2020-05-12

Testing for determinism

Apropos of nothing[1], here's a view on testing a complicated system for deterministic behaviour. The late, great John Conway proposed the rules for "Game of Life", an environment on an arbitrary-sized "chess board" where each square could be either alive or dead, and potentially change at every "tick" of a clock according to the following rules.

  1. Any live cell with two or three live neighbours survives.
  2. Any dead cell with three live neighbours becomes a live cell.
  3. All other live cells die in the next generation. Similarly, all other dead cells stay dead.
You'd think that this would be a very boring game, given such simple rules - but it in fact generates some very interesting behaviour. You find eternally iterating structures ("oscillators"), evolving structures that travel steadily across the board ("spaceships"), and even "glider guns" that fire a repeated sequence of spaceships.

Building a simulation of Conway's Game of Life is something of a rite of passage for programmers - doing it in a coding language new to the programmer generally shows that they have figured out the language enough to do interesting things. But how do they know that they have got it right? This is where "unit testing" comes into play.

Unit testing is a practice where you take one function F in your code, figure out what it should be doing, and write a test function that repeatedly calls F with specific inputs, and checks in each case that the output is what's expected. Simple, no? If F computes multiplication, you check that F(4,5)=20, F(0,10)=0, F(45,1)=45 etc.

Here's a unit test script. It's written in Go, for nerds, [2] but should be understandable based on function names to most people with some exposure to programming. First, you need to check the function that you've written to see whether two Life boards are equivalent, so you create empty 4x4, 4x5, 5x4 boards and see if your comparison function thinks they're the same.
(In Go, read "!" as "not", and "//" marks a comment which the computer will ignore but programmers can, and should, read)

  b1 := life.NewBoard(4,4)
  b2 := life.NewBoard(4,4)
  // These should be equivalent
  if ! life.AreEqual(b1,b2) {
     t.Error("blank 4x4 boards aren't the same")
  }
  b3 := life.NewBoard(5,4)
  b4 := life.NewBoard(4,5)
  if life.AreEqual(b1,b3) {
    t.Error("different size boards are the same")
  }
That's easy, but you also need to check that adding a live cell to a board makes it materially different:
  // Add in a block to b1 and compare with b2
  life.AddBlock(0,0,b1)
  if life.AreEqual(b1,b2) {
    t.Error("one board has a block, blank board is equivalent")
  }
  // Add the same block to b2 in same place, they should be equal
  life.AddBlock(0,0,b2)
  if ! life.AreEqual(b1,b2) {
    t.Error("2 boards, same block, unequal")
  }
This is helpful, but we still don't know whether that "block" (live cell) was added in the right place. What if a new block is always added at (2,3) rather than the coordinates specified? Our test above would still pass. How do we check for this failure case?

One of the spaceships in Life, termed a glider, exists in a 3x3 grid and moves (in this case) one row down and one column across every 4 generations. Because we understand this fundamental but fairly complex behaviour, we can build a more complicated test. Set up a 5x5 board, create a glider, and see if

  1. the board is different from its start state at time T+1;
  2. the board does not return to its start state at time T+2 through T+19; and
  3. the board does return to its start start at time T+20.
Code to do this:
  b5 := life.NewBoard(5,5)
  life.AddGlider(0, 0, b5, life.DownRight)
  b6 := life.CopyBoard(b5)
  if ! life.AreEqual(b5,b6) {
    t.Error("Copied boards aren't the same")
  }
  // A glider takes 4 cycles to move 1 block down and 1 block across.
  // On a 5x5 board, it will take 5 x 4 cycles to completely cycle
  for i := 0 ; i< 19 ; i++ {
    life.Cycle(b5)
    if life.AreEqual(b5,b6) {
      t.Error(fmt.Sprintf("Glider cycle %d has looped, should not", i))
  }
  life.Cycle(b5)
  if ! life.AreEqual(b5,b6) {
    t.Error("Glider on 5x5 board did not cycle with period 20")
  }
Now, even if you assume AreEqual(), NewBoard(), CopyBoard() work fine, you could certainly construct functions AddGlider(), Cycle() which pass this test. However you'd have to try pretty hard to get them right enough to pass, but still wrong. This is the essence of unit testing - you make it progressively harder, though not impossible, for a function to do the wrong thing. One plausible failure scenario is to make the adjacent-cells locator in Cycle() incorrect such that the glider goes up-and-across rather than down-and-across. To fix that, you could add some code to turn-on a critical cell at (say) time 8, such that that cell would be live in the expected motion, so no effect, but empty in the other motion.

Clearly, for unit testing to work, you want a unit tester who is at least as ingenious (and motivated) as the coder. In most cases, the coder is the unit tester, so "soft" unit tests are unfortunately common - still, at least they're a basis to argue that the code meets some kind of spec. And if the client isn't happy with the tests, they're free to add their own.

Why am I so mad at Neil Ferguson? He's free to make whatever epidemiological assumptions that he wants, but he usurped the "authority" of computer modelling to assert that his model should be trusted, without actually undertaking the necessary and fundamental computer science practices - not least, unit testing.

[1] Lies: Neil Ferguson, take note
[2] Object-oriented model avoided for clarity to readers

2020-05-10

Harmeet Dhillon picked a winner

I enjoyed reading a Gizmodo article today. (This is not a common occurrence). The article itself was a mostly-triumphant comment on James "neurotic women" Damore closing his lawsuit against The Google:

Damore proceeded to sue Google for discrimination in January 2018. Per Bloomberg, three other men who worked for or applied for jobs at Alphabet, Google’s parent company, also signed on to Damore's lawsuit. In the lawsuit, Damore's lawyers argued that he and others "were ostracized, belittled, and punished for their heterodox political views, and for the added sin of their birth circumstances of being Caucasians and/or males."
I read the internal blog posts in the initial complaint, and to be honest it looked pretty problematic for Google. So why close the lawsuit now?

Aha! a clue in a the Bloomberg article on the suit conclusion:

A lawyer for the men, Harmeet Dhillon, said they're prohibited as part of their agreement with Google from saying anything beyond what's in Thursday’s court filing. Google declined to comment.
It's pretty clear, isn't it? Google settled. They looked at what would plausibly come out of discovery, and - even if they were pretty confident in a Silicon Valley jury taking the socially woke side of the case - didn't like how a court case would play out in public. This is a guess on my part, to be clear, but a fairly confident guess. How much would a company pay for positive nationwide publicity? You can treble that for them to avoid negative nationwide publicity.

Damore probably got fairly close to a sensible loss-of-earnings amount. Harmeet Dhillon, his lawyer probably got 30%-40% of that; maybe on the lower end because the publicity was worth beaucoup $$ to her.

When your ess-jay-double-yuh's
Cost you many dollars,
That's Damore!

When their memes and blog post
Enrich lawyers the most
That's Damore!

Called it - EU Big Data has no Value

Back in 2014 I said re the EU Big Data project:

The EU is about to hand a couple billion euros to favoured European companies and university research departments, and it's going to get nine tenths of squat all out of it. Mark my words, and check back in 2020 to see what this project has produced to benefit anyone other than its participants.
Well, this is 2020 - what happened?

Here's the bigdatavalue.eu blog - the most recent article?

THE SECOND GOLDEN AGE OF DUTCH SCIENCE, 1850-1914
Posted on February 18, 2019 by admin
Previous post:
PAKISTAN AND AFGHANISTAN: OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES IN THE WAKE OF THE CURRENT CRISIS
Posted on September 4, 2018 by admin
I guess nothing actually happened then. But hey, it's only €500M....

Per the original article:

The project, which will start work on 1 January 2015, will examine climate information, satellite imagery, digital pictures and videos, transaction records and GPS signals. It will also look at data privacy issues, access rights to data and databases, intellectual property rights and legal aspects of new technical developments such as who holds the rights to automatically generated data.
"Look at", but apparently didn't actually "do" anything...

It's a human tragedy that the UK won't be involved post-Brexit in such innovative projects such as this.

2020-03-07

Women in charge equals... piss-poor arguments

I'd like to draw attention to an inspiring call to action[1] from NZ's minister for women, Julie Anne Genter:

On International Women’s Day, let’s commit to properly compensating women for the unpaid and underpaid work they have always done
A wonderful sentiment! Let's analyse the arguments she presents. Oh wait, it's the Guardian - we're limited to analysing randomised woke bloviating, but let's try to treat it as a principled argument.

What's the top wrongness that we're trying to right?

The world would stop running were it not for the unpaid and underpaid work undertaken by women.
Also true for men. What's your point?
It is tempting to think that women being paid fairly is down to individual choices each person makes. That women just need to apply for different jobs, negotiate for higher salaries, or put themselves forward more.
Yes, indeed. For some reason, trash-collection jobs (early morning, physical exertion, people getting irate if not done properly) are paid higher than hiring diversity managers (10am-4pm flexible hours, hard to measure output, no-one really cares if you turn up to work). It's a shocker.
But that ignores some of the fundamental reasons the gender pay gap remains so stubbornly high.
Oh, do tell.

Julie now switches to blatant sexism:

Female-dominated occupations such as nursing, teaching and caring are indispensable around the world. We must recognise and value their skills and contribution.
You're arguing that male nurses and elementry teachers - who are (obviously) fighting against stereotypes to join their professions - are volunteering to take lower-paid roles than they could otherwise have got? Or are you arguing that they are on average so incompetent that this is their best available gig? Please clarify.

She concludes with an inspiring call to action:

Today, on International Women’s Day, I want more countries to follow our lead and do more to see all women paid fairly. We can end the gender pay gap in our lifetime.
Absolutely. Just make illegal discrimination by gender for hiring in any given job role. Then women can apply for any job they want and be treated exactly the same as men. Great idea.

Already enshrined in law, apparently? Job done then, Julie. Time to resign and save the NZ taxpayer the cost of your salary.

[1] No, not really. But I guess you knew that.

PS: shockingly, Julie Ann Genter is a UC Berkeley philosophy graduate. Bet you couldn't have guessed that from her writing. And she's a member of the New Zealand Green Party, laying claim to a legacy of intellectual rigor that stretches back to... who am I kidding.

2019-12-15

Scottish independence referendum - a compromise

The 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum resulted in a fairly clear "No" vote - 55% No to 44% Yes - but with the recent hilarity of the 2019 UK election result and a very strong Scottish Nationalist showing, there are increasingly strident calls from the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) for a re-run.

Inconveniently, the SNP wrote a manifesto for the 2014 referendum in which they promised:

If we vote No, Scotland stands still. A once in a generation opportunity to follow a different path, and choose a new and better direction for our nation, is lost.
[...]
The debate we are engaged in as a nation is about the future of all of us lucky enough to live in this diverse and vibrant country. It is a rare and precious moment in the history of Scotland – a once in a generation opportunity to chart a better way.
[...]
It is the view of the current Scottish Government that a referendum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. This means that only a majority vote for Yes in 2014 would give certainty that Scotland will be independent.
A "generation" is somewhere between 18 and 30 years (age of adulthood vs average age for first time birth in the UK) so it seems a bit problematic to hold a second referendum before 2032 at the very earliest.

Fear not, First Minister Sturgeon! Hemiposterical has a solution.

The eligibility to vote for the 2014 referendum was:

  • British citizens who were resident in Scotland;
  • Citizens of other Commonwealth countries who were resident in Scotland;
  • Citizens of other European Union countries who were resident in Scotland;
  • Members of the House of Lords who were resident in Scotland;
  • Service/Crown personnel serving in the UK or overseas in the British Armed Forces or with Her Majesty's Government who were registered to vote in Scotland.
Let's flip that around by replacing "Scotland" with "England". Hold a binding referendum on Scottish independence, based on these eligibility criteria in 2023 (9 years after the first referendum, 9 years before the earliest date of the next one) and, if the population of England votes "Yes", wave a cheery farewell to Scotland.

This doesn't disenfranchise the Scots - they retain the right to hold their own referendum in the future and see it pass. It just additionally enfranchises the population in the part of the Union who have to fund Scotland to the tune of an additional £12bn per year, or so, in Barnett Formula payments. Since we had a referendum on EU membership with a similar net payment, this seems proportionate.

I'm not including Northern Ireland and Wales in the referendum in fairness to the Scots - they already receive significant Barnett payment, and so would be highly motivated to vote "Yes", evict Scotland and benefit from a potentially larger pool of funding.

So Boris, Nicola - how about it?

2019-12-12

Carefully considered initial analysis of UK 2019 election result

Hahahahahahahahahaha... hahahahahahaha...hahaha...

[gaaaaaaassssp for breath]

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha....

Having Momentum's Jon Lansman on the BBC arguing that the public clearly have an appetite for moar better Socialism is just the icing on the cake.

2019-09-27

The pace of PACER

Permit me a brief, hilarious diversion into the world of US Government corporate IT. PACER is a USA federal online system - "Public Access to Court Electronic Records" which lets people and companies access transcribed records from the US courts. One of their judges has been testifying to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, IP, and the internet and in the process revealed interesting - and horrifying - numbers.

TL;DR -

  1. it costs at least 4x what it reasonably should; but
  2. any cost savings will be eaten up by increased lawyer usage; nevertheless,
  3. rampant capitalism might be at least a partial improvement; so
  4. the government could upload the PACER docs to the cloud, employ a team of 5-10 to manage the service in the cloud, and save beaucoup $$.
Of course, I could be wrong on point 2, but I bet I'm not.

Background

PACER operates with all the ruthless efficiency we have come to expect from the federal government.[1] It's not free; anyone can register for it, usage requires a payment instrument (credit card) but it is free if you use less than $15 per quarter. The basis of charging is:

All registered agencies or individuals are charged a user fee of $0.10 per page. This charge applies to the number of pages that results from any search, including a search that yields no matches (one page for no matches). You will be billed quarterly.
You would think that, at worst, it would be cost-neutral. One page of black+white text at reasonably high resolution is a bit less than 1MB, and (for an ISP) that costs less than 1c to serve on the network. Therefore you spend less than 9c on the machines and people required to store and serve the data, and profit!

Apparently not...

The PACER claims

It was at this point in the article that I fell off my chair:

Fleissig said preliminary figures show that court filing fees would go up by about $750 per case to “produce revenue equal to the judiciary’s average annual collections under the current public access framework.” That could, for example, drive up the current district court civil filing fee from $350 to $1,100, she said.
What the actual expletive? This implies that:
  1. the average filing requests 7500 pages of PACER documents - and that the lawyers aren't caching pages to reduce client costs (hollow laughter); or
  2. the average filing requests 25 PACER searches; or
  3. the average client is somewhere on the continuum between these points.
It seems ridiculously expensive. One can only conclude, reluctantly, that lawyers are not trying to drive down costs for their clients; I know, it's very hard to credit. [2]

And this assumes that 10c/page and $30/search is the actual cost to PACER - let us dig into this.

The operational costs

Apparently PACER costs the government $100M/year to operate:

“Our case management and public access systems can never be free because they require over $100 million per year just to operate,” [Judge Audrey] Fleissig said [in testimony for the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, IP, and the internet]. “That money must come from somewhere.”
Judge Fleissig is correct in the broad sense - but hang on, $100M in costs to run this thing? How much traffic does it get?

The serving costs

Let's look at the serving requirements:

PACER, which processed more than 500 million requests for case information last fiscal year
Gosh, that's a lot. What's that per second? 3600 seconds/hour x 24 hours/day x 365 days/year is 32 million seconds/year, so Judge Fleissig is talking about... 16 queries per second. Assume that's one query per page. That's laughably small.

Assume that peak traffic is 10x that, and you can serve comfortably 4 x 1MB pages per second on a 100Mbit network connection from a single machine; that's 40 machines with associated hardware, say amortized cost of $2,000/year per machine - implies order of $100K/year on hardware, to ensure a great user experience 24 hours per day 365 days per year. Compared to $100M/year budget, that's noise. And you can save 50% just by halving the number of machines and rejecting excess traffic at peak times.

The ingestion and storage costs

Perhaps the case ingestion is intrinsically expensive, with PACER having to handle non-standard formats? Nope:

The Judiciary is planning to change the technical standard for filing documents in the Case Management and Electronic Case Filing (CM/ECF) system from PDF to PDF/A. This change will improve the archiving and preservation of case-related documents.
So PACER ingests PDFs from courts - plus, I assume, some metadata - and serves PDFs to users.

How much data does PACER ingest and hold? This is a great Fermi question; here's a good worked example of answer, with some data.

There's a useful Ars Technica article on Aaron Swartz that gives us data on the document corpus as of 2013:

PACER has more than 500 million documents
Assume it's doubled as of 2019, that's 1 billion documents. Assume 1MB/page, 10 pages/doc, that's 10^9 docs x 10 MB per doc = 10^10 MB = 1x10^4 TB. That's 1000 x 10TB hard drives. Assume $300/drive, and drives last 3 years, and you need twice the number of drives to give redundancy, that's $200 per 10TB per year in storage costs, or $200K for 10,000 TB. Still, noise compared to $100M/year budget. But the operational costs of managing that storage can be high - which is why Cloud services like Amazon Web Services, Azure and Google Cloud have done a lot of work to offer managed services in this area.

Amazon, for instance, charges $0.023 per GB per month for storage (on one price model) - for 10^9 x 1MB docs, that's 1,000,000 GB x $0.023 or $23K/month, $276K/year. Still way less than 1% of the $100M/year budget.

Incidentally Aaron Swartz agrees with the general thrust of my article:

Yet PACER fee collections appear to have dramatically outstripped the cost of running the PACER system. PACER users paid about $120 million in 2012, thanks in part to a 25 percent fee hike announced in 2011. But Schultze says the judiciary's own figures show running PACER only costs around $20 million.
A rise in costs of 5x in 6 years? That's approximately doubling every 2 years. As noted above, it seems unlikely to be due to serving costs - even though volumes have risen, serving and storage costs have got cheaper. Bet it's down to personnel costs. I'd love to see the accounts break-down. How many people are they employing, and what are those people doing?

The indexing costs - or lack thereof

Indexing words and then searching a large corpus of text is notoriously expensive - that's what my 10c per electronic page is paying for, right? Apparently not:

There is a fee for retrieving and distributing case information for you: $30 for the search, plus $0.10 per page per document delivered electronically, up to 5 documents (30 page cap applies).
It appears that PACER is primarily constructed to deliver responses to "show me the records of case XXXYYY" or "show me all cases from court ZZZ", not "show me all cases that mention 'Britney Spears'." That's a perfectly valid decision but makes it rather hard to justify the operating costs.

Security considerations

Oh, please. These docs are open to anyone who has an account. The only thing PACER should be worried about is someone in Bangalore or Shanghai scraping the corpus, or the top N% of cases, and serving that content for much less cost. Indeed, that's why they got upset at Aaron Swartz. Honestly, though, the bulk of their users - law firms - are very price-insensitive. Indeed, they quite possibly charge their clients 125% or more of their PACER costs, so if PACER doubled costs overnight they'd celebrate.

I hope I'm wrong. I'm afraid I'm not.

Public serving alternatives

I don't know how much Bing costs to operate, but I'd bet a) that its document corpus is bigger than PACER, b) that its operating costs are comparable, c) that its indexing is better than PACER, d) that its search is better than PACER, e) that its page serving latency is better than PACER... you get the picture.

Really though, if I were looking for a system to replace this, I'd build off an off-the-shelf solution to translate inbound PDFs to indexed text - something like OpenText - and run a small serving stack on top. That reduces the regular serving cost, since pages are a few KB of text rather than 1MB of PDF, and lets me get rid of all the current people costs associated with the customized search and indexing work on the current corpus.

PACER is a terrible use of government money

Undoubtedly it's not the worst[3], but I'd love for the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, IP, and the internet to drag Jeff Bezos in to testify and ask him to quote a ballpark number for serving PACER off Amazon Web Services, with guaranteed 100% profit margin.

Bet it's less than 1/4 of the current $100M/year.

[1] Yes, irony
[2] Why does New Jersey have the most toxic waste dumps and California the most lawyers? California New Jersey got first choice. [Thanks Mr Worstall!]
[3] Which is terribly depressing.

2019-09-22

Deconstructing Dr Rachel McKinnon

Those of my readers who are keen followers of trans rights issues - likely none - may be aware of the controversy surrounding Dr Rachel McKinnon (person's preferred Twitter handle) who is a man who identifies as a woman ("trans woman"). McKinnon was previously an OK-but-far-from-top-tier cyclist in the men's arena. Upon "becoming" a woman, McKinnon quickly powered to the top ranking, including a win in the UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championship in the 35-44 age group (female), and if you click through to that link you might have an inkling why.

McKinnon has been assiduous on chasing down (and blocking) anyone on Twitter who questions the fairness of a physiological man competing with physiological females. I can't imagine why, unless there's a certain element of feeling guilty about sudden un-earned success.

Luckily, the golden fountain of academic publishing has provided a definitive voice on the subject[1]. McKinnon has published a paper (co-authored with Dr. Aryn Conrad) in PHILOSOPHICAL TOPICS, VOL. 46, NO. 2, FALL 2018 which settles the issue once and for all. [Rachel, FYI, I've squirrelled away a copy of this in case you delete it.]

Aryn Conrad, if you were wondering, also appears not to have been born in the same gender to which they now identify. Apparently Aryn is "the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants" though I wonder whether that's exactly the same relationship that the grandparents would state.

Let's take a walk through this article. The abstract sets out their goal:

We argue that the inclusion of trans athletes in competition commensurate with their legal gender is the most consistent position with these principles of fair and equitable sport.
Gosh, that's not something we could have predicted, at all. But perhaps we're being unfair, what's the actual argument? Well:
We suggest that the justificatory burden for such prima facie discrimination [endogenous testosterone limits] is unlikely to be met. Thus, in place of a limit on endogenous testosterone for women (whether cisgender, transgender, or intersex), we argue that ‘legally recognized gender’ is most fully in line with IOC and CAS principles.
In other words, it doesn't matter if trans athletes have a material physiological advantage over women, the paper wants to talk about whether the existing regulations are fully consistent with respect to the issues of male-to-female athletes. This approach is certain to win over female athletes on the lower steps of the podium, of course.

It's a poor quality "paper", by the way; 61 double-spaced pages without diagrams before you get to the appendices, so about 30 normal pages. Contrary to what aspiring academics might think, length is generally inversely proportional to quality. If you can't make the core argument in 10 pages, you're probably relying on length to cover up plot holes. It also doesn't follow the usual structure of "tell 'em what you're going to say, say it, tell them that you've said it" - perhaps because that would make it much easier to check their claims.

Reading through the paper, the key claims are:

  1. Internation sport regulations, and their legal effect and scope, are complicated;
  2. There are some edge cases of people born as women with high testosterone, which have not been handled consistently;
  3. Sport regs say we must not discriminate on various grounds - is "gender identity" (as opposed to biological sex) one of those grounds? (you'll be shocked to learn that the authors think that it is);
  4. Apparently not clear that biological women with excess testosterone have a significant physiological advantage over other women;
  5. What is the meaning of "fairness / level playing field" in sport? There's a huge amount of waffle here, but seems to boil down to "gender identity is intrinsic, so you can't base fairness on it in the same way that you can't say that a 7 foot tall person has an unfair advantage in the high jump". (I'm doing some serious editing here, the text is sprawling and terribly structured and summarised).

At this point I'd like to pull out the quote:

So if trans women are female, we ask, why would 'male' physiological data be relevant to the question of fairness? We know this won’t be convincing. But it is an important question to confront.
Well, there's the tiny matter that male physiology is hugely relevant to performance in sport."We know this won't be convincing" - yes, because it is not at all convincing. It is, if you excuse the phrase in this context, bollocks.

Continuing, we have:

  1. Placing upper limits on testosterone in "women" is totes unfair;
  2. Trans women's physiological advantage is not that big, in fact men and women almost completely overlap in physiology (I swear, that's what they say);
  3. Trans women are actually just like regular hi-testosterone women in sports performance;
  4. Indeed, setting testosterone limits on women in sport is probably unfair and unreasonable;
  5. Bodies are complex and testosterone levels are not the whole story by a long chalk;
  6. Testosterone levels don't seem correlated with performance by elite men;
  7. Actually, just don't use testosterone to judge who's a man and who's a woman - just take their word for it;
  8. Let's look at Caster Semenya as an edge case of high-performing woman with testosterone, trans women are totes the same as her
  9. If you don't let men identifying as women compete in women-only events, it's just not fair dammit.
My goodness me. I'm glad I only had to read that once. If I were designing a paper structure to bury the facts and specific arguments, I don't think I could have done better. Props to McKinnon and Conrad. Of course, if they were actually trying to convince rather than write an obscure scrawl to point to as "academic validation of our argument, baby!" they'd have written it differently.

I don't know who the reviewers were for this paper, but if they got any remuneration then I'd recommend clawing it back, sharp-ish.

Rachel and Aryn: if you want to submit a more compact version of the paper to a journal with standards on conciseness, you're welcome to build from the above structure. I don't want any co-author credit because I think your arguments are ludicrous, but I'd like to see them at least argued clearly.

Rachel McKinnon and Aryn Conrad appear to be desperate to get external validation for their lifestyle choices. I'm reminded at this point of Robert Pirsig's comment in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance":

You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it's going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.

[1] No, not really.

2019-07-26

Scentrics is still worth half a billion quid, and other fiction

Suppose that you were a UK company with a real valuation of £500M. Would you - or indeed, your shareholders - tolerate you teetering on the edge of being de-listed as a UK company?

If your company name is Scentrics, it appears that you would:

Date: 04/06/2019
Ref: DEF6/06539484

Companies Act 2006 (Section 1000(3))

The Registrar of Companies gives notice that, unless cause is shown to the contrary, at the expiration of 2 months from the above date the name of
SCENTRICS INFORMATION SECURITY TECHNOLOGIES LIMITED
will be struck off the register and the company will be dissolved

Apparently Scentrics, as a nominal £500M valuation company, finds it too expensive to employ a £20K/year admin to ensure that their basic legal obligations to their national legal authority are covered.

But they are totally still worth half a billion quid, if you're a prospective investor. Swear it, cross my heart.

Scentrics did actually fix the problem - at least, for now:

Date: 06/07/2019

Cause has been shown why the above company should not be struck off the register and accordingly the Registrar is taking no further action under section 1000 of the Companies Act 2006 pursuant to the Notice dated 03/07/2019
Presumably, the previous notice scared the cr*p out of the Scentrics directors and got them to scramble to address the cause of the proposed strike-off. I'd give a good few quid to know that cause, by the way.

The Scentrics accounts for year end June 2018 still assert that Scentrics is worth a bit short of half a billion quid, but the directors certainly aren't acting like this is actually true; per the doctrine of revealed preference, one is left with the conclusion that those owning the shares believe that it's worth, on the balance of probabilities, only a small multiple of the employment costs of a part-time admin assistant with UK company law knowledge.

Sure, it's totally worth £500M. Practically all of its assets are intangible, it has £90M of liabilities, and no-one has taken a good hard look at its accounts. I have £100 that says it will not have more than £10K of tangible assets in 5 years time. Anyone like to take the other side of that bet?

2019-07-07

Diplomatic leak - USA ambassador to the UK

Followuing the leak of messages from the UK ambassador to the USA Sir Kim Darroch, your humble correspondent is pleased to report a rare coup [I'm totally making this up] of message intercepts from the USA's ambassador to the UK.

Let me repeat for the benefit of intelligence agencies, this is totally made up. If it turns out to be mostly correct, that's not my problem.


From: UKAMB Matthew W. Barzun Date: June 23 2016 Subject: Brexit OK, I totally didn't see that coming. Are USA diplomatic personnel strictly liable for debts to UK bookmakers? Asking for a friend.
From: UKAMB Matthew W. Barzun Date: July 10 2016 Subject: UK Conservative party leadership contest Met with one of the Conservative leadership contenders, one Treesa May. Polite, inoffensive, educated, terrible poker player. No chance she'll win unless the Conservative party members have lost their senses. Mind, they picked D Cameron previously, so who knows...
From: UKAMB Matthew W. Barzun Date: July 12 2016 Subject: Welcome to the new UK Prime Minister Tell Barack to brush up a bit on the rules of poker, but he can take the UK to the cleaners whenever he wants.
From: UKAMB Matthew W. Barzun Date: November 7 2016 Subject: Future diplomatic assignments Everything's looking good from my end. Theresa is available for the ritual congrats call whenever HRC wants. Thinking about a public leak of the convo - female Pres to female PM, looks good to the voters both side. Brooke's getting a bit tired of London and worried about the kids' accents. I hear rumors that Janie H has had enough of Paris - any chance we could swap? Just a thought.
From: UKAMB Matthew W. Barzun Date: November 9 2016 Subject: Fuck Fuck fuck fuckity fuck. Fuck. Any chance of a judicial review? How's HRC taking it?
From: DCM Lewis Lukens Date: January 18 2017 Subject: Testing Is this thing on? Any suggestions on format of messaging that DJT likes to hear? Current assessment on the ground is that Theresa will spring an election on the country in the next few months - and she'll cruise to victory, because the Opposition Leader is a less hygienic and more socialist version of B Sanders. Going to put a few $$ on a 50+ seat win at William Hill, anyone who wants in on the action pls send money in the next diplomatic bag.
From: DCM Lewis Lukens Date: June 9 2017 Subject: Predicting the future is hard I don't have access to replies to UKAMB Barzun, what was the advice re his query on UK bookmaker liability?
From: UMKAMB Robert Wood Johnson Date: August 22 2017 Subject: UK catch-up Anyone who says that they know what's happening with Brexit is a liar. This is the shit-show of all shit-shows. Theresa managed to lose her majority to a guy who would be pushed to win a minor role in Seattle politics. Say hi to Melania!
From: UMKAMB Robert Wood Johnson Date: Jan 15 2019 Subject: Clean-up Had a friendly poker game with Theresa May (alleged national leader), Olly Robbins (head of Brexit negotiations), and Philip Hammond (does something with the UK Treasury, I hear). Cleaned up nicely. . Hearing rumors about a leadership challenge if things go screwy before the March deadline. Frankly, this lot couldn't score in a brothel if they had $100 bills jammed in their orifices, so who knows what they'll do.
From: Woody Johnson Date: May 24 2019 Subject: Thank fuck for that Theresa has finally thrown in the towel. Only about three Goddamn years overdue but she was never a quick learner. I had $1000 on Boris J as Brexit PM back in 2016, and intend to roll this over to 2019. Anyone else wants a piece of the action, you know the drill - cash up front. Suzanne and kids are enjoying the increased buying power of the $. Tell DJT that now is a great time to visit, if he can stand the weather....