## Efficiency

May 7th, 2013 by Fireslide

Ok, so I installed a math plugin based on LaTeX so I can type equations. The added bonus is I'll get to teach myself how to use them.

The purpose of this is so I can make things look a bit neater. So onto efficiency.

I've been thinking about efficiency my entire life, always applying it to various tasks, like driving, working, walking, eating, exercise. The problem is, that there's so many ways to define it. The most common and general definition is

Where maximum output is defined as some maximum achievable quantity. The energy efficiency of an engine say could be

So naturally, I strive to be efficient in most things I do. When I spend money, I calculate the dollar per hour entertainment value for purchases, I evaluate the efficiency of my work output and spending.

So relating this to the main point, is that governments and oppositions always claim to be able to increase the efficiency of the public service and cut costs. Now I'm sure everyone has their own horror stories about how inefficient their visit to Centrelink or Medicare was, but on the whole, these organisations have been streamlined quite a lot. It's not usually the end of line workers that are terribly inefficient anyway. So how do we define efficiency for government spending?

Obviously, everyone wants their tax dollars to be spent well and not wasted, but where it gets interesting is that these people themselves are probably no more efficient than the government when it comes to spending. Take for example, a bottle of shampoo. Suppose it costs $10 and is a generous 1 litre volume. That gives a cost of 1 cent per mL. Now, most people have trouble getting the last few bits out of the shampoo bottle. There might be 10 or 20 mLs leftover that are just too difficult to extract, it's possible to do it but the time it takes is not worth it, so we accept some waste. The efficiency in this case is about 99.8% which is a high number. Food wastage is probably much lower, on every plate there might be 5% left, or if you get too full you can often leave about 10 to 50% of a meal. Sometimes it might be saved and eaten again later, but it could be thrown out. A mobile phone contract that includes some dollar value of free calls and messages, many people would not extract full value or efficiency out of that as well. The point I'm trying to illustrate, is that people are inefficient, there's nothing wrong with that. It's just there's a lack of realisation that the government is made up from people too, so all these inefficiencies add up. So next time someone complains about government wastage, point out that they probably equally waste on the same scale food, shampoo, consumables etc. ## Habit updates May 1st, 2013 by Fireslide So when I started my attempt to blog regularly a little over a month and a half ago, I had an overly ambitious goal of adding one meaningful entry per day. Obviously that requires a significant time investment and whilst I managed it for a week, I've fallen off. This wasn't unexpected however, as with all habit building/breaking it's unlikely to change the first time you try. I reaslied it follows the trend of dieting or the gym that most people have. They are pretty vigilant for the first week or two, then they miss a day because of a work function, or they are sick. Then they miss another for a different reason. The routine is then broken and they stop going, they might have spurts of activity where they regain or rediscover their original motivation but the routine always gets interrupted or broken. What I've realised is that isn't a bad thing, it'd be ideal if we could robotically acquire and discard habits at will. I'd program myself to wake at 6, go running, work efficiently, not eat crap and so on. It's not a bad thing to have routines broken because then the feeling of achievement and progress towards self improvement is much greater for all the obstacles we face. My goal of not having any soft drink has failed fairly miserably, but that's always going to be one of the hardest things to break, but at least I'm noting every day I do or don't have it. There's a few days a month where I don't have any, if I can slowly build on that, that's progress. So back to this blog, I wanted to update every day, but that hasn't happened, but I have been updating about once every 9 days or so, which is a lot more than I used to do. So I may have failed at my original stated goal, but I set that knowing that I'd likely not be able to keep it up, but if it gets me in the habit of thinking about making blog posts more often, then it's working. So all up, it's been relatively successful. In 90 days or so I've transformed from making one blog post a year maybe to probably an average of 30 or 40 a year at this current rate. ## Numbers April 23rd, 2013 by Fireslide So there's an election due in September and this means that both major political parties are starting to have some 'serious' debate about the state of the economy, debt, policies and so forth. One thing that I've noticed is the way all parties use numbers as talking points as metrics for success or failure. A hypothetical example would be, "We've created 150,000 jobs and unemployment has dropped to 5.2%". At face value this seems like a good statement to make, but the more I think about it, the more it seems meaningless. Creating jobs is obviously a good thing but it's the numbers they throw around in a debate that concerns me. What does creating 150,000 jobs mean? Did the public service grow by 150,000? Are the jobs in industries or fields we should be investing in or pulling out of? Are they full time jobs or is this casual work? Similarly with the unemployment rate dropping to 5.2%, what was it before? What is the underemployment rate? These are all questions I'm thinking of when I hear someone mention something with numbers, what do those numbers really mean in the larger context of everything else. Now obviously numbers are important, having any metrics, even flawed ones are better than having no metrics, part of the issue I realise now is that people don't really understand numbers. A study was performed testing if people would behave differently for a reward if it was$3 or 300 cents. The results, surprisingly indicated that some people preferred 300 cents. Even if  cents and dollars were switched around, people were more easily swayed by the larger number.

This knowledge has some interesting consequences for looking at political discourse. Are the politicians aware of this effect and use it to mislead or confuse citizens about the state of things? It's possible, there's limited time in media segments to accurately and adequately describe what a number truly represents, it's probably more important that the reader or viewer simply remembers that it was 150,000 jobs created or that a policy will cost $94 billion. Speaking of policy costs, it's interesting to observe that the cost of everything is often put in vacuum.$94 billion sounds like a lot and it rightly is for an individual to own, but in the context of an entire country that has a yearly GDP in the order of $1.5 trillion ($1500 billion), it doesn't seem as large, it'll seem even smaller if instead of stating the total cost over 10 years and comparing to a yearly GDP, we state the yearly cost \$9.4 billion.

I'm going to keep an eye on how it progresses and see if there's a correlation between the way the numbers are presented and how they are meant to be viewed. Obviously positive achievements would be promoted and negative achievements downplayed.

## Monopoly. Gambling or Trading game?

April 13th, 2013 by Fireslide

So one thing I enjoy is games and exploring the core concepts and skills they test when taken to high levels. One thing that nearly all games have in common is the concept of trading.

Where it gets interesting, is that monopoly is what I'd call a 'solved' game. A number of people have calculated the probabilities of landing on any given square, the average number of rolls for a certain investment in a set of properties to pay off. The limitations on human players would to be to remember and evaluate all the tables of data to know the likelihood of winning from a given board position. So taking it to the next level, let's suppose that we have perfect players that know all the probabilities for any given game state to calculate a winner. Trading properties then becomes simply betting. Investing heavily into mayfair and boardwalk has a low probability of paying off, so most people wouldn't make it, but it essentially becomes an agreement between players that in the next x dice rolls Player A thinks they wont land on it, and Player B thinks they will.

http://www.amnesta.net/other/monopoly/

http://www.tkcs-collins.com/truman/monopoly/monopoly.shtml

I think it's interesting that many games and sports rely on limitations in various skills or abilities to make them fun. Monopoly can be fun because most people are incapable of correctly evaluating the probability of any given player winning from a certain position, but even taken to the extreme, it's betting on dice rolls.

## Update

April 8th, 2013 by Fireslide

So I've been playing around a bit with LaTeX because I like the idea of what it can do. It sorts out all the tricky formatting depending on how you want to present your work. It's not ideal for collaborative editing though. Microsoft Word wins in that department with comments and tracking changes.

One of the ways I'm going to investigate using LaTeX is with some custom tags. This xkcd comic illustrates which characters interact with each other as a function of time over a story. Now that was produced by reading the books, and manually going through and making note of which characters are where and with who at each time. Ideally though, if that information is put into custom tags at various chapters or at points in the story it can be invisible to the reader, but a simple program or script could extract the information and produce a plot like that. Similarly, if we could generate one for characters, we can also do it for action, or emotional content.

Having the ability to produce graphs to demonstrate the action during a story or comedy say gives an author new tools with which to view the overall story. Is the front action heavy? Is it too dry? Is there enough story progression? Humans are visual creatures, so I'm hoping I can make something to produce these graphs, so that when I begin writing, I have a large number of tools available to guide my story.

## Self referential references

March 29th, 2013 by Fireslide

So I need to come up with a name for a phenomena I've observed.

Basically I tell my students at the start of the practical the same things. Check the marking scheme, don't forget to talk about errors, work quickly.

Inevitably they ignore me and forgot to talk about errors, so I started telling the students. Check the marking scheme, don't forget to talk about errors, work quickly. I tell all the other students this and they usually fail, so maybe you'll be different.

Inevitably they think I'm joking or something, and they do poorly. So I started telling the students. Check the marking scheme, don't forget to talk about errors, work quickly. I tell all the other students this and they usually fail, and I tell them what I've just told you now and they usually fail, so maybe you'll be different.

So we can really just state it's

Message Content. + self referencing warning

I need to print something like that out for my students and just show them what happens

## Musings on privacy

March 27th, 2013 by Fireslide

So I just read a substantial paper that debunks the argument many people use to support legislation or technology that would infringe on privacy. "If you've got nothing to hide, what's there to worry about?"

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=998565&

Basically he states that privacy is a fairly ill defined term,  and it has a range of classifications. He goes on to define the problems that the term privacy can encompass. The two main ones are Orwellian surveillance and Kafkaesque problems. Kafkaesque being the kind of situation where another party has so much information about you that before you can take any actions, you're already limited in what you can do.

Anyway, it had me thinking about trying to break down privacy to what it really means. All I've come up with so far is that privacy is like a currency denominated by information. The majority of interactions we have in the world are essentially trades in information. With friends, we share secrets, which is an information trade to build up trust. Similarly, when we go for job interviews, or are looking for romantic partners, we have the ability to release and share information in a way that makes us more desirable.

Where privacy is important is that it allows us options in how we reveal information and when. If you remove privacy, it allows other parties you may want to interact with to assess you on either a) incomplete or incorrect information or b) correct information presented in an unfavorable order. For most cases it's probably a), which is why privacy is important.

I guess an appropriate analogy would be suggesting that life is a bit like a card game. You can spend some time trying to trade for better cards, you can play cards in a beneficial order, you can make intelligent guesses and inferences about other people based on what actions they take. The privacy component is that your hand is hidden information, there should be no desire to give up the advantages that privacy affords even if you're doing nothing wrong, because it can in no way help you in the future. What is happening with big data and data mining is that we're getting so much information from everyone about what they are discarding, what they play and what hands they have that we can start building fairly accurate models about what moves you'll make next.

They've already built a computer program that will consistently beat most humans at rock paper scissors based on big data http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/science/rock-paper-scissors.html?_r=0

It's an interesting thing to consider, but for the time being, fight to hold onto your privacy, otherwise you're giving up your social currency too easily and gaining nothing for it. As I'd say in most games, that's a bad trade.

## Game Theory

March 26th, 2013 by Fireslide

So I haven't updated for a while. I think I was perhaps a bit ambitious to think I could make a meaningful entry every day. I either need to rapidly increase the speed at which I can produce an entry, or I need to make them less frequently. Part of the issue is unbalanced work weeks, but anyway. On with the content.

So one thing I find interesting in Game Theory. I'm talking about things like the Prisoner's Dilemma, Pascal's Wager. They can be applied to all sorts of situations wherein you are uncertain about the state of one particular function. For example, you could apply it to the weather raining or not raining. Then your choices are wear rain appropriate clothes, or not. Ideally you want to only wear rain appropriate clothes when it's raining, but it comes down to what will bother you more, wearing rain clothes when you don't need them, or getting soaked in your normal clothes.

The other situation where they are interesting is when you're relatively sure of one of the states, but not certain, but the payoff for being correct is small or insignifcant compared to being wrong. For example, funding some unlikely to work research but for a defense purpose. Funding the research and having it pay off is huge, Funding the research for no pay off is not ideal, but on the other side, not funding the research and not having it pay off achieves nothing, but not funding and having it succeed is disasterous. Other situations turn up in social contexts as well.

I'll expand on this more later when I can actually draw some in here, it's too awkward to talk about them without

March 21st, 2013 by Fireslide

We spend a good deal of time learning how to perform certain tasks, so our brain can pretty much complete them on autopilot, freeing up our brain to do other tasks. The problem is that in doing so, our brain stops forming memories of that task unless they are significant, eg a car crash. So we repeat tasks and form habits and routines, so our brain can be lazy.

The paradox is this. Do we spend our time in the same routines, and remembering on highlights of our existence, but live efficiently. Or do we force ourselves to not use the easy pathways formed in our brain, so we're constantly learning and relearning and remember more in detail, but live less efficiently.

It's a tough concept for me to resolve.

## The future of TV

March 20th, 2013 by Fireslide