Monday, February 29, 2016


Our tumble-dryer was one of the product-recall ones, due to a 'filter fire-risk'. A recent email from Hotpoint:
"Your repair status

"Due to high demand it is currently estimated that we will be able to complete the modifications to your tumble dryer in November.

"We will be in contact with you in due course to arrange the repair visit from our engineer.

"You need take no further action if this is your preferred option.


"If your dryer is over 1 year old and you would prefer not to wait until November for your repair; as a goodwill gesture, we are able to offer a brand new Hotpoint tumble dryer at a reduced price. For the reduced price, we will deliver, install, remove your existing appliance and replace it with a new dryer.
November! They've got us over a barrel here - but with a five year old device (which has given us no trouble) we naturally arranged for the upgrade at £99.

The dangerous one

The T/D gap

The new one

Registering the device on the phone, I got the stick and carrot from the call centre.

One year warranty and parts free after that for a further nine years. But the parts can only be fitted by a Hotpoint engineer and there's a fixed call-out fee of £199.99 (the full cost of our new tumble-dryer is £299).

Or, ... , you could just pay £2.30 per month (for ever) and we'll fix/replace it for ever.

The seduction of lock-in - I love marketing.

Ignoring the time cost of money, it would take
£299/£27.60 = 11 years
for Hotpoint to break even, so I guess this tumble-dryer is designed to work for quite a while.

We rejected the deal: if it breaks out of warranty,  we'll just buy a different one.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

You're similar to your spouse in so many ways ...

You already knew that spouses were correlated for intelligence.

R Plomin and I J Deary have this to say:
" ... Assortative mating is greater for intelligence (spouse correlations ~0.40) than for other behavioural traits such as personality and psychopathology (~0.10) or physical traits such as height and weight (~0.20)."

Here's what a correlation of 0.4 looks like (top right).

Marginal Revolution gets excited about this result though:
"Nordsletten and colleagues find an amazing amount of assortative mating within psychiatric disorders.

"Spouse tetrachoric correlations are greater than 0.40 for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and schizophrenia.

"The next highest spouse correlation emerged for substance abuse (range, 0.36-0.39).

"Assortative mating was significant but far less substantial for other disorders, such as affective disorders (range, 0.14-0.19)."
They conclude:
"Beyond genetics and genomics, assortative mating matters because it means that the person closest to an individual with a psychiatric disorder is also likely to have psychiatric problems, which could exacerbate problems for both spouses and their offspring."
The ubiquity of assortative mating - who knew?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Spatial Awareness

There's a special feeling of relaxed contentment when you're back home from the dentist.

Shards of memory: lying back, staring at fluorescent grills in the ceiling, everything yellow through the goggles; the steel hypodermic syringe, floating above my face, orienting there .. and there; the pressure of fluid building up in the gums.

The pretty, full-faced assistant asks the dentist, "Is there anything you need?"

Sotto voce I hear his reply: "Spatial awareness ... ."

I manage a contorted smile.

Later it seemed to me that he was a dead ringer, sight and sound, for Moriarty in BBC's "Sherlock".


I'm reading "Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World" by Bruce Schneier.  It's an easy read and brimful of fascinating information about government and corporate surveillance.

I've been trying to identify the chronic, low-level irritation I'm experiencing as I turn the Kindle pages. And now it's dawned on me:  that moralising tone. It's the same feeling I get when reading The Guardian.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Combat the four whites!

The four whites are bread, pasta, potatoes, rice. These high-GL bad boys have been replaced in our diet by mashed beans (looks like mash, tastes quite a bit different), cauliflower rice (looks nothing like rice, tastes nothing like rice) and sweet potato (pretty much like potato - but a deafening chorus assures me it's OK).

 I think my favourite new diet element may be the Sauerkraut.


Is it ever the same day at every location on Earth?

You need to be thinking about the International Date Line and the Midnight Line, the north-south arc where it's always locally midnight. Interestingly, the former is a coordinate of convention while the latter is coordinate-independent.

Crossing the IDL, you always transition to the day before; crossing the Midnight Line you always transition to the day after. When these two line coincide ... they cancel.

Visualising 3D spatial geometry is difficult, isn't it?


Oh Lord, Emma Thompson and a chorus of luvvies want us in; George Galloway (Britain's answer to Mussolini) and a bunch of UKIPers want us out. What's a sensible person to do!

When I was young my father was baffled by my strange geekish persona and declared I had 'no common sense'. He sometimes called me 'goon' after a character in his favourite radio programme, 'The Goon Show'.

Neddie Seagoon - 'an affable but gullible idiot'

I have profoundly agreed with his general approach since I discovered that the genius John von Neumann wanted the US to launch a first thermonuclear strike on Russia in the window before the Soviets got the H-bomb.

That's why I'm less than impressed by the intellectual Michael Gove's high-minded and thoroughly rational fretting about 'sovereignty'.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Our elites were selected for .. what?

Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending's seminal 2006 paper, "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" (PDF) is a gift which keeps on giving.

It outlines their case that "the unique demography and sociology of Ashkenazim in medieval Europe selected for intelligence. Ashkenazi literacy, economic specialization, and closure to inward gene flow led to a social environment in which there was high fitness pay-off to intelligence, specifically verbal and mathematical intelligence but not spatial ability."

The Ashkenazim were not the only people doing highly g-loaded work during the 800 years from 800-1600 AD; why were similar pressures not pushing up the IQ of Caucasian elites?

On page 14  we see this:
“It is likely that the selective pressures affecting the medieval Ashkenazi were far stronger [...] because such a high percentage had cognitively demanding jobs, and because the Ashkenazi niche was so specifically demanding of accounting and management skills, while upper classes elsewhere experienced a more diverse set of paths to wealth.

“Societies reward different behavioural traits. In some times and places successful warriors and soldiers have had high status, in others merchants, in still others bureaucrats as in ancient China. There were societies in pre-modern Europe in which merchants and businessmen ranked near the top, but this was atypical.

“To the extent that status and wealth were inherited rather than earned, the correlation between cognitive traits and reproductive success in elite groups may have been quite weak. In almost every case elite groups experienced substantial gene flow with other, much larger groups that were not subject to the same selective pressures. This means that the selective pressures experienced by such groups were diluted, spread out into the general population.

“Christian merchants in London or Rotterdam may have experienced selective pressures similar to those of the Ashkenazi Jews, but they intermarried: there was extensive gene flow with the general population, the majority of whom were farmers. The selection pressures experienced by farmers were probably quite different: most likely cognitive skills did not have as high a correlation with income among farmers that they did among individuals whose occupations required extensive symbol manipulation, such as moneylenders, tax farmers, and estate managers.”
What was almost certainly selected for amongst the elites was prosociality (usually conceptualised as Agreeable+ and Conscientious+). The Empathy Quotient seems to be the nearest we have to an instrument measuring this.

Prosociality allows the elite to cohere, to negotiate disagreements in a reasonably harmonious way and to conduct long-term and elaborate cooperative ventures; essential to running complex economies and disparate empires. It also seems evident that there's a prosociality gradient running down the class structure of complex societies - it would be good to see some statistics.

Prosociality generates a specific self-ideology when its tenets are normatively extrapolated to everyone under all circumstances. In this malign form, it surfaces as political correctness - "I can tolerate anything except intolerance".

Maddening though it is, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Mr Trump, I might be talking about you.


See also my post about elves (!) for more about political correctness and moralising.

Michael Mosley's Paleo-Diet?

There's nothing wrong with beans, grains and dairy

Yesterday I had an epiphany: Michael Mosley's M-Plan Diet; the Mediterranean diet; the advice to shop around the edges of the supermarket, not in the middle; the injunction to keep off processed food; .. weren't these all instances of the paleo-diet?

There is nothing wrong with believing that an animal is most at home in its Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation (EEA), pretty much by definition. My argument with the paleo-diet is its simplistic idea of what that environment is for Caucasians. There's plenty of evidence for genetic adaptation over the last ten thousand years to neolithic innovations such as grains, milk and alcohol.

The real bad thing in contemporary food is over-processing, specifically sugar-boosting, and that dense, so moreish sugar-fat combination which packs on the calories at the expense of fibre. You know who you are, breakfast cereals and cookies. Bread has been compromised, not because of wheat, but through added sugar and denuded fibre.

By cutting these bad boys out, all the diets in the first paragraph put you back in the EEA for contemporary white Europeans. I looked at some paleo-diet websites and saw a lot of good sense .. along with faddy nickel-and-diming over whether bananas were authentically paleo or not.

Conclusion: I guess I'm happy to be tagged as paleo without sweating the small stuff and without having to attend prayers.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Welfare Trait: How State Benefits Affect Personality - Dr Adam Perkins

Amazon Link

Perhaps you are fortunate enough to know people who are agreeable and conscientious - the elements of the prosocial personality. Managers love such people: they do what they say they will do, and are a pleasure to deal with.

It will come as little surprise that people with the opposite traits, those who are impulsive and aggressive, are harder to employ. They disproportionately fill the ranks of those on welfare, where - as problem families - they make major contributions to violence and criminality. They also fecklessly create large numbers of offspring and then neglect them.

These stereotypical descriptions are not, of course, constructed from thin air. They summarise countless reports and the daily experiences of people unfortunate enough to have to deal with them.

Adam Perkins, in his book 'The Welfare Trait', calls these people 'employment resistant'. As personality traits are moderately heritable (he quotes 0.3-0.4, Wikipedia has 0.4 -0.6), he suggests that we're rather stupid in our welfare policies to encourage their enhanced reproduction.

How could anyone with half a brain disagree? When you're in a hole, stop digging. But the key issue is how big a problem it really is. The author has some numbers (p. 134 ff) buried in a rather lengthy and turgid discussion, but my impression is that in the great scheme of things it's not the biggest problem we face right now. In any event, his proposed solution of disincentivising reproduction by the employment-resistant would make a difference over generations only at the margins.

Dr Perkins takes 185 pages to make the points above, and his writing is pedestrian and leaden.  His heart is in the right place, and it is of course deplorable that  he has been prevented from speaking by right-on students, but I still couldn't really recommend you buy this book; way too repetitive, not enough sparkle, originality or wit.


A review from The Adam Smith Institute and one from Dr James Thompson.

And then there's Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times.
"Sorry, Grand Theft Auto, Dr Perkins is off the bill

"The latest victim of politically correct censorship is Dr Adam Perkins, of King’s College London, who believes that unemployed people are unspeakably ghastly.

"This is a somewhat crude distillation of his work, The Welfare Trait, in which he suggests that a large tranche of long-term welfare claimants are employment-averse, belligerent, unconscientious and disagreeable, traits they painstakingly propagate in their awful children, who have names like 50 Cent and Grand Theft Auto.

"Perkins was “saddened” to find his lecture at the London School of Economics cancelled after adverse social media comment about his eminently sensible thesis. One hysterical campaigning organisation, Black Triangle, suggested his views would meet with the approval of Iain Duncan Smith. That’s apparently enough to get you banned from speaking."
Rod, you are so bad.


A final remark: prosociality is often assumed to be wholly positive, but there's a reason we're not all doves. The best soldiers are often the worst citizens.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Boys in the Bubble

Bagehot in "The Economist" today

Bagehot writes:
"BEING a Eurosceptic in a university city is a lonely business. In the drizzle outside the Cambridge Union a student in a roll-neck is trying to hand anti-EU leaflets to the cliques hurrying past. Most ignore him. One, having taken a folded piece of card, glances at it and sighs “nah”, shoving it back into the campaigner’s hand.

"Inside, in the neo-Gothic chamber, pro-EU luminaries ply their arguments to cheers. When Richard Tice, an anti-EU campaigner, delivers his speech students bob up and down, machine-gunning him rebarbative questions. Did regulation not exist before Britain joined the union? Why do so many firms support membership? If Britain doesn't control its borders why do foreign students struggle to get visas?

"When Mr Tice quotes “the highly respected economist, Tim Congdon” (a notorious Eurosceptic) the chamber resounds to laughter and sarcastic applause."
Things are different in Peterborough.
"Compare that with Peterborough, a similarly sized city at the other end of Cambridgeshire. At a public debate there locals voted decisively in favour of Brexit. “I asked rhetorically what the audience would put at risk to leave the EU,” recalls Mr Huppert. “They shouted back: ‘Everything’.”
Cambridge and Peterborough are geographically close and in many ways quite similar, so why the different attitudes to the EU?
"Cambridge bears the hallmarks of an economy in which one in two has gone to university, Peterborough is visibly a city of school-leavers.

"When it comes to the EU, this difference is everything. Education levels are “an extremely strong predictor” of an individual’s views on the subject, stresses Robert Ford, an expert on public opinion: the more qualifications someone has, the more pro-European he or she is likely to be.

"According to polls by YouGov, those educated only to 16 oppose EU membership by 57% to 43%, but among graduates it is 38% to 62%. When education is controlled for, other factors affecting an individual’s views on Europe—like income, choice of newspaper and even age—diminish.

What is it about those five years of study between 16 and 21? The answer has two parts. First, the self-interested one. “Having a degree is increasingly a prerequisite of getting on in life,” observes Mr Ford, adding: “Both sides are aware that there is a drawbridge called university and that those who don’t get across it are disadvantaged.”


"The second, cultural driver mostly concerns immigration. Whereas many in Cambridge see incomers as highly educated Germans and Swedes bringing their expertise to research projects, start-ups and product-development meetings, in Peterborough they are Lithuanian potato-pickers who, if not competing with locals for unskilled work, are at least nipping at their heels."
The Economist has sussed out the underlying trend though:
"University attendance has exploded, which suggests that Britain will become more internationalist and comfortable with EU co-operation. Yet in the meantime it seems the country will be increasingly polarised: liberal, Cambridge-like places on the one side; nationalist, Peterborough-like ones on the other and an ever-shrinking middle ground between the two, as the population bifurcates into those whose skills make them globally competitive and those who must compete with robots and the mass workforces of the emerging economies.


"Eventually Britain will look more like Cambridge than it does today."
In the year after taking A-level (i.e. at age 18+) 52% of young people were at a higher education institution - with one per cent at Oxbridge and another 8% at other Russell Group universities, according to a Government report.*

So Oxbridge is taking the top 1% of the population age-cohort and inducting them into an international elite bubble. I feel it is unlikely, short of the initiative described in my previous post, that very much more of Britain 'will look more like Cambridge in the future than it does today'.

There are better, more forward-thinking arguments which might speak to Oxbridge undergraduate as to the merits of leaving the present incarnation of the Holy Roman Empire. But that's for another day ... although ironically, The Economist got there before me.

Update: (March 18th 2016): see also "Brexit: the issue is Germany".


* These figures are interesting. If the 1% admitted to Oxford and Cambridge were selected entirely on merit, the IQ cut-off would be z = 2.33 SD, or 135. If you believe that some get into Oxbridge by not being quite as bright as that, but by having connections, then the merit IQ threshold will be greater than 135.

For the Russell Group  (the top 24 non-Oxbridge including my own alma mater, Warwick), you have to be in the top 9%. This requires z > 1.34, or an IQ of at least 120. In practice, IQ demands are likely to be less for non g-loaded subjects like English and Drama (plus there are those connections again), so this is very much a lower bound for disciplines positively requiring high-IQ (typically STEM subjects and philosophy).


We were in the Cribbs Causeway Mall today, pictured below, where I replaced my Primark trousers with softer and more luxurious variants from John Lewis at seven times the price.

The author at Cribbs Causeway Mall

I also popped into my first Apple store. I was expecting style and imagination, but was confronted by six large Formica-like tables upon which were arrayed rows of tethered iPhone 6s and MacBook Air laptops. The whole experience seemed tacky and impoverished; the shop was, however, crowded.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Boosting IQ by 15 points (truncation selection)

It's 2025 and England, having left the EU, has to fend for itself in competitive battle against China. It's not easy: the Chinese are very smart and out-innovate us in key sectors - financial services and high technology.

Something has to be done.

A secret Government task force reports. The problem is our human capital: we're just not smart enough; we can't hack the highly abstract, interconnected and complex realities of the new economy. We have to give our population an IQ boost.

Farmers have known for centuries what to do; animal breeding and genetics professionals have worked out all the details. You identify the traits you want and select that proportion of the population which - if bred together - will deliver offspring with the desired characteristics.

Evolution in action.

'What do we need?' asks the Minister.

Nothing less than a boost in our average population IQ of 15 points, the report suggests, which would bring us up to the level of the the Ashkenazim or India's Brahmin - and better than the Chinese average IQ of 106.

'OK,' says the Minister, 'and how would we get there?'

The report has done the calculations. We'd have to restrict breeding to those people with an IQ greater than 109. Basically, middle-class professionals and up.

The Minister ponders: 'We're doomed.'


The report had an easy-to-read annex which is reproduced below.

State-enforced eugenics has had a deservedly poor press. But voluntary, on-demand child improvement - without coercion - is an easier sell. Putting breeding restrictions to one side, the report also talked about making gene-editing and embryo-selection options widely available, perhaps free on the NHS for the poor.

Perhaps England can hack the 21st century after all.


Truncation selection

As a running example, we take a population of potential parents with mean IQ 100 and standard deviation 15 IQ points; this is broadly the Caucasian English population. We wish to identify a proportion of high-IQ individuals (p%) to breed from, so that their offspring will have an average IQ one standard deviation, σ = 15 IQ points, greater than the current overall parent population.

The related questions of interest:
  1. What is the IQ cut-off threshold, above which we permit high-IQ parents to breed?
  2. What proportion of the overall population parents do we allow to breed?
  3. What is the average IQ of the selected parent-breeders?
We know that the parent-breeder IQ has to be higher than the target IQ in the offspring, because of regression to the mean. This reflects that some of the parents' higher intelligence is due to "luck" - what we euphemistically call 'environmental influences'. In the offspring, this luck goes away and only that portion of intelligence due to (additive) genetics contributes. This is captured by the heritability being less than one.

S is the mean of the selected population minus the population mean, (example: 118.75 - 100 = 18.75, as we shall see).

h2 is the heritability of the trait (example: for IQ we'll assume h2 = 0.8 - estimates vary)

R is the mean of the offspring of those selected minus the population mean, (example: 115 - 100 = 15).

We can now define the relationship between the mean incremental-IQ in the selected parent-breeders and the mean incremental-IQ of their offspring. It's the breeder's equation.
R = h2S.
Knowing R and h2 we can easily work out S. For our running example, we want a future breeding population with mean IQ of 115 (ie R is 15) and the heritability, h2, is 0.8.
So S = 15/0.8 = 18.75.
The mean IQ of our selected parents has to be 118.75.

Connecting proportion allowed to breed (p) with their mean trait-value (S)

This doesn't tell us what proportion of the population is going to be allowed to breed. We need another equation relating S and p, the proportion of the population (on the right-hand side of the bell curve) allowed to breed.

Note that p is the area under the curve on the right of the distribution (see picture above), and S is the mean value of that selected area (in units of σ).

This equation is:
S = σi(p)
where σ is the population standard deviation (15 IQ points) and i(p) is a function we look up in tables, called the 'intensity of selection'. Once we know i(p), we can work backwards in the table to look-up p.

Let's do it.
i(p) = S/σ = 18.75/15 = 1.25. *
Looking up in the tables, p = 26%.

Looking at the selection intensity table below, if we select 26% of parents from the top of the existing intelligence distribution and allow them to breed, the average IQ if their children will be 115, one standard deviation greater than at present.

Note that the average IQ of these parents will be, as we already saw, 118.75.

The IQ cut-off (below which we don't allow anyone to breed) is the truncation point x0. From the table below, it's 0.643 (standard deviations) which equates to an IQ of approximately 110.

The result of all this hard work? Our selected offspring will have an average IQ of 115 - that puts them on a par with the Ashkenazim or Brahmin, and better than the Chinese average of 106.

Job done in one generation!


* We can combine the two equations to eliminate S, so that
R = h2σi(p), or

i(p) = R/(h2σ)   -   (example: i(p) = 15/(0.8 * 15) = 1.25 as above).

Here is the table for i(p).

Further Reading
  1. A slide overview (PDF).
  2. A useful handbook, 'Selection and Genetic Change' (PDF), by Erling Strandberg and Birgitta Malmfors . 
  3. The appendices to the above (PDF) with the maths for the intensity of selection function.

Pamper your gut biome

Since "cutting out the white stuff" I have lost two pounds in just over two days without feeling in the slightest bit hungry; Clare has had similar results. Truly the stuff of tabloid headlines.

In today's Times, Jenni Russell writes:
"Evidence is growing that the destruction of our gut bacteria by processed food is the real enemy.


"There are dozens of human and animal studies demonstrating how contemporary diets rich in processed food, transfats, artificial sweeteners, additives, corn, soya and wheat devastate the huge variety of good bacteria that live in our guts, and replace them with strains that create inflammation and weight gain.

"That switch in our eating habits took off in the 1980s, when we ditched butter, full-fat milk, eggs, red meat and three meals a day in favour of frequent snacks, sugary drinks, ready-made meals and low-fat, high-carbohydrate food. Instead of an internal garden we created an arid landscape filled with weeds."
Somehow, it's always the mice which get the short straw.
"In a fascinating 2013 experiment by the genetic epidemiologist Tim Spector, from King’s College London, researchers took intestinal microbes from pairs of twins where one sister was obese and one lean, and transferred them into mice. All mice were fed the same food. Yet the mice given the “obese” bacteria grew fat. The mice with the lean sister’s bacteria stayed lean. Then, just to prove the point, the scientists gave the fat mice bacterial transplants from the lean ones — and the fat mice lost their excess weight.

"The clear implication of the research is that if we continue to eat a classic western diet then even if we reduce our calories we’ll fight to lose weight or keep it off. Our bacteria will act like a fifth column, simultaneously fattening us and sending us subversive chemical messages demanding more sugar or fat. The exciting element of the theory is that just as our microbiome was ravaged by dietary changes, so it’s probably in our power to rebuild it — and the changes can start in days."
All roads lead to Dr Michael Mosley ...
"Dr Spector and other leading figures in this field say the solution is simple; replace processed food with the natural foods we used to eat, particularly spices, herbs, fermented foods and fibre-rich plants. Variety is the key to internal regeneration. We used to eat around 150 different foods; now many of us eat only 20, packaged in 50 ways.

"And if broccoli for breakfast, nuts and sauerkraut for lunch and green smoothies for snacks is too much to bear, there’s always the cheat’s option. Sidle up to the skinniest person you know and find out what it might take for them to give away their good bacteria."
No thanks, I think I'll stick to natural yoghourt, sauerkraut and Camembert for my good bacteria.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Feeling black holes collide from close-up

As soon as I heard about that LIGO thing, first thing I thought of, what would it have felt like if you'd been there, maybe an AU away from those coalescing black holes?

Eventually the Internet got around to telling me.
"As I read the historic news, there’s one question that kept gnawing at me: how close would you need to have been to the merging black holes before you could, you know, feel the distortion of space?  I made a guess, [...] you’d need to be very close.

"Even if you were only as far from the black-hole cataclysm as the earth is from the sun, I get that you’d be stretched and squished by a mere ~50 nanometers (this interview with Jennifer Ouellette and Amber Stuver says 165 nanometers, but as a theoretical computer scientist, I try not to sweat factors of 3).

Even if you were 3000 miles from the black holes—New-York/LA distance—I get that the gravitational waves would only stretch and squish you by around a millimeter. Would you feel that? Not sure. At 300 miles, it would be maybe a centimeter—though presumably the linearized approximation is breaking down by that point.


"Now, the black holes themselves were orbiting about 200 miles from each other before they merged.  So, the distance at which you could safely feel their gravitational waves, isn’t too far from the distance at which they’d rip you to shreds and swallow you!

In summary, to stretch and squeeze spacetime by just a few hundred nanometers per meter, along the surface of a sphere whose radius equals our orbit around the sun, requires more watts of power than all the stars in the observable universe give off as starlight.

"People often say that the message of general relativity is that matter bends spacetime “as if it were a mattress.”  But they should add that the reason it took so long for humans to notice this, is that it’s a really friggin’ firm mattress, one that you need to bounce up and down on unbelievably hard before it quivers, and would probably never want to sleep on."
From Scott Aaronson's blog, a post appealingly titled "The universe has a high (but not infinite) Sleep Number", h/t SSC.

Victor Toth writes:
"A gravitational wave is like a passing tidal force. It squeezes you in one direction and stretches you in a perpendicular direction. If you are close enough to the source, you might feel this as a force. But the effect of gravitational waves is very weak. For your body to be stretched by one part in a thousand, you’d have to be about 15,000 kilometers from the coalescing black hole.

"At that distance, the gravitational acceleration would be more than 3.6 million g-s, which is rather unpleasant, to say the least. And even if you were in a freefalling orbit, there would be strong tidal forces, too, not enough to rip your body apart but certainly enough to make you feel very uncomfortable (about 0.25 g-forces over one meter.) So sensing a gravitational wave would be the least of your concerns.

"But then… you’d not really be sensing it anyway. You would be hearing it. Most of the gravitational wave power emitted by GW150914 was in the audio frequency range. A short chip rising in both pitch and amplitude. And the funny thing is… you would hear it, as the gravitational wave passed through your body, stretching every bit a little, including your eardrums."

I'm reading "The Welfare Trait: How State Benefits Affect Personality" by Dr Adam Perkins of King's College, London. He talks about the employment-resistant personality and how such people feature disproportionately on welfare. There they tend to have lots of children, both for increased benefits and because they're rather feckless, (A-, C-, in the five-factor jargon).

Amazon Link

Dr Perkins is worried about dysgenic consequences - plainly the potential is there - but how big is the effect? I'm waiting to see whether Dr Perkins gets quantitative, but if he does, he'll be using the Breeder's Equation.

Time for a quick review from West Hunter - this is the Breeder's Equation:
"R = h2S.

"R is the response to selection, S is the selection differential, and h2 is the narrow-sense heritability. This is the workhorse equation for quantitative genetics. The selective differential S, is the difference between the population mean and the mean of the parental population (some subset of the total population).

"For example, imagine a set of parents with IQs of 120, drawn from a population with an average IQ of 100. Suppose that the narrow-sense heritability (in that population, in that environment) is 0.5 . The average IQ of their children will be 110. That’s what is usually called regression to the mean.

"Do the same thing with a population whose average IQ is 85. We again choose parents with IQs of 120, and the narrow-sense heritability is still 0.5. The average IQ of their children will be 102.5 – they regress to a lower mean.

"You can think of it this way. In the first case, the parents have 20 extra IQ points. On average, 50% of those points are due to additive genetic factors, while the other 50% is is the product of good environmental luck. By the way, when we say ‘environmental” we mean “something other than additive genetics”. It doesn’t look as if the usual suspects – the way in which you raise your kids – contributes much to this ‘environmental’ variance, at least for adult IQ. In fact we know what it’s not, but not much about what it is, although it must include factors like test error and being hit on the head.

"The kids get the good additive genes, but have average ‘environmental’ luck – so their average IQ is 110. The luck (10 pts worth) goes away

"The 120-IQ parents drawn from the IQ-85 population have 35 extra IQ points, half of which are from good additive genes and half from good environmental luck. But in the next generation, the luck goes away… so they drop 17.5 points.

"The next point is that the luck only goes away once. If you took those kids from the first group, with average IQs of 110, and dropped them on an uninhabited but friendly island, they would presumably get around to mating eventually – and the next generation would also have an IQ of 110. With tougher selection, say by kidnapping a year’s worth of National Merit Finalists, you could create a new ethny with far higher average intelligence than any existing. Eugenics is not only possible, it’s trivial."
Dysgenics too: as personality has similar heritability to intelligence (0.5), still mulling over the application of this to the profligate underclass ...

You might also want to take a look at this.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Michael Mosley's 8-week blood sugar diet (book)

Amazon Link

Michael Mosley starts with a story:
"Jon remembers the moment when he first heard he had type 2 diabetes. It was March 17, 2012. The graphic designer, then 48, a father of two teenage sons, was busy with work. His phone rang - it was his doctor's receptionist. "You need to come in straight away. Do you feel OK?" she asked anxiously "Have you got someone with you?" "I think they were worried I was about to go into a coma," Jon says.

"Like many people with this condition, he had no idea that he had a problem. Yet his recent test showed his blood sugar levels were more than three times over the limit. People in Jon's age group are developing type 2 diabetes faster than ever before, and in greater numbers than adults over 65, the group that's traditionally been linked with blood sugar problems.

"Jon was put on medication and sent off to talk to nutritionists and dieticians. What followed was months of conflicting advice. One "expert" told him to eat a whole pineapple every day. Another recommended cereal every morning. No one suggested cutting back his calories, despite the fact that he weighed 21st.

"When he heard about the Blood Sugar Diet he was immediately attracted. It made sense. He liked the fact that it got quick results. He liked the simplicity He waited until the day after his 49th birthday party. He was hung over. Yet despite feeling terrible he was ready to begin a new way of eating which he now says has been "life-changing". He lost 19 lb (8.5 kg) in the first week. I'll repeat that, shall I? 19 1b — literally, the same weight as a car tyre. Much of that would have been water, but still, it was impressive.

"He was staggered — and immediately motivated to keep going. For the first time he remembers being able to wear socks and not feel the elastic digging into his swollen ankles. He dropped a jean size in seven days. "It was such a spur," he says, looking back. "I could see straight away that this was going to work." Jon is a warm, funny guy who likes to party. So he fell off the wagon. Repeatedly "I didn't beat myself up," he says. "I'd just start up again the following day." (It's true that when he sent me his weekly food diaries there was more than the occasional glass of prosecco.)

"Once I got going I stopped thinking about it as a diet. I just decided that this was the way I was going to eat." He started walking more and getting around by bicycle, further burning up the fat stores. In three months, he lost 50 lb (22.5 kg). Friends and family say he looks 20 years younger. He is no longer on his diabetes medication. His blood sugar results are normal. He uses words like "control", "habit" and "automatic". "This feels entirely sustainable," he says. "I've found a way to live and to eat."
Our food is awash with sugar and it's not good for us.
"Well, the thing about carbs, particularly the easily digestible ones, such as sugar, but also breakfast cereals, pasta, bread and potatoes, is that they are easily broken down in the gut to release sugar into your system. Your pancreas responds by producing insulin. One of insulin's main jobs is to bring high blood sugar levels down, and it does this by helping energy-hungry cells, such as those in your muscles, take up the sugar. Unfortunately, an unhealthy diet and a low-activity lifestyle can, over many years, lead to what's called "insulin resistance".

"Your body becomes less and less sensitive to insulin. Your blood sugar levels creep up. And as they rise, your pancreas responds by pumping out more and more insulin. But it's like shouting at your kids. After a while they stop listening.

"While your muscles are becoming insulin-resistant, however, insulin is still able to force surplus calories into your fat cells. The result is that, as your insulin levels rise, more and more energy is diverted into fat storage. The higher the insulin, the fatter you get. And yet the more calories you tuck away as fat, the less you have to keep the rest of your body going.

"It's a bit like buying fuel, but instead of putting it in the tank you put it in the boot of the car. The fuel gauge sinks, but your frantic attempts to top up fail because the fuel is going into the wrong place. Similarly, your muscles, deprived of fuel, tell your brain to eat more. So you do. But because your high insulin levels are encouraging fat storage, you just get fatter while staying hungry."
Dr Michael Mosley's M-Plan diet, based on the Mediterranean diet, aims to cut back on sugar drastically, increase fibre and restore those much-maligned fats to their proper place. I've posted his diet summary here.

The other two legs of Dr Mosley's three-legged stool are Exercise and 'Sorting Out Your Head". All good advice - cortisol is not your friend.

Some reviewers felt this was a book aimed at those with type 2 diabetes, or pre-diabetes. Not so, it's aimed at anyone whose diet contains too much sugar .. all of us. There are 50 recipes in the latter part of the book, contributed by Dr Sarah Schenker, with some nice coloured plates.

It's an easy and quick read (and the book is cheap, too). Dr Mosley has a history of being reviled by a hidebound medical establishment who insist on medicalising everything, but he retains his usual courtesy in this book.

My only substantive point, apart from that you should definitely read this book, is that his relentless optimism perhaps underestimates the rather unpleasant sugar crash (as in the ITV programme 'Sugar Free Farm') which some readers are bound to experience.

Michael Mosley's M-Plan diet

Amazon link

The M Plan: what to eat to control your weight and your blood sugar 

Firstly, cut right down on sugar, sugary treats, drinks and desserts. No more than once or twice a week and preferably less. We offer lots of recipes for healthy alternative foods below [in the book]. You can use sugar substitutes like stevia and xylitol, but try to wean yourself off your sweet tooth.

Minimise or avoid the starchy "white stuff': bread, pasta, potatoes, rice. Be wary of "brown" alternatives: the extra fibre can be negligible. Brown rice is OK, but some wholemeal breads have added sugar.

Switch instead to quinoa, bulgur (cracked wheat), whole rye, whole-grain barley, wild rice and buckwheat. Legumes, such as lentils and kidney beans, are healthy and filling.

Avoid most breakfast cereals: they are usually full of sugar, even the ones that contain bran. Oats are good as long as they are not the instant sort.

Full-fat yoghurt is also good. Add berries, like blackberries, strawberries or blueberries, for flavour; or a sprinkling of nuts.

Start the day with eggs: boiled, poached, scrambled or as an omelette - they'll keep you fuller for longer than cereal or toast. Delicious with smoked salmon, mushrooms and a sprinkle of chilli.

Snack on nuts: they are a great source of protein and fibre. Try to avoid salted or sweetened nuts, which can be moreish.

Eat more healthy fats and oils. Along with oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), consume more olive oil. A splash makes vegetables taste better and improves the absorption of vitamins. Use olive, rapeseed or coconut oil for cooking.

Avoid margarine and use butter instead. Cheese in moderation is fine.

High-quality proteins to wolf down include: oily fish, prawns, chicken, turkey, pork, beef and, of course, eggs. Other protein-rich foods: soya, edamame beans, Quorn, hummus. Processed meats (bacon, salami, sausages) should be eaten only a few times a week.

Eat plenty of different coloured veg (from dark leafy greens to bright-red and yellow peppers). Add sauces and flavouring - lemon, butter or olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, chilli, gravy. Avoid too many sweet fruits: berries, apples or pears are fine, but sweet tropical fruits such as mango, pineapple, melon and bananas are full of sugar.

Have a drink, but not too many. Try to average no more than one to two units a day (a small glass of wine or shot of spirits is 1.5 units) and cut back on beer - it's rich in carbs, which is why it's known as "liquid toast".


[From pp. 113-115].

My book review is here. Here is the A4 poster of the above for your fridge (PDF).


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Rodney Matthews at the Bishop's Palace, Wells

A cold but bright Sunday afternoon and time to use our new membership cards - we're officially "Friends of the Bishop's Palace" in Wells. And they're hosting the famous Rodney Matthews Exhibition. Click on any of the pictures to make them larger.

On the moat: two real ones and a sculpture ...

In the garden: Princess Clare and the Dragon

Clare at the Rodney Matthews Exhibition

"Painting the Roses" - from Alice in Wonderland

A monstrous train

The author with The Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Cauliflower rice, anyone?

My next book to review, but I'm giving away no secrets if I confide that the Mediterranean diet with plenty of beans is pretty central to the narrative.

Clare has advised that this evening's meal was the last ever with any sugar. I look forward with optimism to our healthier future.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Ant and the Grasshopper

Aesop's fable:

The Ant and the Grasshopper
"The fable concerns a grasshopper (in the original, a cicada) that has spent the summer singing while the ant (or ants in some versions) worked to store up food for winter. When that season arrives, the grasshopper finds itself dying of hunger and begs the ant for food. However, the ant rebukes its idleness and tells it to dance the winter away now."
I met some ants in the land of the grasshoppers. The latter were exuberant and showy, artistic and theatrical. By comparison, the ants were low-key and drab, even boring.

I asked an ant why his kinfolk gave the grasshoppers such a hard time:
"You say that when winter comes, the grasshoppers will starve while you have all worked hard and conscientiously, and put stores aside for the bad times. But here, in grasshopper land, there is no winter.

"You are parochial, judging solely by your own standards which don't happen to apply here. You judge the grasshopper to be a very poor ant who needs to try harder, but don't you see? Here, you ants are very poor grasshoppers."
The ant had no idea what I was talking about, but was very sure that I had condemned myself out of my very own mouth as an enemy of the people.


I have just read Julian Barnes' latest novel, "The Noise of Time" which recounts the savage lifelong treatment of Dmitri Shostakovich in Stalinist Russia.

It's not hard to identify with the protagonist, a shy intellectual who spends his life in chronic anxiety, intermixed with episodes of extreme terror. Not at all without cause. The author is empathically non-judgemental - we who have not been tested - but there is always the illusion of the introvert, that statements and actions made with self-consciously ironic intent will be understood that way, at least by those around us capable of such understanding. Barnes reminds us: not so.

But the elaborated fable above is not solely about that.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Enduring Love

So our first argument this morning was about that BBC programme we watched last night, World War Three. The programme simulated a British 'War Room' dealing with a Ukraine-style Russian incursion into the Baltic States of Estonia and Latvia - which happen to be NATO members. It did not end well.

To crudely stereotype our positions, Clare was happy to surrender to the nuke-wielding Russians on the basis we couldn't win; I was all for going thermonuclear. "Men, you love war," was her pointed comment.

After I had cooled down a little we had our second argument. On Desert Island Discs, a BBC radio show, Bill Gates had this to say:
"My wife Melinda and I love Willie Nelson. So as a surprise gift for her, I had him show up the night before we got married. We were on a beach in Hawaii and he kind of walked down the beach with his guitar and I said, 'Well here he is, let's have this guy sing some songs for us.'"
I thought this was a window on Mr Gates' soul. It was incredibly patronising to the famous singer; Willie Nelson is not the hired help. Why couldn't Clare see that?

My inner aggression came to a boil at lunchtime when I was entering Passport details into a holiday company's website (we're off to Portugal in the summer). I pressed "continue" and a javascript box popped up saying "It is necessary to complete all the fields," without flagging any fields in error.  It also mentioned that the form had to be completed within 30 minutes or it would time-out and all the information entered (there was plenty) would be wiped.

For the life of me, I couldn't see any box I hadn't completed. I tried and tried and could not advance to the next screen - I was furious. (Clare finally found the one box I had missed - 'Where was the Passport issued?').

I changed and set off for the gym where my performance was the best for weeks. I really hit those machines! I returned a calmer person, ready for the LIGO press conference.

When I bought Enduring Love, Clare snorted about people who think the answer to everything is read the manual. In fact 'Enduring Love' is the name of an Open University research project enrolling 5,000 respondents. I was expecting data, statistical analysis, IQ and personality correlates and some well-founded conclusions.

I was so wrong. It's a soggy self-help book. The volunteers have been mined for case-history anecdotes. So if you want to know that it's better to keep the burned marmite toast for yourself, and serve the perfect one to your partner, (p. 29), I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Coming back to reality, I have found that a couple of good arguments and a recognition that your partner can sometimes solve a problem which has eluded you is often the recipe for kicking the can farther down the road, relationship-wise.

Call me romantic.

The LIGO announcement

BBC News rapidly broke away from the 3.30 pm news conference back to the studio, where their own woefully ill-informed correspondent recycled the headlines. The press conference, aimed at lay people, was crammed full with awesome videos and clear explanation. So if you really want to know why this is such a big deal, here's the video - you may have to advance it a little to the start.

LIGO instruments measure gravitational waves at a time resolution of milliseconds. We were both intrigued that planned devices will be able to measure gravitational radiation with a cycle time of a billion years (!) - at 57 minutes 13 seconds.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


Quote from Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist at Chinese search giant, Baidu:
"Worrying about AI evil superintelligence today is like worrying about overpopulation on the planet Mars."

An anonymous comment at Scott Alexander's Slate Star Codex:
Slate Star Codex is 140 IQ discussion about 105 IQ issues.
(Ouch! That post has more amusing and cringe-inducing stuff).


Watch out for the LIGO announcement tomorrow that the coalescence of two orbiting black holes has been observed through their gravitational wave signature:

"The masses of the black holes will be 36 and 29 solar masses at the beginning; and 62 for the resulting black hole. The reconstructed orbital speed will be almost exactly the speed of light. As a bonus, they will also observe the "ringdown to Kerr"
More here.

"My simulated sister is smarter than me"

Apologies that this is a bit techie - and it won't make sense without reading the previous post.

Yesterday I did some simple stats to show that my sister is most likely 8 IQ points smarter than me (to be fair and by symmetry, the converse could also be true).

Health warnings:
  1. expected value only when averaged over large numbers of copies of my sister and myself;
  2. equally true for my brother and myself - the stats are gender-blind.
How far is one sibling likely to be from the parental midpoint average?

Intuitively, you wouldn't expect every sibling to be exactly the average (they're not clones) but over a large family the pluses and minus would sort of average out to the mid-parental mean. But what about if we're just considering the deviation from average, without caring about the sign?

We seem to have a choice: halve the expected difference between two siblings, or find the average (absolute) deviation from the mean. As we saw yesterday, these give different answers.

I therefore decided to run an Excel simulation using the built-in RAND() function. Here's the four coin-set (taking values from 0 to 4):
IF(RAND()>0.5,1,0) + IF(RAND()>0.5,1,0) + IF(RAND()>0.5,1,0) + IF(RAND()>0.5,1,0)
and here is the last part of the spreadsheet model showing 100 tosses of two 4-coin sets (random variables X and Y) showing the number of heads.

If you like, you can consider this a simple four gene model for intelligence, with each gene presenting as two alleles, each of which code up or down for IQ by 7.5 points.

I ran each 100 toss simulation ten times and noted the results in the table on the right.
  • The heading "Mean-IQ" refers to ten runs of the IQ (7.5) value in the "abs(X-Y)" column on the left, showing the mean difference in IQ between the two siblings; 

  • the heading "Dec-IQ" refers to ten runs of the IQ (7.5) value in the "abs(X-2)" column on the left, showing the average deviation (+ and -) of a single sibling's IQ from the parental-midpoint mean.
From yesterday's post the computed values are respectively 8.2 and 5.625.

If we go back to selecting embryos for implantation, which is the right statistic to use to measure our likely IQ gain over the biological default of just taking what comes?

The leftmost statistic, 5.625 IQ points above the mean, would be sort of accurate if we were conceptually considering two embryos, one randomly varying and the other always exactly on the parental midpoint mean. But it wouldn't work, not least because the random embryo might well be below the mean but we're counting all variation as positive. So it's not realistic.

The statistic we get by halving the expected inter-sibling gap of 8.2 IQ points is better as we always select the smarter of the two embryos. However, since both X and Y are varying freely on the range {0,1,2,3,4} it's a bit difficult to correlate the abs(X-Y)/2 gap with the range-midpoint (mean) of 2. At this point we handwave and mutter about symmetry.

And what do you do when the presented embryos are all below the expected average?*


* Which with two embryos will occur 25% of the time. I feel like spending some more money and genotyping a few more ...

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

"My sister is smarter than me"

Well, maybe.

Your brother or sister could be exactly the same intelligence as yourself, but that's not the way to bet. Yesterday I wrote about the Carl Shulman and Nick Bostrom paper, "Embryo Selection for Cognitive Enhancement: Curiosity or Game-changer?". They said that the average distance in intelligence between two siblings was 8.4 IQ points.


When I saw that figure I was mightily impressed by their mathematical skills. After much thinking I decided that what they had done was this. They had taken the Gaussian distribution for the IQ of offspring with
mean = parental midpoint IQ; standard deviation = 7.5,
and considered two random variables from this distribution. Let's call them, with a bow to genetics, X for daughter and Y for son.

They had then computed the expected value of abs(X-Y). The absolute value is important here: the expected value of the mere difference (X-Y) is zero, as one sibling taken at random will on average be no brighter or dimmer than the other.

I hate these messy integrals incorporating the bivariate Gaussian distribution with weird boundaries! And apparently so do Carl and Nick: they got their answers by simulation.

But there is another way where we can still be analytic. The answer is in the power of four.

Take four coins and toss them. Count the number of heads - there are five possible outcomes: 0. 1. 2, 3, 4. The respective probabilities are 1/16, 4/16, 6/16, 4/16. 1/16.

The mean number of heads is 2 and the standard deviation of the number of heads is 1. How convenient.
[SD = √(npq) = √(4 * 0.5 * 0.5) = 1].

When you draw the histogram you get something like the above, which is not a million miles away from looking rather ... normal.

If we wanted to make this about sibling intelligence, map the number of heads into IQ scores:
2 heads = IQ 100
3 heads = IQ 107.5
4 heads = IQ 115.
Warning, IQ can go down as well as up.

Now imagine if we had one set of four coins to our left "the daugher IQ" and another set to our right "the son IQ". Throw simultaneously and count the number of left heads and right heads.

The difference (abs, remember, absolute value) in the number of heads is the IQ difference - each head counts as 7.5 IQ points. What do we get?

There's a spreadsheet for that.

Each cell in the bottom table is the product of the corresponding cells in the top two

Now these three tables are either self-evident after a little consideration, or too long to explain. I simply draw your attention to the figure in the bottom right in bold. The sum of all the entries in the third table = 1.09375.

This is the expected value of the difference in number of heads between left and right, "daughter" and "son" coin sets.

To change it into an IQ figure we multiply by 7.5 giving 8.2 ("my sister is 8 IQ points smarter than me!" ... or maybe conversely ...).

If we want the gap between each sibling's expected IQ from the mean expected IQ (over all possible siblings) we halve it to get 4.1. Think about it - don't you just love stats *.

This compares to Carl's and Nick's number of 4.2 based on ten million simulations (table below). Not a bad approximation to the normal distribution and you can see what's going on.


Admittedly, extending to the case of 'best of ten siblings' seems a few coin sets too far.


* and then I worry about this ...

which equates to 0.75 * 7.5 = 5.625 IQ points.

Time for a simulation ...

Monday, February 08, 2016

Choose the best of your virtual children

I wrote critically of Nick Bostrom in my review of his "Superintelligence" book. But when he's not writing in a philosophical straightjacket, his intelligence and creativity produce rather better results, as here with Carl Shulman.

Suppose you have nine brothers/sisters. Your nine siblings will, of course vary in height, weight ... and intelligence. We know how to think about the relationship between the IQ of parents and their offspring (Steve Hsu explains here).

  • We take the average of the parents' IQ, and that is the mean IQ of their children.

  • The children do not of course have identical IQs, they're not clones; instead they populate the usual Gaussian distribution with standard deviation in the 7-11 IQ point range (rather than the usual population IQ SD of 15). The authors were conservative and used 7.5 in their simulation below.

So Carl and Nick have this table in their paper, from which you can see that the maximum IQ gap within ten children (dimmest to smartest) might be as much as 23 IQ points. Yes, I find that surprising too.

The table is based on a large scale simulation (10 million couples) and what I take it to be saying is this: if you use ten embryos and decide to implant the smartest, then you'll get an average 11.5 IQ point gain over just selecting a random embryo with no pre-screening for intelligence at all.

Is that important? It's the difference between a clerical and a professional job.

If you come from a large family, consider your siblings and consider whether any of this makes any sense.

We already do embryo selection for single-mutation diseases. A fertilised egg (in vitro) is allowed to divide until you have, say, an eight-cell clump - at this stage there is no functional differentiation. One cell is then extracted and its genome sequenced looking for the faulty gene. If the genome is fine, the seven remaining cells are implanted and the embryo grows to term with no ill effects; otherwise, discard and repeat. (It is more complex than this).

For IQ-based embryo selection to catch on we need a predictive model which can take a sequenced genome and predict with tight accuracy the resulting IQ (assuming decent nutrition, no abuse etc). We can't do this now as the relevant genes haven't yet been identified. But that should change within five to ten years. And we need to get the cost right down: doing 10 whole-genome sequences could be pricey.

Apart from the hassle of IVF and any legalistic hurdles, the way would then be open. What might be the consequences? Carl and Nick have a table - click on it to make it bigger.


Just a note about IES on the right-hand side.
"The effectiveness of embryo selection would be vastly increased if multiple generations of selection could be compressed into less than a human maturation period. This could be enabled by advances in an important complementary technology: the derivation of viable sperm and eggs from human embryonic stem cells. Such stem cell derived gametes would enable iterated embryo selection (henceforth, IES):

1. Genotype and select a number of embryos that are higher in desired genetic characteristics;

2. Extract stem cells from those embryos and convert them to sperm and ova, maturing within 6 months or less;

3. Cross the new sperm and ova to produce embryos;

4. Repeat until large genetic changes have been accumulated."
"Using IES could deliver much more extreme results, and the fixed costs of using IES to produce enhanced embryos could be spread across large numbers of enhanced children. On the other hand, IES would compromise the typical genetic relationship between parents and children. To avoid negative effects of inbreeding, IES would require either a large starting supply of donors, or the expenditure of substantial selective power to reduce harmful recessive alleles. These factors would tend to push towards IES offspring being less genetically related to their parents (though more related to one another), and could reduce the appeal of IES."
All this and we haven't even mentioned genetic engineering, or CRISPR-Cas9.

I blogged that Toby Young had a piece about this back in September last year.

Thursday, February 04, 2016


Today was a day I had not been looking forward to. 11.30 am found me reclined on a hard couch as the dentist pointed a pint-sized hypodermic in the general direction of my lower jaw. During the infusion of vast quantities of anaesthetic, I meditated upon the Trojan levels of destruction he was about to inflict upon my lower left premolar. It's called crown prep.

My sister was right: although tooth demolition is without pleasure, the alginate moulds upon which one bites while they harden (both before and after drilling) are a considerably less aesthetic experience.


Fast forward to this afternoon and my attendance at the TTC Speed Awareness Course. There were 23 of us in that bright, modern, anonymous seminar room at the Somer Valley Enterprise Park, 12 women and 11 men. Most of us were quiet, attentive, let's-get-this-over-with types; there were three loudmouths more extravert individuals - thank God - who provided the obligatory degree of audience participation.

The presenters were a genial retirement-age ex-cop (Stan) and a no-nonsense woman of similar age called Kate. To be fair, they were both very professional and often amusing. The general story on these courses is that everyone thinks they're going to be terrible and then ends up being quite impressed; our hosts were clapped at the end of the four hours (this doesn't always happen).

What did we do? It's a coaching exercise. We were told facts about impact injuries at various speeds; we did photo/video based hazard analysis; we group-assessed the consequences and aftermath of car accidents. We were given hints on speed control and some indication that speed limits are not quite so arbitrary as I guess we had all believed. It was manipulation but it was subtle.


This was the first outing for my windscreen-mounted radar detector, although I did not mention this during the group activity where we were invited to share what behavioural changes we had made as a consequence of getting a speeding ticket.

Driving to the session I encountered no cameras and the device was quiescent. As I turned into a parking bay (I later observed, at the moment the car was facing the automatic doors of Paulton House), a well-modulated female voice announced, "K-band radar has been detected, please check your speed."

On the way home, as we bounced over some rough road, the radar detector fell off.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

"Dark Star Safari" - Paul Theroux

Somewhere in "Dark Star Safari" Paul Theroux writes "How nice it would be, I thought, if someone reading the narrative of my African trip felt ... it was the next best thing to being there, or even better - because reading about being shot at and poisoned and insulted was in general less upsetting than the real thing" (p. 406).

Here is what the New York Times had to say back in 2003.
''Dark Star Safari,'' his latest travel book, charts the author's arduous journey through Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town, by truck, bus, ferry, train and bush taxi. Theroux sets out ''hoping for the picturesque,'' and at first finds plenty of it. The pyramids of Sudan leave him feeling humbled and uplifted. In the walled city of Harar, a Maltese nun cooks him a gourmet meal and beguiles him with tales of the lover she left for God. An Ethiopian, once a political prisoner, recounts how in his cell he translated ''Gone With the Wind'' on tiny sheets of cigarette-pack foil -- 3,000 in all -- and later published the translation.

Soon, however, the trip becomes a nightmare. Danger dogs Theroux at every turn, from armed Somali highwaymen in Kenya to land mines in Mozambique. Beggars importune, disease and squalor press in. A man with a runny nose sells oranges, ''handing the snot-smeared fruit to customers.'' Appalled by ''the filth, the dirt, the litter,'' beset by ''fungal infections, petty extortion, mocking lepers, dreary bedrooms, bad food, exploding bowels,'' Theroux narrates a Job-like ordeal during which he is ''abused, terrified, stranded, harassed, cheated, bitten, flooded, insulted, exhausted, robbed, lied to, browbeaten, poisoned, stunk up and starved.''
The NYT review goes on to chastise Theroux for egregious rage at the 'agents of virtue' of the aid bureaucracies and a tendency to 'go light' on the 'crimes of western imperialism'. But that's just their standard dogma; Paul Theroux is much more interesting than that.

I was interested in Paul. He sees so much, so very acutely, yet does not draw conclusions. He is a 'how does it feel?' man, not a 'why is it this way?' analyst. No wonder his sons do so well on TV.

What he feels is an affinity with the rural Africa - the order and stability, in a timeless wilderness, of tribal subsistence farming. His fanciful desire is to end his days in that Africa and lose himself in small good works, teaching and writing.

The hurried West, with its shallow diversions and pointless buzz, has imposed itself as an alien force in Africa - aid & trade - creating slum cities and atomising traditional society. The result is disrespect, endless panhandling, crime, disease and violence. Only Africans can help Africa, Paul feels, but notes that every time Africans are left to their own devices - free of their subsidised and corrupt governments - they relapse to the timeless stability of subsistence farming.

Why is this? Paul doesn't know and more importantly, doesn't care.


In the end I had Paul Theroux marked down as an INFP. Not very introverted - he is perfectly happy to meet people and chat with strangers (the writer's obligation) - but equally content to blend in, shabby and unobtrusive, mostly the quietist observer. Also the only way to stay safe.

I had already read his follow-up travelogue, The Last Train to Zona Verde and was convinced that if anyone really wanted to understand the likely future of Africa they need not read the fantasies of The Economist or the optimistic deceptions of politicians, it was sufficient just to absorb Paul's immersive prose.

But I was wrong: as the NYT review showed, liberal prejudice can filter just about anything.