It’s hot enough to fry an egg over here

I’ve often heard people use expression like “its hot enough to fry an egg”, but never really quite believed it to be true. It would however seem that I was wrong! Look at this picture from the BBC’s In-Pictures series taken last Weds (currently the hottest day of the millenium)

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By |July 29th, 2006|General|0 Comments

How happiness relates to my PhD topic…

In my thesis I wrote that happiness cannot be measured. That claims such as you are twice as happy in one state as another are fundamentally not meaningful – how do you assign such specific, mathematical values to happiness. While I wrote this, I did not invent it. It was strongly believed by Arrow, who did much of the early work on economics, and was further popularised by behaviourism. A theory that says it is impossible to know what people are feeling (i.e. how happy they are) but only to see how they behaved.

This forms the basis idea of much of modern economics. Instead of measuring how happy individual people are, you measure their “utility”. An abstract concept, that can only compared to another utility by saying it’s higher than, or lower than it. You cannot measure utility in such as away as to say it is better than another utility value by a specific amount, only that it is better. If a person chooses to go left rather than right, we say left gives them a higher utility that right, we cannot say by how much. This simple fact, the inability to measure utility (which is used as if it were happiness) has far reaching implications. Arrow showed that when utility values cannot be compared numerically, it is impossible to create a voting system that is fair.

The reason I wrote about this in a PhD in computer science might seem a bit hard to see at this point, and its not really the point I’m making. But I’m going to tell you anyway, because its not totally off topic. Basically I claimed that if we started with something other than happiness. Something that is measurable. Something we can assign a numerical value to, then much of economics changes, in fact several intractable problems become readably solvable. This simple idea was the heart of my thesis.

But someone else has since come up with a very similar idea, though perhaps more fundamental (and maybe a bit less rigorous).

What if we actually can measure happiness? Directly! Today I have a happiness of 78, yesterday it was 70, I’m 8 happier today than I was yesterday. If that sounds like crap to you, you are not alone. Richard Layard’s book, Happiness however disagrees. He claims that not only is it possible to measure happiness in such a way, but that the actual measurement can be done very simply. Basically, by asking someone! “How happy are you, on a scale of 1 to 100 today?”

Just think, if we can measure happiness like that, public policies, work policies, economic policies, all can be designed, and measured to provide a happy society. Something which has to be the best goal we can aim for. Sure people want more money, but only so they can buy a new house, so they can appear successful to their friends, so they can be happy (or other similar reasoning) it all boils down to this. People want to be happy.

Unfortunately, what Richard fails to look at in his book is what was to my mind one of the biggest and most interesting problems with a lot of these self measurement systems. How would you cheat the system? If you have a right wing economic theory you can cheat by pretending that a change will be better for you than it is (Richards book claims that people always overestimate how happy a change will make them). In a left wing economic theory, you can cheat by claiming to currently be worse off than you are. In my thesis, the players were computers, not really capable of such lies, but humans are…

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By |July 28th, 2006|General|1 Comment

Dancing with Honour(s)

Stupidly I never took in a stamped addressed envelop when I went in to do my dance exam last month. So as a result, I didn’t get my results nicely posted to me by my teacher, instead, she just held onto them until I could go in and pick them up. Would be great but I’m stupid enough to have planned my time so I can’t go. So I spent the last week wondering what my results were while first Lois, by ballroom partner rang me to say thank you to leading her for 92%, 93%, 93%, 94% (Tango, Waltz, Quickstep, Foxtrot) then Minty (latin partner) ringing to say she got 89%, 88%, 93%, 87%, 89% (Samba, Cha, Rumba, Paso, Jive).

I sweet talked John into going down to the dance classes today to pick up my results sheets for me. I got my results (yet I can’t type in this heat, so this is taking way too long to write).
So here we go, here are my results, in a particularly dense format 93%, 91%, 90%, 87%, 87%, 89%, 83%, 89%, 90% (Samba, Cha, Rumba, Paso, Jive, Tango, Waltz, Quickstep, Foxtrot)

Basically we all got honours and we are all cool. I beat Minty by 2% overall, so she has challenged me to a rematch tomorrow. Lets hope the weather is cooler!

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By |July 22nd, 2006|General|0 Comments

WSG London Meetup

The first meet up of the WSG (Web Standards Group) in London was a big sucess. Though there were a few small organisaitonal issues. Well, one; The address given was not really that helpful in finding the lecture theatre. But most of the attendees overcame this and got to the room on time. It was really busy which was cool, and the guy who sat next to me was busy with his camera photographing everything (including my notes, I must see if I can find out where he uploaded them).

The first talk was “Andy Budd: Who cares about standards?”. Andy gave an inspring talk about standards, and why they aren’t important. What he really meant was that stanards are important, but they are not the important thing. Writing good websites is. Standards allow us to concentrate on the important things. Usability, Accessability, Branding(?!). A great, if somewhat controversial talk that didn’t go down with the audience quite as well as I would have thought. They seemed a bit hostile to his statement “the standards war is won” – meaning that while we are not yet 100% complient, we are going that way. I think he was spot on.

Next up we had “Christian Heilmann – Maintainable JavaScript”. Being a bit nitpicky here, but note that the first talk was presented with a : between the author and title, and the second with a -, lets sort this out guys – maybe we should have a standard :-).

Chris was another awesome speaker, getting everyone laughing a few times, but I was far from blown away by what he had to say. Maintainable Javascript: Great!-How? Here’s how:

  • Namespacing: Great!
  • Keeping local variables local: Great!
  • Keep methods small and to the point: Great!
  • Meainful method and variable names: Great!
  • Documenting comments: Great!

But none of that was news to me. In fact, these were some of the concepts that drove the invention of object programming in the late 60s (though it took a while for them to mature to the OO languages of today, where these concepts are almost standardised – well, kinda). One of the questions made me think, and I would have prefered a fuller answer. The question was should javascript become an OO langauge. Chiris said no, that’s too complex for what its used for. I am inclinded to agree with him – at least for the time being. But how far in the direction of OO should javascript go. If it added language features to help the maintable practices Chris was preaching, it will definatly be a step in that direction. Where should the line be drawn?

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By |July 16th, 2006|General|4 Comments

Agile Enjoyment

As most of the people I talk to on a day to day basis are probably fed-up of hearing about, i’m very keen on this whole  Agile Programming thing thats doing the rounds at the moment. I think it has some problems, mainly when it comes to developing usable software, but on the whole, its pretty good. Perhaps the best bit about it is that it places an emphasis on planning the project in a way that doens’t bore the developers, Lots of different things, and always looking at novel ways to solve problems (if its not a novel way – its been solved, so its not a problem any more)

I also from time to time read Steve Pavlina’s self development blog. He recently posted about a new method of planning how to achieve goals in your life. This is not based on the typical approach, that of achiving your goals as quickly as possible but on having as much fun as possible along the way along the way!

I’m not saying that thats all agile programming is about, but reading though the idea, its not a million miles away either…

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By |July 6th, 2006|General|0 Comments