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December 14, 2013

Justice in Texas

Filed under: generic — sw @ 12:48 pm

I don’t know too much about Texas. I hear that patent holders prefer to sue in Texas because the judges have some kind of different attitude about patents. Not much more.

Here’s two outrageous cases of this year.

So two teenagers.

One teenager kills 4 people while driving drunk, and the judge concludes that “the programs available in the Texas juvenile justice system may not provide the kind of intensive therapy the teen could receive at a rehabilitation center near Newport Beach, Calif., that was suggested by his defense attorneys. The parents would pick up the tab for the center, at a cost of more than $450,000 a year for treatment.”

The other teenager writes something stupid on Facebook and goes to jail for five months. His parents can’t post the $500,000 bond (who could?) I don’t think there has been a trial yet (which shouldn’t even be held)

Two executions

Filed under: generic — sw @ 12:34 pm

There were two executions this week.

Reported on the same day.

January 12, 2012

Car Collisions at Hastings and Kamloops

Filed under: economics,generic,systems — sw @ 11:58 pm

I walk my daughters to school, once or twice a week (my partner takes them on the other days). It’s ten blocks. They wake up early, so it’s mostly a stroll, no rush; about ten blocks through the quiet side streets.

On the way back I take a different route, along the busy Hastings Street in East Vancouver.

Three times in the last few months, an accident happened at the intersection with Kamloops Street. Car crashes. The first one was while I was at the intersection, talking to a friend at the traffic light.

The third one was the most severe. It happened yesterday, January 11, 2012; this time I had a camera with me:

Hastings Street goes from left to right in this picture, and Kamloops from the top to bottom-left; top is South, right is East. The “other car” had already been moved out of the intersection. Here’s a Streetview link.

I don’t know if anyone was hurt. There was an ambulance, but no movement around it.

All three accidents happened when the 3-lane traffic along Hastings is stopped through a traffic light, so that pedestrians can cross, and cars can cross that are going along Kamloops Street. The cars coming from Kamloops/South collide with cars going East on Hastings. Either the Kamloops cars cross too early or too late, or the Hastings cars ignore/fail to notice the traffic light. I don’t really know.

Now with passing this intersection twice a week over ca. 12 weeks (school started in September), and coming across 3 accidents, it seemed to me the other 3 days of a week should generate the same number of accidents, so it would come to 3 (accidents) * 3 (other days) / 2 (“my” days) = 4.5 “other accidents”, for a total of 7.5 accidents in ca. 3 months. Statisticians will probably point out that this is not a good estimate. But let’s make it 7 accidents in 3 months, or 7 *4 = 28 accidents in a year.

Statistics / Mapped

That seemed like a lot to me. So I asked another friend if he knows where to get more definite statistics from the city. He pointed me to one of his contacts, who in turn remembered a recent map put together by Eric Promislow:

ICBC Car Collisions 2006-10: A Google Map Visualization

It displays accident counts by intersection for the City of Vancouver, for the years 2006 to 2010. He obtained the numbers from the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) – who get the reports from the police.

Nicely done, Eric.

So, for the intersection of Hastings Street and Kamloops Street, there were 117 collisions reported between 2006 and 2010. By year, the counts break down like this:

2006: 17
2007: 23
2008: 25
2009: 25
2010: 27

Interpretation

So, a more or less regular pattern. One collision roughly every two weeks, for the last 4 years. Predictable. Regular. If you take a look at Eric’s map, you’ll see there are quite a lot of intersections with even more collisions. (In fact, just one block west on Hastings Street, the intersection with Nanaimo Street has many more accidents: 300 for the period, but I never saw anything of those.)

It almost looks like the only ones to be surprised about any of those collisions would be the participants, bystanders and witnesses. When I mentioned the first two accidents to some friends from the area, they said, yes, there are crashes there “all the time.”

Now my calculation from above looks spot-on: I estimated 28 accidents for 2011, and there were 27 recorded for 2010. But all accidents that I counted occurred around 9 o’clock in the morning, since I was walking home from the school.

So I thought, if Eric had the data by time of day, I would be able to compare. But he didn’t. He wrote, “ICBC withholds finer-grained info, claims privacy issues.”

Questions

I have a few questions:

  1. Do the accidents at the intersection of Hastings and Kamloops Street occur mostly around 9 o’clock?
  2. Do the morning accidents at the intersection of Hastings and Kamloops Street occur mostly when a car crosses from the South along Kamloops, and the other car is going East on Hastings?
  3. Do  intersections with a similar number of collisions have anything in common? What kinds of commonalities?
  4. Does it make sense to blame the accidents only on the individuals involved?
  5. Does the City of Vancouver track this data and analyze for prevention?
  6. Does the City of Vancouver carry any responsibility?
  7. What aspects of an intersection can be improved?
  8. How many hours of additional driver training reduce the number of accidents by how much (regular training, one-time training)?
  9. How many km/h of speed limit reduction result in which reduction in the number of accidents?

About point 3: due to the large numbers of existing collision-prone intersections, and the predictability of collisions occuring, if indeed commonalities exist then one can try out different strategies to lower the numbers, and compare what works and what doesn’t, for example with A/B Testing. Better than doing nothing (my impression). Especially if you think across several cities. I’m not aware of this happening.

Another friend of mine pointed out that causing an accident is not (even) considered a crime. I think that would go a bit far, mainly because establishing who is at cause is quite difficult. But I think it’s worth noting: causing damage, and potentially traumatizing, if not physically hurting, innocent bystanders is actually legally sanctioned to that degree. The proven (proven by statistics such as these) risks are accepted or better, ignored by car drivers.

On the other hand, if 6. was legally accepted, and the City of Vancouver would have to pay for their share of responsibility in a lot of the accidents, I think it would not be able to afford keeping the streets open.

Also, thinking further about this I noticed that car insurance companies are compromised in the sense that for them, the more accidents, the better: more business, more revenue, more stability, more profits. As far as I know, in British Columbia, ICBC is not privately owned and controlled, so that should help working these problems out.

Oh, well

You know what? I just realized, there were two other accidents on the other side of the intersection in the last few days. But I came across these when picking up my daughters from school, on the way home, so shortly after 3 o’clock. This is getting a bit much. And 2011 looks even worse for this intersection, because my estimate should be based on higher observation counts.

But most of all, I prefer and recommend walkingcycling or taking the bus: that’s what I call civilized.

Update August 2013

One and a half years later. Things change. I witnessed no more accidents. Didn’t check the statistics though. Writing this post made a difference?

December 30, 2010

Accounting for a better world

Filed under: economics,generic,systems — sw @ 11:55 am

In another weak moment I was pondering progress and whether in some sense people have become better, or the world has become better. It’s a huge topic of course, look it up through a Google search, “Is the world improving?” It will show you a lot of pessimism. On the other hand, Noam Chomsky, an unusually harsh critic (which is excellent since he knows and understands so much), said “Slowly, over time, the world is becoming more civilized, in general“.

My immediate prompt was seeing all this technology around me, an “iphone” here, SSD memory there, oodles of websites with free photos, people coming up with new stuff like bitcoin, quora, about.me, groklaw.net, some dubstep music. It adds up, and it made me think how fast everything is nowadays, and whether people were really slower in the past. There is no one around coming up with loads of, for example, impressive symphonies or novels anymore, as far as I know. There’s loads of average products that one hears about, like for example, Windows Vista. I think being prolific doesn’t quite mean the same anymore. So it’s not clear cut to me.

How to measure?

Now my pondering led me to think about how could one measure this, how could one find an objective answer, how to do a better job at resolving the question. A connection with my personal ongoing tasks of filing tax returns led to this: as you’re probably aware, accountants are updated about all kinds of goings-on in a business. Wouldn’t it be nice if one could look up the “books” of fifty years ago, 25 years ago, and find “the data”.

I run a small company, The Buckmaster Institute, Inc, and I can well see how accounting is useful, if only in providing one perspective. Every little piece counts, after all. I can understand the accountant’s approach, I have learned from conversations with some professionals. I know about software and how it is used for accounting. I have recommended against the naive use of spreadsheets (still need to write those stories up). I have personal insights into the amount of effort that goes into accounting.

Resource Allocation

Have you heard about economists talk about “resource allocation”? For example, free markets are declared to be good at “allocating resources efficiently” by to some of those economists. Then this improvement in resource allocation should show up in the “books”, no? In as much as a drop in the efficient allocation of resources would be a sign that the world is getting worse, we might find evidence for the world improving in the financial statements of the businesses of today. Compare the figures to the financial statements from decades ago and we would see whether the world is getting better, maybe only in some small area. But it would be a start.

Doesn’t work

I think you’ll agree it’s not going to work. They very likely didn’t record the right numbers and amounts.

Should we call it -1 points for the accountants? Or would you go so far as assessing a full  -10 points?

Or do you disagree? Please elaborate by posting a comment below; that would be exciting to learn about! If you think a mere comment would not do your insights justice, please contact me (@stephanwehner on twitter, and we’ll take it from there)

Related Questions

Other slightly related questions that I have not been able to resolve are:

  • What are the recent breakthroughs in the accounting world?
  • Who are the heroes of accounting (what Steven Hawking is to black holes)?
  • Who do young accountants look up to and draw their inspiration from?
  • What are the present “open problems” in accounting? Which obstacles are hindering the full bloom of the profession?
  • Whither accounting: Is there a roadmap? Or is it all just  happy-go-lucky?

Help!

Any hint or pointer would be greatly appreciated! Don’t think your insight might be insignificant. Please don’t think there is a limit on space or time, and we cannot handle all responses. Please help by leaving a comment now. Thanks so much.

April 5, 2010

Rock Paper Scissors for Three Players

Filed under: generic,rps — sw @ 10:55 pm

In the summer of 2009, if not to say, a long long time ago, Sharon Twiss asked on twitter: “can groups of more than two use Rock-Paper-Scissors?

In case you’re not familiar with the game,  Rock, paper, scissors (wikipedia link)  is played by two people. “Rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, and paper beats rock”.

A basic way to play the game with more than two people

It took me quite a while to find this article about Rock, Paper, Scissors at indopedia.org, which explains how the game can be played by more than two:

The game is easily adaptable to more than just two players. This variant works remarkably well, even for large groups. The rules are the same, with the following exceptions:

  • If all three weapon types are played, or only one type of weapon is played, the round is considered to be a draw. A new round begins.
  • If there are only two different weapon types showing between all of the players, then all of the players showing the losing weapon are eliminated.

A different way for three players

Let us add another “weapon”, called Lizard, like this:

Weapons and winning sequence for 3 player Rock Paper Scissors

Weapons and winning sequence for 3 Player Rock Paper Scissors

(I based the illustration image on another one from wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pierre_ciseaux_feuille_l%C3%A9zard_spock.svg by Nojhan )

The game for three players is played like the original version, with this order

  • Lizard beats Scissors
  • Scissors beats Paper
  • Paper beats Rock
  • Rock beats Lizard

Count to three, and on three, each player chooses one of the weapons with their hand.

How to determine the winner with the extra weapon?

What you do is look at the sequence of weapons chosen. For example, here

Blue player: Lizard, Yellow player: Scissors, Purple Player: Paper

Player Blue: Lizard, Player Yellow: Scissors, Player Purple: Paper

Player Blue chose Lizard, Player Yellow chose Scissors, and Player Purple chose Paper. Lizard beats Scissors, Scissors beats Paper. So you would say Player Blue, who chose Lizard, won, right?

What to do when two players choose the same weapon? Let’s say like this:

Blue and Yellow player: Lizard, Purple Player: Paper

Player Blue and Player Yellow: Scissors, Player Purple: Paper

Both Player Blue and Player Yellow chose Scissors, Player Purple chose Paper. Scissors beats Paper. There are two winners, so now Player Blue and Player Yellow play a round of 2-player Rock-Paper-Scissors to determine the winner.

Let’s look at this case,

Blue and Purple player: Paper, Yellow Player: Scissors

Player Blue and Player Purple: Paper, Player Yellow: Scissors

both Player Blue and Player Purple chose Paper, and Player Yellow chose Scissors. Scissors beats Paper, so Player Yellow won. No need for a 2-player round.

Obviously, if all players choose the same weapon, then it is a draw, and the game starts from the top.

Two different versions of this game

Now we come to a case that has no equivalent in the 2-player version:

Player Blue and Player Yellow: Lizard, Player Purple: Paper

Player Blue and Player Yellow: Lizard, Player Purple: Paper

Two player chose the same weapon, and the other player chose a weapon that neither beats the other weapon directly, or is beaten by it. (They are opposite in the circle).

Here I see two options. Either this is declared a draw, or the player who chose the single weapon is declared the winner. I think time will tell which is the better choice.

Advantage

I’ll try to explain the advantage of adding another weapon in a separate post. Stay tuned!

Thanks

Thanks go to my friends Sara and Gerry who played this game with me yesterday. Sara won.

License

All illustrations licensed under Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

rpsmatch.com

Put a website together that allows you to play the game over the Internet: rpsmatch.com. You can either play with one (standard “Rock, Paper, Scissors”), or two other players (“Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard”). Operated by my company, The Buckmaster Institute, Inc.

// This probably still needs some editing, will keep updating //

March 24, 2009

buying stuff

Filed under: generic — sw @ 8:16 pm

Got the Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) catalog in the mail today (actually one of my roommates).

The catalogue has a funny sidebar on one page about how a couple won a prize in the MEC 2008 video competition. They sent over a $1,000 gift card, and discovered that the winners are more than half-way through a one year project of not buying any “stuff”.

“The goal is zero landfill waste. For one year we will not buy any material goods. We will buy only consumables, and everything we buy must come in recyclable or compostable packaging.”

Their clean bin blog explains how they got into this and also that they are making a video about the year.

January 21, 2009

letter puzzle solution

Filed under: generic — sw @ 9:52 pm

For the solution to the January 13 puzzle please visit

(In case of “broken link”, a copy is at the Internet Archive)

It was solved within a few hours by the rec.puzzle newsgroup  crowd.

December 23, 2008

enters: another blog

Filed under: generic — sw @ 2:15 pm

I am Stephan Wehner, a mathematician and software developer, live with my partner Tamara in Vancouver, Canada, and devote most of my free time to my two daughters Astrid and Isabella.

This blog is meant firstly, to consolidate my previous home page, which became quite scattered over the years. Then also, the WordPress blogging software makes it a lot easier to  maintain a website.  Some ordinary blog-articles may appear in the future, but probably not frequently or regularly.

Cheers,

Stephan

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