7 April 2018

How to force a cash-free numismatic policy to people, part II

I have not blogged in ages, but I felled compelled to touch upon a topic I wrote on some time ago. This is the insistence of Swedish government to get rid of cash entirely. When I first wrote about it, two years ago, I outlined the steps that a government must take in order to enforce this. And I was right. I also wrote
And so, little by little, there will be no cash in the country. Everybody, regardless of whether they want it or not, must use a credit card (or some form of electronic transaction). Unlike the US or the UK, credit cards are not free. I am charged something like 50 US dollars per year for a credit card. (The cost is 0 for my US credit card.)
and commented on the fact that if anything goes wrong with electronic cash then it is the individual's responsibility in Sweden.

What I did not anticipate was that there would be some voices, in Sweden, that would be against such a change. I read about this yesterday on BBC. It is an interesting article but,

Here are then some further comments:
  1. Responsibility. If you only use cash and lose your wallet, then you just lose your cash. But worse, much worse things can happen if you use electronic cash. The question is who is responsible. If you lose your cash then, clearly, you are responsible. If someone steals money from you electronically by compromising the electronic banking system then, rationally speaking, it should be the bank that should bear responsibility. But not in Sweden. It is almost always the case that the responsibility is upon the individual. 
  2. Vulnerable groups: The BBC article says "Some worry about the challenges it poses for vulnerable groups, especially the elderly." In fact, this is very true. I know elderly people who do not use smart phones or computers. Are these people considered undesired citizens in Sweden? At Uppsala, a town/big village, with no traffic and plenty of parking, it was decided that parking fees be imposed almost everywhere, 24 hours a day. What is worse, is that you can't pay with cash or even credit card. You are forced to have a "smart" phone with an app. A Swedish elderly lady I know used to visit her friend several times a week and drive to her because she can't walk. The increase in the cost and the inconvenience of the payment method forced her to cancel her visits and she now stays home all the time. Does anyone care about her mental health?
  3. Foreigners/visitors: What about people visiting Sweden from abroad? How can they pay if you must have a Swedish phone, a Swedish ID, a Swedish app? Well, again, Sweden does not care. This happened to me several times when I was a newcomer to Sweden. I would try to pay, with, say, my mobile phone, but it was impossible.
  4. Data leaks: The aforementioned BBC article states "Swedes are very trusting but I think that is changing. For example the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal has made people more aware of how their data is being used." But they don't mention what is worse: the huge scandal that took place a few months ago because Sweden outsourced almost all details of nearly everyone in Sweden to some private company and then all data leaked to unknown sources, leading to the biggest data leak in history. Yes, Swedes are trusting but they shouldn't blindly trust their government. However, since trusting the government in Sweden is, for now, much strongert than a religious dogma, this will not be easily reversed.
If a cashless society is desired then this should be designed carefully, by revealing all steps of the process, by being frank about the goals, by talking about responsibilities (in case of data breach), by making everything very clear to everyone.

I believe that the cashless design will be successful, not because the steps above will take place, but because it is happening under the carpet, and in ways that nobody can ever voice any disagreement. In the end, it will be triumphantly announced that "the people wanted a cash-free society, the people got it, long live the people!"

I shall conclude this posting with three images, giving a very partial glimpse of what the future is like, not just in Sweden, but even in your country. Sweden simply represents the future.
Faithful believers giving money to their church using electronic means
Homeless person accepting
Swedish title says: We only take cards; no cash. Notice that the "sorry for any inconvenience" is mentioned only in English. This is actually a very common phenomenon. The words "sorry" and "apology" are meant to be only for English speakers who still believe that the words are not obsolete.

4 July 2016

What is the EU?

The Brits voted in the referendum whose question was clear: should the UK stay in the EU or leave?

After they voted, many went to the Internet and typed on Google:
"What it the EU?" 
That is to say, they had no clue what they were voting for. And then they typed: "What will happen if we leave the EU?"

Are we surprised? No. Many voters, far more than the small margin between the leave/stay outcome, have no clue what they're voting for. They're just following, like sheep, someone who's shouting. They listen to the one who's shouting louder. They only thing they don't do is think.

So, whoever says that the people of the UK decided that UK should leave the EU is wrong. Many of them didn't decide. They just voted at random, influenced by demagogues. Nothing special with the UK, of course. It would have been the same in many countries. Many people vote for reasons unrelated to what the actual vote is for. Unless we take into account these random, uninformed, votes, the result is not correct. We need to allow for the probability that a voter acted under the influence, some influence.

Searches for "what is the eu" and "what is brexit" spiked in the U.K. after polls closed [Google Trends via NPR]

5 June 2016

Paris, critically flooded

Paris hasn't seen so much rain for a century.  I'm visiting Université Paris Sud for a couple of weeks but I'm staying centrally, in the cinquième arrondissement. It's been raining like crazy. It feels more like February than June.  Gray skies and temperatures hovering around 13C. Many places have been closed.  The Orsay museum is closed.  The basement of the Louvre is closed. Nôtre  Dame is closed. The walkways at the Seine are flooded. The Seine boats are not operating. Water has gone through the walls of parts of the métro. The University Paris Sud was closed for a few days because of floods that affected electricity.    Here are some photos from central Paris.

23 May 2016

Tatoo obsession in Sweden

Swedes have a huge obsession with tatoos:
Tatoos have become so commonplace in Sweden that Stockholm is now believed to be home to the world's most inked population outside of tribal societies. [Source]

I wrote about this in an earlier post because one of the first things I noticed in Sweden was that shops that carry magazines and newspapers have many more publications devoted to tatoos than to news. Sometimes one cannot find newspapers (other than trash tabloids) but there are surely several (sometimes dozens) tatoos magazines always available.  I tested this today at the main airport in Stockholm. I asked, at Pressbyrån, if they have any newspapers. They pointed out Expressen  to me.  I said,  "that's a tabloid,  do you have any regular newspaper?" They pointed out Aftonbladet to me.  I replied that this is also junk press.  "Any serious newspapers?" No.  None.  And yet they had several magazines on tattoo.

It's very hard to find newspapers at the main airport of Stockholm.  As for foreign press,  forget it,  there is none.  But tatoos are everywhere.  There is even a tatoo parlor at the Stockholm airport:
And they're proud about it: it's the first airport in the world to have a tatoo shop. (Caveat: there's nothing decent to eat at Stockholm airport,  but there's a place where you can get a tatoo.) I guess it's important to some to get their tattoo before they fly.

I observed these peculiarities long time ago.  But I didn't know that Sweden has as many tatoos per capita as in tribal societies.

N.B. See my old  posting on 3 Swedish fetishes:

15 February 2016

Maps lie more than one usually thinks

I performed the following experiment with students of mathematics. I showed them a map of Russia on google and took a point very far to the east (Uelen, a village in the Chukotsky District next to the Bering Sea) and a point very far to the west (Venekyulya, a region in the Leningrad Oblast, at the border with Estonia). The distance between Uelen and Venekyulya is, roughly, the largest distance between two points in Russia, which is about 6000 km. I asked the students to draw a path between Uelen and Venekyulya whose length is 6000 km. Some drew the path P1 shown below which is a straight line between Uelen and Venekyulya on the google map. Others, realizing that the map is a projection of a sphere, drew path P2, slightly curved upwards.
When I showed them the actual path (see below), they were all surprised. They thought it was wrong. How can it be that the "straight line path" is so much curved upwards? Well, that's because the distortion of the map increases very rapidly when we move away from the equator.
If I had shown them the actual map, on a sphere, then they would have known what to do: they would have drawn an arc between Uelen and Venekyulya that is part of the unique great circle between them, that is, the circle centered at the Earth's center and containing Uelen and Venekyulya. This arc almost (but not quite) passes from the North Pole. To see this, we need to look at the Earth downwards from the North Pole. The picture then becomes clear and the apparent contradiction is resolved.
(Credits for this image go to https://www.jasondavies.com/maps/rotate/)
The moral of this is that we should never believe what we see. (In fact, we should never believe in anything.) Only when we have further evidence, provided by experiment, measurements, or mathematical proof should we "believe" what we see. But then the verb "believe" becomes irrelevant; at this point, we know, we do not believe. We may believe something, temporarily, until further evidence, or we may believe something because someone else we trust has done the work for us. But we should never believe something because our eyes saw it, or because a teacher once told us, or because the government or administration says so, or because a religious, for example, book writes.

One thing that bothers me with some students (and some teachers) of mathematics is that they may be comfortable with the geometry of a 5-dimensional hyperbolic space because they may have seen it in class, passed an exam on it, or doing research on it, but may be uncomfortable with down-to-Earth [sic] geometry, including knowing 2-3 proofs of the Pythagorean theorem. O tempora o mores!


What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant