May 30, 2014

Horse 1684 - What Should Chemical Elements 117 and 118 be Called?

As much as this is going to infuriate CGP Grey but possibly amuse Brady Haran, I'm going to try to address a question posed in "Hello Internet" Episode 13¹ namely:

What should chemical elements 117 and 118 be called?
Temporarily known as element 117 – after the number of protons in its nucleus – the new element's atoms match the heaviest ever observed and are 40 per cent heavier than lead.
It will soon have a catchier name when it is officially recognised by the international body of scientists behind the periodic table, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).
- Sydney Morning Herald, 2nd May 2014

As I see it, the challenge which has been set for us, is to give elements 117 and 118 names which match where they fit in the table because science likes order.

The history of naming chemical elements stretches back into antiquity. Some elements like Silver and Gold, were known by pretty simple sort of names and these are reflected in their current chemical symbols.
Silver was known as "Argentum" in Roman which directly translated means "shining grey" and as a result has the chemical symbol Ar. Gold was known in Roman as "Aurum" and likewise has the chemical symbol Au.
Hydrogen is a Greek word which means "water former". Oxygen is also derived from the Greek and means "acid former". Sodium derives its name from the Roman "Sodanum" which might mean a headache reliever and its symbol "Na" comes from "Natrium" which was the name of a mineral salt.

Greek and Roman words provide all sorts of modern neologisms because in the modern world, the real irony is that we like to mine those languages to coin new words to make them sound scientific and proper. It's a sort of cultural snobbery.
We do this with other technological things too. The word "television" for instance, comes from the Greek "tele" which means "far away" and the Roman "visio" which means "sight". This is of course kind of ridiculous because we've mashed a word together out of components from different languages.

The other place that the periodic table likes to pull names from are the names of scientists and universities who have discovered things. Element 101 for instance is caled Mendelevium after Dmitri Mendeleev who created the periodic table, element 96 is named Curium after Marie and Pierre Curie who were both famed for their work into radioactivity and perhaps rather egotisically, element 97 is named Berkelium after the city of Berkeley in California where the University of California first discovered it.

An increasing problem though is the annoying fact that beyond element 83 (Bismuth), chemical elements are generally radioactive and although a few chemical elements beyond element 92 (Uranium) do exist naturally, as the elements get more and more massive, searching for them becomes something of a scientific game and producing very large elements becomes an exercise in doing it for its own sake.

So then, knowing all of this, lets have a go a naming some elements.

Element 117 

Logically element 117 falls into group 17 on the periodic table which are the Halogens. The halogens which currently are Fluorine, Chlorine, Bromine, Iodine, Astatine (and 117), all follow a pretty obvious naming pattern - they are all "-ine". Apart from the "ine" suffix, their names mean as follows:
Fluorine - Flow
Chlorine - Green
Bromine - Brine
Iodine - Purple
Astatine - Unstable
I'm not sure what exactly what adjective would work the best here but I'd like to propose the following name:


Askopine retains the "ine" suffix which makes it fit nicely into the current naming convention and because it is an intrinsically useless element, I chose the Greek word for "pointless" which is "Askopos". Considering that only a few atoms of this element are ever likely to be produced, I think that its rather fitting.

Element 118

Element 118 falls into Group 18 which are the "Noble Gases". The Noble Gases are called as such because they have all of their electron shells filled and as such, don't react with very much.
Apart from Helium, the noble gases also follow a naming pattern, they all have the suffix "-on" which in Greek means "the something one"
Helium - Helios, the Sun God
Neon - the New one.
Argon - the Lazy one.
Krypton - the Hidden one.
Xenon - the Strange one.
Radon - the Radium one (because it was first derived from Radium).
I thought about the name Megalon which in Greek would mean "the Big one" because it could very well be the biggest Noble Gas if it is a gas, or even Metallon which means "the Metal one" because it might just as easily be metallic. Megalon and Metallon both sound pretty dumb though. I don't know if I'd like to be responsible for either of those names forever.

I pondered about the fact that there are currently no elements whose name begin with J. The name Jovion which means "the Happy one" might be appropriate, I  thought about a Jeroboam which is a very big wine bottle and derived the name Jerobon which would be sort of neat, and then a very big truck rolled down the street and rattled all the windows. Ahah, I found it:


Juggernon retains the "-on" suffix which makes it fit into the group, would use the chemical symbol J which is vacant and is derived from the word "juggernaut" and so Juggernon would mean "the Very Big one".

Of course there is one name for a chemical element which I think desperately needs to be included, simply because it's just so amusing.
Phosdex, "the shaving cream atom"².
Please, please, please, IUPAC... make it so.

¹Hello Internet is a podcast in which CGP Grey and Brady Haran discuss... many things. They each have Youtube channels which are interesting.
- CGP Grey
- Brady Haran has an abudance of Youtube Channels; here are three:

²from Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century

May 29, 2014

Horse 1683 - Cut And Paste (The Australian Does Some of That)

Whilst looking through some microfiche at the Mitchell Library in Sydney for something quite unrealted, I found this article in The Australian's "Cut and Paste" section.
Fairfax's Laura Tingle opens questions with a conspiracy theory, ABC, yesterday:
MY question was about the correlation between criticism of the commercial model with the fact it reflects the criticism of News Limited about public broadcasters including the ABC.
That's nothing new. Spigelman:
THE ABC has always impacted on the commercial interests of other media. In 1933, I think it was, when the ABC first announced it intended to introduce a news service in Australia, a campaign was launched to cut the funding. That campaign was run by the then CEO of the Herald and Weekly Times, Sir Keith Murdoch. Some things change very little.
A pat on the back for The Australian. Spigelman again:
NEWS runs an extraordinary suite of newspapers in Australia. The Australian, itself, we are lucky to have it in terms of depth and range. The Australian is a newspaper the survival of which is rare in the print landscape around the world; we are lucky to have The Australian. It runs campaigns from time to time. It's never comfortable to be the target of one of those campaigns.
There's always a "however":
HOWEVER, I would have thought the overwhelming majority of The Australian's readers are regular consumers of the ABC - radio and TV - probably both. Those readers must be quite bewildered that it (the ABC) doesn't do anything well.
- The Australian, 12th December 2013

I make mention of this for two reasons. Firstly that it made me question my own memory (having heard this National Press Club address live) and secondly, that having questioned my memory, I was then convinced that these were not the words actually said by the ABC Chairman James Spigelman.

The first problem I found was that being a National Press Club event from December last year, it was no longer available on ABC's iView to watch again. Consequently, I had to do a phrase by phrase search to find a transcript. Thankfully, one exists:
We are lucky to have The Australian. It runs campaigns from time to time. It's never comfortable being the target of one of those campaigns. However, they are entitled to do it. 
I would have thought that the overwhelming majority of The Australian's readership also are regular consumers of the ABC, either radio and television, probably both. Those readers must be quite bewildered that apparently the ABC doesn't do anything well. 
- iSentia, Transcript (page 18), 11th Dec 2013

Did you notice the difference?
- Those readers must be quite bewildered that it (the ABC) doesn't do anything well. (the Oz)
- Those readers must be quite bewildered that apparently the ABC doesn't do anything well. (actual)

One thing that the text doesn't do justice to, was Mr Spigelman's tone here. If I recall correctly, he was not admitting a supposed shortcoming of the ABC but rather, speaking with a great deal of sarcasm in his voice; given that the Australian deliberately chose to misreport this, then I wonder about the validity of his previous statement that we are "lucky to have The Australian". I really question whether in 50 years of publication, whether the rag has contributed anything positive to the life of this nation and certainly it's owner can't even bothered to call himself by the nationality which his newspaper claims to be in name anyway.

I think that at this juncture given that News Ltd's savage campaign to have funding to the ABC cut and the axing of the Australia Network despite promises by the Prime Minister himself otherwise, that News Ltd has won.
Moreover, calls that it is somehow a "conspiracy theory" and therefore not trustworthy, should by evidence of history since then, be properly classified as a "conspiracy theorem".
And yes for the record, Sir Keith Murdoch was accused of trying to have funding cut to the ABC as early as 1932:
The Labor member for the Adelaide seat of Hindmarsh, Norman Makin, spelt it out to the House of Representatives on 3 May 1932 to anyone who had any doubts: 
A large newspaper combine at the head of which is the Melbourne Herald is making a determined effort to usurp the rights and powers of Parliament. Apparently it is the ambition of Mr Keith Murdoch to become Northcliffe or Beaverbrook of Australia and dictate public policy.
(CPD, 3 May 1932, p. 265)
- National Archive of Australia.

Presumably The Australia likes to consider itself as something of a "newspaper of record" though really, it can't very well live up to this title if it can not even be bothered to report actual truth as truth. The section's title "cut and paste" is presumably an ironic one?

When we do these things, we undermine our case for free markets by conveying the impression that the benefits are only for the already rich, well-connected and politically powerful - that is why we must have a press free from government intervention and why government attempts to regulate the press in Australia and Britain have been ill-conceived. The press must be held accountable, but so must our politicians - grievances and grudges should not fuel a fundamental shift in our social balance.
- Rupert Murdoch's speech to the IPA, 4th Apr 2013

Well? Where are the benefits in the press and to whom do they flow? People do begin to resent the rich only when they conclude that the system is rigged. Is it the ambition of Mr Rupert Murdoch to become Northcliffe or Beaverbrook of Australia and dictate public policy. I don't know. Maybe if his newspapers reported actual truth as truth, we might be a step closer to the answer.

May 26, 2014

Horse 1682 - What Actually Happens If Scotland Leaves

There is an assumption which I've now heard on a number of occasions that if Scotland votes yes to the referendum question "Should Scotland be an independent country?" on September 18, that it would condemn England to perpetual Tory rule.
The fact is that if you compare the actual sets of numbers, the truth reveals a very different story.

The following is a short summary of the last six General Elections in the UK. For 1987, I've included the SDP–Liberal Alliance as the Liberal-Democrats, because in 1988, that merger was formalised anyway.

650 Maj 325 1987 1992 1997 2001 2005 2010
Conservative 376 336 165 166 198 306
Labour 229 271 418 413 355 258
Lib-Dem 22 20 46 52 62 57
591 Maj 296 1987 1992 1997 2001 2005 2010
Conservative 366 325 165 165 197 305
Labour 179 222 362 358 314 217
Lib-Dem 13 11 30 42 51 46

For all of these elections, there were 650 members and a majority of 325 required on the floor for government (owning to the peculiarity that one member would become speaker). This is irrelevant anyway as in every general election, this doesn't matter.
If we pretend that Scotland's 59 members never existed, then the slightly smaller House of Commons would only have 591 members and require a majority of 296 to form government.

What's telling is that of the last six General Elections, the only difference is that the Conservative Party would have formed government in its own right in 2010; rather than needing to form a coalition government with the Liberal-Democrats.

Actually, if you extend this all the way back to the time of Churchill, then only with the hung parliament of 1974 in which Harold Wilson formed government and ten years previous in 1964, would the lack of Scottish MPs have made a difference at all. On those occasions, instead of Labour governments, there would have been Conservative governments formed with very small majorities.

In 1987 the Thatcher government held a very strong majority; whilst in 1992 John Major's government was elected with the single largest number of raw votes in British electoral history. Tony Blair's 1997 win produced a massive change in the number of seats as did the Cameron government of 2010.
What's not stated in this whole discussion is that it isn't Scotland which has the single greatest sway on the results of elections but the 79 seats of London.

I think that the premise that the UK would be condemned to perpetual Tory rule if Scotland leaves is flawed on the basis that the numbers simply don't work. What might be unclear is what would happen in the 2015 election if the Lib-Dems again end up as kingmakers caught between the Labour Party and the Conservatives. Considering that they were actively fought against when it came to the issues of tuition fees and the Alternative Vote, would they be so willing to try that again?
The House of Commons will basically continue to operate as it always has done. If Scotland leaves, although they take 59 seats out, it is still the public barometer which determines who is returned to government and it would appear that without Scotland, not a whole heap actually changes at all.

May 24, 2014

Horse 1681 - East of Bournville

In the Italian Alps and very close to the Swiss border, lies the sleepy little village called Nutella which is famed for its wallpaper and a cuisine which is unique to the area: a sort of baked chicken which is slow cooked in Frangelico and jam.
Nutella remained relatively obscure, surviving the terrible events which swept across Europe in 1848 in which many countries were born and almost remained its own separate little country like San Marino in 1860, except that having no standing army whatsoever, it easily fell to the forces of Garibaldi when he united Italy into a single kingdom.
Nutella though is just one of a string of villages down a very special road.

After crossing the border into Switzerland, you head through the extremely narrow Pass d'Milka as the road winds its way through a series of 12 peaks known as the Tobe le Roné. The Tobe le Roné is often subject to landslides and it is feared that it will break into separate pieces into the valleys below.
At the base of the Tobe le Roné in a hamlet known as the Little Nest (or Nestlé), there is a dairy which was started in 1824 by an Italian and a Swiss entrepreneur called A.Glass and A.Häf respectively. Their dairy has a strange name in English which translates as "The Rotten Gift" but in French is called L'Cadeaux Bourri. The dairy lies on Quality Street and runs a small cafe called the Kit Kat Club.

Follow the road a little further and you pass through the villages of Rountree and Hershée and you'll find a positively turkish delight of a place called O'Henri, where many people find their work, rest and play. Turning left at a roundabout onto the E621, you head down the Milky Way for approximately five miles passing the house of the Three Musketeers and a rest area which is a nice place to settle down for a Picnic. Many tourists travel down this road on Double Deckers and usually favour the Top Deck of the bus.
Some tourists take Time Out, being careful to avoid some of the long-haired yahoos that like to ride their motorbikes on the often rocky roads in the area but if you look hard enough, there's always time for a Snack.

May 23, 2014

Horse 1680 - The Search for the First Boring Number

All the way back in Horse 1193 I asserted that 14 was the first boring number. In a series of tweets with Adam Spencer, I thought that 26 was the first boring number. It turns out that 14 is actually quite interesting and that 26 is also interesting.
Of course being the proper studious nerdulent geek that I am, the question bothered me enough to try and work out what the first boring number is.
The Interesting Number Paradox suggests that the quest is pointless because as soon as you found the first uninteresting number, then it is itself is therefore interesting because it is the smallest uninteresting number and thus contradicts itself.
I say this is bunk. The first boring number, must be the first one which isn't part of an interesting series. Like the Sieve of Eratosthenes which is a useful tool to find primes, there must be an equivalent Boring Number Sieve, which looks at all interesting number sieves.
The game is on!

1 - 1 is its own Square, Cube, Fourth... Infinitieth power of itself and it's also it's own Square Root, Cube Root, Zeroeth root of everything. 1 is a Factorial Number (1!=1), is a Bell Number, a Centered Hexagonal Number, a Happy Number and a Fibonacci Number. 1 is the starting point of most series and for that reason is possibly the most interesting number of all.

2 - 2 is the only even Prime. 2 is a Factorial Number (2!=2) and a Fibonacci Number (1+1=2). 2 is also a Bell Number which I'll explain at some point further down the list.

3 - 3 is a Triangular Number (1+2=3). 3 is a Prime Number. 3 is a Fibonacci Number (1+2=3).
A Prime Number is any number which has no positive divisors other than 1 and itself. 3 is Prime because its only factors are 3 and 1.

4 - 4 is a Square Number (2² = 4). 4 is a Semiprime Number (2 & 2).
A Semiprime number has only factors other than one, which are also prime. A semiprime number has no composite factors. 33 for instance has factors other than 33 of 3 and 11 which are both prime. 4 has factors of 2 and 2, which are also both prime.

5 - 5 is Prime. 5 is a Fibonacci Number (2+3=5). 5 is a Square Pyramid Number (1²+2²=5)
Square Pyramid Numbers - Let's make a pyramid out of chocolate squares (because that's the yummiest kind of pyramid). In the top layer we put one square of chocolate (1²), in the next layer four (2²), in the next layer nine (3²)... oh I love yummy maths.

6 - 3 is a Triangular Number (1+2+3=6). 6 is a Semiprime Number (2x3=6). 6 is a Factorial (3!=6). 6 is a Perfect Number.
How can a number be Perfect? A Perfect Number is one whose positive divisors when added together, produce a sum equal to that number. 6 has factors of 1, 2 amd 3 and 1+2+3=6 which is perfect.

7 - 7 is Prime. 7 is a Centred Hexagonal Number. 7 is Happy.
7 isn't Happy because it's lucky for some.
Start with 7; find the sum of the square of its digits which is 7² = 49. Keep going and if that that process ends in 1, then the number is happy. If not... it's a sad sad number.
7² = 49
4² + 9² = 97
9² + 7² = 130
1² + 3² + 0² = 10
1² + 0² = 1 yay! 7 is Happy!

8 - 8 is Cubic Number (2³=8). 8 is a Fibonacci Number (3+5=8).
Leonardo Pisano Bigollo who went by the stage name of Fibonacci, wanted to know the logical population growth of rabbits. By looking at pairs of rabbits he suggest that they should increase according to the series:
1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55... where the number of pairs of rabbits is equal to the number of new pairs plus the number of pairs alive last month.
Fibonacci obviously had a problem with rabbits. Maybe he should have asked the Chinese Emperor Nasi Goreng what to do about the problem.

9 - 9 is a Square Number (3²=9). 9 is a Semiprime Number (3 & 3).

10 - 10 is a Triangular Number (1+2+3+4=10). 10 is a Happy Number. (1² + 0² = 1 yay! 10 is Happy!) 10 is also a Harshad number (1+0 = 1 which is a factor of 10)
Actually, all the numbers from 1 to 10 in any base are Harshad Numbers. A Harshad Number is one whose digits add up to a factor of the number in question. It would be easy to be tempted for instance to assume that all multiples of 9 are Harshad numbers because of the divisibility test for 9 (see Horse 1676) but for 99, 9+9=18 and 18 is not a factor of 99.

11 - 11 is Prime. 11 is also the only prime number as far as I know which the digits repeat.

12 - 12 is a Harshad number (1+2 = 3 which is a factor of 12). 12 is also an Abundant Number.
Abundant Numbers are those whose factors add together to give a total bigger than the number in question.  12's factors are 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 6 = 16. Numbers which are not Abundant are Deficient and therefore not interesting. It took me forever to work this out but I think that the smallest abundant number which is odd is 945, but I'm not sure. I'm probably wrong.
Twelve is also the largest number with a single morpheme. Thir-teen which is next, is a compound name.

13 - 13 is Prime. 13 is also a Permutable Prime (with 31). 13 is a Fibonacci Number (5+8=13).
13 as a Permutable Prime has a cousin; who is 31. In base-10, Permutable Primes can only exist which contain only the numbers 1 3 7 and 9, since the only other primes which exist and do not contain these integers are 2 & 5. All numbers ending in 2 are divisible by 2 and numbers ending in 5 are divisible by 5; so apart from 2 & 5, they're all complex and therefore not interesting.

14 - 14 is Semiprime (2x7=14). 14 is a Square Pyramid Number (1²+2²+3²=14).

15 - 15 is a Triangular Number (1+2+3+4+5=15). 15 is Semiprime (3x5=15).

16 -16 is a Square Number (4²=16). 16 is also the fourth power of two.

17 - 17 is a Permutable Prime (with 71).

18 - 18 is a Harshad number (1+8 = 9 which is a factor of 18). 12 is an Abundant Number (1+2+3+6+9=21).

19 - 19 is Prime. 19 is a Centered Hexagonal number. 19 is a Happy Number.
1² + 9² = 82
8² + 2² = 68
6² + 8² = 100
1² + 0² + 0² = 1 yay!

20 - 20 is an Abundant Number (1+2+4+5+10=22). 20 is a Harshad number (2+0 = 2 which is a factor of 20).

21 - 21 is a Triangular Number (1+2+3+4+5+6=21). 20 is a Harshad number (2+1 = 3 which is a factor of 21). 13 is a Fibonacci Number (8+13=21).

22 - 22 is Semiprime (2x11=22)

23 - 23 is Prime.

24 - 24 is an Abundant Number (1+2+3+4+6+8+12=36).  6 is a Factorial (4!=24). 24 is a Harshad number (2+4= 6 which is a factor of 24).

25 - 25 is a Square Number (5²=25). 25 is Semiprime (5x5=25).

26 - 26 is Semiprime (2x13=26). 26 is also a number between a square and a cube (25 & 27) but nobody knows if that's unique or not. 26 is also a Permutable Semiprime (with 62).

27 - is Cubic (3³=27). 27 is a Harshad number (2+7 = 9 which is a factor of 27).

28 - is a Perfect Number (1+2+4+7+14=28). 28 is a Happy Number.
2² + 8² = 68
6² + 8² = 100
1² + 0² + 0² = 1 yay!

29 - 29 is Prime.

30 - 30 is a Square Pyramid Number (1²+2²+3²+4²=30). 30 is a Harshad number (3+0= 3 which is a factor of 30).

31 - 31 a Permutable Prime (with 13).

32 - 32 is the fifth power of two.

33 - 33 is Semiprime (3x11=33).

34 - 34 is Semiprime (2x17=34).  34 is a Fibonacci Number (13+21=34).

35 - 33 is Semiprime (5x7=35).

36 - 36 is an Abundant Number (1+2+3+4+6+9+12=37). 36 is a Harshad number (3+6 = 9 which is a factor of 36).

37 - 37 is a Permutable Prime (with 73).

38 - 38 is Semiprime (2x19=38).

39 - 39 is Semiprime (3x13=39).

40 - 40 is a Harshad number (4+0 = 4 which is a factor of 40). 40 is an Abundant Number (1+2+4+5+8+10+20=50).

41 - 41 is Prime.

42 - 42 is a Harshad number (4+2 = 6 which is a factor of 42). 42 is an Abundant Number (1+2+3+6+7+14+21=54).

43 - 43 is Prime.

44 - 44 is a Happy Number.
4² + 4² = 32
3² + 2² = 13
1² + 3² = 10
1² + 0² = 1 yay!

45 - 45 is a Triangular Number (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9 = 45). 45 is a Harshad number (4+5 = 9 which is a factor of 45).

46 - 46 is Semiprime (2x23=46).

47 - 47 is Prime.

48 - 48 is an Abundant Number (1+2+3+4+6+12+24=52). 48 is a Harshad number (4+8 = 12 which is a factor of 48).

49 - 49 is a Square Number (7²=49). 49 is Semiprime (7x7=49).

50 - 50 is a Harshad number (5+0 = 5 which is a factor of 50).

51 - 51 is Semiprime (3x17=51).

52 - 52 is a Bell Number.
Bell Numbers count the number of different ways to partition a set. 52 is the 5th Bell Number and so counts the number of ways to count off the number of possible sets for 5 things.
- All the singles.
- All the possible pairs.
- All the possible triples.
- All the possible quad groups.
- All the possible quint groups (which for 5 things is 1).
- All the possible two pairs.
- All the possible full houses (a pair and a triple).

Rather than bother to count them up, simple start a Bell Triangle.
Copy the last term to start a new row and for every new term add downwards; then place the result next to it. Bell Numbers appear at both ends of a row.
 1   2
 2   3   5
 5   7  10  15
15  20  27  37  52
52  67  87  114 151 203


53 - 53 is Prime.

54 - 54 is a Harshad number (5+4 = 9 which is a factor of 54). 54 is an Abundant Number (1+2+3+6+9+18+27=66).

55 - 55 is a Triangular Number (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10=55). 55 is a Square Pyramid Number (1²+2²+3²+4²+5²=55). 55 is Semiprime (5x11=55). 55 is a Fibonacci Number (21+34=55).

56 - 56 is an Abundant Number (1+2+4+7+8+14+28=64).

57 - 57 is Semiprime (3x19=57).

58 - 58 is Semiprime (2x29=58).

59 - 59 is Prime.

60 - 60 is a Harshad number (6+0 = 6 which is a factor of 60). 60 is an Abundant Number (1+2+3+4+5+12+15+20+30=92).

61 - 61 is Prime. 61 is a Centred Hexagonal Number.

62 - 62 is Semiprime (2x31=62). 62 is also a Permutable Semiprime (with 26).

63 - 63 is a Harshad number (6+3 = 9 which is a factor of 63).

64 - 64 is a Cubic number (4³=64). 64 is a Square number (8²=64). 64 is the sixth power of two.

65 - 65 is Semiprime (3x13=65).

66 - 66 is a Triangular Number (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10+11=66).

67 - 67 is Prime.

68 - 68 is a Happy Number.
6² + 8² = 100
1² + 0² + 0² = 1 yay!

69 - 69 is Semiprime (3x23=69)

70 - 70 is a Harshad number (7+0 = 7 which is a factor of 70). 70 is a Happy Number.
7² + 0² = 49
4² + 9² = 97
9² + 7² = 130
1² + 3² + 0² = 10
1² + 0² = 1 yay!

71 - 71 is a Permutable Prime (with 17).

72 - 72 is a Harshad number (7+2 = 9 which is a factor of 72). 72 is an Abundant Number (1+2+3+4+6+8+9+12+18+24+36=123).

73 - 73 is a Permutable Prime (with 37).

74 - 74 is Semiprime (2x37=74)

75 - 75... er... 75... 75? Hello?!

At this point my brain collapsed because I couldn't find anything that 75 was. 75 was sufficiently uninteresting enough to be called the first boring number in my sieve.
Except now I find out that 75 is a pentagonal pyramidal number, a Keith number and a
Colombian number.


Is there no end to this madness?!


A chap called Neil Sloane invented a thing called the On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences or OLEIS (Link: It has a whole host of number lists; so maybe a boring number would be the first which doesn't appear in those lists.

Alternatively, an irrational number which is even more irrational than √2 or π might very well be boring simply because it's not particularly useful for anything. We care about π and √2 because they have some useful meaning to us. Even just between the integers of 0 and 1 there are an infinite amount of equally boring un-useful numbers that we simply don't care about.
The first boring number is maybe just some nebulously small number, infinitesimally larger than 0, just hanging about minding its own business; safe in the knowledge that it won't be found because nobody cares about it.
Of course, I've just been told that Maths itself is boring; so ALL numbers are boring; so I suppose it depends who you ask anyway.

May 22, 2014

Horse 1679 - Charity That Costs Nothing

At midnight last night, my weekly MyMulti 3 ticket expired; not that there's anything particularly interesting about that but what I propose to do is to perform an experiment.

Could I give away a free ticket?
It was a Wednesday night. I didn't need it anymore and whoever I'd gave it to would have had virtually unlimited¹ travel until 4am the next day. Let me just reiterate that... virtually UNLIMITED¹ travel.

I think that in our world where we constantly have to work for just about everything, where we're almost on treadmill of drudgery, the idea that anyone would dare to give us anything for free is a little strange.
I think that there must be thousands of little opportunities like these. Like me, there must be thousands upon thousands of people who get off the train at the end of the week who could pass their tickets on to someone else. How about that time left over in a car space where you still have time on the ticket? How about even mowing someone else's nature strip? There must be thousands of opportunities where the chance to perform some act of charity for virtually zero cost must exist.

Thanks largely to the society which we've designed for ourselves, hiding behind the walls of fancy iDevices, in which community has been torn in shreds, where people don't really speak to their neighbours any more and where everything has been reduced to a quantifiable price, Charity has become just one of those things that we think of where we have to give money to someone; yet we don't often think about donating time, or in the case of unexpired tickets, something which literally² doesn't cost us anything.
I think it odd that of the Christian triple of faith hope and charity (pistis, elpis and agape), two of those are functionally virtues in Greek whereas the third agape is a practice. Charity which is derived from the Latin word "caritas" implies a sense of preciousness but it doesn't then imply a sense of expensiveness.
I'm re-reading though sections of Plato's "The Republic" in which he sets forth his idea for a perfect society of sorts and he suggests that the agape of the governing classes should involve self-controlled and rational decisions for the masses. Charity for Plato doesn't even necessarily mean the giving of money but even the mere act of the governing classes speaking to the ruled, in the forum is seen as an act of charity (something which our current leaders and business rulers are loathed to do). I suppose that the modern equivalent would be a conversation over a cup or tea, or at a coffee shop or down at the pub. Charity in this case, is about a conversation and making a connection with people in the third place³.
Agape in normal koine Greek though, takes on a more straightforward meaning. Agape as it was normally used in Greek denotes an intent to promote well-being in others, even if there is no expected return.

I didn't honestly expect any return for giving away my MyMulti 3 ticket except the knowledge that the person who got it, would get a benefit that they were not expecting and because it cost me literally nothing to do, I hoped that they would then go on and be generous to someone else with the money that they saved.
In the end, I did give away my MyMulti 3 ticket to the one person who I saw coming down the stairs to the train station. They duly thanked me and I hope that my rather pathetic act of charity which quite literally cost me nothing, was contagious.

¹except entry to Domestic and International stations, though curiously they could go to the airport by bus.
²literally literally, not metaphorically literally
³for more on the "third place", Ray Oldenburg's book "The Great Good Place" (1989) is the seminal starting point for this concept.

May 21, 2014

Horse 1678 - Deregulation of University Fees - A Bad Thing

One of the few investments that a society can make which is absolutely guaranteed to turn a profit is the education of its citizenry. Education people is something which improves one of the four factors of production and whilst land may be improved through better techniques and technology (and in some cases, the demand for new resources previously thought useless*), capital and enterprise can not.
Furthermore, university graduates earn roughly 27% more on average than people who never went to university. That extra 27% income over a lifetime, more than easily makes up for and pays back the costs of education; which on a whole of life survey is actually a pretty good reason why all education in my opinion should be entirely free to the end user.

It can be very easily argued for instance that widespread literacy as a result of offering even a basic education to all between 1890-1920 lifted millions out of poverty; and the vastly increased incidence of university educated people from the 1940s onwards, led to the current technological revolution which we find ourselves currently living in. On top of that, university education in particular is perhaps the greatest single contributor to social mobility yet invented.
For these reasons, I think that the current policy announced in the 2014/15 budget to allow the deregulation of university fees and to allow the universities to charge whatever they like, is possibly the single most destructive education policy ever seen in the history of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Market forces are extremely efficient at finding one thing only - price. Market forces are perfectly fine when it comes to things like commodities or consumer goods where the goods and services are interchangeable - it doesn't really matter for instance what brand of petrol that you put in a car; it doesn't really matter that the price of one can of tomato soup is more expensive that another. However, just because market forces are efficient at establishing price levels, it does not imply that they are the best mechanism for establishing what is best for society.
I don't think that education is one area where the market forces work in the best interests of the country as a whole. It very much acts in the best interests of those people who which to see social class enforced. Like health care, no-one chooses of their own volition to get sick and I argue that it is impossible to choose our parents’ socio-economic status.

Deregulation of university fees would most likely have the immediate effect of a massive shift in the supply curve of university places to the left; a new equilibrium position would be found, such that universities' profits are maximised. That sounds fine and good until you realise that a shift to the left in the supply curve, forces the equilibrium position upwards and the price goes up.
University students by themselves do not have a very large pool of capital upon which they can draw to pay for university fees. An increase in university fees has one of two effects:
1. Either it forces the students to take on debt; which they might have hanging over them for years.
2. Students from higher-socio economic backgrounds have their fees paid for by their parents, which means that in the mean time, due to things like capital accumulation and wealth condensation, those people remain richer and the whole process actually accelerates wealth inequality.

Deregulation of university fees actually helps to enforce class structure in society and by locking out some potential students altogether, condemns them to a life with reduced social mobility. If you want to see the results of this experiment, look no further than the United States or the United Kingdom which are so class entrenched that if someone's ancestors went to university 300 years ago, then they stand a far better chance of going to university today.

In 1974, the Whitlam Government passed legislation which made university fees and education completely free for students. In 1989, Hawke Government set up the Higher Education Contributions Scheme which re-introduced university fees and the last group of students who benefited from free education were those who were born in 1971.
In the time-frame from 1974-1989, the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, the Treasurer, Joe Hockey and the Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne all went to university for free. Free! Yet here they are, in 2014 as responsible Ministers of the Crown have decided to pull the drawbridge up behind them.

As a taxpayer, I don't mind paying for people to go to university. The smart ones will learn things which will go on to make life better for everyone; those people who study the humanities which supposedly don't return a financial gain, go on to be more interesting people; even the people who don't go on to complete university studies will have learned something. All of them will have had the quality of their labour improved. In the case of TAFEs, Colleges, Apprenticeships, Traineeships, their labour is improved directly.
I suppose that basically I am more or less selfish because deep down, I don't want to live in a country full of uneducated people. I don't want to live in an economy where the only thing that determines where you end up in life, is where you started.
I don't see how throwing education to the forces of the market, improves society. I think that it defiles the premise of the Legislative powerr of the Parliament as defined in Section 51 of the Constitution which is to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth and thus... a bad thing.

*Crude Oil for instance was a pretty well pointless thing until the invention of refining, petroleum usage and the invention of plastics.

May 20, 2014

Horse 1677 - I Hate Offshore Processing

One thing that has stayed with me even from as a small child was a piece advice that my mum gave me: never say that you "hate" someone or something unless you actually want them to die. "Hate" is therefore a word which I don't like to use very often; so when I do, I'd better have a pretty good reason for doing so.
I want to say that I hate offshore processing of asylum seekers. I hate it. I wish it were "dead, buried and cremated", to use the words of our current Prime Minister.

Whilst I was still working for the Commonwealth Reporting Service and sitting in the courtroom behind banks of audio gear in both the Federal Magistrates and Federal Courts, the sorts of cases which I'd usually be recording were those in which the appellant had already applied for asylum and been rejected by lower courts. When they got to the Federal Courts, they were appealing on the basis of the a mis-operation of law and by that stage, the vast bulk of them failed.
It still doesn't change the fact though, that many of these people had braved horrible conditions to even get to Australia and that once they were here, they were hanging on to what little hope they had left.
In lower courts though (which I didn't record terribly many of), asylum seekers quite often were granted asylum, and the expressions of utter joy which flooded their faces are something which I will not forget for a long time.

This explains in part why I utterly hate offshore processing. Hate it. Wish it were stopped entirely. For people who have risked practically everything they have; only to be turned away by Australia and without the hope of being processed; thus without even the possibility of having their claim for asylum properly addressed and heard in court, I see as an affront to decency; an affront to justice and affront to humanity and compassion.
(See Horse 1126 and Horse 1630)

When The General Assembly of the United Nations met in December of 1950, Australia was one of the twenty-six nations which signed up to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (and eventually ratified it in 1951). I think that by "stopping the boats" and preventing refugees from even reaching Australia to be assessed under due process, Australia shows utter contempt for the Conventions which it supposedly stands for:
A refugee shall have free access to the courts of law on the territory of all Contracting States.
- Article 16.1, Convention relating to the Status of Refugees 1951

How is it possible that someone who doesn't even arrive in Australia, can even have free access a court of law? It is the nation of Australia openly declaring to the world that it is determined not to be just.
Australia even likes to stand behind the razor wired fence that is the United Nations Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (2004) and likes to use that very protocol as a blunt baton; smacking down any obligations that it might have under the 1951 Refugee Convention. In addition to this, Australia also likes to use Section 5AA of this Migration Act 1958 as another blunt baton

Meaing of unauthorised maritime arrival
(1)  For the purposes of this Act, a person is an unauthorised maritime arrival if:
(a) the person entered Australia by sea:
(i)  at an excised offshore place at any time after the excision time for that place; or
(ii)  at any other place at any time on or after the commencement of this section; and
(b)  the person became an unlawful non-citizen because of that entry; and
(c)  the person is not an excluded maritime arrival.
- Section 5AA, Migration Act 1958.

Just because something is legal, doesn't mean that it is just, decent or compassionate. Pooh to Section 5AA of the Migration Act 1958. Pooh to it with highly polished brass knobs on. I can see the reasons behind Section 5AA and although I don't know if I hate it, I hate the way that it is used.

Further to this, Australia likes to brush off people to places like Papua New Guinea or Nauru (and now is trying to do the same with Cambodia) even though those countries are often ill-equipped to handle in influx of people.

"What decent government would send boat people to a country where they could be exposed to caning? Malaysia is a friend of Australia, but their standards are not our standards - and it is very wrong of Australia to send people who have come into our care, however briefly, to a country whose standards are so different from ours".
- Tony Abbott*, as quoted in The Age, 14 Sep 2011.

Yet again I ask, what decent government would send boat people to a country where they could be exposed to makeshift weapons wielded by private security firms which are under the employ of the government? What decent government would send boat people to a country which the per capita GDP is less than half the average weekly wage in this country?

Well this one apparantly:
The Abbott government wants to send some asylum seekers from Australian to Cambodia at a time the country's strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen is overseeing a brutal crackdown on dissent in one south-east Asia's poorest nations.

Hate is a strong word to use but in this case, I don't think that it's even adequate. I hate offshore processing and would prefer that all of Australia's sattelite processing centres were shut down immediately and that Australia would move to an exclusinvely onshore processing system only.
I would prefer to see that Australia executes justice for the refugees, the orphans and the widows, and shows compassion for the aliens by giving them food, clothing, and maybe even hope and a future.

*Arrived in Australia on the SS Oronsay on 7th Sep 1960... as a boat person.

May 15, 2014

Horse 1676 - Pandigital Numbers and the Divisibility Test


Following on from the last post about sudoku, a though hit me that every single line and column of a sudoku because they always contain the numbers 1-9, must always tally to 45. This led me to a rather strange sort of conclusion.
Every 9-digit and 10-digit pandigital number (that is, a number that uses all of the digits) must have a digit sum of 45. Also as a result of this, they must all be divisible by 9 since one of the handy divisibility tests is that a the digit sum of any multiple of 9 is also divisible by 9.

Pick any pandigital number:
8 + 3 + 2 + 9 + 7 + 4 + 1 + 5 + 6 = 45
4 + 5 = 9
9 is one less than 10.

Try it yourself. Pick any number you like, multiply it by 9 and see what you get. For example:

11861 * 9 = 106,749
1 + 0 + 6 + 7 + 4 + 9 = 27
2 + 7 = 9
9 is one less than 10 (base-10).

Spin out!

It also stands to reason that any pandigital number either added to or subtracted from another pandigital number must leave a result which is also also divisible by 9 because addition is commutative.

To wit:
527,148,936 - 483,269,517 = 43,879,419
4 + 3 + 8 + 7 + 9 + 4 + 1 + 9 = 45
4 + 5 = 9
9 is one less than 10 (base-10).

Even More spin out!

There must be something even more fundamental going on below the surface; something weirder. I don't believe that there can be anything specifically unique about the number 9 because the divisibility test also works for 3.

229, 167 * 3 = 687,501
6 + 8 + 7 + 5 + 0 + 1 = 27
2 + 7 = 9
9 is one less than 10 (base-10).

9? is 3²

Found you. Thought you could sneak away could you?

For base-10, 10 is 9 + 1. 10 is also 3²+1. The general rule if it exists must be that for a given base n, the divisibility test must work for all n-1's to some power x.

Make the whole thing smaller. Lets pick... I dunno... 6 as the base and add up the digits of a pandigital number in base-6.

2 + 5 + 1 + 3 + 4 + 0 = 23
2 + 3 = 5
5 is one less than 10 (base-6).

Don't understand? That's probably because you're thinking in base-10 land. 
The number 10 is actually: 1*10¹ + 0*10°. 10 in base-10 is one-ten and zero-units.
The number 23 in base 6 is actually: 2*6¹ + 2*6°. 23 in base six is two-sixes and three-units.

How about base-12?
We're going to need some new symbols. How about X for ten (because we're Roman) and E for eleven. We've been here before (See Horse 785 (or in base-10 1109))

5 + 0 + 8 + E + 6 + 7 + 4 + 1 + X + 2 + 3 + 9 = 56
5 + 6 = E
E is one less than 10 (base-12).

Just to make sure of this:
5973 * E = 32033
3 + 2 + 0 + 3 + 3 = E
E is one less than 10 (base-12).

Bringing this all together. 

My conjecture, if it isn't already a proven fact is that for any given base-n, the multiples of any given number n-1, must also add up to a multiple of n-1. Likewise since pandigital numbers which use every digit once, always are a multiple of n-1, then they too with have a digit sum of some multiple of n-1.

So then for base-36:
A = 10, B = 11, C = 12, D = 13... until I ran out of normal characters.

One pandigital number at random is
RIC,2HQ,59P,AF4,7OE,GSU,NBJ,M3D,LX1,6TW,Z80,VYK (which by the way is 10,700,559,216,665,253,478,593,063,215,400,573,113,142,093,263,213,829,432,580,898,768,839,245,824 in base-10)

Then the sum of the digits is...
R + I + C + 2 + H + Q + 5 + 9 + P + A + F + 4 + 7 + O + E + G + S + U + N + B + J + M + 3 + D + L + X + 1 + 6 + T + W + Z + 8 + 0 + V + Y = HI
H + I = Z
Z is one less than 10 (base-36).
Or in base 10... 17 + 18 = 35.

Huzzah, huzzah, Have I just won the game of maths? I hope so. My brain hurts.

May 14, 2014

Horse 1675 - How Hard Can Sudoku Be?
This one just makes Column 8’s head hurt – make of it what you will. Greg Foster, of Canberra, enquires: ‘‘A sudoku puzzle that only has one square filled in must be easy to complete, and a sudoku puzzle that has only one square blank is also easy to complete, but how many blanks are needed before it becomes difficult?’’
- Column 8, Sydney Morning Herald, 14th May 2014.

Dr Karl on Science on Mornings, on the ABC's youth network Triple J, often likes to tell us that in some cases a Nobel prize for science isn't awarded for solving a problem but asking a question. In this example posed by Column 8 the question is almost the reverse of what you'd expect but nevertheless, probably has a discrete solution.

It turns out (and it took the best of 11 months of computer checking by University College Dublin) that the minimum number of clues required to make a meaningful sudoku with a single solution is 17. There are just over six and a half hexillion¹ possible arrangements of all the 9 numbers in a sudoku but many of those are either copies of each other where numbers substitute for other ones, or arrangements where whole 3x3 sections are merely translated about the board.
It you eliminate sets which are otherwise symmetrical or equivalent with each other, then this falls to a
mere 5 billion².

The question posed by column 8 though it slightly different. It wants to know how many blanks are required. I suspect (though I'm not really prepared to set up a computer to check for 11 months to find out) that the answer can be found using nothing more than applied logic.
I have seen the Sudoku-Help Difficulty (SHD) Rating by Greg Shalless in the newspaper before and have often thought that it was delightfully trivial. Oscar Wilde once said that "It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information" and to be honest, it is the useless and often trivial which are so very very paradoxically wonderful.
The key part of the question in Column 8 is this phrase: "how many blanks are needed before it becomes difficult?" Now usually when you ask about the difficulty of something, it's not easy to determine but Mr Shalless' rating system provides that the bare minimum rating for something "difficult" is 79.

I suspect that the way to do this is to start with a valid board and work backwards. If it were possible to generate a board with a set of Hidden Quads, that spawned another set of Hidden Quads, that spawned yet another set of Hidden Quads and then a fourth, and each of those four sets in turn generated Locked Triples and Locked Quads, then provided there was a "free" set of independent Locked Triples, then then minimum number of blanks required would only be 19 to generate a difficulty rating of 79.
Such an arrangement would require drill downs on at least three levels for most of the blanks before you arrived at a solution. Incidentally, testing this with GNOME Sudoku generator, yields at best 24 blanks³.

There would be a real symmetry if the number of blanks needed before a sudoku becomes difficult was also 17 but that kind of depends on what an actual definition of what "difficult" actually is.

The smallest number of blanks where there is something solvable is 3. In that case there'd be an Only Spot Box and a Linked Pair.
The smallest number of blanks I think that it takes to be interesting is 5; which could either be a pair of Linked Pairs and an Only Spot Box or a Linked Quad and an Only Spot Box.
The smallest number of blanks that I've found that qualifies for a "Novice" level is 12 but that would require a series of nested Linked Quads and Hidden Quads; neither of which would usually appear in a Novice Sudoku.

¹Actually 6,670,903,752,021,072,936,960 to be precise.
²Actually 5,472,730,538.

Horse 1674 - When To Write Off Liverpool's Season - Hope and Expectation
My blog has for a very long time been marked on a sort of annual basis with lamentory posts marking the end a of Liverpool's season, or rather the point when I write off the title as unwinnable yet again.
- Horse 1354, 24th Aug, 2012
Long time readers will note that I write Liverpool's season off as a non-event once they fall behind 10 points of the league leaders. The earliest that I've written the season off is in September and the latest that I ever wrote the season off was in the 91st minute of the very last game of the year.
- Horse 1611, 4th Feb 2014

Well... that was disappointing for the 24th consecutive time. Sunday night (Monday morning) though was one of the more difficult write-offs because it actually did get down to the last half hour of the season.
As stated above, I'd usually write-off a season once Liverpool fall 10 points behind the leaders but for season 2013-14 that never actually happened. Mathematically Liverpool could have still won the title yesterday but two conditions had to be met:
- West Ham United HAD to have beaten Manchester City, which was always going to be a monumental task.
- Liverpool HAD to have beaten Newcastle United, which wasn't from the outset that difficult.

When Martin Skrtel stuck his leg out to try and stop a Yoan Gouffran cross from finding Shola Ameobi in the 20th minute, it would have been a brilliant goal... at the other end. At that point the pendulum swung further away from Liverpool and you could see them all go flat. At that single moment, it was as though the title hopes evaporated (which it would later do that afternoon anyway). This was made even worse when the Kop went silent just before half time, as news filtered in that Manchester City had scored.
Not long after the half time break, news of Vincent Kompany's goal at the City of Manchester ground, pretty much broke the spirits of Liverpool and it wasn't until Daniel Agger gained a yard of pace on Mathieu Debuchy and scored an equaliser. Daniel Sturridge doubled the score less than two minutes later from a dead ball in an almost identical spot.

At what point did I finally write off Liverpool's season? When Kompany scored? Well not really. I think that it was probably about the 81st minute that I finally reached that point; holding on to the little hope that West Ham might score 3 goals but those never came.
When Manchester City went 2-0 up yesterday, Liverpool's hope in winning the Premier League was trampled; destroyed; gone. I probably have been a Liverpool fan for the best part of three and a half decades but even I know that the reasonable expectation of winning a league title is only a temporary thing, as it can only ever be.

All of this serves to illustrate something quite important about an important but often fleeting concept, hope. Hope is defined by the OED as the expectation of an event or a thing happening. Also note that hope doesn't have to be blind but may be placed in something entirely reasonable. I for instance have a fairly reasonable hope that I'll be paid on Friday. My hope is backed up with action, in that I keep on turning up and doing work; even if the actual work itself might be at times, incredibly difficult or at the other extreme, mentally dull.
The idea of hope often finds it's way into everyday life, even though we're probably either too tired, too angry or too apathetic to even notice it hiding underneath the wallpaper of existence. Even looking at the news bulletin, you'll find the concept of hope, trapped underneath the frenzied details of something else.
Before an election, political parties will hold out the hope that they will somehow make things better through governmental policy. Advertisers hold out all sorts of hope when they try and sell us goods and services; with promises of happiness and fulfilment. Advertisers hold out hope with the absolutely naked desire that people will buy what they are selling.
Of course the opposite is equally true. People without hope, or who perceive that they have no hope, often plunge into the very dark depths of pointlessness and futility, and might even find themselves in depression or ennui.

Hope it seems is an equally difficult concept in the bible to pin down. Although it is written about, it isn't always obvious as to why hope is important:
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
- Philippians 1:19-20

Ignore this if you like but even if you think that Christianity and the entire of organised religion is a waste of time, hear me out. Hope is the expectation of an event or a thing. As a result of an expectation, people make plans and investments of money, time and effort; that's equally true in the financial sector as it is the rest of life. I don't want to destroy any mystery which you might purport to have but that's all hope is, and it is true for every single context.
Some people might put their hope in their job, or their family, or Christ, or happiness, whatever it might be. Hope creates a mindset, that mindset underpins people's intentions and defines people's responses to life itself.
Actually it's really curious: hope in a Christian context usually frames a set of responses to life in which people aren't as preoccupied with being anxious about the future. Without the mindset of constantly requiring to look out for number one, there is a great deal more self-sacrifice amongst Christian communities. Hope frees people from seeing the obstacles in front of us as insurmountable and Christians themselves are less engaged in self-preservation and self-enhancement.
The expectation that God himself isn't angry at you because the offence that you have caused him has been dealt with in the person of Jesus, has certainly changed people's mindset and even the course of history.

Set that aside though, and you can even see people's hopes manifest themselves as the stock market fluctuates and fortunes are made and dissolved in minutes:
Even apart from the instability due to speculation, there is the instability due to the characteristic of human nature that a large proportion of our positive activities depend on spontaneous optimism rather than mathematical expectations, whether moral or hedonistic or economic. Most, probably, of our decisions to do something positive, the full consequences of which will be drawn out over many days to come, can only be taken as the result of animal spirits—a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction, and not as the outcome of a weighted average of quantitative benefits multiplied by quantitative probabilities.
- John Maynard Keynes, "The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money" (1936)

This might sound crazy but the level of investment, sometimes expressed through things like the Investor Confidence Index or even private spending which is measured with the Consumer Confidence Index are in effect nothing more than numerical indicators of precisely the same concept - hope. Investors obviously expect to gain rewards for placing their investments and they act accordingly. Consumers also act according upon the basis of their hopes and generally we find that in times where economic hope is less abundant, they pull back their spending on luxury items.

For the 24th consecutive time my hopes that Liverpool would again win the league title were dashed to pieces like pottery. My whinge is that the phrase "there's always next season" is qualified by the unstated "there's never this season". Hope though, always holds itself out, with the expectation of things to come.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
– Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man (1734)

May 13, 2014

Horse 1673 - On Raising the Drinking Age to 21

One of the nice things about having a blog like Horse is that sometimes people ask me to write about some particular topic. This is one of those.
Pressure is mounting for Australian governments to raise the legal drinking age to 21 to protect the health of young people whose brains are still vulnerable to the toxicity of alcohol at 18, leading health experts say. 
Four professors of mental health and public health have joined a growing list of influential Australians to call for a new legal drinking age that would bring Australia in line with the US where people cannot buy alcohol until they are 21.
They say raising the age limit would protect young people from the brain damage that can be caused by too much alcohol and the harms associated with being drunk, such as car accidents and violence.  
- Sydney Morning Herald, 12th May 2014

I think that when I was asked to write about this, that the person expected me to write about the issues of alcohol fuelled violence. I also suspect that they wanted me to cite that annoying problem that prohibition in the United States actually worked really well.
Death rates due to cirrhosis more than halved and admissions to mental institutes also more than halved during the period.
Violent Crime rates however, neither decreased nor increased dramatically. Organised Crime became more visible and was even lionised during the period but organised crime existed both before, during and after the period.

Do I agree then with raising the drinking age to 21? No, not at all. The weird thing is that crime rates and public health benefits don't really move me on this subject either. It is fitting that this question be asked particularly this year too, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One.
Huh? What does that have to do with anything? Let me explain.

In 1914 the drinking age was 21 in Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia. In New South Wales though, it gets complicated. Under the Colonial Laws Validity Act (1865), laws passed in the British parliament, had legal force in the colonies until separate legislation in those colonies changed the provisions. New South Wales had made no provisions for the drinking age and by default, it remained at 16 (though licensing laws began to restrict the opening hours of premises).

In 1914 though, people aged 18 (and in some cases younger, if they had lied about their age) could find themselves on the other side of the world, in trenches and with a rifle in their hand, facing their counterparts who were also aged 18 (and younger) with a rifle in their hand. More than 60,000 Australian soldiers would lay dead by the war's end; with 137,000 wounded.
Soldiers in the armed forces were rationed two ounces of rum per day.

The reason why I make mention of this is that during World War Two, conscription came into force and was again brought in for both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
The voting age was lowered in 1973 after outrage that it was possible that a person could be conscripted and die for the country but didn't have a say in the government which sent them there.

18 in Australia is the age of majority. At that age, people have the right to vote, the ability to be tried and sentenced in the courts as an adult, the right to sue and be sued and as it currently stands, the ability to buy tobacco products and alcohol.
Given our historical readiness to go to wars that really are none of our business and our past performance to pass acts of parliament to send people to war, by raising the drinking age to 21, are we saying that people are good enough to be blown to pieces for their country but not good enough for the privileges therein?
If we do raise the drinking age to 21, what about the voting age? Clearly someone who isn't deemed legally responsible to handle alcohol, why should they have the right to vote? Should we also raise the ages for ability to be tried and sentenced and the right to enter legal contracts?

These sorts of questions were asked when the national drinking age was lowered to 18 and standardised across the nation in the 1970s . I'm not saying that they aren't sensible questions to be asking in the 1970s. But haven't we asked these questions before?

In New Zealand that general age is 20; it's also the case in Japan. The drinking age across Europe is usually either 16 or 18 and in Germany it can be 14 in some cases. In all of those places except the UK, the rates of bodily harm are lower; and so if raising the drinking age has any merit, then I don't know how that's reconciled.

The other thing I think of when I read a story like this is that I'm 35 years old and any change in the legislation isn't really going to affect me even an iota. I suspect that's probably also true for the vast majority of politicians who would be debating the relative merits of change if legislation to change the drinking age were presented before parliaments.
Maybe there is a alcohol problem but surely that's more of a matter of underlying culture. I do know that a government which wanted to change the legislation though, would suddenly find itself the subject of a lof of 18-21 year olds who have the power to vote them out.
Again we come back to the idea of laws being made on behalf of people without terribly much of their feedback if any and that more than anything else about this irks me.
If people are good enough to be blown to pieces for their country, shouldn't we at very least, ask them about how they feel about the issues which affect them?

The person who asked me to write about this, didn't like the post. "Young people don't know what's good for them; and you can quote me on that"... so I did.

May 10, 2014

Horse 1672 - The Problem With "The Problem With God"

I'm reading a book at the moment by a professor of political philosophy at Reed College, Oregon, a Mr Peter J Steinberger; entitled "The Problem With God: Why Atheists, True Believers and Even Agnostics Must All Be Wrong" (2013).
Whilst I am finding the book entertaining, being written rather like a a good Jewish argument, I think that it fails on the grounds that although the conclusion is valid, the conclusion is drawn from from false principles.

1. It is impossible - literally impossible - for us to imagine anything existing in the world that wasn't caused to exist by something else. (page 6)
Steinberger labours this point quite strongly. The argument is along the lines of, every effect has a cause like a string of Dominoes; that first domino that moved must have been caused to move by some other thing which caused it to move; that thing (which is the new First Thing), that moved must have been caused to move by some other thing which caused it to move... etc etc etc ad infinitum.
Therefore the idea that God either does or doesn't exist can not be a proper concept.

There's a problem with this:
Are virtual particles really constantly popping in and out of existence? Or are they merely a mathematical bookkeeping device for quantum mechanics?
Virtual particles are indeed real particles. Quantum theory predicts that every particle spends some time as a combination of other particles in all possible ways. These predictions are very well understood and tested.
- Scientific American, 9th Oct 2006

Thanks to some of the conclusions of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in the realm of quantum physics, the conclusion is that not only are particles existing and not existing, that particles are coming into and out of existence all the time but that some particles even appear to travel backwards through time; and are destroyed before they are created.

Is it impossible to imagine anything existing in the world that wasn't caused to exist by something else?Science says that not only is it possible but is happening literally all of the time. Quantum Physics suggests that at an elementary particle level, cause and existence might well be completely irrelevant.

In roughly the same way, there is not and can never be, a concept of God. We can never have the idea of a world that didn't have a beginning. Something must have started everything - a First Thing, an Unmoved Mover. (page 52)
Mathematics throws up the idea of infinities all the time. Most of us will remember basic high school trigonometry.
In a right angled triangle, the tangent function gets larger and larger as the opposite side to the angle in question gets longer and longer. A triangle of angles 89° and 1° will be a very very long skinny thing indeed; at angles bigger than 89° though, it just gets longer and skinnier. When you get to 90° though, what other angle completes the triangle? Well none really. It's mathematically impossible. Two 90° angles creates parallel lines which never meet and thus the opposite side stretches all the way into infinity.
Infinity then, is not a concept that we have a problem with. On top of that, even differing degrees of infinity is not a concept that we have a problem with.

To demonstrate this, let's take a short drive down a winding road to Hilbert's Grand Hotel.
Suppose that you have a Grand Hotel with an infinite number of rooms. All of the rooms are currently filled by an infinite number of people, who are having an infinite amount of fun at an infinite expensive party for mathematicians (in truth though, mathematicians do not have that much fun). A late running guest shows up and has to be put into a room. Then what? The solution, is to have the person in Room 1 move to Room 2, the person in Room 2 move to Room 3, et cetera and ad nauseum to infinity.
Suppose then that another party begins for an infinite number of physicists who show up in an infinite amount of taxi cabs. Then what? One solution might be to have all of the people mathematicians to a room which has a number twice that of their original room number. Then all of the mathematicians would be in even numbered rooms and all of the physicists would be in odd numbered rooms. Simple.
What now? The second infinity described must be functionally twice as big as the first infinity. Degrees of magnitude of infinity is also not a concept that we have a problem with.

Why then does Steinberger have a problem with the concept of something which has always existed. On a timescale, of we supposed that right now is time 0, then that would mean that God might have existed from time -∞. Time would begin at some -x relative to now.
The first word in the Hebrew Tanakh (and the Torah) is the word בְּ רֵ אשִׁ ית or "Bereshit" which means "the Beginning". I find no problem in the idea that a thing doesn't have to have an initial cause. Elementary particles come in and out of existence all the time; without initial causes; so the idea that there was a something which must have started everything, a First Thing; an Unmoved Mover, seems perfectly logical and valid to me.
What is so logically difficult to accept about an Unmoved Mover which existed from time -∞? Things which always existed from even before the existence of time itself (in so far as much as time is a subordinate dimension) aren't a logically impossible construct; so the idea that "we can never have the idea of a world that didn't have a beginning" is also not impossible. It's also not impossible that a being might have existed without a beginning either.

2. To talk about God is to talk about something that cannot possibly exist and, at the same time, absolutely must exist. But we cannot have the idea of something that both exists and doesn't exist at the same. There's no such concept. So to ask if that concept which is not a concept at all, describes anything in the world, is to ask a non-question. There's no concept about which to ask. (page 74)
The problem with defining God as an "it" and as something which is both possible and impossible at the same time, Steinberger thinks is an invalid conclusion. I wonder though, if that in itself defies reality.

To wit: Theism is the proposition that God/s exist and presumably from this a priori position, everything else must follow.
Atheism (thanks to the Greek "a-" which negates an idea) is the proposition that God/s do not exist and presumably from this a priori position, everything else must follow.
In both viewpoints, there is a distinct problem in trying to disprove the positions but virtue of the fact that the person who holds either of these viewpoints, will deny the evidence which is contrary to their a priori standpoint. This then becomes a matter of acceptability of evidence rather than trying to prove of disprove a concept.
If both viewpoints are fundamentally flawed as Steinberger suggests then I don't even know what road he finds himself on. Yet strangely, it's also not true that "we cannot have the idea of something that both exists and doesn't exist at the same". There is such a concept and like all good concepts on the internet, it involves cat pictures.

Erwin Schrödinger was an Austrian physicist whose most famous picture is that of a cat in a thought experiment.
Suppose you were to put a cat (yeah, I know it could have been a dog or a moose or a cow (and scientists really love cows (and this is the third set of nested parenthesis))), into a bunker with a beaker filled poisonous gas and precariously balanced on the edge of table, such that it could fall over at any moment. If the bottle falls over and shatters, thus releasing the gas, then that poisonous gas has a 50% chance to kill the cat within one minute. 50% of the time, then it's "no more scratching post" for Mr Kitty and the other 50% of the time, Mr Kitty is free to live out his wee kitty life.
The thing is though that after one minute, the cat has either two conditions - dead or alive. There isn't really any other choice. Repeat the experiment often enough and half the time you have a dead kitty; the other half of the time, kitty lives. Get it? Got it? Good.

The thing is that from a quantum position, before we look, the cat is in what's known as a "superposition", that is that it's theoretically possible for Mr Kitty to be both dead or alive at the same time until observed. The act of observation itself, forces reality to decide for us. The thing is though, that inside the bunker, the cat either sees the beaker or poisonous gas shatter or it doesn't. There is no half way house option there either.
Schrödinger says that not only does our act of observation have a bearing on whether or not Mr Kitty lives or dies but also that Mr Kitty's reality is "entangled" with the outcome of the experiment. It is our act of observation that forces reality to show its cards.
Then again, who watches us to decide whether or not we look at the cat inside the bunker who is either dead or alive. Does outside observation force reality there as well?
Guess what? It turns out that this is one of those things about which science itself has no answer for. It's not that it asks a non question, but that reality itself must warp around something. Paradoxes like this exist everywhere in science. Denying the concept seems pretty foolhardy to me and just avoids asking the question.

The thing I like about these sort of paradoxes, is that the Bible in places doesn't avoid them. It lays out in plain text, that the paradox exists and the consequences therein:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 
- 1 Corinthians 15:13-17

In short, if what Paul knew about God was wrong, then it was pointless. Paul basically says here that people should get into one of the two camps and stick with their decision. Paul believes that God exists and that there are consequences of that belief. Unlike Schrödinger's make-believe cat though, reality will not collapse based upon people's observation. There is a concept about which to ask and you'd better make sure that the answer is right.

3. The problem with God is not that we don't have enough facts. The problem is that we don't have an idea at all, and so we can't even know what kinds of facts we should be looking for. Facts about what? To look for facts about God would be like trying to put justice on a scale and weigh it in ounces and pounds. (page 126)
Essentially what Steinberger has been suggesting and building up to at this point is that God as a thing which as he his it, is both impossible and completely possible, is also indescribable because the concept is invalid.
Steinberger at this point thinks that the concept of God is as The Princess Bride's Vizzini would say: "Inconceivable." Like Inigo Montoya, I do not think it means what he thinks it means.

If I wanted to collect facts about something I'd start to make observations, or read a book by someone who had already done so. Science itself comes from the Latin word "scientia" which means "knowledge". If I for instance wanted to find something out Immanuel Kant, I could either read a book about him or better yet, I could read his works and gain some perspective into the way that he though.

If I wanted to fine something out about the Crimean War, I might look at either contemporary accounts, newspaper accounts which made investigations or later documents by historians who made their investigations. Like a detective in search of the facts, I also wouldn't even know what kinds of facts we should be looking for but I do know that once we'd found them, we'd have a better picture built up that when we started.

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
- Luke 1:1-4

Ah Luke, physician and I suspect, amateur investigative journalist. Before Luke wrote his account, he made many trips and visited people and witnesses who saw events, who heard Christ speak in person and more than likely interviewed people. In doing so, I actually wonder if Luke racked up more miles than either Paul of Timothy of whom he wrote.
Also, the fact that we have four gospels, seems to me like a pretty good standard if you wanted to present a legal case to a court. Four independent accounts do better than fulfil the Roman Legal requirements of finding three witnesses for a case.

If you wanted to find out something about a person, then finding out what they said might be a pretty good place to start. I did a quick search in Bible Gateway to find all the instances and variants of "The Lord God said" or thereabouts and found 1024 of them. I mean, if you wanted a pretty good idea of someone, to have more than a thousand things that they said, also seems pretty comprehensive to me.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
- Romans 1:20

Again, if God's invisible qualities have clearly been seen, then it isn't really a matter of what is knowable or not knowable about God but rather, what is deemed acceptable proof of God's existence.

Steinberger's conclusion:
Except to say - lamely, incoherently, as quietly as possible - that this cannot be all there is. That if the pathetic limits of the human mind cannot be transcended - which they cannot - there nonetheless absolutely must be something (sic!!) that is indeed transcendent. I hope you can see that this is not a matter of faith. It's not a guess. It's not a wish. It's simply and completely and undeniably true.
The three pillars upon which the arguments in this book run (first cause, lack of concept and unknowability) all fail on him and he arrives at a conclusion which as a Christian I agree with. My problem with "The Problem With God" then, is that I find all of his arguments faulty.
The whole book is either built upon the premise of building up straw men and then setting them on fire. That for me is a bad way to conduct an argument; even if I do happen to agree with the conclusion. Either the book has been written with the intent of creating straw men and then tearing them down (which I think is a dishonest method of conducting and argument) or he genuinely started out without preconceptions and then ended up tearing them down anyway (in which case, then that's just plain clumsy).
Even with my own a priori viewpoint that God exists, is real, is knowable, existed and could have always existed without first cause, I just don't find the arguments as presented in this book acceptable.

My problem with "The Problem With God" is that it ends up being a meta-argument against itself and I just don't know how far down a Klein shaped rabbit hole I'm prepared to go.