Randomlets

Well, not actually random. At least in the sense that they are drawn from the article from the RSS feeds that I subscribe to. So while the selection may be at least pseudo-stochastic in the macro, there is probably a considerable aspect of predictable determinacy at the micro.

According to the BBC [Link] spending on the internet is up 0.19 from last year. That contrasts with numbers of less than 0.04 overall that I have seen in sources I can’t find right now – so we have to accept my inaccurate memory. Not that my memory is necessarily more inaccurate than the measurement or the reportage.

This does confirm my experience. I bought a lot more holiday "stuff" over the net this year than last, The reasons for this are many: it is easier to make price comparisons although these comparisons are inherently quite flawed since the search sites never manage to include the handling and shipping charges, but they do provide a start that can be refined with a bit of browsing. One also does not have to deal directly with crowds, nor with surly as well as inept "service" personnel. (This does point up the rather paradoxical state of retail sales that clerks have to be inept to keep their jobs; if they are competent they have to be paid more and thus they damage the ROI. This is particularly evident at upper end big box stores like Circuit City, but not at low end like MalWart where ineptness is competence, which yields new insight into the Orwellian nature of MalWart.) Thus the most difficult things to deal with are late deliveries and merchants who take the charge and fail to deliver. Still, the news is a bit disconcerting as it promises to further increase the population of vacant store fronts. It also adds to our concern over the coming transportation crisis.

There is some wrangling over whether the RIAA is now taking on the folks who rip their audio CDs. [Link] Heretofore they have concentrated on those folks who shared files, and there is both some sense to that as well as some practicality. The number of sharing sites is small enough that a surveillance effort is affordable; how one goes and inspects every PC for files is another matter. Also, there is the question of whether the courts will not interpret this as fair use, especially if there is no evidence of sharing. One has to wonder which is the bigger putz, the RIAA with their heavy handed Gestapo tactics or the Yankee congress who seem single minded about revising the copyright to the advantage of a few, artificial citizens.

Not that I am going to change my ways here. My taste in music is so dated that not only cannot the songs be found on sharing sites, no one I know wants them. Hence I am without temptation as well as inclination. But there is something natural about aerobic exercise to bagpipe music.

I also note mention of the old, perhaps now again current, theories about multiple universes. [Link] Sadly, the reportage seems to always neglect to connect all this with Popper and his quantum mechanics interpretation, which so far as I can see in untestable and hence unfalsifiable, but happily is compatible with the interaction interpretation, at least sort of. (And yes, there were at least two double entendres in that sentence for those of you who haven’t studied your QM and Popper lately.) In fact that piece with the interaction picture or interpretation is needed to address the primary weakness of the Popperian or multiuniverse theories. Namely, if universes branch off as the outcomes of stochastic events, how "big: does the event have to be for a branching to occur. This is sort of the practical QM equivalent of the old saw about the wood chuck chucking wood.

Since its the day before a holy day, we can have pun day early, maybe twice, this week.

Wowsers

Another Monday before a holy day; another week when the city government of Greater Metropolitan Arab fails in its responsibilities by skipping collection of the recyclable refuse of something like 0..25 of the town’s population. No wonder people are falling all over themselves to buy houses here!

Speaking of which, amidst the wonkoid news this morning – after all, it is the first day of a holy day aborted week – Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill hade the news, at least the New Yawk Times. The article is a nostalgia puff piece that is secondarily about Huntsville and primarily about the Peenemunde group. Inaccuracies are rampant – where in Nawth Alibam does one find peanut farming? Are the article’s peanut farmers some form of gentlemen coupon clippers? And the reason people in the Sowth went about bare footed was because they lacked the money to purchase such and since much of the year was clement…. Besides, it is several orders of magnitude easier to clean Nawth Alibam RED mud off of bare feet than off of any form of shoe.

The article is accurate that the Peenemunde group, which was the portion of the actual establishment that surrendered to the Americans rather than the Russians, in their view a case of the lesser evil, did wind up in Huntsville and most of them made their homes on Monte Sano mountain, to the point that most of us who didn’t live on the mountain thought that all who lived up there were germans. And they did go out of their way to speak English when Americans were around, except for those occasions when they had to express themselves in German. The most famously documented of these were mostly in the technical arena; it is a secret only by absence in the article that many of these men rightly viewed Americans as technological inferiors. What is also unmentioned is that after the wall went down many of the original group returned to Germany.

They did send their children to the public shuls, and they had obviously been lectured to fit in. The disdainful superiority of their parents was largely absent. What the article does not mention is that many of the children left Huntsville after matriculation. What remains of that German community are the merest of lees; the technological excellence of Huntsville is now primarily American, and secondarily Southron. This is in a way sad, because the primary diversity in the shuls when I was there were the Peenemunde brats; somehow their presence seemed to demand higher academic standards of everyone; such is lacking today.

One has to wonder how much of the NASA budget went into this article. Conspicuous by its absence is any indication of a Yankee army presence, yet the Yankee army annual expenditure in Huntsville on technology is four to five times that of the NASA folks. Also absent is that the first satellite was developed as an army project, after a navy failure of the spectacular type characteristic of rocketry, using an army developed missile dumbed down to serve as a rocket. NASA resulted from some desire to not appear to have a military control of space and has played poorly with the rest of the Yankee government, military and all, ever since.

Incidentally, neither the Yankee army nor NASA show any real affection for Huntsville. Were it not for an exceedingly strong showing in the Yankee congress, NASA would have long ago gutted Marshal Space Flight Center . The Yankee army has taken an indirect approach of dumbing down the place by steadily substituting clerical positions for technical ones, and downgrading what technical ones there are from scientific to engineering. Add a staunch antipathy, verging on outright hostility, from Montgomery, righteous in their dislike for those selfsame technical people who have scant patience for political thievery and obfuscation, and this article may be more in the nature of a slightly premature elegy than a pre-holiday puff piece.

Network Education

Back when I was a young man, people were cheap and computers were expensive. By this I mean that a reasonably representative cost of a technical worker was in the range of $15-20K, while the cost of a mainframe computer was in the millions of dollars per year. Now, people are expensive and computers are cheap. That is, a technical worker these days costs $100-200K and a computer costs $1-2K per year.Now bear in mind that the latter figures in both cases are not the same, you have to renormalize today computer cost – computer per person – to the equivalent number of people as would use a mainframe in the old days, but the bottom line is still that people today are expensive and computers are cheap.

Given this you would expect that managers would be willing to invest in all the tools the workers need? Wrong! Because people are expensive they don’t write code any more and tools have to be bought and hence they are a direct cost. So managers look at the cost of the software tools a technical worker needs – about the same as the computer annual cost – and go into sticker shock. And since technical workers, the good ones anyway, have scant patience with stupidity, they find some other way to get those tools even though it costs the organization more than it would have to just buy them on request. Lazy-Stupid in action.

The same unfortunately carries over to education or training. It is a lot harder to get education these days. Even the shuls say they don;t educate these days, they just train. Training is inefficient. It falls into the category of teaching a man how to fish for only one type of fish that is only available part of the time. Education is more general but since it doesn’t have a measurable deliverable managers don’t like it, hence their organizations don’t like it, and hence the shuls don’t do it anymore.

One aspect of this is continuing education; the other is the demise of the human lecturer. Most continuing education is non-participatory education; its like television, all you have to do is be present. And if there is testing, it’s rote memorization testing, not understanding or creativity testing. And it is expensive, $100-200 per student per day of course. And if you look at the economics of continuing education you see that about half of the income goes to the cost of putting on the course and the other half goes to course development and lecturing. Hence the move to do away with lecturing. The problem with this is that if there is no human teacher then there is no one to build the course. So continuing education turns into a collection of only those courses that change slowly, at least at too many shuls.

This is even creeping into the regular courses. I read somewhere, can’t find a reference, that half of all college courses are taught by part time instructors, not graduate students or professors. This incidentally reduces the chances that a graduate can get a professorial job even more and guess what? The number of graduate students is slowly falling in the purely academic fields. And now the big shuls are positing all their course materials on line.

Now this looks good. After all the average guy, the one whose Daddy didn’t go to the shul or whose Daddy can’t afford five figures of tuition and expenses, isn’t going to that shul anyway, so its a community service, a mitzvah? The question is how long is it before the lowly land grant shuls just tell the students to read the notes and take the test? Just pass and you get credit. And we don’t need anyone to lecture that course.

Now I use those notes for things that I need to refresh myself on or want to learn from scratch, but I have a terminal degree. That means I am supposed to know when I can learn something on my own and when I go get help – like a lecturer in a classical classroom setting. But that doesn’t hold for kids, especially kids who have been trained all their lives that they are special regardless of how much they fail because they aren’t allowed to confront failure.But what happens when there are no lecturers, just online courses and memorization tests?

Change

Several years ago there was a television program "The Day the Universe changed" that was hosted by the historian James Burke. There is also a book by the same title that lacks the impact and eloquence of the program but has the overarching advantage of tying down the details. Of course, Burke does not mean that the universe actually changed in some fundamental, punctuated way, but that our perception of the universe changed. He also doesn’t mean that the entire human species changed its perception at once and together, but someone did and the common perception spread. That spread takes time and may never be complete because there are always people who won’t adopt an idea, especially if it conflicts with their core prejudices.

Nonetheless, the idea behind the program that there is a dynamic to how we view the universe crept into my thoughts. And it was a short step from there to observations of how the social as well as physical view changed.

A few years ago I asked the Provost of U Alibam Tennessee branch when the view of degrees changed. When I was in shul the attitude was that degrees were conferred or awarded. When I asked the question the student body had almost universally adopted the statement that degrees were property; that is, they spoke of "my degree." Sadly his response was dismissive; I suspect he considered me to be a time wasting wackoid. Still, there is something concernful about this loss of the license aspect of a degree.

It seems to be a symptom of how our society has changed and continues to change. For example, when I was a child my mother was concerned that she serve nutritious meals and that I not consume too much junk food. Then mothers became only concerned that their children ate something, anything. And now everything that we eat is either comfort food or junk food, if not both.

This appears to be the result of some attitude that everything in our lives needs to be special, that nothing be mundane. It is unclear whether this is congruent with or the result of the education depreciation in recent years that everyone must be rewarded and the only punishment is for excelling. Certainly if we tell everyone that they are always special then they will want their lives to be continually special as well.

Evidently stress is mundane. We want to relax, alleviate stress, wherever we go and whatever we do. We relax at work, at home, … to the point that we are under exercised and overweight, in no small part congruent with making every meal special and conforting. We want everything to be fun so that nothing is enjoyable. We are undereducated to the point of sagging creativity.

And the most distressing thing of all is that by making our lives continuously special we have in effect eliminated that which is special from our lives.

Social Musings

I have been cogitating on the New York Times article lambasting Jared Diamond’s work. [Link] I previously blogged on how the "each case is so special" adherents of political correctness were missing the point of aggregation and analysis. This is not to say that Diamond is always right; in fact, much of what he has to say is inaccurate because he fails to carry through to the final, supported conclusion. If this were occasional one could attribute it to oversight but it is so consistent it indicates something pathological.

Despite what Diamond says about societies collapsing, the fact remains that many do so for reasons that can be brought down to a mixture of laziness and stupidity, something that might be well likened to an opposite of enlightened self-interest. The classic of this are those who settle in an environment where their survival needs are well provided. As a result, they have little need to develop competitive capabilities, advance their technology. In general they can be lazy and survive rather nicely until someone moves in who has developed their competitive capabilities and the newcomers quickly take over, usually destroying the original society in the process.

Another variant of this is that the society is doing something negative to their environment. This may be as simple as the population increasing until it exceeds the renewable carrying capacity of the environment, but usually it is more negative than that. The society eventually realizes that disaster is looming but is somehow unable to avoid it. They often lack the technology, usually because they have become lazy and do not want to spend the effort or the resources developing the technology even when they realize they need it. More commonly, there seems to be some denialist aspect that the status quo ante will not be maintained indefinitely. Easter Island seems an example of this, regardless of which collapse mechanism one subscribes to. In effect, folks try desperately to ignore the disaster until it either kills them or drives them off.

Now, let me consider Greater Metropolitan Arab. Like most of the town governments in Nawth Alibam, and perhaps, all over the Yankee republic, the Arab government spends a considerable amount of money trying to attract people to join their citizen rolls, and thereby swell the tax coffers, but spends little in the way of services for those people. Case in point: giftmas and new year’s day both fall on Tuesday this season. Because the Arab government has no concern for environmental matters, and has contracted out their garbage and recyclables collection to a low bidder who consistently fails to meet contract because of inadequate equipment and personnel, it has been decided that (a) there will be no recyclable collection on the two holidays and indeed no collection for those people whose recyclables are collected on Tuesday until the Tuesday after new year’s day, and (b) giftmas wrapping paper and plastic containers will not be collected in the recyclables for anyone. Yet two of the materials that can be most easily and effectively recycled are paper and plastics.

Another case in point. The Washing Times has an article on how the followers of the former Vice President from Tennessee have taken on the characteristics of fundamentalist believers. [Link] In effect they have frozen the scientific information, which has consistently been not quite accurate with this pundit, and turned it into dogma comparable to the most zealous of fundamentalists. Sad to say this looks like yet another incidence of social laziness and stupidity where enquiry is turned to stone and raised onto a pedestal. Sadly, this further complements the opposing party’s denial of science in general except for those specific aspects they may "spin" to their agenda. In effect, it would appear that partisan politics, and perhaps politics in general, may be another form of lazy-stupid.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

Tech Furphies

I was struck by the juxtaposition of articles in the RSS feeds this morning that had a bit of character to them. For example, an article in CIO insight on "The Technologies of Tomorrow" [Link] struck me that there is nothing so different as a technology list in a management, or, at least pseudo-management, magazine. Certainly this is not what the guys at Cnet or Engadget would come up with as a list of technologies.

I was however, impressed that the top three things on the list are all things that I have some experience with: business process modeling; collective intelligence aggregation; and Green IT. About ten years ago the Yankee army organization I was in was having a massive reorganization effort to reduce costs. I spent several long and bitter periods with the senior executive in charge, a Sloan graduate, arguing that until we had a model, and a simulation, of our business activities then we had absolutely no idea of the impacts of any changes we would make. The cost and effort were seen as prohibitive but the reason (excuse) given that this was too alien to the organization’s society and culture. Since the organization did research and development the speciousness of the excuse was self evident, and many of the changes made were catastrophic.

It turn out that collective intelligence aggregation is something that has to do with models and simulations of people aspects, which I have blogged on previously. And Green IT is not so much about hardware and brick and mortar control as it is about software. The biggest environmental problem we have with IT these days is that for the last ten plus years we have been building compilers that are less and less efficient, resulting in bigger, slower code that we have maintained execution speed by going to bigger, hungrier, boxes. Now the reckoning is upon us and being a bit cynical I can predict that this will be ignored. Instead, green IT will be nothing more than Potempkinism and management insertion that further reduces inefficiency.

On a happier note, I see that the Journal of Improbable Research is going open access online. [Link] These are the folks who also sponsor the Ignoble Prizes, which in many ways are what the Noels should be if politics were absent. Give them time and they will be so corrupted as well.

The reason this is good news is that getting access to the journal is difficult. Most libraries will not subscribe because they feel it is too frivolous and therefore their money watchers will look askance. Many folks with grants can’t subscribe since their accounting parasites – mandated by higher authority in the furtherance of poor stewardship – will complain. So one is left with either subscribing as an individual or going without. And one has to be careful where the journal gets delivered since everyone in an academic department or research laboratory knows everyone else’s sins and perversions.

Somewhat less is the news that the Golf channel is improving their ball tracking technology. [Link] Presumably this will be used to automatically aim television cameras so that viewers will have the sure knowledge that the camera is tracking what it, and they, cannot resolve. I am told by my colleagues who play golf – I played my last game the day before my undergraduate matriculation; putting away boyish toys sort-of-thing – that the inability to follow the ball is the primary dullness of golf coverage. Hence, one presumes the primary reason for loss of viewers. And yes, I was quite selective on which boyish toys I put aside – mostly those of minimal interest.

Optically of course, the problem is the small size of the balls and their essentially white color. Fundamentally, they are simply too small to be seen very far, especially when the images are clipped by video transmission. Still, I suppose it is a better system than the original one with human heads?

There is a rather intriguing article in Wired on the component making up Nair hair remover. [Link] The compelling one is calcium hydroxide, the weaker cousin of Lye, which is responsible for dissolving the hair, hopefully without leaving too severe chemical burns behind on the skin. Despite the fact that I rather enjoyed shaving, back when I still shaved, I always admired female bravery/foolishness/dexterity at shaving places I would never have tried and thankfully did not have to. Back when I was a graduate student at U Illinois, shaving was how I woke up and warmed up every morning, especially welcome on those mornings when I had to run outside and bash the polyethylene sewer connection pipe with a hammer before I could empty bladder and bowels. The joys of scholarly poverty and mobile home living in what seemed like an Arctic wasteland to a good Southron boy.

Then we have this paragon of aethicality and amorality in Wired [Link] where their automobile correspondent details how the recently mandated gas efficiency does not mean the end of muscle cars, only their elimination from those who truly do not deserve them. His argument is based on the standards being averages and that so long as those averages hold behemoths may still be built. Apparently this individual has inhaled various combustible vapors too often and has rotted his brain down to haggis. Not only is he ignoring the whole issue of the continuance of the species and the planet, but there is the little matter of the next step when this fails, notably rationing.

Back when I was an undergraduate, I was told that the classical Greeks, who were seen by the lecturer as the originators of civilization, quite ignoring several million years of human evolution and thousands of years of sedentaryness prior, took meticulous care of their public edifices. Hence, the toilets in Greek government buildings were spotless and gleaming – and yes, they did have some indoor facilities. This same professor claimed that civilization have steadily decayed thereafter, as evidenced by the state of public toilets. As one who had only recently been exposed to a range of such, especially those in petrol stations, I was rapt. If anything, the toilets at university were cleaner than those in my high shul, as well as being older.

Nonetheless, the trend has been affirmed by observation. Most public toilets today are considerably less clean than those in my undergraduate days, at least to see. I do not commonly take bacterial cultures although I do have a colleague – a biologist – who does as one of his long term research projects. Now I read that an academic superhero at U Sussex – he must be such because he has a superhero name, Professor iPod; no mention of Apple offers of litigation – who describes how the iPod makes people even more divorced from their surroundings. [Link] Clearly the two phenomena are related, the expansion of personal electronics from the transistor radio to the iPod may be clearly associated with the increasing uncleanliness of toilets and the public environment.

Next, Wired relates how a child who thought he was getting a PS3 on giftmas day instead reveived a telephone directory. [Link] Evidently this is the new form of lumps of coal?

Not to be outdone, Engadget has their first/last review of the greatness that might have been p the Palm Foleo. [Link] That greatness of course, was seized by Asus with their Eee. No wonder Palm backed out, unit cost would have been too low for their profit model. Perhaps they also feared the folks in England who have extended righteous regicide to traffic cameras? [Link] This is something I am a bit conflicted upon: the anonymity of the penalty borders on Orwellian persecution but if it induces folks to obey speed limits it is a good thing? Anyway, perhaps those folks will turn their kind attention to those who drive and use cellular phones? And thence to those who use cellular phones in public places and inflict their banality on others while still expecting some aspect of privacy? I fear I lack the conviction; I limit my protest to joining in the conversation and when told it is private replying that no such expectation is possible. Needless to say FD SCP does not permit me this perilous endeavor when I am in her company.

Boxing Day After

Yesterday was mostly spent bashing my primary time spent desktop box. And, yes, I know it would have been more appropriate somehow doing this the previous day, a sort of computer Boxing day and all that. But I have noticed over the last month or so that the box – a rather dated Dell Precision workstation – was running a bit to erratically and slowly and the time and come to instigate a bit of a regimen of inspection and the electronic equivalent of liposuction.

This is a stately old machine, incorporating a Xeon processor of now dinosaur vintage that still runs rings about the newer multicore lightweights in crunching numbers, and a miniscule SCSI hard drive that unfortunately seems to be developing the beginnings of read failures and hence indicating that the drive is entering senility. Ah well, the box needs to be retired or at least taken off assignment and rebuilt. The reason for the rebuild, other than an emotional attachment with a machine that has lived with me through a house fire, writing two books, numerous articles and papers, and a plethora of briefings, is its construction. The box itself is what Jerry Pournelle used to call a boat anchor and it demonstrates my predilection for workstations for home use. The box itself is both extremely sturdy and extremely easy to open, close, and manipulate, at least mechanically; the boot warning that the cover has been removed recently is perpetual and will not go away. Added to this is an umpteen layer motherboard that is probably as free of stress fractures, cracks, and other such defects as it was the day it was made. Sounds excessive, but let us recall that a large contributor to the fall of Gateway to Acer was its underlayered motherboards.

Anyway, about half of the day yesterday – after blogging, of course – was going through the add-remove program list, applying a three step process: can an entry answer the questions of "what the Tartarus is that program?" and "do I need it?"; a quick web search to see what the program is – so I won’t inadvertently clip off some structural member of the OS or core task effectors; and a decision whether to consign the program to the great grounding in the where ever. This move is necessitated by my lack of willpower when running across some no-price program and thinking that it will be useful now or someday. Well, if someday hasn’t come in a couple of months it needs to go.

The second half of the day was spent running all manner of scanning program to clean out the stuff that reduces the electronic telomere lengths, and then to re-tweak things like the registry. These programs run a long time as the clock displays so I got a lot of chances to catch up on disjoint readings off the box. Those may surface sometime.

Bot now I am pretty close to being through with the semiannual maintenance on this box. The program count is down by about 0.3 as are the icons on the desktop and I can again see Altgeld Hall – much more impressive than the Physics complex at U Illinois, which is so unfetching that there are no photos of it floating on the web, but I can’t quite see Alma Mater’s statue. Boot time is way down as is response time, so now all I have to worry about are a few minor things like doing the same to FD SCP’s desktop, a task that will be less than satisfactory since I have to also worry not to prune any of her sewing programs, which are all brats in terms of playing with the OS, and figuring out how to do something with my box since the hard drive is dying.

Oh for the good old days of DOS when we had hard drive scan programs that mapped the defects and let you lock those places out from read/write operations. The improvements in drive quality have made us vulnerable.