Year: 2009

Non-explicit effects of risk redistribution

Posted by – June 13, 2009

National (“socialised”) pension systems take money from people who are working and give it to people who don’t work anymore because they’re old. It’s a simple idea but inevitably it creates many biases and inequalities. Currently the best-known one is that the average baby boomer will end up getting more out of the system than they put into it. They were many and paid the pensions of few. The average person born in the immediately following generations will put more in the system than they get out, because they are few and pay the pensions of many.

So the pension system transfers wealth to baby boomers from people born later than them. On the other hand, there are other systems that transfer wealth in the opposite direction. Improved baby and student benefits are a governmental example, inheritance and financially supporting one’s children is a direct one. Perhaps the most important system is the improvement of everything with time. In a sense a thousand dollars was worth a lot more 40 years ago because of inflation, but in another sense it’s worth way more now because now you can buy an Internet-connected machine with it. Or: there’s no way for baby boomers to buy themselves a youth with Internet.

Of course, the world is also getting worse in some senses. Example: there is less cheap energy in the future now than there used to be. It’s quite difficult do judge fairness between generations, especially before all the news is in. Will the ecosystem turn out to be greatly damaged? Will the unemployed, un-needed masses of the future ever find meaning in life? Who knows. Suffice to say that almost everyone alive now is lucky with the perspective of the past.

But generations are just one pension bias. Another major one is sex bias. The pension system transfers wealth from men to women because women live longer. In addition, men make more money and thus pay more into the system, magnifying the effect. This is probably second only to marriage in wealth-transfers between the sexes.

There is a similar but opposite effect in the realm of insurance. Men have more risks from approximately everything, so insurance companies have to pay out policies on them more frequently. Interestingly, this is one biological inequality which is rebalanced by mechanism (there is nothing similar for pensions): insurance companies are allowed, and indeed do, charge men more for life and car insurance. What about other risk groups? Do insurance companies give discounts to unrisky ethnic groups? No, because that would be illegal.

In general, the more information insurance companies are allowed to use, the worse insurance works. If we had perfect information about the future, the fair price for anyone’s insurance would be the exact amount needed to cover their claims, plus bureaucratic overhead. Genetic profiling is a major step in this direction, and sex discrimination is a coarse kind of genetic profiling. Discrimination by ethnic groups is also a form of genetic profiling, one before which we currently draw the line.


Posted by – June 13, 2009

Is an analogy of the form “real thing X is like hypothetical thing Y” good or bad if you can tell what X is just from Y? On one hand it feels like it doesn’t really add anything, but it’s surely a very accurate comparison.

This is roughly the equivalent [to] going to a job interview and the company saying, you have a great résumé, you have all the qualifications we are looking for, but we’re not going to hire you. We will, however, use your résumé as the basis for comparison for all other applicants. But we’re going to hire somebody who is far less qualified and is probably an alcoholic. And if he doesn’t work out, we’ll hire somebody else, but still not you. In fact, we will never hire you. But we will call you from time to time to complain about the person that we hired.

For some reason this topic really inspires people on the Internet.

Suppose I sent a letter to several hundred charitable organizations that said: “Hello, I have $10,000 to contribute to one worthwhile, charitable cause. I will donate this money this year. Here is my address and my phone number. Please call me or write me, and tell me why your charity deserves my money more than all the others.” Then suppose I ignored all the initial replies and only paid attention to the organizations that hit me up more than twice. Of these, I selected the few that were the most persistent, and I finally gave my money to the most aggressive, in-your-face charity. Soon I would discover that this charity spends 95% of its contributions on fund-raising. I would then call up one of the “nice” charities and tell them my sob story about how I gave my big contribution to the “jerk” charity.

Or maybe it’s just my reading habits.

Ps. “Baldrick, do you even know what an analogy is?” “Yeah… it’s like irony, only it’s made out of analog.”

Surprising prime fact

Posted by – June 13, 2009

I bought two books on my recent trip to New York: one about how large programming projects always fail (which I suggestively lent to my supervisor at work) and a collection of problems from mathematics olympiads in the Soviet Union. The latter included as commentary to one of the problems something a little surprising. First, the result:

Where n is a natural number greater than 1 and pn is the nth prime. In other words, the sum of the reciprocals of the primes is approximated by ln(ln(n)) (natural logarithm) absolutely well, so that the difference never exceeds a constant (which is at most 14).

(The original problem was to prove that the sum of the reciprocals of the primes becomes arbitrarily large).

The distribution of primes among the natural numbers has interested mathematicians pretty much as long as mathematics has existed. One important result along these lines is the prime number theorem which states that the number of primes below n is approximately n/ln(n) in the sense that the relative error approaches zero (or their ratio approaches 1) as n increases. The absolute error (the difference, which is what the surprising fact is about), however, is (I think) not even known to be bounded. This is not at all easy to prove, and in fact it was only in 1896 that some people using non-elementary methods succeeded (this after Gauss had taken a swing at it).

I once attended a course named after this theorem, and the general feeling I got from it was that the distribution of primes is highly intractable and it’s difficult to prove even quite general things about it. Why should it then be that we can say something so precise about the sum of the reciprocals? The fact that this result was new to me implies that there’s some obvious reason why something like this is easier and less important.

Thanks for the pancakes

Posted by – June 8, 2009

Europarlamenttivaaleisssa 2009 aatteet ottivat toisistaan mittaa seuraavasti:

Vasemmistolaisuus (SDP+VAS): 2 paikkaa
Ruotsinkielisyys (RKP): 1 paikka

Voidaan myös todeta että puolet vasemmiston paikoista meni ortodoksipapistolle.

Ennustan että seuraavissa geimeissä 2013 Vasemmistoliitto ei ole mukana omalla listallaan. Teknisessä vaaliliitossa yhteislista olisi saanut puolueista suurimman äänimäärän, 389948, minkä neljäsosalla 97487 (neljäs vertailuluku) lista olisi ollut lähimpänä neljättä paikkaa.

Flag diacritics

Posted by – May 11, 2009

As some readers will be aware, I’ve been “implementing flag diacritics” at my new job. This post is all about what that means.

We have a reader program which reads in morphological transducers and uses them to analyse words. A morphological transducer is a (representation of a) collection of rules about a language’s inflection. For example, if you give the French morphology transducer we have the word déclare it will output:


From morphology alone we don’t know which of those is right (that’s a matter for another blog post), but those are the only possibilities. For example “déclarer+verb+singular+indicative+present+secondPerson” doesn’t appear because that would be (tu) declares.

Flag diacritics are a way to express long-distance morphological rules. For example, let’s say you have a language with productive compounding (one in which lots of words can form compounds with each other, like Finnish) and in which grammatical suffixes vary according to whether another word is going to be compounded onto them. A simple way to express this is to add a marker to one class of suffixes saying “another noun must be compounded onto this” and not to have it in the other class. In the Sámi morphology there’s something like this going on (but with noun-verb-compounding) and it’s controlled with the following flag diacritics:


As you might have guessed, flag diacritics are always delimited by @-signs. @P.NeedNoun.ON@ means “set the NeedNoun feature to have the value ON”, @D.NeedNoun.ON@ means “if the NeedNoun feature has the value ON, this combination is disallowed” and @C.NeedNoun@ means “clear the value of the NeedNoun feature”. Before support for this was added, the Sámi transducer gave ten analyses for the word láhkaásahus, two of which were:

(# means “word boundary”)

The first one shouldn’t appear at all because first we set NeedNoun to ON (because we’re trying to interpret the ásahus part as a compounding verb which should be followed by a noun) and then disallow it (because we’ve reached the end of the word so we’re not going be compounding any more nouns). The second, however, is ok: first we clear NeedNoun (which changes nothing since it hadn’t been set in the first place), then @D.NeedNoun.ON@ says “NeedNoun must not be set to ON”, which it isn’t. Also we of course shouldn’t be outputting the flag diacritics themselves. The desired output out of those two is therefore


Out of the ten possible analyses of láhkaásahus six are disallowed by the flag diacritics, so in this case it’s a pretty important rule. For any Sámi enthusiasts out there, the four currently produced analyses are


The Stasi test

Posted by – May 10, 2009

Grudgingly I have come to accept that family is important. It’s nicer to think that the people you choose to associate with are way more important than a group of people you’re born into, but it’s just not true. There are ways in which friends matter more: they will often have similar interests so you have more to talk about, they’re more likely to understand and accept you as an individual because they’re probably similar to you anyway, they won’t try to control you or make you feel guilty because they don’t think they have any particular authority over you etc. But there’s another important sense in which family seems to win hands down. I call it the Stasi test.

I remember asking my mother as a child about how she’d react if I were suspected of murder, in particular if the evidence seemed to overwhelmingly suggest that I was guilty but I nevertheless claimed to be innocent. In other words, I wanted to know whether she would be biased towards me. She said she guessed she would “have to believe” me. This is the essence of the Stasi test.

In the Stasi test I imagine that I’m living in a “thought control” state in which certain beliefs are punishable and generally considered to be reprehensible and disgusting (or that I’m living in a society that’s even more like that than this one). Let’s say I hold those immoral beliefs and assume that everyone else sincerely considers my beliefs to be evil just like the secret police does. Think 1984. The question is this: which people could I safely reveal those beliefs to, ie. which ones wouldn’t turn me in to the secret police?

I’d like to think that some of my friends wouldn’t, although it’s hard to say which ones. Not necessarily some top slice of closest friends, because there are some pretty morally conscious people among them. They would be able to rise above their affections towards me as a friend in order to fulfil the greater good. But some close friends who generally care more about practicality, immediacy and loyalty than abstract moral values would pass the Stasi test (I am thinking of three people in particular, I wonder if they guess who they are).

But for some reason family doesn’t work like this. No matter what they thought, I just can’t see my immediate family throwing me to the wolves because of my immorality in this situation. Not only does family have this “ultimate bond” characteristic, but it’s very long-lasting and enduring: even when people have been apart for decades they will often recognise each other as family and therefore bonded. The knowledge that you share lots of genetic material with someone overrides a lot of preferences in your brain and makes you care about them and protect them.

I recognise this in myself too: hurt to people I’m genetically invested or vice-versa feels a lot like hurt to me personally. This is about as intrinsic a part of human nature as you can get.

Norm normativity #2

Posted by – May 10, 2009

-a prejudice is a particular kind of belief
-some prejudices are valuable to have
-beliefs have variable accuracy and effects

Humans have a tendency to develop prejudices that are especially valuable. People who fail to develop such prejudices are constantly at greater risk from various threats and fail to identify good opportunities.

The most common prejudices about people concern age and gender. Everyone cares about them because those two things typically tell you a lot about a person. If you’re walking down the street alone at night it’s a very different sensation to notice you’re being followed by a 25-year old man than a 10-year old girl (or a 70-year old woman).

How should we evaluate these prejudices about age and gender? To people who have them they are useful. It makes you safer to be a little wary of people you don’t know who are in the age/gender group that commits almost all of the violent crime in our society (of course it’s even better to tune your prejudices more finely; eg. muscularity, drunkedness, tattoos and loudness adjust the threat estimation up). This has the consequence that people in the group in question are seen as threatening even if they’re really no more of a threat than the average person. Nevertheless, most people would probably say we’re better off with the prejudice than without it.

On the opportunity side, most businesses and individuals assume in their dealings that everyone is heterosexual. As opposed to the previous example, this prejudice has a name: heteronormativity. Why do businesses do this? Instead of printing an ad saying “buy your wife this necklace and she will have more sex with you” they could cover other possibilities too, like women who want to extract sex from men by buying them stuff, gay couples and people who like to buy nice things for themselves. They don’t do those things because they think they’re making more money by doing what they’re doing now.

Their underlying assumptions are that most people are heterosexual and that men mostly buy things for women instead of the other way around. As far as I can tell, those assumptions are actually true. This and other practices have the consequence that non-heterosexuals are made to feel weird, and it’s very unpleasant to feel that your sexuality is weird. That’s why some people think this prejudice is wrong and that you shouldn’t make assumptions about anyone’s sexuality. I sympathise with this and try to avoid making gay people feel weird (then again, I feel pretty weird myself), but I can’t make myself not know that nine out of ten people are heterosexual. Or if I can, I don’t really want to. I don’t want to make my map any worse. If I were in the jewellery business I would have to balance the goal of making money with the goal of not making people feel excluded.

In the previous cases prejudice is generally considered to be acceptable, but there are others in which it isn’t. For example, I’m pretty sure racial prejudice is a de facto part of being streetwise in many parts of the world. In the United States, black people commit more violent crime than white people (in the case of homicides by a factor of about six). That is a statistical fact that doesn’t provide any explanations as to why this should be so, but it’s true enough to make most people racists in the sense the word is widely used today. Whether they want to or not, people can’t get this out of their minds and will often react accordingly even if they intellectually believe they shouldn’t be racist. Unlike with sex/age/sexuality, many people believe it’s wrong to even know (or express) this fact because it stigmatises blacks and perpetuates the situation.

I agree that it’s not desirable to stigmatise innocent black people, just like it’s not desirable to stigmatise innocent young males in general. In general the rational thing is to judge people as individuals when you get to know them as individuals. But I don’t make it my goal not to know these things, nor do I make an effort to approach a rowdy gang of Somali youths as if it weren’t a rowdy gang of Somali youths. I don’t believe that would be so much “fighting racism” as “fighting reality”.

The greater fools

Posted by – April 1, 2009

A protester at the G20 summit is too caught up in
changing the world to notice the cameramen


Norm normativity #1.5

Posted by – April 1, 2009

Before I go to #2 I want to briefly discuss belief.

What you believe about the world controls what you do in the world. Therefore, commonly held beliefs shape the way society works. In a sense you could even say that beliefs shape reality, although this can obviously be taken too far. On the other hand, your beliefs are your map of reality. Now, when choosing your beliefs, is it better to choose the best reality or the best map?

I used to think the choice was obvious: you should unconditionally choose the best map. One problem with choosing the best reality is that the less your map corresponds to reality, the more difficult it becomes to alter reality by choosing your beliefs. But that’s not the real reason I chose the map. In fact, there was no real reason, I just thought the truth is important and damn the consequences. I hoped I could learn to control my actions independently of my beliefs and get some of the reality-changing benefits that way.

I have a personal guru. Call this person “Sai”. It has often happened that Sai adopts some belief that seems totally stupid to me, only for me to adopt it as well some time later. Some time ago Sai started talking about choosing beliefs with the aim of getting results in reality. I was quite shocked by this, and in some senses I still think it’s misguided. But Sai’s goals have shown me that sometimes the map is tangled together with reality. This is especially true concerning beliefs about yourself.

A simple example: if you can really believe you’re feeling happy, then you really are happy.

A less simple example: what is the main (or most common) difference between someone who is good at picking up girls and someone who isn’t? Confidence. Believing that you can get the girls doesn’t automatically make it so, but it makes it a bit more so. More importantly, it opens up new ways for your mind to perceive yourself and other people, allowing you to learn and actually become the thing you’re trying to believe you are. Many so-called pick-up artists (PUAs) have taken this approach, and although they end up deluding themselves for a while and frequently losing faith (because that’s what it is), it seems that this is actually a somewhat reliable way to achieve the goal of picking up girls. When that happens, the map is again reconciled with reality.

A less pleasant example: if you don’t believe your personal god has power in the world, he doesn’t. But if you do believe he does and start converting people and making the world conform to your idea of the god, then even after you’re dead people will talk about the god and think about what he wants and continue conforming to the idea of the god. Then, in some twisted sense, the god has come into being in reality.

At some point before the last example the reasonable idea of the map having something to do with the reality (after all, the map exists in reality) becomes a bad guide for behaviour (I would rather be an evil religion-inventor, one who doesn’t even believe in the god himself and just gets everyone else to worship him). In the earlier examples there are tangling effects between the map and reality. There is not that much discrepancy between the two because we’re talking about a part of reality that partly is the map. At the other end of the spectrum we have causal effects between the map and reality. This is where you falsely believe something and trigger some behaviour in yourself that affects reality.

In the case of norm normativity (heteronormativity, white normativity, right-hand-normativity, what have you), tangling effects aren’t very important because we’re primarily talking about society as a whole. When you decide whether to conform to a norm, the tangling effects only affect you but the causal effects affect everyone around you. So in this case beliefs can be simplified to two aspects:

  1. Truth, ie. whether the belief conforms to reality
  2. Consequences, ie. the causal effects of beliefs on society

(As an aside, there are also people who want good maps for their own use but want other people to have beliefs that will make their lives or the world better. For example, many lies are told to modify the social reality to the liar’s benefit. I have also often heard people who don’t believe in God say that it’s still good for “the masses” to believe in God because it makes them behave better and gives them a sense of purpose. They will sometimes tell me I’m arrogant for arguing against people’s well-meaning faith in God because I am trying to take control of “their reality”.)

Further reading:

The end remains in the hand of the puller

Posted by – March 31, 2009

Some time ago I linked to a contentious blog post hosted by Psychology Today regarding height, intelligence and sex. The blogger in question, The Scientific Fundamentalist, seems to like hate mail: here’s another one about the possible innateness of strictly mental sex differences.

Alexander and Hines gave two stereotypically masculine toys (a ball and a police car), two stereotypically feminine toys (a soft doll and a cooking pot), and two neutral toys (a picture book and a stuffed dog) to 44 male and 44 female vervet monkeys. They then assessed the monkeys’ preference for each toy by measuring how much time they spent with each. Their data demonstrated that male vervet monkeys showed significantly greater interest in the masculine toys, and the female vervet monkeys showed significantly greater interest in the feminine toys. The two sexes did not differ in their preference for the neutral toys.

I mentioned a theory about the biology of homosexuality I’d heard about to my sister the biologist a while ago (she was very sceptical). It seems pretty crazy to me too, but I’m still interested because I don’t know of any really satisfying way to explain homosexuality. The basic idea is that a part of homosexuality could be explained by the (surprisingly common) chimerism between mothers and fetuses & multiple fetuses of which some often terminate before birth.

A fun visualisation of the languages people consider incomprehensible, as in “that’s Greek to me” or “täyttä hepreaa”.

For programmers: if you have people telling you whether they like something, what’s the best way to measure overall likedness? Apparently it’s the lower bound of the Wilson score confidence interval for a Bernoulli parameter.

Free facials

Posted by – March 31, 2009

I mentioned previously that “dat ass” had become my favourite facial expression:

I have recently been persuaded of the value of sturgeon face. Witness its power and versatility:

täällä on Herra ja tuolla on Herra ja hiiala

Posted by – March 31, 2009

Kuten monet lukijat varmaan jo tietävät, uskonrauhan rikkominen on aina ollut lähellä sydäntäni. Eräs viimeaikainen syyttämispäätös palautti tämän mieleeni, ja toisinnan tässä sen kunniaksi kappaleen Internet-kansanperinnettä. Vaikka kyseessä on lainaus, korostan todella tarkoittavani tässä sanottuja asioita ja seisovani niiden takana. Tarkoitukseni niiden lainaamisessa on pilkata Jumalaa (arab. Allah).

Jumala on mullikuhnuri, ektoplasma, bassi-bazuukki ja huimapää!

Jumala on putkisierainlepakko ja sianihrassa käristettävä herkkukurkku.

Jumala on sadistinen pedofiili, jonka erityisalaa on pakottaminen homoseksuaaliseen suhteeseen. Jumala on myös narkomaani, taparikollinen ja psykopaatti.

Täten pilkkaan Jumalaa.

Pilkatkaa avoimesti ja julkisesti Jumalaa. Tämä on kehoitus!

Vakavasti ottaen: ei, ei ole erityisen fiksua tai hyödyllistä loukata muiden (uskonnollisia tai muutoin) tunteita huvin vuoksi. Mutta niin kauan kuin reaktio on tämä, vittuilun on jatkuttava.

Norm normativity #1

Posted by – March 31, 2009

I am a big fan of accurate preconceptions, stereotypes and the social norms that make use of them. Example: merchants of skin care products in shopping centres don’t try to sell me anything because I’m a man. In other words, they make an assumption about me based on my sex. What are the overall effects of this prejudice? Let’s break it down by customer groups.

  1. Women who are interested in skin care products. They get approached and don’t mind it. The merchants make money out of these people.
  2. Women who aren’t interested in skin care products. They get approached but are bothered by it. The merchants are wasting their time here.
  3. Men who are interested in skin care products. They don’t get approached, but they can always go talk to the salespeople themselves so presumably they don’t mind. The merchants lose money by not targetting this group more aggressively.
  4. Men who aren’t interested in skin care products. They don’t get approached and are happy about it. The merchants save money by not targetting them.

The sizes of these groups and various other variables determine the overall profitability of the prejudice, but it’s probably positive since the skin care people do utilise it. So for them, there is a tangible benefit to having this prejudice. What about the customers? Trivially, if aggressive selling were banned altogether, nobody would be bothered by it. But barring that, this prejudice is also a net positive for the customers because it takes away the bother to group 4 and doesn’t provide bother to anyone extra.

There are those who would say of this and similar situations that the prejudice still shouldn’t exist because making assumptions based on gender is wrong. According to them it’s unfair that women who don’t want to be bothered can’t get the same deal men get. These people are essentially saying that they don’t care about efficiency for anyone else, but only about their needlessly hurt feelings. I can’t support such antisocial views.

Of course, this was a rather simple instance of a useful prejudice. An entry-level prejudice, if you like. If you still find yourself thinking “you shouldn’t be prejudiced”, there is probably no hope for you.

Fuck me? Fuck you!

Posted by – February 13, 2009

Suvi Lindénin, Kimmo Sasin ja muiden hallituspoliitikkojen interaktiossa EFFI-väen kanssa törmäävät kaksi hyvin erilaista kunnioituskäsitettä. Molemmat osapuolet kokevat ettei heitä kunnioiteta ja tämän seurauksena molemminpuolisen vittuilun määrä kasvaa Suomen politiikassa epätavallisiin mittoihin.

Hallituksen kunnioituskäsite on sama kuin suurimmalla osalla ihmisistä. Ministerit ovat korkeassa asemassa, ja muiden tulee lähteä siitä että he tietävät asiansa ja toimivat järkevästi. Jos näin ei satu olemaan, kansalaisjärjestön ei tule sanoa tätä suoraan vaan viestittää asiansa kulissien takana esimerkiksi virkamiehille. Eri mieltä saa toki olla julkisesti, mutta kyseessä täytyy olla leimallisesti mielipide-ero, ei vihjaus tai suora väite siitä että ministeri on epäpätevä, tyhmä tai epärehellinen. Tällaiset vihjaukset voivat heikentää julkisen vallan imagoa ja tehdä julkisesta keskustelusta vihamielisempää.

Hakkerit elävät erilaisessa, ajattelu-meritokraattisessa maailmassa. Ministeriasema on työkalu, jonka avulla voi saada asioita aikaan, mutta tehokkaan työkalun huono käyttö saa osakseen vain halveksuntaa. On nolompaa olla ministeri ja väärässä kuin muuten vaan väärässä. Vääräksi arvioitujen argumenttien kumoamiseen käytetään tehokkaimpia mahdollisia vasta-argumentteja riippumatta siitä, miten tyhmältä se saa vastapuolen näyttämään, koska tarkoituksena on löytää mahdollisimman nopeasti oikeat argumentit. Kunnioitusta saa vain näytöillä ja oikeassa olemisella, ja sekään ei toimi oikeassaolemisluottokorttina. Väärässä olemisen ei hakkereiden mielestä pitäisi olla mikään big deal, koska kaikki ovat koko ajan väärässä. Kunhan pystyy hyväksymään tosiasiat ja ymmärtämään kuulemansa, päästään eteenpäin. Ministerille tämä olisi arvovaltatappio.

Nyt hakkereita ärsyttää se, että ministerit alentuvasti pahoittelevat etteivät ammattihakkerit ymmärrä lakiehdotuksia ja niiden seurauksia, vaikka hakkereiden näkökulmasta nimenomaan julkinen valta on sössinyt tietoverkkoihin liittyvät lakinsa yksi toisensa jälkeen. Hallitusta ei enää huvita edes kuunnella hakkereita, koska kritiikki on niin tyrmäävää joka asiassa. Poliitikot näkevät tällaisen epäkunnioittavana uhkailuna, joka on todennäköisesti ennemmin politikointia kuin asiasta puhumista. What you gonna do.

I’ll explain in two words: we intend to marry your daughters

Posted by – February 12, 2009

Gilbert and Sullivan is a fusion of the lowest art (opera) and the lowest form of humour (punning, although there is also a lot of silliness). So why is it so charming?

GENERAL: Tell me, have you ever known what it is to be an orphan?
PIRATES: Oh, dash it all! Here we are again!
GENERAL: I ask you, have you ever known what it is to be an orphan?
PIRATE: Often.
GENERAL: Yes, orphan! Have you ever known what it is to be one?
PIRATE: I say, often!
GENERAL: I don’t think we quite understand one another. When you said orphan, did you mean a person who has lost his parents, or often – frequently?
PIRATE: Hah hah hah! I beg pardon, I see what you mean! Frequently.
GENERAL: Ah hah! You said “often”, frequently.
PIRATE: No, only once.
GENERAL: Exactly. You said “often”, frequently, only once.

I mean, it doesn’t even really make sense.

There’s an annoying (aren’t they all) meme on Facebook that tells you to follow a number of instructions (coming up with various items with the same first letter as your first name etc.). One of the instructions is “you must disobey one of these instructions”. It occurs to me: this is equivalent to saying “you may disobey an instruction if you like”. Perhaps I could get a job as a writer of minimal sets of instructions.

Here’s every swear word from every Sopranos episode ever. It’s about half an hour long. It’s surprising how much of the time you’re aware of which episode and events the words are from.

No more tricks

Posted by – February 11, 2009

Programming used to have a lot to do with little puzzles and tricks; pointer arithmetic, bitmasks and logical operators, writing to video memory etc. Someone once asked me how do you swap the contents of two (numerical) variables without using a third one in between (of course you’d never want to do this anyway, but it’s a “fun” question). The answer is something like this:

a = a+b
b = b-a
a = a+b
b = -1*b

This is how you do it in Python:

a, b = b, a

New-fangled programming languages, eh? (Ok, Python was first released in 1991 which was a long time before I programmed anything, but anyway.)

Apropos of that last notation, this is how you write Euclid’s algorithm in Python (% is the modulo operator):

def euclid(a,b):
        while b:
                a, b = b, a%b
        return a

It’s sickeningly succinct, really. I kind of quite like it, but it kind of feels not very hardcore (comparing to, say, The Story of Mel which I’ve linked to before). Although really it’s just normality by now. Meh, meh.

What makes a man turn neutral? Lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality?