Volkswagen engulfed by diesel emissions scandal

Volkswagen engulfed by diesel emissions scandal

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Chief Executive of Volkswagen Martin Winterkorn issued on Sunday a public apology and announced an outside inquiry would be carried out, after the company became engulfed in a scandal about diesel emissions tests.

Over the weekend there were damaging revelations that the car manufacturer has been using illegal software to enable diesel cars to cheat on mandatory emissions tests.

An investigation into alleged breaches of environmental law was originally initiated on the advice of the International Council on Clean Transportation, a European NGO. The United States Environmental Protection Agency requested tests be carried out by West Virginia University, where the secret software was discovered.

Volkswagen has suffered a significant drop of almost a fifth in the value of its shares. There have been knock-on effects for other car manufacturers who have also seen their share values fall after suggestions that the scandal could extend much further than just Volkswagen.

The company will have to foot the bill for the recall of close to 500,000 VW and Audi cars. There is also the possibility of paying federal fines of up to US$18 billion dollars because the US Clean Air Act sets a maximum fine of US$37,500 for each vehicle that contravenes the requirements of the Act.

The software, known as a “defeat device”, enabled cars to identify when they were being tested and to switch on the emission control system. The devices may have been adding urea to the car exhaust because that would reduce the amount of nitrogen dioxide. The car would release a fraction of the nitrogen oxide compared to when they were being driven normally. Emissions of nitrogen oxide contribute to smog and are thought to have caused a rise in respiratory illnesses like asthma.

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Ice, snow, and cold strike throughout Europe

Ice, snow, and cold strike throughout Europe

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Freezing temperatures, combined with snow over the past few days, have caused travel problems throughout Europe and been responsible for the deaths of 10 people. On Monday a strong winter storm moved across Europe, covering parts of France and the United Kingdom with several inches of snow.

The storm ranged as far as Germany, Belgium, and parts of Northern Italy. It brought with it freezing, Arctic-like temperatures ranging from -5° Celsius (23° Fahrenheit) to -10°C (14°F) in the United Kingdom and France, down to -31°C (-24°F) in central Romania and what felt like -26°C (-15°F) in Germany. Forecasters predict that the freezing temperatures may be the start of a cold spell that could affect the entire continent throughout the month.

Monday’s heavy snowstorm forced Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport, slightly north of Paris, to cancel most of its flights. 1,658 passengers from Air France alone were stranded at the airport after their flights were grounded due to the heavy snow and icy conditions. The passengers from the 120 cancelled Air France flights spent the night in hotels near the airport which were accommodated for by the airline.

An official from Air France stated that the passengers “will have available food and hot drinks”. Most flights were grounded until the next morning. Tuesday, an official from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle said, “It did not snow last night. The runways are clear and have been de-iced. Traffic is returning to normal.”

The frigid temperatures resulted in several school closings across France and the United Kingdom, with government forecasters from both countries predicting that the cold would stay for several days. Many schools in the United Kingdom were closed because of problems with their heating systems, while heating repair services in Britain received a record number of calls this week.

In Paris, accumulating snow and slippery ice resulted in French officials closing pedestrian access to the Eiffel Tower, one of the city’s prime tourist locations.

“We can’t put down salt because it’s metallic, we can’t use sand either because it risks getting into the elevator,” stated a press official from the Eiffel Tower. The tower remained closed on Monday and re-opened on Tuesday.

The storm has caused the deaths of at least 13 people, whether directly or indirectly. Polish government officials have reported that 10 people have frozen to death following overnight temperatures of -25°C as recorded throughout the country. Police in Germany reported that a 77-year-old mentally-ill woman also froze to death after she was reported missing from a nursing home in Weimar. Romanian officials reported that frigid temperatures killed two people and sent several to the hospital. Temperatures there were reported as low as -31°C in some parts.

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Car explosion in San Pedro, California was act of vandalism, say police

Car explosion in San Pedro, California was act of vandalism, say police

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Police have said that an explosion in a hotel garage in San Pedro, Los Angeles, California, that sparked an evacuation of a large area was an act of vandalism. What was initially thought to be an explosion, at around 7:30am local time, forced police to shut off a major entrance into the area prompted the Clarion Inn, a two-story hotel, and surrounding buildings to be evacuated. A bomb squad were called to the scene, and an armored robot was sent into the garage to examine the scene.

Los Angeles Police Department Lieutenant John Romero said that investigators were treating the incident as an act of vandalism, and said that detectives will be examining surveillance footage of the garage. He confirmed that a caller had reported an explosion in the area. Officers who responded did not initially find anything suspicious, but a short time later a Port Police officer on patrol discovered a Lincoln Navigator with its windows blown out in an underground garage. The Los Angeles Fire Department also responded to the call.

We still want to be very careful how to proceed. Something did happen to the car. Now they have to figure out what happened and who did it

“On closer inspection and using their training, bomb squad is confident the damage was caused by something other than a bomb. Based on what we know now, they’re scaling the operation way back,” he said. “There’s any variety of things that can sound like a bomb or a blast, particularly in a subterranean environment. The danger has passed.” He refused to speculate as to what may have caused the damage, or, if it was not a bomb, where the noise had come from. He added: “Now that the robots have gone forward and had a good look, we are confidant there was not an explosion. There was a hole blown in the door, and the glass was blown out so, now we have to find out who did it.”

A witness, the owner of a diner two blocks away from the hotel, said that he heard a loud sound while preparing the day’s menu. He said: “I was cooking my food and I heard something like ‘boom’! I said, ‘What happened?’ And I checked everything in the kitchen but saw nothing. An hour later I went outside and saw a lot of police.” Romero added that the vehicle had shown signs of an explosion and that no one in the hotel was killed or injured. At 8:20 a.m. the police issued a citywide tactical alert and surrounding streets were closed to the public. Police have said that there is shattered glass surrounding the vehicle and one of the doors exhibits evidence that an explosion had taken place. Romero added: “We still want to be very careful how to proceed. Something did happen to the car. Now they have to figure out what happened and who did it.”

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Occupation in London enters fifth day

Occupation in London enters fifth day
Published by
Jan 16

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street and other “Occupy” protests, activists set up camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London on Saturday, and they plan to remain indefinitely. The protest thus far has been described as “largely peaceful” by a police spokesman.

On Saturday, an estimated thousand or more people attempted to protest in Paternoster Square, the site of the London Stock Exchange, but were blocked by police enforcing a High Court judgment. Julian Assange from Wikileaks also joined the protest to address the activists. A flag flies over the occupation showing the ‘Anonymous’ logo of a headless man in a black suit.

At around 9:30am Wednesday, many campers were still asleep, but around 30–50 people were listening in solidarity to trade union representatives from the National Shop Stewards Network, while 20 to 30 officers from the City of London police watched on. On the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the speakers spoke about a variety of struggles including strikes by electricians that started in August against Balfour Beatty, one of Britain’s largest construction firms. Solidarity was expressed with the travellers at Dale Farm, and speakers described how the media and others were trying to “divide” workers, students and elderly people. One of the speakers said that while today they are occupying the square in London, “tomorrow we will be occupying universities and colleges” and spoke of the suspension of Vik Chechi, the Unison branch secretary who has been suspended by Queen Mary University. By 9:45am, the trade union talks had finished and the sound system was reactivated and reggae music started playing.

After the talks peter out, activity begins to resume on the site: people sorting out tents and serving food, under signs and banners playfully mixing politics (“The London Stock Exchange: Britain’s Biggest Casino”) with Internet memes (a Reddit cartoon man depicted saying “Y U NO JOIN US?”).

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Rower Tuijn halfway across Pacific in record attempt

Rower Tuijn halfway across Pacific in record attempt
Published by
Jan 15

Monday, July 9, 2007

Dutch adventurer Ralph Tuijn has reached the halfway point of his attempt to be the first person to row across the Pacific Ocean unaided.

The 16,000 kilometre journey from the coast of Peru to the seaside city of Brisbane, Australia, the widest section of the Pacific, has never been crossed absolutely unaided by a rower, and Tuijn says just nine people have rowed it even with assistance.

Tuijn reached the central point of his crossing, an insignificant point of water in the ocean, 111 days after setting off from Peru in March. He has been making good progress, and has since cut his estimated time of arrival in Brisbane by a month.

The Dutchman, who now expects to reach his destination on October 20, has kept in touch with those tracking his movements through daily internet postings from his laptop computer, including his wife Winnie. His boat, the Zeeman Challenger, is a seven-metre custom plywood vessel.

Tuijn has overcome a variety of obstacles to reach the halfway point. He is suffering from the constant attention of sharks, who often bump his boat and disrupt his attempts at sleep. One particular shark, dubbed ‘Gomulka’ by Tuijn, has been trailing the adventurer’s boat for extended periods.

He has also accidentally burnt himself when he spilled hot water on his foot whilst trying to make coffee, apparently also from a shark ‘bump’. He is also forced to manually pump water for cooking and drinking after his automatic water pump broke down not long into his journey.

“Physically everything feels great and I can’t help feeling that I could do this for 500 days, but mentally it’s still hard to be on your own for such a long time”

His vessel has no motors or sails, but relies on his physical rowing power to move. The boat does have a solar power system to provide energy for his laptop, a telephone and a global positioning system.

Tujin, who is raising money for a children’s home in Mumbai, India, is rowing at an average speed of 58 kilometres each day. His diet consists of freeze-dried foods and fish, which are keeping him physically well-conditioned despite tiring mentally.

Tuijn is a serial adventurer and experienced rower. He has rowed across the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, as well as cycled across Russia and the icy terrain of Greenland.

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2012 Olympics clash with Ramadan

2012 Olympics clash with Ramadan
Published by
Jan 14

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Muslim groups from across the world are criticising the organisers of the 2012 Olympics in London after it was revealed that the games will take place over Ramadan. The most holy month in the Muslim calendar, which will take place from the 21 July to 20 August in 2012, involves fasting during daylight hours and will affect an estimated 3,000 athletes.

Joanna Manning Cooper, spokesman for the games said: “We did know about it when we submitted our bid and we have always believed that we could find ways to accommodate it.”Nevertheless, this will come as a huge embarrassment for the organisers who have tried to ensure the event involve all of Britain’s ethnic communities.A quarter of the athletes who took part in the 2004 Athens Olympics were from predominantly Muslim countries and the fast will put any athletes involved at a clear disadvantage.

The chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, Massoud Shadjared said: “This is going to disadvantage the athletes and alienate the Asian communities by saying they don’t matter. It’s not only going to affect the participants, it’s going to affect all the people who want to watch the games.”

The president of the National Olympic Committee of Turkey, Togay Bayalti, said: “This will be difficult for Muslim athletes. They don’t have to observe Ramadan if they are doing sport and travelling but they will have to decide whether it is important to them. “It would be nice for the friendship of the Games if they had chosen a different date.”

The games will run from the 27 July to 12 August to coincide with the British Summer holidays. The summer holidays are a six week period running from mid July to early September. During this time, public transportation is generally less crowded and it will be easier to find the 70,000 volunteers needed to keep the games running. The International Olympics Committee has specified that the games must take place between July 15 to August 31. Giselle Davies, IOC spokesperson said, “We give a window to the five bid cities. The host city selects the dates within that window.”

The organisers are working with the Muslim Council of Great Britain to find ways around the problem.

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British computer scientist’s new “nullity” idea provokes reaction from mathematicians

British computer scientist’s new “nullity” idea provokes reaction from mathematicians
Published by
Jan 13

Monday, December 11, 2006

On December 7, BBC News reported a story about Dr James Anderson, a teacher in the Computer Science department at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. In the report it was stated that Anderson had “solved a very important problem” that was 1200 years old, the problem of division by zero. According to the BBC, Anderson had created a new number, that he had named “nullity”, that lay outside of the real number line. Anderson terms this number a “transreal number”, and denotes it with the Greek letter ? {\displaystyle \Phi } . He had taught this number to pupils at Highdown School, in Emmer Green, Reading.

The BBC report provoked many reactions from mathematicians and others.

In reaction to the story, Mark C. Chu-Carroll, a computer scientist and researcher, posted a web log entry describing Anderson as an “idiot math teacher”, and describing the BBC’s story as “absolutely infuriating” and a story that “does an excellent job of demonstrating what total innumerate idiots reporters are”. Chu-Carroll stated that there was, in fact, no actual problem to be solved in the first place. “There is no number that meaningfully expresses the concept of what it means to divide by zero.”, he wrote, stating that all that Anderson had done was “assign a name to the concept of ‘not a number'”, something which was “not new” in that the IEEE floating-point standard, which describes how computers represent floating-point numbers, had included a concept of “not a number”, termed “NaN“, since 1985. Chu-Carroll further continued:

“Basically, he’s defined a non-solution to a non-problem. And by teaching it to his students, he’s doing them a great disservice. They’re going to leave his class believing that he’s a great genius who’s solved a supposed fundamental problem of math, and believing in this silly nullity thing as a valid mathematical concept.
“It’s not like there isn’t already enough stuff in basic math for kids to learn; there’s no excuse for taking advantage of a passive audience to shove this nonsense down their throats as an exercise in self-aggrandizement.
“To make matters worse, this idiot is a computer science professor! No one who’s studied CS should be able to get away with believing that re-inventing the concept of NaN is something noteworthy or profound; and no one who’s studied CS should think that defining meaningless values can somehow magically make invalid computations produce meaningful results. I’m ashamed for my field.”

There have been a wide range of other reactions from other people to the BBC news story. Comments range from the humorous and the ironic, such as the B1FF-style observation that “DIVIDION[sic] BY ZERO IS IMPOSSIBLE BECAUSE MY CALCULATOR SAYS SO AND IT IS THE TRUTH” and the Chuck Norris Fact that “Only Chuck Norris can divide by zero.” (to which another reader replied “Chuck Norris just looks at zero, and it divides itself.”); through vigourous defences of Dr Anderson, with several people quoting the lyrics to Ira Gershwin‘s song “They All Laughed (At Christopher Columbus)”; to detailed mathematical discussions of Anderson’s proposed axioms of transfinite numbers.

Several readers have commented that they consider this to have damaged the reputation of the Computer Science department, and even the reputation of the University of Reading as a whole. “By publishing his childish nonsense the BBC actively harms the reputation of Reading University.” wrote one reader. “Looking forward to seeing Reading University maths application plummit.” wrote another. “Ignore all research papers from the University of Reading.” wrote a third. “I’m not sure why you refer to Reading as a ‘university’. This is a place the BBC reports as closing down its physics department because it’s too hard. Lecturers at Reading should stick to folk dancing and knitting, leaving academic subjects to grown ups.” wrote a fourth. Steve Kramarsky lamented that Dr Anderson is not from the “University of ‘Rithmetic“.

Several readers criticised the journalists at the BBC who ran the story for not apparently contacting any mathematicians about Dr Anderson’s idea. “Journalists are meant to check facts, not just accept whatever they are told by a self-interested third party and publish it without question.” wrote one reader on the BBC’s web site. However, on Slashdot another reader countered “The report is from Berkshire local news. Berkshire! Do you really expect a local news team to have a maths specialist? Finding a newsworthy story in Berkshire probably isn’t that easy, so local journalists have to cover any piece of fluff that comes up. Your attitude to the journalist should be sympathy, not scorn.”

Ben Goldacre, author of the Bad Science column in The Guardian, wrote on his web log that “what is odd is a reporter, editor, producer, newsroom, team, cameraman, soundman, TV channel, web editor, web copy writer, and so on, all thinking it’s a good idea to cover a brilliant new scientific breakthrough whilst clearly knowing nothing about the context. Maths isn’t that hard, you could even make a call to a mathematician about it.”, continuing that “it’s all very well for the BBC to think they’re being balanced and clever getting Dr Anderson back in to answer queries about his theory on Tuesday, but that rather skips the issue, and shines the spotlight quite unfairly on him (he looks like a very alright bloke to me).”.

From reading comments on his own web log as well as elsewhere, Goldacre concluded that he thought that “a lot of people might feel it’s reporter Ben Moore, and the rest of his doubtless extensive team, the people who drove the story, who we’d want to see answering the questions from the mathematicians.”.

Andrej Bauer, a professional mathematician from Slovenia writing on the Bad Science web log, stated that “whoever reported on this failed to call a university professor to check whether it was really new. Any university professor would have told this reporter that there are many ways of dealing with division by zero, and that Mr. Anderson’s was just one of known ones.”

Ollie Williams, one of the BBC Radio Berkshire reporters who wrote the BBC story, initially stated that “It seems odd to me that his theory would get as far as television if it’s so easily blown out of the water by visitors to our site, so there must be something more to it.” and directly responded to criticisms of BBC journalism on several points on his web log.

He pointed out that people should remember that his target audience was local people in Berkshire with no mathematical knowledge, and that he was “not writing for a global audience of mathematicians”. “Some people have had a go at Dr Anderson for using simplified terminology too,” he continued, “but he knows we’re playing to a mainstream audience, and at the time we filmed him, he was showing his theory to a class of schoolchildren. Those circumstances were never going to breed an in-depth half-hour scientific discussion, and none of our regular readers would want that.”.

On the matter of fact checking, he replied that “if you only want us to report scientific news once it’s appeared, peer-reviewed, in a recognised journal, it’s going to be very dry, and it probably won’t be news.”, adding that “It’s not for the BBC to become a journal of mathematics — that’s the job of journals of mathematics. It’s for the BBC to provide lively science reporting that engages and involves people. And if you look at the original page, you’ll find a list as long as your arm of engaged and involved people.”.

Williams pointed out that “We did not present Dr Anderson’s theory as gospel, although with hindsight it could have been made clearer that this is very much a theory and by no means universally accepted. But we certainly weren’t shouting a mathematical revolution from the rooftops. Dr Anderson has, in one or two places, been chastised for coming to the media with his theory instead of his peers — a sure sign of a quack, boffin and/or crank according to one blogger. Actually, one of our reporters happened to meet him during a demonstration against the closure of the university’s physics department a couple of weeks ago, got chatting, and discovered Dr Anderson reckoned he was onto something. He certainly didn’t break the door down looking for media coverage.”.

Some commentators, at the BBC web page and at Slashdot, have attempted serious mathematical descriptions of what Anderson has done, and subjected it to analysis. One description was that Anderson has taken the field of real numbers and given it complete closure so that all six of the common arithmetic operators were surjective functions, resulting in “an object which is barely a commutative ring (with operators with tons of funky corner cases)” and no actual gain “in terms of new theorems or strong relation statements from the extra axioms he has to tack on”.

Jamie Sawyer, a mathematics undergraduate at the University of Warwick writing in the Warwick Maths Society discussion forum, describes what Anderson has done as deciding that R ? { ? ? , + ? } {\displaystyle \mathbb {R} \cup \lbrace -\infty ,+\infty \rbrace } , the so-called extended real number line, is “not good enough […] because of the wonderful issue of what 0 0 {\displaystyle {\frac {0}{0}}} is equal to” and therefore creating a number system R ? { ? ? , ? , + ? } {\displaystyle \mathbb {R} \cup \lbrace -\infty ,\Phi ,+\infty \rbrace } .

Andrej Bauer stated that Anderson’s axioms of transreal arithmetic “are far from being original. First, you can adjoin + ? {\displaystyle +\infty } and ? ? {\displaystyle -\infty } to obtain something called the extended real line. Then you can adjoin a bottom element to represent an undefined value. This is all standard and quite old. In fact, it is well known in domain theory, which deals with how to represent things we compute with, that adjoining just bottom to the reals is not a good idea. It is better to adjoin many so-called partial elements, which denote approximations to reals. Bottom is then just the trivial approximation which means something like ‘any real’ or ‘undefined real’.”

Commentators have pointed out that in the field of mathematical analysis, 0 0 {\displaystyle {\frac {0}{0}}} (which Anderson has defined axiomatically to be ? {\displaystyle \Phi } ) is the limit of several functions, each of which tends to a different value at its limit:

  • lim x ? 0 x 0 {\displaystyle \lim _{x\to 0}{\frac {x}{0}}} has two different limits, depending from whether x {\displaystyle x} approaches zero from a positive or from a negative direction.
  • lim x ? 0 0 x {\displaystyle \lim _{x\to 0}{\frac {0}{x}}} also has two different limits. (This is the argument that commentators gave. In fact, 0 x {\displaystyle {\frac {0}{x}}} has the value 0 {\displaystyle 0} for all x ? 0 {\displaystyle x\neq 0} , and thus only one limit. It is simply discontinuous for x = 0 {\displaystyle x=0} . However, that limit is different to the two limits for lim x ? 0 x 0 {\displaystyle \lim _{x\to 0}{\frac {x}{0}}} , supporting the commentators’ main point that the values of the various limits are all different.)
  • Whilst sin ? 0 = 0 {\displaystyle \sin 0=0} , the limit lim x ? 0 sin ? x x {\displaystyle \lim _{x\to 0}{\frac {\sin x}{x}}} can be shown to be 1, by expanding the sine function as an infinite Taylor series, dividing the series by x {\displaystyle x} , and then taking the limit of the result, which is 1.
  • Whilst 1 ? cos ? 0 = 0 {\displaystyle 1-\cos 0=0} , the limit lim x ? 0 1 ? cos ? x x {\displaystyle \lim _{x\to 0}{\frac {1-\cos x}{x}}} can be shown to be 0, by expanding the cosine function as an infinite Taylor series, dividing the series subtracted from 1 by x {\displaystyle x} , and then taking the limit of the result, which is 0.

Commentators have also noted l’Hôpital’s rule.

It has been pointed out that Anderson’s set of transreal numbers is not, unlike the set of real numbers, a mathematical field. Simon Tatham, author of PuTTY, stated that Anderson’s system “doesn’t even think about the field axioms: addition is no longer invertible, multiplication isn’t invertible on nullity or infinity (or zero, but that’s expected!). So if you’re working in the transreals or transrationals, you can’t do simple algebraic transformations such as cancelling x {\displaystyle x} and ? x {\displaystyle -x} when both occur in the same expression, because that transformation becomes invalid if x {\displaystyle x} is nullity or infinity. So even the simplest exercises of ordinary algebra spew off a constant stream of ‘unless x is nullity’ special cases which you have to deal with separately — in much the same way that the occasional division spews off an ‘unless x is zero’ special case, only much more often.”

Tatham stated that “It’s telling that this monstrosity has been dreamed up by a computer scientist: persistent error indicators and universal absorbing states can often be good computer science, but he’s stepped way outside his field of competence if he thinks that that also makes them good maths.”, continuing that Anderson has “also totally missed the point when he tries to compute things like 0 0 {\displaystyle 0^{0}} using his arithmetic. The reason why things like that are generally considered to be ill-defined is not because of a lack of facile ‘proofs’ showing them to have one value or another; it’s because of a surfeit of such ‘proofs’ all of which disagree! Adding another one does not (as he appears to believe) solve any problem at all.” (In other words: 0 0 {\displaystyle 0^{0}} is what is known in mathematical analysis as an indeterminate form.)

To many observers, it appears that Anderson has done nothing more than re-invent the idea of “NaN“, a special value that computers have been using in floating-point calculations to represent undefined results for over two decades. In the various international standards for computing, including the IEEE floating-point standard and IBM’s standard for decimal arithmetic, a division of any non-zero number by zero results in one of two special infinity values, “+Inf” or “-Inf”, the sign of the infinity determined by the signs of the two operands (Negative zero exists in floating-point representations.); and a division of zero by zero results in NaN.

Anderson himself denies that he has re-invented NaN, and in fact claims that there are problems with NaN that are not shared by nullity. According to Anderson, “mathematical arithmetic is sociologically invalid” and IEEE floating-point arithmetic, with NaN, is also faulty. In one of his papers on a “perspex machine” dealing with “The Axioms of Transreal Arithmetic” (Jamie Sawyer writes that he has “worries about something which appears to be named after a plastic” — “Perspex” being a trade name for polymethyl methacrylate in the U.K..) Anderson writes:

We cannot accept an arithmetic in which a number is not equal to itself (NaN != NaN), or in which there are three kinds of numbers: plain numbers, silent numbers, and signalling numbers; because, on writing such a number down, in daily discourse, we can not always distinguish which kind of number it is and, even if we adopt some notational convention to make the distinction clear, we cannot know how the signalling numbers are to be used in the absence of having the whole program and computer that computed them available. So whilst IEEE floating-point arithmetic is an improvement on real arithmetic, in so far as it is total, not partial, both arithmetics are invalid models of arithmetic.

In fact, the standard convention for distinguishing the two types of NaNs when writing them down can be seen in ISO/IEC 10967, another international standard for how computers deal with numbers, which uses “qNaN” for non-signalling (“quiet”) NaNs and “sNaN” for signalling NaNs. Anderson continues:

[NaN’s] semantics are not defined, except by a long list of special cases in the IEEE standard.

“In other words,” writes Scott Lamb, a BSc. in Computer Science from the University of Idaho, “they are defined, but he doesn’t like the definition.”.

The main difference between nullity and NaN, according to both Anderson and commentators, is that nullity compares equal to nullity, whereas NaN does not compare equal to NaN. Commentators have pointed out that in very short order this difference leads to contradictory results. They stated that it requires only a few lines of proof, for example, to demonstrate that in Anderson’s system of “transreal arithmetic” both 1 = 2 {\displaystyle 1=2} and 1 ? 2 {\displaystyle 1\neq 2} , after which, in one commentator’s words, one can “prove anything that you like”. In aiming to provide a complete system of arithmetic, by adding extra axioms defining the results of the division of zero by zero and of the consequent operations on that result, half as many again as the number of axioms of real-number arithmetic, Anderson has produced a self-contradictory system of arithmetic, in accordance with Gödel’s incompleteness theorems.

One reader-submitted comment appended to the BBC news article read “Step 1. Create solution 2. Create problem 3. PROFIT!”, an allusion to the business plan employed by the underpants gnomes of the comedy television series South Park. In fact, Anderson does plan to profit from nullity, having registered on the 27th of July, 2006 a private limited company named Transreal Computing Ltd, whose mission statement is “to develop hardware and software to bring you fast and safe computation that does not fail on division by zero” and to “promote education and training in transreal computing”. The company is currently “in the research and development phase prior to trading in hardware and software”.

In a presentation given to potential investors in his company at the ANGLE plc showcase on the 28th of November, 2006, held at the University of Reading, Anderson stated his aims for the company as being:

To investors, Anderson makes the following promises:

  • “I will help you develop a curriculum for transreal arithmetic if you want me to.”
  • “I will help you unify QED and gravitation if you want me to.”
  • “I will build a transreal supercomputer.”

He asks potential investors:

  • “How much would you pay to know that the engine in your ship, car, aeroplane, or heart pacemaker won’t just stop dead?”
  • “How much would you pay to know that your Government’s computer controlled military hardware won’t just stop or misfire?”

The current models of computer arithmetic are, in fact, already designed to allow programmers to write programs that will continue in the event of a division by zero. The IEEE’s Frequently Asked Questions document for the floating-point standard gives this reply to the question “Why doesn’t division by zero (or overflow, or underflow) stop the program or trigger an error?”:

“The [IEEE] 754 model encourages robust programs. It is intended not only for numerical analysts but also for spreadsheet users, database systems, or even coffee pots. The propagation rules for NaNs and infinities allow inconsequential exceptions to vanish. Similarly, gradual underflow maintains error properties over a precision’s range.
“When exceptional situations need attention, they can be examined immediately via traps or at a convenient time via status flags. Traps can be used to stop a program, but unrecoverable situations are extremely rare. Simply stopping a program is not an option for embedded systems or network agents. More often, traps log diagnostic information or substitute valid results.”

Simon Tatham stated that there is a basic problem with Anderson’s ideas, and thus with the idea of building a transreal supercomputer: “It’s a category error. The Anderson transrationals and transreals are theoretical algebraic structures, capable of representing arbitrarily big and arbitrarily precise numbers. So the question of their error-propagation semantics is totally meaningless: you don’t use them for down-and-dirty error-prone real computation, you use them for proving theorems. If you want to use this sort of thing in a computer, you have to think up some concrete representation of Anderson transfoos in bits and bytes, which will (if only by the limits of available memory) be unable to encompass the entire range of the structure. And the point at which you make this transition from theoretical abstract algebra to concrete bits and bytes is precisely where you should also be putting in error handling, because it’s where errors start to become possible. We define our theoretical algebraic structures to obey lots of axioms (like the field axioms, and total ordering) which make it possible to reason about them efficiently in the proving of theorems. We define our practical number representations in a computer to make it easy to detect errors. The Anderson transfoos are a consequence of fundamentally confusing the one with the other, and that by itself ought to be sufficient reason to hurl them aside with great force.”

Geomerics, a start-up company specializing in simulation software for physics and lighting and funded by ANGLE plc, had been asked to look into Anderson’s work by an unnamed client. Rich Wareham, a Senior Research and Development Engineer at Geomerics and a MEng. from the University of Cambridge, stated that Anderson’s system “might be a more interesting set of axioms for dealing with arithmetic exceptions but it isn’t the first attempt at just defining away the problem. Indeed it doesn’t fundamentally change anything. The reason computer programs crash when they divide by zero is not that the hardware can produce no result, merely that the programmer has not dealt with NaNs as they propagate through. Not dealing with nullities will similarly lead to program crashes.”

“Do the Anderson transrational semantics give any advantage over the IEEE ones?”, Wareham asked, answering “Well one assumes they have been thought out to be useful in themselves rather than to just propagate errors but I’m not sure that seeing a nullity pop out of your code would lead you to do anything other than what would happen if a NaN or Inf popped out, namely signal an error.”.

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Commonwealth Bank of Australia CEO apologies for financial planning scandal

Commonwealth Bank of Australia CEO apologies for financial planning scandal
Published by
Jan 12

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Ian Narev, the CEO of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, this morning “unreservedly” apologised to clients who lost money in a scandal involving the bank’s financial planning services arm.

Last week, a Senate enquiry found financial advisers from the Commonwealth Bank had made high-risk investments of clients’ money without the clients’ permission, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars lost. The Senate enquiry called for a Royal Commission into the bank, and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

Mr Narev stated the bank’s performance in providing financial advice was “unacceptable”, and the bank was launching a scheme to compensate clients who lost money due to the planners’ actions.

In a statement Mr Narev said, “Poor advice provided by some of our advisers between 2003 and 2012 caused financial loss and distress and I am truly sorry for that. […] There have been changes in management, structure and culture. We have also invested in new systems, implemented new processes, enhanced adviser supervision and improved training.”

An investigation by Fairfax Media instigated the Senate inquiry into the Commonwealth Bank’s financial planning division and ASIC.

Whistleblower Jeff Morris, who reported the misconduct of the bank to ASIC six years ago, said in an article for The Sydney Morning Herald that neither the bank nor ASIC should be in control of the compensation program.

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Hidden treasure worth billions of dollars discovered in Indian temple

Hidden treasure worth billions of dollars discovered in Indian temple
Published by
Jan 12

Monday, July 4, 2011

Officials announced that a treasure containing sacks of diamonds and gold coins as well as golden idols, jewelry and other riches has been discovered in the secret subterranean vaults of Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, in the southwestern state of Kerala, India. Estimates of its worth have been rising and it is now thought to be worth US$20 billion.

The Hindu temple was built in the 16th century by the kings of the then Kingdom of Travancore to serve as a royal chapel for the rulers of Travancore. The six vaults containing the treasure have been undisturbed for over a century. Assessment of the treasure began on June 27 after a lawyer concerned about the security of the treasure petitioned India’s Supreme Court, which then appointed a seven-member panel of experts to inventory the treasure. The panel does not have the power to determine to whom the treasure will belong. Estimates of the treasure’s worth are rising, provoking a heated debate as to how the treasure will be used in a country that has 450 million poverty-stricken people.

The chief minister of Kerala, Oommen Chandy, announced on Sunday the treasure would remain with the temple, and security matters would be decided in consultation with the Travancore Royal Family, the temple management, and the temple priest.

The gold was offered to the lord. It is the property of the temple.

“The gold was offered to the lord. It is the property of the temple. The government will protect the wealth at the temple,” Oommen Chandy said. Meanwhile, hundreds of armed police have been deployed around the temple to protect the treasure.

However, the view that the treasure should remain at the temple has been disputed. Among the dissenters is eminent jurist V R Krishna Iyer, who said the treasure should be put in a national trust for the peoples’ benefit. “God’s wealth belongs to the people, not to the king. It’s meaningless to say that it belongs to Hindus or any particular religious community,” said Iyer. “A mechanism should be devised to ensure that the benefits of it reach the poor and the needy and not the rich.”

Five of the six vaults of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple have been inventoried.

God’s wealth belongs to the people, not to the king. It’s meaningless to say that it belongs to Hindus or any particular religious community.

On Saturday, reports leaked to the press revealed that the treasure, including a golden idol of Mahavishnu and a golden ‘anki’, were found in one of the vaults, estimated to weigh 30 kilograms, along with precious stones, silver, two coconut shells of pure gold and another golden idol as well as other jewels and valuable coins. The panel hopes to find more treasure when the sixth and final vault is opened, but the attempt was suspended on Monday because the iron door inside presented “technical problems” requiring further consultation before opening. This vault is thought to contain the bulk of the wealth.

Keralan officials in a preliminary estimate said that the treasure was worth over US$11.2 billion; those estimates have now risen to US$20 billion. Historians say that the temple’s location on a site through which passed lucrative trade routes support the higher evaluations.

“Traders, who used to come from other parts of the country and abroad for buying spices and other commodities, used to make handsome offerings to the deity for not only his blessings but also to please the then rulers,” said P.J. Cherian, the director of Kerala Council for Historic Research

Some suggest that the profit from the sale of the treasure would be enough to wipe out the entire public debt of Kerala and fund future Kerala projects such as seaports, airports and highways.

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Wikinews interviews Duncan Campbell, co-founder of wheelchair rugby

Wikinews interviews Duncan Campbell, co-founder of wheelchair rugby
Published by
Jan 12

Friday, September 7, 2012

London, England — On Wednesday, Wikinews interviewed Duncan Campbell, one of the creators of wheelchair rugby.

((Laura Hale)) You’re Duncan Campbell, and you’re the founder of…

Duncan Campbell: One of the founders of wheelchair rugby.

((Laura Hale)) And you’re from Canada, eh?

Duncan Campbell: Yes, I’m from Canada, eh! (laughter)

((Laura Hale)) Winnipeg?

Duncan Campbell: Winnipeg, Manitoba.

((Laura Hale)) You cheer for — what’s that NHL team?

Duncan Campbell: I cheer for the Jets!

((Laura Hale)) What sort of Canadian are you?

Duncan Campbell: A Winnipeg Jets fan! (laughter)

((Laura Hale)) I don’t know anything about ice hockey. I’m a Chicago Blackhawks fan.

((Hawkeye7)) Twenty five years ago…

Duncan Campbell: Thirty five years ago!

((Laura Hale)) They said twenty five in the stadium…

Duncan Campbell: I know better.

((Hawkeye7)) So it was 1977.

((Laura Hale)) You look very young.

Duncan Campbell: Thank you. We won’t get into how old I am.

((Hawkeye7)) So how did you invent the sport?

Duncan Campbell: I’ve told this story so many times. It was a bit of a fluke in a way, but there were five of us. We were all quadriplegic, that were involved in sport, and at that time we had the Canadian games for the physically disabled. So we were all involved in sports like table tennis or racing or swimming. All individual sports. And the only team sport that was available at that time was basketball, wheelchair basketball. But as quadriplegics, with hand dysfunction, a bit of arm dysfunction, if we played, we rode the bench. We’d never get into the big games or anything like that. So we were actually going to lift weights one night, and the volunteer who helped us couldn’t make it. So we went down to the gym and we started throwing things around, and we tried a few things, and we had a volleyball. We kind of thought: “Oh! This is not bad. This is a lot of fun.” And we came up with the idea in a night. Within one night.

((Hawkeye7)) So all wheelchair rugby players are quadriplegics?

Duncan Campbell: Yes. All wheelchair rugby players have to have a disability of some kind in all four limbs.

((Laura Hale)) When did the classification system for wheelchair rugby kick in?

Duncan Campbell: It kicked in right away because there was already a classification system in place for wheelchair basketball. We knew basketball had a classification system, and we very consciously wanted to make that all people with disabilities who were quadriplegics got to play. So if you make a classification system where the people with the most disability are worth more on the floor, and you create a system where there are only so many points on the floor, then the people with more disability have to play. And what that does is create strategy. It creates a role.

((Hawkeye7)) Was that copied off wheelchair basketball?

Duncan Campbell: To some degree, yes.

((Laura Hale)) I assume you’re barracking for Canada. Have they had any classification issues? That made you

Duncan Campbell: You know, I’m not going to… I can’t get into that in a major way in that there’s always classification issues. And if you ask someone from basketball, there’s classification issues. If you ask someone from swimming… There’s always classification issues. The classifiers have the worst job in the world, because nobody’s ever satisfied with what they do. But they do the best they can. They’re smart. They know what they’re doing. If the system needs to change, the athletes will, in some way, encourage it to change.

((Laura Hale)) Do you think the countries that have better classifiers… as someone with an Australian perspective they’re really good at classification, and don’t get theirs overturned, whereas the Americans by comparison have had a number of classification challenges coming in to these games that they’ve lost. Do you think that having better classifiers makes a team better able to compete at an international level?

Duncan Campbell: What it does is ensures that you practice the right way. Because you know the exact classifications of your players then you’re going to lineups out there that are appropriate and fit the classification. If your classifications are wrong then you may train for six months with a lineup that becomes invalid when that classification. So you want to have good classifiers, and you want to have good classes.

((Laura Hale)) When you started in 1977, I’ve seen pictures of the early wheelchairs. I assume that you were playing in your day chair?

Duncan Campbell: Yes, all the time. And we had no modifications. And day chairs at that time were folding chairs. They were Earjays or Stainless. That’s all the brands there were. The biggest change in the game has been wheelchairs.

((Laura Hale)) When did you retire?

Duncan Campbell: I never retired. Still play. I play locally. I play in the club level all the time.

((Laura Hale)) When did you get your first rugby wheelchair?

Duncan Campbell: Jesus, that’s hard for me to even think about. A long time ago. I would say maybe twenty years ago.

((Laura Hale)) Were you involved in creating a special chair, as Canadians were pushing the boundaries and creating the sport?

Duncan Campbell: To a degree. I think everybody was. Because you wanted the chair that fit you. Because they are all super designed to an individual. Because it allows you to push better, allows you to turn better. Allows you to use your chair in better ways on the court. Like you’ve noticed that the defensive chairs are lower and longer. That’s because the people that are usually in a defensive chair have a higher disability, which means they have less balance. So they sit lower, which means they can use their arms better, and longer so they can put screens out and set ticks for those high point players who are carrying the ball. It’s very much strategic.

((Hawkeye7)) I’d noticed that in wheelchair basketball the low point player actually gets more court time…

Duncan Campbell: …because that allows the high point player to play. And its the same in this game. Although in this game there’s two ways to go. You can go a high-low lineup, which is potentially two high point players and two very low point players, which is what Australia does right now with Ryley Batt and the new kid Chris Bond. They have two high point players, and two 0.5 point players. It makes a very interesting scenario for, say, the US, who use four mid-point players. In that situation, all four players can carry the ball; in the Australian situation, usually only two of them can carry the ball.

((Laura Hale)) Because we know you are going soon, the all-important question: can Canada beat the Australians tonight?

Duncan Campbell: Of course they are. (laughter)

((Laura Hale)) Because Australians love to gamble, what’s your line on Canada?

Duncan Campbell: It’s not a big line! I’m not putting a big line on it! (laughter) I’d say it’s probably 6–5.

((Hawkeye7)) Is your colour commentary for the Canadian broadcast?

Duncan Campbell: That was for the IPC. I did the GB–US game this morning. I do the Sweden–Australia game tomorrow at two. And then I’m doing the US–France game on the last day.

((Laura Hale)) Are you happy with the level of coverage the Canadians are providing your sport?

Duncan Campbell: No.

((Laura Hale)) Thank you for an honest answer.

Duncan Campbell: Paralympic Sports TV is their own entity. They webcast, but they’re not a Canadian entity. Our Canadian television is doing… can I swear?

((Laura Hale)) Yeah! Go ahead!

Duncan Campbell: No! (laughter) They’re only putting on an hour a day. A highlight package, which to me is…

((Hawkeye7)) It’s better than the US.

Duncan Campbell: Yes, I’ve heard it’s better than the US. At the same time, it’s crap. You have here [in Great Britain], they’ve got it on 18 hours a day, and it’s got good viewership. When are we going to learn in North America that viewership is out there for it? How many times do we have to demonstrate it? We had the Paralympics in Vancouver two years ago, the Winter Paralympics, and we had crappy coverage there. There was an actual outburst demand to put the opening ceremonies on TV because they weren’t going to do it. And they had to do it, because everybody complained. So they did it, but they only did it in BC, in our home province, where they were holding it. The closing ceremonies they broadcast nationally because the demand was so high. But they still haven’t changed their attitudes.

((Laura Hale)) I have one last question: what did it mean for you when they had a Canadian flag bearer who was a wheelchair rugby player?

Duncan Campbell: I recruited that guy. It was fantastic. I recruited him. Found him playing hockey. And that guy has put in so much time and effort into the game. He absolutely deserves it. No better player.

((Laura Hale)) Thank you!

((Hawkeye7)) Thank you! Much appreciated.

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