Tuesday, 27 September 2005


Sloes are the little blue-black fruit that grow on the blackthorn bushes by the Colne estuary. They are ripe about now and on Saturday I went and picked about two pounds. They're too bitter to eat in bulk - although one will take the skin off your tongue in an amusing way - but you can make DRINK with them. I had a half-bottle of vodka and one of whisky, so I filled them with sloes and added a bit of sugar. Now they are sitting on the kitchen windowsill, slowly turning deeper red. You have to prick the sloes before you put them in (or freeze them so they burst their skins)... the sloe gin website has more details.

By Christmas or so I'll have some rich red booze. The neighbours (Pete and Sam from IDA) are getting some gin in which is the more traditional base liquor.

Wednesday, 21 September 2005

meaningless computer error messages: a collection.

We name the guilty applications.

Firefox. This pops up while browsing print.google.com. What document contains no data? What sort of data should it contain? What do you mean?

Copying files in Gnome. What's an invalid parameter?

This one popped up when I tried to connect to a remote server without plugging the network card in. God knows why it suddenly thinks the server is a "file" or a "folder" and starts worrying about security risks.

sermon material for the Devil's chaplain

Biology, not for the faint-hearted


Bush braces as Cindy Sheehan's other son drowns in New Orleans (The Onion)

Tuesday, 20 September 2005

Nice weekend in Paris

... a v cheap trip with me mum around her birthday. We headed over on the bus which was pleasant though long. Awful tour guide. Saturday went to the Louvre and saw some beautiful Michelangelos. Ma is a fan of the very early florentines, the amazing iconic stuff when they are just beginning to paint in three dimensions. I am more into the slightly later high renaissance but we both agree that at Venice it all gets a bit feeble.

Saturday night I see Viv and meet some friends of hers including the vivacious and mega-successful Elena who is an ex-World Banker. I miss the metro home and end up walking for hours through the banlieux of Northern Paris to the hotel. Yikes. Sunday we see Notre Dame and meet Viv again in a caff in front of the Sorbonne. Monday, back, another whopping trip but it gives me a chance to almost finish Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Shirer was a journalist, actually in Germany for a lot of the thirties, with a crackling prose style. The theme of the book is the cowardice of the people around Hitler - both nationally and internationally - and insofar as there is an explanation, at least for the Germans such as the generals who knew they were being led to destruction, he pins the blame on an inadequate political understanding. By understanding I don't just mean political science understanding, as in predicting who will do what, but also understanding of, say, the duties of a citizen or the dignity of man. (And actually these failures then lead the Nazis to make inaccurate predictions also: they cannot understand why, for example, Britain fights on rather than surrendering in 1940. It's a strong example for those who say that in social science, prediction requires understanding, and who therefore make a clear distinction between social and natural science.)

Perhaps Shirer's is a very American approach, but it basically chimes with the attitude of, say, Arendt, and contrasts strongly with the critical theorists who see fascism as the final expression of a social system - capitalism - and hence find rather little comfort in the triumph of the US. I think in this point the "politics" approach is more accurate.

As an aside: in history, I always gain insight from reading the "great" classic texts: professional historians' latest appraisals will change with the whims of academic fashion. Here at least, the judgment provided by an intelligent individual is more important than method, which may improve as the discipline progresses.

Tuesday, 13 September 2005


I am now no longer in Hythe, where the locals shout racist abuse at each other in the streets, but in lovely Wivenhoe, a socialist utopia where the delicatessen is just around the corner, PhD students gather in the pub by the estuary and the folk music club meets once a month. My new house has a fireplace and a dog (and a very nice flatmate). Hooray!

Thursday, 8 September 2005

Cheap talk part 3

I'm going to plunge straight into this. Parts one and two are also available if you are lost.

[ed: as you can see, I end up failing to prove what I meant to prove... also, blogger keeps eating my post.]

Suppose that c = (1-a)/n where n is an integer and 0 <= a < c. In other words, there are n intervals around the unit circle, plus a remainder of a.

(1) Suppose that n is even, and that Senders of type t send a message m = t* =
t modulo c, when t* < a. Now it's a best response for Receiver to randomize equally over possible values of t in response to this message. Proof:

Let's call the possible values of t, t0 to tn where ti = ci + t*. Take any arbitrary ti. Choose an interval H = (ti, ti+1/2] or (ti, ti-1/2], such that H does not contain the zero point, and therefore does not contain both t0 and tn. (For example, from t0, go clockwise and from tn go anticlockwise.)

The interval H now contains n/2 possible values of t. Proof: ts are evenly spaced along the interval, c apart, with the first one at ti+c or ti-c (as the interval is open at ti itself). Temporarily normalizing ti to zero, the interval (0, 1/2] or (0, -1/2] is of length 1/2 and, as 1 = nc+a, 1/2 = (n/2)c + a/2 where 0 <= a/2 < c. Moving from ti into H therefore moves you towards n/2 equally likely values of t, and away from n/2+1 equally likely values of t. As we are assuming no risk-aversion (Receiver's utility is linear in distance from t), moving away from ti therefore reduces utility. Similarly, moving away in the opposite direction is moving into an interval of size 1/2, excluding ti itself, which also must contain the remaining n/2 possible values of t from the set tj, j ^= i, and away from n/2+1 equally likely values of t.

(Apologies for the HTML notation: ^= means "does not equal".)

Therefore, any a ^= ti, for all i, is strictly dominated by some pure strategy a = ti for some i, and any mixed strategies containing anything other than the tis is strictly dominated by a mixed strategy containing only tis.

Furthermore, expected distance from t is the same at any ti (leaving the proof for now, I am fairly sure) and thus the mixed strategy choosing ti with probability 1/(n+1) is a best strategy.

(2) Given this strategy, Sender's strategy is a best response. Proof: for t = ti, i e {1,2,...,n-1}, the proof is identical to that given above as Sender's ideal point is just the same as to Receiver's ideal point when t=ti+1. When t = tn, ...

ah. No wait. When t = tn Sender's ideal point will be t+c which is strictly greater than t0 = t+a (we are crossing the zero point). If so, this will surely generate an incentive to deceive Receiver by claiming to be a different type. Blast. Perhaps we can remove the interval [nc, 1) from the set of types that sends an informative message? Well, this is obviously not over yet. More pointless fun awaits.

Wednesday, 7 September 2005

Time to ditch that Yahoo! account?

Yahoo! helped jail Chinese journalist (BBC news)

If you are still using Yahoo!, why not try Gmail, Google's free email service. It's extremely easy to use and lets you import contacts from Yahoo!. Google has been accused of censoring its search engine listings for China, but at least it hasn't actually turned into a police snitch. I have several accounts to give away if anyone wants one.

Monday, 5 September 2005

car found

So the police found my car about five minutes from where it was nicked. It had swerved off the side of the street. As we went to collect it, an Indian guy came up and told us that he'd seen five kids jump out and run off, about 4am. The exhaust had fallen off completely.

The police, of course, weren't interested in investigating. I don't really expect them to care, but it would be nice if they just pretended, you know? Of the several crimes I know in which I or friends of mine have been victims, not one has been cleared up by the police.

In other news, I just interrupted a couple of guys cottaging in the level 4 loos. Scandalous!

Sunday, 4 September 2005

My car got nicked

I drove down to help Dad move his stuff out of the Economist building: he's finally retiring after twenty-five years or so at the paper. Five minutes from his house the exhaust fell off my crappy grad-student Rover Metro. We tied it on with plastic ties and continued. That night, the car got nicked. Not hard to do as the boot was also only closed with ties.

That has to be the least profitable car theft ever, man. The value of that car was probably negative.

Eventually we persuaded the police to take the crime report, despite them trying to persuade me that the car wasn't registered in my name on their database (it was). I don't expect them to catch the criminals or even recover the car, I just wanted them at least to acknowledge that a crime had happened.

Another amazing Katrina-related website


This is a report from the New Orleans' Times-Picayune on the potential for New Orleans to experience a devastating hurricane. Written in 2002.

Saturday, 3 September 2005

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Friday, 2 September 2005

So, back in Essex...

... and clocking reasonable amounts of work, in between the blog entries.

This one was going to be written on my trendy new PDA phone, the Orange SPV M500. However, the trendy PDA phone is going back to Orange on Monday. I'd never used a PDA before and wanted to see if it's worth the hassle. Nope. Handwriting technology is way too inaccurate, and to do almost anything you need to take the stylus out and tap the screen. This is infuriating for phone features when you just want to hit a button. In general, I think I can see why PDAs have not caught on. The user interface is like an attempt to shoehorn a Windows-style computer into a phone. This just doesn't work. It's far too fiddly and over-complicated. The whole apparatus of scrollbars, popup buttons, different windows, right-clicking etc. is just not suitable. I should have stayed a loyal Nokia customer. Their basic phones have a really simple and elegant user interface, everything is natural. The apps, like the calendar, which holds my entire social life (no jokes), are just more suitable given the screen real estate.

Apart from that... well, the only other thing I wanted it for, apart from quick notes, was to blog. But if I login to blogger, Pocket Internet Explorer crashes. Bah.

why the internet is good

http://mgno.com/ - live from inside New Orleans.
Any attempt to flag down police results in being told to get away at gunpoint. Hour after hour they watch buses pass by filled with people from other areas. Tensions are very high, and there has been at least one murder and several fights. 8 or 9 dead people have been stored in a freezer in the area, and 2 of these dead people are kids.

The people are so desperate that they're doing anything they can think of to impress the authorities enough to bring some buses. These things include standing in single file lines with the eldery in front, women and children next; sweeping up the area and cleaning the windows and anything else that would show the people are not barbarians.

The buses never stop.