Maurizio – Omnologos

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Archive for February 2008

E-Day: Fudge or Fraud?

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There is something supremely odd about the results published on the E-Day website.

The Energy Saving Day (E-Day) has been a UK-based “experiment” running between 6PM GMT on Feb 27 to 6PM GMT on Feb 28, “to show how even small energy saving measures can be made to add up, and potentially play a part in tackling climate change.”

Fact is that nothing has added up, and consumption has been higher than expected all through the day. At 4:21GMT it was showing “current savings” of -4.8% and “total savings” of -1.6%.

That is, the UK was actually “wasting” energy, compared to the predicted values according to National Grid.

At 13:42GMT, “current savings” was -1.6%, and “total savings” -0.8%. No sign of any “total savings of money, energy and carbon associated with E-Day” that were supposed to be “calculated and made available in time of the evening news bulletins“.

On the website it is also displayed a chart of ongoing energy consumption, with a green line for the actual values and a red line for the predicted ones. 

Having followed that on and off for most of the day, I only noticed around 4pm finally, for the first time since the beginning of the E-Day the green curve dipping just a little bit below the red one.

For the rest of the day, the green line was consistently and evidently above the red line: that means, the UK has kept consuming more energy than usual, thereby nullifying the whole point of the E-Day.

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Imagine my surprise then checking the site at 6PM today (officially the closing time of the e-day) to see “current savings” of -1.5% and

(a) “total savings” of -0.1%

(b) green and red lines almost exactly superimposed, with the red one slightly higher above the other in two points, and the green one shooting up only at the very end

The above is simply not possible…the only way for savings to go from -0.8% at 1342GMT to -0.1% at 1800GMT would have been for actual consumption to be significantly below the predicted one.

And the graph does not show at all the giant 4:21GMT wastage of 4.8%.

The only explanation is that the E-Day organizers have retroactively moved the “predicted” red line up just enough to show a negligible difference with the actual “consumed” green line.

Fudge or fraud? Let’s see what they report:

E-Day did not succeed in cutting the UK’s electricity demand. The drop in temperature between Wed 27 Feb and Thurs 28 Feb days probably caused this, as a result of more lights and heating being left on than were originally predicted. The National Grid refined their assessments, based on actual weather data, during Thursday afternoon but I am afraid that E-Day did not achieve the scale of public awareness or participation needed to have a measurable effect. I will do my best to learn the relevant lessons for next time. Thank you to everyone who helped me or left something off specially as their contribution to E-Day, and this Leave It Off experiment. Please enjoy E-Day’s solution, video and science sections which all worked well. Warmest regards, Matt

So they admit they have changed the rules on-the-fly. But blaming the temperatures doesn’t appear a smart move. How are they supposed to demonstrate “how even small energy saving measures can be made to add up” if all it takes is a minor “drop in temperature” (if one indeed has happened!) to nullify every effort?

The organizers have said they were hoping for +3% savings. National Grid must have “refined their assessments” by around 2%, and the almost absolute coincidence between the final green and red lines looks very very suspicious.

I am not even sure the UK experienced as a whole a “drop in temperature” (London definitely did not). And how come nobody thought nor said beforehand a thing about possible variations due to temperature changes?

Let’s leave aside the “solution, video and science sections which all worked well” shall we. Is that some kind of a joke?

Obviously a lot of work has gone into organising the E-Day: if it has been an abysmal failure on all fronts (and it has), that should be a major learning point (nobody cares? switch-offs are less important than thought?).

Otherwise, it’s all a touchy-feely web equivalent of snake oil.

Written by omnologos

2008/Feb/28 at 23:39:09

Is There Any Point in Voting? Yes, There Is

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Is there any point in bothering to vote? Tim Harford of the Financial Times says no.

And he is wrong.

As reported in the review of Harford’s book “The Undercover Economist” book on The New York Times:

There’s no point in voting at all, for that matter, as a purely logical act. So if you stayed home that day, relax. If you really want to make a difference, buy lottery tickets — your chances of hitting the jackpot are roughly equal to your chances of swinging an election — and devote your winnings to political lobbying.

And don’t bother to read up on the issues, either. “Because the chance of any individual’s vote making any difference to the result is tiny, the benefits of turning an uninformed vote into an informed vote are also tiny,” Mr. Harford writes. “Rationally speaking, why bother?

To know more about the wisdom behind those statements, visit Tim Harford’s own website, in particular “Your vote doesn’t count“, published on the 10th of November, 2007:

Notoriously, an individual’s vote makes no difference to anything. According to the British election watcher David Boothroyd, in 24 general elections since 1918, each spanning hundreds of parliamentary constituencies (most recently, 646), there has only ever been one valid election where your vote could have made a difference

I find such a reasoning rather underwhelming.

Elections are not made by individual voters, but by the behaviour of many individual voters: and that is what counts when thinking about “making a difference“.

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So on the subject of going to vote or not: imagine (a) the majority of people think the way you do.

If you decide (a.1) to vote then, you know the majority of people will think the same, and will go to vote. Under those circumstances, people that don’t vote are in the minority and it makes little sense to join them: voting is the logical choice.

If you decide (a.2) not to vote, you know the majority of people will not go to vote either. But that means the opinions of whoever goes to vote carry a larger weight than usual: voting is, once again, the logical choice.

Imagine now (b) the majority of people do not think the way you do. If you decide (b.1) to vote, you know the majority of people will not go to vote. All more the reason to go to the polls: voting is, for the third time, the logical choice.

Finally if you decide (b.2) not to vote, the majority of people will vote. Obviously, instead of getting stuck with the idle minority, it will make sense to join the majority: and so voting is… the logical choice.

Voting is always the logical choice: independently from the “difference” a single vote could or could not make.

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The above is freely inspired by Douglas Hofstadter’s “Metamagical Themas: Questing the Essence of Mind and Pattern“, a marvelous collection of Scientific American essays where the renowned author of “Goedel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” investigates (in the last section “Sanity & Survival“) some non-immediately-obvious ways of solving cooperation dilemmas.

One only wishes Tim “Undercover Economist” Harford had read under the cover of Hofstadter’s book and expanded his own reasoning to include… reason,  instead of limiting himself, in true economic form, to the mere numbers of an election.

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There is one possibility left aside: so-called “voters’ strike”, where people decide to protest en masse hoping their absence will be noted. In this case, there are two potential outcomes: (c) few people participate and (d) many, many people refuse to vote.

Under (c) the strike is a failure, so voting make more sense. And under (d), since very few people vote, it’s definitely time to do it (as in a.2 and b.1 above).

There is no escape to the fact that voting is, from a logical point of view, the only option. 

Written by omnologos

2008/Feb/27 at 22:23:37

Why We Are Here

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The Total Perspective Vortex […] shows its victim the entire
unimaginable infinity of the universe […] in an infinite
universe the one thing sentient life cannot afford to
have is a sense of proportion.

Just as a painter with a canvas, colors, brushes and inspiration is ipso facto bound to paint: so the Creator, having the capabilities and tools created the cosmos. And with no configuration preferred over another, the Creator painted all possible canvasses, and everything that could exist came into existence.

And so here we are, existing because we could.

And many, ever more different copies of ourselves exist in this Cosmos, but in other Universes, covering all the possibilities even beyond our imagination. Each one of them, existing only if but also every time it could.

In the big scheme of things, the existence of each one of us is thus even more irrelevant that anybody has ever dreamed of. But from each one of us’ point of view, it’s all we have: and so in a paradox, it is extremely important, just because such an existence is so singularly precious only to itself, and to a handful of otherwise just as irrelevant people.

and you know that these are the days of our lives
remember

Written by omnologos

2008/Feb/26 at 21:22:26

Posted in Cosmos, God, Multiverse, Universe

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Serbia: Trapped in the past…by the EU!

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I find the IHT’s Feb 25 Editorial on Serbia and Kosovo rather disingenuous (“Trapped in the past“, IHT, Feb 25).

They state that “Every effort has been made by NATO, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States to accommodate Serbian fears and sensitivities” but then undermine that very claim by decrying Serbia’s lack of “any willingness to negotiate the province’s independence” (as if this were a fait-accompli from the very beginning: so much for “accommodation“…).

They also accuse Belgrade of having “never demonstrated any remorse for the carnage unleashed by the former dictator Slobodan Milosevic“: thereby forgetting how young the Serbian democracy is, and its obvious innocence with respect to the crimes of a past dictatorship.

Serbia and the Serb may have a lot of soul-searching to do having lost pretty much everything and some in their misguided attempts to restore national pride by way of armed conflicts. But nothing, almost nothing has been done by the EU in primis, and by the USA, to help them out of that trap.

Actually, it is apparent that Kosovo has been recognized by some States, and not by others, only as part of a wider USA/Russia geopolitical game. What trust should Serbia put in such a process, is anybody’s guess.

If that can be the basis against “triggering wider conflict“, it’s very much doubtful.

Written by omnologos

2008/Feb/25 at 22:26:52

American Losers Unite

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Written by omnologos

2008/Feb/24 at 21:17:15

Posted in USA, USA 2008

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Something’s Awaiting Brother the President

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A quick list at all the “good” prospects lining up for the next US President to deal with.

It reminds one of a comment that came out when the movie “Deep Impact” got released: the one time a black guy was running the country, it was the end of the world or something pretty close to it…

1) Iraq

2) Iran

3) China

4) Russia

5) Possibly, $4 trillion of additional deficit

6) Suprime lending crisis

7) Some say, the start of the Very Great US depression

8) Dubya moving freely around the world with not much to do (well, not much of a change there, really…)

Written by omnologos

2008/Feb/23 at 19:39:30

Posted in USA, USA 2008

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Head Scarves? Islamic Veils? What about Western Trousers…

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It is always amusing to see how much debate can be generated by a single piece of cloth (“Much ado about head scarves“, IHT, Feb 19).

But what I find even more amusing, is to hear in those debates opinions expressed by men in the “civilized West“…themselves having been forced to wear trousers every single day of their lives for the past four, five, six or even more decades.

Let’s see if and when anybody will start a Liberation Movement to give male human beings too, the chance of choosing the way they dress.

Written by omnologos

2008/Feb/21 at 22:36:12