the ancient “rules are for the guidance of wise men, and the enslavement of fools” adage. I had Dawkins for a fool, so maybe there is hope.

Three links I need to capture:

(1) Interesting piece from Prospect on the portrayal of stammering in The Kings Speech:

“This is also why it’s helpful for non-stammerers to maintain steady eye contact, and to send vibes that convey, “No hurry, we’ve got all the time in the world.” (While we’re on the subject, please don’t finish off our sentences: it makes us feel like doomed contenders in a hellish, eternal game of Countdown.)”

Don’t take it personally, but I finish off everyone’s sentences.

(2) The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. Like Plato’s charioteer controlling two horses, Ovid wrote:

I am dragged along by a strange new force. Desire and reason are pulling in different directions. I see the right way and approve it, but follow the wrong.

That good old management hypocrisy. Lots more on hypocrisy and the real truth in ancient metaphorical adages.

(3) Finally , thanks to Clive on FB for this Grauniad quiz on Gaddafi vs Sheen. Magic.