Future Perfect

September 4, 2013

The presenter of the morning early breakfast show on Cape Talk radio was commenting about the predictions made by Isaac Asimov on the occasion of the World’s Fair in New York in 1964. Asimov was musing on what the World’s Fair of 2014–fifty years later–would look like. “He really is incredibly accurate!” enthused the host, “It’s uncanny how he could have known then what our world looks like now!”

I hadn’t read Asimov’s predictions, so I looked them up to see for myself just how prescient he really was. Not, it turns out, as much as the breathless radio presenter would have us believe. I enumerated 24 specific predictions made in the article, and found that 10 were accurate within reasonable bounds, 12 were inaccurate, 2 were partially accurate.

Some of the predictions that were right on the money were:–
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Even Odds

January 30, 2013

The laws of probability, so true in general, so fallacious in particular.
–Edward Gibbon

A puzzle has recently been brought to my attention. It goes like this: “I have two children. One of them is a boy born on a Tuesday. What is the probability that I have two boys?” This puzzle was posed to an audience at the Gathering for Gardner meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, by Gary Foshee. He went on to say, “The first thing you think is ‘What has Tuesday got to do with it?’ Well, it has everything to do with it.”

I disagree. The day the boy was born is utterly irrelevant. Perhaps it would be best to look at the “accepted” solution from New Scientist before I tell you why it’s hogwash. Its main point is:

The main bone of contention was how to properly interpret the question. The way Foshee meant it is, of all the families with one boy and exactly one other child, what proportion of those families have two boys?
To answer the question you need to first look at all the equally likely combinations of two children it is possible to have: BG, GB, BB or GG. The question states that one child is a boy. So we can eliminate the GG, leaving us with just three options: BG, GB and BB. One out of these three scenarios is BB, so the probability of the two boys is 1/3.

Scream!

May 3, 2012

I have said before that I have a blind spot when it comes to the visual arts. I just can’t get excited about viewing a painting. Poetry or music can move me to tears, but a painting is just there to break up an expanse of blank wall. Now I’m sure that the fault lies with me, not the artists, and that those who love paintings do so genuinely. But can a work that looks–to me, at least–as though it was perpetrated by a talented seven-year-old with his new box of crayons really be worth \$120 million?

That’s the price realised at a Sotheby’s auction for Edvard Munch’s The Scream. I should say one of them, because he painted four pictures with the same title. Just to give some perspective on the preposterous price paid for this work: the same sum could build a brand new container ship equipped with a full suit of containers; it could buy 46 Bugatti Veryons, the most expensive car in the world, with change left over for a few cases of Pol Roger vintage champagne to drink in them; it could pay 66,667 thirld world workers for an entire year.
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Subconscious Bullshit Detector

December 22, 2011

I was driving home from work the other day on the freeway. The radio was tuned to a talk station, but I wasn’t paying attention to it; it was a sort of aural wallpaper burbling away in the background while I was ruminating on a knotty problem I had been trying to solve at work.

Suddenly I noticed something. The radio went: “Blah, blah, blah, blardy blah blah. All the water in Las Vegas has to be imported into the city by road tanker because Las Vegas is in the desert.”

Despite the fact that I wasn’t actually listening consciously to it, this astonishing statement from the radio had been trapped by my subconscious bullshit detector. I thought that what I had just heard could not possibly be true. I have never been to Las Vegas, but I have seen pictures of it, and have flown over it in my X-plane simulator, and I have watched CSI Las Vegas. All those hotels, all those showers and baths, all those fountains, all those strippers’ homes with swimming pools could not possibly be supplied by water brought in by road. Every route into the city would be thoroughly clogged by water tankers to the extent that there would be room for any other traffic, and water would be more expensive than beer.
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Silly Point

October 13, 2011

Isn’t it nice that there is a different form of cricket for different kinds of people?

Test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground

There are those who take a strategic view of life. These folk have careers rather than jobs; they would far rather play bridge or chess than poker or snakes and ladders. For them test match cricket is the summer game of choice. Just as in real life, there is many a slip twixt wicket-keeper and gully. The entire fortune of the match could easily turn on a single decision – to declare or not to declare, to set an attacking field or to defend the boundaries, take the new ball or keep the spinners in the attack. They can watch every ball of a five day test match, all 2,700 of them, and not be bored for an instant. They appreciate the almost superhuman courage and stamina, both physical and mental, of the batsman (never batter, please, that’s what angry and cowardly men do to their wives, or the substance in which fish is coated preparatory to frying) who can withstand a barrage of fast, short-pitched bowling for six hours at a stretch, and come back the next day and do it all again.
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August 24, 2011

A colleague sent this to me by email. I love it…

Never Argue with a Woman

One morning the husband returns after several hours of fishing and decides to take a nap. Although not familiar with the lake, the wife decides to take the boat out. She motors out a short distance, anchors, and reads her book.

Along comes a Game Warden in his boat. He pulls up alongside the woman and says, ‘Good morning, Ma’am. What are you doing?’

‘Reading a book,’ she replies, (thinking , ‘Isn’t that obvious?’)
‘You’re in a Restricted Fishing Area,’ he informs her.
‘I’m sorry, officer, but I’m not fishing. I’m reading’

‘Yes, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment. I’ll have to take you in and write you up.’
‘For reading a book,’ she replies ,
‘You’re in a Restricted Fishing Area,’ he informs her again,

‘I’m sorry, officer, but I’m not fishing. I’m reading’
‘Yes, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment. I’ll have to take you in and write you up.’
‘If you do that, I’ll have to charge you with sexual assault ,’ says the woman.

‘But I haven’t even touched you,’ says the game warden.

‘That’s true, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment.’
‘Have a nice day ma’am,’ and he left.

MORAL : Never argue with a woman who reads. It’s likely she can also think.