Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Against Spock

When I used to get into arguments with religious/alt. med./supernaturalist/generally wrong people on the internet* I would often come up against a common TV trope. The Spock. "You want to be so rational," goes the argument, "but have you thought that The Spock is flawed for this reason?" The short answer is yes I have, I'm vastly more intelegent than you, of course I've thought about and dismissed your pathetic argument. But it's not polite to say this. I want to argue that the Spock trope is fundamentally misconceived, and that we perhaps need to alter what we generally mean when we say "rational".

Monday, 26 September 2011

Human Rights

Against my better judgement I've been reading up on Dale Farm. Against my better judgement because it sounds like, and turns out to be, the kind of rank stupidity that just gives me a headache. At issue is a small part of the land, those living there have no planning permission to build the houses that they have built. Various groups have claimed that the law as it stands should not be enforced against these people because they are part of a particular ethnic group. This has got me thinking about how annoying are a lot of public supporters of human rights. And how damaging to the rights they claim (and ought) to be supporting. There's a deep confusion about the extent and nature of human rights.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


There are 3 rough categories of "games". Games here in the sense of game theory, a branch of maths dealing with massively simplified and anaemic economic situations. In a game there are some number of players, they all make a decision and walk away with some amount of happiness depending on what everyone decided. Playing roulette is such a game. You turn up and call out a number and leave with (on average) less money than you started with. My question is why people play each category of game.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

Every generation needs The Ascent of Man, Cosmos or Wonders of the Universe. It needs a documentary series not about the facts of science per se, but about Science. You need a popular work that gets the culture of science across, explaining to people that science feels good and is exciting. In short you need a popular manifesto for a scientific philosophy of life. One such is provided by Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, a fanfiction written by Eliezer Yudkowsky. I want to explain why I've read this story from start to last update not less than 3 times and why it's had a huge impression on me.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Dear BT

I live in a house in the sticks. I know the phone lines round here are poor. There are phone lines in this area made of aluminium. But when I sign up to a broadband package I expect that the company which runs both my ISP and my phoneline to be able to cope with this fact. If you cant cope with this dont sell broadband to people who live in the sticks.

There is noise on the line here. A lot of it. It's hard to hear what people are saying sometimes. As a result of this we regularly drop down to a lower speed connection. I'm ok with this. Slow broadband is as annoying as anything, but I can cope with it. What I cannot cope with is that after a while it switches off entirely. If you cannot offer me a broadband connection that is on always then dont sell me broadband. I'm not complaining that the connection is offline for a couple of minutes every few weeks. I'm complaining that we cannot get onto the service we have paid for for hours and even days at a time. I'm complaining that we cannot get on for a third of the time some weeks.

It's reasonable to check the problem is not internal wiring. It's not reasonable that determining that took not less than 3 engineers and several months straddling our last ISP and BT.

It's reasonable that working out what has gone wrong could take a while. What is not reasonable is the way engineer visits have been handled. The last 5+ callouts have all followed the same pattern.

  • An engineer comes round.
  • He does some tests
  • He insists there is no problem
  • I insist there is a problem in that we keep loosing connection
  • He changes something either in our house or at the exchange in the hope of speeding up our connection
  • He re-sets the system telling us to monitor things
  • He goes away
  • We have decent internet for a week
  • The internet goes back to how it was and starts dropping out again
I'm not being funny but I can spot the pattern here, why cant you? Something other than this has to happen. None of the fixes that have been tried so far have done anything at all. If anything the connection is slightly worse now that with our last ISP. I'd be prepared to bet a large sum of money that none of the fixes that we are now working through are going to work. There is something fundamentally wrong with our phoneline that 5 separate visits haven't located.

There is an obvious and straightforward way to fix and unknown problem with a phoneline. Go back to the last point where everything is known to work well and replace everything from there to my computer. If you can come up with a better solution that this, great, please follow it. But when in a weeks time this last engineer's patch doesn't work please dont just send another one round to do the same damned thing. 

I'm getting very very tired with the same damned problem and the same false assurances that it's now fixed and everything is fine. I'm getting very very tired of having to set aside days waiting for yet another engineer. I'm getting very very tired of having to send yet another message to BT for them to reassure me once again that everything will work now. I'm getting very very tired of an internet connection that doesn't bloody work. 


Adam Casey