Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Race We Run

This is a 400m race track.

I took it from the Internet.  It has a few key attributes.  

Namely - two straight bits on either side, and round bits at the end.  

They use the straight bits for the 100m.  

But, that’s not what I’m talking about today.  What I’m talking about today is the 400m.  

The 400m is a reasonably straightforward race.  Each runner is given a lane.  They must stay in that lane while they run.  And whoever crosses the finish line first wins.  


In fact, the only complicated thing about the 400m race is that not all the lanes are of equal length.  

You see, the 400m refers only to the inside track - the inner most lane - whilst the other lanes are slightly longer, and longer, as they go on out.  All the way to the 8th lane, right on the edge.  

This leads to something of an oddity.  In the 100m everyone lines up shoulder to shoulder - they all start from the same point, and run in exactly the same 100m lanes.  This is not the case in the 400m.  

This is what the starting line looks like in the 400m:

They stagger the start.  The person on the inside lane ostensibly starts at the back of the pack, with the person in the 8th lane starting the farthest forward.  

This is done to ensure everyone runs exactly 400m.  If the runners were to line up shoulder to shoulder only the inside lane would run 400m.  Assuming a 1.25m wide lanes the distances would break down like this (1):

Lane 1 - 400m
Lane 2 - 408m
Lane 3 - 416m
Lane 4 - 424m
Lane 5 - 431m
Lane 6 - 439m
Lane 7 - 447m
Lane 8 - 454m

The outside three lanes would end up running 10-15% further than the inside lane.  This would make a mockery of the event.  The inside lane runner would win basically every time.  Sure, occasionally you’d get someone from another lane winning, but they would have to be truly exceptional.  

It might happen at a smaller sporting event where you have people of much lower calibre.  At an event like the Olympics, however, where everyone is at peak condition, and tenths-of-a-second make all the different, the inside lane would be the only place to be.  In a tournament of people of essentially equal skill, in a race that’s meant to be fair, the inside lane would win every time.  

So they stagger the start.  Lane 2 gets to start 8m ahead.  Lane 3 gets to move 16m ahead.  Lane 8 gets to move a staggering 54m further forward.  Leaving Lane 1 all on their lonesome.  

But Lane 1 people don’t get upset when they look up from the starting block and see seven other people ostensibly in front.  

They know that, ultimately, the race is fair.  They know they’re all running the same 400m.  

They know that it will come down to talent, perseverance, and merit to see who wins.  

This approach to the 400m is affirmative action.  

It is a process of giving advantage to people who have been disadvantaged by the system, to bring them to equal pegging with the inside lane.  

People who oppose affirmative action want the 400m to be run like the 100m - with everybody starting shoulder to shoulder.  They want Lane 1 to run 400m, and Lane 8 running 454m.  They get worried when they look up from the starting block and see a Lane 8 all that way ahead - they don’t understand that that’s the only way a fair race can be run.  

It is the only way we can ensure that people truly succeed on merit.

People opposed to affirmative action want everybody starting from the same place.

People in favour of affirmative action want everybody running the same race.

A fair race.

1 -

2 - I forgot where I got the images.  if they're yours, and you are angry at me, I will replace them.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Tony Abbott is paying people to like him.

Not too long ago Tony Abbott's staff uploaded this image to their Facebook page - 

100,000 likes is very impressive!  It's a pity that they are clearly being made by bots.  

Some enterprising souls noticed that Mr Abbott's likes had been growing very quickly of late.  Growing out of line with any expectation.  

This is what Mr Abbott's increase in likes looks like -

For comparison this is Kevin Rudd's -

And the Liberal Party of Australia's -
Edit - Added the Liberal Party page for another comparison.

That alone looks suspicious.  Notice the sharp increase in the grey line - new likes - and the almost direct correlation between new likes and "people talking about this".  

Something is off.  

Luckily, as I said, some enterprising souls noticed this yesterday, and have been tracking the growth in likes ever since -

22 hours of data collected, once per minute. Sampling likes and "mentions" (mentions are cached and only update once every 24 hours).
Raw data is here:
This is what Abbott's graph looks like:

This is Rudd's:

There are four distinct periods: 
"Normal": 8am-11pm EST
"Rampdown": 11pm-12:15pm EST
"Low": 12:15pm-6:45am EST
"Rampup": 6:45am-8am EST

During these periods, the differences were pretty stark:

First Normal
Rudd: Mean 1, Stdev 1.18
Abbott: Mean 18.22, Stdev 4.31

Rudd: Mean 1.19, Stdev 1.07
Abbott: Mean 12.32, Stdev 4.43

Rudd: Mean 0.22, Stdev 0.53
Abbott: Mean 2.89, Stdev 2.38

Rudd: Mean 0.39, Stdev 0.69
Abbott: Mean 10.15, Stdev 3.06

Second Normal
Rudd: Mean 0.6, Stdev 0.82
Abbott: Mean 18.47, Stdev 4.96

Some notes:
Not only are the total numbers of likes way too high to account merely for likebait saturation, Abbott's variation is far too low for to be entirely human-based. There are also no major spikes that we'd tend to see during periods of policy releases (for instance, his release of indigenous policy this morning). The means of each time period tend to line up too perfectly and again, lack in variation. Overnight, the deviation returns to what we'd tend to expect from this kind of data - indicating that the bot/net are probably turned off overnight after they ramp down/up (so as to not see an immediate jump from a mean of ~16-20 straight to 2-3). In short, this is exactly how I'd code a bot to be difficult to detect (if I were actually ridiculous enough to do so).
There's some other notes: the number of mentions cached line up almost exactly with the number of likes added in the same time period - 6727 likes from collection start to cache refresh, 8010 new mentions since previous cache refresh. There are several hours unaccounted after the previous cache refresh, which would likely make up the missing number there. Note that in a similar time period, Rudd gained approximately 350 likes and 0 new mentions. As people tend not to reference people they don't know on facebook except through page likes (not mentions), you can pretty safely assume that each bogus account is also mentioning the page 0-1 times.
Since collection, Rudd has gained 582 likes and 0 mentions, and Abbott has gained 15867 likes and 8010 mentions. It's worth noting that Abbott averages to almost exactly 1000 likes per hour yesterday, and 1200 today. Rudd's is all over the place, by comparison - 20-60 yesterday to 35-50 today.
tl;dr it's a bot, but written exactly how I would do so if I were to write a bot to spam likes. I'd make a couple of modifications - randomised ramping start/end times (within a tolerance of 2 hours), and much greater variation in the number of likes per minute.
Another kind soul decided to compare the increase in likes to people outside of the Australian political spectrum, and found that Tony Abbott is gaining popularity at a greater rate than One Direction, Justin Bieber, and even Facebook itself.  He's around 50% more popular than Game of Thrones, even.

 It's just too perfect an increase in likeability, particularly when combined with the people talking about it, and the curve over time.

What it adds up to is somebody paying a bot to mass-like Mr Abbott's page.  Alas for the image at the top of this post, and for Mr Abbott's ego, the likes are illusory.

And against Facebook's terms of service.

Update August 11 (Morning):
Tony A-bot-t update: 
Rampdown / Rampup occurred at exactly the same time today, and at extremely similar rates. Normal operation has returned to very similar means as yesterday.  
For comparison:
First rampdown: Mean 12.32, Stdev 4.43Last night's: Mean 13.21, Stdev 3.6
First rampup: Mean 10.15, Stdev 3.06This morning's: Mean 10.26, Stdev 3.41 
And now we're back to normal operation of ~16-20 likes per minute.
From the last two days worth of data (sans most normal operation)(from normal -> rampdown -> low -> rampup -> normal)1094, 833, 510, 250, 128, 88, 85, 142, 356, 681, 1092 1123, 847, 595, 260, 168, 90, 112, 131, 401, 724, 1011

Update August 11 (Evening):
The graph for the two days of activity that were monitored.  Almost perfectly mirroring.  

Edit - 10th of August: Clarity.
Edit - 11th of August: Added the Liberal Party of Australia Likes graph. Updated with last night's data.  

Saturday, July 20, 2013

An open letter

To Mark Dreyfus - federal member for Isaacs, and my local member.

Today I write with a distinct sense of unease and disappointment.  The decision to shift the processing of asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea, and in doing so circumvent both our obligations under the Refugee Convention as well as our obligations as decent human beings, has left me saddened and angry.

I am the son of immigrants who were able to find their way to this country and, in doing so, leave the Apartheid regime of South Africa behind.  They have made a good life here.  

I note that you, too, are the son of immigrants – refugees, even.  Refugees who were fleeing far worse circumstances than those even Apartheid evokes.  It seems that your family, too, has made a good life here.

Our families were lucky, I feel.

I also note that you are not a man averse to hyperbole; what with your likening of Tony Abbott’s climate change rhetoric to that of the Nazi party.  I will, however, out of expediency as much as taste, forego a prolonged comparison around resettling those deemed to be politically undesirable in to what amount to glorified concentration camps.

I will cast no aspersions on the nature of your character within this.  Having met with your volunteers a few weeks ago they described you as a good person – one even invited me to come to the office to meet you, on the basis that we would likely hit it off.  My quarrel is fundamentally with your party.

A party that has its gaze so fixed to the prize of power that it has become blind to the damage it is causing to the strength of our political system.  Blind to the damage it is causing to the health of our democracy.  Blind to the erosion of the compassion that once typified what it ostensibly meant to be Australian.  What it means to be a worthwhile person; what it means to be a society of caring and humane people.

I do not suspect that this is a blindness born of ignorance; although, in some ways, I wish it were.  If it were ignorance then there would be some hope that we might find our way out of this morass.  Instead we are left with cold-hearted realpolitik.

Trading the wellbeing of few thousand people for the promise of someone who isn’t Tony Abbott.

As such I will not be voting for you in the next election.  I understand that, in a practical sense, you hold a distinct buffer in this seat, and as such my efforts are not going to be particularly impactful.  In addition to this it is quite likely that my preferences will eventually flow to you – most likely from far more deserving candidates – like a sickening facsimile of the horrifying race to the bottom that your party has engaged in.

My parents were fortunate enough to find a new home in Australia.  They have paid back the faith the Australian government had in them not only in financial terms, but also through consistently engaging with their community – from things as simple as helping run a scout troop, to founding a charity that gave peace of mind to hundreds of chronic illness sufferers.

I do not write this letter purely out of a desire to see asylum seekers given the opportunity to come to Australia directly, although that is the thrust of it.  I also ask that Australians once again have the opportunity to engage meaningfully with those who would choose to come to our shores.  To welcome them, to learn from them, to have the fabric of our society strengthened by ever more diverse threads.

Llew Stevens