Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Age of Em

A certain amount of excitement in the George Mason University sector of the Internet on Robin Hanson's upcoming book, "The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth", due out in April 2016.

According to the Amazon blurb:
"Robots may one day rule the world, but what is a robot-ruled Earth like?

Many think the first truly smart robots will be brain emulations or "ems". Scan a human brain, then run a model with the same connections on a fast computer, and you have a robot brain, but recognizably human.

Train an em to do some job and copy it a million times: an army of workers is at your disposal. When they can be made cheaply, within perhaps a century, ems will displace humans in most jobs. In this new economic era, the world economy may double in size every few weeks.

Some say we can't know the future, especially following such a disruptive new technology, but Professor Robin Hanson sets out to prove them wrong. Applying decades of expertise in physics, computer science, and economics, he uses standard theories to paint a detailed picture of a world dominated by ems.

While human lives don't change greatly in the em era, em lives are as different from ours as our lives are from those of our farmer and forager ancestors. Ems make us question common assumptions of moral progress, because they reject many of the values we hold dear.

Read about em mind speeds, body sizes, job training and career paths, energy use and cooling infrastructure, virtual reality, aging and retirement, death and immortality, security, wealth inequality, religion, teleportation, identity, cities, politics, law, war, status, friendship and love.

This book shows you just how strange your descendants may be, though ems are no stranger than we would appear to our ancestors. To most ems, it seems good to be an em."
Professor Hanson has recently written a preview article of unrestrained optimism entitled "The "Em" Economy: Imagine a future dominated by brain emulation robots" where he explains:
"If brain-emulation-based robots, built via a computational reproduction of human brain connections, come to dominate the world economy, that economy will grow far faster than today. Driven by abundance of labour resulting in higher returns to capital and lower commuting costs, most of this activity will be concentrated in a few dense cities."

For several years now, I have opportunistically applied standard theories from economics, physics, computer engineering, and many other fields to study the new ways of life that would appear in an em era. I have found, for example, that once the cost to rent an em is substantially less than human subsistence wages, ems quickly dominate the economy. Humans are mostly forced to retire, but live comfortably off of em-economy investments.
I'm sure those 'humans' will be delighted to be expelled from the workforce - at every level of skill.

The article continues:
" ... sometime in the next century we’ll see a sudden transition. In less than a decade the world economy would will start doubling every month or faster, and ways of life will change dramatically.

There’s a decent chance that such a new era will result from the arrival of robots as smart as humans. In particular, such robots might be created as “brain emulations,” i.e., from taking a particular human brain, scanning it to record its particular cell features and connections, and then building a computer model that processes signals according to those same features and connections.

A good enough emulation, or “em” as I call it, has close to the same overall input-output signal behavior as its original human. An em thinks and feels like a human. One might talk with it, and convince it to do useful jobs. It can be happy or sad, eager or tired, fearful or hopeful, proud or shamed, creative or derivative, compassionate or cold. An em can learn, and have friends, lovers, bosses, and colleagues."
Nowhere in the piece does Professor Hanson acknowledge that the "ems" might have some issues working as slaves for the human overlords. I guess there might be one or two other ethical questions too, along the way.

In any event, how likely is any of this stuff? On your behalf I ploughed through this c. 100 page report:
 "Whole Brain Emulation - A Roadmap"
from Anders Sandberg and Nick Bostrom of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, published in 2008 (there's a shorter paper here). They concluded (p. 81) that:
"It appears feasible within the foreseeable future to store the full connectivity or even multistate compartment models of all neurons in the brain within the working memory of a large computing system.

Achieving the performance needed for real‐time emulation appears to be a more serious computational problem. However, the uncertainties in this estimate are also larger since it depends on the currently unknown number of required states, the computational complexity of updating them (which may be amenable to drastic improvements if algorithmic shortcuts can be found), the presumed limitation of computer hardware improvements to a Moore’s law growth rate, and the interplay between improving processors and improving parallelism.

A rough conclusion would nevertheless be that if electrophysiological models are enough, full human brain emulations should be possible before mid‐century. Animal models of simple mammals would be possible one to two decades before this."
I suggest that breath-holding is inadvisable .. but I'll probably still read Hanson's book.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn's Conference Speech

I listened to the entirety of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party Conference speech so that I could summarise it for you here. It wasn't at all jejune - quite inspiring in fact.

Here's a super-condensed version of what he said.
We're a rich country, there's lots of spare money lying around. We will take it away from the selfish rich (e.g. Hedge Funds) and use it to improve the lot of poor and oppressed people. The state will build enough council houses, organise egalitarian education under local council control and put resources into an NHS purified from private sector involvement. In all cases, people will be put before profit.
Corbyn speaks with genuine moral outrage and clearly hates the evil Tories, blamed for all the (entirely avoidable) evils of the age.

I think this message will resonate with young people.

Monday, September 28, 2015

At the Zoo

We were at Bristol Zoo today. It's been decades since I've been able to get Clare to even contemplate such a visit given her memories of large savanna animals cooped up in tiny concrete cages. In fact given limited space, Bristol has carefully chosen animals to fit with its trim but ecologically-valid enclosures. The lion below, a lazy creature, nevertheless has plenty of room behind it.

It is a feature of my more mature years that the first thing I did was walk carefully around the enclosure, looking in detail for any weak points in the wire. Perhaps I've seen too many dinosaur movies.

As the autumn term has now started, there were few kids of school-age to be seen as we walked around. This ecological space has been colonised by middle-class young mothers with strollers, who lounged in the sun on the grass with their toddlers or consumed lattes at the fancy restaurant. As a flock wheels at sunset, they all vanished in the early afternoon as school-out time approached.

The zoo is at the edge of Clifton in Bristol, the smartest and most up-market 'village' in town. As you can get annual membership of the zoo for a relatively small fee, it seems the ideal hang-out on a sunny day.

As is so often the case, the people are even more interesting than the other animals.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Obligatory cat pictures

Shadow tucked up for the day

As Adrian observed: "Life's tough ..."

The autumnal front garden

There are a few words, which no matter how often looked up, their meaning is never retained. I have now resolved to use the word jejune as often as possible. And picaresque.

Friday, September 25, 2015

45 years (film)

Geoff and Kate Mercer
From the Wikipedia article:
"Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling) and her husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay) had to cancel the party for their 40th anniversary at short notice when Geoff underwent bypass surgery. The comfortably off, left-wing, childless, provincial couple now have a week to go before a replacement party to celebrate their 45th anniversary. Theoretically, this week should just involve planning, dress purchasing and a bit of social fretting.

This is not to be: shattering news arrives for Geoff from the Swiss authorities, explaining that the perfectly-preserved body of his ex-girlfriend, Katya, has been found, 50 years after she slipped into an Alpine crevasse. From the moment the news is received Kate can 'smell Katya's perfume in the room' and her perspective on their marriage changes forever."
"Completely miserable!" - Clare Youell.

"No guns or spacecraft!" - Nigel Seel.

Geoff Mercer is a miserable, passive-aggressive, petit-bourgeois pseudo-intellectual fixated on his dead g/f fifty years in the past; Kate Mercer is prim and over-controlled. Their sterile marriage unravels over five days.

What a joy to watch this film, so appreciated by the critics!

We have The Martian to look forwards to next week.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The little people - the Draka solution

Did I mention that the Draka are a master race who have conquered half the world and subjugated everyone else as slave-serfs with the utmost cruelty?

Naturally the Draka have some plans for their always-dangerous subjects ... (from "The Domination": Book 3, The Stone Dogs, p. 632).
She paused. "Just out of curiosity, what's planned fo' the serfs along these lines?"

He relaxed. "Oh, much less. That was debated at the highest levels of authority, an' they decided to do very little beyond selectin' within the normal human range. Same sort of cleanup on things like hereditary diseases. Average the height about 50 millimeters lower than ours.

"No IQs below 90, which'll bring the average up to 110. No improvements or increase in lifespan so they'll be closer to the original norm than the Race. Some selection within the personality spectrum: toward gentle, emotional, nonaggressive types. About what you'd expect."

He laughed.

"An' a chromosome change, so that they're not interfertile with us any mo'; the boys can run rampant among the wenches as always without messin' up our plans."

"Yes," she said again, interest drifting elsewhere. "When can we do it?"

"Tomorrow would be fine, Tetrarch. The process of modifyin' the ova is mostly automatic. Viral an' enzymic, actually . . . Tomorrow at 1000 hours?"
Naturally a wench-serf will be the surrogate mother.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Corbyn Watch

All those people crowing that Jeremy Corbyn has opportunistically changed his position on Trident, Europe, military interventionism, singing the National Anthem and so on know nothing about left-wing politics.

It's obvious that with the hostility of the PLP it would be insane tactics to insist on such things right now.

There's a party conference coming along, bound to be dominated by the activists and the unions. A little bit downstream we'll be watching the deselection of right wing and centrist MPs. Corbyn (and his more machine-oriented allies) will leverage the new activist base to transform the PLP: a project of at least a couple of years.

What's the rush? They've been waiting centuries.


S. M. Stirling's second Draka book, "Under the Yoke", has been giving me nightmares!


It turns out that men are more systematising than women while women are more empathising than men ... you won't be surprised to hear. Intriguingly, these two scales turn out to be almost orthogonal.

Additionally, both men and women studying hard science subjects are more systematising than those studying the humanities. Finally, those who score highly on the Autistic Spectrum Quotient scale (probably this means Asperger's Syndrome) are on the far end of the systematising distribution while also exhibiting deficits in empathising (empathising kind of equals agreeableness in the FFM).

All is explained in this interesting paper (PDF).

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Evolution of Personality Differences

Evolutionary psychologist Daniel Nettle wrote an important paper ten years ago, "The Evolution of Personality Variation in Humans and Other Animals" which has not dated. The paper addressed two issues:
  • Why is there variation in human personalities?
  • What is the evolutionary basis of the 'five factor model' dimensions?
On the first question he has this to say.
"Heritable variation is ubiquitous in natural populations. ... Why does variation persist? The ultimate source of variation is of course mutation. The level of variation found in a population at any point in time reflects the balance between mutation introducing new variants and selection removing them. For a trait influenced by a single gene, selection does not have to be very strong to keep the level of standing variation close to zero, because mutations arise relatively infrequently. However, the rate of appearance of mutations affecting a trait rises directly with the number of genes involved in building it, and selection does not remove them instantaneously. Thus, for a trait affected by many genes, even if selection is strong, there will be a significant amount of standing genetic variation. ...

Varying the level of investment in a quantitative trait is rarely simply advantageous or simply disadvantageous. There are many components to overall fitness, and increasing investment in one trait is usually done at the expense of others. For example, growing large, though possibly beneficial in intraspecific competition, raises metabolic costs and also lengthens the time spent growing and thus delays the onset of reproduction. ...

The extreme case of variable optima is what is known as negative frequency-dependent selection. This describes the situation in which the relative fitness of a trait is high as long as it is rare in the local population but declines as it becomes widespread. It has long been recognized that negative frequency dependence can in theory lead to the maintenance of polymorphism. ...

Variation is a normal and ubiquitous result of the fluctuating nature of selection, coupled with the large numbers of genes that can affect behavior. Frequency-dependent selection, oft discussed as a maintainer of variation, is in fact just a subcase of the more general phenomenon of fluctuating selection. ...

Behavioral alternatives can be considered as trade-offs, with a particular trait producing not unalloyed advantage but a mixture of costs and benefits such that the optimal value for fitness may depend on very specific local circumstances. With these generalizations in mind, I now turn to the consideration of personality variation in humans."
We may observe that every form of human society from hunter-gatherer through pastoral, agricultural and mercantile-capitalist has required a division of labour where different personality types are optimal. Not everyone can be the big chief or be a compliant follower, not everyone can focus on competence in tool-making, not everyone can be a specialist in interpersonal diplomacy.

I summarise Professor Nettle's views on the evolutionary validity of the five factors below (his second question). The Myers-Briggs Type Theory dimensions are shown in brackets. I have edited-out the original inline references for readability - refer to the original paper (PDF) for the full text.

1. Extraversion-Introversion (E-I) 
"Extraversion is strongly and positively related to number of sexual partners which, for men in particular, can increase fitness. High scorers are also more likely to engage in extra-pair copulations or to terminate a relationship for another. This may lead to their securing mates of higher quality than those secured by individuals who are more constant in their choice of partners. The benefits of extraversion are not limited to mating, as extraverts,or those high on the closely correlated trait of sensation seeking, initiate more social behavior and have more social support than others. Moreover, they are more physically active and undertake more exploration of their environment.

However, in pursuing high sexual diversity, and high levels of exploration and activity in general, extraverts also expose themselves to risk. Those who are hospitalized due to accident or illness are higher in extraversion than those who are not, and those who suffer traumatic injury have been found to be high in sensation seeking. High extraversion or sensation seeking scorers also have elevated probabilities of migrating, becoming involved in criminal or antisocial behavior, and being arrested. All of these are sources of risk, risk that in the ancestral environment might have meant social ostracism or death.Moreover, because of their turnover of relationships, extraverts have an elevated probability of exposing their offspring to stepparenting, which is a known risk factor for child well-being."
2. Neuroticism-Emotional Stability (Turbulent-Assertive as defined here)
"The neuroticism personality axis is associated with variation in the activity levels of negative emotion systems such as fear, sadness, anxiety, and guilt. The negative effects of neuroticism are well-known in the psychological literature. High neuroticism is a strong predictor of psychiatric disorder in general, particularly depression and anxiety. Neuroticism is also associated with impaired physical health, presumably through chronic activation of stress mechanisms. Neuroticism is a predictor of relationship failure and social isolation. A much more challenging issue, then, is finding any compensatory benefit to neuroticism.

However, given the normal distribution observed in the human population, and the persistence of lineages demonstrably high in the trait, such a benefit seems likely. Studies in nonhuman animals, such as guppies, suggest that vigilance and wariness are both highly beneficial in avoiding predation and highly costly because they are quickly lost when predation pressure is absent. In ancestral environments, a level of neuroticism may have been necessary for avoidance of acute dangers. Anxiety, of which neuroticism can be considered a trait measure, enhances detection of threatening stimuli by speeding up the reaction to them, interpreting ambiguous stimuli as negative, and locking attention onto them.

Because actual physical threats are generally attenuated in contemporary situations, the safety benefits of neuroticism may be hard to detect empirically. However, certain groups who take extreme risks, such as alpinists and Mount Everest climbers, have been found to be unusually low in neuroticism. Given the high mortality involved in such endeavors (around 300 people have died in attempting Everest), this finding suggests that neuroticism can be protective."
3. Openness-Concreteness (N-S)
"The trait of openness to experience again seems, at first blush, to be an unalloyed good. Openness is positively related to artistic creativity. According to Miller’s cultural courtship model, creative production in artistic domains serves to attract mates, and there is evidence that women find creativity attractive, especially during the most fertile phase of the menstrual cycle, and that poets and visual artists have higher numbers of sexual partners than controls. The core of openness seems to be a divergent cognitive style that seeks novelty and complexity and makes associations or mappings between apparently disparate domains. Though such a cognitive style might appear purely beneficial, it is conceptually very similar to components of schizotypy, or proneness to psychosis. ...

Thus, openness and its covariates are associated with damaging psychotic and delusional phenomena as well as high function. Openness itself has been found to be associated with depression, as has a high score on the Unusual Experiences scale. Thus, the unusual thinking style characteristic of openness can lead to nonveridical ideas about the world, from supernatural or paranormal belief systems to the frank break with reality that is psychosis."
4. Conscientiousness-Spontaneity (J-P)
"The remaining two personality domains, conscientiousness and agreeableness, are often thought of as being unalloyed in their benefits, because they are generally negatively related to measures of delinquency and antisocial behavior. However, it is important not to conflate social desirability with positive effects on fitness. Natural selection favors traits that increase reproductive success, including many cases in which this success comes at the expense of other individuals. It is likely that fitness can be enhanced by a capacity to demand a free ride, break rules, and cheat on others under certain circumstances.

Conscientiousness involves orderliness and self-control in the pursuit of goals. A by-product of conscientiousness is that immediate gratification is often delayed in favor of a longer term plan. This leads, for example, to a positive association of conscientiousness with life expectancy, which works through adoption of healthy behaviors and avoidance of unhygienic risks. Very high levels of traits related to conscientiousness - moral principle, perfectionism, and self-control - are found in patients with eating disorders and with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

Though some obsessional individuals can be very high achievers in the modern context, it is not evident that their fitness would always have been maximal in a variable and unpredictable ancestral environment. Their extreme self control not only may be damaging, as their routines become pathological, but may lead to the missing of spontaneous opportunities to enhance reproductive success. Highly conscientious individuals have fewer short-term mating episodes and will forgo opportunities to take an immediate return that may be to their advantage. Adaptations that orient the organism toward working for long-term payoffs will tend to have the effect of reducing the opportunistic taking of immediate ones."
5. Agreeableness-Tough-Mindedness (F-T)
"Agreeableness, with its correlates of empathy and trust, is also generally seen as beneficial by personality psychologists, and its absence is associated with antisocial personality disorder. Agreeableness is strongly correlated with Baron-Cohen’s empathizing scale, which is in turn argued to measure theory of mind abilities and the awareness of others’ mental states.

Several evolutionary psychologists have argued plausibly that as a highly social species, humans have been under strong selection to attend to and track the mental states of others. Others have noted that we seem to be unique among mammals in the extent of our cooperation with unrelated conspecifics. Inasmuch as agreeableness facilitates these interactions, it would be highly advantageous. Agreeable individuals have harmonious interpersonal interactions and avoid violence and interpersonal hostility. They are much valued as friends and coalition partners. ...

Although this may be true, a vast literature in theoretical biology has been devoted to demonstrating that unconditional trust of others is almost never an adaptive strategy. Across a wide variety of conditions, unconditional trusters are invariably outcompeted by defectors or by those whose trust is conditional or selective. ...

Though it is an uncomfortable truth to recognize, it is unlikely that fitness is unconditionally maximized by investing energy in positive attention to others. Instead, though an empathic cognitive style may be useful in the whirl of social life, it may have costs in terms of exploitation or inattention to personal fitness gains.

Moreover, sociopaths, who are low in agreeableness, may at least sometimes do very well in terms of fitness, especially when they are rare in a population. The balance of advantages between being agreeable and looking after personal interests will obviously vary enormously according to context. For example, in a small isolated group with a limited number of people to interact with and a need for common actions, high agreeableness may be selected for. Larger, looser social formations, or situations in which the environment allows solitary foraging, may select agreeableness downward."
Professor Nettle leaves us with this useful summary picture.

Nettle agrees that his ideas are speculative and are intended to propose hypotheses for future research. In fact it has proved hard to directly identify genotype correlates to psychological traits. Genes code for brain structure and process-regulation in a highly-indirect way. The missing level of analysis is in the variant brain architectures and operating modes (such as neurotransmitter levels) which underlie individual personality traits and differences - these seem to be largely under genetic control.

Thankfully, there's a lot of research into these areas at the moment.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Of Barbies and Chess Machines

From the MIT Technology Review.
"It’s been almost 20 years since IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer beat the reigning world chess champion, Gary Kasparov, for the first time under standard tournament rules.  Since then, chess-playing computers have become significantly stronger, leaving the best humans little chance even against a modern chess engine running on a smartphone.

But while computers have become faster, the way chess engines work has not changed. Their power relies on brute force, the process of searching through all possible future moves to find the best next one.

Of course, no human can match that or come anywhere close. While Deep Blue was searching some 200 million positions per second, Kasparov was probably searching no more than five a second. And yet he played at essentially the same level. Clearly, humans have a trick up their sleeve that computers have yet to master."
But Matthew Lai at Imperial College, London has a new approach. His artificial intelligence machine called Giraffe has taught itself to play chess by evaluating positions much more like humans and in an entirely different way to conventional chess engines.
"Straight out of the box, the new machine plays at the same level as the best conventional chess engines, many of which have been fine-tuned over many years. On a human level, it is equivalent to FIDE International Master status, placing it within the top 2.2 percent of tournament chess players.

The technology behind Lai’s new machine is a neural network. This is a way of processing information inspired by the human brain. It consists of several layers of nodes that are connected in a way that change as the system is trained. This training process uses lots of examples to fine-tune the connections so that the network produces a specific output given a certain input, to recognize the presence of face in a picture, for example.

In the last few years, neural networks have become hugely powerful thanks to two advances. The first is a better understanding of how to fine-tune these networks as they learn, thanks in part to much faster computers. The second is the availability of massive annotated datasets to train the networks."

[Read more].
Decades ago an AI researcher made this comparison:
Suppose many years ago you had wanted to understand flight, as in birds and insects. So you played around with a sheet of paper until you fashioned, essentially by clever trial-and-error, a paper aeroplane.

"Look," you said, "I have recreated flight, at least the gliding version. Science has advanced!"
You have not understood flight, you have merely emulated a rather simple aspect of it. To understand flight you need fluid dynamics and a theory of aerofoils. And so it is with the neural networks of deep learning. The simulated neurons, axons and dendrites with their super-high-dimensional weighting-vector-spaces achieve minor miracles in selected domains .. but there is no theory.

It flies, in a gliding version, but we still don't know why.

Classic (that is, symbolic) AI, for me, only ever had two ideas. One was automated inference over formal languages and the other was heuristic search.

The former covers expert systems, knowledge representation, planners, scripts, natural language understanding systems and automated theorem provers.

The latter covers chess-programs (and a hundred other games) and provides the control mechanism for many of the former systems using tree and graph traversal algorithms with clever pruning allied with sophisticated state evaluation functions.

These two ideas conceptualised Intelligence as abstract reasoning in a large space of symbolic options, selecting what was good and useful via a domain-specific evaluation function. It's not a bad theory in certain highly-intellectualised tasks but it falls apart for tacit, common-sense knowledge and everyday competences. The problem is that we're only able to properly formalise microworlds; the real world is just too interconnected, fast-moving and messy.

So I think it's fair to say that we've pretty well reached the limits of applicability of classical AI. As diminishing returns set in, the grown ups: Google, Facebook (even Mattel for God's sake) have moved to deep learning for the real goods, based on those inscrutable neural networks.

Hello Barbie is coming to town in November 2015. An example of what you can do with a 1965 idea (ELIZA) if you throw unbounded cash and people at it, and leverage the latest WiFi, Internet and deep-learning speech understanding technologies.


Thanks to Marginal Revolution and Slate Star Codex for some of these links.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Take the test :-)

Since writing about the Labour Party's top team personality types, I got re-interested in the Myers-Briggs stuff.

Feel free to take this personality test and be sure to let me know your results.

My Personality Test Result: INTJ-A

I scored INTJ-A, which seems to be Myers-Briggs INTJ plus a fifth scale measuring emotional stability vs. neuroticism (bringing MB into alignment with the 'Big 5' model). I usually score INTP, just a little on the P side of the J-P axis, so perhaps I'm getting a little more judgemental in my old age.


Talking of old age, I have just completed the online application form for my state pension, due January 2016. Fifty years ago, the earlier-me had just started his O-level year at Bristol Grammar School and was wondering how to be a theoretical physicist. Getting a pension was so not on the future radar.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Enforcer and the Thinker

Tom Watson and Jeremy Corbyn

I find myself guessing the personality types of the new Labour leadership. New leader Jeremy Corbyn is a classic INTP (which makes him similar to me). Profiles present him as rather solitary, not a team player, courteous to a fault, non-confrontational, not interested in the small stuff and infinitely stubborn over matters dear to his heart. Such people are rarely natural leaders.

His deputy, Tom Watson, seems to me an ESTJ (not sure how extravert). This is in line both with his reputation as a fixer/operator and with his claimed loyalty to the party. There are irresistible comparisons to the pairing of Blair (ENTP) and Prescott (ESTJ): the thinker and the enforcer.

The Machiavellian component (INTJ Peter Mandelson, anyone?) is surely provided by the third principal, the new shadow chancellor John McDonnell. Since I had never heard of him, for the moment the jury is out, though.


The unions will come to regret backing Corbyn; Andy Burnham would have been far more biddable.

Stephen Michael Stirling and the Draka

I first learned about the Draka from Razib Khan's blog post.

The three volume omnibus is called "The Domination" by S. M. Stirling - the link is to the extensive Wikipedia article. And here's the blurb from Amazon - £5.99 on your Kindle app.
"In this omnibus of Marching Through Georgia, Under the Yoke and The Stone Dogs, S.M. Stirling traces the rise of the Domination of the Draka and its long struggle with the United States and the American-led Alliance for Democracy. In this alternate history, the Americans who rejected the Revolution did not scatter to the four winds and Canada; a slight change in the course of events brought them to the new Crown Colony of Drakia instead, starting with the Cape of Good Hope and soon encompassing the whole of the right subcontinent of Southern Africa. Burning resentment and limitless ambition spurred the expansion of the people who called themselves the Draka.

There they built the Domination, an empire of inconceivable wealth and savagery, founded on conquest and slavery. It grew until it spanned the African continent, and then in the Great War of the early twentieth century, to include much of Asia as well. In the Eurasian War, Germany and the Soviet Union exhausted each other and the Draka stepped in, leaving the Domination triumphant from the English Channel to the China Sea. Only the United States and its allies stood between the Draka and their dream of an enslaved humanity.

By the 1990s, the Draka commanded the stuff of life itself, mastering biotechnology until they could create new species at will... and transform themselves into the Master Race of their savage dreams. The Alliance for Democracy traveled another path, into the mysteries of the physical universe and the technology based on such knowledge. The final confrontation would settle which was more powerful... or leave the earth a lifeless rock where nothing human remained but bones."
The story is told from the point of view of an elite Draka plantation family. It's unsettling but there's something rather admirable about their Spartan-inspired culture and special-forces style 'can-do' attitude; you do find yourself rooting for them as they take on the Nazis. Good people trapped in an evil system.

In Stirling's Wikipedia article, it is observed:
'Stirling frequently uses the Draka and other villains as point-of-view characters, leading to complaints that he has some sympathy with them. He is known to be dismayed by this analysis of his work. He describes the Draka series as dystopias based on "suppos[ing that] everything had turned out as badly as possible, these last few centuries". Stirling responded to these accusations in his novel Conquistador, which contained the quotation (variously attributed to Larry Niven or Robert A. Heinlein) "There is a technical term for someone who confuses the opinions of a character in a book with those of the author. That term is idiot."'
Anyway, book one, Marching Through Georgia where we accompany the liberal-minded Draka Eric von Shrakenberg in the Caucasus, is a great read and I'm enjoying it.


Update (Sept 19th 2015): the second volume, Under the Yoke, is incomparably darker.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Mr Corbyn comes to town

The new leader of the Labour Party
In his acceptance speech at the Labour Party special conference today, Jeremy Corbyn laid out his Weltanschauung. British society, he suggested, comprises a constellation of the oppressed: those on welfare, the low-paid, trades-unionists (mostly public-sector), women, the homeless, and so on. This coalition of the dispossessed camps like a shanty town around the wealthy citadel of political-economic-military power politically identified with the Tories - a British version of Le Pouvoir: warmongering, selfish, contemptuous of the huddled masses and in essence morally evil. The job of the socialist left is to take them on, break their power and redistribute their resources.

I think that is a fair and non-biased summary of Jeremy's views. It is a slightly less nuanced version of a Manichean world view you can read any day of the week in The Guardian.

A Marxist analysis would go further and ask which social forces find such an ideology appealing. It's a good question and the answer suggests itself immediately:
  • public sector workers, 

  • activist intellectuals who feel excluded from the actual reins of power, 

  • liberal ('nice') individuals who are not in any immediate danger of deprivation themselves, but whose empathic faculties are fully engaged by those they take to be so much worse off than themselves. 

None of these groups have any problem with spending other people's money.

So now we come to the outer limits of Corbynism. Our Corbynistas make a fine and vehement moral case - there are always problems in the world which break your heart - but they mistakenly believe that they have a monopoly of such concerns. In the end it's economic and technological development which makes the money to pay for social progress. As this is of little interest to Jeremy and his fellow-thinkers, being strategically substituted by their confiscatory tendencies, it follows that those who invest, invent, develop, create value and pay taxes are always going to be somewhat less impressed with the new Labour leadership and its shining city upon a hill.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if Jeremy's honesty, forthrightness and rather strident moral fervour doesn't play rather well on TV and in Parliament. Ed Miliband, after all, frequently had the better of his opponents in verbal jousts though his economics was rubbish. We may as a consequence be in for a repeat of the late sixties when demonstrations, often violent, were common as the disenfranchised youth and unions of the period showed their alienation from majority society.

The Economist: intelligent stupidity about migrants

The Economist says:
"Tens of thousands of asylum-seekers flowed towards Germany by rail, bus and on foot, chanting “Germany! Germany!”, to be welcomed by cheering crowds. Germany is showing that old Europe, too, can take in the tired, the poor and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. It says it can absorb not thousands, but hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Such numbers will inevitably raise many worries: that cultures will be swamped by aliens, economies will be overburdened, social benefits will have to be curbed and even that terrorists will creep in. Anti-immigrant parties have been on the rise across Europe. In America, too, some politicians want to build walls to keep foreigners out.

Yet the impulse to see migrants as chiefly a burden is profoundly mistaken. The answer to these familiar fears is not to put up more barriers, but to manage the pressures and the risks to ensure that migration improves the lives of both immigrants and their hosts."
All of this would be very compelling if the social capital represented by the incomers was at the same level as or, better, superior to that of the present northern European incumbents. The Economist thinks (or pretends to think) this is a non-issue .. but unfortunately, it's not.

This is what the UCL guy who looked at the evidence had to say.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The solar system from a distance of 45 light years

From Centauri Dreams.

Suppose we cloned the Earth and placed it around a star 45 light years away. And supposing the inhabitants of that cloned Earth launched the proposed NASA High Definition Space Telescope and pointed it at the solar system. What would they see?


A simulated image of a solar system twin as seen with the proposed High Definition Space Telescope (HDST). The star and its planetary system as they would be seen from a distance of 45 light years. (The central star is occluded by a screen)

I used to think we needed exotic technologies such as gravitational lensing telescopes to image extra-solar planets. Apparently not so.

Centauri Dreams is an excellent site, by the way.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Without Dismaland

The Pier at Weston-super-Mare today
That's 'without' as in extra muros, or that old hymn.

In computing textbooks they sometimes give you a sample program which just about works. In real life, you'd have to add in extra stuff of course. The booking system for 'Dismaland' is one of those naive tutorial systems.

First you select the date and time of your planned visit (there is no reservation-window facility); next you exhaustively enter your personal and credit card details (these are not cached or stored); finally, the system looks in the database to see if any tickets are still free, but as demand vastly exceeds supply, in practice the system merely confirms that the slot you wanted has already been sold out.

You then start the process from scratch, until your patience is worn out.

I suppose it's quite amusing in a way, a satire on modern Internet booking systems. Still, it's the reason we were at Weston-super-Mare today, on the last day of summer, walking around outside the walls of Dismaland, listening to truly awful music playing from inside.

Here's Steve Sailer's take on Banksy:
"The clean little secret of Banksy, the masked “graffiti artist” who paints on public walls in the middle of the night, is that he is a highly gifted and well-trained traditional artist. Rubens would have hired him as an apprentice in his studio. ...

Granted, Banksy would be even better if he had more interesting concepts. But the world is nuts enough today that even his trite, safe little SWPL “provocations” sometimes get turned into something amusing by the powers that be."
Hard to argue with that.

We had a very pleasant walk around on the sand.

The Paddling Pool at Weston-super-Mare with the tide out

Nigel and Clare at the seaside!

A Triptych

Your author on the seafront

Two Dialogues Concerning the Cat

You may wonder why I have inflicted on you something so bland and indeed so tedious as the conversations below. I have several responses:
  1. This is exactly what talking to a cat would be like.
  2. These conversations are typical of general f/b and twitter chat.
  3. Few, if any AI/chatbot system today could chat like this.
  4. There are a number of technical issues (for AI) which I mention at the end.
  5. ... and finally, the cat asked me to.

Designing the simulation of our cat, Shadow, requires test data. So today, Clare conducted two interviews, or dialogues, with the cat which will be analysed in computational terms in a future post. The idea is that Virtual Shadow should be able to participate in conversations like this.
Dialogue 1

1. Clare: Hi Puss.
    Cat: Hi Clare.
2. Clare: You been asleep?
    Cat: I sleep all day.
3. Clare: Do you prowl all night?
    Cat: I like to meet with my friends.
4. Clare: How many?
    Cat: There’s the big cat who chases me.
5. Clare: Go on.
    Cat: Then there’s the badger, who chases me.
6. Clare: And ...
    Cat: And then there are lots of voles.
7. Clare: I like voles.
    Cat: Tasty, aren’t they.
8. Clare: I also like badgers.
    Cat: Yes, they seem to like me, too.
9. Clare: Do you eat with the badgers?
    Cat: As far away as possible.
10. Clare: Do you play chase with the badgers?
      Cat: Less about the badgers, please!
11. Clare: Do you like living here?
      Cat: Could be better.
12. Clare: How?
      Cat: A fridge I could open.
13. Clare: Would you like a friend cat in the house?
      Cat: I wouldn’t mind a minion!
14. Clare: See ya!
      Cat: Miaow!

Dialogue 2

1. Clare: Hi Puss.
    Cat: Miaow!
2. Clare: I’m really sick of Nigel today!
    Cat: Just today, then?
3. Clare: Yes, just today.
    Cat: Perhaps he’ll clean it up.
4. Clare: You know him very well!
    Cat: How has he irritated you?
5. Clare: He’s had his nose in his computer for six hours.
    Cat: And what were you doing?
6. Clare: Talking.
    Cat: To yourself?
7. Clare: To Nigel!
    Cat: You mean his tablet! Time to confiscate it!
8. Clare: Perhaps you could walk on the screen?
    Cat: What’s for dinner tonight?
9. Clare: For me or for you?
    Cat: I’m a cat: think about it.
10. Clare: For you – Whiskers chicken bits.
      Cat: I like variety.
11. Clare: You say you don’t get variety?
      Cat: Chicken, chicken, chicken!
12. Clare: Spoilt!
      Cat: I’m a cat.
13. Clare: Most cats have dried food, you little brat.
      Cat: Not so little, these days!
14. Clare: What about brain food? What would you like?
      Cat: Brains, minced, should do it.
15. Clare: Sorry, no can do.
      Cat: Miaow!
You may be surprised at how many difficult issues of vocabulary, grammar, parsing, reference, topic management and knowledge representation are raised by these apparently simple dialogues.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

A Modest Proposal

Success in life strongly correlates with intelligence. Mass university education for both sexes has led to mass assortative mating, the smart hitching up with the smart. They transition into cognitively demanding jobs such as higher management, finance, accountancy, the law, architecture, IT, science and engineering where pay and prospects are good. Smart couples have smart offspring (the heritability of intelligence is high). In consequence, we are in danger of breeding a stable, stratified society with an intellectually-gifted upper class and a rather dim, under-employed lower class.

Some people don't care about this. Others do care, but don't see how we can avoid it. But Toby Young has a rather bizarre idea as to how to fix it. You should read the whole of his rather long article (here, via Steve Hsu who is name-checked) but the essential proposition is this:
"I’m thinking in particular of the work being done by Stephen Hsu, Vice-President for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is a founder of BGI’s Cognitive Genomics Lab. BGI, China’s top bio-tech institute, is working to discover the genetic basis for IQ. Hsu and his collaborators are studying the genomes of thousands of highly intelligent people in pursuit of some of the perhaps 10,000 genetic variants affecting IQ. Hsu believes that within ten years machine learning applied to large genomic datasets will make it possible for parents to screen embryos in vitro and select the most intelligent one to implant. Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at New York University, describes how the process would work:

Any given couple could potentially have several eggs fertilized in the lab with the dad’s sperm and the mom’s eggs. Then you can test multiple embryos and analyze which one’s going to be the smartest. That kid would belong to that couple as if they had it naturally, but it would be the smartest a couple would be able to produce if they had 100 kids. It’s not genetic engineering or adding new genes, it’s the genes that couples already have.

It’s worth repeating this last point, because it deals with one of the main reservations people will have about this procedure: these couples wouldn’t be creating a super-human in a laboratory, but choosing the smartest child from the range of all the possible children they could have. Nevertheless, this could have a decisive impact. “This might mean the difference between a child who struggles in school, and one who is able to complete a good university degree,” says Hsu.

My proposal is this: once this technology becomes available, why not offer it free of charge to parents on low incomes with below-average IQs? Provided there is sufficient take-up, it could help to address the problem of flat-lining inter-generational social mobility and serve as a counterweight to the tendency for the meritocratic elite to become a hereditary elite. It might make all the difference when it comes to the long-term sustainability of advanced meritocratic societies.

At first glance, this sounds like something Jonathan Swift might suggest and, of course, there are lots of ethical issues connected with “designer babies”. But is it so different from screening embryos in vitro so parents with hereditary diseases can avoid having a child with the same condition? (This is known as a pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.) I don’t mean that a low IQ is comparable to a genetic disorder like Huntington’s, but if you allow parents to choose which embryo to take to term, whatever the reason, you’ve already crossed the Rubicon. And screening out embryos with certain undesirable genes is legal in plenty of countries, including Britain.

In an article for Nautilus, Stephen Hsu argues that making this new technology widely available will be essential to prevent it being exploited by the privileged few, thereby exacerbating inequality:

Almost certainly, some countries will allow genetic engineering, thereby opening the door for global elites who can afford to travel for access to reproductive technology. As with most technologies, the rich and powerful will be the first beneficiaries. Eventually, though, I believe many countries will not only legalize human genetic engineering, but even make it a (voluntary) part of their national healthcare systems. The alternative would be inequality of a kind never before experienced in human history.

Hsu isn’t being paranoid. Some rich people, like the movie star Jodie Foster, have already used artificial insemination to try and maximise their children’s IQs utilising the sperm of Nobel Prize-winners. If high-achieving couples in London, Paris and New York are prepared to make their children listen to Mozart in the hope of boosting their intelligence, even though there’s no evidence it has any effect, they wouldn’t hesitate to make use of a technology that actually worked.

Hsu’s solution is to make it freely available to everyone, but that would only help to prevent it making existing inequalities even worse. After all, if people from all classes used it in exactly the same proportions, all you’d succeed in doing would be to increase the average IQ of each class, thereby preserving the gap between them. Wouldn’t it be better to limit its use to disadvantaged parents with low IQs? That way, it could be used as a tool to reduce inequality.

This technology might actually be more effective than anything else we’ve tried when it comes to tackling the issue of entrenched poverty, with the same old problems—teenage pregnancy, criminality, drug abuse, ill health—being passed down from one generation to the next like so many poisonous heirlooms. In due course, why not conduct a trial in a city like Detroit and see if it works? It has become a cliché to point out that the disadvantages of being brought up in a low-income family are apparent when a child is as young as eighteen months, so it shouldn’t take long to see if increasing the IQs of children from deprived backgrounds makes an impact. It would be inexpensive, too, so wouldn’t involve a massive hike in taxation. “The cost of these procedures would be less than tuition at many private kindergartens,” says Hsu.

In a sense, what I’m suggesting is a form of redistribution, except the commodity being redistributed is above-average intelligence rather than wealth. This is a way of significantly reducing end-state inequality that should be acceptable to conservatives (at least, non-religious conservatives) because it doesn’t involve the use of coercive state power. Participation would be entirely voluntary. Let’s call this policy “g-galitarianism”. (For those unfamiliar with the jargon, “g” is commonly used by psychologists and geneticists to stand for “general factor of cognitive ability” and is often used as a synonym for “IQ”. It was first given this designation by Charles Spearman, a British army officer, at the turn of the last century.)

A lot of the resistance to this idea will come from a visceral dislike of anything that smacks of eugenics, for understandable historical reasons. But the main objection to eugenics, at least in the form it usually takes, is that it involves discriminating against disadvantaged groups, whether minorities or people with disabilities. What I’m proposing is a form of eugenics that would discriminate in favour of the disadvantaged. I’m not suggesting we improve the genetic stock of an entire race, just the least well off. This is a kind of eugenics that should appeal to liberals - progressive eugenics."
Young concludes:
"Liberals who deny that there’s any genetic basis to intelligence shouldn’t have a problem with this trial since, according to their logic, the in vitro procedure I’m proposing won’t have any effect on IQ. That doesn’t mean they won’t object, of course. Herrnstein points out this inconsistency in the Appendix to IQ in the Meritocracy: “Thus, the very same people one day abhor the idea of tampering with people’s genes may, the next day, vigorously deny the conclusion that human society involves genetic factors.”
I suspect that Young has his tongue firmly in cheek here. A technique which is guaranteed to give you the smartest kids you can feasibly produce? The middle and upper classes will be all over it!

Culture: Honour vs. Dignity vs. Victimhood

By way of introduction, if you are unfamiliar with the concepts of 'microaggressions' and 'trigger warnings' you should take a look at this first.

OK, to business. Interesting (if somewhat repetitive and breathless) article here, by way of Marginal Revolution.

In the article, Jonathan Haidt writes:
"I just read the most extraordinary paper by two sociologists - Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning - explaining why concerns about microaggressions have erupted on many American college campuses in just the past few years.

In brief: We’re beginning a second transition of moral cultures. The first major transition happened in the 18th and 19th centuries when most Western societies moved away from cultures of honor (where people must earn honor and must therefore avenge insults on their own) to cultures of dignity in which people are assumed to have dignity and don’t need to earn it. They forswear violence, turn to courts or administrative bodies to respond to major transgressions, and for minor transgressions they either ignore them or attempt to resolve them by social means. There’s no more dueling.

Campbell and Manning describe how this culture of dignity is now giving way to a new culture of victimhood in which people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, as in an honor culture. But they must not obtain redress on their own; they must appeal for help to powerful others or administrative bodies, to whom they must make the case that they have been victimized.

It is the very presence of such administrative bodies, within a culture that is highly egalitarian and diverse (i.e., many college campuses) that gives rise to intense efforts to identify oneself as a fragile and aggrieved victim. This is why we have seen the recent explosion of concerns about microaggressions, combined with demands for trigger warnings and safe spaces, that Greg Lukianoff and I wrote about in The Coddling of the American Mind."
In the cited article, Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning describe the three cultures thus (slightly edited below, mostly to remove citations).

Social scientists have long recognized a distinction between societies with a “culture of honor” and those with a “culture of dignity”…. The moral evolution of modern Western society can be understood as a transition between these two cultures.

Culture of Honor

Honor is a kind of status attached to physical bravery and the unwillingness to be dominated by anyone. Honor in this sense is a status that depends on the evaluations of others, and members of honor societies are expected to display their bravery by engaging in violent retaliation against those who offend them. Accordingly, those who engage in such violence often say that the opinions of others left them no choice at all … .

In honor cultures, it is one’s reputation that makes one honorable or not, and one must respond aggressively to insults, aggressions, and challenges or lose honor. Not to fight back is itself a kind of moral failing, such that “in honor cultures, people are shunned or criticized not for exacting vengeance but for failing to do so”. Honorable people must guard their reputations, so they are highly sensitive to insult, often responding aggressively to what might seem to outsiders as minor slights.

Cultures of honor tend to arise in places where legal authority is weak or nonexistent and where a reputation for toughness is perhaps the only effective deterrent against predation or attack. Because of their belief in the value of personal bravery and capability, people socialized into a culture of honor will often shun reliance on law or any other authority even when it is available, refusing to lower their standing by depending on another to handle their affairs.

But historically, as state authority has expanded and reliance on the law has increased, honor culture has given way to something else: a culture of dignity.

Culture of Dignity

The prevailing culture in the modern West is one whose moral code is nearly the exact opposite of that of an honor culture. Rather than honor, a status based primarily on public opinion, people are said to have dignity, a kind of inherent worth that cannot be alienated by others.

Dignity exists independently of what others think, so a culture of dignity is one in which public reputation is less important. Insults might provoke offense, but they no longer have the same importance as a way of establishing or destroying a reputation for bravery. It is even commendable to have “thick skin” that allows one to shrug off slights and even serious insults, and in a dignity-based society parents might teach children some version of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” – an idea that would be alien in a culture of honor.

People are to avoid insulting others, too, whether intentionally or not, and in general an ethic of self-restraint prevails. When intolerable conflicts do arise, dignity cultures prescribe direct but non-violent actions, such as negotiated compromise geared toward solving the problem. Failing this, or if the offense is sufficiently severe, people are to go to the police or appeal to the courts. Unlike the honorable, the dignified approve of appeals to third parties and condemn those who “take the law into their own hands.”

For offenses like theft, assault, or breach of contract, people in a dignity culture will use law without shame. But in keeping with their ethic of restraint and toleration, it is not necessarily their first resort, and they might condemn many uses of the authorities as frivolous. People might even be expected to tolerate serious but accidental personal injuries … .

The ideal in dignity cultures is thus to use the courts as quickly, quietly, and rarely as possible. The growth of law, order, and commerce in the modern world facilitated the rise of the culture of dignity, which largely supplanted the culture of honor among the middle and upper classes of the West … . But the rise of microaggression complaints suggests a new direction in the evolution of moral culture.

Culture of Victimhood

Microaggression complaints have characteristics that put them at odds with both honor and dignity cultures. Honorable people are sensitive to insult, and so they would understand that microaggressions, even if unintentional, are severe offenses that demand a serious response. But honor cultures value unilateral aggression and disparage appeals for help. Public complaints that advertise or even exaggerate one’s own victimization and need for sympathy would be anathema to a person of honor – tantamount to showing that one had no honor at all.

Members of a dignity culture, on the other hand, would see no shame in appealing to third parties, but they would not approve of such appeals for minor and merely verbal offenses. Instead they would likely counsel either confronting the offender directly to discuss the issue, or better yet, ignoring the remarks altogether.

A culture of victimhood is one characterized by concern with status and sensitivity to slight combined with a heavy reliance on third parties. People are intolerant of insults, even if unintentional, and react by bringing them to the attention of authorities or to the public at large. Domination is the main form of deviance, and victimization a way of attracting sympathy, so rather than emphasize either their strength or inner worth, the aggrieved emphasize their oppression and social marginalization. …

Under such conditions complaint to third parties has supplanted both toleration and negotiation. People increasingly demand help from others, and advertise their oppression as evidence that they deserve respect and assistance. Thus we might call this moral culture a culture of victimhood because the moral status of the victim, at its nadir in honor cultures, has risen to new heights. ...

That victimhood culture is so evident among campus activists might lead the reader to believe this is entirely a phenomenon of the political left, and indeed, the narrative of oppression and victimization is especially congenial to the leftist worldview. But insofar as they share a social environment, the same conditions that lead the aggrieved to use a tactic against their adversaries encourage their adversaries to use that tactic as well. For instance, hate crime hoaxes do not all come from the left."
The problem with cultures of honour is that they don't scale well. Large enterprises, whether of government or industry, require a certain predictability, formality and impersonality of behaviour. Not much works if people keep getting offended all the time and spend their lives fighting or at the very least threatening. But at least the powerful and successful tend to win.

Victimhood is arguably worse: people keep getting offended all the time and then waste everyone's time complaining and seeking sanctions. This levelling down stops almost any behaviour leading to success, which by its nature leads to inegalitarian outcomes of privilege and power. Economists, by the way, have a name for this: it's called rent-seeking behaviour.

If you believe that the future depends upon social and technological progress, then I'm afraid that the dignity culture, with all its faults, is the way to go.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Helping out the dork

If you read this recent post, you will have met the dork musing on whether his girl really fancies him or not.

Like Leibniz, we can now cry "calculemus!" using the power of SWI-Prolog.

The dork muses:  "Not sure if she likes me, or she's just a nice person." She shows the dork affection, but what more can he infer? His problem is that nice people show affection to everybody.

In Prolog we write:

nice(X) :- shows_affection(X,Y).
Y will get successively bound to anyone X shows affection to. When we run a query as to whether the girl is nice, this is what we get:
?- nice(girl).


But ..  if someone likes you, they show affection to you and are (or ought to be) indifferent to others. So the dork needs to check whether the girl is indifferent to all others. Suppose she is, then we write:

likes(X,Y) :- shows_affection(X,Y), indifferent(X,Z), Z\=Y.

We run the query: does the girl like the dork?
?- likes(girl,dork).

So under these assumptions the dork gets lucky ,, but he has to check.


I tagged this post as humour, and joke. Prolog adds very little except as a check on assumptions, but the tiniest bit of thought is needed to address the dilemma of the cartoon.

Monday, September 07, 2015

The Avalon Marshes

Clare and myself visited the Avalon Marshes today, a wetland nature reserve close to Glastonbury. The signs said there were otters: Clare's eyes took on that thousand-yard stare as she scanned expanses of water looking for evidence. Other signs also warned of ticks bearing Lyme disease: after carefully tucking my trousers into my socks, my eyes took on that cross-eyed look as they scanned the foliage for spherical bloated creatures with sharp, hangy-on claws.

What we did see were dragonflies, in red and blue, and of a size not seen since the Carboniferous.

Clare takes in 'nature'

Your author: ".. WiFi .. please .. soon .. ."
As a memento of the day, Clare bought a new plant, a kind of super-Christmas-tree for the upcoming season. Here's a picture of the new plant and another of the toiling worker.

The New Plant - Xmas lights to come

The new plant needs good earth
Shame about the old plant, the Xmas tree from last year. With its sparse, straggly branches it has failed to pass muster. It now languishes, derooted and waiting to die, in a space just behind where the worker toils above.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Success in life: is it coz i is nice?

Thought for the day.
"We assessed the association and underlying genetic and environmental influences among intelligence (IQ) and personality in adolescent and young adult twins.

Data on intelligence were obtained from psychometric IQ tests and personality was assessed with the short form of the NEO five factor inventory (NEO-FFI).

IQ and personality data were available for 646 twins. There were an additional 1307 twins with NEOFFI data, and 535 with IQ data. Multivariate genetic structural equation modeling was carried out.

Significant positive phenotypic correlations with IQ were seen for agreeableness (r = 0.21) and openness to experience (r = 0.32). A negative correlation emerged for neuroticism and IQ (r = -0.10).

 Genetic factors explained (nearly) all of the covariance between personality traits and IQ.

Genetic correlations were 0.3–0.4 between IQ and agreeableness and openness. The genetic correlation between IQ and neuroticism was around -0.18. Thus, personality and IQ did not appear to be independent dimensions, and low neuroticism, high agreeableness and high scores on openness all contributed to higher IQ scores."
All that stuff you were told, that personality was independent from intelligence, was so much guff. Smarter people tend to be nicer.

Self-control is also positively associated with intelligence. The famous marshmallow test purported to show that those with self-control got ahead in life. Maybe so, but wait .. they were also smarter.


By the way, before you complain that you know people who are nice but dim, or cite The Donald as a counterexample .. which part of the following scatter diagram are you struggling with?

Correlation here is 0.3 
Hint: think Intelligence (IQ) on the horizontal axis and a psychological trait such as Agreeableness on the vertical axis.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Be your own central heating engineer

Getting cooler isn't it. Nice to know that your Bosch Worcester Greenstar 30CDi gas-fired condensing boiler is working OK.

Last night the central heating failed. That is, the remote controller we have in our living room was registering 19.5 C and showing its little arrow to tell the central heating to turn on - but the pipes remained cold.

Suffering my usual aversion to physical reality and obtuse/opaque systems, I reluctantly went upstairs to the airing cupboard and examined the Siemens RCR10/433 wireless 'base station'. All the lights were out. I prodded the 'Set' button ('Do Not Touch This Button') and then, when nothing much happened, pressed the even scarier 'Reset' button. Then I turned all the power off at the socket and turned it back on again.

Yep, nothing.

This morning I changed the batteries on the Siemens RDJ10RF remote unit while Clare suggested we move blankets away from the boiler and hot water tank to 'prevent overheating'.

As magical thinking failed us, I recalled Adrian's advice of the previous evening and googled 'How can I reset Siemens RCR10/433'. And here was the advice.
If the Siemens thermostat remote unit (RDJ10RF) loses connection to the base station (RCR10/433) next to the boiler (possible symptom: the base station green light goes out).


1. Make sure the thermostat remote unit has its vertical switch set to 'run' and the horizontal switch set to 'auto'.

2. Loosen the screw holding the thermostat backing plate (situated underneath, just loosen the screw don't take it all the way out). Take the unit to the boiler.

3. On the wall unit/receiving unit next to your boiler there are two buttons 'Set' and 'Reset'. press and hold the reset button for 4 secs until orange light starts to flash.

4. Then press the 'Set' button on the same unit (the light should flash again).

5. Press the 'Learn button on the back of the thermostat unit - try to be a good meter away from the wall unit /boiler. The lights should flash and then turn green.

6. Press the 'test' button on the back of the thermostat. This sends a test signal to the boiler . The green light should come on again. When this has happened press the test button again to switch off the test signal.

This should now work.

And miraculously, it did. There was, however, more information on the Internet from those people for whom this procedure had not worked.
"I too have a malfunctioning RCR10/433 which responds to a sharp tap. I've done a bit of investigation but not fixed it yet, thought I'd share what I've found so far.

There's a click when the orange light comes on, but the relay contacts don't switch over until given a tap (checked with a multimeter).

There are two obvious possibilities here - duff relay or failing power supply capacitor. The click from the relay suggests the former, but I need to check the voltage applied across the coil to confirm ... ."
I went upstairs armed with a hammer, but was saved by Clare's ecstatic call of "You're a genius!"

The rewards of being in trade, even as a complete amateur.


Update September 14th 2015. The central heating has failed to come again today. I did 'all the above' but this time it failed to have any effect. I even tried (gently!) tapping the base station upstairs with the hammer. I can only assume that there is a fault in the room-remote or boiler-end control unit. We are in process of calling in an engineer to take a look ...

... and five minutes later, after calling an engineer, I go upstairs and tap the wretched base station with the hammer again (perhaps a little harder). And mirabile dictu, the heating turns on ...

Update September 23rd 2015. A qualified central heating engineer has now visited and checked everything. He informs me that the controllers are fine; the problem lies with the (rather old) three-way valve which routes hot water between the boiler and the hot water tank and/or the central heating system. Apparently it's sticking and not always responding - he will order a replacement.

 I am put in my place (along with the Internet).

Update October 14th 2015. The engineer has been busy and has not yet come. In his absence the system has continued working rather erratically. I checked the installation guide for the three-way valve (The Honeywell V4073A) - it states that the operating temperature must be less than 52 deg C. I wondered if it was overheating so I cleared clutter around it and left the airing cupboard doors open. Since then, cross your fingers, the central heating has been working OK.

Update October 22nd 2015. The system continues to behave erratically. The Honeywell V4073A three-way valve has hot water in all three of its attached pipes when the CH is set to 'on'. This indicates the valve itself is working; it's just that hot water is not being pumped around the house. The engineer is tied up with a house-construction contract and is not available until the beginning of November - but he has given me the number of his former boss to try in case we need action sooner. I'm on the case.

Update November 4th 2015. The central heating engineer, Ian Hosegood, came today. It turns out the problem was indeed with the Siemens wireless base station (wall-mounted next to the boiler). It was showing the radio link to the living room thermostat as active, but the relay to the boiler/pump had not tripped. This is the bug in the device highlighted above. Ian switched it out for the Honeywell CM927 wireless programmable room thermostat and upstairs relay box.

Finally, the central heating is working again.