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How to solve a hard problem December 25, 2015

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Computer science, Humor.
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To solve a hard problem, first break it down into pieces. Then pack those pieces into bins, using as few bins as possible. You’re going to want a little help from your friends, so consult your social network and find the largest clique of people who all know each other. Visit the home of each of those friends (making sure to use the shortest possible overall route), and give each friend a subset of the bins whose overall number of pieces equals that friend’s age. Return home, and wait for your friends to send you their results. (While you’re waiting, you can perfect your game of Candy Crush.) Then find the longest sub-sequence common to all your friends’ results — that sub-sequence is (almost surely) your solution!

Note: If the above procedure is taking too long to terminate, try breaking your problem into more pieces; making more friends; or consulting an oracle.


Backlash December 23, 2015

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Politics.
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  • “Donald Trump Faces Immigration Backlash from Tech-Billionaires” (December 1)
  • “Leaders Warn Against Stereotyping and Backlash After San Bernardino Shooting” (December 3)
  • “‘Thoughts and Prayers’ Backlash After San Bernardino Shooting” (December 3)
  • “Coke pulls offensive Christmas ad but faces backlash from indigenous rights group” (December 5)
  • “Dems Fear Backlash Over Obama’s ‘Weak and Unclear’ Plan to Defeat ISIS” (December 8)
  • “Donald Trump’s Anti-Muslim Demand Sparks Sharp Backlash” (December 9)
  • “Backlash Over Santa ‘Ban’ at NYC School a Misunderstanding” (December 14)
  • “Virginia county closes schools as Islam homework draws backlash” (December 18)
  • “Wisconsin mayor faces backlash for calling Obama a Muslim” (December 22)
  • “Obama administration’s proposed insurance reforms incite industry backlash” (December 22)
  • “Family faces backlash for controversial Christmas photo” (December 22)
  • “Clinton’s Hispanic outreach sparks online backlash” (December 22)
  • “Trump Faces Backlash Over Sexually Derogatory Remark About Hillary” (December 23)
  • “Michael Sam Tweets Major ‘Star Wars’ Spoiler, Draws Fiery Backlash From Followers” (December 19)

Insignificant December 5, 2015

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Belief, Reason.
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“First you state your null hypothesis, which is your default position in the absence of any evidence, and your significance level, which is the maximum probability you’re willing to accept for rejecting the null hypothesis when it’s actually true. Then you perform your observations, calculate the p-value (the probability of obtaining a result at least as extreme as what was observed if the null hypothesis were true), and reject the null hypothesis if and only if the p-value is below the significance level.”

“Got it. Here goes: My significance level is zero, and my null hypothesis is—”

“Wait a minute: a significance level of zero means there’s no evidence that could ever convince you to abandon the null hypothesis.”

“Oh, is that bad? All right, then: My significance level is five percent…”

“That’s better.”

“…and my null hypothesis is that I will not change my significance level retroactively based on the outcome of the observations.”

“Hmm, let me test that… OK, the results are in, and they are statistically significant: p-value is two percent. You should reject the null hypothesis.”

“No problem — but I’m afraid that means I’ll be changing my significance level to one percent, making your observations insignificant. So my null hypothesis has been proved true after all!”

“The null hypothesis is never proved, it can merely fail to be rejected. And anyway, if your null hypothesis were true, wouldn’t that mean you should not have changed your significance level? Actually — never mind; this is a waste of time. Do you even care whether your belief is based on evidence?”

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Just because you can’t measure something doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

“Excuse me, but I must be going now: evidence has just come in forcing me to reject my null hypothesis.”

“What hypothesis is that?”

“That you’re worth talking to…”