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Journal: [Beloved] It Is Not a Word 2

Journal by johndiii
It is not a word spoken,
Few words are said;
Nor even a look of the eyes
Nor a bend of the head,

But only a hush of the heart
That has too much to keep,
Only memories waking
That sleep so light a sleep.

-- Sara Teasdale

I remember.
User Journal

Journal: These are the things in my head at night 7

Journal by Daniel Dvorkin

Then-PFC, now-SGT Bergdahl may in fact have deserted his post. There are certainly credible accusations to that effect, and if so, then he should be tried and convicted for the crime. But it's a whole lot easier to investigate those charges with him here, and we don't let the Taliban mete out justice for us.

The military idea of "taking care of your own" has a lot of different aspects. Holding the line and leaving no one behind are obvious; less obvious, perhaps, is that our people are ours. Loon or no, deserter or no, even traitor or no, whatever else Bowe Bergdahl may be he is someone who raised his right hand and took the oath, and that means that whatever reward or punishment he receives is ours and ours alone to give.

It astonishes me sometimes, having at this point been out of the service several more years than I was in it, how strong and pure those ideas still are in my head: how much "us" the profession of arms still is to me, and I suppose always will be. I'm a civilian and happy to be one now, but both the infantryman and the medic are still very close to the surface. The latter is concerned mainly with bringing back the wounded--and the former is ready, willing, and perhaps even eager to kill anyone who stands in the way of that mission.

Whatever else we did, whatever else we may do, we had to bring him home.

User Journal

Journal: Lies, damned lies, and ... oh no, you're going there. 1

Journal by Daniel Dvorkin

[cranky rant warning]

"Lies, damned lies, and statistics." It's coming up again with depressing frequency, being used as an argument instead of a snide observation.

Okay, here's the thing. Can you lie with statistics? Sure. Statistics is a branch of mathematics*, and math is a language; you can lie in that language as easily as in any other. Does this mean all statistics are lies? No more than all statements in any language are lies--and if you believe that, you've gone so far down the rabbit hole of anti-intellectual mysticism that you'll probably never find your way out.

Meanwhile, in the real world, and in the ever-expanding torrent of data we have about that world, statistics as a discipline is pretty much the only hope we have of understanding anything. The low-hanging fruit has been picked. The equations we learn in Physics 101 are as valid as they ever were, but they're not nearly enough. No matter how certain you think you are, no matter how many times you repeat your experiment and get the same result, if you don't do the statistical tests you don't actually know whatever it is you think you know. And if you do the tests--well, you may still be wrong, but you can at least quantify your uncertainty. And you have to do that, because you can always be wrong.

None of this is meant to defend the misuse of statistics, any more than as a writer I'd defend the misuse of natural language. People can and do wilfully misinterpret statistics, or cherry-pick them, or just outright make them up, and those are bad things. Guess what? They do that with every other kind of statement too. At least half of statisticians' job is fact-checking, and it's a charge we gladly accept.

So the next time you're tempted to say "lies, damned lies, and statistics," or "figures don't lie but liars figure," or "correlation does not imply causation" or any of its variants, or post the umpteen-thousandth link to "How To Lie With Statistics," and think you're being clever--please, just stop. Because one thing I am so sure of that I don't even need to put a p-value on it is that if you feel the need to resort to any of those lazy, thought-free responses, you don't know enough about the issue at hand to have an informed opinion, and the best thing you can possibly do for yourself and everyone else is to keep quiet.

*Opinions vary on this issue, but if statistics isn't exactly a branch of mathematics, we can at least say that math is the language in which it's written.

User Journal

Journal: When Did 'Beta' Become A Dirty Word On /. ? 5

Journal by MonTemplar

Just spotted that people are stuffing comments into various stories here for the sole purpose of complaining about the /. Beta.

Maybe it's because I only occasionally visit here, but are people really that hung up on the current design?

Hell, I can remember when /. didn't even bother with any testing, period, just shoved changes straight onto the production servers. Fun times. (Not)

Having looked at the Beta, it seems to me a damn sight cleaner that some news sites I can think of*. Ok, the comment view controls could use some refining, but that's the whole point of beta-testing, right?

(*I still have nightmares about pre-2000s ZDNet. Makes the current design look almost pleasant by comparison.)

User Journal

Journal: beta beta beta 2

Journal by Daniel Dvorkin

To whom it may concern:

A while back, I was invited to take a look at the Slashdot beta. I looked at it and quickly decided that it was too painful to use, and hoped (vainly, I knew) that it would die a quiet death. Today, when logging into Slashdot, I was greeted with this cheery message:

MOVIN' ON UP. You are on Slashdot Classic. We are starting to move into new digs in February by automatically redirecting greater numbers of you. The new site is a work in progress so Classic Slashdot will be available from the footer for several more months. As we migrate our audience, we want to hear from you to make sure that the redesigned page has all the features you expect. Find out more.

In other words, we have here all the signs of a corporate "beta" site that will be rolled out regardless of user reaction. Let me be quite clear: "all the features I expect" are already on Slashdot (what you're adorably calling "Classic"). It works. It's not broken. Don't try to "fix" it, because the proposed "fix" irrevocably breaks the entire Slashdot look and feel.

When the beta becomes the only option (and I know it's almost certainly "when" at this point, not "if") Slashdot will become a ghost town. You will have killed what was once one of the most lively, interesting, and important sites on the web. I've loved this site for fifteen years now, but I'm not going to make myself suffer for the zombie wreck of something that used to be great.

Sincerely,
Daniel Dvorkin
UID 106857

User Journal

Journal: beta beta beta 4

Journal by Daniel Dvorkin

To whom it may concern:

A while back, I was invited to take a look at the Slashdot beta. I looked at it and quickly decided that it was too painful to use, and hoped (vainly, I knew) that it would die a quiet death. Today, when logging into Slashdot, I was greeted with this cheery message:

MOVIN' ON UP. You are on Slashdot Classic. We are starting to move into new digs in February by automatically redirecting greater numbers of you. The new site is a work in progress so Classic Slashdot will be available from the footer for several more months. As we migrate our audience, we want to hear from you to make sure that the redesigned page has all the features you expect. Find out more.

In other words, we have here all the signs of a corporate "beta" site that will be rolled out regardless of user reaction. Let me be quite clear: "all the features I expect" are already on Slashdot (what you're adorably calling "Classic"). It works. It's not broken. Don't try to "fix" it, because the proposed "fix" irrevocably breaks the entire Slashdot look and feel.

When the beta becomes the only option (and I know it's almost certainly "when" at this point, not "if") Slashdot will become a ghost town. You will have killed what was once one of the most lively, interesting, and important sites on the web. I've loved this site for fifteen years now, but I'm not going to make myself suffer for the zombie wreck of something that used to be great.

Sincerely,
Daniel Dvorkin
UID 106857

Chrome

Journal: Six Months with a Chromebook

Journal by chill

About six months ago my main PC died and I needed a new one. Not having a lot of cash, and not really having a lot of free time to spend on the computer, I decided to get an Acer C7 Chromebook to hold me over.

Refurbished units are available on Acer's official refurb store, over on E-Bay. I paid $149 at the time. Now the base 2 Gb unit with a 320 Gb HD is available for $139.

These are Intel Celeron-based systems with 2 SO-DIMM RAM sockets and a mini-PCIe slot that holds the a/b/g/n/Bluetooth adapter. With only one RAM socket populated, it was easy to pop in a 4 Gb module for a total of 6 Gb of RAM. Adding more RAM allows the system to operate better with multiple tabs open. Other than that, you won't notice much of a difference.

Now that I've been using this as my primary machine for the last 6 months I can render an informed opinion.

I'm amazed at how much of what I do now is thru a web browser. After adding an SSH app, there is very little I couldn't do with the Chromebook. Still, there are some critical limitations that have driven me to get a "real" computer.

One of the big ones is the lack of network file system support. There is no way to access SMB/CIFS or NFS shares on the Chromebook. It also doesn't have FTP support, though there is a commercial app available for FTP. It is only $1.99, but needs to phone home to make sure you've paid, so requires connectivity to function.

If you can live with accessing files only through Google Drive, everything is fine. But, if you have -- like me -- a few terabytes of data on local shares, you're stuck. No, uploading every movie, television show, educational video and audio file I've every ripped to Google Drive is not an option.

Speaking of uploading music, that is another limitation. If you use Google Music, you can play everything fine, but will need a "real" computer to upload any files.

Printing, too. There is no direct printing support. The system only supports "Google Cloud Print", which means you either buy a new printer that supports GCP or leave a PC running with the printer driver configured, and logged in to Chrome (browser). You also have to be comfortable with everything you print going up to Google and back down. Meh.

It is impressive what can be accomplished through the Chrome browser, an SSH app and an FTP app. There are numerous web IDEs such as Shift Edit that are actually very good for development of HTML, CSS, Javascript and other script-based languages.

Of course, Chrome doesn't do Java. There are still some things on the web that require Java.

The lack of network file system support is a show stopper for me. I'm also taking some online classes including a couple in Java development, which means I can't use the Chromebook.

Not that I'm getting rid of it. I have given it to my wife. My young son also has one.

For $139 plus $20 or so for extra RAM it makes a wonderful backup system. Or one to grab and take with if you aren't going to be doing heavy development.

User Journal

Journal: Continuation on education 13

Journal by jd

Ok, I need to expand a bit on my excessively long post on education some time back.

The first thing I am going to clarify is streaming. This is not merely distinction by speed, which is the normal (and therefore wrong) approach. You have to distinguish by the nature of the flows. In practice, this means distinguishing by creativity (since creative people learn differently than uncreative people).

It is also not sufficient to divide by fast/medium/slow. The idea is that differences in mind create turbulence (a very useful thing to have in contexts other than the classroom). For speed, this is easy - normal +/- 0.25 standard deviations for the central band (ie: everyone essentially average), plus two additional bands on either side, making five in total.

Classes should hold around 10 students, so you have lots of different classes for average, fewer for the band's either side, and perhaps only one for the outer bands. This solves a lot of timetabling issues, as classes in the same band are going to be interchangeable as far as subject matter is concerned. (This means you can weave in and out of the creative streams as needed.)

Creativity can be ranked, but not quantified. I'd simply create three pools of students, with the most creative in one pool and the least in a second. It's about the best you can do. The size of the pools? Well, you can't obtain zero gradient, and variations in thinking style can be very useful in the classroom. 50% in the middle group, 25% in each of the outliers.

So you've 15 different streams in total. Assume creativity and speed are normally distributed and that the outermost speed streams contain one class of 10 each. Start with speed for simplicity I'll forgo the calculations and guess that the upper/lower middle bands would then have nine classes of 10 each and that the central band will hold 180 classes of 10.

That means you've 2000 students, of whom the assumption is 1000 are averagely creative, 500 are exceptional and 500 are, well, not really. Ok, because creativity and speed are independent variables, we have to have more classes in the outermost band - in fact, we'd need four of them, which means we have to go to 8000 students.

These students get placed in one of 808 possible classes per subject per year. Yes, 808 distinct classes. Assuming 6 teaching hours per day x 5 days, making 30 available hours, which means you can have no fewer than 27 simultaneous classes per year. That's 513 classrooms in total, fully occupied in every timeslot, and we're looking at just one subject. Assuming 8 subjects per year on average, that goes up to 4104. Rooms need maintenance and you also need spares in case of problems. So, triple it, giving 12312 rooms required. We're now looking at serious real estate, but there are larger schools than that today. This isn't impossible.

The 8000 students is per year, as noted earlier. And since years won't align, you're going to need to go from first year of pre/playschool to final year of an undergraduate degree. That's a whole lotta years. 19 of them, including industrial placement. 152,000 students in total. About a quarter of the total student population in the Greater Manchester area.

The design would be a nightmare with a layout from hell to minimize conflict due to intellectual peers not always being age peers, and neither necessarily being perceptual peers, and yet the layout also has to minimize the distance walked. Due to the lack of wormholes and non-simply-connected topologies, this isn't trivial. A person at one extreme corner of the two dimensional spectrum in one subject might be at the other extreme corner in another. From each class, there will be 15 vectors to the next one.

But you can't minimize per journey. Because there will be multiple interchangeable classes, each of which will produce 15 further vectors, you have to minimize per day, per student. Certain changes impact other vectors, certain vector values will be impossible, and so on. Multivariable systems with permutation constraints. That is hellish optimization, but it is possible.

It might actually be necessary to make the university a full research/teaching university of the sort found a lot in England. There is no possible way such a school could finance itself off fees, but research/development, publishing and other long-term income might help. Ideally, the productivity would pay for the school. The bigger multinationals post profits in excess of 2 billion a year, which is how much this school would cost.

Pumping all the profits into a school in the hope that the 10 uber creative geniuses you produce each year, every year, can produce enough new products and enough new patents to guarantee the system can be sustained... It would be a huge gamble, it would probably fail, but what a wild ride it would be!

User Journal

Journal: Yeah, about that ...

Journal by Daniel Dvorkin

Okay, so there's this quote that never seems to die. It's often attributed to Morgan Freeman, although I believe it actually comes from Henry Rollins; in any case, it doesn't much matter who said it. It just gets posted and reposted as a bit of snarky wisdom. Snarky it certainly is, but wise it's not.

First, the quote: "I hate the word homophobia. It's not a phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole." There it is. Read it, enjoy it, revel in the snark.

Now, here's what's wrong with it. First, "phobia" is widely understood to mean "aversion" as well as "fear." Spare me the etymological arguments, please. Language evolves, and this is one of the ways in which it's evolved.

Second, yes, homophobes are afraid. Pretty much any time one large group of people hates another large group of people, fear is at the root of it. They're afraid, in some ill-defined but vehement way, that if gay people are allowed to be gay the way straight people are allowed to be straight, everything will fall apart. The foundations of their world will crack. The earth itself will turn to quicksand beneath their feet. Things Will Not Be As They Have Been, And Should Always Be. In the case of male homophobes who have a particular aversion to male homosexuality, they're afraid--in the words of another meme that is both snarky and wise--that gay men will treat them the way they treat women. And they're afraid, in a startlingly large number of cases, of the way they just can't ... stop ... thinking ... about ... gay ... sex ... and ... how ... terrible ... it ... is ... can't ... stop ...

Third, and perhaps most important, homophobes themselves deny they're afraid, and run away from the word "homophobia" at every opportunity. Try it: identify a homophobe as such, and there's a good bet you'll get an invective-laced tirade about how it's not about fear but about the disgust that every decent person should feel when thinking about such acts (... can't ... stop ...) and how it is the patriotic duty of every red-blooded patriot who knows right from wrong to stand up against the Gay Agenda ... etc. This is particularly acute, again, when male homophobes who have a particular aversion to male homosexuality (sorry, I can't come up with a good acronym here) are confronted with their homophobia, because, you see, fear is for girls. And fags, who might as well be girls. Because girls are icky. Not like us big, strong, healthy, muscular men with our strong arms and bulging pecs and ... can't ... stop ... where was I? Oh, right. Fear is unmanly.

So yeah. No one hates (and fears!) the word "homophobia" more than homophobes do, and for that reason if no other, it needs to stay in the language. Never stop shaming them. Never stop reminding them what cowards they are. Know their fears and exploit them mercilessly, crush them and see them driven before you, chase them back under their rocks where they belong.

User Journal

Journal: "America needs a white Republican President." 3

Journal by Daniel Dvorkin

Opposition to Obama has nothing to do with race. ÂNope, nothing at all.

</sarcasm>

Okay, Republicans. ÂLook, I believe that most of you are not racist. ÂYou oppose Obama because you disagree with his policies, not his skin color. ÂYou'd rather have a Republican President because you're Republicans, and you're Republicans because you largely agree with Republican Party policies rather than out of a sense of tribal identity (I extend you that courtesy; please do the same) and you don't care what color this hypothetical Republican President, with whom you would agree far more than you do with Obama, might be.

I believe that, not least because the alternative -- that a majority of members of a political party that represents about a third of the American electorate is actively, maliciously racist -- is too grotesque to contemplate.

But there is, at the least, a substantial minority of your party that is actively, maliciously racist, that puts its racism on display as proudly as ever did the KKK wing of the Democratic Party of old. ÂFrom where I'm sitting, and where many Democrats are sitting, it looks an awful lot like this minority (I have to keep believing that) is steering the agenda of your entire party. ÂYou have to deal with these people. ÂYou have to exile them, shame them, chase them back under their rocks where they belong. ÂWe can't do it. ÂThey won't listen to us. ÂThey're your people, and that makes them your problem.

Or we can all keep going down the path we're on. ÂBecause, you know, that's working so well.

Wireless Networking

Journal: Wireless Video Streaming - Update

Journal by chill

Some while back I posted a journal entry about streaming video to my television from a central server in my basement. My conclusion at the time was wireless B/G/N couldn't really cut it when streaming via SMB over TCP.

I've experimented with a couple things and finally got it working where I can stream 1080p video (ripped BluRay) to my television via wifi. The difference was switching to the 5.0 GHz band (802.11 a/n) and changing the file share from SMB over TCP (Samba shares) to NFSv4.

NFS has less overhead than SMB over TCP and the wireless channels in the 5 GHz range are wider than those in the 2.4 GHz range.

So this setup now works for me without issues:

Small PC w/Via C7 chip acting as a server. Runs NFS and has copies (h.264 encoded as MKV) of all my movies, television shows and music (Ogg-FLAC). Connects to 10/100 wired switch in basement.

Zotac ZBox HD-11 running w/o a hard drive and booting OpenELEC off a 2 Gb SD card. Connects to home network via Cisco/Linksys WUSB600N USB wireless dongle on 5 GHz band (802.11 n).

I still have Samba running on the server so the couple of gaming PCs my kids have can reach the movie shares and perform automatic backups to private shares. I need to find a nice (free) NFS client for Windows 7. Suggestions?

User Journal

Journal: Correlation, causation, and all that. 12

Journal by Daniel Dvorkin

So this cartoon has been going around my Facebook friends list ... I'm going to try to explain what's wrong with it, and I'll try to be succint, but I don't know how good a job I'll do, so bear with me. The short and snarky version is found in my Slashdot sig line, "The correlation between ignorance of statistics and using 'correlation is not causation' as an argument is close to 1," but that's kind of unfair and certainly isn't all the discussion this subject deserves.

First of all, yes, "correlation is not causation" is strictly true. That is, they are not the same thing. If events A and B tend to occur together, this does not mean that A causes B, or that B causes A. There may be a third, unobserved event C that causes both, or the observed correlation may simply be a coincidence. Bear this in mind.

But if you observe the correlation frequently enough to establish significance, you can be reasonably sure (arbitrarily sure, depending on how many times you make the observation) that it's not coincidence. So now you're back to one of three explanations: A causes B, B causes A, or there exists some C that causes both A and B. (Two caveats: whatever the causal relationships are, they may be very indirect, proceeding through events D, E, F, and G; and the word "significance" has a very precise meaning in this context, so check with your local statistician before using it.) An easy way to check for A-causes-B vs. B-causes-A is by looking at temporal relationships. If you are already wearing your seatbelt when you get in a car crash, you are far more likely to survive than if you aren't, but you have to have made the decision to put the seatbelt on before the crash occurs--it's the fact of you wearing your seatbelt that causes you to get through the crash okay, not the fact that you get through the crash okay that causes you to have been wearing your seatbelt. Unfortunately, the temporal relationships aren't always clear, and even if you can rule out B-causes-A on this basis, it still leaves you to choose between A-causes-B and C-causes-(A,B).

An awful lot of what science does is figuring out what C is, or even if it exists at all. This is where mechanistic knowledge of the universe comes into play. Suppose that emergency departments in particular city start seeing a whole bunch of patients with acute-onset fever and diarrhea. Shortly thereafter, ED's in nearby cities start seeing the same thing, and then the same in cities connected by air travel routes. Patient histories reveal that the diarrhea tends to start about six hours after the onset of fever. Does this mean the fever is causing the diarrhea? Probably not, because these days we know enough about the mechanisms of infectious disease to know that there are lots of pathogens that cause fever, then diarrhea. The epidemiologists' and physicians' job is then to figure out what the pathogen is, how it spreads, and hopefully how best to treat it; while they're doing that, the "correlation is not causation" fanatics will be sticking their fingers in their ears and chanting "la la la I can't hear you," and hoping desperately they don't end their days as dehydrated husks lying on a feces-soaked hospital bed.

The point here is that in most cases, correlation is all we can observe. (Some philosophers of science, a la David Hume, would argue that we never observe causation, but I'm willing to accept "cause of death: gunshot wound to head" and similar extreme cases as direct observation of causal relationships.) Not every patient exposed to the pathogen will get infected. Of those who do, not all will show symptoms. Some symptomatic patients will just get the fever, some will just get the diarrhea. Some will get them at the same time, or the diarrhea first. Medical ethics boards tend to frown on doing controlled experiments with infectious diseases on human subjects, so you have to make what inferences you can with the data you have.

Even with all these limitations, correlation--in this case between exposure and symptoms--is still a powerful tool for uncovering the causal relationships. Most of what we know about human health comes from exactly this kind of analysis, and the same is true for the observational sciences generally. Astronomy, geology, paleontology, large chunks of physics and biology ... they're all built on observations of correlation, and smart inference from those observations. So if you want to know how the universe works, don't rely on any one-liners, no matter how satisfying, to guide your understanding.

User Journal

Journal: I'm not sure if Betteridge's law applies here or not. 2

Journal by Daniel Dvorkin

Privacy and the Internet: Is Facebook Evil?

He's right that privacy in the modern sense is a new development--for most of human history, people lived with what we would now consider a near-total lack of privacy--but wrong, I think, to dismiss it on that basis. There are many, many modern ideas, such as democracy and equality before the law, that would have made no sense whatsoever to our ancestors; does that mean they're any less worth prizing?

Obviously I'm not particularly concerned about giving up my privacy by maintaining an online presence, else I wouldn't be posting this. But the combination of a traditional "village" level of everyone knowing everyone else's business with the speed and ubiquity of modern communications represents a third phase in humanity's development as far as privacy is concerned--the first having been the intensely linked small communities of nomads and peasants, the second having been the mass anonymity of the industrial age--and I don't think we have any idea how that's going to shake out yet.

They laughed at Einstein. They laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. -- Carl Sagan

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