Yet another geek blog

22 May 2011

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

An excellent piece of traditional cyberpunk. (It makes me feel very old saying that).

The structure of the book is pure William Gibson. It follows five characters of different political and social positions whose lives affect each other. This allows a whole world to be detailed very economically.

The novel asks a question that our society is currently unable to face up to: What happens when the oil runs out? Obviously, a horrific drop in population and a shattering of political units as people fought over remaining food supplies. What there is not (as lazier writers often assume) a return to the stone age. This is because science does not disappear, it gets passed on like any other knowledge. Technology does not disappear, there just is not any power to run it. So, there are computers that are powerful enough to analyse a genome but they are powered by sewing machine treadles. LED screens are shocking extravagances and the Internet is unthinkable.

The real villain, as always is human nature. In the book, genetic engineering and capitalism form a toxic mix. Nations wage war on each other by creating plagues that destroy crops and then selling the victims sterile grin. But this is not inevitable. There is a government minister in the book who understands that rebuilding trade links can bring peace and prosperity to the whole world. Meanwhile, a genetic engineer ponders how easy it would be to make humans longer lived and immune to any disease. Interestingly, both of these characters are villains of the story.

The paradox of human nature is reflected in all the characters of the book. They all refuse to give up hope and fight for survival. They just cannot help fighting each other at the same time.


posted by Yet Another Geek @ Sunday, May 22, 2011

3 May 2011

Some Animals are More Equal Than Others

Honestly, I hate ranting political blogs just as much as you. But I have now been sent two leaflets by the NO2AV campaign that I just cannot let pass.

I will not rant about the fact that they were sent by second class post to my full name which I never use.

I will not rant about the fact that they threaten me with coalition governments as if this had not just happened under FPTP.

But, this claim I will not let past:

Under AV, some peoples votes are counted more than others

We have Eight voters and Three parties:

JulianDiagonal Party
GeorgeHorizontal Party
DickVertical Party
AnneDiagonal Party
TimmyCurved Party
QuintinDiagonal Party
NoddyHorizontal Party
EnidVertical Party



A clear win for the Diagonals. Hurrah!

Not so. Because the diagonals are still a minority. None of the parties here have 'made their case' to the voters.

Imagine if this were a government. Every time the Diagonals try to pass something the Horizontals and the Verticals vote against it. So everything depends on the Curved Party. If the curved Party votes for a bill it passes. If it votes against then the bill fails.

Only Timmy ever votes for the Curved Party. And Timmy is a dog.

This illustrates the fundamental problem of minority rule: The majority gets what the minority wants.

And Under AV?

Under AV, voters are allowed to express preferences. If (and only if) there is no majority then the weakest party is removed and the vote is taken again.

The voting is as follows:

Julian1 Diagonal
George1 Horizontal2 Vertical
Dick1 Vertical2 Horizontal
Anne1 Diagonal2 Vertical
Timmy1 Curved2 Vertical
Quintin1 Diagonal
Noddy1 Horizontal2 Vertical
Enid1 Vertical


Party Round OneRound TwoRound Three
Diagonal 333
Vertical 235
Curved 1--
Total 888

Things to note

The fist preferences are exactly the same to the first round will go exactly the same. But, nobody got 5 votes so the Curved Party is out. This is why AV is being opposed by the likes on the BNP and the Communist Party.

I have constructed this so that the winner is a different party to the one that one the first round. The Diagonal voters claim that their votes have not been counted as much as anybody else's.

Is this fair? Well, look at the totals under the 'Round' columns. Eight voters, eight votes. Every time. Julian and Quentin may seem to have cast fewer votes those votes have been counted just as many times. All they want is the Diagonal Party and in each round their vote went to the diagonal party.

To visualise this, imagine that the voting slips looked like this:

Julian1 Diagonal2 Diagonal
George1 Horizontal2 Vertical
Dick1 Vertical2 Horizontal
Anne1 Diagonal2 Vertical
Timmy1 Curved2 Vertical
Quintin1 Diagonal2 Diagonal
Noddy1 Horizontal2 Vertical
Enid1 Vertical2 Vertical

from this, you can have a stab at assessing the real levels of support for the parties:

Diagonal 5/1631.25%
Vertical 7/1643.75%
Curved 1/1606.25%

The Vertical Party has won because it was able to reach out. The majority gets what the minority wants has been replaced with: The majority gets what the majority is OK with. In other words, the Vertical candidate is a better representitave of the voters and that is the whole point of the exercise.


But I only constructed a Vertical win because this is what upsets people about AV. If the Diagonals had been able broaden its appeal just slightly then they would have won. The actual losers are the Curved Party. They, not the Diagonals are the ones that have had votes taken away from them for the sake of a better democratic result.

So, to repeat, none of the parties have 'made their case' and so none deserve a majority. Not even the Verticals. AV is not a perfect system. But it is a tangible improvement that fixes a bug in FPTP and gives us something that is closer to what we want.


posted by Yet Another Geek @ Tuesday, May 03, 2011

1 May 2011

The City & The City by China MiƩville

The city and the city have always known about each other because they both occupy the same time and space. They are non-separated along their non-border by something they know only as "The Breach", a mysterious force they both fear and fear to be without.

If Philip K Dick had ever written a mainstream novel, this is what it would be like.

This is not a failing. PDK might have come up with the concept of the superimposed cities, but what China MiƩville has done is sustained it and developed it. As the novel progresses, we are shown that the most interesting thing is not the separation of the cities, but the mental state of the separated citizens.

If I or one of my friends were to have a moments failure of unseeing (and who did not do that? who failed to fail to see sometimes?) so long as it was not flaunted or indulged in, we should not be in danger.

To facilitate these every day actions of un-seeing and un-noticing, the citizens and the citizens dress in different colours, speak different languages and even walk and move differently. The mental habits then seep deeply into the citizens minds. We are shown the hippy Unificationists who believe that there is only one city. They see this with reason but are unable to see it with their eyes. Opposing them are the right wing Nationalists. They only want to see one thing but will never understand that this is only possible by having everything else to ignore.

This lays bare the whole concept of nationhood. The fact that it is both real and unreal, natural and artificial.


posted by Yet Another Geek @ Sunday, May 01, 2011


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