Stumbled across 11th August 2013

A thousand times this (EDIT 2022: the link is dead and I have no idea what I was referring to). A possible fix for the “economic problem of democracy”: A fascinating look at privacy online, how we’re not built for privacy, and how tribal cultures attain privacy: I’m all for healthy competition and so forth, but do we really want such massive phones? This is the kind of thing that I never quite have the courage or the morals to do: http://web.

New computer setup

Editor’s note: this is a snapshot of life in 2013-08-04. My setup has changed substantially since then. In case I ever have to get a new computer (or, indeed, in case anyone else is interested), I hereby present the (updating) list of applications and so forth that I would immediately install to get a computer up to usability. Browser: Firefox with Ghostery, HTTPS Everywhere, and NoScript (and remember to turn on Do Not Track…) Mail client: Thunderbird with Enigmail Messaging client: Adium on Mac, and possibly Pidgin for others - I’ve never used a non-Mac chat client.

Stumbled across 4th August 2013

An ad developer has misgivings: Hint for dealing with some automated phone helplines - swear at them and they’ll put you through to a human: The future is coming: A large collection of replacements for various PRISM-vulnerable services: Some people think in a really rather interesting way: The joys of a memoryless distribution: An impressive photograph: largest photo cached A fair chunk of the “1910’s predicted Year 2000 technologies” has been invented: http://www.

On to-do lists as direction in life

Getting Things Done has gathered something of a cult following [archived due to link rot] since its inception. As a way of getting things done, it’s pretty good - separate tasks out into small bits on your to-do list so that you have mental room free to consider the bigger picture. However, there’s a certain aspect of to-do lists that I’ve not really seen mentioned before, and which I find to be really helpful.

Stumbled across 29th July 2013

Hehe: Wow - light trapped for a full minute: The importance of a consistent utility function: Obama promised to be friendly to whistleblowers, and has quietly removed said promise: I wholeheartedly agree with this site: Good post on belief-in-belief: Huh. A strange system, the US medical system: Very much this - about how the media has lost the plot about PRISMgate: Aaand my faith in humanity is once again shattered: http://i.


I have recently discovered the game of Agricola, a board game involving using resources (family members, stone, etc) to build a thriving farm. The game is turn-based, with the possible actions each turn being severely limited. This makes the game be in large part about optimising under constraint (the foundation of any good game). However, during gameplay I also detected a certain resonance between Agricola and the game of Magic: The Gathering, beyond the usual “constrained optimisation” theme.

Stumbled across 24th July 2013

This is something I will try at some point, probably when I get back to uni: This was fun: Hah - stupid copyright owners: The government’s got around to allowing the testing of driverless cars: An insightful comic about getting to sleep: Roll on the cheap and easy satellites: A bunch of interesting sciency things, including a new application of zapping current through the brain: https://arstechnica.

The Orbit/Stabiliser Theorem

The Orbit/Stabiliser Theorem is a simple theorem in group theory. Thanks to Tim Gowers for the proof I outline here - I find it much more intuitive than the proof that was presented in lectures, and it involves equivalence relations (which I think are wonderful things). Theorem: \(\vert {g(x), g \in G} \vert \times \vert {g \in G: g(x) = x} \vert = \vert G \vert\). Proof: We fix an element \(x \in G\), and define two equivalence relations: \(g \sim h\) iff \(g(x) = h(x)\), and \(g \cdot h\) if \(h^{-1} g \in \text{Stab}_G(x)\), where \(\text{Stab}_G(k) = {g \in G: g(k) = k}\).

On Shakespeare

I’ve now seen two Shakespeare plays at the Globe - once in person, to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and once with a one-year-and-eighty-mile gap between viewing and performance (through the Globe On Screen project), to see Twelfth Night. Both times the plays were excellent. Both were comedies, and both were laugh-out-loud funny. The performance of Twelfth Night, then, was beamed into a local-ish cinema for our viewing pleasure. (Definitely more comfortable than the seating at the Globe, although I am reliably informed that if you go to the Globe, you really have to be a groundling, standing at the front next to the stage, in order to get the proper experience.

My objection to the One Logical Leap view

A large chunk of the reason why changing someone’s mind is so difficult is the fact that our deeply-held beliefs seem so obviously true to us, and we find it hard to understand why those beliefs aren’t obvious to others. Example: A: A god exists - look around you; everything you see is so obviously created, not stumbled upon! B: No, that’s rubbish - look around you, everything you see is easily explained by understood processes!

Prerequisites for hypothetical situations

Usually when I discover (or, more rarely, think up) a thought experiment about a moral point, and discuss it with an arbitrary person whom I will (for convenience) call Kim, the conversation usually goes like this: Me: {Interesting scenario} - what do you think? Kim: I would just {avoids point of scenario by nitpicking} Me: You know what I meant. {applies easy fix to scenario to prevent nitpick} Kim: Well then, I’d {avoids point of scenario by raising unrelated moral issue}

The Multiple Drafts view of consciousness

I’ve been reading one of Daniel Dennett’s books, Consciousness Explained. Aside from the fact that the author has an incredible beard and is therefore correct on all matters, he can also write a very cogent book. In Consciousness Explained, Dennett outlines what he calls the Multiple Drafts approach to explaining consciousness; this blog post is my attempt to summarise that view in a couple of short analogies. Dennett starts off by providing evidence that our time-perception is somewhat malleable: we can interpret two dots of different colours (appearing separated by a short distance in time and space) as a single moving dot that changes colour abruptly at some point.

Stumbled across 13th July 2013

This is really quite heartwarming: Interesting article on current trends in fiction: A ridiculous reason for a rocket to explode: A very information-dense way of storing data long-term: (compare which is much less information-dense but much more easily decoded in the event of being discovered after the collapse of civilisation) A cool thing to do with a Raspberry Pi and a microwave: I really want one of these - I think I might order one: http://www.

A framework for discussing "pricelessness"

Sometimes some people argue that certain things are “priceless” - that is, worth an infinite amount of money to them. I posit that what this really means is that it would take work and uncomfortable imagination to evaluate the worth of that thing to them. The example that triggered this framework was my evaluation of how much my sense of smell was worth to me. (It was late at night and I couldn’t get to sleep, so I just let my mind wander around for a bit.

Imre Leader Appreciation Society

There was once a small website devoted to noting the more interesting quotes from our more idiosyncratic lecturers. It sadly vanished from the web, although after some detective work, I found a copy floating around on one of Amazon’s servers. I stored them for posterity using the archival service WebCitation, which is itself now dead, so instead I shall link to Konrad Dąbrowski’s capture.

Stumbled across 9th July 2013

Being bored over the summer holiday, I decided that I would document the cool things I ran across on the Internet. Over the last week, there have been many of these. If I see anything particularly amazing, it’ll go in one of these aggregation posts. Neurons are surprisingly beautiful: A rather neat and very short story: A bit less short but just as good a short story: A rant with which students can all identify, in The Cambridge Student magazine: now lost from the Internet.

An obvious improvement to tennis

So yesterday the Wimbledon tennis tournament was decided. The system for verifying whether the tennis ball is out or not (and hence whether play for the point stops or continues) on the main courts is as follows: The ball lands. The linesperson keeping charge of the line nearest to the landing point of the ball works out whether the ball landed inside or outside the region demarcated by the line. The umpire decides whether or not to overrule the linesperson’s decision.

Mundane magics

I have stumbled across a LessWrong post on the importance of seeing what is real for just how cool it is. It lists such examples as: Vibratory Telepathy. By transmitting invisible vibrations through the very air itself, two users of this ability can share thoughts. As a result, Vibratory Telepaths can form emotional bonds much deeper than those possible to other primates. Psychometric Tracery. By tracing small fine lines on a surface, the Psychometric Tracer can leave impressions of emotions, history, knowledge, even the structure of other spells.

Cambridge vocab - a guide for the mystified

There is an awfully large collection of confusing words you will encounter on first coming to study at Cambridge. You pick them up really quickly in the natural run of things, but I thought perhaps a mini-dictionary might be helpful. The list is alphabetised (if I’m competent enough, anyway) and may, like so many of my writings, grow. Apologies for my crude attempts at pronunciations for the non-obvious words, but it’s very hard to find someone who can read IPA.

Cambridge undergrad maths tips

I wrote this when I was excessively bored during exam term of my first year. It may grow as I get better at working (I’m something of a revisionist). The advice is entirely Cambridge-based; a lot of it probably applies to other places with minor alterations. Most of this comes from personal experience. During a supervision, your supervisor will be writing all the time. As soon as you leave the supervision, mark the sheets that are particularly important in some obvious way (eg.