Monday, 25 July 2005

and a bit more politics. this one is actually from the uk.

while i'm at it: the sex museum amsterdam. who is that shadowy figure in the white cap on the left? and the well-known international lawyer next to her?

i can't stand this tropical heat no more tracy!

a (slightly altered) political sticker in Ann Arbor. This is a very liberal town, not like the flyover stereotype.

it is HOT. and HUMID. I am drinking gallons of water, unable to concentrate or do anything.

things I didn't mention. When we were out dancing, two beautiful cornfed teenagers randomly came up and started shaking their booties at us in the most shocking way, bending right over a la detroit kronk. (If that's the expression?) They were chortling throughout.

So like previous generations of Englishmen, I am impressed with the frank and natural manner of American ladies.

What else? Well, the architecture isn't up to much and I haven't yet found a good breakfast spot. But thank god I have found a place to stay with aircon.

Sunday, 24 July 2005

So, America. In Detroit airport I wander around looking for a bus and getting ever more irate at the lack of infrastructure. Then a kindly man from the airport staff points me towards the shuttle bus and gives me four quarters in change to phone them; the shuttle bus company, ie a guy and his Mom, spend the entire journey trying to figure out where I should stay in Ann Arbor. And I end up in some kind of co-operative.

We go out. A band playing greatest hits of the 70s - funk, country and soul indiscriminately. This is unique. I have never been in a place where I was the best dancer. People standing around and watching. Couples where the girl wants to get into it and the guy is just standing there, ass rooted to the floor. She thinks she's a free spirit being held back, but she's playing a role too and is quite comfortable in her self-imposed restraint! So we show them what it's all about.

.... and then we go outside and there's a black guy playing his guitar, a two chord blues version of the latest dance hit, I think, and some couples doing the best, most joyous dancing I have ever seen. They jive to his blues - Asian, Latino, Black and White, the crowd clapping - just out on the sidewalk! Unimaginable in Europe.

But then you realise they are all professional.

But then, here anybody can be professional. No certificate required:all you have to be is good.

You see, this ambivalence is not really going to go away. It can be so amazing and then so dull.

Sunday, 17 July 2005


Just recovering from a couple of nights' hard partying in Harrogate. (Don't laugh.) Chris Sorsby is off to Canada so me, Dave and Chris Baehrend have been up to see him.

I'm off to New York, then Ann Arbor on Thursday, where I'll be attending the University of Michigan Summer School - course on advanced game theory. Perhaps I'll finally develop some half-decent formal modelling abilities.... Stranger things have happened. There are many cool things at UMich, as well as Robert Axelrod (the Evolution of Cooperation guy) and Leda Cosmides and John Tooby (progenitors of evolutionary psychology) they have Juan Cole, a historian with a great blog about the Iraq war. (Hmm, scribbling this on Chris' PowerBook which although very beautiful does not seem to have a web browser that lets me put links into blogger. Juan Cole is at .)

Wednesday, 13 July 2005

SPSS is a crock of crap

The people who wrote the user interface for SPSS should be burned to death with matches. That is all.

Tuesday, 12 July 2005

A little sample from my current paper

(The context is a discussion of cues and heuristics in voting - ie how voters can make decisions without being hugely knowledgeable about politics. But I think this is interesting anyway. It is partly inspired by the economics literature on "informational cascades". This is just a very simple example.)

If I trust that you know better than me how to vote, I may vote correctly. But I am certainly not helping make the democratic majority decision any more accurate. Under certain conditions, I may even make it less accurate.

Here's a simple formal example. Suppose that there are three voters on a simple Yes-No issue. One of these outcomes is unequivocally the right one. The voters each receive some information (a signal) about whether Yes or No is the right outcome. The accuracy of those signals varies: the voters have probabilities 0.7, 0.75 and 0.8 respectively of getting accurate information which suggests they should vote in the correct way. Also, these probabilities are known to all the voters in common, although the signals themselves are private. Suppose that the voters vote independently, and try to vote the right way. They all then follow their signals, which are more likely to be right than wrong. The chance of a correct decision is the chance of all three voting right, plus the probability of three different majorities of two voting correctly: 0.7*0.75*0.8 + 0.3*0.75*0.8 + 0.7*0.25*0.8 + 0.7*0.75*0.2 = 0.845.

Now suppose that the best informed voter, Mrs Point Eight, announces what her signal is (which way her information points) before the vote. The other two voters are then each in one of two situations. Either their signal agrees with Mrs Point Eight: if so they vote the same way anyway. Or their signal disagrees. If so, they now have two conflicting signals. But Mrs Point Eight's signal is more accurate than theirs, so they sensibly choose to ignore their own signal. In either case, they vote with Mrs Point Eight. Unfortunately, this means that the chance of reaching a correct decision has gone down to 0.8.1 By trusting a better-informed person, the individual voters have become more accurate (their chance of being right is 0.8 instead of 0.7 or 0.6) but have made the collective outcome less accurate.

Saturday, 9 July 2005

Evolutionary Psychology

... when Rational Choice Theory just isn't right wing enough.

Monday, 4 July 2005

Cambridge at the weekend

Down to Jesus college at the weekend for a 10 year anniversary dinner. There were only about 20 of us so I suppose I am now officially qualified as a Cambridge old fart. Yikes.

Anyway, it was a psychedelic evening. Thanks to Juliet Banfield for putting it on, and a big shout out to old friends and also new, or rather recently remade - hello Holly, Mike, Susie, et al. A night when I make a spectacular ass of myself, my dears, can still give me such intense happiness that I spend most of the drive back home actually singing. (Perhaps this is bad in some way?)

As usual, there are photographs, some of which involve Dave Padua and are sexually ambiguous. Watch this space.