Flying High

Apparently the Antikythera Device has been deciphered and found to be an analog astronomical simulator.[Link] [Link] [Link] researchers at Cardiff U have also redated the device from circa 65 BCE to 100-150 BCE based on recently discerned inscriptions.

The amazing thing about this device is not so much that it was developed in the first place but the ease with which its information base was lost. Conservative estimates indicate the capacity was not redeveloped until the Middle Ages.

Interestingly, Stephen Hawking has been awarded the Copley Medal.[Link] He has also announced that humanity needs to get its act together and spread outside the solar system before we get overwhelmed with some disaster.[Link]

Considering that if the development of knowledge/ information/ science/ technology had not been repeatedly negated throughout history, we should have been there already.

Now you can go back to mindless consumerism. After all, its Christmas season.

The One or The Many?

The debate rages. A PHYSORG article arrived late yesterday detailing results of U Missouri-Columbia research that indicates the dinosaur extinction 65MYA was the result of only one meteorite strike.[Link] This is in dissension with another research [Link] by folks at Princeton U that advances the extinction was the result of the combination of global climate change, volcanism, and two (2) meteorite strikes.

Regardless, the dinosaurs as well as most other animal species went extinct allowing mammals to expand into new niches and ourselves to result.

In a completely unrelated PHYSORG article [Link] researchers at the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organization have measured accelerating carbon dioxide emission. They report that during the 1990’s the CO2 emission rate increased by a fraction of 0.01 per year. In the first five years of the Twenty-first century the CO2 emission rate grew by a fraction 0.025!

Absolved from All Allegiance

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”[Link]

‘The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”

From time to time I like to reread those stirring words, largely crafted by Thomas Jefferson, that say so much about the coercive tyranny of government in general, but in particular of the British government at that time. It gladdens my heart at how we finally invited them to depart from our ground albeit with the aid of military force and determination.

Now, it seems that they still practice the same oppression upon their own. I read that the British government wants to impose a Code of Conduct on bloggers.[Link] This code of conduct is already notorious for being the contemporary form of government censorship of the press and has largely reduced the content of said media to scandal and titillation.

The excuse given for this proposal is the prevention of libel and and the general imposition of political correctness. The actuality sounds much more like suppression of dissent and discussion. One wonders if the next action will be the reintroduction of the Star Chamber? People complain in blogs assuredly, but few represent any danger to society. Rather much the opposite: they promote healthy discourse or if their rhetoric is offensive or irrelevant, it is ignored.

Why is such an avowed capitalist nation state so insecure in the efficacy of the market?

Sadly, it is all too easy to imagine the United States following in their wake, especially now as the antiquated relevancy of the current political parties creaks and moans its way towards collapse.

Full of Sound and Fury

I note in The Register feed this morning an article that a researcher at U California has determined that in the mean women speak 2.E+04 words per day while men speak 7.E+03.[Link] The same report indicates that men think about sex approximately once a minute while women think about it once per day.

Sadly the reportage does not establish what the connection or relationship between these two data are. Is the difference in energy used by men thinking about sex equal to 1.3E+04 words per day? Or is the male brain so consumed with processing sexual thoughts that fewer words can be uttered – in effect, a sort of wetware denial of service attack? Or the number of words said scales as the sixth root of the period of sex thought?

I must admit that my first reaction here was that I obviously not only talk too little but I think too seldom or infrequently of sex. In fact, I don’t even recall thinking that much about sex or saying that many words when I was an undergraduate.

Rammer Jammer

I am usually loathe to comment on athletics but I am more than happy to comment on the behavior, especially when its aberrant, of large organizations. The two come together in the wake of yesterday’s announcement of the sacking of the U Alibam at Tuscaloosa (UAT) (American) football team chief coach.[Link]

I have several times commented on the practices of large organizations these days to say nice things about bad actions, which we might call the Laundry Detergent Box school of exaggeration and prevarication. As a result the Vox Magnis Corporis of UAT has spoken and we are much the less in our trust of them. I was especially taken with the words of the UAT President,[Link]

“I want to thank Mike Shula for his commitment to The University of Alabama football program. His leadership has provided our program with much-needed stability during the past four years, and we appreciate that, as our coach, he has demonstrated impeccable character and class in every way.”

The exaggeration and prevarication is self-evident here. These are the words describing someone you’ve just fired? What did the guy do wrong? Was his commitment not exceptional enough? Was his leadership inadequate? Was his stability unstable? The only negative thing I can find here is stating that the coach has “Class”, since the mention of such is a sure sign that the individual lacks it.

One has to suspect that the actual reason for the sacking was only indirectly due to the coach’s victory record. Rather, one would venture the hypothesis that the cash flow from UAT branded merchandise has slipped too much for the UAT legume enumerators to accept collegially and the shikse was dumped. Welcome to the wonderful world of Academic Capitalism.

While the sackage will not improve team performance immediately, the sensationalism, shock, and awe will immediately improve sales of UAT junk, especially as the Christmas spending season is just commenced.

One more good reason for me to give my end of the year excess to one of my other alma materi.

Cano Alea Virumque

I have commented in previous blots of how big organizations are somehow inherently less trustworthy these days. A good example of this is the Yankee Army and their taxonomy of success: an abject, crushing failure is announced to be a “qualified success”, while an actual success is an “unqualified success”. The idea is evidently abstracted from the sizing of laundry detergent where a large box is small and an jumbo stupendous box is large.

In a sense then it is no surprise that simulation is a big thing in the Yankee Army, since it is so open to proper adjustment. I cannot count the number of studies where battles were concluded with the virtual annihilation of the opponent and only flesh wounds on the part of the good guys. As great as these may seem to Congress Critters unaware of anything other than politics, such fights are notoriously rare, something on order 1.E-4 to 1.E-6 of battles. I call the interested reader’s attention to the chapter in POW on Conclusive Battles.

The new extreme of this is exposed in the latest Yankee Army recruiting War Game (people in the loop simulation) “Future Force Company Commander”.[Link] This paragon is brought to us by the same folks who are developing the Yankee Army’s combat panacea, the “Armored Combat System” which is evidently the centerpiece of the game.

Sadly, the game is deficient in many ways. It blankly assumes there is no friction and no responsive enemy – sort of like playing chess where one player gets a five pound sledge hammer and freedom to use it. Critics are already decrying the warped environment so I shan’t belabor that, just wonder whether this is a result of insecurity over the decision to buy the Armored Combat System so matter what, or insecurity over continued recruitment success, or both?

But then I recall that when Jim Dunnigan [Link] delivered the first table top training game, Firefight, to the Yankee Army back in the ’60’s. They didn’t have enough money to fulfill their contract with him so they signed over the commercial rights to the game to him.

Not Just for Hair

I see in the AP feed that Curling is enjoying a boom in the United States.[Link]

I am proud to note that we have a Curling Club in Greater Metropolitan Arab, an expression of our rich Scots heritage for those of us who have a Scots heritage and those who don’t. The news of the interest in the activity, as reflected by the importation of ~ 1.2E+04 kilograms of stones and the publication of a pin up calendar. We desperately need a new stone since our old one was lost at the bottom of the pond last winter.

The club has great hopes this will elevate our social standing in the community, currently dominated by the Arab Liars’ Club and Poke Salat Festival Permanent Committee, and the Pro and Anti-Prohibition associations.

Of course, it also means I may have competition for my position as Last Fourth Assistant Rear Sweep.

Do We need International Internet Law?

Recently, I blogged [Link] on the welcome decision by the California supreme court to not hold hosts liable for information uploaded to their sites.[Link] Now I see some French cinema company suing Google for not removing an uploaded copyright movie quickly enough, [Link] and yesterday something that at first glance seemed to be the arrest of some Alibam pedophile for violating a Kentucky internet usage law.[Link] It subsequently emerged that he did physically go to Kentucky and commit some of the crimes he is charged with.

The thing that does emerge from all of this chaos is that the legal system of the planet is becoming altogether too coercive of individuals as an unanticipated (but unintended?) consequence.[Link] Much as I detest exploitation crime, like pedophilia, it is also rather bestirring to perceive one state reaching through the internet to arrest a miscreant in another state who violated the first state’s laws from afar. Happily that proved not to be the case and the gears of justice will, I trust, properly refine the alleged malefactor.

Nonetheless, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the differences in local laws are resonating destructively through the internet and coupling into the general populace. Who knows what state’s legal apparat will descend on me the next time I kiss FD SCP in public? Or decide that my citation are violation of copyright?

As a minimum, the legal regulation of the internet needs to be a national matter in the United States, transcending the various states’ diverse legalisms. At least it should be considered and if necessary, an amendment to the Yankee government constitution drafted.

Perhaps better would be some body of international law regulating the use of the internet? To have substance it would have to transcend local additions, for that is what is disrupting things now. Can we agree on something like this? Can the tight control nation-states like China interact meaningfully with loose control nation-states?

MalWart Amazes

Trick IT Question: What is worse than a denial of service attack?

Trick IT Answer: A service meltdown

Denial of service attacks are based on the old military idea of saturation attacks – if you hit a target continuously with overwhelming numbers, then the target will disappear. That’s what denial of service is, you hit a web site often enough that the servers can’t do anything but poll. Of course when such an attack occurs, it means that the folks who want to use that web site can’t. The good news is that if you publicize this enough, most of those folks don’t hold a grudge and vote with their mice for the site of one of your competitors.

Yesterday, there were a few instances of the conjugate to this where so many real people, not robots, were trying to use web sites that the web site shut down.[Link][Link] The bad news is that when this happens most of the folks who couldn’t get through do vote with their mice because such happenings are clear evidence that there isn’t enough IT horsepower behind the site and therefore the folks who own the site aren’t trustworthy.

It happened to MalWart, Amazon (on Thursday), and Disney. Now these folks have a whole new understanding of Black Friday. They also have a better understanding of the concept of “graceful degradation” and catastrophe theory.

The idea of graceful degradation, a concept long espoused by Professor Griff Callahan (COL, ADA, USA Ret.) of the Georgia Institute of Technology, sometimes knows as the Fourteenth Avenue Trade School, is that something is designed to fail in a gradual (graceful) manner. Its the opposite of catastrophic failure (for a discusion see Robert Gilmore’s Catastrophe Theory for Scientists and Engineers, now reprinted by Dover, but if you want a copy go direct to Dover or to Barnes and Noble because Amazon has felt the actual event!) One example of graceful degradation is modern automobile tires that are designed to first contain and slow leaks and then run flat so you can get to a tire repairer and don’t just sit by the side of the road waiting for hours on AAA.

The usual IT approach to graceful degradation, largely courtesy of Leonard Kleinrock, the real father of the Internet (not that political feller who volunteered that he was the father and now claims to have discovered global warming,) is to estimate how much traffic you’ll have on a node and then multiply that by some fudge factor for safety/risk amelioration. The fudge factor is usually one order of magnitude but some penny pinchers use the cube root of ten (3 dB). Professor Kleinrock’s books are also available at Barnes and Noble.

As a result, I’m a bit surprised at the melt downs. Well, not the Disney one. Too many of their IT guys are still of a mind that the only thing that’s important is animatronics and the rest haven’t been able to adapt to the reality that the whole world, at least the Soccer Mom Consumerist part, has become Disney Land and has evolved onwards.

But I am surprised that Amazon and MalWart melted. Amazon is basically a webfront only business and MalWart has always been very aggressive in their IT, often scorning good enough COTS solutions for home grown sledge hammer fly swatters (that’s another blot.) But evidently they’ve either gotten consumed with economizing on IT for the sake of cash flow, as MalWart is notorious for, or they’re allowing their financial department, rather than real analysts, to analyze their peak usage data from years past.

I could blot on about how Amazon and MalWart are highly not competitors with each other (not completely but mostly,) but I’ll just settle for chucking in sympathy as Barnes and Noble and Target grin.

On Podcasts

There is an article in the BBC feed this morning on American use of podcasts.[Link] It claims that only 0.07 of Americans who use the internet have ever downloaded a podcast and only 0.01 download on any “typical” day.

Lots of flaws here, both in terms of the reportage and the folks analyzing the situation. The latter largely follows from the way the use of podcasts develops and how they try to analyze it.

Most of these trend analysts aren’t taught any real maths, they just get taught how to use some standardized techniques for forecasting without understanding the underlying models. And they end up working in commercial organizations where the maths literacy is downhill from them.

As I have blotted before, this type of thing spreads by a diffusion mechanism, which doesn’t necessarily mean a Drunkard’s Walk. In fact, I expect that this is diffusing ala either a logistic model, akin to how diseases are spread by contact between someone with the disease and someone without it, or a broadcast model, akin to seeing something on a TV program or reading in a newspaper and then trying it. Or its possibly a mixture of the two.

There are some complications on all this since the process is probably stochastic and not stationary – definitely not stationary. There may be competing processes, not all of which may be obvious – as we’ll explore.

I should comment at this point that this is how both Firefox and Linux are spreading. I probably should also admit that I am one of those few who do use podcasts. I can attest that they’re few because I have no acquaintances who subscribe to podcasts.

There are a couple of microdynamics matters here, I think. First is that the whole podcast thing is still pretty much in its amateur infancy stage allthough there has been some considerable growth recently in the professional sector. Partly because of this podcasts are pretty much divided between amateur special interest podcasts, most of which are pretty bad and very audience specific, and organizational outreach podcasts. The latter include folks like the BBC, the scientific journals, universities and Williamsburg, to name some that I subscribe to.

The software environment of podcasts are very much amateurish. Almost all of the software is open source, and the clearing sites for podcasts that maintain databases of podcasts are all ad hoc and open. So if you’re going to subscribe to a podcast you’ve got to deal with software that isn’t Megahard and may be kind of brutal in assuming you know a bit from a byte and a URL from an IP address.

Once you’ve got the podcast subscribed to, you have to receive it, which means it comes in over the internet to your computer – although I understand the phone companies are sorta working on cellular reception. Then once you get it, you have to either listen to it on your computer, or download it onto some device like a CD that you can listen to on your automobile wireless/CD player (if its MP3 capable,) on onto your MP3 player. And as I understand how iPods work, if you’ve got one of them you’re either left with more open source and socially discouraged software or you’re out of luck. Luckily I found out about this before I bought an MP3 player and so I don’t have this problem.

The whole podcast on an MP3 player is a niche thing since MP3 players were primarily intended for folks to listen to specially bought music on. Indeed, the whole MP3 community is pretty well divided into two groups of people – those who only want to listen to popular music and those who want to cart around all their tunes. Interestingly, there is a pretty good age differential between the two groups and there is a big difference in MP3 players between them.

If all you’re going to listen to is pop music and you’re going to dump the music in a couple of weeks, then a little (small storage capacity) player is ok and the price is low, ~ $100 unless you just have to have an iPod. If you’re going to cart around 100 albums of whatever, then you need a big player and that runs upwards of ~$250.

The other factor is that these players are fixed size buckets and once they’re full, they’re full until you throw something away. Its a bit of a bookcase metaphor. And podcasts are big files compared to songs. They may have lower sound fidelity (bits per second) but they’re 10-60 minutes each as compared to 3 minutes for a song.

So the bottom line, which you all thought I’d never get to:

  • Find a podcast you want to try;
  • Get the software to download the podcast;
  • Move the podcast onto your MP3 player;
  • Listen to it; and
  • Throw it away.

Lot of touching here. Lot of places to get discouraged, especially if you are a baby boomer and not as computer literate as you know you should be.

Which is part of why the numbers are small. There’s also the factor that most of the podcasts are pretty bad, even though they don’t have much in the way of commercials (as compared to TV,) and almost all of them have something annoying about them. So what the numbers aren’t getting is the folks intimidated by the process or turned off by not finding what they want.

And the fluctuations? That part is easy. Given all of this process, its pretty easy to see that what you do is set up a routine. I have the software set to download to this desktop all during the week whenever the software wants to and can get bandwidth, and then I transfer to the MP3 player on Sunday to listen to through the week.