Saturday, February 08, 2020

Polar Route to Truth: a Memory

I was in 4th grade. It was 1962, the age of going to the moon. The entire elementary school was assembled to hear Mr. Science, the man to inspire the next generation of astronauts. He wasn't freezing hot dogs and roses this time. Instead, he began a lecture on airplanes and polar routes. 

"What is the shortest distance between two points?," he launched over the heads of some 100 reverent disciples. 

I thrust my hand into the air with an energy and momentum that lifted me from cross-legged to standing. 

"A line!" I blurted, unable, unwilling to wait to be called on, anxious to be the first, eager to show off my superior knowledge of geometry. 

"You're WRONG!" Mr. Science boomed with such a force that it silenced the entire school.

I melted to the floor under the gaze of every one of my classmates. 

"It's a circle," I heard him say, drawing all eyes back to his magic.

All eyes except my own, lowered in shame.

"No, Mr.Science, you're wrong. A tunnel through the Earth would be shorter," I told myself.

And from that day forward, I never relied upon a teacher to know the truth, learning over the years that the truth is a slippery observation. Is it any surprise that I became a statistician? Where observation and bias are bedfellows, and truth has a probability distribution!

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

The economy versus democracy, and the value of life.

There are two organizational memes (memes adopted at the level of
organizations): economic vs. democratic. These two memes are competing
with each other at the organizational level (the businesses and the
economy versus government and democracy). The economic meme says,
"wealth (in terms of economic resources) determines the value of a
person." The democratic meme says, "Everyone is equal."

I am more of a believer in "everyone is equal," though I am a strong
supporter of the economy ("voting with dollars"). My disagreement with
economic organization is considering humans as "resources to be
allocated efficiently." I believe that humans are manifestations of
life, a much larger organizational structure, and one that has been in
place for billions of years. It is a mistake to make humans "resources",
and a dangerous one, which will not promote the survival of our species
in the long run, nor will this perspective support the advancement of life.

So my path is clear, at least in my lifetime. I will joust the windmills
of the economy, and those forces that diminish the value of life.

Monday, January 06, 2020

How does truth manifest itself?

Have you ever watched a page on Wikipedia? Watched it change? Watched
the back-and-forth tug of war between different perspectives, different
incentives, fighting, struggling to survive?

These were questions I had when I visited the history of a page on
Wikipedia. The page was about a company. As I went through the over 500
changes that had been made to the page over 10 years, between 2009 and
2019, I looked at flurries of activity, compared various versions of the
page, and tried to see patterns that might indicate which versions
reflected "the truth".

Of course, change is endemic in today's world. So "the truth" might be a
moving target. Still, I looked at the kinds of changes, the
counter-changes, and began to observe the process that allows Wikipedia
pages to settle down. I started to think of that process as an algorithm
which approaches a limit ("the truth") over time.

This got me thinking that I would like to observe this change, in some
graphical form (it's my old statistical training). What if I had a
computer program that would display the page as it changed over time?
What if this display included the use of colors to "age" the information
on the page (from red to yellow to green to blue to black?). What if the
page was distorted, lifting the changes higher (closer / larger) to show
the "growth / change" of the page over time?

I thought about adding information to the graph, too, about the history
of the editors, from anonymous visitors, to bots, to people with logins,
to people with logins that have been around a while and have a good
reputation themselves?

I wish I had the tech and time to develop such a visual page history
machine. Maybe on GitHub? And maybe this graphical presentation would
give some clues for my own bot that would help me monitor the
"manifestation of the truth"!