Information Outgarbage

There is an old saying in the computer society "Garbage in, Garbage out." Of course the wonderful thing about computers is that they can really make this "A little garbage in and A LOT OF GARBAGE OUT." And when you get the media involved, the little in may be vanishingly nil.

Take for example, a review by PC Magazine of the Amazon Kindle. [Link] For what the article says, it mostly says well. From a hardware sense the Kindle is pretty good, about on a par with the comparable Sony box. But where the review fails dismally is talking constructively about the use of the machine. Yes, there are a lot of titles available. Are very many of them the sort of thing that makes one want the convenience of the Kindle? I fear the answer is a resounding NO, and the magazine once more reveals itself increasingly a publication for the happily ignorant lacking the pretension of either depth or accuracy, appealing only to a class of consumer who knows no better and has no desire to improve.

The distressing thing however, is not the absence of any substantive consideration of content, but the unabashed acceptance of paying for free information. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS and podcast feeds and pay zero (direct) for these; I subscribe to a bunch of blog announcements and pay zero (direct) for these. Of course, I qualify these as direct because I have a substantial indirect charge in that I have to pay my ISP for connection to the internet. OK, so I pay OTELCO what seems to me too much money for the service I obtain. In a comparison with what is available in Greater Metropolitan Arab the figure actually comes in as representative and given the intangible differences between the service climate at OTELCO versus THE CABLE COMPANY, the price is acceptable.

This is the root of my problem with the Kindle, its commitment to a separate network. I first object to not being told that part of what I would be paying for is access to that network, and second to still having to pay for things I get without direct cost as a virtue of access to the internet. I also find their commitment to a proprietary format unacceptable when there is a standard Yankee government format – PDF-Archive – that is better and free for use. And I much prefer the podcast model where I download stuff to my PC and then transfer to my handheld device. Yes, this is not what the Y generation may want but if they will stand for it on their iPods (I use a Creative Zen for reasons I have made quite obvious.) then why not on an eBook reader? Frankly, I find Amazon to be too apparently interested in cash over quality; one of the reasons I prefer to deal with Barnes and Noble even if it is a big box instead of a Mom and Pop.

And while we’re handing out anti-cudos, here’s one for a certain researcher at U Washington. [Link] Seems this fellow is trying to make software more productive – easier to use? – by installing learning capability into it. While we can’t really differ with his comments we do with his conclusions. Yes, computers are stupid and we want to keep them that way. Some of us don’t want appliances, we want tools.

The problem with software is only minusculely the wage serfs who code it. In most cases they are themselves the victims of the misdirected implementations of software engineering practice and corporate greed over substance. (Does anyone recall when an HP calculator would survive a wall bouncing?) The real problem is the user. Yes, the user!

If we would teach people how to write computer code. No, not JAVA or C## or whatever, just plain old BASIC, then we wouldn’t have the problems we have now. As it stands, users of MegaHard’s office suite use an order of magnitude less of the suite’s capabilities than they do of their brain’s. The latter is the result of biology, the former of programming ignorance. If a user can write even very simple programs then they can have constructive mental conversations along the lines of "what should this software do and what should be its features and how should they work?" My experience is that this is a much more fruitful path than suffering through mind destroying rote classes or struggling with dummy books sans preparation.

But there are some very good reasons why not to make software so fungible as to have reordering learning capacity. First it bloats the software even more, a deadly disease with Moore’s law petering out faster than the oil supply. Second, it means that the programs performs differently so that old human learning is made irrelevant and delaying. Overall, not a good strategy!

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Farming Computers

I seldom cease to be impressed with the differences between the English traditional media and the American. For example, the statistic that Dell has sold 40K laptops and desktops with the Ubuntu OS came to me via the Register. [Link] This despite subscribing to technology feeds from three American newspapers and several American technology news agencies like Wired, and CNET.

The obvious wonderment out of this is why do American media organizations consider such unreportable? Do they think their readership too simple, ignorant, or generally stupid to appreciate the information? Or is there some more sinister causality? Could it be that open source pays no bills, takes no advertising, and reporting on it draws attention away from those who do contribute to the cash flow. Is this another example of reportage for hire?

Even this article takes a bit of a bash at the matter. It notes that Dell offered the machines as a result of 130K comments on their site. Why not sell 130K units? Obviously some of those respondents, like myself, had already put Ubuntu on a Dell box, in my case an Inspiron 8600, and were not in the market. The reasons for the disparity are logical, explorable, and again beyond the low complexity thresholds of modern journalism. After all, I do recall a journalism major I dated briefly as an undergraduate who told me that journalism was concerned with reducing high shul level information down to first grade level. I recall thinking that was unlikely because kindergarten level is pre-literate.

Of course, it also means that the Wall Street Journal is a journalistic failure as the host of the most complex reportage in the Yankee republic.

Of course, they also bring in the figure 10M for the number of boxes Dell sells per quarter. That makes the Ubuntu boxes a whopping 0.004 of the total. (Maybe! Were the Ubuntu boxes included in the latter number or seperate? The difference is miniscule regardless.) In this light, we are moved to ask why Dell does this. Clearly this is a small fraction of their market. Most large retail businesses would simply ignore this as falling into the category of high maintenance, low income clients that are the watchword of studied neglect these days.

But there are other factors. Note that all of MalWart’s customers are high maintenance, low income, and their brutal denialist behavior, characterized for so long by abysmal to absent service, is now being felt in vanishing growth. We also consider that MegaHard has come on increasingly rough times, as evidence by the increase in flaws that required correction, this year being characterized by a factor of three increase. [Link] Not enough to signal an eminent demise but definitely a signal that the information marketplace is entering into a new period of redirection.

This latter likely prompts Dell and we suspect this is intensified by their increasingly poor performance in the marketplace and the increased interest in open source OS and clients in the corporate arena. Likely this support of alternate OS is their version of learning baby steps.

Organizational Differences

Back when we were Hunter-Gatherers, living in small bands no larger than 50-100 people, the delineations in human roles and activities were relatively poorly differentiated. That is, women would sometimes hunt and men sometimes gather, and when the band was threatened all or at least most of them would take up weapons to defend the band, or to participate in ameliorative religious activity. Somewhere near the end of the last cold phase however, humans got addicted to sedentaryness and started down the road to agriculture, property, civilization, and all the mess that entails.

Along the way, government differentiated from the body of humanity, establishing one of the first substantive "us-them" distinctions between those who directed and those who were directed. Later, government itself differentiated into three components: the purely governmental, the military, and the religious; although there are still numerous instances extant today of incomplete differentiation. Indeed, even in America politicians have failed to meaningfully distance themselves from the religious arena.

Nonetheless, we frequently lose sight of how different the members of these organizations are from those who are not members of these organizations. As a matter of clarity, this is not a rigid distinction between those who are affiliated with governmental. religious, or military organizations, the distinction is between those who are part of the inner circle, whose existence is molded by their membership and who define their lives by being members, One may be a member of a church, an employee of a government, or even part of a military organization without being a member of the inner circle. Of course, what constitutes the inner circle depends on the organization, but in general, the population is divided into four components: the general population; and the members of the inner circle of these three organizational components.

Because these inner circle folks are different, radically different, from the folks who comprise the general population, there is often considerable conflict in their interactions. In effect, these people, although they are part of the same country/nation-state, are part of different societies and especially cultures. In particular, that means they have different survival rules. These differences also are at the root of fundamental conflict. The general population is diverse and not very directive; the inner circle members are relatively uniform and very directive. Hence when they try to interact, unless the general population folks are absolutely submissive to the inner circle folks, trouble, even conflict erupt, usually because the inner circle folks are incapable of changing their behavior even when it is in their best interest.

An excellent example of this seems to be the Yankee army’s attempts to develop teams of social experts to assist them in dealing with foreign societies, in particular, Iraq and Afghanistan.[Link] For the audience this article reads like an indictment of a suicidal army, unable to veer from a course of self destruction even when it knows how to do so. That picture is not too far off, the nature of the army inner circle is such that it cannot break its own rules even when that is what is necessary to be successful and survive. What is inaccurate is the portrayal of stupidity and evil. Such are misplaced. In a way, they are conventional descriptions of inner circle society that is as alien to that of the general population as are the societies of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Attention FDA

A public interest group has provoked the FDA into holding a hearing on sodium in American foodstuffs. The Catch 22 on this is that unless you register (already closed) and travel to the District, you are disenfranchised. About what you would expect from the Yankee republic!

So here is my proposal to the FDA.

We have a government standard of 2.5 g of Sodium per person as part of the OFFICIAL dietary recommendations. Unlike other standards this is a MAXIMUM, not a minimum.

To permit leeway in the diet, and individual preference, take 0.8 of this value = 2.0 g of Sodium daily.

To give leeway for snacks, now divide this into two portions 0.2 g snacks and 1.8 g meals.

  • Mandate to all snack manufacturers that no adult portion of snack may exceed 0.1 g of Sodium, and maintain the disclosure rules.
  • Mandate all chain (more than five instances of ownership/franchise) and institutional restaurants must offer at least half of their total meals (e.g. salad or appetizer, main course, desert, and drink) with no more than 0.6 g of Sodium. (Half under, half over, by rigorous combination of menu items.)

I will leave the penalties to the Congress, but a mandate of full and open disclosure (net plus local) is necessary to prevent the current criminal avoidance of existing rules.

Simple, and direct.

Information Twitches

Move over Lawrence Lessig. Make room for Jonathan Zittrain. Zittrain is the latest prophet (sorry, I know its a mystical term but its common usage fits.) of information collapse. [Link] And their concerns are closely related.

The concerns of both of these individuals basically have to do with the rights of organizations transcending and crushing the rights of individuals. Where Lessig is concerned about corporate organizations dominating ownership of intellectual property to the exclusion of free though and expression, Zittrain seems to be concerned with organizations dominating the environment of the internet and information transport.

I do not wish to belittle Mr. Zittrain, I am sure there is more substance to his argument than that superficially and almost assuredly warpedly presented by the traditional media. Nonetheless, he does appear to be someone who just happened to get their book to a publisher’s attention first. The dictatorship of organizations over information instrumentality is not new. Publishing houses dominated for years by their control of the physical aspects of printing; in recent years, perhaps in response to the inherently semidzat nature of the electronic revolution and the persistent failures of the commercial estate in information transfer, as evidenced by commercials in podcasts, that domination has extended to book stores as well.

Sadly, our common view of this is usually the David-Goliath story of how the Yankee government smashed Ma Bell (or did they?) and freed up the propertyship of phones and who may offer telephony service. Such are rare to vanishing. Consider that one may not, in general, use any cellular phone not authorized, even provided, by a cellular phone service provider. One may not use eBay or Gooey or any number of social web presences without strict adherence and a rather serfish submission of rights to privacy. In light of this warning that the internet may experience "heat death" sometime around 2010 CE seem more offering of liberation than disaster.

Moreover, the growing transfer of the malicious information exploitage from individuals to organizations, both corporate and governmental raises feras of "cyberwar" as instruments of organizational insecurity, both as means to attack other organizations and subjugate their own member individuals. [Link] How long will it be before some Congress critter seriously suggests that American citizens may only use some mandated operating system, undoubtedly a MegaHard product intended as much for oppression of the citizenry as to prop up a failing industry ogre. So despite Mr. Zittrain’s idealism that indivisuals may counter these organizational imperialisms, one has to wonder if individuals can make such a difference in a world already under the electronic boot in the face of information freedom? (And yes, I know that’s a nasty paraphrase of Orwell.)

On a lighter note, we notice that a California shul system has purchased 1K Eee PCs for the sum of $6.5E05. [Link] While this may make some sense, the immediate question we ask is why the shul paid $650 per Eee when Boy.com had them on sale yesterday for $350? This datum fits in with a set I have been amassing for some years. Rather than educational institutions enjoying some economic economy of scale, or even a market development benefit, the clear trend is that they pay much more for less than the average human. And this despite having the lowest IT direct costs (and salaries, which may be root of the difficulty?) of any organizational type.

Even assuming a very minimal profit margin, the shul system seems to be paying twice what they should for these boxes. And this is one of the lower margin rip offs. Most are factors of three or greater. No wonder our educational system is economically and intellectually bankrupt! Those certified teachers don’t know what they are doing and hubris prevents them from obtaining any assistance. The so called modern educational system has not manifestly changed since the day of von Clausewitz when it was revamped away from disciplinary rote. Perhaps it is time for another such revamp? From outside, since inside change has proven not only unproductive but destructive.

Mystic Insecurity

Humans are inherently insecure. Our ancestors lived in trees, where they were relatively secure from predators, but bequeathed us the Catch-22 that being on the ground was risky and hence we needed to be fearful and alert. Then we went through a lotta years (precise scientific terminology here!) where we lived on the ground and lived largely on what we could scavenge. The problem was that the animals who killed the food initially were perfectly happy to make their repast on humans, and almost all of the other scavengers were better armed by nature than humans.

It was not until we started making tools, shaping nature to our desires, that humans became better armed than animals. But by that time we had been imbued with deep insecurity as a survival mechanism. Indeed, the combination of most of the other animals being able to do you in, and countering them involving understanding reality enough to shape it has shaped us with an inherent conflict. As indicated survival mechanics has made us very insecure, and being successful has made us appreciate understanding reality and not just floating along in it.

But a problem arises whenever our views of what reality is are challenged, usually by new or different views of that reality. And our irrational insecurity flashes over, extinguishing our rationality, and we either fight or flee. Strangely, one of the most extreme examples of this is in the area of our superstitious beliefs.

A case in point is the consideration by Turkish authorities over whether to prosecute as a criminal the Turkish publisher of Richard Dawkins’ latest book.[Link] The concern is that the book incites religious hatred.

Strangely, Turkey is considered to be one of the most moderate of predominantly Muslim nations, and it suffers from considerable criticism from other Muslim nations for it liberalism. Hence it is a bit surprising to see this mystical irrationality displayed by Turkish officials. But in doing so it amply displays how thin is the veneer of rationality among humans, especially over their irrational, mystical views of reality.

Betterness

It has become rather common these days to try various revisionist history strategies on Einstein’s introduction of the cosmological constant. The latest is an effort by Texas A&M U researchers to reconcile dark matter with the constant. [Link]

Moose Muffins!

Let us descend into the dark depths of real physics for a moment, by way of a bit of real mathematics. If we look at the learning curve of maths, calculus is very near the knee of the curve. If you haven’t learned (you never master it, even if you are Newton or Leibnitz.) then you’re pretty well maths illiterate. You can do a lot of useful things like keep ledgers or make change or even build a bridge but so far as maths are concerned you’ve dropped out of grade shul.

That statement probably offends some folks. Did I offend you enough to go learn so more maths? Yes – Good; No – too bad. Regardless it doesn’t mean you’re not a good person, just not maths literate. Nothing to be ashamed of here. I myself am illiterate in all but two or three written/spoken languages, depending on how you define literacy. And literature? Definitely not literate there.

Anyway, calculus has all sorts of major divisions but the one I want to focus on right now is the integral calculus. In this formalism there are two types of integrals, definite and indefnite. Focus on the latter. When I perform an indefinite integral, I have to put an additive constant in. This basically is the situation because I haven’t prescribed the specific starting point of the integral.

Now that constant stays arbitrary until I apply that integral to a specific situation. Then I have to give the constant a specific value. And it is here that the physics enters in. When a physicist is out muddling along and has to integrate something indefinitely and then apply that result to a specific situation, the physicist has to figure out what the value of that arbitrary constant now needs to be. Usually two situations appertain here and they are very similar.

The first is that I want the equation to be simple and the simplest I can do is to make the constant have a value of zero. The second is that I want the next equation to be simple and then I need the constant to take on a neat value that makes the next equation simple. Quite often neither of these are the accurate thing to do and after trying them the physicist discovers things didn’t come out the way they should – they don’t agree with reality – and has to go back and do something more complicated and nasty with that constant.

Incidentally, and for the benefit of my colleague Total + Linear Angular Momentum, this is why physicists adopted blackboards and chalk. Not so we could walk around with the clothes over our arms smeared with chalk but so we could go backwards and change the maths.

Anyway, this futzing (n.b. futz· v. (usu. futz around) N. Amer. informal idle or busy oneself aimlessly. ORIGIN 1930s: perh. an alt. of Yiddish arumfartzen fart about.) with constants in the midst of working with a cabal (n.b. cabal n.1 a secret political clique or faction.2 a committee of five ministers under Charles II, whose surnames happened to begin with C, A, B, A, and L. ORIGIN C16 (denoting the Kabbalah): from Fr. cabale, from med. L. cabala (see Kabbalah).) of equations is what Einstein was doing. It’s described in his published notes and memoires. And what happened was that he liked what he got with the constant being, in this case, positive, and let it go. Later, he thought better of it, based on the available data, and claimed it was a mistake.

So much for revisionism.