Thursday, August 31, 2006

What is Senator Ted Stevens hiding?

A rare bipartisan motherhood and apple pie bill is killed in the senate. The murderer?

TPMmuckraker August 30, 2006 01:59 PM

... A spokesman for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) just confirmed his boss was the man behind the secret hold on the Coburn/Obama spending database bill, which has captivated a segment of the political blogging community in recent days. ...

The suspicion, of course, is that Ted Stevens has many things to hide. Shame on Alaska for putting this man in office and keeping him there.

Lifespan is random

I'm very surprised. The data from human and animal studies seems very strong. Lifespan is pretty random and not clearly related to genetics. The article also implies it's not clearly related to behavior either ...
Live Long? Die Young? Answer Isn't Just in Genes - New York Times:

...A woman whose sister lived to be 100 has a 4 percent chance of living that long, Dr. Christensen says. That is better than the 1 percent chance for women in general, but still not very great because the absolute numbers, 1 out of 100 or 4 out of 100, are still so small. For men, the odds are much lower. A man whose sister lived to be 100 has just a 0.4 percent chance of living that long. In comparison, men in general have a 0.1 percent chance of reaching 100.

Those data fit well with animal studies, says Caleb Finch, a researcher on aging at the University of Southern California. Genetically identical animals — from worms to flies to mice — living in the same environments die at different times...

...Matt McGue, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota who studies twins, contrasts life spans with personality, which, he says, is about 50 percent heritable, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is 70 to 80 percent heritable, or body weight, which is 70 percent heritable.

“I’ve been in this business for a long while, and life span is probably one of the most weakly heritable traits I’ve ever studied,” Dr. McGue said.
Random. That's weird. Nothing like I'd expected.

Incidentally, ADHD is incredibly hereditable and men don't live that long.

Update 9/1/06: This article continues to puzzle me. Although the researchers note that animal studies show limited hereditability of lifespan, that's not true of dogs. Different breeds have very different lifespans -- from the 4-6 years of Great Danes to the 18+ years of one Australian mid-sized breed. Could it be that we're deceived by the relative genetic homogeneity of humans, who, after all, went through that 10,000 person evolutionary bottleneck less than 200K years ago? They do mention some families do show an exception to this rule ...

One practical implication of the data is that it suggests persons with long lived families should not stint on life insurance policies ... And that life insurers can make a bundle by charging more to persons with short lived families. These folks will pay more for life insurance, thinking that it's more likely to be needed, but in fact their lifespans are not all that predictable.

Update 9/8/06: Still chewing this one over. I think the aging rate/cancer tradeoff plays a role ...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Warren Jeffs, Orrin Hatch, Pedophilia and Fundamentalism: An 50 year old evil is confronted

Today the BBC reported the arrest of Warren Jeffs, a Mormon fundamentalist and alleged pedophile. That led me to dredge up some old memories.

First, an August 2003 posting on Jon Krakauer's excellent book on American religious Fundamentalism (Mormon Fundamentalism in particular, my post also links to a very good Atlantic article on how religions developer from cultic roots)

Secondly, I'll finish a draft blog post from a 2006 LA Times article, probably inspired by Krakauer's book, on the sexual abuse of children by these American Fundamentalists. Note the mention of Jeffs (emphases mine):
Blind Eye to Culture of Abuse - Los Angeles Times

COLORADO CITY, Ariz. — For half a century, while polygamous members of this remote enclave engaged in widespread sexual abuse and child exploitation, government authorities on all levels did little to intervene or protect generations of victims.

Here in the sparsely populated canyon lands straddling Arizona and Utah, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or FLDS — an offshoot of Mormonism — live by their own rules.

The religious sect of about 10,000 portrays itself as an industrious commune of the faithful, choosing to live apart from a hostile world. But their simple lifestyle and self-imposed isolation have concealed troubling secrets that are only beginning to emerge.

Court records, undisclosed investigative reports and interviews by The Times over the last year show that church authorities flout state and federal laws and systematically deny rights and freedoms, especially to women and children.

"The fact that this has been going on all these years, and the fact that justice has not been there to protect women and children … from amazing civil rights violations — it is an embarrassment," said Utah Atty. Gen. Mark Shurtleff.

"I don't want to indict the states of Utah and Arizona, but mea culpa — we are responsible."

Among sect members, girls as young as 13 are forced into marriage, sexual abuse is rampant, rape is covered up and child molesters are shielded by religious authorities and law enforcement.

Boys are thrown out of town, abandoned like unwanted pets by the side of the road and forcibly ostracized from their families to reduce competition among the men for multiple wives.

Children routinely leave school at age 11 or 12 to work at hazardous construction jobs. Boys can be seen piloting dump trucks, backhoes, forklifts and other heavy equipment.

Girls work at home, trying to keep order in enormous families with multiple mothers and dozens of children who often eat in shifts around picnic tables.

Wives are threatened with mental institutions if they fail to "keep sweet," or obedient, for their husbands.

Warren Jeffs, a wiry third-generation church member, is the sect leader — a post that carries the title "prophet" and gives him virtually absolute control over the most intimate conduct.

Jeffs orders marriages, splits up families, evicts residents and exiles whomever he wants with no regard for legal processes. He even tells couples when they can and can't have sex.

But Jeffs is now a fugitive, listed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list and accused by state and federal authorities of rape, sexual conduct with a minor, conspiracy and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. Former members say he continues to exert influence nonetheless...

... Despite years of such stories and allegations, public agencies on both sides of the state line have failed to act or been slow to intervene.

The sect's questionable ways were no secret in Utah or Arizona. Law enforcement, social agencies and politicians long knew that polygamy was practiced and that underage girls were married off to middle-aged and older men.

Employees and eyewitnesses say many underage marriages were performed in Room 15 of the Caliente Hot Springs Motel in Caliente, Nev., a few miles from the Utah border. The motel was once owned by FLDS leader Merril Jessop.

"We've heard about it, and were never able to substantiate it," said Lincoln County, Nev., Sheriff Dahl Bradfield. "But we didn't look very hard."

Officials also knew local laws in Colorado City and adjacent Hildale, Utah, were enforced by polygamous police officers and administered by a polygamous judge — and that police routinely referred alleged sex crimes to church leaders.

In 1953, acting on similar reports, Arizona Gov. J. Howard Pyle launched a massive raid, with about 120 police officers, on the FLDS. It backfired badly, however, and was regarded as a political disaster for Pyle, who lost his bid for reelection.

The political debacle, coupled with a fear of violating the sect's religious freedom, ushered in 50 years of official passivity and government inaction, even in the face of continuing reports of illegal conduct in the FLDS enclave.

The abusive conduct went on for so long, said Buster Johnson, a Mohave County, Ariz., supervisor, "because those with the power to do something about it turned a blind eye. I don't know how they sleep at night."

Recent disclosures have prompted a belated round of state and federal action, including stepped-up efforts by the FBI to arrest Jeffs.

The attorneys general in Arizona and Utah have launched separate legal actions, and a Mohave County criminal investigator operating out of a trailer in Colorado City has provided evidence resulting in a series of grand jury indictments against eight FLDS members...

... Charged with protecting and serving their community, Colorado City police have long had a reputation for protecting and serving church interests instead.

The force, which covers Hildale as well, is reportedly handpicked by FLDS leaders. Call 911 here, say state investigators, and it is the same as calling the FLDS.

Former police employees and state investigators say officers either ignore molestation allegations or send them to the church rather than to outside prosecutors...

... Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) once visited the FLDS church in Hildale and played the organ. He later defended the group when asked about its alleged abuses.

"All I can say is I know people in Hildale who are polygamists who are very fine people. You come and show me the evidence of children being abused there, and I'll get involved," he told local reporters. "Bring the evidence to me."

... In his successful 1991 bid for Arizona governor, Fife Symington wrote an open letter to the residents of Colorado City concerning their "family-oriented lifestyles," vowing never to do anything to "upset or question" their religion.

"Our policy was one of noninterference," he said recently. "The advice I got when running was this was an issue I wanted to stay away from."

The Mormon Church, which banned polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates those who practice it, has been quiet in the face of reported abuses, giving little support to groups trying to help victims of the FLDS.

... On the dusty edge of Colorado City sits a triple-wide trailer grandly named the Arizona-Mohave County Justice Center. The metal building is Arizona's first official presence in this town.

Inside, the handful of state employees includes social workers, a victim's advocate and a gap-toothed ex-cop named Gary Engels.

Engels, an investigator for the Mohave County attorney's office, may be the most effective lawman in the state. He has done in a year what the combined forces of Utah and Arizona did not do during the previous 50 years.

Through quiet detective work, he pieced together enough information for eight indictments of FLDS men who allegedly married underage women.

"He's produced impressive results even given the fact that he has an almost impossible assignment," Arizona Atty. Gen. Terry Goddard said.

Nonetheless, Engels said he saw only slow progress. Child abuse continues, he said, as do underage marriages and exiles of boys — though not so openly since he and the triple-wide came to town.

"I'm just getting started," Engels said.
Thirdly, see my recent comments on the cursed gender.

Men. Fundamentalism. Pedophilia and child abuse. The slow awakening of outrage and response.

Krakauer should get a Pulitzer. Engels may deserve some kind of medal of honor. Senator Orrin Hatch deserves a prize spot in Hell, next door to Jeffs.

Only Christians may govern

KKKatherine Harris, the GOP stalwart who delivered the nation to Bush:
Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Republican Standard-Bearer Katherine Harris Says: It Is Sinful to Elect Jews and Muslims

...If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you're not electing Christians then in essence you are going to legislate sin.
Also, clearly, very sinful to elect atheists, agnostics, Hindus and other satanic heathens.

PS. It is surprisingly hard to get internet access when traveling in the American northeast.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

What ails NH? Live by the rules, then die.

In New Hampshire, state law mandates that water slides must be used sitting up.


In New Hampshire, many of the towns we visit have signs saying: "No dogs, no bicycles, no skates".

I have lots of family here, so I'll restrain myself a tad, but, really, this is ridiculous. Commie "nanny" states like Vermont don't have all these repressive rules, but a Libertarian-wannabe like NH does? Talk about falling short of aspirations.

Demographically, NH isn't too atypical. A bit short on children, but average for over 65. I can't blame it ALL on aging boomers. I'd love to hear some theories...

I've said in the past that as a quick gauge of how liveable a place is, one should look at how it treats dogs, bicyclists, and skaters. By that measure NH ranks pretty low, so it's a shame it's so beautiful.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The cursed gender

Pedophiles, like terrorists, convicts, journalists, politicians, and physicians use online resources to amplify their "intelligence" (emphasis mine):
On the Web, Pedophiles Extend Their Reach - New York Times:

... In April, with summer fast approaching, both groups of online friends chatted about jobs at children’s camps. Did anyone, one man asked, know of girls’ camps willing to hire adult males as counselors? Meanwhile, elsewhere in cyberspace, the second group celebrated the news that one of their own had been offered a job leading a boys’ cabin at a sleep-away camp...

...Today, pedophiles go online to seek tips for getting near children — at camps, through foster care, at community gatherings and at countless other events. They swap stories about day-to-day encounters with minors...
I think in most primates adult males are kept away from children. I believe in most human societies that has also been often true.

I bet we will increasingly move to keeping all adult males away from children, with possible exceptions for fathers (I have 3 young children).

It is hard to imagine a long future for my gender, at least not without some substantial genetic re-engineering.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Global Warming: We're scr***d.

The 9/06 Scientific American special issue was about global warming. I haven't finished it, but the take-away so far is that it's feasible to keep CO2 in the human-evolutionary-history range (less than 500 ppm).

I haven't finished it, but the take-away so far is that it's feasible to keep CO2 in the human-evolutionary-history range -- but with near-term technology it would require an unprecedented amount of international cooperation and human vision. It is most unfortunate that while we may be running out of oil, but we have a century of coal to burn.

Greg Mankiw tells us why that cooperation won't happen. The first 50 years or so simply are expected to be not so bad for China or the US -- though I suspect they don't know the moisture distribution effects. Certainly in the Twin Cities, where we're on the leading edge of mainland US climate transition, most people like the almost snowless winters. (I hate them of course, what do you do with the kids!? Besides, I like to ski and skate.)

We will need a blooming technological miracle. Even if the US doesn't do to badly for the first 25 years, I think things change above 500 ppm.

Maybe our quantum-computer heirs will find the planet tolerable ...

Update 9/7/06: Oh, wait, it's worse.

Dell's debacle gets interesting

Dell made its vast fortune by copying other companies, and was famously reluctant to employ R&D people. I think of that when I read about their battery charging design. If this is correct then Dell's problems are only beginning; their legal liability may dwarf the cost of the battery recall.

Good Morning Silicon Valley: Dell Built-To-Order now includes "fire blanket" option:
...Most Japanese makers don't allow high voltage to flow from their AC adapters to the computer battery, out of safety concerns.' Computer maker Lenovo had a similar message: 'Our management software makes sure no such overheating occurs, and we are confident that the computers are safe,' he said. Interesting, eh? Makes you wonder what's going on over in Dell's design department, doesn't it...
OTOH, "management software" is not something I'd trust for device safety ... I do wonder what Apple does ...

Sky bombers: think bench

The dolts and "thin bench" interpretation of the latest busted terrorist (al Qaeda?) plot look more likely (The Register).

The FBI's system malfunction: It's a dead canary

The WaPo has a longish article on the failure of the FBI's major IT product: The FBI's Upgrade That Wasn't. Oddly enough, I have an informed opinion for once -- I do this type of work.

It is not all that alarming that a new custom solution has hundreds of bug reports. I don't know what universe Mr. Azmi comes from, but it's not custom software development. I assure you that Microsoft Word has hundreds of significant bugs and some hideous design flaws -- but of course it's crap. Even Excel, however. has bugs - and it's been in production for about 15 years.

It is alarming that they intended to do a big-bang deployment of what was beta software. Big-bang deployment has advantages, but mostly with relatively proven solutions. (That said, some large health care systems are doing big-bang deployments of Epic's fairly new acute care software and I haven't heard of big flame-outs yet.)

I'm not as alarmed abut the idea to "write from scratch" rather than modify a commercial system. What would they modify? I presume they were using commercial database systems (Oracle probably) and middleware, etc. "Scratch" doesn't mean what it once meant. I fear they might have tried Java on the client -- but they weren't the only company to follow Sun's path to disaster. That flaw can be remedied.

The biggest problem seems to have been that the FBI is said to be a devastated agency, with most of their senior management gone and a very limited IT staff. It sounds, though the article is skimpy here, that the FBI didn't support the analysis process; didn't have the resources or the leadership needed, and the vendor didn't bail from the project. That would create an IT disaster.

So this story is interesting, but primarily as a "dead canary" warning of poisonous gases in the mine. The FBI is either in intensive care or it's now dead. That's a much bigger problem than a failed IT project ...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The end of the family motel - and the family road trip ...

We're on another road trip. This night we end up at the Battle Creek Best Western "executive" hotel.

No luggage carts. Whirlpool out of order. Old, frayed carpets. Prisonlike decor. Weeds in the back parking lot. It's not quite the Bates Motel, but it's heading that way. It's not alone. The night before was an ex-AmericInn where kids weren't allowed in the refrigerated pool before 8am. (Shades of the old south.)

It's been a trend the past few years. Each road trip it's harder to find kid-friendly motels. Reminds me of the disappearing pay phone, now so rare I plan to photograph the next one I see.

What happened? There are lots of kid friendly places -- in resorts, water parks, etc. So it's not a universal disinterest. we're just out of step with the temper of our time. Smaller families can travel by air reasonably cheaply, and few share our anachronistic appreciation of byways and forgotten places (Indiana Dunes: Highly recommended. Don't miss the drive along the Beverly Shores beach -- it's top secret.) There are fewer children anyway, and as our society comes apart there are fewer middle class families who'd choose a road trip over a seaside restort.

We are dinosaurs, Left Behind by the modern world. Soon our habitat will be gone ...

Why Flipper reminds you of Lassie

The Loom : The Origin of the Ridiculous

Whales are beautifully ridiculous...

...Fossil discoveries have documented how coyote-like mammals moved into the water about 45 million years ago and became more and more adapted to the marine life....
So Lassie and Flipper might have had a reasonably proximal common ancestor ...

Evolution is astonishing. I wonder how closely their genes resemble one another now ...

Update: My error, Zimmer goes on to say cows and hippos are the closest terrestrial relatives. Coyote like presumably meant by form and behavior, not genetics. On the other hand a dog by another gene ... (or something like that)..

HAR1: The Uplift gene?

David Brin wrote a series of science fiction novels about "uplift" -- genetic manipulation applied to create human-like cognition in nonhuman animas. Carl Zimmer, a man who defines the true power of the blog, gives us an excellent interview of a gene Brin can reference in his next book ...
The Loom : And the award for the fastest-evolving piece of human DNA goes to...

... The scientists found 49 candidate segments. These segments have evolved a lot in our lineage. The most drastically altered of all is a segment the scientists dubbed HAR1 (for human accelerated region). It is 118 base pairs long. Chimpanzees and chickens, separated by over 300 million years, carry versions of HAR1 that are identical except for two base pairs. In humans, on the other hand, 18 base pairs have changed since we split from chimps.

What's HAR1 for? This is the sort of question that seems like it should be easy to answer unless you're the scientist doing the answering. The scientists found that human cells make RNA molecules out of the HAR1 segment. Specifically, they found that brain cells do. Specifically, brain cells in the cortex, the hippocampus, and certain other regions. We do love our brains, and so it is reasonable to consider that HAR1 took on some new role in the brains of human ancestors. The sequence of HAR1 suggests that an RNA molecule produced from it would be stable enough to carry out some important job, such as regulating the activity of protein-coding genes. HAR1 probably plays several roles. It is not just active in the adult brain, but in development-guiding cells in the fetus.

In a commentary that also appears in Nature, two Oxford scientists point out that HAR1 is also active in the ovary and testis of adult humans. And it is true that genes associated with sex are fast-evolving. So they don't want to rule out the possibility that selection has acted on HAR1 in connection with reproduction, rather than with thought. It's a fair point, but I was struck by the fact that the expression of HAR1 is far smaller in the sex cells than in the brain.

Still, it's a strange point that may be worth raising at your next party: we have genes that are only active in our brains and sex cells.
Elsewhere I read this gene is most active in humans from 7-19 weeks of gestation. How long before we tweak it in chimps? Just a bit ...

It would be interesting to study the effect of ultrasound on the operation of RNA that doesn't code for proteins.

CastingWords: Distributed transcription using Amazon's Amazing Turk services

CastingWords Podcast Transcription Store FAQ markets itself as a podcast transcription service. It uses the human bot network assembled by Amazon -- the 'Amazing Turk' service.

Cost is per minute of transcription. Best suited to public material rather than, say, medical or legal transcription. Jon Udell describes his experience.

Why don't they appreciate all we've done for them?

I want a counter on my desktop that will tell me how long Bush has left to rule:
Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by This Clown?

Joshua Marshall: ...president expressed frustration that Iraqis had not come to appreciate the sacrifices the United States had made in Iraq, and was puzzled as to how a recent anti-American rally in support of Hezbollah in Baghdad could draw such a large crowd. "I do think he was frustrated about why 10,000 Shiites would go into the streets and demonstrate against the United States," said another person who attended...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Atheists, Jews, Professionals, Internationalists, Nihilists and Cosmopolitans: Michael Barone channels F. Chernov

Michael Barone writes for the WSJ editorial pages. Mao would understand Michael Barone. Here a brilliant blogger (billmon) provides a set of quotes contrasting the writings of Barone with those of another like-minded fellow …

Whiskey Bar: Rootless Cosmopolitans

... The Connecticut primary reveals that the center of gravity in the Democratic Party has moved . . . to the secular transnational professional class that was the dominant constituency in the 2004 presidential cycle.

Michael Barone
Wall Street Journal Op-Ed
August 10, 2006

Consisting in part of cringing before foreign things and servility before bourgeois culture, rootless cosmopolitanism produces special dangers, because cosmopolitanism is the ideological banner of militant international reaction, the ideal weapon in its hands for the struggle against socialism and democracy.

F. Chernov
Bolshevik Magazine Op-Ed
March 1949 …

It goes on. Brilliant, really. I’d worry they’re coming for me, but I’m working to be classified in the ‘harmless whacko’ group. They’ll do us last. Credit to TMW.

Google will date and file your images shortly ...

You have 5,000 prints you've just scanned in the Acme PrintScanner 2008. How do they get dated and named? What print has Aunt Madge in 1940 vs. Benjamin Francis in 2001? Google wants to help ...
Official Google Blog: A better way to organize photos?

Neven Vision comes to Google with deep technology and expertise around automatically extracting information from a photo. It could be as simple as detecting whether or not a photo contains a person, or, one day, as complex as recognizing people, places, and objects. This technology just may make it a lot easier for you to organize and find the photos you care about. We don't have any specific features to show off today, but we're looking forward to having more to share with you soon.
Upload all to Picasa. Provide the core data set: dated images of Madge and Benjamin at ages 1, 3, 5, 9, 11, 13, ... 25 ... 70 ... 90 etc. Let Picasa do the work, churning through thousands of images, attaching metadata to them ...

If your head isn't spinning, you're not paying attention ...

Don't let your children grow up to be atheletes

Schneier analyzes lessons from the Tour de France …

Crypto-Gram: August 15, 2006

... In the end, doping is all about economics. Athletes will continue to dope because the Prisoner's Dilemma forces them to do so. Sports authorities will either improve their detection capabilities or continue to pretend to do so -- depending on their fans and their revenues. And as technology continues to improve, professional athletes will become more like deliberately designed racing cars. ...

Don’t let your children grow up to be athletes. Just don’t.

Interesting observation on the effect of time-shifting — a test that’s negative with current technology will be positive in the future. The same thing applies to encryption. Interested persons are sure to collect all the strongly encrypted data they have, knowing that in 10 years they’ll be able to break the encryption …

Schneier speaks: The limited value of airplane security measures

Schneier is the wise man of security — both cyber and wetworld. In a few terse paragraphs he outlines the issues and dismisses much of the conventional reasoning about the liquid bomb attack. Emphases mine.

Crypto-Gram: August 15, 2006

... Last Week's Terrorism Arrests

Hours-long waits in the security line. Ridiculous prohibitions on what you can carry on board. Last week's foiling of a major terrorist plot and the subsequent airport security changes graphically illustrates the difference between effective security and security theater.

None of the airplane security measures implemented because of 9/11 -- no-fly lists, secondary screening, prohibitions against pocket knives and corkscrews -- had anything to do with last week's arrests. And they wouldn't have prevented the planned attacks, had the terrorists not been arrested. A national ID card wouldn't have made a difference, either.

Instead, the arrests are a victory for old-fashioned intelligence and investigation. Details are still secret, but police in at least two countries were watching the terrorists for a long time. They followed leads, figured out who was talking to whom, and slowly pieced together both the network and the plot.

The new airplane security measures focus on that plot, because authorities believe they have not captured everyone involved. It's reasonable to assume that a few lone plotters, knowing their compatriots are in jail and fearing their own arrest, would try to finish the job on their own. The authorities are not being public with the details -- much of the "explosive liquid" story doesn't hang together -- but the excessive security measures seem prudent.

But only temporarily. Banning box cutters since 9/11, or taking off our shoes since Richard Reid, has not made us any safer. And a long-term prohibition against liquid carry-on items won't make us safer, either. It's not just that there are ways around the rules, it's that focusing on tactics is a losing proposition.

It's easy to defend against what terrorists planned last time, but it's shortsighted. If we spend billions fielding liquid-analysis machines in airports and the terrorists use solid explosives, we've wasted our money. If they target shopping malls, we've wasted our money. Focusing on tactics simply forces the terrorists to make a minor modification in their plans. There are too many targets -- stadiums, schools, theaters, churches, the long line of densely packed people in front of airport security -- and too many ways to kill people.

Security measures that attempt to guess correctly don't work, because invariably we will guess wrong. It's not security, it's security theater: measures designed to make us feel safer but not actually safer.

Airport security is the last line of defense, and not a very good one at that. Sure, it'll catch the sloppy and the stupid -- and that's a good enough reason not to do away with it entirely -- but it won't catch a well-planned plot. We can't keep weapons out of prisons; we can't possibly keep them off airplanes ...

As you can guess by the excessive bolding, I am under Schneier’s sway. I particularly liked the comment about “we can’t keep weapons out of prisons”. Individual prisoners may not be terribly creative, but they share the human power of the evolving gestalt.

Schneier makes a point here that I think is new for him. He mentions “the sloppy and the stupid”. I think most of us have worried about the threat from smart terrorists (that’s a human flaw — we imagine everyone is like us …). I think what we missed is that, until now, the talent pool of al Qaeda has been shallow. A passion for the Dark Ages, an inclination to suicide, and the emnity of a lot of wealthy nations has probably discouraged smarter killers. We do need to maintain a core set of “security theater” for the sloppy and the stupid — of which there are many.

I fear that Bush’s incompetence is recruiting a smarter set of terrorists — at least Hezbollah class. My 9/01 scenarios were really wrong, so chances are I’m still wrong …

Fortune cookie quote

This showed up in my fortune cookie:
Young men think old men are fools; but old men know young men are fools.
Allegedly by Truman Capote? I suspect an earlier source, but I couldn't turn up a good reference. I think they're both right.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Infectious obesity: fattening the calf

The one thing missing from modern descriptions of obesity is "free will". That's good. Free will is an important deception, but it has little explanatory power.

Lately we've moved beyond the obvious environmental influences (600 calorie vending machine snacks that are claimed to hold "4 servings", neighborhoods without sidewalks, mega-schools) and genetics to focus on more obscure environmental influences, such as sleep practices and infection ...
Fat Factors - New York Times

... Gordon [jf: no relation] says he is still far from understanding the relationship between gut microflora and weight gain. “I wish you were writing this article a year from now, even two years from now,” he told me. “We’re just beginning to explore this wilderness, finding out who’s there, how does that population change, which are the key players.” He says it will be a while before anyone figures out what the gut microbes do, how they interact with one another and how, or even whether, they play a role in obesity. And it will be even longer before anyone learns how to change the microflora in a deliberate way.
A few months ago I posted that several human adenvorisuses are believed to induce adiposity in some animals. Now bacteria, our worldly overlords, are in the spotlight. It's a tangled web indeed.

What's in it for the bacteria? Well, they do eat us when we die. The fatter the host, the finer the feeding ...

This is bad. Using inmates in drug trials.

This is reallly bad.
Panel Suggests Using Inmates in Drug Trials - New York Times

An influential federal panel of medical advisers has recommended that the government loosen regulations that severely limit the testing of pharmaceuticals on prison inmates, a practice that was all but stopped three decades ago after revelations of abuse...
Who the hell was on this panel? The article is unclear. I think it was an IOM panel, and allegedly their primary criteria was benefit to the prisoners. This will go down as one of the IOM's biggest blunders; they're usually better than this. Professor Kligman, in particular, suffers from a utilitarian fallacy -- please take him off the Penn medical ethics committee.

Recruiting for phase I trials (safety trials) is a really hot potato. One of these trials just killed (they're walking deadmen) five UK citizens, all of whom shared rather poor judgment. Doing these trials ethically is going to greatly increase the cost of drug development -- we'll have to do more primate studies (getting the ethics right there as well - it can be done), more simulations, and we'll have to forget about "volunteers" and start paying professional testers boatloads of money to take significant risks for significant payoffs.

This will come to tears.

Another reader suspects the Economist might be in decline

Tim Bray suspects something's amiss with the Economist. He's a bit late to the party -- the decline began in the mid-90s and it's been in the mud for years. I'm giving it a rest for a year or so.

He'll figure it out eventually ....

Sunday, August 13, 2006

MySpace: So what's there?

Myspace seemed to have enough zeitgeist to it that I decided to sign up. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, my profile has my DOB in 1910, my build as "extra pounds", and my wife and daughter in my 'to meet' list.

I can now reveal the shocking, astounding and unexpected news that MySpace is all about recreational encounters. The more information you provide, the more "friends" appear in your network. I thought there'd be some interesting web 2.0 technology, but it's very much web 1.0.

Other than the lack of Ajaxity, the other surprise was that you can't readily display your real name. First and last names are private.

My kids are too young for this stuff, but I can see I need to catch up on my Gibson security podcasts. In a few years I'll be wanting some fairly sophisticated traffic analysis software ... (Cell phones, what cell phones?)


Cataclysmic change: dog picture changes

A change of this magnitude should not go unremarked.

In addition to the Gordon's Notes and Gordon's Tech blogs, I have ten + year old personal web site: It changes little these days, I maintain a few of the more popular pages every few monhts. One item that's been slow to update is the main page picture, which for 10 years was my dog Molly. Molly went wherever we all go about two years ago, but only now has her heir appeared. Kateva is now the iconic representative of my ancient site. Happily she's relatively young.

Why do (some) humans hate democracy?

Conversely, why do some love tyrants rather than futile blogging about authoritarian trends?

Ocrinus reviews the literature.. Alas, there's not that much science to the review, but it is illustrative. Evolutionary anthropology is probably a better explanatory source.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Ten cosmologies and Theory 10

I agree with FMH. Theory 10 is oddly persuasive; there's something to be said for explaining the bizarre features of our universe as computational artifacts.

Theory 10 is, of course, fundamentally indistinguishable from the 'omnipotent deity' explanation, that should warm the hearts of the Creationists.

Incidentally, one must give due credit to the last 15 years of science fiction writing, which has explored many aspects of 'life in a simulation'. One of my favorites featured a simulation-within-a-simulation-within-etc. The very alien inhhabitants of the ultimate simulation went to immense lengths to explain their fundamentally illogical universe, much to the amusement of those who'd created the simulation. Incredibly they finally produced an internally consistent explanation of their odd cosmology; their solution propagated outside the simulation and destroyed the host universe ...

Minneapolis is a civilized town

Today my son demonstrated an unprecedented interest in the unequalled Minneapolis riverside dog park, just south of Minnehaha park. Hours passed, and we blew through our parking meter time.

When we returned I saw the pink ticket, and remembered, too late, that our spot was metered. To my astonishment, however, the ticket was an offer I could not refuse. I could pay $35 for the ticket, or $28 for a one year park pass:
Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board - Parking

...Effective May 27, 2006 , the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is issuing administrative tickets for parking violations. First-time offenders have the option to purchase a $27 Annual Patron Parking Permit and save $8 rather than pay the $35 parking citation.

Annual Parking Permit Option

First time parking offenders may choose to purchase a $27 Annual Parking Permit or pay the $35 administrative ticket. Purchase of the Annual Parking Permit requires that payment of $27 must accompany the ticket, be made in the ticket envelope and received within seven days. Payment must be made by mail or in person:

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
2117 West River Road , Minneapolis , 55411
Wow. This is so civilized. Parking fees are an entirely reasonable user fee system, and this is a most elegant extensions of this. I live in St. Paul, but I have to admit Minneapolis has its own style.

I'll see if they'll let me get two passes, normally that's the base rate plus another $10.

Never apologize

The Japanese, at least in theory, had a culture of responsibility, where senior leaders apologized for errors in judgment. Sometimes the apologies were gruesome.

I don't think Charles Krauthammer should commit Seppuku, but an apology would be nice. Kudoes to Crooked Timber:
Crooked Timber: Credibility problems

... But even better to my mind, was Krauthammer’s confident judgement on Iraq WMDs back in April 2003.
...Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We’ve had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven’t found any, we will have a credibility problem.
Krauthammer is now advocating military action against Iran.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Bics and bump keys: innovation diffusion

Innovation diffusion studies were popular in the 1980s. How do new techniques, new methods, move through a population? I don't hear much about it any more, perhaps because diffusion has accelerated substantially.

Crooks have quickly learned how to steal "theftproof" cars (manufacturers left "back doors" for mechanics and for internal use). A few years ago the internet had demonstrations of opening bike locks with a Bic pen -- a vast number of locks had to be replaced.

Now it's the household lock. The newest innovation in breaking and entry is the use of the (Future Feeder) � Bump key. A set of 9 or so specially cut keys, combined with a light hammer blow and a quick twist, will open the vast majority of household locks. The methods leaves no sign of entry, so you may simply discover your diamond tiara is gone -- but nothing else is touched. Might be hard to get a claim paid ...

New locks will come along. The interesting bit to me is the speed of diffusion. Car theft, lock picking, blowing up planes -- new techniques are deployed quickly.

Leiberman lost on the merits

He wasn’t defeated by a conspiracy of loons. He deserved to lose.

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Was David Broder Always *This* Stupid?

... Not true. A switch of two percent of the voting electorate would have given Joe Lieberman a victory. If Joe Lieberman had announced that he was going to live or die by the result of the Democratic primary, spent his $2 million in the bank on the primary, and gotten all the extra Democratic politicians who would have been happy to campaign with him under those conditions into the state--he would have won. If Lieberman had made up his mind whether Lamont was really a Republican from Greenwich or a tool of the far left that believes Osama bin Laden is not a threat, he would have won. If Lieberman had been willing to talk this spring about how Bush could handle the situation in the Middle East better--he would have won. If Lieberman had been willing to call for mass resignations from the Bush administration for failed implementation--he would have won.

Lieberman had to work very hard to lose this one. In claiming that "it was clear" that Lamont would prevail, David Broder is simply being a very rare species of idiot. ...

One of the reasons I don’t subscribe to the NYT Select is so I don’t have to worry about accidental exposure to Broder, who’s far more irritating than Ann Coulter. Ann is a self-referential parody and loon, but Broder is a brainy moron. Ok, so the Times Select also costs $50, which is a lot to pay for Value = (Krugman) – (Broder+Friedman).

Talent, terrorism and the shoulders of giants

Yesterday I wrote (Gordon's Notes: 8/09: How talented is this group?) that I thought the talent level of al Qaeda’s team has been pretty low the past five years.

I'm looking forward to learning more about the current crop of suspects (some of whom will likely turn out to be innocent); particularly how many have engineering or science degrees from serious institutions, etc. That will tell us if George Bush's al Qaeda recruitment strategy is bearing fruit. If it turns out that this is a talented bunch then we have to give even more credit to Pakistani, UK and US counter-terrorism efforts. Given the size of the conspiracy, however, I suspect they’re dolts. No-one with any brains would launch an effort that big from the United Kingdom.

Today I give credit to two recent public radio shows for emphasizing another part of the talent puzzle. One show was part of a superb series on supermax prisons and solitary confinement, the other was an interview this morning with a remarkable counter-terrorism expert. I wish the latter kept a blog ...

First the supermax. The inmates at supermax prisons are not generally known for their creativity, insight, or intelligence. So I was surprised by the range of ingenious and lethal techniques they deployed to support violence, commerce, and recreation. A handful of innovators, combined with modern and traditional communication channels, intense motivation and ample time to scheme, and memetic selection, have delivered advanced techniques to the average prisoner. These men and women stand on "the shoulder of (nasty) giants".

Then the counter-terrorism specialist. He pointed out that a large range of modern terrorist methodologies seem to have been developed by a few unfortunately talented IRA engineers and specialists. Their techniques and technologies, developed during the 1950s to 1980s (perhaps with some KGB help as well?) have been widely disseminated though print and spoken methods (I’m sure the net helps too). Apparently some of this team continues to work gainfully in South America (guess where?), though it’s not clear how inventive they are nowadays. Terrorists too have shoulders to stand on.

So the British terrorists (they were British citizens and terrorists, so they’re British terrorists) may have been executing a derivative attack, and they may have been dolts, but a lot of knowledge has been packaged to a point that even dolts can execute it. Process improvement, knowledge management, and the falling costs of lethal weapons — it’s all a part of the falling cost of havoc.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Quicken: I do loathe thee

Quicken 2004 is up to its old bugs again -- auto classifying every transaction incorrectly, creating myriads of nonsensical transaction splits. I clean it up and then it does it again. It also threw a memory exception; I had to 'copy' (rebuild) the database again.

I really only use Quicken now to download my credit card transactions and check transactions. I've gone back to spreadsheets for overall finance work and tax reporting, and given up on balancing the checkbook.

I've used Quicken since DOS version 2. It was a great piece of software then, though some DOS versions had nasty database corruption bugs. After about DOS version 4 it started downhill, and it's been sleazing about for years. One day I'll abandon it completely.

Progress in software is not guaranteed. The personal web building toolkits have never returned, that market is gone (iWeb doesn't qualify). Finance software is pretty meager on the PC, and non-existent on the Mac. Word processors aren't as good as they were 10 years ago. Photo management software is, of course, far better. Overall though, it's a mixed picture.

8/09: How talented is this group?

The initial impression, obviously uncertain, is that the 8/09 multi-plane bombing plan was (is?) a serious operation of an al Qaeda like group. I'm most interested in the talent level of the group.

The current hypothesis about why we haven't had major attacks post 9/11 in the US (exempting the mysterious anthrax bio-attack) is:
  1. No robust command and control function left post Afghanistan.
  2. A desire for a 'big' attack -- no wish for smaller actions.
  3. An unexpected (by many) level of opposition, or at least non-support, among US muslims for any attacks.
  4. Some minimal hardening of the most obvious targets. (Except for the cockpit doors, however, this is largely discounted.)
My personal hypothesis is different. I think al Qaeda has had a very weak bench. I think that the intellectual capabilities, operational effectiveness, and creativity of their "team" has been miserable.

I began to think this after the Richard Reid "shoe bomber" episode. Sending a cognitively disabled paranoid schizophrenic on an attack only made sense if it was either a "feint" -- or if that was the best they could do. In retrospect the Reid attack was not a feint, so the implication is that they had almost nobody left with any talent.

Why is this? Genius is everywhere. There must be tens of thousands of Muslims who are smarter and more creative than anyone I know -- albeit with, on average, fewer educational opportunities. If they wanted to destroy western civilization we'd be on our backs now. As it is, despite Bush's incompetence, we're still breathing.

For some reason, al Qaeda hasn't been able to recruit really talented attackers. I think Bush has been doing an outstanding job of helping al Qaeda improve their recruiting pool. Once we get a look at this bunch, we'll see how successful he's been.

Update 8/16/06: Early returns suggest a very thin bench here. I'm still waiting to learn if any went to college, and particularly if there were any scientists, technologists, geeks, or engineers.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Cancers can become parasitic life forms

A canine tumor turns out to be a parasitic form of a cancer cell from a dog that died 300-500 years ago. Now the hunt is on for additional forms of parasitic cancer:
The Loom : A Dead Dog Lives On (Inside New Dogs)

...One question the scientists do raise is how common such cancer parasites may be. Scientists have reported tumors that spread from transplanted organs, but these don't have a way to sustain their spread for centuries. Still, between mating, biting, and otherwise making contact, vertebrates provide plenty of opportunities for cancers to spread. And it is striking that our immune systems--and the immune systems of other jawed vertebrates--are equipped to battle so strongly against foreign tissues. What for? It's not as if Devonian-era sharks were giving each other liver transplants 400 million years ago. Perhaps, the scientists suggest, our ancestors had to fight against a different sort of tissue donation: cancer parasites.
In the dogs the parasite is relatively benign, in Tasmanian Devils a similar sort of parasite is lethal. This will be interesting ...

Microsoft in crisis: it's more than Vista

To put it mildly, I've never been a Microsoft fan. I think MS Word alone has knocked billions of our GNP. Their path to power was littered with the corpses of better solutions. On the other hand, I've always given them credit for Microsoft Excel, I think XP was a very good OS until the security crises of the past few years (not as good overall as OS X, but good), and I've always thought they made superb hardware. Really, they've been a good hardware company.

Then I bought the Microsoft LifeCam VX-6000. It takes real genius to produce an XP STOP screen on startup -- the rarely seen XP Blue Screen of Death (not on my home machine, on my pure work laptop). Only Microsoft would have the knowledge and cojones to hack into the ring 0 driver code of XP and do something like this (my guess is that the LifeCam software was written for Vista).

Microsoft is in deeper trouble than a Vista product delay. They increasingly feel like a company coming apart at the seams. This won't be pretty, but maybe it's the best alternative we have to a stifling monopoly. With luck they'll be back in 10 years -- without the monopoly ...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Ta Mok: An obituary

What was he like, as a child? Was he loved once? Do his children mourn him?
The Economist: Ta Mok

Aug 3rd 2006

Ung Choeun (“Ta Mok”), the last surviving leader of the Khmers Rouges, died on July 21st, probably aged 80...

... His name, “Ta Mok”, meant “respected grandfather”. Villagers mourned him because they said he had brought prosperity and work to their poor forests. He claimed the same. Under his authority, especially in the south-west of Cambodia where he had been zone secretary in the communist Khmer Rouge days, roads, dams and bridges sprang up everywhere, and bright green rice fields stretched to the horizon.

Yes, Ta Mok built dams. They were erected in the late 1960s and 1970s by thousands of slaves. These people had never done hard labour before. They were doctors, teachers, writers, scientists, forcibly evacuated from the cities with whatever they could carry, made to live in barracks and worked for 12-14 hours a day. Their food was rice, which at one point fell to 150 grams a day, or rice gruel, or watery soup of banana stalks. If they did not die of disease, starvation or exhaustion, they might be killed for reluctance or dissent, or for wearing glasses. Between executions and deaths from aggravated causes, almost a quarter of Cambodia's population—1.7m people out of 7m—died between 1975 and 1979, when the Khmers Rouges were in power.

Ta Mok denied that there was blood on his hands. Towards the end of his life, as he awaited a long-delayed trial before a UN-Cambodian court on charges of genocide, he asked his lawyer to tell the world that he had never killed anyone. Technically, this may have been true. The killings he ordered in the south-western zone were done in the deep jungle, where he never saw them. Those he master-minded for Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader, when he was one of his senior advisers and later his army chief, were more like mob massacres in which no general needed to intrude...

... As early as the 1950s his cruelty was notable, and noted. So was his distrust. He saw traitors everywhere, and more as the years went on. Not only his party rivals, but ordinary people too, became CIA agents, lackeys of the Thai government, agents of the Vietnamese: those neighbour-countries, especially, being threats to the Khmer Rouge regime. He made the peasants in his zone wear black clothes, the better to control them.

... Ta Mok, born a peasant and with no fancy French education, talked of himself as one of the “lower brothers” at the grassroots, doing the hard revolutionary work. But he enjoyed the material rewards. He put his family—brothers, sons, daughters, in-laws—into party jobs, and built himself a fine red-brick headquarters in the middle of a lake.

In power, his basic, crude advice often cut through the jargon of the other cadres. Phnom Penh was cleared out and sacked in 1975, with the deaths of 20,000 people, largely because Ta Mok condemned his colleagues as “layabouts”. The year before, in Oudong, he had cleansed the old royal city of its 30,000 residents and burned it to the ground. The people were marched away to an uninhabited region in which they could build the new Cambodia.

After the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, Ta Mok kept on fighting for two decades. By the end of that time, though crippled by a landmine, he was the movement's leader. He had argued with Pol Pot, and seized power. The former leader died in 1998, in his custody, as both men fled farther into the northern mountains...
The writing is cold and restrained. The deeds must tell the tale, curses have no power here. I do not know how Ta Mok was made, but in a world of billions there must be hundreds such. Men mostly, with minds of malice and hate -- but for power they would be Ta Mok.

See also: Robespierre.

Paradigm: banned by Nature

Marvelous. Nature (the journal) gets many taste points:
Rapped on the Head by Creationists | Cosmic Variance:

... Did you know that Nature has an editorial policy forbidding the use of the words “scenario” and “paradigm”? Neither did I, but it’s true ...

Did Colonel Petrov save our world?

It's an old story (2003), and I've heard variations on it before, but the story of Colonel Petrov is worth a read. The allegation is that a Soviet computer error triggered a false alert pm 9/26/83, but rather than notify superiors (who might have launched the Soviet arsenal -- or decided the alert was an error), Colonel Petrov decided on his own initiative that the alarm was false. It was.

If you want to look for supernatural intervention, forget about intelligent design. Look to our having survived the 1980s. It seems unlikely, even in retrospect ...

Could ultrasound predispose vulnerable fetuses to neuronal migration disorders?

Be the Best You can Be: Ultrasound, neuronal migration, and autism

Monday, August 07, 2006

The day the software died - my worm and the end of the second golden age of the PC

Within a day of downloading two sharware webcam products [1] for testing with my new LifeCam I found my XP box running hot and minimally responsive. Bad feeling time.

Since Norton Antivirus, which does a full disk scan of my system every night, hadn't alarmed I tried the very latest version Microsoft's free utility for worm detection. It found nothing on the standard scan, but a deep scan and clean reported "partial removal" of W32/Mytob-W or some novel variant thereof. A follow-up NAV scan found nothing, but I will repeat with updated viral definitions and then migrate to Microsoft's new security product. This is my 3rd infection in about 17 years; one was with Win98, one with Mac OS 9 (yes!), and then this.

I will now, with less vanity than it appears, declare the end of the 2nd era of personal computing -- The Day the Music (Software) Died. It's dead. Put a fork in it.

The first Golden Age, from 1982 to 1998 was a time of amazingly creative software built on minimal resources. The first Golden Age died with the Microsoft monopoly.

The second Golden Age began with Gopher in the early 1990s and probably ended around 1999. The networked power of the second era, combined with the monoculture of the Microsoft monopoly, carried the seeds of its own destruction. When uber-geeks like me [3] are afflicted by worms and massive quantities of spam, the end is in the rear view mirror.

What will the third era look like? I think there are two paths, and we'll take both of them. One is the 'trusted computing' path of locked down software and a complex chain of control, combined with a move to software leasing and web services. Microsoft will lead this path.

The second is the trusted community path together with strong reputation management and coupled with open source and public file formats.

These paths are the Authoritarian state and the Citizen state. Sparta and Athens [3]. We've walked these roads before.

In the meantime what new measures will I take?
  1. I'll abandon Norton and switch to Microsoft's security package. I think that if one is going to run XP there's really no alternative to Microsoft for antivirus and security protection. They have the incentive, the resources, and the expertise to provide the best possible service. [4]

  2. I'll accelerate the migration of my last remaining XP machine to an OS X replacement [5].

  3. I'll install a hardware router/firewall with traffic analysis, automated shutdown and alerting to support early detection and termination of problems.

  4. I'll no longer download software from the websites of owner/authors. Instead I'll download from versiontracker and other community sites where risk is broadly shared and feedback identifies problems.
Other measures to be added here ...

[1] No, I'm not doing icky stuff, it's for the most boring and dull work you can imagine. It's a good thing I tested this at home however. I downloaded the products, one of which I'd registerd for an earlier failed project, from the author's sites. I thought that and Norton Antivirus was a reasonable combination, but I was probably wrong. I didn't bother to prove the sites were the source however, so I won't name them. The evidence is circumstantial.

It's even a bit hard to say that this really is a new event. I've gotten worms and spam from "myself" for years, but when I've investigated I found spammers were forging my address. So I wouldn't necessarily spot a worm infection ...

[2] Sure there are more XP security measures one could take. Internal and external firewall and traffic analysis, better antiviral solutions, etc. My XP machine already strains under the weight of its current security infrastructure.

[3] Ok, it's a cliche and a gross simplification. Athens was hardly pure.

[4] I know Microsoft has been performing lately like a corporation on Crack. I didn't say they'd do well.

[5] OS X is more secure than XP because it allows users to work successfully in non-admin accounts. It's also more secure because the OS X community is far more interactive and reputation based than the XP community, the difference between a village and a city. Lastly, and most obviously, OS X machines are very expensive to acquire and have limited use in business; kids and crooks will target XP first. Of these distinctions only the first is likely to persist, and if Apple doesn't publish its own security solution soon OS X will be in deep trouble.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Obesity, nutrition facts and corrupted government

Act One: Obese senator decries the sorry state of American's children.

Act Two: Nutrition Facts on Tortilla Chips package
Serving Size: 11 chips
Servings per container: 2 3/4
Calories per serving: 150
  1. It's likely that fewer than 1/10 Americans can multiply 2.75 * 150 to figure out how many calories this bag contains (about 415).
  2. This bag is likely most often consumed by one person at one sitting -- with cheese dip.
  3. In the US "Nutrition Facts" are a federal mandate.
Ergo one may deduce:
  1. The federal government is exceedingly corrupt, as well as incidentally hypocritical.
I probably don't need to explain how this inferential chain to my eccentric readership, but for the record the trick of displaying calories per serving on a label, and then declaring that a single user package has a non-integer serving size > 1, is an obviously evil attempt to hide how caloric content. That's fine, the market demands evil. It's the obvious political corruption that's more noteworthy.

Why corruption? The proof of corruption is that the fix for this fraud is simply to require that the "Nutrition Facts" also display the Calories per container. This fix has never been made. It's the absence of the obvious fix that proves the corruption.

We are getting the government we deserve, and evidently we've been really, really, bad.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Old skate parts, Google, and the walk to school

When I was a boy we had to fight the wolves and the blizzards on our 19 mile walk to school. That was before global warming, before the Twin Cities became the Riviera of the midwest.

Also when I was a boy we couldn't just Google on "Salomon TR parts" and find a source for a missing bolt from an inline skate that was last manufactured in 1998.

Sigh. I thought I'd get a new pair of skates out of that lost bolt. (BTW, the next time I buy skates, I'll also buy a set of parts. Skates are nowhere near as standard as they used to be.)

PS. offered Google Checkout. The first time I used Checkout with Firefox there was a minor glitch, but this try was delightful. Checkout keeps my email address confidential, giving the vendor a disposable address that routes to my gmail account. Checkout also keeps all my receipts and I can view the order status on that page as well. Very much as expected -- a direct assault on

Guiding executives with mutual deception - Dilbert scores

Dilbert scores. My friend Andrew had to teach me this years ago, though it's self-evident to most people:
Dilbert (Scott Adams) 8/5/06

In order to make an informed decision, you would need to know as much as I know.

That's impossible, so instead, by mutual, implied agreement, I will feed you some lies that point you to the right decision...
This should be employee orientation item one for every engineer, scientist, geek and autistic person joining a commercial enterprise. All of this tribe share a dangerous compulsion to tell the most complete truth they know, but in truth only a fellow expert wants the entire story. It's really not that interesting.

A smart boss may want a plausible story they can use, or they may want the 'freshman physics' version -- a story that's "useful" albeit grossly incomplete, or both. Sometimes the 'market story' and the 'freshman physics' story are the same, sometimes different. In all cases the "deception" is by implied understanding.

There's more to this, but my elder son is impatient right now ...

Friday, August 04, 2006

Exxon pays for fake Gore spoof

The Wall Street Journal, home to both whackjob editorial pages and the nation's best journalists, exposes the author of a fake
Al Gore Spoof. It's DCI Group, a Washington lobbying firm used by Exxon.

Idiots. I so hope John Stewart picks this one up.

I nominate Molly Ivins to the Order of the Shrill

ShrillBlog needs to welcome Molly Ivins into the tentactular realm of the Shrill.

True, she is a classic old school journalist, someone who used to make an effort to be balanced, to make her critiques witty, to keep a sense of humor and balance. She used to be an optimist. In those days she didn't qualify.

She does now. It is time to welcome Molly.

Apocalypse August: I miss so much by not watching TV

I don't watch TV. No time. So I have no clue what's happening out there, except when someone blogs about John Stewart paraphrasing TV. (He's brilliant. Thank you John Stewart. Too bad I only see him in pixellated video streams.) Now I'm up to date.

Huh? America's plastic faced TV anchors are talking about armageddon?

This nation is crackers. The Stewart clip, however, is a masterpiece. Please watch it if you haven't.

Is there no middle ground in America?

Reading Krugman directly costs $50 a year. Happily, some bloggers are routing around the NYT paywall -- at least until the lawyers arrive.

Here Liberal Journal reposts a Krugman column. His thesis -- the middle ground is gone.
The Liberal Journal: Krugman

... those who cling to the belief that politics can be conducted in terms of people rather than parties — a group that also includes would-be centrist Democrats like Joe Lieberman and many members of the punditocracy — are kidding themselves.

The fact is that in 1994, the year when radical Republicans took control both of Congress and of their own party, things fell apart, and the center did not hold. Now we’re living in an age of one-letter politics, in which a politician’s partisan affiliation is almost always far more important than his or her personal beliefs. And those who refuse to recognize this reality end up being useful idiots for those, like President Bush, who have been consistently ruthless in their partisanship.
Krugman gives several examples of GOP allies that now support policies that are clearly against their core interests, presumably because they believe the GOP will support their agenda better in the future -- or that the alternative is worse.

I think Krugman is correct that the overall direction of the GOP is such that no GOP candidate should ever be supported -- no matter how excellent they may be personally. This is sad, but Lincoln Chaffee will do enormous harm, regardless of his personal interests, if he keeps Bill Frist in power.

I don' t know of the middle-ground is truly gone from all aspects of US politics. There might be a place for a Clinton-style centrist president for example. Or maybe not.

It's been noted (Krugman?) that historically US politics was very partisan, and that bipartisanship may have been an artifact of post-WW II income compression. The split of US incomes into the flat middle and the ascendant extreme may have thus ended bipartisanship.

Accelerando, Stross, Google, Amazon, Copyright and DRM: a deleted review and a scary collision ...

Ok, I need less coffee. It looks like I retitled my seemingly missing review at some point. Google's Blogger search displayed the old title, but retitling breaks Blogger links. So the Google search returned nothing and I falsely assumed my review had been silently deleted due to an automated comparison between the review on Amazon and the review in Blogger.

So then I tried to correct my error and found Blogger had crashed.

So false alarm. Google's recent misidentification of my blogs as splogs has definitely aggravated any incipient paranoid features.
I wrote a review of Charles Stross book Accelerando and posted it to Blogger [1]. I then put the same review on Amazon where it could be more widely read. Today I went looking for the review. It has vanished from Blogger. It will be interesting to see if this post vanishes too. …

Social networks and the expected implications of exponential growth

Orkut is huge - in Brazil. Nowhere else I think. Myspace is humungous, growing from nothing to everywhere in no time at all.

That's exponential growth. One day there's one lily pad on the pond, a few weeks later the pond is half full, a day later it's full. The last doubling is the big one.

It's fascinating. Why does one network take off and another founder? What makes a movie a hit, or a toy "hot"? Why do some diseases simmer in the Heart of Darkness and others make it to Hollywood? Why does one primate inherit the earth (for now) and all the others die?

There's a fascinating mixture of determinism and contingency. Sure the primate had some handy features, but evolution could have taken a very different course. Orkut in Brazil and MySpace in the US had a combination of both value and serendipity that let them grow. (Survival, of course, is another matter.)

Is LinkedIn doing the same thing? LinkedIn is a snotty "exclusive" (hah!) network that seeks to amplify and extend social networks among "executive" (double-hah) types. Believe me, any club that has me as a member is neither exclusive nor executive. What catches my attention, however, is the rapid growth.

A friend (Jacob) sent me an invitation a few months ago, and since I respect his judgment I decided to play with it. I invited my wife. Then my alma mater invited all alumni and students to join up. Yesterday I received two separate invitations to join at an address unconnected to my existing account.

Clearly LinkedIn is now past the inflection point of the exponential curve. A few more doublings and my dog will be getting invitations (hmmm. No reason I couldn't give Kateva an email address and a resume ...).

It will be interesting to see where it goes next and how the stream is monetized. At the moment it is a handy way to keep in touch. They do limit invitations but if you're a friend/family and you want one just email me ...

Life on the net is making the exponential a familiar phenomena to many people ...

Update 8/4/06: I just got my first invitation to connect from a corporate recruiter. Ok, so now I see one way they'll monetize this -- the recruiters will sign up for a lot of expensive value added services. I made the connection -- the recruiters I know are smart and careful types who don't waste time. Of course if they abuse the connection I'll remove it. It will indeed be interesting to see how this evolves. The 21st century is all about identity, reputation and reputation management. (Credit to Charles Stross from writing about this quite well in Accelerando.)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Kansas returns to Reason

The infamous Kansas State Board of Education is once again in the hands of Rationalists. The election was fought in large part over whether natural selection was a well accepted scientific principle. I am pleasantly surprised to discover that the citizens of Kansas agreed that natural selection is fundamental to modern biology and deserves a place of prominence in science ducation. On the other hand Creationism/ID does not belong on the science curriculum.

I would, however, allow mention of 'design' as one of the solutions to the infamous Fermi Paradox. Of course the FP is not usually taught in high school.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The GOP votes to ban the Internet (from Libraries)

The GOP run House of Representatives has made it illegal to use most of Internet in a library ...
Good Morning Silicon Valley: All in favor of hysteria, panic and misinformation, say "aye"

Given the recent outcry over MySpace, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the U.S. House passed the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) with an overwhelming majority. But I can certainly be disappointed. With a 410-15 vote (410-15!!!) Thursday, politicians approved the bill, which will block access to social networks and Internet chat rooms in most federally funded schools and libraries....

...Here's how DOPA defines social networking sites:

(i) is offered by a commercial entity;
(ii) permits registered users to create an on-line profile that includes detailed personal information;
(iii) permits registered users to create an on-line journal and share such a journal with other users;
(iv) elicits highly-personalized information from users; and
(v) enables communication among users.

Great work, Congress, you've just barred anyone who depends upon their local libraries for access to the Web from viewing eBay, Yahoo, MSN, AOL and Amazon.
I think they've also banned the upper-crust corporate-focused LinkedIn social network. Would a Democrat dominated House do something this stupid?

I admit I can't prove they wouldn't, and a lot of Democrats voted for this. On the other hand, I suspect they voted for it in self-defense (imagine the ads -- my commie opponent supports pedophilia!). I would, however, like to know the 15 representatives possessed of both safe seats and a positive IQ.

I'll bet a Democrat controlled House would not have done this. Think of that next time you get to vote ...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Why we don't remember the future, and other consequences of the 2nd law

Cosmic Variance is hurting my head again. Coincidentally, I've been listening to the IOT episode on the 2nd law of thermodynamics (excellent) and just the other day I tried to explain time's arrow to my 7 yo ...
Boltzmann’s Anthropic Brain | Cosmic Variance

... Suddenly, a thermodynamics problem became a puzzle for cosmology: why did the early universe have such a low entropy? Over and over, physicists have proposed one or another argument for why a low-entropy initial condition is somehow “natural” at early times. Of course, the definition of “early” is “low-entropy”! That is, given a change in entropy from one end of time to the other, we would always define the direction of lower entropy to be the past, and higher entropy to be the future. (Another fascinating but separate issue — the process of “remembering” involves establishing correlations that inevitably increase the entropy, so the direction of time that we remember [and therefore label “the past] is always the lower-entropy direction.) ...
After this the essay gets much harder. Bayes Theorem makes an appearance, though it is not labelled. Crossing Bayes with the antrhopic principle yields yet more disturbing implications. Now if only CV would toss the Fermi Paradox into the mix ...