A Long Long Way to Go

River valley (Blender)
My first attempt at a landscape with river valley in Blender 2.8.

I’m pressing on with Blender, using the 2.8 beta, rather than the current 2.79 version. I figure that if I’m going to learn Blender, I might as well use the version that will be the current version when I get up to speed.

I’ll get to Blender in a minute but I’d just like to mention that I have a few writing ideas floating around in my head. I’ve completed one story and I’m mulling one story line in my head, but the characters want to do something that I’m not completely happy with. Yes, that is how it seems to me. I have little control over the characters and what they do!

The way that they want to act is within character, so I suppose I will put pen to paper, or rather, pound the keyboard, eventually. Sometime soon I’ll drop Blender for a while and switch over  to my word processor, but for now I’m still learning Blender.

The image is from FREEIMAGES (https://www.freeimages.com/photo/television-studio-1-1171607), supplied to them by Joseph Hoban.

Blender is complex because real life 3-D objects which artists are trying to draw are complex. For instance, in real life there is rarely a single source of light. We may say that a an object in a scene is lit by the sun, but really it is lit by the sun, by the ambient light from the sky and the surroundings, and by reflections from other objects in the scene.

The image above shows a studio set up for television, and it shows multiple sources of light and the stage on which the scene, whatever it is, is to be set. The stage is illuminated by a lamp, but there is also a shadow on it. The shadowed part can be seen because it is illuminated by other lamps. Things in the unlit areas around the stage can be seen dimly because some light is reflected from the stage or it spills over from other lamps.

Lighting is complex and one of the things that Blender does is emulate some of this complexity. When someone builds something in Blender the object that is modelled is colourless and textureless. It’s like one of those dressmaker dummies that is merely a shape and a framework for the clothes to be are created on it.

No materials
Some of the lighting has been set up for this object, but not enough. No materials have been applied.

The object in the above image is illuminated by a light source (or rather the object is drawn as if it is illuminated by a light source). It stands on nothing, is surrounded by grey, and is visually it is not that impressive.

For a number of reasons I recreated the tower and this time I gave it some colour by adding colour to the background and another light source, and some ambient lighting.

Cartoon tower
Cartoonish tower, with background, something to stand on and some ambient lighting. There is some other lighting, but it is a bit dim and hard to see.

That still looks cartoonish! It’s still decidedly unimpressive, but I am, I hope, making progress. I’ve learned a lot and hope to put some of it into practise soon. I’ve watched dozens of videos, some of which helped and some of which didn’t. Some of the people making the videos are very good. Others click rapidly on the various windows and menus, leaving me confused.

Some videos seem to refer to earlier versions of the software, which means I have to figure out some of the steps that the video creator just quickly clicked over. Some show how to do specific tasks, like create a floating island, or realistic landscapes, and I have to extract from those the techniques that I need. But I believe that I’m making progress. Maybe by 2020 or early 2021…

I forgot to mention that once the model has been built and been decorated with materials and  textures, it is finished but only exists as a Blender file. To produce images, like those above, the object needs to be rendered. The 3-D object needs to be converted to a 2-D image file. Rendering of complex Blender files can take hours as it is a complex mathematical task. The above images, and the one below that I am going to leave you with, took only a minute or less.

The last image is an early version of the river valley that I started this post with. Since then I have dialled back the ambient lighting and added some “materials” to colourise it. It’s probable that I will rebuild the river valley completely.

River valley (early version)
An early version of the valley and river.

Please read my books. The paperback versions can be found Amazon, and the eBooks can be found there or at your favourite eBook store. Just search for my name, Cliff Pratt. I mainly write fantasy fiction.

Why did he do it?

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Why do people become murderers or rapists, or even petty thieves. I mean, sure, sometimes a person could irritate you to the point where a fleeting thought of carnage crosses your mind. But most people would immediately shut down that thought and even be shocked and revolted by it. They certainly wouldn’t act on it.

Surely no one wakes up one morning and thinks “Oh, I’ll become a career criminal,” or “Oh, I’ll violently attack someone today.” It’s easier to explain when the person is immersed in a culture where crime is normal and maybe even expected of one. But there are law abiding people even within the worst of environments, where crime is common.

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Fear of consequences is often used to try to deter people from crime, but in many cases the fear of consequences is not enough to prevent a person committing a crime. Prison may be seen as normal and expected. So called petty criminals may expect to be thrown in to jail many times in their lives and to them it cannot be much of a deterrent.

Of course, one’s better judgement can be nullified by drugs or by alcohol. Many assaults happen when the person who assaults another person is drunk or high on drugs. Other crimes like rape, burglary, and vandalism are also more likely to happen when a person is intoxicated.

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One way that is often suggested to reduce crime is to increase the severity of the punishment, so that fear of consequences is increased. However, this has limited effect only. People still committed murder even when capital punishment was still used. When in a blind rage, if a person is mentally ill, or if the person believes that they can get away with a crime without being caught, then the consequences often do not come under consideration.

In a court of law it is assumed that the person knew that consequences and still continued with their action. In many cases I believe that this is simplistic to say the least. A person sees another person leave a phone or wallet somewhere that the first person can take it from. Often the first person doesn’t think through the consequences of the theft. They don’t even consciously think that they can get away with it. They just react to the item being accessible.

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Also each successful theft reinforces the thief’s feeling that he or she will not be caught, so they do it again. In fact, of course there is a chance that they will be caught each time that they commit the theft, and the more times that they commit the crime, the more likely it is that they will eventually get caught.

If they are likely to get away with the crime nine times out of ten, then if they commit the crime seven times, the chance of them getting caught is better than even. Maybe one way to reduce crime is to teach criminals statistics!

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It seems that the propensity to commit crime is inherent in human beings. It is not related to social standing, as crimes of theft and of fraud are seen to be committed by people of all social standings. The criminals, even those higher up the socioeconomic ladder tend to make the mistake of repeating their crimes, which, as I mentioned above, renders them more likely to be caught.

Of course those lower down the socioeconomic ladder commit simpler crimes like theft and violence often fuelled by alcohol and drugs, and those higher up commit the so-called white collar crimes. A person’s position on the ladder doesn’t seem to bear much relation to whether or not they commit sexually related crimes, and in fact, a person’s higher standing often seems to protect them against being caught – they are able to convince people to look the other way when such a crime is committed, by using their influence or by using their money to buy people off.

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If the propensity for crime is to be found at all levels of society, and the punishment of criminals is relatively ineffective as deterring criminals from committing crime, what is there that we can do about it? In my opinion, not a lot. But nevertheless we need to try, if only to reduce it to the minimum possible.

That is what society, from the beginning up to the present day is trying to do, of course. The consequences of being caught committing a crime don’t stop everyone, but it is likely that they do stop some people. Over harsh penalties from crimes don’t work beyond a certain point, and this has been recognised in societies that have dumped capital punishment.

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We try to keep down crime by locking up those who are caught committing it. Again this has only limited effectiveness as well as, effectively, targeting those at the low end of the socioeconomic ladder. A rich person who is fined for jumping a red light is likely to notice it much less than a poor person. The fines represent a much bigger portion of a poor man’s income than that of a rich man.

The only way to reduce crime to zero is to change the human race. If the genes for criminality and violence were to be bred out of the human race, then we would have no problem with crime. Women would not be raped and funds would not be embezzled. People would not drink drive, and would not bash other people.

However, the genes for criminality might be perilously close to the genes for creativity. Creative individuals are often those who break the rules, who go beyond what is allowed. Creative individuals also tend to be those who are close to the boundary between sanity and insanity. They are the eccentrics among us, the ones who do not fit in.

Maybe we could prevent crime by changing the human race, but we risk creating a society which also has no artists, no eccentrics, and essentially no Leonardo DaVincis, no Isaac Newtons, no Shakespeares, no Albert Einsteins. Society would be the poorer for that.

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Humans and not very good at calculating odds and how probabilities work. For instance, if we are tossing coins and we get six heads in a row, the probability of getting yet another head is still fifty-fifty. Yet people feel that after a series of heads that it is more likely that more tails than heads will turn up for a while, so that the ratio of heads to tails returns to the expected one to one ratio.

But the expected ratio of heads to tails for all subsequent tests is one to one. It’s as if a new set of tests is being started, and so any lead that has already built up is, in all probability, not going to be reduced.

This seems odd. If we have done one thousand trials and have turned up 550 heads to 450 tails, the ratio of heads to tails is about 0.818 and the ratio of heads to the number of tests is 0.55. Surely more tests will take the ratios closer to the expected values of 1.0 and 0.5? Surely that means that there will be more tails than heads in the future?

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Well, the answer to both questions is no, of course. The ratios for the whole test may move closer to 1.0 and 0.5, but equally, they may move further away. In the extreme case, there may never be a tail again. Or all the rest of the throws may result in tails.

Interestingly, if the subsequent tests produce a series of heads and tails, the difference between the number of heads and tails stays at around 100, but the ratio of tails to heads for the whole test slowly creeps closer to 1.0 and the ratio of heads to the total number of tests closes in on 0.5 as more and more trials are done. By the time we reach two million tests, the two numbers are not very far from the expected values, being 0.9999 and 0.5000 respectively.

So, if you think to yourself, as you buy a lotto ticket “Well I must eventually win, if I keep buying the tickets”, it doesn’t work like that. You could buy a lotto ticket forever, literally, and never ever win. Sorry.

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Lotto and sweepstakes are, I believe, a different type of gambling from other forms, such as betting on horses or poker and other gambling card games. Lotto, sweepstakes and raffles involve no element of skill, and the gambler’s only involvement is buying the ticket. Betting on horses or cards involves skill to some extent, and that skill comes down to things like working out the probabilities of a particular card coming up and the probabilities of other players having certain cards in their hands.

Both types of gambling encourage the gambler to gamble more. If a gambler doesn’t win on the Lotto he or she might say to his or herself “Better luck next time.” Of course, luck does not exist, but probabilities do, and this is a mild form of the Gambler’s Fallacy described above. Nevertheless, people do win and the winners appear on television for us all to see and emulate.

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There’s two sorts of strategy for winning the Lotto. First there’s the “always use the same numbers” strategy, and then there’s the “random numbers” strategy. If you always use the same numbers, goes the theory, then eventually there must be a match. That’s wrong of course, since the number combination may not appear before the end of the universe.

The random number strategy argues that there is no pattern to results so it is silly to expect a particular pattern to eventuate. This strategy acknowledges the random nature of the draw, but doesn’t give the gambler any advantage over any other strategy, even the same numbers strategy. It is certainly easier to buy a randomly generated ticket than to fill in a form to purchase the same numbers every time.

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Some people experience a run of luck. They might have three things happen to them, so go and buy a lotto ticket while their luck holds. Then is they win they attribute it to their lucky streak. It’s all nonsense of course. They conveniently forget the many, many times that they bought a ticket because of a lucky streak, only for the ticket to be a loser.

The proceeds from the sales of lotto tickets don’t normally all go to holders of winning tickets. Firstly the operators of the system need to recoup their costs. It’s not cheap to own and operate those fancy machines with the tumbling balls and it also costs to employ the people to check that the machines are fair.

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If one of the balls is dented, will that affect the probability of that ball being selected? Maybe, just a little, but the draw should be fair so those providing the lotto equipment spend a large amount of effort to ensure that they are fair, and the costs of that effort must come out of the prize funds.

Secondly, the state or maybe the lotto organisation itself will often withhold part of the lotto sales takings for local or national causes, such as cancer research, or societal things, like the fight against teen suicide. The money for humanitarian causes is deducted from the prize funds.

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One of the humanitarian causes is often the fight against problem gambling. It’s ironic and somewhat appropriate that funds from gambling are used to combat problem gambling. It seems that some people get such a thrill from gambling that they use all their, then borrow or steal from others to continue to gamble.

They invoke the Gambler’s Fallacy. They suggest that their luck must change sooner or later. It doesn’t have to, and may never change, but they continue to spend money on their gambling. They also don’t take account of the fact that they might win, eventually, by sheer chance, but it is unlikely that their winnings will cover what they have already gambled away. They have a tendency to believe that one big win will sort things out for them. It won’t of course.

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So, the only true fact about Lotto and similar draw is that you have to be in to win. But just because you are in doesn’t mean that you will win. You probably won’t. The best way to treat Lotto and other similar games is that you are donating to a good cause and you might, but probably won’t get something back. So, I’m off to buy a lotto ticket. I might win thirty million dollars, but I won’t cry if I don’t.

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Round it up!

Circle of Life
Circle of Life

Quite often a visit to Wikipedia starts of a train of thought that might end up as a post here, and often I forget the reason that I was visiting Wikipedia in the first place. However in this case I remember what sparked my latest trip to Wikipedia.

I was looking at the total number of posts that I have made and it turns out that I have posted 256. This is post number 257, which is a prime number incidentally. To many people 256 is not a particular interesting number but to those who program or have an interest in computers or related topics, it is a round number.

US 256
US 256

A round number, to a non-mathematician is a number with one or more zeroes at the end of it. In the numbering system with base 10, in other words what most people would considered to be the normal numbering system, 1000 would be considered to be a round number. In many cases 100 would also be a round number and sometimes 10 would be as well.

In the decimal system, which is another name for the normal numbering system, the number 110 would probably not usually be considered a round number. However, if we consider numbers like 109, 111, 108 and 112, then 110 is a round number relative to those numbers. Rounding is a fairly arbitrary thing in real life, usually.

We come across round numbers, or at least rounded numbers in the supermarket on a daily basis, if we still use cash. Personally I don’t. I recall when the one cent and two cent coins were introduced people were appalled that the supermarkets would round their bills to the nearest convenient five cents.

5 lirot
5 lirot


So a person would go to a supermarket and their purchases would total to, say, $37.04. The cashier would request payment of $37.05. Shock! Horror! The supermarket is stealing $0.01 off me! They must be making millions from all these $0.01 roundings. In fact, of course, the retailer is also rounding some amounts down too, so if the bill was $37.01 the customer would be asked to pay only $37.00. So the customer and the supermarket, over a large number of transactions, would end up even.

Then of course the 5 cents coins were removed and this added an extra dilemma. What if the total bill was $37.05? Should the customer’s bill be rounded to $37.00 or to $37.10? This is a real dilemma because, if the amount is rounded up, then the supermarket pockets five cents in one ten cases, and if it is rounded down the supermarket loses five cents in one in ten cases. If the supermarket a thousand customers in a day, one hundred of them will pay five cents more than the nominal amount on their bill, meaning that the supermarket makes a mere five dollars.

Big Money
Big Money

The emotional reaction of the customer, though, is a different thing. He or she may feel ripped off by this rounding process and say so, loudly and insistently. Not surprisingly most supermarkets and other retailers choose to round such bills down. Of course, all the issues go away if you don’t use cash, but instead use some kind of plastic to pay for your groceries, as most people do these days.

There are degrees of roundness. In one context the number 110 would be considered round, if you are rounding to the nearest multiple of ten. If you are rounding to the nearest multiple of one hundred, then 110 is not a round number, or, in other words a rounded number. If we are rounding to the nearest multiple of three, then 110 is not a rounded number but 111 is (111 is 37 multiplied by 3).

Binary Backdrop
Binary Backdrop

Real numbers can be rounded too. Generally, but not always, this is done to eliminate and small errors in measurement. You might be certain that the number you are reading off the meter is between 3.1 and 3.2, and it seems to be 3.17 or so, so you write that down. You take more measurements and then write them all down.

Then you use that number in a calculation and come up with a result which, straight out of the calculator, has an absurd number of decimal places. Suppose, he said, picking a number out of the air, the result is 47.2378. You might to choose to truncate the number to 47.23, but the result would be closer to the number that you calculated if you choose to round it 47.24.

Currency Symbols
Currency Symbols

A quick and easy way to round a real number is to add half of the order of the smallest digit that you want to keep and then truncate the number. For the example number the order of the smallest digit is 0.01 and half of that is 0.005. Adding this to 47.2378 gives 47.2428, and truncating that leaves 47.24. Bingo!

Another way of dealing with uncertain real numbers such as results from experiments is to calculate an error bound on the number and carrying that through to the calculated result. This is more complex but yields more confidence in the results than mere rounding can.


To get back to my 256th post. Why did I say that this is a round number in some ways? Well, if instead of using base 10 (decimal), I change to using base 16 (hexadecimal) the number 256 (base 10) becomes 100 (base 16), and those trailing zeroes mean that I can claim that it is a round number.

Similarly, if I choose to use base 2 (binary), 256 (base 10) becomes 100000000 (base 2). That is a really round number. But if I use base 8 (octal), 256 (base 10) becomes 400 (base 8). It’s still a round number but not as round as the binary and hexadecimal versions are, because it start with the digit 4. As a round number its a bit beige.

It’s interesting (well it is interesting to me!) that there are no real numbers in a computer. Even the floating point numbers that computers manipulate all the time are not real numbers. They are approximations of real number stored in a special way (which I’m not going to into).

General Double Precision Float
General Double Precision Float

So when a computer divides seven by three, a lot of complex conversions between representations of these numbers goes on, a complex division process takes place and the result is not the real number 2.333333…. but an approximation, stored in the computer as a floating point number which only approximate, while still being actually quite accurate.

One third
One third


Once a week

English: Lunar libration. see below for more d...
English: Lunar libration. see below for more descriptions Français : Librations de la lune. Voir une description détaillée en dessous. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been pondering the topic of ‘the week‘. Not the ‘topic of the week’. The week, as in seven days. It’s an unusual number to use as a unit for a length of time, as it is a prime number of days, and this makes using fractions of a week a bit tricky. Half a week is 3 and a half days long, so it’s not usual to, for instance, agree to meet someone in ‘half a week’.

No, we say ‘See you in three days’, or four days. We might say ‘this paint will take 2 and a half days to fully dry’, but this is a bit odd. We’d usually say something like ‘this paint will take between 2 and 3 days to fully dry’. We usually treat days as ‘atomic’ when counting days. The number of days is usually an integer, although we could break days down and use fractions or real numbers with them.

Unusual Calendar
Unusual calendar. 12 months 9 days in week

The fact that the number of days in a week is a prime integer also makes converting from weeks to days and days to week interesting. Quick, how many days in seventeen weeks? The answer is 119. How many weeks is 237 days?  The answer is 33 with six days left over. It’s not easy.

Four weeks is 28 days, which is approximately a lunar cycle. It is also very approximately one month. There are approximately thirteen 28 days period in a year, assuming a 365 days year which is approximately correct. This is probably why some calendars have thirteen months.

Lunar eclipse
Lunar eclipse

The lunar cycle is around 29 and a half days, whereas the month defined as one twelfth of a year is around 30 and a half days. Nothing fits! The month is based on the lunar cycle, and the ancients noticed that that the twelve lunar cycles is 354 days which was close to the 365 and a bit days that comprise a year.

So, they decided to make it fit. They divided the year into 12 months, which left them with bits of days just lying around. This was obviously untidy so they scrunched up the bits into one days and tagged them onto the various months more or less at random. The final left over bit that they ended up with they ignored.

Monthly bus pass
Monthly bus pass

That’s how we ended up with mnemonic rhyme “30 days hath September, April, June and November…” with that horrible line that doesn’t scan. That’s rather appropriate really, as the reason that the rhyme is needed is because the days don’t fit properly into the months. It’s an uneven rhyme for an uneven scheme.

The ancients ignored the odd bit of a day that was left over until someone noticed that the year was still sliding out of synchronisation with the seasons. So they added or took away a day or two here and there in special, short or long years. Problem solved.

Leap year 1908
Leap year 1908

Well sort of. They ended up with a super complex list of rules for working out how many days there are in a month, where to fit extra days into the calendar, and when to fit them in. Horror!

Finally scientists decide to cut through all this confusion and define a second by using an atomic clock. Providing you don’t accelerate the clock to a significant fraction of the speed of light and keep it at absolute zero. Easy!

First atomic clock
First atomic clock

Again, sort of. The standard second times sixty give a standard minute. The standard minute times sixty gives the standard hour. The standard hour times twenty four gives the standard day and the standard day times seven gives the standard week. Yay, you might say.

Unfortunately the actual day and therefore the actual week is not exactly equal to the standard day or week. It would be quite legitimate to claim “Wow, this is a long week, it’s 0.608111.. standard seconds longer than a standard week”. But don’t expect much sympathy.

Leap second 2016
Leap second 2016

Seven days is actually a pretty reasonable length to a week. We divide it into “the weekend” and “the rest of the week”. If it was a couple of days longer, it would be a long time between weekends. We’d probably be tempted to add an extra day to each weekend, or maybe alternate weekends…. But now we’re getting complicated again.

If the week was shorter, we’d probably get less work done. If the week was five days and we still had a two day weekend then time available for work would be about 17% less. Of course five day working weeks are fairly recent in historical terms, but I’m not going to work out the numbers for a 6/7 working week and a 4/5 working week.

Aztech Sun Stone Replica
Aztech Sun Stone Replica

Speaking of work, and assuming that most people would not work unless they have to, we have developed various coping strategies. We count the days to the weekend. “Only three more days to the weekend.” Tomorrow is Thursday and that means only one more day to the weekend.”

We designate Wednesday as “Hump Day”, since it is the middle of the week and if we reach Hump Day before having a breakdown or perhaps killing someone, that’s a win. There’s only half the week to go and we’ve broken its back.

We celebrate Fridays, often with a quick drink, then shoot off to enjoy the weekend. We come in on Mondays, faced with five more days of toil. On Tuesdays, we’ve at least knocked off one day, but it’s still a bit beige. Wednesday is Hump Day and we’re halfway there! When Thursday comes we’re almost there, and Friday is relatively easy. It’s practically the weekend, when we block out the thought of Monday all together if we can.

TGIF - switch off
TGIF – switch off

The week has a sibling called the “fortnight”. Two weeks, as a chunk. At one time the fortnight was usually reserved for a summer holiday. A fortnight at the beach or the bach. Time away with the kids. Idyllic golden weather by the sea. Of course, we only remember the good times, and forget the bad ones, but still it would be summer, it would be fairly warm, and the weather is usually better in the summer.

Weeks are the medium sized sections of our lives, often used to split up the humdrum from the pleasant parts of our lives. We should appreciate our weeks, no matter how many standard seconds long they are.

Girl on a swing
Girl on a swing

Choose! Choose now!

Fractal tree
Fractal tree

Life throws many choices in our way. One view of the world is that it is like a many branched pathway, with our every day choices causing us to thread a particular path though this maze of branches, to reach the ever growing tip of the tree of events that is our past.

The future is yet to come into being but we can see dimly into it, and we use this limited view to inform our choices. The view into the future is like a mist. Things appear dimly for a while only to fade and be hidden from view. Sometime in the future is the instant of our demise. We know it’s coming but we do not usually know how and when.

Misty Morning
Misty Morning

We try to compensate for our inadequate view of the future by trying to cater for all possibilities, and one way we do this is by making a will, to prescribe how we would like our things, our assets, to be distributed when we are dead.

Some people try to predict the future. Some people gamble, on horses or whatever, trying to guess the winner of a race. There are two sorts of such people, those who estimate the odds and then build in as much of a safety margin as they can. These are usually the ones who run the books, while the other sort take a more optimistic view and gamble that the bookmakers are wrong. The first group is generally happy to make small profits while the second group want high returns. Generally the first group does a lot better than the second group over a reasonably long time frame.

Bookmakers at Higham
Bookmakers at Higham

The interesting thing about choice is that it is a discrete thing. We choose from one or more possibilities and the number of those possibilities is an integer. Often it is a choice between option one or option two. Pretty obviously it isn’t option one point five.

If we have two possibilities, call them A and B, then the probability of A occurring might be thirty percent. This means that the probability of B happening is seventy percent. The two must always add up to one hundred per cent.

Choice of paths
Choice of paths

So there is a mapping here between discrete events and continuous probabilities. Between integers and real numbers. One way of looking at this is that “event A” is a sort of label to the part of the probability curve that represents the event. Or it could be considered that the probability of the event is an attribute of the event.

It could be that when a choice is made and the probability of making that is more probably than making the other choice then that it is similar to making a choice of road. One road is wide and one is narrow. The width of the road could be related to the probability of making that choice.

Choice of routes to Pinnacle Hill
Choice of routes to Pinnacle Hill

The width of the road or the probability of the choice may well be subjective of course. I might choose to vote for one political party because I have always voted for that party. The probability of me voting for that party is high. The probability of my voting for another party would be quite low. However for someone who is the supporter of another party, the road widths are the other way around.

Is it true that when I vote for the party that I usually vote for that I exercise a choice? Only in a weak way. Merely doing things the way that one has always done is just taking the easy way and involve little choice. The reason for taking the easy choice may be because one has always done it that way and there is no reason to change. Habit, in other words.

A or B?
A or B?

Most choices we make are similar. We have a set of in-built innate or learned reactions to most situations, so that we don’t have to trouble to make a choice. If you make a choice, if you drill down far enough you will find that there are always reasons for a choice that you make. Your father always voted for the party, so you do out of loyalty and shared beliefs.

Every choice, when you examine it, seems to just melt away into a mass of knee jerk reactions and beliefs. When you examine choices you find that there was in fact no other way that we were likely to choose and free choice doesn’t really exist.

Spoilt for Choice
Spoilt for Choice

We have all been to a fast food restaurant only to find that the person before us is unable to make up their mind. This is probably because they do not have strong preferences so that they don’t have any reason to choose one dish over the other, or they dislike all the dishes equally.

If we put people in a situation where they have no reason to prefer one course of action over another and we force them to make a choice, they will often think up ludicrous reasons for making the choice that they finally make.

Reason Why lobby card
Reason Why lobby card

For instance on game shows where they have to make a selection from a multiple choice question in a limited amount of time, quite often they will say something like “I haven’t pressed B in a while”, or “I guessed A last time and it worked out for me so I did it again”, even something like “It’s my boyfriends favourite colour.” It’s hard to know if they really used that reasoning or whether they are justifying their choice after the event.

Another way to cause people to make a random choice is to try and remove all distractions. I can envisage an experiment where people are placed in a room with a screen and two buttons. They are then told by a message on the screen to press the correct button within ten seconds and a count down starts. Since they have no knowledge of which is the correct button they will be forced to choose any button to press or to let the timeout expire. Then they will asked why they chose that particular button. The results of such a test would be interesting.

Random Walk Trace
Random Walk Trace

Two Hundred and Fifty

Ferrari 250 GTO
Ferrari 250 GTO

This post will be my 250th. 250 times approximation 1,000 words. A quarter of a million words. Wow. I didn’t think that I could do it. I hit the target. I reached the summit of Everest. I ran a marathon. And other similar metaphors for success.

Of course, I could be posting into a void. I see that I get, usually, a few dozen views for each post and some people are actually “following” me. I even, now and then, get a comment. I’ve done zero in the way of self promotion. I finish each post, figuratively pat it on its back and send it on its way, never to be seen again.

On its way
On its way

This doesn’t concern me. It seems that, for me, writing this blog is a bit like playing a piano in an empty room, or doing a jigsaw on the Internet. The reward is in the doing. I certainly feel a sense of achievement when I hit the “Publish” button, but I don’t often follow up on the post.

What I found amazing is my ability to ramble on for 1,000 words on any subject. I reckon that I could probably stretch any subject out to 1,000 words. In fact, I usually go over. Around the 300 to 400 word mark I’m wondering if I will reach the 1,000, and then suddenly I’m a couple of dozen words past the mark and wondering how to stop. Many times I will just stop so if you think I dropped a subject abruptly, you are probably right.

Analog television ends in Japan
Analog television ends in Japan

Some subjects have come up more than once. If you have been a regular reader you will have noticed themes running through my posts. There’s science, particularly physics and cosmology, there’s philosophy, there’s maths. I’ve tried to steer away from politics, but Trump has crept in there somewhere.

There’s weather, there’s seasons, there’s discussion on society, as I see it, and occasionally I discuss my posts themselves. These things are, obviously, the things that interest me, the things that I tend to think about.

River Arun
River Arun

Apparently I have 144 followers. That’s 144 more than I expected. I hope that some of them read my posts on a regular basis, but that’s not necessary. I hope that more dip in from time to time and find some interest nugget.

That sound disparaging to my followers, but that’s not my intent. My intent is to reflect on the realities of blogging. I follow other blogs, but I don’t read all the posts on those blogs. Maybe one or two of them I read pretty much every time the blogger posts a new post.

Someone's blog post
Someone’s blog post

That’s the reality of blogging I think. Millions of blog plots are published every day, and I reckon that very few of them are read by more than one or two people at the most. Some blogs strike the jackpot, though, and have millions of followers.

I’d guess that the big blogs are about politics in some shape or form, or fashion and fashion hints and tips. Maybe cooking? I’ve seen a few cooking blogs and they seem to be quite popular. Some big firms have taken to publishing a blog. Some people blog about their illnesses and their battles with it. The best of the latter can be both sad and uplifting.


You know the sort I mean? You go to the firm’s website and there’s a button or menu item that proudly proclaims “Blog”. When you look at the blog, it’s simply a list of what the CEO and board have been up to, or releases of new products, or sometimes posts about workers at the firm getting involved with the local community. All good earnest stuff, but scarcely riveting. I wonder how many followers they get? Probably about as many as me! I hope so. At least they are trying.

(Approaching 600 words of waffle. I can do it!)

Since I’m not doing a political blog, I don’t think that anything I post is controversial, which is probably reflected in the number of my followers. I don’t stir up any furores with my words on Plato’s Cave analogy, so far as I know. I get no furious comments about my views on Schrodinger’s Cat. “You should see what he says about Plato’s Cave! You must go on there and refute it!” Nah, doesn’t happen!

Plato's Allegory of the cave, Engraving of Jan...
Plato’s Allegory of the cave, Engraving of Jan Saenredam (1565-1607) after a painting of Cornelis Corneliszoon van Haarlem (1562-1638) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I said, the low number of hits doesn’t worry me. It would be a hassle if suddenly my followers shot up to thousands, and I felt obligated to provide all these people an interesting post on a regular basis. As it is I can ramble on about prime numbers or the relationship between the different number sets and potentially only disappoint a few people. If any.

What have I learnt from all this blogging? That it is hard. It’s not just a matter of sitting down and blasting out a 1,000 words. Well sometimes it is, actually, but most times I grind it out in 100 word or so chunks. I aim to write the blog on Sunday and add pictures and publish on Monday.

Hard work
Hard work

Sometimes I miss the Monday deadline, out of sheer forgetfulness, mostly and pop it out on Tuesday or even later. Sometimes I forget to write my post until late on Sunday, but it is only rarely that I have to write it on Monday or even later. So far as I can tell, I’ve not completely missed a weekly post since the earliest days.

This is not the first blog I’ve tried to write. I had several goes before this one and I think that maybe this attempt “stuck” because I set out my aim to publish weekly early on. Maybe. It may also be the target of 250 posts that I set myself early on. Now I’ve achieved that goal.


So what next? I’ve not decided. I might stop now, or I might go on to 500. I may not know right up until the last minute. 500 posts is approaching 10 years of posts which seems a phenomenally long time. But then again, 250 posts is around 5 years of posts and I achieved that. We’ll have to see.

(As I sail past 1,000 words, I reflect that I can extract that many words from practically nothing. It seems to be a knack.)

Fireworks in NZ
Fireworks in NZ

Parallel worlds or a Continuum?

Spooky Cat
Spooky Cat

A cursory search on the Internet doesn’t tell me one way or another if Erwin Schrodinger owned a cat. Nevertheless he could have owned a cat, so the existence of Schrodinger’s actual cat is unknown to me. David Deutsch might possible argue that Schrodinger’s decision to own a cat or not own a cat resulted in two parallel worlds.

The above is obviously a play on the original scenario outlined by Schrodinger, the famous Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment. The cat’s state before the box is opened is a strange state, referred to as a superposition, where the cat is both alive and dead. When the box is opened it is argued that this state is somehow resolved with cat being definitely alive or dead.

It's a trap!
It’s a trap!

Suppose that we install a detector in the box with the cat which determines whether or not the cat is dead and notes the time when  it dies. Does this resolve the paradox? After all, if the detector says that the cat died three minutes ago, then we now know exactly when the cat died.

This doesn’t resolve the issue, though, as the detector will also be in a superposition until the box is opened – we don’t know if it has been triggered or not. Of course, some people, including Schrodinger himself, are not happy with this interpretation, and it does seem that, pragmatically, the cat is alive until the device in the box is triggered and is thereafter dead.

Superposition of waves
Superposition of waves

However the equation derived by Schrodinger appears to say that the cat exists in both states, so it appears as if Schodinger’s “ridiculous case” (his words) is in fact the case. Somehow the cat does appear to be in the strage state of superposition.

If we look at the experimenter, he (or she) has no clue before opening the box whether the cat is dead or not. Nothing appears to change for him (or her), but in fact it does. He (or she) is unaware of the state of the cat, so he (or she) is in the superimposed state : He (or she) is unaware whether or not the cat is alive or whether it is dead, which is a superposition state.

Dead Cat Bounce
Dead Cat Bounce

Yet we don’t find this strange. If we remove the scientific gadgets from the box, this doesn’t really change anything – the cat may drop dead from old ages or disease before the box is open. Once again we cannot know the live/dead status of the cat until we open the box.

So, what is special about opening the box? Well, the “when” is very important if we consider the usual case with the scientific gadgets in the box. If we open the box early we are more likely to find the cat alive. If we open it later it is more likely that the cat will be dead. Extinct. Shuffled the mortal coil.

Mortal Coil
Mortal Coil

So it is the probability of atomic decay leading to the cat’s death that is changing. It may be 70% likely that cat is dead, so if we could repeat the experiment 1000s of times 7/10th of the time the cat is dead, and 3/10th of the time the cat is still alive. Yeah, cat!! (There’s also a possibility that the experimenter gets a whiff of cyanide and dies, but let’s ignore that.)

But after the box is opened, the cat is 100% alive or 100% dead. Apparently. How did that happen? Some people claim that something mysterious called “the collapse of the waveform” happened. I don’t think that really explains anything.


Collapse of the waveform
Collapse of the waveform

The same thing happens in the real world. If I don’t check my lotto tickets I’m in a superposition state of having won a fortune and not having won a fortune. When I check them I find I haven’t won anything. Again! I must stop buying them. They are a waste of money.

The many worlds hypothesis gets around this by postulating the splitting of the world into two worlds whenever a situation like this arises. After I check my lotto ticket there are two worlds, one where I am a winner and one where I am not. How can I move to the world where I’m a millionaire? It doesn’t seem fair that I stuck here with two worthless bits of paper. does it?

Lotto tickets
Lotto tickets

And what does the probability mean? In the lotto case it is 1 in an astronomical number that I come out a winner and almost 1 that I get nothing. In the cat case it may be 60/40 or 70/30, and in the cat case it changes over time.

If the world splits every time a probabilistic situation arises, then the probabilities don’t actually mean much. What difference does it make if a situation is “more probable” than another situation if both situations come about in the multiverse regardless? It doesn’t seem that it is a meaningful attribute of the branches. What does it mean, in this model that branch A is three times more likely than branch B? Somehow a continuum (probability) reduces to a binary choice (A or B).


We could consider that the split is not a split at all, but that reality, the universe, whatever, has another dimension, that of probability. Imagine your worldline, a worm travelling through the dimensions of space and the new one of probability. You open the box and lo! Your worldline continues, and the cat is now dead or alive, but not both.

But which way does it go? That is determined purely by the probabilities, by the throw of the cosmic dice, but once it chooses a path, then there is no other possibility. In the space dimensions you can only be in one place at a time. If you are at A you cannot be at B, and similarly in the probability dimension, if you are at P you cannot be at Q.


However any point P (the cat is still alive!) is merely a point on the probability line. There are an uncountable number of points where the cat is alive and also an uncountable number of points where the cat is deceased. But the ratio between the two parts of the line is the probability of the cat’s survival.

Many Worlds
Many Worlds

What is philosophy for?

English: A cropped version of Antonio Ciseri's...
English: A cropped version of Antonio Ciseri’s depiction of Pontius Pilate presenting a scourged Christ to the people. See: Eccehomo1.jpg for full version. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is truth?” Pilate asked of Jesus. Jesus had just asserted that he had come into the world to testify to the truth. Pilate used this to close off the conversation, as he knew that truth is exceedingly difficult to define, and that one man’s truth is another man’s falsehood.

We live in a world where politicians cite “alternative facts” to defend themselves when their statements are questioned. Hmm. This seems like a step on the road to fluid “truth” of the authorities in the book “1984”, but is more likely to be a scrambling attempt of the establishment to defend itself.

English: Donald Trump at a press conference an...
English: Donald Trump at a press conference announcing David Blaine’s latest feat in New York City at the Trump Tower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Philosophy is a means of addressing Pilate’s question and many many others that do not fall into the realm of science or of mathematics. What is real and can we know it? Can we know anything? Is there a God, and if so, why does he permit evil into His universe?

These are questions which fall into the realm of philosophy, as do others about the meaning of science and mathematics, and questions of ethics and morals.

Raphael's "School of Athens"
Raphael’s “School of Athens” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Almost by definition, philosophical questions cannot be answered. The “What is truth?” one is a prime example. Will the sun rise tomorrow morning? Did the sun rise this morning? Is the sun risen at the moment? All of these questions can be pragmatically answered “Yes!” but probe a little deeper and the answer can appear less definite.

After all, we might remember the sun coming up this morning, but what if these are false memories. Or maybe what we see is a mere “virtual reality” fed directly to our brains. And just because the sun rose this morning, and the morning before, and so on, doesn’t mean that it will rise tomorrow. Maybe there is some as yet unknown physical event that will cause it not to rise. Maybe cause and effect are illusions and anything can happen.

Dark clouds below light ones at sun rise
Dark clouds below light ones at sun rise (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We nowadays separate science and philosophy, but this was not always so, and science was once termed “natural philosophy“. The ancient Greeks would have been termed philosophers, but they dealt with such questions as what everything is made of. Some of their suggestions would seem quaint today, but they did suggest the concept of atoms.

At the time there was no way that any of their hypotheses, such as the atomic hypothesis, could be tested and some of them even thought that testing them was a bad idea. They meta-hypothesised that everything could be deduced simply by thought. They needed no experiments!

English: Engraving depicting the Greek philoso...
English: Engraving depicting the Greek philosophers Hipparchia of Maroneia and Crates of Thebes. From the book Proefsteen van de Trou-ringh (Touchstone of the Wedding Ring) written by Jacob Cats. Hipparchia and Crates are depicted wearing 17th-century clothing. In the scene depicted, Crates is trying to dissuade Hipparchia from her affections for him by pointing to his head to show how ugly he is. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Atomic theory is now definitely in the realm of science. Biology too, and mathematics, though maths now has its own realm, apart from science. Anything that is in the realms of philosophy may find its way to the realm of science or maths.

What about things like ethics and morality? Surely these won’t ever move to the field of science? Well, maybe. I wouldn’t bet on it, though it may be a long time before there is an ethical Newton, a morality Einstein.

Sir Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Science has made great grabs in recent times for the fields of behaviourism and in studies of human consciousness. These have been until recently the domain of philosophers alone. In a way, it might be better if we did not understand the way that people and societies and human consciousness work, because understanding things is the first step to control things. Let’s hope that the ethical Newton and the morality Einstein arrive before we know how to scientifically control people and societies.

Philosophic pondering on the way things are tend to be wild and diverse. We tend to think of such hypotheses as the multiple worlds theories as new and cutting edge, but Professor Pangloss in Voltaire’s 1759 book “Candide” proclaims that “all is for the best” in this “best of all possible worlds”, which implies that there are, or could be, other worlds where things might be different.

This engraving is from Voltaire's Candide: it ...
This engraving is from Voltaire’s Candide: it depicts the scene where Candide and Cacambo see two monkeys apparently attacking two nude women. Candide kills the monkeys, then comes to believe the monkeys and women were actually lovers. The image may have been accompanied by the caption, “The two wanderers heard a few little cries”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, since there was no real divide between philosophy and science and maths in the early days, we can’t really say that science has taken over these philosophical topics, more that they have been hived off as science split from philosophy. Nevertheless, science is probing topics, such as the nature of reality, which definitely have a philosophical flavour to them. For instance, is the cat alive or dead, or maybe both?

The philosopher Zeno of Elea introduced some paradoxes which even today exercise the minds of philosophers and mathematicians. Basically, Zeno poses the question : How does one (or an arrow for that matter) move from point A to point B? There’s plenty on the Internet about these paradoxes, so I’m not going into them in detail, but essential the core of the problem is how to sum an infinite number of increasingly small intervals of space or time without the result becoming infinite.

English: The Zeno Paradox in portuguese. Deriv...
English: The Zeno Paradox in portuguese. Derivate work from Zeno Paradox de.PNG Português do Brasil: O Paradoxo de Zenão em português. Trabalho derivado de Zeno Paradox de.PNG. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously Achilles does overtake the tortoise, the arrow does reach its target and it is possible to travel from A to B, but some people still think that science and maths have not yet solved these paradoxes, and there’s still a sliver of a problem for the philosophers. Arguments these days resolve more around whether the paradoxes have been resolved and therefore we can move from A to B, or are still in the realm of philosophers and therefore we cannot move from A to B!

When the Greek philosophers were thinking about atoms and what things are made of, there was no way to test the various theories out. When they were developing theories about the stars and other astronomical objects they had no way to test the theories out. However, eventually the “natural philosophers” like Newton, laid the basis for astronomical theories, and early chemists like Lavoisier laid the basis for the science of chemistry, which made use of the theory of atoms.

A scan of the first page of John Dalton's &quo...
A scan of the first page of John Dalton’s “A New System of Chemical Philosophy”, published in 1808. Please do not “update” the list with modern spellings. This is a historic list and the old spellings are intentional. Yes, it’s “carbone”, not “carbon”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Philosophy exists because people like to ask questions like “What is beyond the end of the Universe?” or “If God made everything, who or what made God?” Or “How long is the hypotenuse of a right angled triangle with sides on one cm or one inch?” Or “Why is the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle a fixed number and what is it?”

Philosophy exists to postulate parallel Universes, massive balls of fusing gas, and terrestrial planets complete with humans or maybe little green men. Its job is to wonder what lies beyond the bounds of science and what makes humans behave the way that they do, and whether or not God is dead. It is to ask the impossible questions. It is science’s job to prize these issues from the hands of the philosophers and answer them.


A Sum of All the Parts

Cover of the Book Conscious Robots
Cover of the Book Conscious Robots (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Consciousness is fascinating and I keep coming back to it. It is personally verifiable in that a person knows that he or she is conscious, but it is difficult if not impossible to tell if a person is conscious from the outside.

When you talk to someone, you and that person exchange words. You say something, and they respond. Their response is to what you say, and it appears to show that the person is a conscious being.

It’s not as easy as that, however, because it is conceivable that the person is a zombie (in the philosophical sense) and his or her responses are merely programmed reactions based on your words. In other words he or she is not a conscious being.

It seems to me that the best counter to this suggestion is that I am a conscious being and I am no different in all discernible ways from others. It is unreasonable to suggest I am the only conscious being anywhere and that all others are zombies.

Of course this leaves open the suggestion that some people may be philosophical zombies, but that then raises the question of what the difference is, and how can one detect it. William of Occam would probably wield his razor and conclude that, if one can’t tell, one might as well assume that there are no zombies, as assuming that there are zombies adds a (probably) unnecessary assumption to the simple theory that all humans are conscious beings.

It follows that consciousness is probably an emergent phenomenon related to the complexity and functioning of the brain. It also follows that lower animals, such as dogs, cats and apes are also probably conscious entities, though maybe to a lesser extent that we are.

English: A liver-coloured Border Collie with h...
English: A liver-coloured Border Collie with heterochromatic eyes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The only way we can directly study consciousness is by introspection, which is more than a bit dubious as it is consciousness studying itself. We can indirectly study consciousness by studying others who we assume to be conscious, maybe when they have been rendered unconscious by anaesthetics and are “coming round” from them.

In addition, consciousness can be indirectly studied using mind altering drugs or meditation. However we are mainly dependant on verbal reports from those studied this way, and such reports are, naturally, subjective.

Chemical Structure of LSD (Lysergic acid dieth...
Chemical Structure of LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we introspect, we are looking inwards, consciously studying our own consciousness. There are therefore limits on what we can find out, as the question arises “How much about itself can a system find out?”

A system that studies itself is limited. It can find out some things, but not all. It’s like a subroutine in a bigger program, in that it knows what to do with inputs and it creates appropriate output for those inputs. Its sphere of influence is limited to those processes written into it, and there is no way for it to know anything about the program that calls it.

English: Illustration of subroutine in Microso...
English: Illustration of subroutine in Microsoft Excel that reads the x-column, squares it, and writes the squares into the y-column. All proprietary Microsoft art work has been cropped to leave a generic spreadsheet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A subroutine of a larger program uses the lexical, syntactical and logical rules that apply to the program as a whole, though it may have its own rules too. It shares the concept of strings, number, and other objects with the whole program, but it can add its own rules too.

The Universe is like the subroutine in many ways. The subroutine has inputs and outputs and processes the one into the other. In this Universe we are born and we die. In between we spend our lives.

An aware or conscious subroutine would know that it processes input and creates outputs, but it would have no idea why. We know that we are born, we live and we die. Apart from that we have no idea why.

This sort of implies that while we may use introspection to investigate some aspects of consciousness we will always fall short of understanding it completely. We may be able to approach an understanding asymptotically however – we might get to understand consciousness to the 90% level, so it would not be a total waste of time to study it.

Česky: Asymptotická křivka.
Česky: Asymptotická křivka. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Consciousness seems to be more than a single state, and the states seem to merge and divert without any actions on our part. For instance, when I am driving there is a part of me that is driving the car and a part of me that is route planning, and maybe a part of me that is musing on the shopping that I intend to do.

The part of me that is driving is definitely aware of what is happening around me. I don’t consciously make the decision to slow down when other traffic gets in the way, but the part of me that is driving does so.

The Last Royal Show
The Last Royal Show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similarly the part that is route finding is also semi-autonomous – I don’t have to have a map constantly in my mind, and don’t consciously make a decision to turn right, but the navigator part of my consciousness handle that by itself.

Those parts of my mind are definitely conscious of the areas in which they are functioning, because if they were not conscious, they would not be able to do their job alone and would frequently need to move to the front of my consciousness disrupting my musing about my shopping.

Window shopping at Eaton's department store. (...
Window shopping at Eaton’s department store. (Toronto, Canada) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s like part of my consciousness are carved off and allowed to perform their functions autonomously. However if an emergency should arise, then these parts are quickly jolted back into one.

The parts of my mind are definitely conscious as, at a low level, I am aware of them. I’m aware of the fact that I’m following that blue car, and I’m aware that I have to turn left in 200m or so. I’m also aware of my shopping plans, while I’m aware of the music on the radio.

Deutsch: Servicemenü des Blaupunkt Bremen MP74...
Deutsch: Servicemenü des Blaupunkt Bremen MP74 (Aktivierung: Gerät mit gedrückter “Programm1”- und “Menü”-Taste einschalten). Aktuelle Frequenz: 89,70 MHz (France Musique, Sender Luttange (Metz), PI-Code F203); aktuelle Suchlauffrequenz: 96,80 MHz (bigFM Saarland, Sender Friedrichsthal/Hoferkopf, PI-Code 10B2) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While it sounds scary that I’m not totally concentrated on my driving, I believe that this sort of has to happen. If I was totally concentrated on my driving, I would need to stop at every intersection so that I could decide which way to turn.

I would need have my shopping list completely sorted out, to the point of knowing which stores I am going to before even getting the car, and I would have to plan my route precisely. This would not allow for those occasions when passing by something or some shop reminds you that you need something that is not on your shopping list.

Planning options considered, the most northerl...
Planning options considered, the most northerly route was chosen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This splitting of consciousness allows us to perform efficiently. The only downside is that splitting things too much can result in us becoming distracted. And that is the reason we shouldn’t fiddle with the radio or use cellphones when driving.

English: A motor bike team arrive to the scene...
English: A motor bike team arrive to the scene of a car crash in Maracaibo, Venezuela. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)