Thursday, January 28, 2016
The result is that you can tell how efficient a market is by how close the average participant is to bankruptcy. Post-deregulation airline companies have a good example of this. I've seen claims that since deregulation in 1978 the air transport industry as a whole has still not made a cumulative profit.
Financial economics has a very influential concept called the "efficient market hypothesis" which suggests that trying to pick stocks that beat the whole market is always going to fail over the long run. The fact that there are many industries where nearly every participant is profitable provides clear evidence to me that the EMH is basically false. But an academic economist can have a quite successful career exploring all the myriad ways that markets can fail to be efficient.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
The second law (okay, it's technically a hypothesis or conjecture at this point, but I'm confident about its correctness) is more complex. "Unregulated market economies destroy themselves" via a process whereby monopolism leads to concentration of wealth in high income brackets, and financialization of wealth management in contrast to invest leads to emptying of the middle class and corresponding loss of demand. Loss of demand leads to lower prices, which creates a deflationary and recessionary death spiral.
If this sounds much like the situation that a lot of the world is in these days, and the "great malaise" that Joseph Stiglitz is writing about, that's not an accident.
Sunday, January 03, 2016
Selective differential replication.
or in a somewhat longer form:
Natural selection of spontaneously varied different heritable characteristics.
It's amazing how difficult it is to condense the key concepts down into three or four (or 8) words, and how slippery that optimal combination of words is even when you've found it. I've been searching for this phrase for years, and have forgotten it at least once even after discovering it.
Saturday, September 19, 2015
But if oil companies are able to sell globally at a higher price, that will reduce domestic supplies, and increase domestic prices, which will be bad for oil consumers, and bad for the domestic economy, so the politically sensitive regulators in charge of the export rule are would not be inclined to change it as long as they place the interests of voters ahead of the interests of oil company lobbyists.
So, what are the interests of US citizens, and can they be aligned with the interests of the oil companies?
The geopolitical argument for keeping the no-export rule is that the US gets mired in Middle Eastern troubles because we're dependent on foreign oil imports from countries like Saudi Arabia. The sheikdoms and kingdoms in that region are as far from democracy as it is possible to get, and they support extremist religious ideologies like Wahabism that lead to war and terrorism. But they have lots of oil, which we need and our European friends need, so we have to be nice to them.
If the US didn't need to import oil, the US could leave them alone to fight among themselves, and stop sending our troops and munitions to be killed and destroyed there. So we shouldn't permit oil to be exported until the US achieves energy independence, and exports should be limited to only the excess after first satisfying 100% of US demand.
A longer term view suggests a different conclusion. Allowing US oil to contribute to the global oil market will increase global supplies and reduce global prices. This will reduce oil income to Mideast oil-producing states, and decrease their ability to finance their jihadist projects. It will also increase domestic fuel prices, making renewable energy more attractive. Increased demand for renewable electricity accelerates the technology-driven reduction in the price of renewable electricity. Renewable energy is already cheaper than fossil energy in some regions of the US, and its adoption is being held back by regulatory shenanigans from coal and oil producers and by generation companies who are seeing their old power plants become uneconomical and major customers go away, never to return. Until room-temperature superconductors are discovered, there is no global market for electricity, and renewable energy is non-exportable. Converting the world from oil to renewable electric power is good for both the environment and for US national security. Lifting the no-export rule will accelerate this transition.
In the broadest analysis, civilization is at risk from deterioration in four areas:
- Fuel supplies
- Food supplies
- Environmental services (clean air, clean water, climate stability, ecosystem stability, etc.)
- Civil and international disorder
Monday, September 07, 2015
Not enough explosions, terrorists or smartphones, but plenty of gunfire, narco gangs and amputations in a world where Mad Max would feel right at home. Refugees from Texas are a running joke. It's all to realistic an extrapolation from today's incendiary political rhetoric and denial of the possibility that the 200-year drought that eliminated the previous civilization in the Southwestern US a thousand years ago could come again. What will happen to your precious water rights then? If Cadillac Desert serves as a precedent, it will take more than lawyers to keep the actual wet stuff flowing towards its rightful owners. The Water Knife don't need no double-0 license to do his work.
Saturday, August 08, 2015
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Saturday, March 07, 2015
These scenarios don't begin to cover the range of different ways that the US could come to an end. In particular, they ignore the role of the states, which are much more diverse and effective than journalists steeped in Washington gridlock can imagine. Here's a list of ways this could happen.
- Constitutional Convention. Article V allows for two-thirds of both houses of Congress or two-thirds of the states to call a convention to decide on amendments to the Constitution. No limits on the quantity or content of the amendments are given, except that a state may not be deprived of its representation in the Senate. The legality of an amendment that completely eliminates the entire Senate could be problematic, but in an environment where such an amendment could be ratified you could be skeptical that anyone would care about such a fine point. A constitutional convention would have the power to completely rewrite the document and give the country an entirely new form of government, or to make any number of lesser changes.
- Congressionally-initiated individual amendments. This is the way that the 17 amendments since the Bill of Rights have been accomplished. Article V again prescribes that two-thirds of both houses of Congress shall propose the amendments, There's nothing in the Constitution preventing the proposal of a single amendment consisting of the text that "Articles I through VII of this Constitution are hereby repealed." Since there are 7 articles in the Constitution, that would be everything except the Preamble.
- A Secession amendment. The legal basis for the Civil War was that there is no provision in the Constitution to allow for exit from the Union. Politicians from one state or another occasionally threaten to secede from the Union. Texans are famous for believing that as a condition for joining the United States in 1845, Texas reserved the right to later split itself into up to 5 states. There are dozens of more or less well-organized secession movements across the country. But you can tell whether they're serious or not by whether they are reaching out to other states for support of an amendment to make their rhetoric legal, since that amendment would need to be ratified by three-fourths of the states. None of them are.
- De-facto secession. Since the replacement of the Articles of Confederation by the Constitution the issue of how much the federal government can override decisions by individual states has been contentious. Although Section 10 of Article I of the Constitution requires Congressional approval for any formal Compact between states, in the 20th century the coordination of virtual oligopolies among airlines, phone companies, and other industries without any explicit collusion between executives has developed into a fine art. States could begin to informally coordinate their laws with each other in areas where they do not conflict with Federal laws, and agree to link them together in much the same way as the National Popular Vote agreements link the behavior of individual states' Presidential electoral votes together. These linkages would form a virtual regional government encompassing multiple states, and when enough states began to participate in such a virtual government, their legislatures could coordinate the policies of their respective Congressional delegations to provide Federal approval of formal Compact agreements permitting the creation of armies and the negotiation of treaties with foreign powers, becoming a new country to everyone in the world except the remaining portions of the legacy United States.
- Successful secession. Some die-hard Southerners still argue that the Army of the Confederacy could have won the war if only a few blunders like Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg had been avoided. After a few dozen years of the kind of Washington gridlock that Yglesias decries and the election of a feckless president rather than the great one that we had in Abraham Lincoln, the outcome of some new secession attempt might be something like "just let them go".
- De-facto dictatorship becomes official. At some point the Imperial President that Dylan Matthews envisions can decide that he's had enough of this pussyfooting around and pretending to defer to Congress, and declare himself President For Life, or even Emperor. This sequence of events has happened more times than any but the most compulsive historian can count, and dates back to at least the takeover of the Roman Senate by Julius Caesar in 49 and 48 B.C.
- Military coup. During the chaos surrounding the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981, at a White House press conference immediately after the incident while Vice President George Bush was incommunicado aboard Air Force Two, Secretary of State General Alexander Haig was asked "who's in charge?". Haig responded, "I am in control...here." Until the Vice President finally arrived in Washington, at least in the mind of General Haig, the Constitutional order of succession had been suspended, and a strong military personality appeared to believe that he had taken over the country. A few hours later, word emerged that Reagan had not been so severely injured that formal transfer of Presidential powers to the Vice President according to the rules laid out in the 25th Amendment to the Constitution had been necessary. For those of us who had seen the movie or read the book "Seven Days in May", it was a scary moment.
Thursday, January 01, 2015
Sunday, August 10, 2014
- The sequestration of molecular replication in membrane-bounded cells
- The switch from storage of genetic information in RNA sequences to its storage in DNA sequences.
- The discovery of photosynthesis by the ancestors of cyanobacteria.
- The discovery of the rules for cellular differentiation, adhesion, and migration that led to multicellular organisms
- The discovery of backwards development by deuterostomes that led to internal skeletons rather than exoskeletons Not saying that arthropods are bad, just that endoskeletons are better at growing big. Deuterostome development certainly leads to other severe problems.
- [not saying anything about all the mass extinctions that led to mammalian domination of land animal life]
- The discovery of learning by imitation rather than individual trial and error
- The invention of controlled fire
- The discovery of information storage and retrieval from conspecifics by means of reverence for tribal elders, via "old wives' tales"
- The discovery and institutionalization of marketplaces
- The invention of writing
- The first industrial revolution
- The second industrial revolution of information technology, robotics & biotechnology
- The third technological revolution of controlled ecological engineering
Sunday, July 13, 2014
- What about / and other filesystems?
- Has anything changed with Android 4?
Sunday, April 13, 2014
Brad DeLong collected 12 early reviews by economists.
Econospeak has a succinct, balanced description for the politically inclined of Piketty for Dummies
- "A rising tide lifts all boats" but leaky boats don't rise as quickly, and their owners have to spend more time bailing than sailing.
- The rich get richer faster. They have access to expensive financial advice, and fancy high yield financial instruments that less wealthy people don't have the entry fees for. They can afford to participate in higher yielding, higher risk investments because they can purchase complex hedging products that reduce their exposure to potential losses. (Update: Robert Solow recognizes this in his review in The New Republic.)
Saturday, November 02, 2013
• Ramez Naam, The Moore’s Law of solar energy, Scientific American guest blog, 16 March 2011.
However, even without having to invoke the Wayback Machine, there's a copy at IEET.
Update (9 April 2014): The Telegraph declares victory. That is, the tipping point where solar power without any subsidies is cheaper than all forms of fossil fuel, has already been passed in 19 global regions, according to Deutsche Bank.
Update 2 (June 2014): The v7 edition of the Lazard Levelized Cost of Energy study, dated August 2013, indicates that by 2015 (next year!) utility-scale solar plants will have a lifetime ROI greater than fossil-fueled plants in 6 of the 10 largest US metropolitan areas. In the light of this transformation, in late May, Barclays "downgrades the entire electric sector of the U.S. high-grade corporate bond market".
Monday, October 28, 2013
His final paragraphs summarize his argument:
This is the latest corollary of the basic law of strategy attributed to Carl von Clausewitz 195 years ago, that the defender needs to be successful hundreds of times (in cyberwarfare, hundreds of millions of times), while the attacker needs to be successful only once. In order to be totally effective at defense, one must have totalitarian control over the environment and all the actors within it.
Or, as Benjamin Franklin put it 250 years ago:
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Tuesday, August 06, 2013
I was in elementary school and high school during this period, and was made to read FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's book "Masters of Deceit" in order to know how evil communists were. I seemed to be one of the few students who realized that we were being fed propaganda, but I didn't have access to Marx's Capital or even the Communist Manifesto, so I was simply left with the impression that we were supposed to be opposed to commies simply because they were the bad guys, in the same way that the Aggies were the bad guys if you were a UT or OU football fan. This kind of an opposition didn't seem worth destroying the world in a nuclear holocaust for.
In Red Plenty, the characters are simply trying to get by in a rickety, inflexible economy that doesn't really respond to their needs, just like wage-earners in the US. But they have as a secret advantage in the person of Leonid Vitalevich Kantorovich, a real person and a genuine genius, who invented the mathematical method of optimization called linear programming, at about the same time that the American George Dantzig did. Both Dantzig and Kantorovich received the Nobel Prize in Economics for their achievements.
It was linear programming that Soviet economists hoped would push their economic system over the threshold from failure to success, by allowing the myriad of dependencies between all the supplies needed to produce a washing machine or an overcoat or a limousine or a long-range bomber to be identified and coordinated so that every component part was produced in just the right amount without surpluses or shortages that would prevent each end product from being pulled together in just the right quantity needed. In capitalist economies, the coordination problem is solved by a myriad of free markets, but markets lead to profits and profits lead to capitalists, and in the Soviet Union, that could not be allowed. So marketless central economic planning had to be made to work, regardless of the consequences. And the consequences were severe, and even then, economic planning failed.
Red Plenty is a much richer story than can be captured in a few paragraphs - it deserves extended analysis by many authors. And it has received these analyses in an internet symposium by a distinguished team of high-end bloggers organized by the "editors" of Crooked Timber. In addition to some of the usual Crooked Timber contributors such as John Holbo and John Quiggin, it contains essays by economists Brad DeLong and Cosma Shalizi, and writers Ken MacLeod and Kim Stanley Robinson, among 14 others. This amounts to an open review journal study, since in addition to the symposium essays, as a blog each essay was allowed to have comments from any reader who cared to reply. Some of the comments are extremely insightful, though others are extremist, intolerant, and/or uninformed, as blog comments will be.
The highlight of the symposium for me is the essay by Shalizi, who uses computational complexity theory to explain that the planning process itself is simply too big and time-consuming to work in a real economy, even using today's hyperscale computers that are millions or billions of times more powerful than the BESM-6 mainframes available to Kontorovich and his colleagues.
Of course, economic interactions are often nonlinear and would have to be addressed by a generalization of linear programming rather than directly with LP, but while the complexity of mathematical optimization is robust to some kinds of nonlinearities ("convex functions"), many of the nonlinearities in real economies are concave, and the known algorithms for optimizing them are much slower (exponentially slower) than those for linear or convex functions.
Worse than that, in economies that are not planned, such as market economies, it is impossible to predict their future behavior. The reason for this follows from the diagonalization argument used by Goedel and Turing in their proofs of incompleteness and undecidability. As soon as you make a valid prediction about an economy, someone can take that prediction and use it to arbitrage the markets that are predicted, and the money that is involved in exploiting those predictions will affect the market itself, and thus invalidate the predictions. There is quite a bit of interesting research to be done in describing the magnitude of those invalidation effects.
It's not clear that capitalism can be saved from recurring, unpredictable disasters, but we know that the Soviet Union could not be saved. Red Plenty may change your view of that collapse from a triumph of capitalism to that of a tragedy of socialism.
Thursday, August 01, 2013
Nevertheless, the graphic has some quite cool interactive features, like the ability to filter by Method of Leak. This is very useful to a security manager who's trying to decide which kind of breach to focus preventive resources on. If you can't address all possible risks, you should focus on the ones that are most likely to cause significant losses. The biggest one is "hacked", but this usually means that the organization's admins were sloppy and didn't follow the security team's directives, thus letting the hackers in. Breaches of organizations that are doing everything right, are actually quite rare.
- Evgeny Morzov is often just a literate Luddite, but he may have stumbled upon something worthwhile in writing about how information consumerism overrides all ethical systems, at http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/debatten/ueberwachung/information-consumerism-the-price-of-hypocrisy-12292374.html
- Brian P. McGlinchy writes about how the brain has evolved to make bad decisions about terrorism in his blog at http://libertymcg.com/2013/07/23/this-is-your-brain-on-terrorism/
- Hal Bergher wrote "Through the PRISM darkly" originally for IEEE Computer, but an expanded version is on Hal's blog at http://www.berghel.net/col-edit/out-of-band/july-13/oob_7-13.php
- Jack Shafer writes for Reuters about how the culture of good leaks and bad leaks does nobody any good, at http://blogs.reuters.com/jackshafer/2013/06/11/edward-snowden-and-the-selective-targeting-of-leaks/
- Security Guru Bruce Schneier writes a CNN op-ed about how NSA Secrets kill trust, at http://edition.cnn.com/2013/07/31/opinion/schneier-nsa-trust/index.html. Well, it's not actually the secrets, its the lies and half-truths that are spread in the denials of the secrets. For me, it started when Richard Nixon said to the nation, "I am not a crook." People have gotten much more sophisticated in phrasing things so that what they want you to think they meant is quite different from what they actually meant. Or maybe I've just gotten more sophisticated in being able to detect when they're doing this.
- Design guru, science fiction writer, blogger Bruce Sterling was trained as a journalist, and some of his earliest work was about government oppression of people who do unapproved things with computers. He trains his ranting pen on the NSA with a piece titled "The Ecuadorian Library, or, the Blast Shack After Three Years" at https://medium.com/geek-empire-1/a1ebd2b4a0e5.
- Another science fiction writer, Charlie Stross, has a piece in serious policy outlet Foreign Policy, at http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/08/28/spy_kids_nsa_surveillance_next_generation. Sterling quotes Hunter S. Thompson: "When the going gets wierd, the wierd turn pro."
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
How TCP/IP eclipsed the Open Systems Interconnection standards to become the global protocol for computer networking." You can see some of the reasons for the success of TCP/IP in the article, but the most succinct summary to me remains the slogan "rough consensus and working code". This principle guarantees the triumph of useful technology over the politico-bureaucratic warfare that too often characterizes processes like ISO standards-making.
Monday, March 25, 2013
Sunday, January 06, 2013
- Convexity is easier to attain than knowledge (in the technical jargon, the "long-gamma" property)
- A "1/N" strategy is almost always best with convex strategies (the dispersion property)
- Serial optionality (the cliquet property)
- Nonnarrative Research (the optionality property)
- Theory is born from (convex) practice more often than the reverse (the nonteleological property)
- Premium for simplicity (the less-is-more property)
- Better cataloguing of negative results (the via negativa property)
In information security, this implies that the goal should be to ensure that catastrophic breaches are structurally impossible. Once you've assured this, you can drive the ongoing the ankle-biter attacks down to a dull roar level that can be tolerated indefinitely. Network engineers avoid catastrophic failure with techniques like carrier diversity. Unfortunately, they still mostly allow the Cisco vendor monopoly to continue.
System architects in other IT areas haven't learned this lesson, either. They still allow their entire enterprises to be dependent on "monocultures" of products from SAP and Peoplesoft and the like. Here the herd instinct predominates. "Nobody ever got fired for buying from IBM" -- if IBM, or ADP, or salesforce.com goes down, everyone else goes down too, and you can't be especially blamed. But if you had diversified, then your enterprise wouldn't have gone totally down, and you would be positioned to step in while your competitors were struggling or failing, and win big.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Sunday, October 21, 2012
- Inability to distinguish dominion from destruction. In the Biblical story of creation, when God cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, he gave them authority over all the living things of the earth. Six thousand Biblical years ago, people didn't have the ability to do much more than protect their villages and livestock from large predators such as lions, wolves, and eagles with spears and arrows. Now we have barbed wire fences that span continents, massive farm tractors that can do the work of 500 horses, and heavy earth-moving equipment that we use to literally move mountains in order to obtain the coal within them. We can change entire ecosystems, and we do. Conservatives need to take their Lord's injunction far more seriously, and cast off childish attitudes that they are helpless against the might of natural forces. If I were God, I'd be asking "What have you done to my garden? You have killed thousands of kinds of animals that I took care of myself because Noah only had only one Ark, and you have turned vast regions into lifeless deserts, and you are planning to do even more. I have sent many prophets such as John Muir, but you have not listened. Woe be unto you!"
- Viewing all of nature as a store of resources to be exploited. Just like "the only good Indian is a dead Indian", the only good land is land that can be farmed or mined, preferably both. But mining takes preference, regardless of its destruction of agricultural capability. When I was young, my friends would go swimming in the nearby "stip pits" that had filled with water after they had been mined and abandoned without even restoring the topography back to its original gentle hills. Before the EPA and related legislation required mining companies to replace their tailings, you could drive on US Highway 40 for a hundred miles through Indiana and Ohio -- the best farmland in the world -- and see nothing but hundred-foot-high ridges of strip mining spoils, with the occasional giant excavator showing its masts above them. But before it was farmland, those Midwestern plains were tallgrass prairie harboring hundreds or thousands of different species of grasses and insects. Now that land is planted with genetically modified corn, soybeans, and wheat that is poisonous to insects, and cultivated with "no-till" methods that save fuel used for plowing by saturating the soil with herbicides, so that broadleaf weeds and prairie grasses cannot survive. The result is mile after mile of a single-species landscape that is held hostage to the patent-protected seed stocks of Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred, and can be catastrophically wiped out by unplanned weather conditions or invasive, pesticide-resistant fungi or caterpillars. To the conservative, this is good, because it allows those companies to extract higher profit margins today by deferring the cost of damage to future generations.
- Nature is the ultimate outgroup. Conservatives are an exclusionist movement. They want everyone to think like them, and they spend a lot of time arguing about who is a true believer and who is, for example a "Republican in Name Only" and attempting to expel them from their group. One suspects that if the technique hadn't been invented by the Chinese Communists, that they would be using "self criticism meetings" in order to shape behavior. Religious groups with their affirmations of commitment serve a similar function in "separating the sheep from the goats", and driving all differences towards the core beliefs, regardless of merit. Nature, of course, was there first, and it cannot be controlled, directed or shaped. Whatever your religious or political doctrine, nature will not follow it. This must not be allowed. To the conservative ideologue, untamed nature cannot be permitted to have any legitimate status in the community.
Friday, September 07, 2012
- closed loop material
- open loop material
Saturday, July 07, 2012
I'm sure that in 1888, when the U.S. Census declared the American Frontier to be closed, and there was no more "unoccupied" land left to be taken by the white man, and the US was still in the chaos of Reconstruction from one of the worst civil wars in history, making what's going on in the Middle East now seem like child's play, people were reasonably asking whether the country could survive another 112 years like those that had occurred since 1776.
And the the millennium occurred and those 112 years had been survived with substantial success. The U.S. economy in 2012 with air conditioning, jet airliners, internet video, and electric automobiles, not to mention hedge funds and risk arbitrage, is very different from "civilization as we know it" in 1888.
I have no doubt that the US and its economy will be as different in the year 2248 as an economy of 50 states is different from that of 13 English colonies. There is no doubt that many politicians will continue to be venal, corrupt hacks, as they have been for the past 236 years, but they will probably still have been elected by a majority of voting citizens who will get what they asked for.
Saturday, June 30, 2012
I have a brief counter-commentary -- They're both wrong:
"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." The author and his academic sources don't seem to notice the contradiction in what they're saying. That is, that democratic movements can't succeed unless they are undemocratically organized with a dictatorial head or junta to "knock heads together and get everybody to stick to a plan." Karl Marx believed that there would be a "dictatorship of the proletariat" which would fade away to produce true communism. The Soviet Union's dictatorship did indeed fade away, but it was followed by the pseudo-democratic autocracy of Vladimir Putin, not by communism. The Romans tried electing their "dictator" who would voluntarily step down after the wars were over, but that didn't last long, ending when Julius decided to call himself Caesar and become emperor rather than step down. It's not yet politically or academically respectable to say that all forms of government evolve to become dictatorships or monarchies, so we end up with incoherent articles like this one.
Face it, democracy is hard. It requires the people to elect representatives, not leaders. It requires the people to communicate thoughtfully with those representatives, and the representatives to reasonably and thoughtfully work with each other on common problems. When major political movements are based on the premise that negative campaign ads work better than constructive discussion, that cooperation is evil and that members of other political parties are traitors, democracy will continue to deteriorate.
Social media have the opportunity to bypass power-hungry leaders and allow the people to communicate directly with each other, making it possible for leaderless democratic movements to react and refocus more efficiently and rapidly than ever before, but their technical architecture with centralized software and servers makes them just as corruptible as the old fashioned political machines that used smoke-filled back rooms instead of giant server farms.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
The tried and true aphorism [is] that government isn't any good at picking winners. This isn't, by the way, a knock on government. No one is particularly good at picking winners. The problem for government is that while market-produced losers usually fail and go away, making room for winners, government-produced losers tend to stick around for a while, sucking resources away from potential winners. No one knows in advance whether something will work; government's failure is in its relative unwillingness to clear away the chaff.In economist-speak, the subsidies that Free Exchange describes are "Pigovian subsidies", the converse of the more well-known Pigovian taxes. The reason that this kind of tax works better than subsidies is that the lifecycle of an enterprise is asymmetrical -- the growth phase is much shorter than the decline phase, so the cumulative penalty of a tax during growth is less than the drain during decline, putting failing enterprises out of their misery earlier, while the cumulative effect of subsidies is reversed, having a smaller effect during growth while prolonging declines. If a government creates equal numbers of subsidies and taxes with equal rates, the total effect will be negative.
Friday, March 30, 2012
Computers and robots don't make mistakes, right? But there's a complementary saying: "To err is human, to really screw things up requires a computer." After all, the things were designed by error-prone humans.
Fast food restaurants have achieved much of their success by creating a product that can be considered "high quality" in that it is identical each and every time you go to one no matter where in the country, and almost in the world it is. Yet on my last visit to one of the top 3 franchises, they got 3 of 5 items in my order wrong, and while I was there they made errors in the orders for two more customers.
One of the reasons that Apple is such a powerhouse is that they have achieved a higher level of quality than their competitors can ever aspire to, even a decade or more after the infamous "blue screen of death" was common.
But a monolithic ecosystem of total control is not the only path to quality. Most of the web runs on the Linux OS and Apache web server, which are both completely cooperative, transparent, loosely coordinated enterprises, and achieves higher quality than its closed, commercial competitors.
Engineers have another slogan: "we can build it for you fast, cheap, or good. Choose any two." You could survey people asking whether they've become used to fast and cheap, and "good" has become impossible.
Luxury is a surface characteristic any more. The luxury smartphone doesn't have any better software or give you any better sound than the iPhone that millions of people carry, though it may come in a gold-plated case. Even Bill Gates runs Microsoft Windows on his PC.
My taxes were almost lost when my tax peparer's PC crashed at the end of tediously entering all the data. He wasn't sure that it had made a backup for him; he hadn't bothered to check that any kinds of backups were ever made.
My Toyota Prius has the same navigation software as a Lexus, although the Lexus has a somewhat bigger screen. Both systems have the same bugs and usability problems.
Toyota has a well-deserved reputation for quality, but they can't deliver an operator's manual that correctly describes how the hand controls relate to the headlight settings. As I was sitting with the "finance manager" at the dealer completing my purchase, his computer crashed and was unable to print some of the government forms - we had to move to another office to finish all the paperwork.
Now, what might happen to General Motors dealers' ability close a sale with correct pricing and product option information when their new Chief Information Officer is known for decimating the Information Technology Department at his previous job, firing all the high-salary, experienced veterans and replacing them with low-wage workers offshore? How can quality be maintained in a regime whose goal is rapid delivery at unprecedentedly low cost?
Quality issues have been an issue with systems since before Capt. Grace Murray Hopper found the first insect in the backplane of a mainframe. In my job I'm dependent on people doing high quality system design and operating those systems reliably while making changes to them, effectively rebuilding the metaphorical airplane while in flight.
Today it seemed that all my problems were quality-related. To top it off, when I went to my e-book reader's online store to buy "The Checklist Manifesto" for some weekend reading, the shopping cart function wouldn't work. Argh.
Saturday, February 25, 2012
This same technique could be used by owners of patented computer algorithms -- let your algorithm escape from your licensing control and become incorporated into a computer virus or worm, then demand royalties from the owners of the infected computers or sue them for infringement.
I have no idea whether this generalization of Monsanto's trolling method is patentable as a business process. Nor have I read the filings in the farmers' lawsuit, so I don't know whether they contain any hints that any participants in the case are aware of the generalizability of the method. But if they aren't, here's a statement that I believe this is an obvious generalization, and its obviousness should be grounds for invalidation of any attempt to patent the trolling method.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
It's easy for a biologist to imagine that social and economic progress follows a logistic curve that starts out exponential but flattens off as resource limits are approached. It's also the case that after the easy problems are solved, the remaining ones become exponentially more difficult, producing the same slowdowns, though without the hard upper bound. The social difficulty is that, as Thiel observes, our political systems are built on the promise of never-ending growth. You can't get re-elected by promising that there are not going to be any more free chickens for every pot.
More compute power is an essential prerequisite for getting out of this trap. With enough bandwidth and large enough displays and enough compute power to drive them, "as good as being there" can become a reality and the limits to material resources and the costs of transporting those resources can become effectively non-issues. However, better, more reliable, more trustworthy software is also a prerequisite. The complexity mountain is a problem for software, too.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Sunday, August 21, 2011
- Something must be done
- This is something
- Therefore, it must be done
Friday, July 08, 2011
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Monday, May 30, 2011
There's the paranoid approach: "however much security you have, it's not enough" This is encouraged by vendors of security products and services, who want you to buy, buy, buy, and don't care if you're spending your money effectively. It's functionally equivalent to the "priceless assets" approach: "if your assets are infinitely valuable, anything less than an infinite amount of spending on security is inadequate." This approach is deeply baked into the security industry due to its origins in military security, where the asset value is the entire country.
Then there's the loss-management approach. This is based on the notion that losses can be predicted, and controls can be assessed for their effectiveness in mitigating those losses. This is the only approach that that provides a principled basis for a budget less than "all the money you have". But how do you manage effectiveness in a principled way, when vendors are motivated to tell you "trust me, it really works great!" and hide any weakenesses that their product or service may have until it's too late for you. Third party certifications such as Common Criteria protection profiles ensure a baseline of effectiveness, but the CC certification hierarchy doesn't distinguish levels of effectiveness - the distinguishes trustworthiness of achievement of the baseline. A product certified at EAL4 may may be no more effective than one certified at EAL2.
Assessment of effectriveness is problematic prospectively, but it can be assessed retrospectively: simply add up the losses actually experienced with a given configuration of controls. That is, if you are unable to develop a credible estimate of annual loss expectancy, use historical data for measured annual losses. That is, ALE = MAL.
Now apply the principle of not spending more than the value of the asset to your annual budget. You have observed MAL, so you can say the annual security expenses shouldn't exceed that value. SE =< MAL.
In an environment where threats & assets cannot be effectively and reliably estimated, security expenses will approach an equilibrium with security losses. This is not good news for participants with assets that are protected by the laws of macroeconomics, such as consumers in a free-market economy whose personally identifiable information is somewhere out there in the cloud.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
By Richard Hofstadter
Harper’s Magazine, November 1964, pp. 77-86.
Hofstadter was a famous professor of political science at the school where I was an undergraduate, though I never took any of his courses. This article is one of the reasons for his fame. The paranoid style is evident to any careful observer of politics, but this puts it in a broader context. No you're not imagining it, they really are crazy, and they've been that way for a long time.;
Friday, April 22, 2011
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Not to mention his fully fabbed Rule 110 cellular automaton, with a few parts missing, oops. Rule 110 CA's are also universal, with a nice scandal to go along with their discovery.
Reminds me of one of those naive geniuses that pop up regularly in the SF literature.
Monday, February 21, 2011
- sustainable in the sense of lasting at least as long into the future as civilization has extended into the past, some 3000-5000 years.
- stopping the decline in biological species diversity. This can occur either by forestalling the extinction of existing species, or by increasing the rate of appearance of new ones. Currently we're out of equilibrium by at least 10,000 to one.
- Stopping the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and secondarily other pollutants itself. The days of "the solution to pollution is dilution" are long gone. Mark Z. Jacobson's GATOR model is an example of the state of the art in this area.
- Transformation of the global energy economy to sustainable sources. Jacobson and Mark Delucci have concluded that it is technically feasible to transform global energy sources to wind, water and solar within 20-40 years. They are of course wildly optimistic since neither the political will nor the economic resources are available.
- Thus integrating economic models into this transformation is necessary. Things are unlikely to change in ways that are unprofitable; causing economies to collapse by raising taxes to unsustainable levels in order to fund energy projects doesn't do anyone any good. Cyclic booms and collapses don't count as "sustainable" even if their long-term average is nonzero.
- We suspect that it will somehow be necessary to decouple the material economy from the nonmaterial value chain. Many material resources are bounded, but billionaires cannot personally consume all their wealth; it's just places they don't have time to go to and money they don't have time to spend. We would like to know whether a level of health and comfort equivalent to a first-world country in the year 2000 can be achievable for most everyone in the world using market economies.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Fiddledeedee 555-5555-55555-5552. That's fifteen 5's and a two.
I think it must be related to an observation that many weather prognosticators and climate change skeptics' declarations cannot be distinguished from the results of numerological computations on facts about clowns.
Masters writings of course are the very antithesis of this approach -- they're as scientific, coherent and data-based as it is possible to get.
Friday, October 15, 2010
The New York Times doesn't. An article by David Segal concludes that economics isn't really trying to be successful -- people are just too complicated. He quotes Duke University professor and specialist in behavioral economics Dan Ariely, who says "...the economy is a hugely complex problem. So we either simplify the problem and offer a solution, or embrace the complexity and do nothing.” Or as I say sarcastically, "if at first you don't succeed, give up."
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Saturday, October 02, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Monday, September 06, 2010
Saturday, September 04, 2010
- it never happened
- even if it happened in the past, it's not happening now
- even if it's happening now, it's not due to anything we did
- even if it is due to something we did there's nothing that can be done about it
- even if there's something that can be done about it, it shouldn't be done for other reasons
- even if it is due to something we did, it wasn't with malicious intentions and we shouldn't be held responsible
- even if something should be done, we shouldn't have to pay, somebody else should
- even if we ought to pay for the fix, paying will consume all of our profits and we'll go bankrupt and then somebody else will have to pay anyway
- even if we won't go bankrupt, our profits will be reduced, and this is bad for the country if not for the world
- solving the problem is revenue-neutral, we could get a lot of good press and "brand reputation" if we fixed it
- hey, we could increase our profits if we really fixed this problem
Saturday, July 24, 2010
When the EPA first made its finding that the climate impact of anthropogenic CO2 and 5 other greenhouse gases endangers the health of U.S. citizens (the "CAA endangerment finding"), the Obama administration made it clear that if Congress didn't produce legislation, the EPA would act unilaterally. No deficit-reducing taxes, no free-market cap and trade framework, simply a flat limit on emissions, just like benzene, ozone and other pollutants. "Please don't throw me into the briar patch!"
Friday, December 11, 2009
How secure is ODBC?
Any ODBC sniffer will be able to trace everything from an ODBC perspective. This includes data, usernames, passwords etc. However, if you are using an ODBC driver that provides encryption, you can increase your level of security.
Since any front-end tool can effectively connect to and modify your databases, you need to enforce security at the server level.
On the other hand, if you use TCP/IP, ODBC security should be the least of your concerns!
It should be massively embarrassing to every security professional that the basic rule of never transmitting or storing passwords in clear text still doesn't have a standard, default implementation even now, many years after the first ODBC specification was published in 1992. The fact that ODBC is really an API, and not a network protocol, and that it was created for a non-networked environment where communication between the client process and the DBMS would take occur in the within-system interprocess communication framework, via OS traps using shared memory or intrasystem messages where security can be rigorously enforced, instead of the modern environment where database client and server processes run on different computers with an open, possibly hostile network in between, is not really an excuse. Vendors have had seventeen years to work this out!
Some ODBC libraries do support SSL session encryption, and if you encrypt everything, then passwords get encrypted too. But passwords should be encrypted always and everywhere. If every OS was able to figure out that this is required decades ago, DBMS products should be able to figure it out, too.
Monday, December 07, 2009
While ownership of the name is good for that company, it's bad for the industry, which has to use some other, less felicitous term, such as HCNG, which is used by NREL. DOE’s Advanced Vehicle Testing Activity (AVTA) spells it H/CNG, and has vehicles using 15%, 30%, 50% and 100% hydrogen.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
A few weeks ago, Science magazine, one of the most prestigious general-readership journals (if you can call a polymath scientist a "general reader") published a short article in its perspective section by two of the most eminent computer engineering researchers in the US, William Wulf and Anita Jones, about computer security, titled "Reflections on Cybersecurity".Their summary is almost accurate "Cyberspace is less secure than it was 40 years ago. That is not to say that no progress has been made—cryptography is much better, for example. But more vital information is accessible on networked computers, and the consequences of intrusion can therefore be much higher. A fresh approach is needed if the situation is to improve materially." And their discussion, behind a membership barrier or a typically outrageous $15.00/day per article pay-per-view fee, is generally correct. They list a number of ways that security goes wrong even with the best designs and the best methods.
Their error is in their conclusion, that public key cryptography is the miracle cure: "we conjecture that by providing just a way of accessing the public key of an object, one could build an arbitrary end-to-end security policy." Yes you can probably build an arbitrary end-to-end security policy, but in my experience with public key infrastructures, it will be intractably complex, in the technical sense of being NP-hard to administer in all but trivial usage structures. This is the same kind of error that occurs in real life with role-based access control schemes: for naturally occurring organizations rather than artificial examples, you quickly end up with more roles than people, and the system, though elegant, costs more to operate and administer than the messy environment that you started with.
Any system with crystalline simplicity such as the one that Wulf and Jones are looking for will have the brittleness of crystals, too. Strike it at just the right angle and it will fail disastrously. They have failed to recognize the key design decision by Tim Berners-Lee that made the World Wide Web scale so remarkably. Unlike nearly all previous hypertext systems, the WWW does not automatically create backlinks with every forward link, and it doesn't automatically update links with their targets change or go away completely. The Web expects errors and deals with them routinely. Even the very advanced semantic web, which is otherwise little more than a type system for XML objects, expects to see uncomputable type specifications and deals with them routinely.
If academic researchers want to make significant advances in security, they need to come to grips with the notion of "robustness" and not confuse it with "simplicity", which although it is very similar in that simple systems are often easy to make robust, they're not the same. Two of the most robust systems we understand, the immune system and the behavioral programming of the nervous system, are also among the most complex systems known.