Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Virtual Meetup

Back before the pandemic, we hosted meetups every month or two for people who read Slate Star Codex, the blog I spend a good deal of time on. People came over to our house on Saturday afternoon for food and conversation — typically twenty to forty people — starting at 2:00, ending at 10:00. I'm trying to revive the meetups online, using Mozilla Hubs. People who read this blog and don't read Slate Star Codex are welcome to come. Feel free to invite friends — from anywhere in the world.

Zoom and its competitors are designed for a one to many interaction, such as a lecture. Hubs is a VR program, usable from your browser or with a VR headset. It puts you in a world, in this case a house of four rooms that I have constructed online. The closer you are to someone, the louder his voice, so it is possible to have multiple conversations going and for an individual to wander around listening for an interesting one to join. That's how our meetups worked, and I am trying to construct the equivalent online.

For those interested in the general idea, there is another program also worth looking at — Online Town. Hubs gives you a virtual world rather like World of Warcraft, with your character moving around in it. Town is a top down view of a two dimensional world, with each person represented by a tiny icon. The nice thing about it is that when you get close enough to other people to talk with them you get to see their faces, a webcam view like what you get on Zoom. So you are having a conversation with people whose faces you can see, unlike Hubs, but there can be multiple such conversations going on at once and you can move among them, unlike Zoom. I may eventually try that as an alternative.

The link for the meetup, along with a link to information about Hubs, is a page on my site. It starts at noon, will presumably go until everyone leaves.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

How to Test a Vaccine

I have been making some calculations on the alternative ways of testing a vaccine, and unless I misunderstand something, the current procedure not only takes longer, it probably kills more people. Here are my calculations:

Method 1: Give the vaccine to N1 people. Wait a month. If none of them get the disease, conclude that the vaccine works. 

Method 2: Give the vaccine to N2 people. Deliberately expose all of them to the disease. If none of them get the disease, conclude that the vaccine works.

The following calculations assume:

A: We select N1 and N2 to reduce the chance of a false positive to no more than .05 .

B: Someone not already immune who is deliberately exposed has a .5 chance of catching the disease.

C: The probability that the vaccine works is .1, but if it works it works perfectly — probability of catching the disease zero.

D: The probability that the vaccine not only does not work but gives the recipient the disease is .01 .

In the U.S. at present, about one person in a thousand gets the disease each month, so with method 1, in the U.S., if the vaccine does not work each test subject has a .001 probability of getting the disease. So if it does not work, the probability that none of them get the disease is .999^N1. If we set N1=3000, that comes to about .05.

With method 2, if the vaccine does not work, the probability that nobody gets the disease is .5^N2. We set N2=5, giving us a probability of about .03.

With method 1, the expected number of people who get the disease because of the vaccination is .01xN1=30. The number who get it because because they are in the test and the vaccination doesn’t work is zero, since their exposure is the same as if they were not in the test. The number who avoid getting the disease as a result of being in the test and the vaccine working is .3 . Net increase in disease due to Method 1 is 29.7 .

With method 2, the expected number of people who get the disease because of the vaccination is .01xN2=.05. The number who get it because of the exposure (and the vaccine doesn’t work) is .9x.5xN2= 2.25 . The number who don’t get the disease as a result of being in the test and the vaccine working is .0005. So the net increase in disease due to Method 2 is 2.3.

For simplicity, I am calculating the number of people in the test who don’t get the disease as a result of the vaccine over a month in both cases. It’s small with Method 1, trivially small with Method 2. 

Adding all of this up, Method 1 results in 29.7 people getting the disease as a result of the vaccine trial, Method 2 results in 2.3 people getting the disease as a result of the vaccine trial. Method 2 also gives a somewhat lower chance of a false positive and produces a result about a month faster. 

This is obviously a simplified analysis — a vaccine doesn’t have to work perfectly to be worth using, and my particular numbers were invented. But given how much larger the first figure is than the second, the argument that we must use the first because the second is too dangerous looks implausible unless one believes that the chance the vaccine gives people the disease is lower than the chance that it prevents the disease by substantially more than an order of magnitude. 

Also, even if there is no chance that the vaccine causes the disease, the downside of Method 2 is tiny. A small number of people, two or three with my numbers, get the disease as a result of the test. Since you will be using healthy young adult volunteers, the chance of death for each is about one in a thousand. Getting a vaccine out a month sooner, on the other hand, saves about 20,000 lives in the U.S. alone. 

Am I missing anything? Is there any plausible set of assumptions under which Method 1 is better than Method 2? Alternatively, have I misunderstood what the methods are?

Friday, April 24, 2020

Looking for a few more volunteer voices

I now have almost all of the recordings of quotes I need for the audiobook of my Future Imperfect. The ones I do not have satisfactory versions of are:

“I disagree with your principles, so will require you to die for mine.”
(It's a takeoff on a quote attributed to Voltaire, so a mild French accent would be appropriate but not essential)

“Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Allah, may He be exalted, says: ‘Who does more wrong than the one who tries to create something like My creation? Let him create a grain of wheat or a kernel of corn.’” 
(Ideally in a mild Arabic accent, mild enough to be easily understandable).

“I would prefer my child take anabolic steroids and growth hormone than play rugby. Growth hormone is safer than rugby. At least I don’t know of any cases of quadriplegia caused by growth hormone.” 
(The speaker is an Australian academic, so an Australian accent would be ideal, but since the readers don't know he is Australian, not essential. An English accent would be fine.)

“The specialness of humanity is found only between our ears; if you go looking for it anywhere else, you’ll be disappointed.” 
(This is by Lee Silver. I have a good version of it, but it's spoken by a woman and Lee Silver is a man, so I would prefer a male version if possible).

That's it for ones I still need. If you feel like it, you are welcome to do any of the others I have listed in previous posts — I can always use a better version. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Looking for More Volunteer Voices

A number of people have kindly recorded for me quotes for my audiobook of Future Imperfect, but there are still a fair number to be done. I could do all of them myself but would rather  have voices that better fit the speakers. 

 A list of the quotes that still need to be done is webbed.

The book is also webbed.
Voices I could use are:

William F. Buckley
H.L. Mencken
Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz
The King James Bible
A sexy female voice
A mild French accent
A mild Arabic accent
A mild Chinese accent
An Australian accent
Some random male and female voices.

Anyone more want to help? Ideally quotes should be recorded in .wav, but mp3 or anything else that most sound programs can read — I use Sound Studio, Audacity, and Switch — is fine. You can email them to me at

Thanks to everyone who responded to my previous post on this. Special thanks to Tim Worstall, who is the reason I no longer need any more English accents.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Looking for Volunteer Voices

I am in the process of converting my book Future Imperfect into an audiobook. It has embedded quotes from a wide variety of sources and it occurred to me that, instead of reading all of them myself, I should get each read in a voice different from mine and more suitable to the person I am quoting. The voices I need are:

Chinese accent (for "May you live in interesting times")
English accent (Arthur Clarke, George Orwell, Samuel Johnson)
New York accent, possibly Queens (Richard Feynman)
Sophisticated East Coast accent (William F. Buckley)
Russian accent (Manny from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress — other accents for him are possible — and a KGB agent from "The President's Analyst")
Mark Twain accent (recordings probably exist)
H.L.Mencken accent (a recording of an interview exists)
Female Cornell administrator
Female scientist (a different female voice from the preceding)
Girl's voice — Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz
Sexy woman's voice
French accent
Arabic accent
Shakespearean actor (Hamlet)

There are a number of other quotes that just need a clearly understandable voice that isn't mine.

It may be a crazy idea, and I may give up and do all the quotes myself, but I thought that the magic of the internet and the open source approach to doing it might work.

Most of the accents should be mild — I want all of the quotes to be easily understandable.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

My European Speaking Trip

I will be giving a series of talks in Europe, from March 3rd through March 15th. Some are open to anyone who wants to come, others you should check with the sponsoring group. They are:
Oxford, Brasenose College, March 3rd,

Law Without the State: Past, Present and Future
Open to the public

London, Adam Smith Institute, March 4th

Legal Systems Very Different from Ours
Open to the public, but first RSVP to 

London, Institute for Economic Affairs, March 5th, lunch.  

The Problem with Externality Arguments: Climate and Population.
Not open to the general public, but you may be able to get an invitation. Email or message me.

Madrid, March 7, 5:45 P.M., Feud Law

This is part of LibertyCon, put on by European Students for Liberty, and I believe is only open to those attending.

Santiago de Compostella, March 10th, 7P.M.  Market Anarchy

Salón de Grados Fac. Ciencias Politicas
Open to the public

Lisbon, March 11th, Liberal Policy - cause or solution to Market Failures? with two other panelists

Instituto de Estudos Políticos / Universidade Católica Portuguesa
Open to the public

Ljubljana, March 12th, 5 P.M.,
Market Failure: An Argument for and Against Government
University of Ljubljana School of Business and Economics (Kardeljeva ploščad 17, Ljubljana)
Open to the public 

Prague, March 15th, 5 P.M.

Legal Systems Very Different from Ours
Open to the public

I cancelled the last two talks on account of the Coronavirus and flew home on the 13th. If I had not cancelled, the Ljubljana talk would have been live streamed with no audience actually present and I probably would not have been able to get to Prague, due to the travel ban imposed, I think, just before I was scheduled to fly there. 

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Brothers is Out

My third novel has just been published. It is available on Amazon as both a paperback and a kindle. The cover is by Anna Krupitsky.

Brothers is the sequel to Salamander, my second novel, unrelated to Harald, my first. The setting is about fifty years after Olver, that world's equivalent to Newton, took the first large steps towards converting magery from a craft to a science. 

For those who have read Salamander ...  . The book starts with Eirick, the thirteen year old son of Lord Iolen, stranded in Forstmark at the court of its ruler by his father's death. 

He is, as Mari later comments, a much nicer person than his father.