2018-04-21

Bath Clean Air Zone

BANES is to be congratulated for creating a plan to tackle the air pollution that is generated by transport in Bath. Unfortunately the plan has several flaws:
  • It doesn't consider pollution from brake and tyre dust.
  • It considers pollution per vehicle rather than pollution per person.
  • It doesn't help tackle congestion.
  • It is biased towards wealthy car users.
 Cars generate more pollution per person than buses. Cars also impede the progress of buses within the city, making buses expensive, slow and unreliable. The key therefore is to reduce the number of cars in the city, thus improving air quality and making it easier for people to travel in the city using buses. How can this be achieved?

The solution is to turn all parking in the city into residents' parking zones, where each resident has a reserved space in their local zone, but all other spaces have to be purchased at a higher price. Thus residents' parking zones reduce the number of cars on the road, making it cheaper and easier to use buses, and reducing air pollution from exhaust, brakes and tyres.

Some may argue that even if buses aren't impeded by cars, the fares won't be reduced and the company will pocket the extra profit. If this happens, then BANES should use a Quality Contract Scheme to punish anti-competitive behaviour by bus operators.

Bus operators have adopted electronic ticketing in BANES where you activate your ticket on the phone just before boarding, and show the screen to the driver as you walk past. This is a great step forward, but the problem is that you have to buy a separate batch of tickets for each bus operator. BANES need to step in here and require that the same tickets work for any bus company.

With people travelling by bus rather than car, an immediate improvement is made to transport in Bath. However, we shouldn't stop there! Trams are superior to buses in that they pollute less, are cheaper to operate, have a higher capacity and are more pleasant to travel in. With the money generated from the parking zones, BANES should begin to build a Bath tram network.

2018-04-17

Increasingly concerned about Facebook, Google etc

For some time I've been concerned about Google, Facebook etc. I'm writing this to try and pin down what my concerns are and what (if anything) I should do about it. So here are some thoughts in no particular order (a 'brain dump' in the vernacular):

Monopoly

It seems that with Facebook there's a network effect, where the value of being part of a network increases with its size. So with Facebook, if 'everybody is on Facebook' then that's the one I'll join because I'll be able to communicate with everyone else. Conversely, leaving Facebook and trying to persuade people to use Signal is difficult. I've tried and people just don't want to move

Open Source

This seems to be part of the solution. I'd call it a necessary, but not sufficient condition. With proprietary software you can't see what the software is doing, which is troubling to me. With open source software, people with the skill to read the code can raise the alarm if it's doing anything underhand.

Internet Freedom

Perhaps part of what I'm concerned about could be called 'freedom on the internet'. Freedom from billionaires paying money to internet monopolies to influence me in an underhand way.

Walled Gardens

Walled gardens are part of the problem. Avoid them!

Advertising

I suppose it's not so much advertising, it's the diabolically clever targeting of it. For example, DuckDuckGo has advertising, but it doesn't track you, and so there's none of that collection of personal data which is then used to manipulate you. Perhaps I'm saying that anything that allows micro-targeting is bad. So that would include any necessary steps (collecting personal data, organizing it in order to target people, and the actual adverts itself).


So those are, briefly, some of the problems. Here are some tentative solutions:

Open Source on mobile phone

I already use an open source operating system on my laptop, but my mobile phone runs stock Android. Really I should follow the steps that the FSFE gives to Liberate Your Device.

Move away from Google

This is difficult. One thing I can do is move this blog and my website to be a simple static site, hosted without charge. The other thing is to review my various applications hosted on Google AppEngine and see what can be done about those.

IPFS

IPFS is an alternative to the web, but still uses the internet. I should start to get to know it, and perhaps write an app. This won't solve things immediately, but it (or something like it) is needed.


I think that's enough for now. I'll try and make a bit of progress and then come back and see what more I can do.

2018-04-07

How many flips of a coin before I get 7 heads in a row?

Bill asked, 'On average, how many flips of a coin do I have to do to get 7 heads in a row?'. I thought this would be really easy, but I had to think about it for ages. I think it means, how many flips to get 50% probability of getting 7 heads in a row. On Maths StackExchange there was an answer that I didn't fully understand, but it said to do 1 - (probability of not getting 7 in a row). It also said to think about 'atoms' which for 7 heads are:

T
HT
HHT
HHHT
HHHHT
HHHHHT
HHHHHHT

The idea is that the number of ways of not getting 7 heads in a row if you flip the coin 40 times, is the number of ways of arranging the atoms so that the total length is 41. I tried it out with smaller numbers first, so I thought about the chances of getting 2 heads in a row for 2 coin tosses. So in this case the atoms are:

T
HT

and the ways of arranging them in a total length of 3 are:

TTT
THT
HTT

So there are 3 of them, and the total number of combinations are 2^2 = 4, giving a probability of not getting two heads in a row of 3/4, and so the probability of getting two heads in a row is 1 - 3/4 = 1/4. Which we know is correct. So the problem now is, how do we work out the number of ways of arranging the atoms for 2 heads in an arbitrary length?

The picture below shows how I imagine it:

Starting at zero, the single arrows mean an atom of length 1 (ie. a tail), and a double arrow means an atom of length 2 (ie. a head followed by a tail). The number of ways of getting to a certain length, is equal to the number of different paths to get to the number on the graph in the picture (that's what the number in brackets is). So for example, there are two ways to get to length 2, one way is to go from zero directly, and the other way is go via 1. Looking at the number of ways as the path length increases you get a fibonacci sequence:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, ...

So if there are n coin tosses the probability of getting two heads in a row is:

1 - fib(n + 1) / 2^n

So there we have it for 2 heads in a row, but what about 3? I drew another diagram, but with 3 arrows coming from each length rather than 2, and the number of ways of not getting 3 heads in a row was a tribonacci sequence. The next term of the fibonacci sequence if found by adding up the two previous terms, but the next term in the tribonacci sequence is found by adding up the three previous terms. So it goes:

0, 0, 1, 1, 2, 4, 7, 13, 24, 44, 81, ...

Say the nth term of a kth order fibonacci sequence is fib(k, n), then the probability of getting k heads in n flips is:

1 - fib(k, n) / 2^n

There's probably some fancy way of working this out, but I wrote a Python 3.6 programme to do it:

prob = 0
NUM_IN_A_ROW = 7

while prob < 0.5:
    first_key, first_val = sorted(stream.items())[0]
    for v in range(NUM_IN_A_ROW):
        stream[first_key + v + 1] += first_val
    prob = 1 - stream[first_key + 1] / 2 ** first_key
    print(
        "After " + str(first_key) + " flips the probability of getting " +
        str(NUM_IN_A_ROW) + " in a row is " + str(prob))
    del stream[first_key] 

Running this gives: After 178 flips the probability of getting 7 in a row is 0.5014494277755364. So my answer is 178!

Any corrections and comments welcome :-)

Update 2018-04-08

Having thought about the maths again, I think the Python can be written in a better way, and the deque data structure is well suited to finding n-order fibonacci sequences. So here's my second attempt, and reassuringly it comes out with the same answer.

from collections import deque
from itertools import count


NUM_IN_A_ROW = 7
fibs = deque([1], NUM_IN_A_ROW)
tot = 1

for n in count():
    fib = sum(fibs)
    fibs.append(fib)
    prob = 1 - fib / tot
    print(
        f"After {n} flips the probability of getting {NUM_IN_A_ROW} in a row "
        f"is {prob}")
    if prob >= 0.5:
        break
    tot *= 2

2018-03-07

Art therapy II

7th March 2018

This isn't as good a drawing as the last one, but the point of doing this isn't to create good pictures, it's to open up a dialogue with the unconscious. Sounds pretentious :-)


This is a drawing of a dream I had recently, where we were galley slaves, and the gangmaster handed out a chocolate bar to every other person. The idea was that you gave half to the person behind you, and so everyone got half a bar of chocolate. I suddenly panicked that the person behind the person behind me might not have got any chocolate, and so I was ready to break my bar into thirds. She reassured me that she had received a bar herself and that the system was working, and so I was relieved.

The person on the left is me, then the man in the foreground on the right is the person I'm giving my half of the bar to, and the other person is the woman who was also given a bar.

8th March 2018

No images arose from my subconscious, so I decided to try and improve my drawing abilities by drawing from life a glass stopper of a bottle. I thought it would be really difficult, but it turned out to be way harder than that. The closer I looked, the more there was to see. I tried to draw everything I could see, but it was a herculean task, and it didn't look much like the actual stopper.


As you can see, I got fed up and stopped half way through. You could say I was a stopper! (hehe).

9th March 2018

Again, my subconscious isn't saying anything to me. Perhaps it's sulking? So I tried to draw the stopper again. The keen eyed will notice that it's not exactly the same stopper, because this one has '12' on it, but the other one had '22', but it's the same design.


Drawing with a biro is unforgiving for these two reasons: 1.) nothing can be undone,  2.) it's difficult to do flat areas of shade, it just looks like lines. Reflected light is best represented as a splodge of white on top of what's already there. You can't do that with biro because that splodge of light is the area that you have to leave completely alone. Since it's always additive, any biro drawing will get darker and darker as time goes on. The only way of making a patch seem lighter is to draw everything else on the page darker. Really difficult not to end up with a completely black page. The thing that prevents this is that it takes ages to colour in a page black with biro so most people give up before getting to the completely black stage. If, as Enoch Powell said, 'all political lives end in failure', then all biro drawings end in failure. That's why my stopper looks like a milk bottle top that needs a good clean.

11th March 2018


2018-03-06

Art Therapy

As I wrote in my last post, one of my tactics for recovering from burnout is art therapy. Here's my first effort:


I was inspired by watching a TV program about houses. I'm attracted to the idea of a post apocalyptic world, where people survive in a concrete bunker in the forest. I'm struck by that story of people building wooden huts within the great stone walls left after the collapse of the Roman empire. They thought the stone ruins had been left by gods.

2018-03-02

Burnout

It sounds like the title of a Dick Francis novel: Bonecrack, Knockdown, Smokescreen, Longshot. Burnout would fit right in.

On the Monday just gone I came to work and announced I was suffering from burnout and asked for some time off. It didn't come on suddenly, it crept up on me, like the lobster in water of steadily increasing temperature. For me the symptom was a kind of slowing down of my work rate. Here's a graph, where the line in yellow is how things should be, and the line in red is how they were actually going:


Interestingly I didn't feel that the quality of my work had decreased, it was just taking more and more of an effort to focus.

Anyway, my boss was excellent, and agreed that I should take some time off. I went to see the doctor, and she was really good too, pointing me in the direction of counselling, which I'm taking up.

Some things that I should mention: I like my job, it's not stressful, I'm doing the things I'd like to be doing and I work in an excellent team. On paper, things should be going swimmingly. My brain had other ideas though. Perhaps this is a case that shows that emotion always wins over thought.

Here's an example of a mandala, which Jung saw as symbolizing the self:






For some reason, I've been drawn to Jung ever since I was a teenager. I've been reading him during this time off too. In contrast to my namesake John Locke who was an advocate of the 'blank slate' theory of human development, Jung thought that the brain already had encoded in it modules (called archetypes) for dealing with common elements of life. Here are some archetypes:

Birth, death, separation from parents, initiation, marriage, the union of opposites, great mother, father, child, devil, god, wise old man, wise old woman, the trickster, the hero,the apocalypse, the deluge and the creation.
The idea is that if you already had some things programmed in, this would give you an evolutionary advantage over your competitors. So where am I going with this? I'm not too sure, if I knew I'd be cured by now, but bear with me. According to Jung, the ego is the conscious part of the psyche, and it is in constant communication with the self, that has access to unconscious stored wisdom (archetypes and whatnot). The psyche is capable of regaining its equilibrium, involving the ego reconnecting with the self. That's my path to getting better.

The self communicates with the ego via feelings and dreams. My project while off work is to listen to my subconscious by:
  • Writing down my thoughts and feelings each day in a journal.
  • Taking note of my dreams (only had one so far, rubbish!)
  • Meditating and observing my thoughts.
  • Being open to thoughts and feelings in day-to-day life, without censoring them.
  • Drawing things that might express an internal state.
  • Counselling
It's quite difficult, and I realize it sounds that I'm obsessed with myself. I am! I've worked out that the things that are preventing me from listening to my subconscious are:
  • Working.
  • Working on my many open source projects and ideas.
  • Drinking alcohol.
  • Watching TV.
But aren't you bored, and also boring? Yes, but this is part of resistance. There's a big danger in defeating the repression of unconscious content though, as Jung writes:
one can never be too sure that the weak state of the patient's conscious mind will prove equal to the subsequent assault of the unconscious
 So, I haven't abandoned TV altogether and I'm staying in touch with my friends, and making sure I get enough sleep and eat well. I'm also reading books which are nothing to do with psychoanalysis. I like chic-lit and SAS type books (which I believe are termed dick-lit).






Well, I must get back to Joanna Trollope:


2017-10-15

Car Free Bath

Walking along Oldfield Road on my way to work, I saw a notice attached to a lamppost. It turned out to be a traffic notice restricting parking in Oldfield Park, order 17-012/LC. The council were inviting comments, so I wrote the following in support of the order:
As a resident of Oldfield Park, I'm writing in support of the above
scheme as I believe that removing parking is a necessary first step
towards a car-free city. Cars cause traffic congestion and pollution
and are dangerous. Removing parking will deter car use, and at the
same time make routes more navigable for buses. Faster bus journeys
will make buses cheaper and more frequent, setting up a virtuous
circle. I note that the city of Oslo started their car-free program by
first reducing parking, and are on track to be car-free by 2019.

I've heard people say, 'if buses were cheaper and more frequent then I'd use them, but until then I'll keep using my car'. The problem is that cars impede buses, which makes them more expensive and infrequent, so cars have to be removed first in order for buses to flourish.

The reason that everyone can't travel by car without causing traffic congestion is the large amount of space taken up by cars. Buses however take up far less space. This poster shows the space taken up by cars versus buses versus bicycles:






Of course, the absence of cars is a necessary but not sufficient condition for buses to flourish. There has to be competition amongst the bus operators and electronic tickets that work with any bus operator.