Proof of nonexistence of telepathy

I am now viewing the movie “What women want”. I recorded it on VCR a week ago and today I have the time to view it. The movie is about a man, who acquired the ability to read women’s thoughts and how he deals with his newly-acquired faculty.

After seeing few scenes showing women willing (figuratively) to lick the floor on which a man, who understands them, walks – I reach the conclusion that if there were any possibility for telepathy, telepaths would have had such huge advantage in natural selection that no more than 10% of men would lack the ability to read women’s minds.

Risk management is often not culturally acceptable

Yesterday I at last received the book “Waltzing with Bears” by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. The book is about managing risk on software projects. The book was ordered few weeks ago (together with few other books) from Com.Books. Due to difficulties in obtaining this out-of-print book, it arrived few weeks after the other books.

As I read the book, and as I recall an argument I had yesterday with someone, I notice the fact that several people, even apparently rational ones, employ magic based thinking. They say that if you mention a risk, the very fact that you mention, or even think about, a risk dramatically increases the probability it will materialize. They say it when I want to practice risk management together with me.

I would like to suggest the following magic antidote: while it may be magicallytrue that if you think about a risk, you may cause it to materialize. However, if you think about a risk with the mindset of managing it, and then you do something to mitigate the risk, and you have a plan how to deal with the risk, should it materialize – then the very fact you are thinking about all those things magically reduces the probability of materialization of the risk. Furthermore, even if risk does materialize, then it would do so in a tempered way, without incurring annoyance, anger. Sometimes even with a feeling of excitement about the unexpected adventure, which brings some interest to one’s life.

Is there a God?

Finally, there is an “official” FAQ about this profound question. It is at

I would like to add the following questions to the FAQ, because the question “why do people believe in God?” is even more important than the question “Is there a God?”.

  1. Why do people need a religious belief?
  2. What is the cause for difference between people, who have greater need for religious belief, and people, who have less need for religious belief?
  3. What are the psychological factors, which cause a person to prefer a particular religious belief (or lack of any religious belief)?
  4. What causes some politicians to adopt a particular religion as a state religion, whose commandments and prohibitions must be enforced over the population in a particular territory?
  5. Under what circumstances would people tend to respect each other’s religious preferences, and when would they tend to force their beliefs into their fellows’ throats?

Notice that the subject is multidisciplinary even if we remove theology: it involves psychology, politics and sociology.

Proposed new terminology: bound platform vs. free platform

When you want to develop software, and choose a platform on which the software is to be run, you have two choices, as follows.

Bound Platform
Your software must run on the same platform as some existing software. You are constrained also in the choice of computer language to be used and the SDK.
Free Platform
Your software will run on its own hardware, with no need to share hardware with any existing software. So you are free to choose whatever hardware&software combination that is convenient for you. You are free to choose OS, computer language and SDK.

Today, my default choice for Free Platform is LAMP (where P stands for Python). If I ever need to develop a very secure solution, I’d look into OAMP (where O stands for OpenBSD). In the future I hope to be able to upgrade to LAMS (where S stands for Scheme).

Misfits and Revolutionaries in Utopia

When designing an Utopia, one needs to consider also how people who do not fit in are treated in the Utopia.

One way in which someone may fail to fit in is by being unsuccessful when trying to play by the Utopia’s rules.

In capitalistic regimes, unsuccessful people are poor, hungry, have poor health and bad (or nonexistent) housing. They then have a good reason to try to overthrow the present regime, in the belief that in a better regime they will have higher quality of life.

Another kind of unsuccessful people are those, who do not have the patience and long attention span to build their wealth slowly and on solid base. Such people indulge in various get-rich-quick schemes. They typically become real estate and insurance agents. They start the classical makework businesses. They do not consider the benefit to society when planning their business, only how it can funnel money into their pockets. Such people are behind business scams and Enrons.

A third kind of people are ones, who are better at organizing (i.e. influencing) people than in creating something. They become salespeople and politicians. They are the ones, who might believe that their personal success would come from organizing poor people to overthrow the present regime.

The real test of an Utopia is in how it deals with all those kinds of people and how can they find their opportunities in it without harming other people.

At any case, there will always be some people, who feel very dissatisfied with the Utopian regime, and who would try to overthrow it, or at least get it to change. Such people are necessary for the future evolution of the Utopia and for updating its workings according to the changed times. Those people would be good at pointing out abuses of the establishment and at getting it to change before it is overthrown.

Makework in the gift economy

I wrote elsewhere my suggestion that people be paid to study, if they don’t currently have a job.

The gift economy concept fits with the above approach.

When people compete for status from having the greatest & biggest skill set for coping with emergencies, or for having made the best contributions to scientific research, or for having had contributed to the coolest software projects – rather than for having the most expensive car or the biggest house or expensive jewelery – the world would be a better place to live.

There is equivalence between expressing large numbers and compression

There is an interesting discussion about large numbers in the Wikipedia and in Robert Munafo’s article.

Munafo describes several notations for concise expression of very large numbers. The basic idea is to define special operators (symbols) to allow one to express a very large number using a small number of characters (digits, operators/punctuation marks). Since a short string of characters, which represents a very large number, can be represented in a small number of bits (say, 16 times the string’s length in characters) – what we are really doing is an attempt to implement an “hash function” from large numbers into their representations, while doing this in inverse.

In other words, a mathematical notation for concisely expressing a very large number corresponds to a data compression algorithm, like the algorithms used in gzip or bzip2. I am not saying “equivalent” here, because I cannot demonstrate a way to derive a compression algorithm from a mathematical notation definition or vice versa. The data compression algorithm takes, as its input, a string, which represents the very large number in some straightforward form. The algorithm’s output is another string, which expresses the same number by means of a suitable mathematical notation.

It is well known that every compression algorithm compresses a subset of the strings presented to it, but expands another subset of the potential input strings. The point of using a compression algorithm is that the strings, which interest us, get compressed, while only “garbage” strings get expanded.

Therefore, for any mathematical notation for representing very large numbers, there is a subset of numbers, whose representation in that notation is shorter than a straightforward form; and a subset of numbers, whose representation is longer.

What if?

Let’s say that the straightforward form, which I mentioned above, is the base-2 representation of a number. The corresponding representation, using a mathematical notation, is a string of N characters. We can consider it to be a base-2 number which is 16N+1 bits long (the extra bit is needed to guarantee that the number starts with ‘1’).

Let’s try a new way to represent very large numbers. We take a number, say 42, and represent it as binary number. We interpret the binary number as a mathematical notation, and translate it into the represented number, typically a very large number. An equivalent way of saying this is that we uncompress the string, which is the binary representation of 42.

Then, we take the very large number and read it as a mathematical notation, which denotes another very large number. In other words, we uncompress again the binary string. We can iterate this process several times.

The following questions, for which I don’t have answers, follow from the above discussion:

  1. Are there sequences of infinite length? Or do such iterations always repeat the same strings after a sufficiently long cycle?
  2. What is the largest number, which we can reach from 42 using this approach? What mathematical notation (uncompression algorithm) would allow us to reach the largest number from 42 by means of a finite (but very large) number of iterations?
  3. Can a similar methodology be applied also to transfinite numbers?

Other people complain about makework economics, too

Makework = what you need when you perpetuate an outdated, pre-automation 1940-era workweek discuss another way to deal with the makework problem.

They propose to “timesize” jobs i.e. reduce the number of hours per work week.

However, they don’t address the real problem: many work hours are not needed anymore to operate and maintain the means of producing the basic human necessities. On the other hand, the only way to sustain an economy in the long range is to reward people in proportion to the quantity and quality of work they put in.

Thus, there is a dilemma.

Suicide bombers not legally responsible for their actions?

Recently I saw a LiveJournal entry by someone (name does not really matter, as several people hold the same attitude) who claims that Israeli soldiers, who fight Palestinians in Rafah and other places, are war criminals.

I replied and complained that they are overlooking the nature of the enemy of those Israeli soldiers. This is an enemy who is not fighting for its own liberty or economic advantage. This is an enemy who is fighting to kill the people of those Israeli soldiers.

The typical Leftist closed-eyed attitude was manifested in the reply by that someone: “Your comments are not welcome in my journal. go away.” accompanied by no attempt to counter the points which I made.

I would like to raise the general issue. How do you deal with people who have been brainwashed to believe that they must kill you? Do you kill them only because of the crazy memes that they carry in their brains? By this logic, one third of the Germans would have had to be killed at end of World War II due to their having been infected with the Nazi meme.In the case of the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the problem is that the youths are brainwashed by their elders to believe in the virtue of becoming suicide bombers and killing Israeli civilian children, women and men; and that 72 virgins are waiting in the Garden of Eden for anyone who has committed such an act.According to the established Western standards of law, such brainwashed people are not legally responsible for their actions. This means that they should not be tried in court for their attempts to be suicide bombers. However, they can be institutionalized as legally insane.

Such a treatment would have been feasible if the number of people infected with the Suicide Bomber meme were on order of hundreds, or at most, thousands. However, when about 60% of the multi-million Palestinian population are infected with the Suicide Bomber meme, what can be done to deal with the situation?

I’d say that the ethics of the situation are similar to the ethics of dealing with an high mortality rate plague. If you do not have the resources to isolate and treat all sick people in an area, you cordon them off and let them die. You do try to treat sick people wherever their number is small. If a powerful and effective medicine is found against the disease, you of course venture into the cordoned-off area and try to treat as many people as possible at as short time as possible.

But, when the disease consists of poisonous memes in the brains of large percentage of the people in an area – what is the appropriate treatment?

About the proper way to deal with writers of computer virii and worms

Steven Landsburg proposes to execute writers of computer virii and worms. This is just an extreme expression of the general sentiment that threats to punish writers of computer virii and worms are an adequate way to plug security vulnerabilities, which allow those virii and worms to propagate.

My thesis is that this sentiment is wrong. It is horribly wrong.

When a burglar picks a lock and enters into a building without permission, he is punished (if caught). This is reasonable, because a burglar cannot pick more than one lock at the same time. Any damage he may be doing at a moment of time is limited to a single site. Besides, high quality locks are very expensive.

However, when there is a vulnerability in a software package in widespread use, a cracker has the power to pick the equivalent of one million locks at the same time, by writing a worm which exploits this vulnerability.

If we do not require the software writers to fix this vulnerability promptly by assigning to them responsibility for worm damage, then several installations are at risk. The risk is not only due to crackers. It is theoretically possible, even if rather improbable, for a PC to create automatically self-propagating software by corrupting existing software due, for example, to noise, soft errors (due to overclocking or overheating) or disk crashes.

Besides, the cost of deploying patches which fix the vulnerability, once it is discovered, is very low – unlike the cost of replacing a broken door lock.

Another analogy. Let’s say that a certain bridge was designed and built. The bridge can carry its designed load of pedestrians, cars and trucks as long as they pass on the road passing through it. But an hammer tap on the side would cause the bridge to immediately collapse. Obviously, the bridge designers did not do their job properly. Should we treat as criminal someone, who waits until the night (when there is no transportation on the bridge) and taps on the bridge’s side to trigger its collapse? Probably not, because he is saving us from false reliance upon a bridge, which might suddenly collapse if a strong wind threw a stone at its side.

Yet why do we treat as criminals crackers, who exploit vulnerabilities of widely used software to spread worms, whose payload has only nuisance value? Especially when the software vendor/s in question are not prompt in fixing the vulnerability in question.