Monday, December 16, 2019

Atheism vs Agnosticism: A Brief Explainer

I had a brief Twitter exchange with a well-known poker player, and realised that he seems to be religious. My default position in any exchange is an assumption that people are atheists. I guess that's because I am one myself, but it also seems to me to be the overall default, given that everyone starts their lives as atheists, with no beliefs about god, or television, or sports, or anything, and it's only through exposure to religious ideas that people become religious. It's why "Christian" countries tend to have more Christians, and "Muslim" countries tend to have more Muslims.

So, I knocked up the following image to explain how Gnosticism (knowledge) differs from Theism (belief) in god(s). I've seen similar things in the past, and the examples are extremely approximate, but it's probably good enough to be able to send people to this link when they ask about my thoughts on it.

Two dimensional spectrum of Theism vs Gnosticism

The only other thing to really talk about here is that, unlike, say, the common 2-d political compass (which I find to be too naive), belief and knowledge actually could be drawn on one dimension, because all knowledge is really a subset of belief, and it comes down to what presuppositions a person has. But my presuppositions include solipsism being pointless, and that the scientific method is an appropriate way to understand whatever can be understood, so I'm ok with treating knowledge as categorically different to beliefs, even when some purported knowledge turns out to be false, because it's more reliable than a world in which everyone has their own facts.

Friday, June 22, 2018

A Gotcha in Variable Initialisation in Golang

I'm new to Golang development, and there are lots of things I consider weird with the language. I've just discovered this gotcha, luckily before any code went live, so I figured I'd post about it.

Variables of the same name can be declared at multiple scopes within the same function, and as functions can return tuples, it's possible that, when declaring and initialising variables at the same time, you intend to actually reuse a previously declared variable.

For example:

  x := 1
  y := true
  if y {
    z, x := DoSomethingThatChangesX(x)
    fmt.Printf("Output: %d, %d", x, z)

  fmt.Printf("If x is 1, oops: %d", x) // x == 1

The output of this will show that the x that is set as an output of DoSomethingThatChangesX will not be the same x as in the outer scope.

This next version shows how the code can be changed, in quite an ugly way, to avoid the gotcha:

  x := 1
  y := true
  if y {
    var z int
    z, x = DoSomethingThatChangesX(x)
    fmt.Printf("Output: %d, %d", x, z)

  fmt.Printf("If x is 1, oops: %d", x) // x != 1

By separately declaring z before initialisation, z and x can both be assigned a value separately to declaration.

I know this will come across as pretty simplistic, and is obvious when you think about it, but I still think it would be really easy to increase some subtle bugs, which even careful eyes might not spot, because of it.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Challenge for Homeopaths

Homeopathy is a body of "knowledge" wherein it is believed that ingredients that cause a symptom when consumed in full strength can be used to treat health issues that have those same symptoms.

At least some homeopaths cause patients to delay real treatment for diseases like cancer, and thereby to die.

The discipline (in the sense of its adherents being disciples) was created, entirely out of whole cloth, at a time when placebos could conceivably be better than the real medical treatments of the day. That's one proposed reason for its rise in popularity.

Not coincidentally, homeopathic remedies require extreme dilution, to the point where the mathematical modelling demonstrates that the remedy contains none of the original active ingredient.

Homeopaths claim that a higher amount of dilution, even well past the point where there is nothing left but water, boosts a remedy's strength and effectiveness.

I'm sure this is an overly simplistic summary of homeopathy. Just as there are entire universities where people study for many years in theology, the more fictional a structured field of study, the more esoteric the knowledge must become. Much of the body of knowledge and study must be focused on learning and developing "outs", i.e. the ability to shift goalposts in order to keep the main hypothesis unfalsifiable.

So, based on this take of homeopathy, here is my challenge:

You need not use a remedy to successfully treat a disorder, because that would allow for the aforementioned goalpost shifting ("it doesn't work if you don't believe").

I will merely supply several samples of homeopathic remedies. They will all be samples from real purveyors of homeopathy. For each sample, you need only tell me what the active ingredients are, and at what concentrations.

You can use whatever equipment you would like in order to do the analysis. You can use the samples on people - even true believers - to measure the effect; anything you like as long as the challenge is conducted with your ignorance of the source samples.

In the spirit of James Randi's million dollar challenge, and in light of my inferior financial position (given the need for escrow), I'd suggest a $1000 prize, or perhaps I can crowdfund the prize money, so you can win from lots of non-believers.

Either way, it will be worth your while to merely prove to me that your career isn't a giant fraud, and that you didn't waste all those weeks at the Unaccredited University for Fictional Studies.

Are you up to the challenge?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Trump's Inauguration Speech

So, if you haven't, watch Trump's inauguration speech. Don't watch excerpts, which can introduce bias; go to the source and watch the whole thing.

I can see how people could see it as inspiring or uplifting, or other positive things.

I thought it was pretty worrying if seen through the lens of examples of fervent, populist movements concentrating power at the top. His references to hearing the people's voices and that people wouldn't be unheard anymore was particularly scary, as he didn't show how he'd actually be listening to individual real people, and deliberating rationally based on those inputs.

Instead, it sounds like he'll be doing what is needed to maintain that fervour and to increase his power, i.e. he'll be the figurehead of a mob. That's a power structure that is easy to exceed the limits of American constitutionalism. And without that, there's the risk of some very dark times.

But like I said, watch it for yourself. I could be wrong. I hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

AdWords used in eBay Stores Bait-and-Switch Scam

I was looking at a device that I recently saw online - probably through Facebook marketing, called a Fidget Cube. It cost something like US$20 each or 3 for about $50, including shipping.

I almost bought it on an impulse, then decided to see how much it cost if I googled it.