Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I'm Going Away

Moving right along.

I am not only traveling this week, but I am taking my book list exams today, tomorrow, and Wednesday. To top it off, on Wednesday evening I am giving a talk to undergraduates and graduates on my job experiences.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Where's the 'Ski?

Have you seen me?

Over at the intelligent design website Uncommon Descent, the virtual community has been universally stumped by a commenter, and now posting contributor, called MathGrrl.

She makes an eminently reasonable request of the ID proponents:
In the abstract of Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence, William Dembski asks “Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause?” Many ID proponents answer this question emphatically in the affirmative, claiming that Complex Specified Information is a metric that clearly indicates intelligent agency. As someone with a strong interest in computational biology, evolutionary algorithms, and genetic programming, this strikes me as the most readily testable claim made by ID proponents. For some time I’ve been trying to learn enough about CSI to be able to measure it objectively and to determine whether or not known evolutionary mechanisms are capable of generating it. Unfortunately, what I’ve found is quite a bit of confusion about the details of CSI, even among its strongest advocates.

My first detailed discussion was with UD regular gpuccio, in a series of four threads hosted by Mark Frank. While we didn’t come to any resolution, we did cover a number of details that might be of interest to others following the topic.

CSI came up again in a recent thread here on UD. I asked the participants there to assist me in better understanding CSI by providing a rigorous mathematical definition and showing how to calculate it for four scenarios:
  1. A simple gene duplication, without subsequent modification, that increases production of a particular protein from less than X to greater than X. The specification of this scenario is “Produces at least X amount of protein Y.”
  2. Tom Schneider’s ev evolves genomes using only simplified forms of known, observed evolutionary mechanisms, that meet the specification of “A nucleotide that binds to exactly N sites within the genome.” The length of the genome required to meet this specification can be quite long, depending on the value of N. (ev is particularly interesting because it is based directly on Schneider’s PhD work with real biological organisms.)
  3. Tom Ray’s Tierra routinely results in digital organisms with a number of specifications. One I find interesting is “Acts as a parasite on other digital organisms in the simulation.” The length of the shortest parasite is at least 22 bytes, but takes thousands of generations to evolve.
  4. The various Steiner Problem solutions from a programming challenge a few years ago have genomes that can easily be hundreds of bits. The specification for these genomes is “Computes a close approximation to the shortest connected path between a set of points.”

The ID-ers seem unable to provide MathGrrl with what should be very simple to provide. Nevertheless, the obvious question is where is the presiding ID mathematician William Dembski? His absence is now conspicuous.

I predict that he is busy furiously writing a carefully worded response to MathGrrl, in which he says she has misunderstood his work

Wednesday Comedy: Don Rickles

Feeling grumpy. It's been a hectic week at work, and I'd like to have Rickles insult plenty of my colleagues.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday Comedy: What the World Needs Now

Yeah, baby! Let's help the people who are helping the people in Japan.

The situation in Japan remains grim. Millions of people desperately need food, water, shelter, and other aid. Please give what you can to the organizations you trust will bring relief.

But if you want something in the line of funny, here's Mike Myers:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Who Knows What's Next?

Images of Sendai, Japan, from before (left) and after the quake and tsunami.   AFP Photo/ GeoEye

The ongoing crisis in Japan is hardly fathomable. No words. I must, I must, turn to music.

And this.

I send love, good thoughts, as much money as I can, and perhaps a greater sense of urgency to help save our planet.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Wednesday Comedy: Dennis Miller

I'm smart too.

I am not a great fan of Dennis Miller, but some folks (including Miller himself) seem to think he's smart. Since I am studying for my big Ph.D. exams and trying to manage three huge government proposals, maybe I'm smart too.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Pay Down Debt or Build Up Savings?

From Weakonomics: In the household, you want to keep revolving credit at a minimum, and at least not exceed your savings over the long term. In other words, save enough money to cover your revolving debts, if you insist on running up the debts. This has the effect on this chart of keeping the blue line above the red. What’s good for the economy may be a greater use of debt.

I recently had the fortunate opportunity to consider whether, given a sum of money, it would be better to pay down debt or to build up savings.

Ultimately, I favored a combination approach. But the really valuable knowledge I gained by thinking about the issue was that I needed to pay more attention to my debt-to-savings ratio and to converting debt into savings.

Here’s how I rationalized the problem.

Imagine that you owe a friend 12 marbles. Because you have a limited monthly marble budget, you agree to provide at least two marbles until you have paid the debt in full.

Month number 1  2  3  4  5  6 Total
Number of marbles22222212 marbles (2x6)

Now, imagine that every month your actual marble budget is three marbles. This means that you can either (1) Pay two marbles per month and save the third or (2) Pay three marbles per month until the debt is paid, after which time you begin to save at a rate of three marbles per month.

In the two scenarios, the distributions of marbles are as follows:

Option 1
Month number 1  2  3  4  5  6 Total
Number of “debt” marbles22222212 marbles (2x6)
Number of saved marbles1111116 marbles (1x6)
Total33333318 marbles

Option 2
Month number 1  2  3  4  5  6 Total
Number of “debt” marbles33330012 marbles (3x4)
Number of saved marbles0000336 marbles (3x2)
Total33333318 marbles

In Option 1, you manage debt payments and slowly build savings. In Option 2, you pay your debt as quickly as possible and then build savings. In neither case are you really better off at the end of six months.

But the critical difference is this: In Option 2, at the end of Month 4 you have no spare marbles. Were a new debt to arise in Month 5, you would be in trouble. You would have to borrow or dip into credit.

In Option 1, however, at the end of Month 4 you have four marbles available to deal with at least some new debt. Option 1 empowers you in a way that Option 2 doesn’t.

Option 2 depends on a rather Utopian fantasy that no new debt situation will emerge. Option 2 is a fantasy that one day you will be completely debt free.Then—and only then—will you start saving.

I think reality is actually quite different, and so Option 1 makes more practical sense. One way to think about it is that Option 1 adds one new debt to the mix: you.

So, my household plan is to establish regular monthly savings and build out the stored account (cash on hand) while paying and reducing our current debt at the levels we have been already. Instead of using “extra” money only to pay down debt, we’ll use it also to pay up out savings.

Longer term, the plan is to move certain sums into investments such as IRA accounts, mutual funds, and bonds. I’ll have to re-visit this post next year and see if anything’s come of the plan.

Or if I've lost my marbles. (Come on, that's the obligatory marble joke.)

Wednesday Comedy: Bobcat Goldthwait, or How Stressed Am I?

I have been monumentally busy at work recently. Running three proposals concurrently. Bobcat's act captures how I'm doing.