Thursday, 4 December 2008

Peter Simple is writing for the Press Association

Bad news from Stretchford, as Santa Punch-up Park is closed.

Was this a seasonal amenity of lovely, sex-maniac haunted Sadcake Park?

Monday, 24 November 2008

Coalitional signalling

There at the top, on the edge of the castle moat we found a group of Druzes, young men and boys, standing in a circle and singing a terrible song. They were all armed and most of them carried bare swords. "Oh Lord our God, upon them! upon them!" I too joined the circle with my guide. "Let the child leave his mother's side. Let the young man mount and be gone." Over and over again they repeated a single phrase. Then half a dozen or so stepped into the circle, each shaking his club or his drawn sword in the face of those standing round. "Are you a good man? are you a true man? are you valiant?" they shouted. "Ha! ha!" came the answer, and the swords glistened and quivered in the moonlight. Then several came up to me and saluted me. "Upon thee be peace" they said "the English and the Druze are one." I said: "Praise be to God! we too are a fighting race." And if you had listened to that song you would know that the finest thing in the world is to go out and kill your enemy.

Gertrude Bell, Letters

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Tibetans Stay With Conciliatory Approach to China


* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence along with these instructions in a note to your wall.

For me: "Very probably the occupational, ethnic, and other subgroups that combined to form Sumerian (and other subsequent) cities and civilizations danced together among themselves on appropriate occasions" (a classic evolutionary Just So Story from Keeping Together In Time by William H. McNeill.)

Saturday, 15 November 2008

A million?

UK's 'secure' child protection database will be open to one million

ContactPoint is now scheduled to launch in January. It will store and share data including every child's name, home address and school, and information about their legal guardians...

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Nothing new under the sun, part II

At one point in the proceedings, Bishop Turner rose to the podium and thundered a diatribe against legalized U.S. racism, prompting the Constitution to report "He Prefers Hell To United States; Calls American Flag Dirty and Contemptible Rag." ... Turner wrote to the Constitution a letter accusing them of misquotation but reiterating, "there was more color babble in the United States than in hell itself."
-- Mark Bauerlein, Negrophobia: A Race Riot in Atlanta 1906

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Dammit, even the Economist is against me.

When Obama wins, I'll probably feel kind of excited. But every time I read his election plans and McCain's, I think "McCain's are better".

As for Obama: well I'd call it 55-45. 55% he's a Clinton. 45% he's a Carter. What worries me about the guy is that he's got ideas. That's a terrible thing for a politician. Politicians should just have instincts.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Friday, 10 October 2008

Why the ECB Can't Fix Europe

which could also be titled "why it is a good idea for monetary sovereignty to be aligned with fiscal sovereignty".

Monday, 6 October 2008


It is not enough to propose things that are good in the end, but suppose this model were an excellent model, and fit for England and the kingdom to receive, it is our duty as Christians and men to consider consequences, and to consider the way.

-- Oliver Cromwell, during the Putney Debates

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Reading on the financial crisis

Here's one via Martin Wolf in the FT: why Paulson is wrong. I've been reading FT alphaville - great fun - and various bloggers, articles etc. At least we are not short of opinions....

Me & Debbie were talking about this last night, like a pair of concerned amateur astrologers trying to understand a comet.... I think our conclusions were something along these lines:

1. Governments face inevitable pressures to protect voters' savings and houses; banks are therefore quite rational in lending irresponsibly.

2. If it goes ahead, the Paulson government bailout will create the conditions for another house price boom in the next economic cycle. This isn't sustainable. The banks are socializing their losses. (But, on a personal note - stay bullish on property in the long term!)

3. Larger banks are more likely to be "too big to fail" and therefore to lend irresponsibly. What is more, there is an incentive to grow so that one becomes too big to fail.

4. One solution might be to tilt the market towards smaller banks, to dampen the incentive towards inefficient growth. (I don't know how this could be done - maybe by offering them favourable interest rates?)

Monday, 15 September 2008

Getting your Creative Live! Webcam to work on Linux

This is for those of you with a Creative Live! Notebook Webcam - which IDs itself as 041e:4068 if you type "lsusb" on the command line - you'll get something like:

Bus 001 Device 002: ID 041e:4068 Creative Technology, Ltd

The issue with this baby is that it sends JPEG-compressed data, which your computer needs to decompress. For older kernels (2.6.24 and before) you can install the ov51x-jpeg driver. This contained JPEG decompression right in the kernel module. However this was only a part-time project (merci Romain) and not a permanent solution.

For newer kernels (2.6.27), there's a newer and less crazy trick - though obviously it would be nice to have things work out of the box so that Linuxhater won't laugh at us. In the meantime, go to this page to understand what's going on. Then download libv4l and untar it in your home directory.

You will now need the kernel headers for your latest kernel version. (That is, you need videodev2.h in /usr/include/linux.) This is probably best done by installing the package "linux-libc-dev" - at least, that works for me on Ubuntu. You can install the package from synaptic or with "sudo apt-get install linux-libc-dev". Make sure, of course, that it is the right one for your 2.6.27 kernel. (At the moment, I have to add the intrepid sources by hand.)

Now you are ready to go. In a terminal, go into the untarred directory "libv4l-0.1" and type "make". If this completes successfully, you should have some nice files ending in ".so" in a new subdirectory called "lib". Next, follow the instructions in the README file, by entering

export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=`pwd`/lib
export LD_PRELOAD=`pwd`/lib/

on the command line. Finally - with your camera plugged in - type "camorama" (or start another webcam application if you prefer - for me, camorama works but "cheese" doesn't). You should now see yourself on screen.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Reasons to vote for McCain

Jonathan Freedland: Obama is "the fresh start the world is yearning for". " If the free world could choose its leader, it would be Barack Obama."

Chris Spurgeon: the Republicans held a rally - just like the fascists - and support strong leadership - just like the fascists. "Only a leader with McCain’s war record and paternal qualifications can help Americans muster and maintain the tenacity necessary to 'drill baby drill,' (even though this will have no influence on oil price or supply) and generate the requisite hate to 'kill baby, kill.'"

Friday, 12 September 2008

OMGWTF Neurotic animals!

From "Genes, Evolution and Personality", Bouchard and Loehlin 2001. Formatting slightly screwed up, sorry, but I know none of you can resist the news that octopuses are neurotic.

Octopus neurosis 1: you change colour, but you think a passing crab may be laughing at you.

Octopus neurosis 2: nervously tangling your tentacles together.

Table I. Animal Personality Factors Based on Factor Analyses of Individual Animals Classified According to the Five-Factor Model
and Two Additional Factorsa
Five-factor model trait names Additional dimensions
Species Neuroticism Agreeableness Extraversion Openness Conscientiousness Dominance Activity
Chimpanzee x x x x x x x
Gorilla x x x x
Rhesus monkey x x x x x
Vervet monkey x x x
Hyena x x x x
Dog x x x x x
Cat x x x x
Donkey x x
Pig x x x
Rat x x
Guppy x x
Octopus x x x

Adapted from Gosling and John (1999); an x indicates that the factor or a combination of two factors was found for that species.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Surrealism news

Nice article on Nicolas Bourbaki. This made me laugh out loud - kind of a funnier preview of the Derrida/Searle debate:

"In the 1950s, Ralph Boas of Northwestern University wrote an article for the Encyclopaedia Britannica on Bourbaki, explaining that it was the pseudonym for a consortium of French mathematicians. The editors of the encyclopedia soon received a scalding letter signed by Nicolas Bourbaki himself, declaring that he would not allow anyone to question his right to exist. In revenge, Bourbaki began spreading the rumor that Ralph Boas himself didn’t exist, and that B.O.A.S was an acronym of a group of American mathematicians."

In other news, Geoffrey Perkins is dead. Allegedly he was the inventor of the game Mornington Crescent - there's a lively round being played on Slashdot now, Duke of Edinburgh's rules.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Argh, numbers

I just love articles like these. You can picture some pimply junior reporter struggling to read through the latest issue of Social Trends, grabbing some numbers and writing them down.

"Divorces in the 45 to 49 age group also increased, with more women than men getting divorced. In 2006 there were 14.9 divorces for every 1,000 married women aged 45 to 49, rising to 15.3 by 2007. For every 1,000 45 to 49-year-old married men in 2006 and 2007, 17.3 got divorced."

Eh? Shouldn't that be "more men than women?" Or do they mean, total numbers? But what would be the point of that? Wait, how can more women than men get divorced anyway - are loads of lesbian marriages breaking up? Never mind, just copy something out of the press release, look up a couple of numbers at random in the spreadsheet....

Thursday, 28 August 2008


Gordon Tullock quotes

BT bills

Small note. If you got a letter from BT giving you free local weekend calls, check your phone bills carefully. We did (in the old house) and we discovered they were still charging us for local calls. They overcharged us £50. Pretty outrageous really - it's hard to imagine how this could be an accident, given the whole billing system is automated.

My nightmare

"Imagine a world where companies and government must keep the public, or their employees, or both, happy with their plans and behavior," Assange says. "That is the world we are striving to create" (from a Wired interview with the founder of Wikileaks). Sounds like a nightmare to me.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Freedom, security

UK consultation on keeping location data (i.e. everywhere you've been over the past year) so that local council officers can find out if you've been overfilling your wheelie bins. This has been in the headlines lately.

Read it, wade through the hideous Eurojargon, write them a letter telling them to reconsider. Or don't. You're probably one of the Germans from my office in Essex, thinking "ha ha! Those crazy eccentric Brits with their privacy obsession! I voluntarily write to my local council every two weeks, detailing my religious beliefs and current favourite sexual position, because in Germany, we have high social capital!" Yes I do mean you, Nils & Steffen. Anyway, here's mine.

Dear Mr Knight

I am a UK citizen. I picked up on the Home Office consultation document on “Transposition of Directive 2006/24/EC” and felt the need to respond.

As I understand it, if the current plan goes ahead, ISPs, phone companies etc. will be required by law to keep data about my communications for a year, including for example mobile phone data that shows where I have been. Up till now there have been only voluntary guidelines about this.

I believe this is a bad idea. I am sure that the police would often find this data useful, as your examples suggest. But it also allows the government – including local councils – too easy access to information about my private life. I think the balance here has gone too far towards centralized storage of our personal data. I do not want local councils to know where I have been. I want to give up some security in exchange for some freedom.

Re: competition. Although the proposals to reimburse ISPs for the cost of keeping location and traffic data may help sustain a competitive market, this is trivial compared to the more serious problem that they turn ISPs into paid government informants, giving them a vested interest in the proposed system.

For these reasons, I support the “Do Nothing” option. It is the least worst.

Yours sincerely,

David Hugh-Jones

Monday, 11 August 2008

RSS feeds for papers

I've been getting into this as a way of keeping up with new papers before they hit the journals.

Here's one that seems to be hidden on the NBER website: - new NBER papers in political economics.

I mentioned REPEC already. SSRN's feeds for individuals don't seem to work. Most individual journals also have RSS feeds and some have feeds for pre-published papers.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

RSS feeds for New Economics Papers

RSS feeds are now available for New Economics Papers, so you can read them in your favourite feed reader. (I use google reader. Most journals have RSS feeds, so I can keep up with what's new in one place.)

I mention this because I wrote the code for it! The NEP people were very helpful in giving me access to their system to implement this feature, which I wanted. (Example of a public good which was cheap enough for a single person to provide.)

To subscribe, just go to the page for a particular report, e.g. nep-pol (positive political economics) and click on the orange icon in your brower's location bar.

(Update: not all the RSS feeds are available yet so you may get a "Page Not Found" error for some of these. Should go away when the next report is published.)

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Author (date) referencing in TeXMacs

This is quite hard to do.

First, you need a bibtex bibliography, and the bibtex tool somewhere that texmacs can access it - I run TeXmacs under Cygwin so I need the Cygwin version of bibtex, not just the windows version.

Next, you can't use the TeXMacs bibliography tools unless there are no spaces in the paths to either your document or your bibliography. So save copies in some appropriate location - for me: C:/cygwin/tmp.

Now, choose the TeXMacs menu option Text->Automatic->Bibliography to insert your bibliography. TeXMacs will ask you for
(1) the bibliography style; type in "plain" for the moment.
(2) the path to the bibliography file. Under Cygwin it's a "unix-style" file path like /cygdrive/c/tmp/biblio.bib

Next use Insert->Link->Citation to put in citations. You will get a cite tag like this: . Fill it in with the bibtex key of your citation. You can see this key in your bibtex manager, or in the raw .bib file. Here's an example with the key highlighted in red:

author = {Kenneth Benoit},
title = {Models of electoral system change}}

Now use Document->Update->Bibliography and you should see your bibliography be filled in with a citation. You will probably also see something like "[1]" where your citation is.

So far so good. If you want to do author-date referencing... unfortunately it gets more complicated.

First, you will need the new TeXMacs package file. If you have this already, use the menu option Document->Add package->Customize->cite-author-year. If this option doesn't exist, try getting it from here and putting it in /usr/share/TeXMacs/packages/customize (or the equivalent on your system - your mileage may vary).

Your troubles are not yet over. To use this correctly, you need to get the plainnat.bst style file and put it in your $HOME/.TeXMacs/system/bib directory. This is a bibtex style file and can be found all over the web, e.g. here. Now, change your bibliography
in your TeXMacs document to use "plainnat" style. Probably simplest just to delete your old Bibliography and put the new one in.

Now you should be able to type \cite-author
[return]bibtex_key and get an author citation, or \cite-year[return]bibtex_key and get a year citation. One warning - sometimes you will need to run Document->Update->Bibliography twice before you see your citations properly; and sometimes you will need to update the citations themselves e.g. by putting the cursor in front of them and hitting [backspace][return].

But if you are like me you want more - you'd like a single command to put in "(Author year)" or "Author (year)". Maybe there's a way to do this with standard TeXMacs tools, but this way works for me:

Go to Document->View->Edit source tree so you can see the beautiful raw TeXMacs code of your document. Now enter this at the start of your document:


Unfortunately, you can't type this in verbatim AFAIK - you have to type \assign[return]caby to type in assign, similarly for macro and cite-author etc., type alt-right before the first x's, and type alt-# before inserting the second and third x's. (If this sounds insane, it is - see the Texmacs help on writing style files. There's probably an easier way to do this.)

If you have done this right, you can go back and uncheck Edit source tree. You should now be able to type

\cbay[return]bibtex_key and get a nice (Author year) citation; while
\caby[return]bibtex_key gets you Author (year).

I guess all of this reads like a kind of propaganda post for Scientific Word. The fact is TeXMacs has terrible usability - sorry, Joris - but it still has the ONLY mathematical word processor that I can use fast enough for it to be intuitive. So until LyX lets me define keyboard shortcuts the way I like, I'm stuck with it.

Thursday, 17 July 2008


Dumbest EU idea ever: extend copyright to 95 years retroactively.

The best length of copyright protection is a subject of heated economic research and debate. Almost everyone agrees on one thing, though - retroactively extending copyright protection does society no good at all. (Extending protections in the future might encourage more creative musicians. Obviously there won't be any effect like this from protecting works already produced.)

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act is a notorious US example. I didn't think the EU would bow to special interests so transparently. How naive of me! I can hear Mum, UKIP supporter extraordinaire, going "I told you so".

UPDATE: there's a petition against this bullshit here.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Friday, 27 June 2008

Making Creative Live! Webcam work in Ubuntu Hardy

1. Go read and make sure you don't want to stick with Windows...

2. You need the ov51x-jpeg module from here. The version in the Hardy repository (1.5.4) is too old, so instead download the latest source code.

3. Unpack the tarball (rightclick and choose "extract here")

4. open a terminal and type cd ov51x-jpeg-1.5.8 (or whatever the latest version is)

5. compile with "make" and "sudo make install". You will probably need kernel headers etc. etc. installed. An easy way to get this stuff is to install "module-assistant" from the repository and then on the command line type "sudo module-assistant prepare". That should set you up nicely.

6. Once installed type "sudo modprobe ov51x-jpeg". (If that doesn't work, do "find /lib -name 'ov51x'" and use the resulting filename (ending in .ko) for "sudo insmod ")

7. To make Skype work you may need to do "sudo modprobe ov51x-jpeg forceblock=1".

8. After this cheese, Skype etc. should recognize your webcam.

Good luck... it "only" took me 2 hours or so.... (/me wonders why he can't be satisfied with Windows)

(NB: on the plus side, the picture quality seems to be much better under Linux. I don't know why, maybe I need to change a Windows option or something....)

Monday, 23 June 2008

The Constitutional Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty, side by side

Open Europe have laid the Lisbon Treaty out side by side with the original Constitutional Treaty, so you can see the differences. (There aren't many.)

Friday, 25 April 2008

'...It is this latter ability that has caused so many problems for Facebook users. Third-party plugins such as "SuperWall" claim to extend functionality of the Facebook application, but have behaved in anything but a friendly manner. SuperWall would randomly send messages to existing people in a user's Facebook friends list, claiming that they had to install SuperWall in order to read a new message from that user. Once installed, it would keep performing this trick with the next person, and so forth. As it turned out, this behavior was by design.'

from Between black and white: the state of grayware on the PC

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

woohoo, just became a fan of Margaret Thatcher

that's one in the eye for the snivelling pinkos. suddenly facebook is cool again.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Bit of background

'At the end of 2005, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Dr Manfred Nowak, visited China, Tibet and Xinjiang. Dr Nowak stated that "he was struck by the strictness of prison discipline and a palpable level of fear and self-censorship when talking to detainees". He also confirmed that a variety of torture methods are still widely and systematically used; including beatings, use of electric shock batons, submersion in pits of sewage, exposure to conditions of extreme heat or cold, deprivation of sleep, food or water, prolonged solitary confinement, denial of medical treatment and hard labour.'


Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Seriously geeky

Mas-Collel, Whinston and Green provide an elegant proof of the fact that lexicographic preferences cannot be represented by a utility function. Here's an alternative proof that is more intuitive to present. I use ^ to represent superscripts and _ to represent subscripts, as in Latex.

Lexicographic preferences in R^2 are defined as follows: x is weakly preferred to y if and only if either x_1>y_1 or (x_1=y_1 and x_2>=y_2). In words, even the smallest gain in the first dimension outweights even the largest gain in the second dimension.

For a contradiction, suppose there is a utility function u:R^2->R representing these preferences. Consider the line segment from (1,1) to (2,1). Along this line segment, u is increasing and hence continuous at all but a countable set of points (for a proof see Rudin Theorem 4.30). Find a point x where u is continuous. Now consider any point y=(x_1,x_2+e) with e>0. As y is strictly preferred to x, u(y)>u(x). But as we approach x from the right, i.e. for some point z=(x_1+h,x_2) with h>0 small enough, by continuity u(z) approaches u(x) and hence u(z) < u(y). However, by lexicographic preferences, z is strictly preferred to y as it is higher on the first dimension. This contradicts the premise that u represents preferences. QED.