Saturday, July 10, 2010

Alternative Explanation of The Matrix

A massive meteor bombardment destroyed the Earth's ecosystem. So humans and a massively intelligent AI did what it could to save as many people as possible.

The AI needs to keep some outside the Matrix as a control and insurance against problems inside the Matrix. The AI spreads the idea that the Matrix "victims" are slaves and provide energy to the AI to keep the outsiders outside (even though the energy source claims are obviously ridiculous - the people in Zion are profoundly ignorant and bordering on outright stupid).

The AI kills the thousands of people in Zion every hundred years or so when they get aggressive enough to start destabilizing the Matrix, thereby threatening billions.

This makes more sense than the silliness of the movies anyway (which admittedly isn't saying much).

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Design for Troubleshooting

Designers, both hardware and software, need to make it easier for normal users to figure out what is causing the problem when their is a failure with their systems.

I just got back from the Post Office, where I was apparently the first customer of the day, and the postage machine at the window didn't work. The postal worker took the cover off, checked that no labels were jamming it, tried winding it forward to make sure it wasn't jammed, put the cover back on, tried to print again. It still didn't work. Took the cover off, again, fiddled with it, put the cover back on, tried it again. Through several repetitions, until another worker opened their window, and I was able to mail my item.

Any time you design something that needs to have a protective cover, include a "troubleshooting switch", a manual switch that can allow the machine to operate as long as it is held down, for troubleshooting problems. It is very useful to be able to see precisely where the problem is, which you can't do with a cover in place; in addition to speeding things up not to have to repeatedly remove and replace a cover. Such a switch should require the operator to continuously hold it down, so it will only operate while his attention is actually on the machine. And it should be designed so that it can't be used that way normally. Unless there really isn't any need for the protective cover in the first place.

In complex computer applications, this would mean allowing the user to step through an operation so they can see where the failure occurs. Or at least providing more informative error messages as to where the failure happened. I just signed up with a new ISP, and at the last step received a whole page of "failure notices"; which failed to identify the problem very well. I have been using computers for 15 years, even though I am not a programmer, so I managed to figure out it was some sort of error in formatting the input, so I backed out and tried resubmitting my information and finally got it to work.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Drugs and Their (Non) Effects

I have been doing some self-experimentation. One thing I did was to try to find the best dose of caffeine for me. I tried regular coffee, decaff, and coffee and caffeine pills; several times and in different orders. With as close to controlled conditions as one person alone could arrange, I discovered that caffeine has absolutely no effect on me. I could discern absolutely no difference in alertness, learning (read a textbook chapter and did test at end), or reaction time (simple video game). I already knew I didn't react strongly to caffeine, hence the experimenting, but the result was a surprise. Apparently all of the effects I had previously attributed to caffeine had been placebo.

I had already known that I got little or no benefit from acetaminophen (Tylenol). The little relief I did get was easy to attribute to placebo effect.

I have begun wondering how much of the lower than unity effectiveness of most drugs and medications is the result of others who are totally unaffected by some particular drug. Rather than people who are just less affected.

Efficient Markets Hypothesis

There have been a couple of blog posts about the Efficient Markets Hypothesis in the past week:

How To Dis EMH By Robin Hanson January 9, 2010 11:15 am on Overcoming Bias

Then The Efficient Markets Hypothesis by Steve Sailer, Friday, January 15, 2010 on his blog.

According to the Efficient Markets Hypothesis markets reflect ALL relevant information, not just public, since any purchase or sale in a market, even that based entirely on private information is reflected in the price. And if someone has private information but does not act on it, by buying or selling, then it is not relevant as it does not affect the market price.

Two, collapses and delayed effects are PART of the EMH. No one who wasn't out of touch with reality has ever claimed that markets instantly reflect all possible information. I am sure someone, probably an academic somewhere, has made that claim.

Three, the biggest claim is obviously true, that there is NOTHING that produces more accurate prices and hence more efficient exchanges than the market. It's not some magic wand, just there is no humanly better alternative.

Markets are in a way a set of "distributed algorithms" for establishing and managing exchanges. But instead of being established across computers which are much to slow and weak, they work across human minds. Each mind only deals with a small fraction of the available information and outputs its decisions in the form of buy or don't buy or sell decisions; that is a decision as to whether the "market price" is lower, close to, or higher than their evaluation of value.

When we have "minds" more powerful than our own, markets may become obsolete, like in the "Economics 2.0" of Charles Stross's novel Accelerando (Singularity).

But until then there is no viable alternative for humans either to markets or to crippled command-type economies. The so-called "mixed economies" are not stable; special interests, especially the interests of government bureaucrats and politicians in increasing their power, inevitably leads to growth of the command side of the economy at the expense of the market.

Substantially edited to correct poor wording, 1:15 PM.