Saturday, September 15, 2012

recent developments in Climate Change

We see that Russia and Canada, the big beneficiaries of global warming, are inclined to drag their feet. Note that this is a case where voters don't want to hear the politicians say "We plan to be bad". Instead they want to hear the politicians denying global warming. This is lying for the people, not lying to the people.

A recent scientific study showed how, hundreds of millions of years ago, there was a land-locked ocean over the North Pole. That lead to a massive decline in atmospheric CO2. That is nothing like the current situation, but it does show how feedbacks of warming can lead to reducing CO2 levels. Such negative feedbacks are likely to overshoot. For example if a warm ice-free Arctic does lead to something that reduces CO2 levels then it is likely to continue to do so for much longer than we would wish.

Another reason why I think global warming could lead to cooling is the history of recent inter-glacials. They have been warmer than this one, but have not lead to runaway warming when the Arctic melts. Instead each one spikes and then crashes:

Here's my graph of the global warming position:

We know there is a nice stable ice age waiting for us on the left. Many reckon that if we keep pushing up we will go over a bump down into a very warm climate to the right. I reckon that if we suddenly stop pushing that ball it might roll down and roll over the edge to the left. However this will only happen if we find an energy source cheaper than coal.

I also reckon that it is simplistic to imagine this 2d picture. Suppose we imagine this 2d graph embedded in a bigger 3d graph. We might role over the top to the right, but then get caught in a channel that leads back around to that waiting ice age.

In summary I want to see more science before we do any geo-engineering: including attempts to get CO2 levels all the way back to the "natural" 280ppm.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Investigating facts relevant to public policy

We need a 4th arm of government, which has substantial investigative powers and financial resources to vigorously, impartially and openly investigate the facts which are relevant to correct decision making in the other arms of government. I wish I could create that organization and put mathbabe in charge of it.

Only slightly more realistically: As the newspaper business dies, we are left without a mechanism for funding private investigative activities. I have this idea to create a market for investigations. People will propose or support investigations with offers of approximate financial commitment. Journalists, scientists, data analysts, others, will try to put together teams to put more concrete proposals that the informal proposers and others can fund. Willingness to fund would be very much based on the reputations of the investigators. So I envisage that young people would get together to do free or cheap investigations to establish their reputation, as open source programmers do. To set up such an investigation market, it would be valuable to have some high profile people getting it started: including a scientist, a journalist and a data analyst.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Wombat hasn't landed

The Wombat Programming Language

Programming languages have been annoying me for over 35 years. Still it's not so easy to get them right. I've got a fair way with the design of the Wombat Programming Language, but I can't get the interface-like part of it (Behaviour) working well. So rather than wait for perfection I thought I'd put it out there and see if anyone is interested in helping me with it.

I know my design would be better if I understood more of: Scalaz; Typeclassopedia; HoTT; and lots of other stuff. But maybe the people who do would like to comment (at least to the extent of recommending what to learn and where).

The "Wombat Summary and Rationale" document is at, with comments enabled. Or you can comment here. Or in my Google+ post. Or post an issue at

Thursday, March 22, 2012

STV Magic

Australia's democratic system is superior for two important reasons: Single Transferable Vote; and compulsory voting. The latter is more important: voting is a duty not a right; and if voting is not compulsory then somehow the people in power manage to make it easier for some to vote and harder for others. However this little idea is about STV.
[For those that don't know: In STV people number the candidates. The candidate with the lowest total of votes is eliminated in each round and all of the people who voted for the eliminated candidate have their votes transferred to their next choice. Repeat. Finally there are 2 candidates and the one with more votes wins and it is a nice feature that he has, at that point, got more than 50% of the votes. There are subtleties, but one thing is sure: it's better than first past the post. I was shocked, disappointed and annoyed (not to mention disgusted) when the British people rejected STV in a recent referendum.]
Well here's an idea. First we run our STV election to get the first winner (we just go till someone has >50% of the votes). Then we eliminate all the candidates of the same sex as that winner, and we recount the election until all the votes have been distributed to the last two candidates (except that we never eliminate our initial winner in any round [if that could happen?]). So we end up with two candidates and all the votes allocated to one or the other. Then we send them both off to parliament: except that when they vote in parliament they vote that total number of votes they got: it is no longer just one person one vote in the House of parliament.
This has a couple of nice effects. Naturally we get an equal number of the sexes in parliament. Another thing is that it makes gerrymanders useless.
Assume there are two big parties. Each will have two candidates, one of each sex. At the end of counting you get one candidate from each party elected after the minor parties and independents are eliminated. But the total number of votes each party gets will represent their total votes across the whole country, irrespective of where the boundaries are drawn. Indeed one of the advantages is that it reduces the need for the electoral commissioner to draw artificial boundaries to equalize the electorates.

Update 2014-07-26: I know what I mean, but it needs an example. Suppose there are two main parties in Byzantium: Red and Green. In an election in a seat with 19,999 voters we distribute preferences. The Red lady wins with 10,000 votes. At this point we eliminate all other ladies in the election and we start again with the Red lady and all the guys. We just keep distributing in the normal STV way. Any votes for the eliminated ladies go automatically to their next preference up. We don't stop when one has 10,000 votes, we keep going till all the votes are allocated to the final 2 candidates. Typically we'll get something like: The Red lady has 11,000 votes and the Green guy has 8,999 votes. Then they go off to Byzantium parliament and when they vote there the Red lady votes her 11,000 votes, and the Green guy votes his 8,999 votes.

Update to the update: The key to this is determining the second winner. After that the votes get allocated to each according to their relative position on everyone's vote. People who know STV will not be surprised that the winner's excess should be counted in determining the second winner. Maybe after a quota of 1/3 rather than 1/2. Mostly it won't make any difference in who comes second, but if you don't do it after 1/3, then strategic voting becomes an issue. Don't ask.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mysterious arguments about AGW

There are two interacting climate change hypotheses. The well known one (AGW) is that human induced increases in atmospheric CO2 are increasingly making it warmer. The other is that when the sun is weak it allows more cosmic rays to get to lower levels of the atmosphere, increasing cloud cover and making it cooler. There is good reason to think we are moving into this weak sun period.

The two sides of the AGW debate have a clear interest in the 2nd question. For people that want something done about CO2, it is important to let people know that if we enter a period where natural climate variability runs against AGW then we must not relax, because soon they'll be pushing in the same direction and by then it will be too late to reduce CO2. On the other side of the AGW debate, those who don't want anything done about CO2 should keep quiet about natural climate change so that they can claim that the temperature falling (or not rising) disproves AGW.

But what we see is the reverse. AGW proponents like to deny that there is any such thing as natural climate change. Meanwhile those on the other side seem equally keen to argue that there is natural climate change.

Go figure.