Fake News

News
News

All news is fake to some extent. When a reporter watches some event unfold he or she will have their own in-built and acquired biases, no matter how hard they try to keep them under control. Those who watch or read the news report will also have their own leanings and belief systems. In addition they will tend to view only those sources which fit with their world view.

Although I attempt to show that “news” as such is a severely distorted view of events, and that everyone has their own viewpoint on news events depending on their innate beliefs and acquired biases, this phenomenon is not restricted to news and the events that get reported by the news media. We filter all that we see through the sieve of these beliefs and therefore what we see conforms to our world view and naturally this acts to confirm these beliefs in our minds.

Beliefs Knowledge and Truth
Beliefs Knowledge and Truth

Back in 1991 Jean Baudrillard said that “The Gulf War did not happen“. Of course, he did not mean that the events referred to as “The Gulf War” or “The Liberation of Kuwait” did not happen, but that the events as reported by the US authorities and others were highly edited and presented in a way that but the US and its allies in the best possible light. Baudrillard also contended that the so-called war was not a war in the usual sense as the American troops did not directly engage in conflict with the opposing forces.

I am not arguing on the rights or wrongs of the Gulf War, as that is not the main purpose of my posting here, but that what was reported by the Western media was a distorted view of the events that happened during that war. As I live in a “Western” nation, the view that I and billions of others had was highly tilted in the direction of the United States. If I had been able to see the reporting of the Iraqi media, I am sure that I would have a very different view of the events. Similarly it too would also be highly distorted.

Destroyed tank
Destroyed tank in Gulf War

Neither viewpoint could be considered “right” or “wrong”, as such. Neither is intended to be an accurate record of what actually happened, while the events as reported happened, the interpretation of the events may omit or emphasise some aspect over others. One report may record that several “insurgents” or “terrorists” were killed, while another report of the same event will record that some “freedom fighters” were killed. One report may leave out the fact that “non-combatants” were killed while the other may call them civilians and children.

In recent times though, so-called “fake news” has had some attention in the media itself. Kellyanne Conway used the phrase “alternative facts” to explain the claim that President Trump’s inauguration had the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe”, when less partial estimates put the crowd at a much lower level than it was at the previous three inaugurations. She was widely ridiculed for this, though, to be fair, she maybe meant to say “alternative information” or “incomplete information”, as she has claimed.

Presidential inauguration
Presidential inauguration

Unfortunately for that interpretation, she later referred to something that did not happen. This may again have been a slip of the tongue or incorrect remembrance of the event referred to, but two such slips probably indicates that she should not be doing the job and should let other handle the interaction between the White House and the media. However while the media is focusing on her missteps they are not focusing on the President, and that may be the whole point.

Of course, “alternative facts” or alternative interpretations are not found just in politics, but in many walks of life. How many people have watched a sports match and have been surprised by the interpretation of the way that the match went that appears in the media. One group of supporters may think that the referee was biased in favour of the other team, while the opposition’s supporter might believe that the referee made the right calls. Of course it may depend a great deal on whether or not your team won!

Referee (Massimo Busacca)
Referee (Massimo Busacca)

However, in spite of all that I have said above, there has been a rise in recent time of true “Fake News” sites. These sites publish news items which are simply not true and the intent of these sites is to deliberately confuse and deceive those who read it. One interesting consequence is that China supported Americans who accused Facebook of spreading false news.

The most controlled regime outside of North Korea pointed out that in the free for all of democratic and liberal societies anyone could set up a web site and promulgate false news and views. In China however any site which published fake news would be hit by the full weight of the state. Of course the issue with this is that any site publishing views opposed by the state would be shut down immediately whether or not the news was actually fake.

The article on Chinese support for the opponents of fake news on Facebook come from the Huffington Post, and as such contains its own biases of course. Therefore the amount of credence that you put on the above article will depend on your political stance. However, it is likely that while the Huff may post satirical articles, it is unlikely, in my opinion, to post out and out fake news. Just use your brains when you read it, and be aware of your own and the site’s political biases.

The same goes for sites which promote miracle cures, or medicines which are outside of the mainstream medical province. Sites which promote anti-abortion, anti-vaccination, anti-fluoride, anti-folic acid, and other fringe beliefs really annoy me because they either ignore medical evidence or call into question by invoking conspiracy theories (“Big Pharma” anyone?) Beliefs like homeopathy and many other alternative medical beliefs belong with beliefs in psychic powers – in the rubbish bin of history.

Rubbish bin
Rubbish bin

The Tyranny of the Minority

English: LGBT pride parade in Madrid (Spain) 2...
English: LGBT pride parade in Madrid (Spain) 2008 Español: Desfile del orgullo LGBT en Madrid (España) 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It would be nice if everyone could agree what is fair and what is not. In an ideal world a believer in a religion would agree with a believer in another religion that they both have the right to believe as they wish. Instead we find believers in one religion continuously killing believers in another religion.

One of the problems is that the holy books TELL believers to kill, in various dreadful ways, those who do not believe in the holy books, so for a believer the killings are justified. Naturally those being attacked also have a holy book that tells believers to kill non-believers, so we have a religious war.

This book is considered the most important of ...
This book is considered the most important of the Baha’i faith. Kitáb-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book, 1873) is, however, NOT translated into Swedish yet, and no layout for the front has been devised or developed. Therefore I have created a dummy cover, a pretended cover, with the intention to illustrate a wikipedia article about a book that eventually will be translated into Swedish. The appearance of the Aqdas in Swedish and its face is completely my own invention. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most religious believers would probably characterise themselves as “moderate” believers and would probably condemn those extremists and countries that practise killings in the name of the religion. They would point out that when the deity instructed believers to kill, it was in specific historical circumstances (such as when followers of another region were trying to wipe them out) and that to apply the injunction in modern times is perverse.

Most of the time, I’d suggest, the average believer would be happy to get along with believers in another region, but is instructed to shun them by a small number of “militant” believers and teachers. The would be moderates are bullied and coerced by the militants into actions which they would not normally contemplate.

English: Street Preacher A Christian street pr...
English: Street Preacher A Christian street preacher by the war memorial at the junction of High Street and Moss Street. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, such things don’t just happen in religious societies. When people see their standard of living fall, when they are thrown out of jobs because the jobs are being shipped overseas, or because technology is making their jobs redundant, they may fall under the sway of someone who tells them that their situation can be improved and that person if the best person to achieve that feat.

It helps if the person is charismatic, if the person claims that he/she is going to overturn the traditional ways of doing things, if the person is not part of the establishment, if the person intends to disrupt the current ways of doing things.

What actually happens is that the the person stumbles when he/she tries to shake things up. Some things will change, but far more things will remain the same. Many processes and procedures have reasons for their existence, though it is good to challenge them now and again.

My point is that the directions of our lives are directed and controlled by a small number of people. They may be politicians, or business people, or religious leaders. We may get to choose between them, but as types, politicians are very similar, regardless of party affiliations. Generally they are leaders while the rest of the population are followers, just getting on with their lives, trusting the leaders to lead us in the right direction.

This is a workable model, and has served us well for the most part. Sometimes a maverick comes along to lead us in a direction that in retrospect seems bizarre or counter intuitive, and the unmotivated majority is dragged in a direction that they would not have wanted to go. Sometime a leader is so powerful that he/she does things that give him/her power over the population that they would normally not cede to the leader, and we get a depot or dictator. But dictators die and rarely are they followed by an equally despotic ruler.

We pretty much expect others to, basically, run the country for us, but I’ve noticed in recent years the rise of a new type of tyranny, the tyranny of the minority. A few people, for their own ends, prevent the silent majority from having what they want.

For instance some people refuse to have their children immunised, which means that their children can catch diseases and while the disease may turn out to be mild for their children, their children can then infect smaller children who are too young to be immunised and who may react badly to the disease. Children die in this manner, and this is preventable.

If there was a law that all children hove to be immunised, then these deaths could be prevented and as a bonus the disease could be wiped out. In my opinion anyone who lets their child become a carrier for a disease should be charged with manslaughter as the very least.

Most people are happy with chlorine being added to tap water. It ensures that tap water is safe to drink. However in the developed countries a militant few are campaigning to stop chloride being added to tap water, and in some places they are winning. They are winning by using scare tactics and misinformation.

This anti-chlorine web page is typical and uses both techniques. Firstly it mentions that “chlorine gas was used with deadly effectiveness as a weapon in the First World War.” This is a fact, but it is also a big scare as the concentrations of chlorine gas used in the First World War were massively higher than the trace of chlorine left in tap water by the disinfection process.

English: Using a pool chlorine indicator to te...
English: Using a pool chlorine indicator to test for chlorine gas escaping from a solution of acetic acid and sodium hypochlorite. Note the amount of yellow in the drip suspended in the gas. The same amount of chlorine gas is made with addition of acetic acid as without acetic acid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Secondly, the article mentions that “a recent study conducted in Hartford, Connecticut found that women with breast cancer have 50-60 percent higher levels of organochlorines (chlorine by-products) in their breast tissue than cancer-free women”. This is misdirection as there is no evidence that the organochlorines entered the body through ingested water.

Did I mention that the one person quoted extensively in the article was employed by a filter manufacturer? Shame on Scientific American for publishing an article with such an obvious bias.

English: Water Filter Standing in a field besi...
English: Water Filter Standing in a field beside a minor road. There are some old foundations nearby which suggest that there might have been a building here at one time. See the manufacturer’s plate here 441663. Arran is just visible in the distance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is one way that the minority tyrannises the majority. They come up with spurious and unscientific arguments that are plausible to many people and persuade the authorities that they will launch lawsuits if the authorities persist in whatever the minority doesn’t like. They demand their “right” to chlorine free water, or bread without folate, or the right to not have their children vaccinated, or similar.

This denies the rights of the majority, who either want chlorine, folate or don’t want disease carriers giving whooping cough or measles to very small children, or more likely don’t care one way or the other, but accept that what the authorities are trying to do is beneficial. Which stinks, in many ways.

SCHOOL CHILDREN TESTING WATER FOR PURITY - NAR...
SCHOOL CHILDREN TESTING WATER FOR PURITY – NARA – 543915 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(I add illustrations to my blogs, not because I agree with the points that the illustrations may be making but because they are related in some way to my topic. Please be aware that the words are the important thing, and the illustrations are only decoration and may not reflect my point of view.)

Capitalism

Labor supply and demand in a perfect competiti...
Labor supply and demand in a perfect competition labor market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A free market is one in which there is no government, monopoly or other authoritative interference in the workings of a market. However there is in practise no such thing, as there are always constraints on a market from one or more of those sources.

For instance, in a small country there may be only two or three organisations which are involved in the whole supply chain, and if they are much the same size there is no drive to compete strongly. If one large competitor decided to drive another large competitor out of the market, it would be expensive and difficult, and would more likely than not trigger monopoly prevention legislative mechanisms.

An example of a cover from a Monopoly video game
An example of a cover from a Monopoly video game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the other hand, a small competitor might be worth an aggressive approach as an attack could be targeted and localised. It would be cheaper and while it might raise a few worries about lack of choice (in an area), it would not trigger any monopoly laws.

An open market goes hand in hand with the laws of supply and demand. Generally these are expressed as graphs showing the intersection of the supply curve (an upwards trending line) with the demand curve (a downwards trending line). Any change in conditions is shown by other lines more or less parallel to the first.

Fig5 Supply and demand curves
Fig5 Supply and demand curves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These curves can only be illustrative as they are almost never drawn with quantified axes, and the curves are drawn without the use of any measured data. They are arbitrary. Nevertheless they purport to show the effect of market changes on the equilibrium or balance point where the curves cross.

While the laws of supply and demand may be true in the sense that if either the price or demand changes the other also changes, the graphs are of little practical use, and they are only marginally mathematical, as definite mathematical conclusions cannot be made from them. It is impossible to quantify the effect on demand of raising the price of a can of beans by 10c, for example.

Curried Beans
Curried Beans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nevertheless one could probably use the graphs to suggest that if the price changes in one direction the demand will move in another direction, and these guesses may be used to decide on price changes. It’s definitely a guess, though as the opposite may happen – if you put up a sign saying “Beans now $1.55 per can”, having raised the price by $0.05, you may sell more as you have drawn the customers’ attention to the beans.

The “Free Market”, the “Laws of Supply and Demand”, and the principle of “Laissez Faire” are part of the backbone of Capitalism. Capitalism is a robust economic system which has achieved immense feats and advances. It has harnessed science and sent men to the Moon, given us a computer and communication devices in our pockets. There is no doubt that Capitalism has been hugely successful.

A capitalism's social pyramid
A capitalism’s social pyramid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In spite of its amazing successes, there have always been drawbacks to Capitalism. The trend of prices is to rise continually, though at times, they do fall, as demand reduces in recessions and market collapses. These recessions and collapses hurt the poor much more than the rich, as the poor have fewer resources to cope with these setbacks.

Capitalist markets lead to concentration of resources, especially money, in the hands of the rich, and a scarcity of resources in the hands of the poor. It leads to the growth of large market dominating firms, as one firm succeeds while others fail. The successful firm often widens its control of the market by purchasing up and coming smaller firms or older firms who themselves may control a smaller market niche.

Capitalism fosters the growth of the gap between the very rich and the very poor. It is often argued that, in countries where the economic system is Capitalist in nature, the “poor” have much more in the way of consumer items than their parents could have imagined. Most people have a car. Most people have a television. Most have a cellphone.

This is all true, but that is only because these items are both essential and relatively cheap. At the same time, health care is becoming unaffordable for many of the new poor. Schooling is also a huge drain on the poorer families. Many poor people work at multiple jobs to bring up their children and pay for the operations that their parents are coming to need.

As a result, many of the new poor live from day-to-day, with no real opportunity to save for retirement or to lay by a little money to allow for the vicissitudes of life. A small accident that requires time off work and consequently reduction of income becomes a disaster in such a situation.

Capitalism stratifies society and the bottom strata, often those with a lack of education or intelligence, lags behind those who are in higher strata. Those at the highest levels tend to outstrip those at lowest levels until their wealth, to those in lower strata, appears as meaningless numbers. What the difference between $100 and $1000 to those at the bottom? It’s a huge amount. What about the difference between $10 billion and $100 billion? It’s irrelevant.

English: Memorial to a wealthy benefactor
English: Memorial to a wealthy benefactor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Capitalist market forces tend to favour those who already have over those who don’t and the barriers that prevent those in the lower strata from moving up are immense. Those few who make are the lucky ones. Yes, luck plays almost as big a part in entrepreneurial success as luck does in winning the lotto.

Capitalism is the best economic system that we have ever had, without a doubt. It is however not without its flaws. Socialism is not a good economic system, but purports to deal with the issues of poverty by redistribution of wealth. (Maybe I’ll do a piece on socialism’s flaws at some time).

Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Karl Marx (1818-1883) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Capitalism however does not deal with poverty or the poor. Some effects do trickle down and today’s poor appear rich in comparison with the corresponding strata in the past, but the fundamental poverty still exists.

It would be nice to think that there is some other system, waiting for someone to discover it. The odds are probably good, as no system lasts forever. What it would look like I’ve no idea. We would need to get a much better scientific view of the so-called social sciences to really solve this fundamental problem.

Iconic image for social science.
Iconic image for social science. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Let’s be Rational – Realer Numbers

Symbol often used to denote the set of integers
Symbol often used to denote the set of integers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leopold Kronecker said “God made the integers, all else is the work of man”. (“Die ganzen Zahlen hat der liebe Gott gemacht, alles andere ist Menschenwerk”). However man was supposedly made by God, so the distinction is logically irrelevant.

I don’t know whether or not he was serious about the integers, but there is something about them that seems to be fundamental, while rational numbers (fractions) and real numbers (measurement numbers) seem to be derivative.

English: Note: The irrational and rational num...
English: Note: The irrational and rational numbers make the set of real numbers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That may be due to the way that we are taught maths in school. First we are taught to count, then we are taught to subtract, then we are taught to multiply. All this uses integers only, and in most of it we use only the positive integers, the natural numbers.

Then we are taught division, and so we break out of the world of integers and into the much wider world of the rational numbers. We have our attention drawn to one of the important aspects  of rational numbers, and that is our ability to express them as decimal fractional numbers, so 3/4 becomes 0.75, and 11/9 becomes 1.2222…

Parts of a micrometer caliper, labeled in Engl...
Parts of a micrometer caliper, labeled in English. Someone can replace this with a prettier version anytime. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The jump from there to the real numbers is obvious, but I don’t recall this jump being emphasised. It barely (from my memories of decades ago) was hardly mentioned. We were introduced to such numbers as the square root of 2 or pi and ever the exponential number e, but I don’t recall any particular mention that these were irrational numbers and with the rational numbers comprised the real numbers.

Why do I not remember being taught about the real numbers? Maybe it was taught but I don’t remember. Maybe it isn’t taught because most people would not get it. There are large numbers of rational accountants, but not many real mathematicians. (Pun intended).

Square root of two as the hypotenuse of a righ...
Square root of two as the hypotenuse of a right isosceles triangle of side 1. SVG redraw of original work. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In any case I don’t believe that it was taught as a big thing, and a big thing it is, mathematically and philosophically. It the divide between the discrete, the things which can be counted, and the continuous, things which can’t be counted but are measured.

The way the divide is usually presented is that the rational numbers (the fractions and the integers) plus the irrational numbers make up the real numbers. Another way to put it, as in the Wikipedia article on real numbers, is that “real numbers can be thought of as points on an infinitely long line called the number line or real line”.

Collatz map fractal in a neighbourhood of the ...
Collatz map fractal in a neighbourhood of the real line (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another way to think of it is to consider numbers as labels. When we count we label discrete things with the integers, which also do for the rational numbers. However, to label the points on a line, which is continuous, we need something more, hence the real numbers.

Real numbers contain the transcendental numbers, such as pi and e. These numbers are not algebraic numbers, which are solutions of algebraic equations, so are defined by exclusion from the real numbers. Within the transcendental numbers pi and e and a quite large numbers of other numbers have been shown to be transcendental by construction or argument. I sometimes wonder if there are real numbers which are transcendental, but not algebraic or constructible.

A rather sexy image of Pi from the german wiki...
A rather sexy image of Pi from the german wikipedia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sort of thing that I am talking about is mentioned in the article on definable real numbers. It seems that the answer is probably, yes, there are real numbers that  are not constructible or computable.

Of course, we could list all the constructible real numbers, mapped to the real numbers between 0 and 1. Then we could construct a number which has a different first digit to the first number, a different second digit to the second number and so on, in a similar manner to Cantor’s diagonal proof,  and we would end up with a number that is constructed from the constructible real numbers but which is different to all of them.

English: Georg Cantor
English: Georg Cantor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure that the argument holds water but there seems to be a paradox here – the number is not the same as any constructible number, but we just constructed it! This reminds of the “proof” that there are no boring numbers.

So, are numbers, real or rational, just labels that we apply to things and things that we, or mankind as Kronecker says, have invented? Are all the proofs of theorems just inventions of our minds? Well, they are that, but they are much more. They are descriptions of the world as we see it.

Apollonius' theorem
Apollonius’ theorem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whether or not we invented them, numbers are very good descriptions of the things that we see. The integers describe things which are identifiably separate from other things. Of course, some things are not always obviously separate from other things, but once we have decided that they are separate things we can count them. Is that a separate peak on the mountain, or is it merely a spur, for example.

Other things can be measured. Weights, distances, times, even the intensity of earthquakes can be measured. For that we of course use rational numbers, while conceding that the measurement is an approximation to a real number.

Tape ruler
Tape ruler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A theorem represents something that we have found out about numbers. That there is no biggest prime number, for example. Or that the ratio of the circumference to the diameter is pi, and is the same for all circles.

We certainly didn’t invent these facts – no one decided that there should be no limit to the primes, or that the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle is pi. We discovered these facts. We also discovered the Mandlebrot Set and fractals, the billionth digit of pi, the bifurcation diagram, and many other mathematical esoteric facts.

Mandlebrot Fractal made with Paint.NET
Mandlebrot Fractal made with Paint.NET (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s like when we say that the sky is blue. To a scientist, the colour of sunlight refracted and filtered by the atmosphere, peaks at the blue wavelength. The scientist uses maths to describe and define the blueness of the sky, and the description doesn’t make the sky any the less blue.

The mathematician uses his tools to analyse the shape of the world. He tries to extract as much of the physical from his description, but when he uses pi it doesn’t make the world any the less round as a result. Mathematics is a description of the world and how it works at the most fundamental level.

English: Adobe photoshop artwork illustrating ...
English: Adobe photoshop artwork illustrating a complex number in mathematics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[I’m aware that I have posted stuff on much the same topic as last time. I will endeavour to address something different next week].

Rational versus real

English: Dyadic rational numbers in the interv...
English: Dyadic rational numbers in the interval [0,1] (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(My last post was very late because I had taken part in a 10km walk on the Sunday and spent the week recovering.)

There’s a fundamental dichotomy at the heart of our Universe which I believe throws some light on why we see it the way we do. It’s the dichotomy between the discrete and the continuous.

A rock is single distinct thing, but if you look closely, it appears to be made of a smooth continuous material. We know of course that it is not really continuous but is constructed of a mesh of atoms each of which is so small that we cannot distinguish them individually, and which are connected to each other with strong chemical and physical bods.

An early, outdated representation of an atom, ...
An early, outdated representation of an atom, with nucleus and electrons described as well-localized particles on well-localized orbits. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we restrict ourselves to the usual chemical and physical processes we can determine to a large extent determine what the atoms are which comprise the rock, and we can make a fair stab at how they are connected and in what proportions.

We can explain its colour and its weight, strength, and maybe its magnetic properties, even its value to us. (“It’s just a rock!” or “It’s a gold nugget!”) We have a grab bag of atoms and their properties, which come together to form the rock.

English: Gold :: Locality: Alaska, USA (Locali...
English: Gold :: Locality: Alaska, USA (Locality at mindat.org) :: A hefty 63.8-gram gold nugget, shaped like a pancake. Very beautiful and classic locality nugget. 4.5 x 3 x 0.6 cm Deutsch: Gold :: Fundort: Alaska, Vereinigte Staaten (Fundort bei mindat.org) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first view of atoms was that they were indivisible chunks with various geometric shapes. This view quickly gave way to a picture of atoms as being small balls, like very tiny billiard balls. Then the idea of the billiard balls was replaced by the concept of the atom as a very tiny solid nucleus surrounded by a cloud of even tinier electrons.

Of course the nucleus turned out not to be solid, but to be composed of neutrons and protons, and even they have been shown to be made up of smaller particles. Is this the end of the story? Are these smaller particles fundamental, or are they made up of even smaller particles and so on, “ad infinitum”?

English: "Ad Infinitum" Oil in Canva...
English: “Ad Infinitum” Oil in Canvas 109 x 152.5 by peruvian painter Ricardo Córdova Farfán (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It appears that in Quantum Physics that we have at least reached a plateau, if not the bottom of this series of even smaller things. As we descend from the classical rock, through the smaller but still classical atoms, to the very, very small “fundamental” particles, things start to get blurry.

The electron, probably the hardest particle that we know of, in the sense that it is not known to be made up of smaller particles, behaves some of the time as if it was a wave, and sometimes appear more particle like. The double slit experiment shows this facet of its properties.

Diagram of the double-slit experiment
Diagram of the double-slit experiment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The electron is not unique in this respect, and in fact the original experiments were performed with photons, and scientists have performed the experiment even with small molecules, showing that everything has some wave aspects, though the effect can be very small, and is for all normal purposes unnoticeable.

A wave as we normally see it is an apparently continuous thing. As we watch waves rolling in to the beach we don’t generally consider it to consist of a bunch of atoms moving up and down in a loosely connected way that we call “liquid”. We see a wave as distributed over a breadth of ocean and changing in a fairly regular way over time.

Wineglass with blue liquid
Wineglass with blue liquid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the quantum level particles are similarly seen to be distributed over space and not located at a particular point. An electron has wave like properties and it has particle like properties. Interestingly the sea wave also has particle like properties which can be calculated. Both the sea wave and the electron behave like bundles of energy.

You can’t really say that a wave is at this point or that point. A water may be at both, albeit with different values of height. If the wave is measured at a number of locations, then by extension it has a height in between locations. This is true even if there is no molecule of water at that point.  The height is in fact the likely height of a molecule if it were to be found at that location.

English: A particle motion in an ocean wave. A...
English: A particle motion in an ocean wave. A=At deep water. B=At shallow water. The elliptical movement of a surface particle flattens with increasing depth 1=Progression of wave 2=Crest 3=Trough (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By analogy, and by the double slit experiment, it appears that the smallest of particles that we know about have wave properties and these wave properties smear out the location of the particle. It appears that fundamental particles are not particularly localised.

It appears from the above that at the quantum level we move from the discrete view of particles as being individual little “atoms” to a view where the particle is a continuous wave. It points to physics being fundamentally continuous and not discrete.

The Continuum
The Continuum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a mathematical argument that argues against this however. Some things seem to be countable. We have two feet and four limbs. We have a certain discrete number of electrons around the nucleus of an atom. We also have a certain number of quarks making up a hadron particle.

Other things don’t appear to be countable, such as the positions a thrown stone can traverse. Such things are measured in terms of real numbers, though any value assigned to the stone at a particular instance in time is only an approximation and is in fact a rational number only.

Stonehenge sulis
Stonehenge sulis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At first sight it would appear that all we need to do is measure more accurately, but all that does is move the measurement (a rational number) closer to the actual value (a real number). The rational gets closer and closer to the real, but never reaches it. We can keep increasing the accuracy of our measurement, but that just gives us a better approximation.

It can be seen that the set of rational numbers (or the natural numbers, equivalently) maps to an infinite subset of the real numbers. It is usually stated that the set of real numbers contains the rational numbers. I feel that they should be kept apart though as they refer to different domains of numbers – rational numbers are in the domain of the discrete, while the real numbers are in the domain of the continuous.

Particles by fundamental interactions
Particles by fundamental interactions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mainframes were different

IBM System 360/65 Operator's Panel The IBM Sys...
IBM System 360/65 Operator’s Panel The IBM System/360 Model 65 first shipped in 1966 This photo was taken by Mike Ross of corestore.org . He has given permission via email “Feel free to make use of … my pictures under the GNU license. All I ask is that they are credited & linked…”. –agr 19:07, 17 Aug 2004 (UTC) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mainframes were … different. Today we have devices that have orders of magnitude more processing power than the old mainframes. The old mainframes were big machines that performed business tasks for large organisations and that cost millions of dollars. The phone in your pocket shows you your email, let’s you Facebook or tweet your friends where ever you might be and what ever you might be doing. You can even use it to phone people!

Arguably we fritter away most of the enormous amount of processing power and storage that our hand held devices provide. We watch videos on them, yes, even porn, and play endless silly games on them. And cats. Cats have taken over the Internet and thereby our connected devices.

A six-week old kitten.
A six-week old kitten. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The fundamental concept of the mainframe is one single powerful(!) computer with all devices, such as card readers, terminals (screen and keyboard, no mouse), printers, tape units and other devices, more or less directly and permanently connected to the computer.

Interestingly, when you typed something into a terminal using the keyboard, it wasn’t sent immediately to the mainframe but was recorded in a buffer in the terminal. When one of a number of keys was hit the whole buffer was sent to the mainframe. These special keys were “Return”, which is similar to the “Enter” key, a “PF Key”, which is similar to a function key, and a few others.

Return
Return (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This meant that you could type and edit stuff at your terminal and it would only be sent when you were finished. That is different from the model used by PCs and other modern devices, where every single key press that occurs is sent to the target computer, including typos and correction to typos.

Of course, when you press a key on your PC keyboard, the computer that is the target is the one that the keyboard is connected to, and what you type in goes into a buffer, but the principle still applies. The effect is more obvious if a lot of people are connected to a multi-user computer and are using it heavily, when the response to hitting a key takes a second or so to echo back to the screen.

Multi-user computers are not common these days as they are not trivial to set up, and computers and networks have become so fast that it is generally easier to change the model and access applications over the network rather than use the direct connect model that was used in the early days.

A lot of the features of modern computing devices originated in mainframes. Mainframes originally ran one job or task at a time, but soon they became powerful enough to run many jobs at the same time. Mainframe operating systems were soon written to take advantage of this ability, but to achieve the ability to run multiple jobs, the operating systems had to be able to “park” a running job while another job got a slice of the processor.

Punched card in the 80-column-format according...
Punched card in the 80-column-format according to the IBM standard. The card was used at the beginning of the 1970s at the University of Stuttgart (Germany) for the input of Fortran programms in the IBM mainframe. The plain text of the coded line is on the top left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To do that the operating system had to save the state of the process, especially the memory usage. This was cleverly achieved by virtualising memory usage – the job or task would think that it was accessing this bit of memory but the memory manager would make it use that bit of memory instead. The job or task didn’t know.

For instance the job or task might try to read memory location #ff00b0d0 (don’t worry about what this means) and the memory manager would serve up #ffccbod0 instead. Then a moment of so later another job or task might try to read that memory location. It would expect to find its own data there not the first task’s data, and the memory manager would this time serve up, say, #ffbbb0d0.

SVG Graph Illustrating Amdahl's Law
SVG Graph Illustrating Amdahl’s Law (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The key point is that the two tasks or jobs access the same address, but the address is not real, it is what is known as a virtual address, and the memory manager directs the request to different real addresses. This allows all sorts of cunning wheezes – a job or task can address more memory than the machine has installed and memory locations that have not been used in a while can be copied out to disk storage allowing the tasks in the machine to collectively use more memory than physically exists!

Exactly the same thing happens in your phone, your tablet, or your PC. Many tasks are running at the same time, using memory and processors as if these resources were dedicated to all the tasks. (Actually not all tasks are running at the same time – only as many tasks as there are processors in the processor chip can be running at the same time, but the processors are switched between task so fast it appears as if they are. The same is also true of mainframes).

Diagram showing the memory hierarchy of a mode...
Diagram showing the memory hierarchy of a modern computer architecture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, there’s a downside to the mainframe model and that is that if the mainframe goes down, everyone is affected. In the early days of the PC era, every PC was independent and if it went down (which they often did) only one or two people, those who actually used the computer were directly affected. So if the Payroll computer crashed it didn’t affect Human Resources.

Soon though the ability to connect all the computers over a network became possible and computing once again became centralised. Things have changed, but the corporate server or servers now fulfil the role that once belonged to the mainframe.

All the advantages of centralisation have been realised again. Technical facets of the operation of computers have been removed from those whose job was not primarily computing, much to the relief of most them I’d suspect. Backups and technical updates are performed by those whose expertise is in those fields, rather than by reluctant amateurs in the field.

However, the downside is that a centralised computing facility is never as flexible as the end users would like it to be and, somewhat ironically, that as an outage of the old mainframe used to affect many people, so will an outage of a server or servers in the current milieu.

Ganglia report showing editing outage, when Wi...
Ganglia report showing editing outage, when Wikipedia server srv156 stopped responding (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Voters and non-voters

 

Hillary Clinton in Concord, New Hampshire
Hillary Clinton in Concord, New Hampshire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hillary Clinton won more votes than Donald Trump in the US elections, yet she didn’t win the presidency. This has led to many of Clinton’s supporters to cry foul, and talk about getting rid of the electoral college system that they have in the US.

It’s not going to happen. The electoral college is a result of the unique formation of the United States of America. Before the Union all the states were autonomous and had their own laws and regulations and these were protected in the US Constitution. One of the safeguards which was built in was to protect the electoral system within a state from being replaced or modified by those not from that state, and this resulted more or less directly in the electoral college system.

English: 1908 Electoral College
English: 1908 Electoral College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a consequence of this being part of the constitution, it is very difficult to change. To just become a proposal an amendment requires a two-thirds vote in congress, and requires a three-quarters vote by the states to be adopted. Since the two major parties pretty much share the country, it would require all the votes of one party and around half the votes of the other party.

There have been many ways that the leader or leaders of group of humans is chosen, and there are many words that end in the suffixes -ocracy or -archy. All have their advocates and their denigrators. All have probably been tried somewhere at sometime or other.

Countries highlighted in blue are designated &...
Countries highlighted in blue are designated “Electoral Democracies” in Freedom House’s 2006 survey Freedom in the World. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an attempt to define how a person should be treated and the rights that he or she should have, Eleanor Roosevelt chaired a committee which wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a somewhat fatuous document which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Article 21 of the UDHR talks about the right of everyone to take part in the government of his/her country, and implies but stops short of prescribing representative democracy. As such, the UDHR has plenty of “wriggle room” for alternative for other methods of government, as even a dictator could argue, and they often do, that what preceded them was worse and the dictatorship is merely a step towards returning or giving the power to the people.

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Many regimes though, don’t even try to argue they are merely filling a gap, but no doubt think that they are doing the best for their people. No one surely sets out to be a blood-thirsty dictator, after all. Arguably, though, a volatile country might benefit from a period with a strong leader, but eventually a strong leader will become succumb to a feeling of hubris and entitlement. Eventually he will be overthrown.

60 th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration...
60 th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2008) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There exists a strong feeling that democracy is the best form of government that humans have tried. Whether or not it is the best system that is possible is another question. In a democracy everyone has a say and theoretically at least the government can be replaced, without revolution or bloodshed, if the population at large decides that it doesn’t like those it has elected.

Most democracies are representative democracies, in that the population do not normally vote on all issues, but elect a person to represent them in governing the country. Ideally such a representative would canvas or solicit views on topics that have to be decided, but in practise a potential representative will lay out his/her views and the electors pick the person who most closely fits their viewpoint.

Women standing in line to vote in Bangladesh.
Women standing in line to vote in Bangladesh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since this is done before the representative is selected, a future contentious issue may find the representative at odds with many of his constituents on the issue. While a good representative will make his views known and may solicit electoral views, and the electors can make the representative aware of their views by various means, the communication between the representative and his electors is to say the least inefficient.

A big thing about democracy is that everyone has at least one vote. In some systems a person may have more than vote, and in almost all democracies the voter gets a chance to vote to fill various roles, such as mayor, or sheriff, or local councillor. A democracy is an involving system, soliciting voter views on a periodic basis, so why don’t people get involved?


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In the recent American Presidential election only just over 50% of the electorate voted, and this was in one of the most controversial elections of recent times. Since each candidate took almost half the popular vote only one in four voters voted to make Trump president. Of course only about one in four voters voted for Clinton (who got more votes than Clinton).

People don’t vote if they can’t be bothered, if they think that their vote will not make a difference and a small number don’t vote because they disagree with the process, maybe for political or religious reasons. The US is not alone in this, as a significant number of voters do not vote in an election in many democracies.


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I would suggest that this is true in most democracies, but I don’t have the data. Some people suggest that making the voting easier by introducing electronic voting over the Internet, but I feel that this will not make a big difference. I feel that the reason for low turnouts is disinterest and a belief voting doesn’t make any real difference.

“For politicians, passing laws is like passing water,” said Narayan. “It all ends down the drain.”
Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance

Election promises are rarely believed and seldom acted upon. There is unlikely to be a wall built between the United States and Mexico. Trump has succeeded with that promise however, not because people believe that he will do, but because he most aligns with what people would like to do, and I don’t mean build a wall. He has proposed a solution to a perceived problem, and that is good enough for those who turned out and voted. Any solution that catches the imagination of the voters would have done as well.


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