Thursday, November 25, 2021

The thruppeny ha'penny estate

 between the third estate (the commoners) and their kids is inheritance. One thing I've seen in recent years  is the amount of stuff accumulated in a person's life that is of precious little use to their descendants. Piles and piles of paperwork - receipts for stuff long since binned - and lots of old appliances or even content (VHS videos, CD recordings etc etc). But more distressing is books. Some people have entire collections or libraries of wonderful  works. The task of sorting through these is daunting. Not just because they don't have much monetary worth, but because they represent experience and knowledge that one's parents may have acquired over years, and one had not appreciated. Indeed, looking through such libraries, one realises that they have probably been curated (lousy genre stuff binned, just the tasty SF and 'Tec works, but also factual stuff that might give one a mind map of where the ma or da's headspace was at, man. But it would take too long. And when one inherits this mathom.  one is also already half way through one's own life time of reading.

Is there a way to make life easier for one's (usually grown up) kids by pre-sorting the library and adding an FAQ and maybe notes (readme, read this first, don't read this til you have witnessed death, this book will not change your life/wife/knife, but it will make me laugh...etc)

How would one know if the experiment had worked?

Monday, July 05, 2021

The man in the invisible mask

 The Man in the Invisible Mask

King Boris was caught in a quandary - he was afflicted with the very rare 

condition known as the Marrmight syndrome: half of his citizens thought he was marvellous, and 

women would swoon at his feet, and men, some of them married to those women, would make 

him gifts of land and gold on top of that; the other half would stretch there eyes, and grin and grin and try to bear it, but inside were a cauldron of soup made from leather boots and mustard.

The usual way to cope with this, his physicians assured him, was for bearers of this unfortunate affliction to wear a mask. Masks were worn quite often in the land, although they were going out of fashion - the designs to date  did not sit well alongside the ornate hats and collars favoured by the King's most ardent courtiers.

The king challenged the great couturiers across the land to come up with a solution that would please all the people, all the time. The prize would be untold fame and at least a knighthood.

Maskateers from everywhere came forward with a myriad of the  most incredible designs anyone had ever seen. Entire diamond mines were emptied, and it was rumoured, some foreign countries stripped of all of their rarest earths.

The king sat in his newly decorated court for one every day receiving the designs, and 

tried them on, surrounded by his adoring courtiers and wives and flunkies. Each mask would bring forth cries of wonderment and astonishment, but in the end, nothing would satisfy the hat and collar brigade sufficiently to pass muster.

Finally, one day, two curious looking gentlemen from some far away land arrived bearing an intricate box, within which was another box, and inside that, yet another until, eventually, there was the mask holder.

"Let us fit this on you, your majesty" said Pushtin.

As he did so, his brother, Surkov, explained that the many layers 

represented the many facets of the King's personalities, and

that these would allow the people to see the kind of king they preferred amongst 

all the possibilities, which is why the King and his court were charmed and, indeed, full-heartedly fell for this mask as one.

"We must have a Maskdom day" cried King Boris, "where I shall lead a parade across the capital city and artists far and wide will render pictures of us in our finery 

for all in the land to see. There is nothing more to fear!".

And so it was that only a week later, the whole court in all their finery set off on there very best e-scooters, in a huge cavalcade travelling from the Palace of Westminster to the Palace of Buckminster and back several times, with huge crowds gathered along the wide paths of green park.

Near the end of the day, as the King was growing tired, despite the tides of adulation

pouring upon him, when things were starting to get a bit quieter, a small child, perhaps 10 years old, turned to her mother and said, quite loudly as children do when uninhibited by the careworn ways of the world "but Mum, look - he isn't wearing a mask at all - there's nothing on his face whatsoever.".

For a moment you could hear a pin drop, and then the cry spread across the crowds, and across the land. The King was finally unmasked.

Friday, May 14, 2021

drone of silence

 say we don't want to be overheard? go on, say it...

ok, so we could go to a sound proof room. or we could get everyone around us to wear noise cancelling headphones (good luck with that). or we could design a noise cancelling drone.

we'd put our phones on the table in front of us, and run an app that transmits the sound from all the phones' mikes to the drone, which then computes the audio  signal that is being propagated from our table, and (using a phase array speaker system) transmits the reverse phase of that.

it has to e on the drone because a) that's hip, cool, fashionable and fun and b) you can't run it on the phone or the people you are talking to across the table wont hear you either.

you heard it here first. or maybe you didn't.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

efficacy is rather annoying as a metric for a vaccine during a pandemic that lasts years...

 the various vaccines now being deployed across the world to cope with the pandemic are typically accepted by medical regulators when their Phase III trials deliver an efficacy of over 50%.

What that means, as far as I can tell, is that for the duration of the trial, out of the 2 groups, one given a placebo, the other the vaccine, the fraction of people that did not get infected in the latter group compared to the former. so if there's no infection in the vaccinated group, then it is 100%. if there were 100 people infected in the placebo  group, and only 50 in the vaccinated group, its 50%.

But that efficacy is firstly only  binary (did or did not get infected), and only for the period of the trials (e.g. at the end of the trial of say 3 months) - but the pandemic is ongoing for much longer than the phase III trial. and the outcome isn't "got infected or not" - people can get infected but be asymptomatic, or mildly ill, or die, whether  vaccinated or not. And the disease changes over time too.

So you have two things varying over time - the level of immunity (not just binary) and the level of infectiousness of the current main variant(s) of the disease.

A true binary outcome metric would be "At the end of normal life expectancy, how many people vaccinated compared to those given a placebo, are still alive"

Other measures might be concerned with the severity of disease, short of fatality at some time period after vaccination, Some sort of half life (like radioactivity) maybe?

And those are the selfish or singular metrics - the other thing a vaccine might do is reduce infectiousness (both for people that don't get the disease but cary, and for people that get it more mildly - obviously people that die find it hard to infect others),

Of course, the reason to care about efficacy is to have something fairly simple to evaluate fairly quickly, to then let medical regulators make a decision about if a vaccine is worth adopting or not.

But in the long run, it would be useful to express some other measure, concerned with the reduction in excess mortality over the length of the pandemic.

And of course some quantification of the reduction in incidence of severe versions of the illness ('long covid").

Of course, explaining these more complicated descriptions/metrics would tie up lots of science/stats popularisers for months and years....but it might help reduce the sort of headlines we see where someone says "efficacy of vaccine X on variant V is only 10% so it is useless" or "it doesn't work on old people", when in at least two recent examples, the said vaccine reduced mortality to zero, which as far as this writer is concerned, is a rather important positive result, even if said "efficacy" was near zero. 

Making something not scary seems good to me.

Monday, January 04, 2021

It is a truth that Universties should be acknowledged... be an efficient and effective way to get basic research done.

basic research is inherently very inefficient - in a naive sense, it is a random walk through a very lumpy landscape full of local minima, and some very very steep hills. like evolution, it takes a long time, and wastes a lot of resources along the way. just like universities. however, universities do several other things 

  • a spot of higher education
  • creating communities
  • offering advanced advice to governments and industry
  • curating the next world class comedy teams
  • keeping social misfits busy & off the streets
  • etc etc
So provided you have the right mix (as per Humboldt's original german vision, and as quite a few  of the classic latter half of 20th century UK universities achieved), people can switch between these activities, just often enough to make good us of their time (efficient) but not so often as to interrupt their chain of thought (effective). As with most social organisations, the distributions of people and these activities are unfair (heavy tailed) in the sense that people and institutions that are more effective at basic research attract people who can carry it out, but who also are not too bad at teaching the sorts of students those institutions attract. Of course, these things (institutions, people, activities of interest) change over time, so baking-in which should be long term rewarded for what mix is a really really bad idea.  The next internet, vaccine, carbon capture technology, you name it, will not arise where you expect it (those darn lumpy landscapes:-)

i.e. down with the REF -