djm4_lj: (Glasses)
Tonight, Derren Brown explained a trick he did, involving 'influencing' coin tosses. The set up was as follows:

* He had a board showing the eight possible outcomes from three coin tosses.
* He got someone to pick one of the outcomes
* He picked another.
* Someone else then repeatedly flipped a coin until one of the sequences came up.
* Whoever picked the correct sequence scored a point.

The 'trick' was that he had an audience of people 'willing' his sequence to appear. The other person chose 'HHH'. Derren Brown chose 'THH'. Despite the fact that both sequences are, on the face of it, equally likely, Derren Brown won by (IIRC) nine points to one. Go audience!

Explanation, and Perl script, under the cut )


Jul. 5th, 2009 10:42 pm
djm4_lj: (Purple David)
As I threatened when I had a hissy fit and flounced out of running the bi presence at Pride last year, this year I volunteered as a yellowshirt to steward at Pride. It was a largely positive experience; I was assigned to the E and F float area, and spent the morning directing floats to the right place and running through safety checks and advice for wheel stewards, and the afternoon walking with a group of floats in the parade. Most of the time, I was walking with Studio La Danza's float - they had a float dressed in red and gold chiffon, with group of thirty or so dancers doing choreographed routines behind it. They played Scissor Sisters (twice), It's Raining Men and YMCA, so as you can imagine I was very happy.

(I grabbed some footage here, but it's not all that good, and I had to start stewarding again in the middle of the chorus. Still, it hopefully gives an impression of why I had such a good time.)

Obviously, the problem with being a steward is that sometimes you need to move people who don't want to be moved (or in the case of at least one of the marching groups, stop them from running into the path of the floats just because they've decided they need to be somewhere else in a hurry). Obviously, this casts me in the role of The Man, and since a lot of the marchers have a general dislike of London Pride as an organisation (often, I realise, with very good reasons), me as the face of that organisation got told where to stick my attitude on several occasions.

It's in the nature of the thing that I got no credit at all for the number of times I thought 'well, strictly speaking, you shouldn't be there, but you're not in anyone's way and you're not going to get run over', because that's not what people notice. They notice when you're trying to move them because they've been standing for five seconds looking through a camera and taking photos in the direct path of the float which is now a mere ten feet away. I do not exaggerate. I got sworn at for ruining a photo for that one; fair enough, I probably did, and I expect he would have moved out of the way in time, but if too many people get away with doing it, someone's going to try who doesn't have the requisite reflexes. And it's stressful for the float drivers.

Top marks go to the chap at the end of the parade, who was standing on a narrow pavement in the dispersal area in just the spot that everyone was trying to walk past. When I asked him to move on, he enquired in a hurt tone where he was supposed to stand to take photos. Well, how about somewhere on the couple of miles the parade's just walked down, like everybody else? His companion (I'm guessing boyfriend, but I don't actually know) then pointed out that I had tits, suggested I buy a bra as I was clearly a woman, and flounced off with him looking very pleased with his repartee. (I should point out here that I know not all gay men are misogynistic body fascists, but he fit the stereotype perfectly, sadly.)

I was also exhausted by the end of it, with a very stiff and aching back. Starting at 8am probably didn't help.

Nonetheless, most of the job was great fun, my fellow stewards were lovely, and I'm intending to do it all again next year. (Sadly, I didn't improve the stats for 'bi people volunteering for Pride', as I had a moment of honesty and admitted to being straight on the form; however, I did mention the bi activism I'd done/was doing whenever anyone asked, so I suspect I did something for visibility.)
djm4_lj: (Default)
From [ profile] sinboy, with a wry grin at getting my UK politics news from someone in New York.

Auditors who have examined the American Express accounts of 3,500 officers involved in countering terrorism and organised crime have reported almost one in 11 detectives to the Metropolitan Police's internal investigators.

Maybe it's just inevitable that around 10% of those in positions of responsibility will be on the take. Doesn't make me any the less disappointed and angry, though.

Oh dear

Jun. 9th, 2009 03:21 pm
djm4_lj: (Default)
I understand the temptation, but I very much doubt that anything Nick Griffin could have said in his press conference could have got him the publicity and made him look good to those who voted for him as being pelted by eggs outside Westminster. Doing this just makes him look like a martyr.

As a Liberal, I disapprove of treating any democratically elected representative this way, but even if you don't, I challenge you to convince me that this sort of protest doesn't just play straight into the BNP's hands. They want to be seen in the media being attacked and silenced - a lot of their core support are people who feel that they have no voice, so anything that looks as though this is a deliberate conspiracy to silence them will ring true.
djm4_lj: (Lizard)
Last year, America elected its first black president. This year, Britain elected its first two BNP MEPs. Way to respond, my country.

I don't want to get up today. In London, Jonathan Fryer was only 8000 votes off being elected, too.

Edit: ...or so his Twitter said, but I guess in the small hours of the morning he miscounted, or mistakenly saw the margin to Labour. He'd actually have needed just under 80,000.
djm4_lj: (Mill)
I've seen remarkably little discussion of the Euro elections even amongst the budding psephologists on my friends lists, so here's a quick reminder that the elections operate a closed party list proportional representation system counted by the D'Hondt method. You get one vote - it's not Single Transferable Vote - and votes are counted in a succession of rounds where each party's tally is divided by one more than the number of MEPs they elected in earlier rounds. There's a neat video illustrating the concept here (I'm not endorsing their conclusion that you should vote Green to stop the BNP [1], but it's by far the best graphical representation of the D'Hondt voting system I've seen. Hat-tip to [ profile] matgb - I also generally agree with his assessment of D'Hondt as " of the few electoral systems I've encountered I consider to be worse than the one we use for Westminster, when you get critics attacking 'PR', they're having a go at this pile of arse, which no one sane suggests for Westminster (and Labour had to force through the Lords after a lot of opposition)".)

In London, the party probably closest to getting an extra MEP is the Lib Dems, and that appears to be backed up by our canvassing, but Mandy Rice Davies applies. I would say that, especially as I know both our top two candidates personally (Jonathan Fryer better than Sarah Ludford, but I like and admire them both) and am a lifelong Liberal. I'd far rather you made up your own mind about who to vote for than decided based on who I told you to vote for - I'm assuming the vast majority of my friends list will do so anyway. I can however confirm that if you need and extra quiz team member, Jonathan Fryer's your man. ;-)

Assuming you haven't already voted already, polls open tomorrow at 7am and close at 10pm.

[1] Any attempt to vote tactically under D'Hondt tends to suffer from the assumption that almost everyone else will vote the way they did last time, and you're going to be the crucial tactical voter. In elections where tactical voting can be a high percentage of the total vote, this can seriously skew the result (it's a problem with FPTP, too). The problem for someone trying to stop the BNP (or any other party) is that you've no easy way of judging whether (say) the Greens will just miss out on one MEP or (say) Labour will just miss out on three. This is made even more complicated by the recent volatility in the polls, which means that all three of the main parties may have a vote substantially down on what they usually do. You only get one vote in D'Hondt, and you have to nail your colours to the mast and stick with them. Unlike in STV, if you guess wrong and vote for Labour when they don't quite make the third MEP, you don't then get to switch your vote to the Greens to help push them over and get one.

(Edit: - thanks [ profile] hfnuala!)
djm4_lj: (Sibelius)
I searched for 'Pizza' on just now, and the folllowing panel appeared in the sidebar:

I mean, what?
djm4_lj: (Default)
The absolutely best thing about this footage, even better than the fact that someone was pointing a camera at the hole at the right moment, is the reaction of the fellow in grey. Having moments ago seen a large and solid-looking chunk of tarmac fall six feet into the ground, he strolls casually over several feet of similar-looking tarmac to the edge of the hole and looks in.

Has he never seen any disaster movies? Why did he not immediately get eaten by a giant earthworm?
djm4_lj: (Default)
This post by Ben Goldacre, brilliantly entitled 'Parmageddon', makes a lot of very good points about the coverage of swine flu, and the difficulty of reporting on a subject with a high margin of error. Without wanting to detract from that, I think it also misses a couple of important points.

The first is that the reason that the public mistrusts newspapers on stories like this (Ben Goldacre lists Sars, bird flu and MMR together, which I think is an interesting grouping, and I'll explain why later) is that the headline writers - and usually the copy writers too - instinctively go for the most extreme end of the margin of error. Faced with a study that says that sharpening pencils is probably harmless, but there's a 2% chance that it will cure cancer, and a 1% chance that it will attract meteorites, the headlines will be 'Flaming fireballs to rain destruction on school classrooms' one day, and then (for balance) 'Put lead in your pencil for a long life, say scientists' the next. Nowhere is there any coverage of the outcome that is vastly more likely, because that doesn't sell newspapers; to be fair, it doesn't sell newspapers because people find it boring to read, so it's not completely the journalists' and editors' fault.

Then along comes swine flu - a phenomenon where, as Ben Goldacre points out, it's really too early to say at this stage what the likely outcome is. We don't have enough data to make an educated guess. We can do the Bayesian thing and attempt to assign probabilities to hypothetical outcomes, but I don't think (and AFAICT Ben Goldacre agrees) that we can do it with any degree of confidence. So when the papers say '40% of the world could be infected' or '120 million people could die', it's a Bayesian 'could', and one that we don't really have a good feel for yet. We can look at past flu epidemics (although the problem here is the tendency to focus on the obvious, severe ones), but even so, we don't yet know whether this one's like any of those.

It's chaos theory. We're looking at a tiny pressure difference in the mid-Atlantic, which might fizzle out and might develop into a hurricane, but we can't measure it in enough detail (or model its complex behaviour well enough) to say yet.

Of course, the World Health Organisation and Governments need to at least try to do these calculations, and the understandable tendency is to prepare for the worst scenario that looks at all likely. But even they, at this stage, are almost certainly dealing with judgements that they simply don't have the data to make accurately at this stage. And the media reports this, as it should, although often not with the emphasis it should.

As Ben Goldacre rightly points out, that's not to say they're wrong to make such judgements, nor that they will have been shown to have been wrong if the threat doesn't materialise. When the hypothetical 'this might happen' becomes an after-the-fact 'this did happen', we're prone to looking at every 'this might happen' that didn't, and concluding that they couldn't have. (We take a frequentist approach to a Bayesian analysis, in other words, forgetting that we couldn't do a frequentist analysis before the fact anyway.) Sars and bird flu didn't become global threats (yet), but that's not to say that with slightly different starting conditions which would have been impossible for us to measure at the time, they could never have done so.

And then there's MMR, and the possible link to autism. I find it odd that Ben Goldacre groups this to Sars and bird flu at the start of his article, because he of all people should know that this really was largely a panic engineered unwittingly by the media, with no good evidence to back it up. Sars and bird flu both could have been serious threats; MMR couldn't have caused widespread autism, and this should have been apparent at the time. What's more, the fact that the story about the supposed MMR link to autism has almost certainly caused vast damage by reducing the takeup of the vaccine is a neat illustration of the fact that it's often the side effects of the story - the public's over-reaction to it - that you need to watch for. It may turn out to be that case with swine flu; if it does become a serious threat, I worry that far more people will be killed in a scrap over medical and food resources than will be killed by the flu itself. So far, though, this shows no signs of happening, which is a very good thing.

Ben Goldacre mentions the boy who cried 'wolf', and (correctly) points out that the public (incorrectly) see the headlines about swine flu to be an example of this. This is true of the story as told be Aesop; in the fable, the motivation of the boy who cried 'wolf' was to get attention for himself. However, if the boy cried 'wolf' because he thought that the thing he saw moving in the woods near the flock was indeed a wolf, even though he knew full well that it could also be a deer, that's a different story in more ways than the obvious one. Is he then wrong to cry 'wolf', even if it turns out to be a deer? Are the villagers right to ignore him the third time, after it's been a deer for the first two, knowing that there are real wolves out there? Would the village newspaper be scaremongering to print 'Wolf may lurk in wood'? Possibly, but it's a lot less clear-cut.

(Cross-posted from Dreamwidth here: - feel free to comment in either place. I promise my LJ isn't only going to be Dreamwidth cross-posts from now on.)
djm4_lj: (Default)
To expand a little on my most recent tweet:

One thing the budget announced was to reduce the personal allowance of anyone earning over £100,000 at a rate of £1 for every £2 over £100,000 until completely withdrawn. This seems to have gone a little unnoticed by most commentators, and indeed I've had trouble finding links to the details of the plans, not least because they seem to have changed sine the pre-budget announcement. (It's section A8 in the BBC's complete budget report, but even this doesn't really give any more details.)

Now, I don't earn over £100,000, and am unlikely ever to. But I think this bears a closer look, particularly given the '50% Tax Rate!' headlines in pretty much every paper at the moment.

Let's say I'm earning £100,000, ad I get a £100 pay rise. £40 of that goes in tax immediately. However, I also lose £50 of my existing personal allowance, so now have to pay tax on it. Assuming I'm paying tax on it at the full 40% (and I admit I may be wrong on that, because I can't find any figures), that's an extra £20 of tax, which means that a full £60 of my £100 pay rise has gone in tax.

That's a marginal tax rate of 60%. (Even if I pay tax on the £50 at 20%, it's a tax rate of 50%). Which means that there's suddenly an extra tax band create for anyone earning between £100,000 and around £113,000. The UK tax bands will go:

* £0 - personal allownace: 0%
* personal allowance - £34,800: 20%
* £34,800 - £100,000: 40%
* £100,000 - £113,000: 60%
* £113,000 - £150,000: 40%
* £150,000 and above: 50%

It seems unfair that someone earning £110,000 should be taxed at a higher effective rate than someone earning £120,000, let alone someone earning £160,000.

Have I got my sums wrong, or missed something fundamental about how the income tax system in the UK works?

(This entry was originally posted at Feel free to comment there using OpenID.)
djm4_lj: (boogie)
For fans of this weekend's F1 Grand Prix, and Fernando Alonso in particular, and Donovan's drug-infused hit Mellow Yellow. If there are any besides us, that is.

Full credit to [ profile] aegidian for the idea and many of the lyrics. I've followed the structure of the original closely, hence the many repeated lines:
Warning: potential earworm below the cut: )
djm4_lj: (Ariete)
The BBC has made available the original Last Chance To See radio programmes from 1989 (UK only, unfortunately) - Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine travelling the world in search of endangered species. I had no idea they were narrated by the original Voice Of The Book, the late, great Peter Jones. Even if you've read the book, these radio gems are highly recommended.

Millennium Dome's Daddy (he doesn't say which) reviews Doctor Who: The Planet of the Dead. He doesn't like it very much. I quite enjoyed it at the time, but agree with every one of the criticisms listed here, and suspect it won't be one I re-watch much.
djm4_lj: (Wallace)
Selected photos under the cut from today's visit to Colchester Zoo with [ profile] lizw, [ profile] aegidian and R. Full gallery here. I'm especially chuffed with the sleeping Aardvark family; I'm fairly sure I've never seen Aardvarks before.
Read more... )
djm4_lj: (Glasses)
As several people on my friends list have pointed out, has been de-ranking 'adult' books, which includes several gay and lesbian titles. (See also this blog post.)

I thought for a while that this was only the site, not the one, because a lot of the books mentioned in the post did have ranks on the one. But Heather Has Two Mommies is unranked on the UK site (look under 'Poroduct Details' below 'Average Customer Review' where it would normally be). Go figure.

On the .com site Oranges are not the Only Fruit is unranked (and that in itself is enough to make me want to burn my Amazon Prime subscription). But Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit [BARGAIN PRICE] (Paperback) does have a sales rank. Because of the way Amazon appear to have organised their searches, This means that if you search for the book from the 'Books' section, the full price one comes up, but if you search from the home page, the bargain one comes up. (I admit there may be something else going on here; Amazon searches can be eclectic at the best of times.)

Lest we forget, Amazon have some pretty nasty working practices too.
djm4_lj: (Lizard)
Clearly marked Police Medic fights his way through the lines (possibly to administer his own brand of CPR to Ian Tomlinson). I say again, in the unlikely event that protesters actually did throw bottles at the police to keep them away, who can blame them. (Hat-tip to [ profile] lizw.)

Also Millennium Dome, Elephant gets stompy about recent police stories.
djm4_lj: (Lizard)
Video of the police 'helping' Ian Tomlinson shortly before his death. If this is genuine (and it's a very good job if it isn't) and in the now increasingly unlikely event that the police aren't lying about having plastic bottles thrown at them as they tried to administer CPR to him - here's why. The protesters had just seen the sort of 'CPR' the police at the demo could be expected to administer, and presumably didn't want him getting any more of it.

Lib Dem MP David Howarth calls for a criminal investigation - quite right too. See also, if you haven't already, Tom Brake MP (and others) on YouTube from within the kettle. It makes me somewhat suspicious about the recent bill put through Parliament making it an offence to take pictures of officers 'likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism'. Yes, no chance of that being abused.

In case it needs saying, I'm not characterising this as typical police behaviour. In my experience it's not; it's not even typical behaviour for police at a demo. That said, it is one of the known possible options; I myself saw mounted police charge peaceful protestors at an NUS demo in the late 80s, and have heard eye-witness (if often biased) reports of various other incidents.
djm4_lj: (Default)
British Muslim Imran Ahmad is made redundant and decides to go on a speaking tour of the US to promote a message of peace and harmony between the non-Muslim and Muslim world.

I disagree with him about a lot - his reaction to the niqab in particular - but I admire his decision to take his message directly to people who he thought should hear it. He clearly doesn't lack courage.


Mar. 18th, 2009 09:31 pm
djm4_lj: (Accident)
Just to cap it all, I have the house lurgy. Which means that I have no energy at all - it took about half an hour to get it together enough to write this post - my joints all ache and I have a sore throat. I also have a headache, which makes the budgies' chatter less welcome than it usually is.

I will Lemsip my way to physiotherapy tomorrow, though. I am laughably unable to drive at the moment; I sat in the car this morning and could barely move the gear stick, let alone the handbrake.
djm4_lj: (Accident)
After spending a couple of hours waiting in various places (including getting X-rayed again at one point), I had a brief but reassuring consultation with a doctor who assured me that everything was healing up well, and the problems I was experiencing in my thumb were almost certainly a bruised rather than significantly damaged nerve. Yes, this will still take a while to heal, but it's pretty much what they expect. I then got my cast re=done again, and now have a straighter, more comfortable one made of resin; this did involve the Australian medic in the plaster room looking at my original X-ray and exclaiming: 'crikey, how did you do that?'.

From now on, I'm meant to try to use my left hand more - although obviously not for lifting anything heavy and driving is right out - and only wear the sling when I'm out and about. I am getting more mobility in my fingers and even a little back in my thumb, although it's currently limited to being able to touch my index and middle fingers (just). Lego Batman on the PS2 will have to wait a bit, although I'm regarding it as potentially great exercise when I finally am able to do it (like I need an excuse).

The problem will be persuading myself not to go straight back to work as soon as I get any energy, as I'm tending to overestimate how much I have at the moment. I cycled the dishwasher and was about to attempt some laundry when my energy ran out in a big way this afternoon and I fell asleep for a couple of hours.

Next fracture clinic appointment is in three weeks. It would usually have been two, but assuming that I'm feeling at all up to it, I'll be in Harrogate in a couple of weeks for the Lib Dem Spring Conference. Even if all I do is sit around in Harrogate, it'll be a good break, and I've still got one good voting arm, after all.

Edit: Oh yes, I've succumbed to Twitter, which looks as though it has that most precious of attributes in an Internet service: it does 'One Thing Very Well'. I'm also going to enjoy the discipline of writing updates in 140 characters or less.
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