Francis’s news feed

This combines together some blogs which I like to read. It’s updated once a week.

October 14, 2017

Last Uncertainty Wednesday we dug deeper into understanding the distribution of sample means. I... by Albert Wenger

Last Uncertainty Wednesday we dug deeper into understanding the distribution of sample means. I ended with asking why the chart for 100,000 samples of size 10 looked smoother than then one for samples of size 100 (just as a refresher, these are all rolls of a fair die). Well, for a sample of size 10, there are 51 possible values of the mean: 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 … 5.8, 5.9, 6.0. But with a sample size of 100 there are 501 possible values for the mean. So with the same number of samples (100,000) the distribution will not be approximated as closely. We can fix this by upping the number of samples to say 1 million. Thanks to the amazing speed of a modern laptop even 100 million rolls of a die just take a couple of minutes (this still blows my mind). Here is the resulting chart:

Much smoother than before! We could make that even smoother by taking up the number of runs even further.  

OK. So what would happen if we went to sample size 1,000? Well, by now this should be easy to predict. The distribution of sample means will be even tighter around 3.5 (the expected value of the distribution) and in order to get a smooth chart we have to further up the number of runs.

So what is the limit here? Well, this get us to the law of large numbers, which essentially states that the sample average will converge to the expected value as the sample grows larger. There is a strong version and a weak version of the law, a distinction which we may get to later (plus some more versions of the law).

For now though the important thing to keep in mind is that when we have small sample sizes, the sample mean may be far away from the expected value. And as we see above that even for a super simple probability distribution with 6 equally likely outcomes there is considerable variation in the sample mean even for samples of size 100! So it is very easy to make mistakes from jumping to conclusions on small samples.

Next Wednesday we will see that the situation is in fact much worse than that. Here is a hint: every sample has a mean (why?) but does every probability distribution have an expected value


Support idyll - Interactive Narratives by Albert Wenger

I am excited about a new open source project called idyll. Here is how Matthew Conlen, the lead author, describes idyll

Idyll is a tool that makes it easier to author interactive narratives for the web. The goal of the project is to provide a friendly markup language — and an associated toolchain — that can be used to create dynamic, text-driven web pages.

Idyll helps you create documents that use common narrative techniques such as embedding interactive charts and graphs, responding to scroll events, and explorable explanations. Additionally, its readable syntax facilitates collaboration between writers, editors, designers, and programmers on complex projects.

The project seems like an important step in the direction of an interactive learning environment that seamlessly combines text, mathematical formulas, code, graphics. Creating such an environment and then using it to share knowledge about the consilience of math, physics, computation and more is one of my three passion projects.

An example of an idyll document explains the etymology of the trigonometric functions. In a future version of idyll it will be easy to show and even edit the code behind the unit circle graph on the right.

If you are as excited about idyll as I am, please help me support the project via the idyll Open Collective page.


Planetary Society-funded telescopes help find ring around Haumea, a distant dwarf planet by The Planetary Society

Haumea has a ring! Two telescopes used in the discovery—one in Slovenia, and one in Italy—received funding from The Planetary Society's Shoemaker Near Earth Object (NEO) Grant program, which helps amateur astronomers find, track and characterize near-Earth asteroids.


American R&D Policy and the Push for Small Planetary Missions at NASA by The Planetary Society

Planetary Society Policy Adviser Jason Callahan summarizes his paper he presented at the 2017 International Astronautical Congress in Australia, where he examined NASA's low-cost Discovery program and how federal policies directed at higher education initially bolstered planetary science into a viable field.


Cassini’s Last Dance With Saturn: The Farewell Mosaic by The Planetary Society

Amateur image processor Ian Regan shares the story of processing Cassini's final images of the ringed planet.


Meet VOX, a proposed mission to uncover the secrets of Venus by The Planetary Society

Van Kane brings us newly released details of the Venus Origins eXplorer (VOX), one of NASA's 12 New Frontiers mission proposals.


Space Policy & Advocacy Program Quarterly Report - October 2017 by The Planetary Society

As a service to our members and to promote transparency, The Planetary Society's Space Policy and Advocacy team publishes quarterly reports on their activities, actions, priorities, and goals in service of their efforts to promote space science and exploration in Washington, D.C.


October 11, 2017

"Beat you, cock!" by Feeling Listless

TV Having been in bed with manflu for a couple of days, I haven't had a chance to comment on the news that Shada has indeed been animated and will be released on shiny-disc at the beginning of next month.

Here's the press release.

Reaction on social media has been pretty mixed, mostly because for a story which wasn't completed first time around, between the various releases since, including Douglas including a version in the Dirk Gentley novels, it doesn't feel like we're completely missing a new version. That the resources could have been more handily spent animating a few more of the missing episodes.

Which I do have sympathy with, I do.  Like everyone else I have fond memories of the Baker narrated VHS release, put out in dvd not that long ago even if it becomes entirely futile as the stories goes on and the story simply runs out of shot material and its most Tom explaining what happened.  Plus the McGann audio version is superb as is the novel by Gareth Roberts (for the most part).

But for all that, I'm really excited about this project because it's a chance to sit and watch the story in full, with the scripted elements in place read mostly by the original cast and on blu-ray with the original film sequences, all of those lovely shots of Cambridge, in high definition.  Plus they're editing from scratch not simply inserting the new material into the old VHS version.

This will also be the fifth version featuring Lalla Ward.

(1)  The unfinished TV version
(2)  Big Finish
(3)  Audiobook version
(4)  Whatever it was Ian Levine was trying to do
(5)  The new thing

I can't wait to hear what she's done with it this time.

Plus now that Tom Baker's been working on the audios for a while across various companies, he's really found the Fourth Doctor's voice again, so his contribution will have an authenticity it might not a few years ago.  He's so obviously enjoying playing the part again - although it'll be interesting to see how much he's stuck to the script or made his usual suggestions.


October 09, 2017

Excuses by Charlie Stross

On the low blogging tempo ...

I'm grappling with a tight deadline: "The Labyrinth Index" is due with my editors at the end of the month and I've still got one third of the book to go. (It's going to be a little shorter than the last couple of Laundry Files novels, but on the other hand, they've been growing alarmingly. The first short novel, "The Atrocity Archive", was 76,000 words long, while by "The Nightmare Stacks" and "The Delirium Brief" they were pushing close to 140,000 words. This one isn't exactly short, but should come in at around 100,000 words—in other words, about 300 pages.)

Creative blogging soaks up the same writing mojo as book-writing, and I don't have much surplus this quarter. I'll have some crib notes for you in a few weeks when Empire Games is released in small-format paperback (that's due on December 5th in the USA, but October 19th in the UK, because Tor USA and Tor UK are different companies and run on slightly different release schedules: yes, the ebook price will drop at the same time). And I'll see if I can find a guest blogger or two. And of course, if something happens that causes me to foam at the mouth you'll read about it here ... but don't be too surprised if this place is unusually quiet for the next month.

Part of it, I will admit, is news fatigue. John Scalzi already said this thing, so I don't feel the need to repeat every word of it here, but in a nutshell: it's really hard to think myself into an ebullient and entertaining frame of mind this year, which is a necessary precondition to writing escapist fiction. The news is unmitigated crap right now. Our rulers are either morons and criminals (the White House), or being run ragged by a clown car full of idiots (the Brexit cheerleaders, whose latest wheeze is to decide that anyone bearing news of economic woes in the brave new Brexit uplands is clearly a saboteur because nothing can go wrong and it's time to fire the Chancellor for revising growth forecasts down). The climate is turning deadly (how many hurricanes this season? Has central California burned to the ground yet?), and maniacs are waving nuclear dildos at each other again. There is no respite from the bad news, other than to turn the news off completely or subsist entirely on a diet of successful rocket launch videos (checks clock: there's an hour to go until the next SpaceX bird goes up, then a couple of days to the next) and happy puppies.

Oh, and next week I turn 53. I don't generally have crises on birthdays divisible by 10; I defer them for 2-3 years. For example, on turning 30 you can still kid yourself you're in your late twenties; at 33, this isn't true any more. Now I'm nearly 53 I can't really kid myself I'm not middle-aged. Given that we live in a culture that venerates youth and ignores or discounts age, that's also calling for a bit of adjustment (notably learning to kick back against the little voice in my ear whispering "you're an old has-been" and "you're past it" and "your best work is behind you: you're coasting on fumes now" and say "fuck you, I'm going to prove you wrong"). In fact, it's calling for so much adjustment that I don't have much spare energy for anything else.

So ... what I guess I'm saying is, I've got a tight deadline to hit and work is actually much, much harder than usual right now because the emotional environment is toxic, and us creatives need, if not happiness, then at least light at the end of the tunnel. But work is the one thing I can't allow to slide. Excuses are not permitted: I've got a tight schedule to meet if I'm going to take a sabbatical for a couple of months around the end of next year, and I'll slack off when I'm dead.

That's it. Talk among yourselves or feel free to ask me anything (just be aware I might not answer until I've hit my daily word-count target). I'm outa here; back in November.


Motion Flow is the new Panned and Scanned. by Feeling Listless

Film Director James Gunn and allies are banding together to start a campaign to ask tv manufactures not to put motion flow on by default. From Gizmodo:

"If you’re not entirely sure what these folks are going on about, motion smoothing is a feature on most modern TVs that intended to correct hi-def screens’ tendency to make objects in motion appear to be blurry. In order to do this, the TV processes one frame, then the next, and makes a guess on what a new frame that goes between them should look like. This can be very helpful if you’re watching a football game, for example, and you’re attempting to keep track of the ball in a wide landscape shot. It gives everything a crisp edge. The feature can also be good for upping video game frame rates, but it’ll get you killed because it introduces extra lag."
After reading this article years ago on how TV ruins movies. I turned the setting on my screen to cinema mode and then turned everything else off. Motion Flow, auto blackness setting, natural colour, noise correction everything. After all that, the picture now tends to look fantastic. 

Films will never look the same as they did in theatres on television, but have to do all we can to help them along.  Although even in theatres, they're not always projected in the way the filmmakers, too dimly perhaps due to the cinema not switching out the 3D projector lense during 2D showings.


October 08, 2017

All Hands On Deck (Short Trips) by Feeling Listless

Audio One of two Short Trips dealing with how the Eighth Doctor interacted with some of his old companions during the Time War, this examines how it affected his granddaughter.  Set just after To The Death, we discover how Susan rebuilt her life in the wake of all that tragedy and like so many of the former time travellers she's become involved and a valuable asset to the local populace, defending the Earth were needed.  Which is lucky because numerous befuddlements, pitched in the region of the kinds of things which might have menaced the Attic team in The Sarah Jane Adventures are causing a certain amount of worry, some mayhem.  But I think I'll stop the synopsis here because with its slender listening time, its best heard with the surprises intact, especially the unforgettable barnstormer of a conclusion.  Needless to say it's another Eddie Robson story which balances the epic with the personal and Eighth's participation is perfectly judged and entirely in character if you know the history of the character.  Thanks to the post-2005 subliminal references to Susan's fate, a melancholy hangs over this story which Robson takes full advantage of.  Told in the first person, Carole Ann Ford  captures this mature Susan thoughtfully as she poignantly reflects back on her youth and where her loyalties lie and how that informs her choices going forward.  Placement: Pretty early in the Time War for reasons.


Drunk in Charge of an Autonomous Vehicle. by Feeling Listless

Technology Ars Technica asks, "Should drunk drivers be charged with DUI in fully autonomous cars?"

"Though it may seem obvious that a drunk person should be allowed to be taxied home by a fully autonomous car, the question is less clear if you have to determine just how autonomous an autonomous vehicle needs to be for a drunk person to operate it. The government should want drunk people to engage a high-level autonomous driving system if the alternative is driving themselves home, but if they’ll be penalized for being drunk while they’re “in control” of an autonomous vehicle, uptake of self-driving systems may be slow."
The answer within the article suggests that a felony is only committed when a drunk person manually takes the wheel of the automated car and therefore driving it.  But as someone who doesn't trust technology to break down, because technology always breaks down, I think that it's imperative that law doesn't change on drink driving whether someone is in an autocar or not.

I'd argue that someone who's been drinking still shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the vehicle in case it malfunctions in a dangerous situation and they're forced to take control.  I'd be afraid to let someone without a driving license, like me, to have an automated car or be able to travel in an automated car for this reason.  The idea of driverless taxis also scare the bejesus out of me.


October 07, 2017

Look after the pennies... by Retirement Investment Today

...and the pounds will look after themselves.  A reasonably well known proverb that simply means if you focus on saving many small amounts of money you'll soon amass a large amount.  It’s also a proverb that in the circle of people I associate with both at work and in my personal life seems to not get a lot of attention.  I’m a little different and so it’s a proverb I’ve lived throughout my


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Updated using Planet on 14 October 2017, 04:48 AM