Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean, is a great, fun, read. It was awarded the Newberry medal (awarded annually by the American Library Association, to the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children).

Related: Publishers Fight Progress Again - Against Amazon Kindle - The World at the End of Time - Hugo and Nebula Award Books

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Don't Excuse Immoral Looters

I believe those that loot should held responsible for their actions. It is not the fault of international aid donors that Mobutu Sese Seko (widely credited with behavior responsible for inspiring the term: kleptocracy) looted the money meant to help starving people. It is not the fault of government that they don't manage to outlaw and then enforce those laws against all unethical and immoral behavior.

There are too many in the USA to determine which CEOs and board members are most responsible for the current corporate kleptocracy mentality. There are legal boundaries (widely broken in recent decades) where that kleptocracy so far exceeds the self serving behavior of many CEOs that legal action is obviously correct. However, prosecution of CEOs for stealing millions seems to be less supported by those who golf with them than prosecution some kid who stole a few hundred dollars. But even more important is the failure of those that support the unethical and immoral behavior regardless of legal action.

Yes government is partially responsible for not policing corrupt dictators better. And yes government is partially responsible for not enforcing laws in support of regulated markets that capitalism requires (regulating negative externalities like systemic risk, exploiting monopoly profits, pollution...). Looting corporations is mainly a problem of the entitled elite conspiring to take what isn't theirs. In my opinion this huge failure of our society is mainly a problem that needs to be addressed by not accepting such immoral and unethical behavior, not laws against excessive taking by CEO's and executives of the wealth created by companies.

Those responsible for encouraging the moral and ethical failures of our "leaders" are those "leading" citizens sitting on corporate boards and approving the looting. And those lawyers arguing for, approving, and defending such unethical pay for big pay in return. And "experts" making cases for such ludicrous pay packages in return for big pay. And those that encourage the looting by including the looters in their high society in ways that they probably would not include Mobutu Sese Seko (though honestly their behavior makes that highly questionable - maybe they would include him).

I image those that welcome the looters would not support those using child labor in factories (even if say that was not illegal in some country in which they exploited the laws for their benefit). Plenty of things are unacceptable even if they are not illegal. Yet these supporters of looters want to be forgiven for welcoming looters since, well all their buddies at the exclusive country club loot, so I can't possibly expect ethical behavior for any of them.

Even more dis-heartening are foundations, charities, educational institutions that welcome looters without any question of their ethical and moral failures. Those supporting the looters are responsible for their behavior. They are not excused because others also support the immoral behavior. And we should make it any easier for them to excuse themselves for their encouragement of such unethical behavior.

In response to: Stop Blaming AIG

Related: CEO's Plundering Corporations for Personal Benefit - Why Pay Taxes or be Honest - Obscene CEO Pay - Businesses Tell the IRS They Are Not American but Executives Stay in USA - Losses Covered Up to Protect Bonuses - Super Spoiled Brats

Friday, March 20, 2009

Little Watchmen

Little Brother is the novel by Cory Doctorow about individuals using technology to turn the tables on Big Brother. It was an enjoyable read, but I think the enjoyment will have much to do with your political views. If you believe in putting your trust in government (like the mode was for at least 6 of the 8 years of the Bush Presidency) you probably won't like it. If you prefer free speech and freedom from government control, and big brother style spying by government you probably will enjoy it. It also has a dose of techno-geek culture.

Corey Doctorow understand the new possibilities technology allows. The content of the book is also available for free online

Giving away ebooks gives me artistic, moral and commercial satisfaction. The commercial question is the one that comes up most often: how can you give away free ebooks and still make money?

For me -- for pretty much every writer -- the big problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity (thanks to Tim O'Reilly for this great aphorism). Of all the people who failed to buy this book today, the majority did so because they never heard of it, not because someone gave them a free copy.

A particularly nice little lesson on the paradox of false positives from the book:

If you ever decide to do something as stupid as build an automatic terrorism detector, here's a math lesson you need to learn first. It's called "the paradox of the false positive," and it's a doozy.

Say you have a new disease, called Super-AIDS. Only one in a million people gets Super-AIDS. You develop a test for Super-AIDS that's 99 percent accurate. I mean, 99 percent of the time, it gives the correct result -- true if the subject is infected, and false if the subject is healthy. You give the test to a million people.

One in a million people have Super-AIDS. One in a hundred people that you test will generate a "false positive" -- the test will say he has Super-AIDS even though he doesn't. That's what "99 percent accurate" means: one percent wrong.

What's one percent of one million?

1,000,000/100 = 10,000

One in a million people has Super-AIDS. If you test a million random people, you'll probably only find one case of real Super-AIDS. But your test won't identify *one* person as having Super-AIDS. It will identify *10,000* people as having it.

Your 99 percent accurate test will perform with 99.99 percent *inaccuracy*.

That's the paradox of the false positive. When you try to find something really rare, your test's accuracy has to match the rarity of the thing you're looking for.
This is the paradox of the false positive, and here's how it applies to terrorism:

Terrorists are really rare. In a city of twenty million like New York, there might be one or two terrorists. Maybe ten of them at the outside. 10/20,000,000 = 0.00005 percent. One twenty-thousandth of a percent.

That's pretty rare all right. Now, say you've got some software that can sift through all the bank-records, or toll-pass records, or public transit records, or phone-call records in the city and catch terrorists 99 percent of the time.

In a pool of twenty million people, a 99 percent accurate test will identify two hundred thousand people as being terrorists. But only ten of them are terrorists. To catch ten bad guys, you have to haul in and investigate two hundred thousand innocent people.

Guess what? Terrorism tests aren't anywhere *close* to 99 percent accurate. More like 60 percent accurate. Even 40 percent accurate, sometimes.

What this all meant was that the Department of Homeland Security had set itself up to fail badly. They were trying to spot incredibly rare events -- a person is a terrorist -- with inaccurate systems

"I'd recommend Little Brother over pretty much any book I've read this year." - Neil Gaiman

I wouldn't agree with that but it is a fun read, though with quite a strong worldview that some will find overwhelms the story. I myself and tired of tired of incompetent government harassment, so that wasn't a problem for me.

Related: Watching the Watchmen - Freedom Increasingly at Risk - Systemic Failure of SWAT Raids - Photographers are not a Threat

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Terrorist watch list hits 1 million

Terrorist watch list hits 1 million, doesn't that seem a bit high? It seems to me the processes being used to provide safety are faulty.

The government's terrorist watch list has hit 1 million entries, up 32% since 2007.

Federal data show the rise comes despite the removal of 33,000 entries last year by the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center in an effort to purge the list of outdated information and remove people cleared in investigations.

It's unclear how many individuals those 33,000 records represent — the center often uses multiple entries, or "identities," for a person to reflect variances in name spellings or other identifying information. The remaining million entries represent about 400,000 individuals, according to the center.
About 95% of the people on the list are foreigners, the FBI says, but it's a source of frequent complaints from U.S. travelers.

In the past two years, 51,000 people have filed "redress" requests claiming they were wrongly included on the watch list, according to the Department of Homeland Security. In the vast majority of cases reviewed so far, it has turned out that the petitioners were not actually on the list, with most having been misidentified at airports because their names resembled others on it.

There have been 830 redress requests since 2005 where the person was, in fact, confirmed to be on the watch list, and further review by the screening center led to the removal of 150, or 18% of them.

Without specific rules for who goes on the list, it's too bloated to be effective, says Tim Sparapani, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Related: Watching the Watchmen - Freedom Increasingly at Risk

Monday, March 02, 2009

Tips for Your First 24 Hours with Ubuntu

Ubuntu Newbie Guide: First 24 Hours With Ubuntu

Q: How do I find and install new software?

A: Here comes the fun part. Go to System > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager, type in your password when prompted, and welcome to the world of finding new software! At this point, you can either browse or search. Browse around just to get an idea of what’s available. Search if you know what you want.

Let’s go ahead and install one nice little utility right now, so you can see how it works. Type “sysinfo” (without the quotes) into the Quick Search box. You see one or more listings come up, with a checkbox to the left of each. If the checkbox is empty next to the sysinfo listing, you can check it by clicking on it, and choosing Mark for Installation from the resulting drop-down box. This often brings up a box letting you know that in order to install this app, you’ll need to also install a list of other things. Just agree by clicking on the Mark button. Now that you’ve chosen to install sysinfo, click on the big Apply button (with a green check mark in the menu) and when asked if you want to apply the changes, click Apply.