Friday, January 30, 2015

Global Warming and the One Percent Doctrine

You know how the weather goes: sometimes is sunny, sometimes it rains and sometimes you have extreme weather like heat waves or snow storms. What puzzles me is that even educated people (who understand what statistics means) keep saying that global warming is a hoax and they give as examples a cold snap or a rainy week in Bucharest. Well, a few days ago NASA published their annual report about global temperatures which states that 2014 was the warmest year on record.
In the book I read recently "That Used to Be U.S." (see my earlier post) the author talks about the 1% doctrine elaborated by Dick Cheney, the former vice-president of the United States. This was in the context of preventing terrorist activities in the aftermath of 9/11 and is sounds like this: "Even if there's just a 1 percent chance of the unimaginable coming due, act as if it is a certainty. It's not about 'our analysis,' as Cheney said. It's about 'our response.' … Justified or not, fact-based or not, 'our response' is what matters. As to 'evidence,' the bar was set so low that the word itself almost didn't apply."
It is debatable if this is a reasonable way to act when arresting or killing people, but the analogy that Thomas Friedman makes is that we should apply this doctrine when dealing with global warming and climate change: if there is even a 1% probability that climate change will drastically affect our life and society then we should act as if this is a certainty. This is what all naysayers on this subject should understand. This will make much easier our collective action.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

That Used to Be U.S.

"That Used to Be U.S." (or us, as the authors mean it both ways) is a sobering chronicle of the state of the union. But the issues they describe in this book equally apply to any country in fact. In order to be successful nowadays a country needs to have a good education system, to keep the talented people around, to have a functional political system and leaders which are interested in the common good and not in special interests. And the leaders of a country have thorny issues to tackle these days: from budget deficits (which in fact means borrowing money today which will be paid back by our children) to energy issues and environmental issues like pollution and global warming. The book is well documented and has a first part where the authors diagnose the current American society and a second part where they give their opinions and some ideas about how to fix these issues.
So if you care about what happens in the world around you, go ahead and read this book on the American use case.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Imitation Game

I first heard about Alan Turing in my second year of college when I studied the Turing machine, a computational model invented by him. We also studied 4 other computational models developed independently by other people (for example λ-calculus), but it turns out all of them are equivalent. Turing machines are widely used for different proofs because this model has the most intuitive definition. It's amazing when you realize that every computer that we use nowadays it's in fact a Turing machine (well, apart from quantum computers which are a different beast, but are still quite far from doing significant work). Besides the theoretical work that he did in computer science, Turing contributed a great deal to the war effort in the Second World War by building a machine which broke the Enigma code used by Germans to encript their communication. This helped the allies to find many of their secrets from movement of troops or the routes attacked by U-boats. "The Imitation Game" tells the story of Turing and his team of cryptographers. I didn't see the movie yet, but I saw it has good reviews and I recognized in the trailer some actors I like: Sherlock and the new prosecutor from The Good Wife. Not to mention Keira :)