October 23, 2007

Imprecise Testing land Mum in jail for Cat Urine

Boing Boing says

38-year-old Cynthia Hunter of Florida was jailed for 50 days when police found a vial containing a yellow substance in her purse. She said it was cat urine for her son's science experiment, but she was locked up for 50 days until the lab results confirmed that the substance was indeed cat urine.

200710162220 Cynthia Hunter was arrested in August accused of stealing at a Brandon Wal-Mart.

The 38-year-old mother was charged with possession of a controlled substance after deputies found a vial in her purse that a field test suggested was meth.

Whatever happened to Innocent until proven guilty...

October 16, 2007

Moving beyond Technofetishists and Fluffy bunnies

Nice long piece on Dave Snowden and KM at Matts site

Includes the definition of

* Technofetishists who believe that people are just there to enter data and that everyone wants to spend their lives in virtual chat rooms.
* New age fluffy bunnies who believe that technology is the spawn of Satan and that everyone should hug at the beginning of a meeting.

August 14, 2007

Computer Model SNAFU

From the Financial Times (subscription required) but the the money quotes are

Goldman in $3bn bail-out of fund Goldman Sachs is to use $2bn of its own money to bail out its Global Equity Opportunities hedge fund in an embarrassing admission that its highly regarded computerised funds malfunctioned last week.

The investment bank has raised a further $1bn from outside investors to support the $3.6bn GEO fund, which lost about $1.5bn when computer models failed to predict market turbulence.

Bad computer model. Bad model.

To the modelers (and Goldman Sachs) and the rest of the world please read
"Fooled by Randomness">
The Black Swan

Does this mean people have to give their bonuses back ?

July 31, 2007

Begin Again

"Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning."
Cardinal Newman

February 16, 2007

Mirror mirror in the mind

Autism Linked To Mirror Neuron Dysfunction

Science Daily — Seeing is doing -- at least it is when mirror neurons are working normally. But in autistic individuals, say researchers from the University of California, San Diego, the brain circuits that enable people to perceive and understand the actions of others do not behave in the usual way.

So is it becoming more common or more commonly diagnosed

January 24, 2007

Developing Minds

File under kids say the darnedest things. On the way to the zoo with two of the gang (after more then two kids apparently you reach gang status). Singing "we're all going to the zoo today..." when Ben pipes up.

No Daddy we're not ALL going to the zoo. Two pieces of the jigsaw are missing.

Who's that Ben.

Mammy and Daire.

So there you have it analogical reasoning and the poetic mind of a 3 year old. It really took me by surprise and delight. What was really interesting was his ability to contextualise it . When we were driving in his Granny's car without his Granny the piece of the jigsaw that was missing was Granny.

Unclearly good

Via LivingBrands

Cloudy apple juice is healthier than clear, containing almost double the antioxidants which protect against heart disease and cancer.

You can be too clear

January 23, 2007

Web 2.oophs

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January 16, 2007

a New Tool Leading Us Toward a Deep Understanding of Human Nature

FREEMAN DYSON on Edge talking about Things to be hopeful about

Physicist, Institute of Advanced Study, Author, Disturbing the Universe

HAR1 ( Human Accelerated Region 1) As a New Tool Leading Us Toward a Deep Understanding of Human Nature

I am generally optimistic because our human heritage seems to have equipped us very well for dealing with challenges, from ice-ages and cave-bears to diseases and over-population. The whole species did cooperate to eliminate small-pox, and the women of Mexico did reduce their average family size from seven to two and a half in fifty years. Science has helped us to understand challenges and also to defeat them.

I am especially optimistic just now because of a seminal discovery that was made recently by comparing genomes of different species. David Haussler and his colleagues at UC Santa Cruz discovered a small patch of DNA which they call HAR1, short for Human Accelerated Region 1. This patch appears to be strictly conserved in the genomes of mouse, rat, chicken and chimpanzee, which means that it must have been performing an essential function that was unchanged for about three hundred million years from the last common ancestor of birds and mammals until today.

But the same patch appears grossly modified with eighteen mutations in the human genome, which means that it must have changed its function in the last six million years from the common ancestor of chimps and humans to modern humans. Somehow, that little patch of DNA expresses an essential difference between humans and other mammals. We know two other significant facts about HAR1. First, it does not code for a protein but codes for RNA. Second, the RNA for which it codes is active in the cortex of the human embryonic brain during the second trimester of pregnancy. It is likely that the rapid evolution of HAR1 has something to do with the rapid evolution of the human brain during the last six million years.

I am optimistic because I see the discovery of HAR1 as a seminal event in the history of science, marking the beginning of a new understanding of human evolution and human nature. I see it as a big step toward the fulfillment of the dream described in 1929 by Desmond Bernal, one of the pioneers of molecular biology, in his little book, "The World, the Flesh and the Devil: An Enquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul". Bernal saw science as our best tool for defeating the three enemies. The World means floods and famines and climate changes. The Flesh means diseases and senile infirmities. The Devil means the dark irrational passions that lead otherwise rational beings into strife and destruction. I am optimistic because I see HAR1 as a new tool leading us toward a deep understanding of human nature and toward the ultimate defeat of our last enemy.

January 14, 2007

Vinnie Mirchandan on Slick Analytics

Over at Deal Architect Vinnie Mirchandan comments on

The State of Analytics

" We know exactly where one cow with mad-cow-disease is located among the millions and millions of cows in America, but we haven't a clue as to where thousands of Illegal immigrants and terrorists are located." - Anon

Any one know the slick analytical tools Department of Agriculture uses?

The phrase that springs to mind is "yeah right"

January 13, 2007

Books 2007: No 2 The Battle for Corrin

Yes I really enjoyed Dune. Yes I got the other parts of the series out of the library, but this review on Amazon sums it up nicely


One steps into this series not expecting the achievement of Dune, an unfairly high standard, but a good read with maybe some flashes of Dune's complexity of character, plot, and philosophy. The first book of this trilogy, the Butlerian Jihad, failed in the latter two areas but the plot was a good enough read to overcome those flaws. The second book was a step backward, with the same weak characterization, but this time not balanced by a strongly told story. The Battle of Corrin, unfortunately, continues the downward trend

And if comparisons are odious they become even more odious when following the Historian with this. Almost like following a good fillet steak with the wrapping from a Big Mac.

January 11, 2007

The only stable thing...

In life the only stable thing... ... is movement-- Jean Tinguely

January 7, 2007

2007 Books - No 1. The Historian

First book of 2007, "The Historian". Wonderful. I can see where the comparisons to "The Da Vinci Code" etc come in. But its a rather unfortunate comparison, as "The Historian" is beautifully written. If you love books you'll love "The Historian"

January 2, 2007

The Simplicity on the other side of Complexity

"I wouldn't give a nickel for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity." -Einstein

Achievement of the year last year. Getting to this level of simplicity on a system we designed. It was a sweet victory.

October 14, 2006

More on digital desires

Mind Hacks has this. on schizophrenia

In other words, very little can be said with certainty. Any definition that finishes with the ominous "This may not be a single entity" suggests we really don't understand much about the associated experiences.

So why does the argument over schizophrenia persist?

Mainly because the medical and legal systems are far more comfortable with cut-and-dry "you have it or you don't" conditions than ones in which you might have a bit of this and a bit of that.

This is often due to the fact that the medical and legal systems have to make cut and dry decisions. To treat or not to treat, to detain or not to detain, and so on. These decisions become a lot easier when the supporting information is as simple as possible.

It also becomes a lot easier to market treatments for specific disorders. In fact, in many countries, drugs can only be licensed for specific disorders.

So, no diagnosis means that there's no way of getting drugs licensed. This is why pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in supporting the concept of schizophrenia.

In other words, the usefulness of the diagnosis of schizophrenia rests not only upon the supporting medical research, but also on its social function

Madness Explained reviewed here covers this in great detail.

which concludes with a metaphoric description of various mental health professionals

Madness is like being at the wheel of a car that you don't know how to drive on the streets of an unfamiliar city. A psychologist is someone who will look under the bonnet to show you how the bits and pieces seem to connect. A psychotherapist is someone who can point out the traffic jams but may also lose you down a dark narrow street where you end up in a ditch. Psychiatrists are like those men in tow trucks. They can fill the tank with chemicals, they can pull you out of the ditch and sometimes the conversation in the cab on the way home can be surprisingly enjoyable. And they love to turn on those flashing lights...

Madness Explained is a very interesting book. Well worth a read and cast our digital desires in an interesting light.

October 13, 2006

Virtual Team Working

Silicon Republic Asks

Do Virtual teams work?

Reporting on Cisco work

The Cisco study, ‘The Psychology of Effective Business Communications in Geographically Dispersed Teams’, carried out by occupational psychology specialists at Pearn Kandola, examined the trust-eroding phenomena that plague many virtual teams.

Continue reading "Virtual Team Working" »

Fooled by Randomness - A Review

Reviewing Fooled by Randomness

Review of "Fooled by Randomness" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
2nd Edition
Thomson Texere

The short review. Go out and buy this book.

The longer review.

This is an interesting, eclectic and wonderful book. I showed this book to a friend of mine, one of the smartest guys I know, as I was reading it. My friend made a very interesting comment, Taleb doesn't reference the right people". Well as Taleb notes, this is not an academic tome, its a reflection that he developed over time. In fact it is difficult to categorise this book. Part popular science, part memoir, part advice on the markets, it is wholly facinating.

The central point of this book is that the world is more random than we think. "The real trouble with this world of ours , as Peter Bernstein author of 'Against the Gods:The Remarkable Story of Risk' wrote, "

Continue reading "Fooled by Randomness - A Review" »

October 12, 2006

Reconciling our analog nature with our digital desires

I'm trying to reconcile our analog nature with our desire for order. I'll call it our digital desires, how we want things to be simple. Its described in some great books
Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order, , Being Human: the Search for Order and John L. Casti's "Searching For Certainty: What Science Can Tell Us about the future" though as Nicholas Nassim Taleb points out we are "Fooled by Randomness"http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com (review to follow)

Donald Norman points out

The world is not neat and tidy. Things not only don't always work as planned, but the notion of "plan" itself is suspect. Organizations spend a lot of time planning their future activities, but although the act of doing the planning is useful, the actual plans themselves are often obsolete even before their final printing.

and illustrates with a practical example


The United States Navy has a formal, rigid hierarchy of command and control, with two classes of workers -- enlisted crew and officers -- and a rigid layer of formal rank and assignment. There are extensive procedures for all tasks. Yet in their work habits, especially in critical operations, rank seems to be ignored and crew members frequently question the actions. Sometimes they even debate the appropriate action to be taken. The crew, moreover, is always changing. There are always new people who have not learned the ship's procedures, and even the veterans often don't have more than two or three year's experience with the ship: the Navy has a policy of rotating assignment. Sounds horrible, doesn't it? Isn't the military supposed to be the model of order and structure? But wait. Look at the outcomes: the crew functions safely and expertly in dangerous, high-stress conditions. What is happening here?

So why does drives for process efficiency come from. If Druckers idea that it ain't the people that are broken its the process is true then we improve the process, but processes are limited without smart people. So how do we build adaptable processes and systems relying on smart systems. In our drive to build better processes have we missed much of the point?

October 10, 2006

If writing does this what will Google do ?

Plato on the dangers of writing


... this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.
Writing (Plato, Phaedrus, 360 B.C.: Thamos to Theuth, god of inventions)

Plato was right to a degree. Experience is important, and so is thoughful reflection on that experience. Think of how the term "Academic" is used to disparage people without practical experience. And these tend to be a group who who write a lot about their subject, almost acting as exemplars of Platos criticisms (and possibly postmodernism is this taken to the worst level. On the whole the benefits of writing outweight the costs. In relation to this Andy Clark has an interesting paper called "Magic Words" where he talks about some of the benefits of extending the mind through language and text, describing how the

"use of words and texts may usefully be seen as computationally complementary to the more primitive and biologically basic kinds of pattern-completing abilities that characterize natural cognition."

The criticisms that Plato makes enable us to use the mind in new ways. Imagine what would happen if we had to consign everything to memory. Thinking about this I wonder if this in what ways will Google change us?

As noted by Dave Snowden via the BBC on Googles purchase of YouTube

"The YouTube team has built an exciting and powerful media platform that complements Google's mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said in a statement.

Dave's point and an excellent one is

Information needs context, and that can only safely be provided by a variety of perspectives and interpretation. What you find when you search is not value neutral; it defines what you know and pay attention to.

He notes that


Nick Carr has a great blog which starts off "It's funny how a set of instructions - an algorithm - written by people can come to be granted, by those same people, a superhuman authority." He has discovered that searching for Marin Luther King gets you to a white supremacist group, and that no one in Google seems worried about it.

And thats just one issue with strpping out context.

When you attempt to strip out context you lose the essence of the information. And when you're attempting to organise all the worlds information you're invariably going to strip out context. What was it Plato said again...


; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality

I don't think that genie's like Google could (or should) be put back into their bottles. What we do need to do is to get smart with how we use them and not cede control of too much information to a single company. I think the most interesting question may be how will our tools shape us, as invariably they do, and we haven't seemed to consider this to any degree.

October 9, 2006

Turtles all the way down.

Watching Newsnight on BBC2 while feeding the baba I saw a piece on Paul Davies who's written a book called "The Goldilocks enigma"

He mentions the problem of infinite regress during the interview. I first heard of this quite a long time ago from one of my best friends in secondary school. Its called "Turtles all the way down"

The story goes ...

"A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the Earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. "At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." "The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down."

I was thinking about this again this evening., in light of Paul Davies. The question for science being - where do the laws of physics come from. With the answer from religion being that they come from god. The problem is the next question I want answered is where does god come from ? To my mind all the proposition of god adds is one more level of regress without answering any of the questions.

The friend of mine who introduced me to this and much interesting thinking was http://science.jpl.nasa.gov/people/Cleary/">Kieran Cleary who is now working on understanding the early universe.

Now that really is mind expanding.