Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Clarity of Standard Form

Discussions of very large, or very small, magnitudes are obscured by a plethora of prefixes.

I've never had difficulty with mega, or micro, and as computer storage capacities have expanded I've gradually become accustoned first to 'giga' and then to 'tera' but how many readers can confidently, without looking them up, identify 'femto', 'exa', 'peta' or 'atto' ? Incidentally, the last letter of each may be a clue.

None of those is needed. We can use Standard Index Form, or 'Standard Form' for those who like to save words.
Instead of saying the length of a year is 31 megaseconds, say 3.1*107. Instead of longing for a hard drive with capacity 4 exabytes, measure your aspirations by 4*1018

Saturday, 20 March 2010

A Jolly Song

Priests are professional pontificaters, and especially like criticizing other people's sexual behaviour, which makes it especially irritating when they cover up the indiscretions of their colleagues.

I quite like this protest song.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Convincing or Persuading

Some people speak as if they were unaware of the difference, claiming to convince people to do things.

One may convince someone that something is the case, but one cannot connvince anyone to do anything. Getting someone to do something is persuasion.

Conviction is a state of belief and to convince someone of something is to induce in them a firm belief in whatever it is.

On the other hand, persuasion is a process of getting someone to agree to do something.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

One Folly Leads To Another

Recent news reports tell of several people foolishly eating plant food and subsequently needing medical attention. Two young men died.

That has provoked calls for a ban on sales of the plant food in question.

It saddens me that many people are stupid enough to suppose that unfortunate events can be prevented by legislation. How long will it be before someone tries to pass a law specifying that all things must be bright and beautiful ?

It is risky to eat, drink, or inhale anything not normally used for the purpose, and the wise check carefully before doing so. Now and again foolhardy people take a risk, and sometimes some of them will suffer unpleasant consequences. When they do, their fate will be a useful lesson to the rest of us.

Legislation cannot prevent stupidity though it may guide it into different channels.

The particular stupidity that has provoked this comment would be less likely if we had less legislation. The foolish youths who died had been seeking what is called a ‘legal high’, and may well have done so because more popular ‘highs’ are not legal. Just legalise marihuana, and few would resort to plant food.

Friday, 12 March 2010

A Slim Chance of Immortality ?

When I read the free newspaper on the bus this morning, I noticed a remarkable claim for the contraceptive pill:
"Women who take the contraceptive are 12% less likely to die compared with those who have never taken it."

Assuming that all non users of the pill eventually die,  the probability of death in their case is 1.

That gives the probability of a pill taker dying as 0.88, with probability of immortality 0.12