Natura non facit saltus
Debunking the Paradigm Shifters
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Friday, Oct 31, 2003
Google going public
There is a lot of buzz in Si Valley about Google going public at 100x earnings. It is reminiscent of the Netscape IPO that helped generate the dot-com investment boom.
The analogy is worth pursuing. Both Netscape and Google had large market share based on offering free software and services to a loyal and grateful user base. Both were hyped based on the premise that their market position could be leveraged into dominance of other lucrative markets that never really materialized. Neither had any significant intellectual property or any way to fend off competitors.
I don't have hard numbers, but I suspect that AOL, MSN, and Yahoo each carry more searches than Google. Google has a slightly superior product, but that may not last for long. Good search technology is available elsewhere. Yahoo has bought some excellent search engines, and AOL and MSN can do the same or develop it themselves.
Amnesty and free money for teenage illegal aliens
Andy sends this Miami Herald story about a "dream" bill for students `stuck in immigration hell'. It says:
''These youngsters find themselves caught in a Catch-22 situation,'' Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the Dream Act's sponsor, said in a statement e-mailed to The Herald. ``As illegal immigrants, they cannot work legally. Moreover, they are effectively barred from developing academically beyond high school because of the high cost of pursuing higher education.''The Catch-22 is that an illegal alien, upon becoming an 18-year-old adult, cannot do very much legally in the USA and sometimes has to go back to his home country. Hatch's solution is to give them green cards and college subsidies.
FDR didn't have polio
Some scientists now say President FDR probably had Guillain-Barre syndrome, and not polio. Guillain-Barre syndrome is an autoimmune disease that is sometimes triggered by vaccines.
Vaccine risks are often concealed in academic papers. Eg, this 1998 NEJM study concludes:
There was no increase in the risk of [flu] vaccine-associated Guillain–Barré syndrome from 1992–1993 to 1993–1994.But the studies own numbers say that those getting flu vaccines in 1992-1993 were twice as likely to get Guillain–Barré syndrome. In 1993-1994, the risk increase was a factor of 1.5 (instead of 2.0).
I don't know how the NEJM can justify such a wrong conclusion. Apparently the rationale is that by breaking the data down into 2 seasons, there is less confidence in the results. For 1992-1993, they can be 95% certain that the relative risk is between 1.0 and 4.3. A risk factor of 1.0 would mean that those getting the flu vaccine and those who didn't got GB syndrome at the same rate. A risk factor of 4.3 would mean that those getting the flu vaccine would be over 4 times as likely to get GB syndrome. Only outcomes within the 95% confidence interval are considered. In other words, the likely risk increase is a factor of 2.0, but if there are statistical flukes in the data, the risk increase might be anything from 1.0 to 4.3.
So I guess it would be acceptable for the NEJM to say that the risk factor might be 1.0. But that is not what the NEJM says. It says that "there was no increase in the risk". Either it is saying that the risk factor is 1.0, or it is saying that the risk factor in 1993-1994 is no greater than the risk factor in 1992-1993. Either way, the conclusion is not supported by the data, and seems to be a tricky statement designed to mislead the reader into thinking that there is no extra risk associated with the vaccine.
Thursday, Oct 30, 2003
The leading electronic voting machine vendor, Diebold, is trying to use copyright law to keep embarrassing internal memos off the web. The links are here. The memos refer to bugs and sloppy programming that could possibly affect election outcomes. It seems to me that election equipment should use open source software, so that anyone can verify what it is really doing.
Wednesday, Oct 29, 2003
I just watched the big-budget PBS Nova on String Theory. It was hosted by an expert in the field, but I found it disappointing.
The physics was so watered down as to be almost useless. I understand that they want to reach a wide audience, but when they just speak in vague generalities I think that it narrows the audience who understands what is said. When it did say something specific, such as saying that the universe is 10-dimensional, it was confusing because sometimes it would say that the universe is 10-dimensional, and sometimes 11-dimensional.
The idolizing of Albert Einstein was annoying. The program kept talking about Einstein throughout, even tho Einstein has almost nothing to do with string theory. The only connection was that string theory tries to be a unified field theory, or theory of everything (TOE), and Einstein looked for such a theory (without success). But the program also said that such a theory is considered a holy grail, so 1000s of other physicists have worked on it as well.
Actually, I don't think that it is even correct to say that Einstein looked for a TOE in the sense of the Nova program. The main point of unification is to merge gravity with quantum mechanics. I could be wrong, but I don't think that Einstein was trying to do that at all.
The program was overwhelmingly positive about string theory, but it did have a couple of physicists who said that the theory should be regarded as philosophy because of its lack of observable consequences. I agree with that. String theory has many fascinating aspects, but I am not sure it should even be called a "theory" until it actually explains something.
The program never mentioned gauge theories, supersymmetry, or renormalization. I don't think that it did a good job of explaining why some physicists find the theory appealing.
This sounds like a joke, but it is in an AP story. Actress Pamela Anderson wants to meet KFC heads concerning this complaint:
I must admit from the outset that I can't understand why a company that claims to care about animal welfare would continue to allow chickens to be bred and drugged to be so top-heavy that they can barely walk ...Meanwhile, who's breeding those top-heavy actresses, and what is Hollywood doing about it?
Don't turn your Cisco router off! Some of their devices fail if you turn them off for too long.
Tuesday, Oct 28, 2003
NY Times lies
The NY Times got a Pulitzer Prize for being a Stalin apologist, and now says it would be Stalinist and set a bad precedent to revoke the prize. See also these letters.
I guess it would set a dangerous precedent if a major American newspaper were to admit that they were commie stooges. Don't airbrush history -- expose them for what there were, and what they still are.
Friday, Oct 24, 2003
Intel is plugging its new motherboard with a Trusted Platform Module, and says:
Atkinson was keen to point out that this has nothing to do with digital rights management (DRM), which is a controversial technology designed to protect copyrighted material, but should be seen only as an electronic safe.Of course it has everything to do with DRM. Once you have a electronic safe, the Windows Media Player can store credentials that allow a user to play a given piece of music or video. The WMP can check the credential, and the user cannot learn it or modify it. The credential can have a key for decrypting the music, and be tied to a particular machine or set to expire on a particular date. Intel needs to persuade people to buy the TPM, but people may not want to if they see the main use as a DRM scheme that offers features to big media distributors, and not to end users.
Thursday, Oct 23, 2003
National ID card
This NY Times story tells of a private plan for a national ID card. It is let by Steven Brill, better known for CourtTV and a couple of magazines.
The idea could work. Everyone assumes that the feds would have to take charge of any national ID card, but some other forces are at work:
There are a lot of private companies (like hotels) that want to see a picture ID (ie, drivers license) and a major credit card (ie, MasterCard or Visa card). A new private ID, selectively distributed according to stringent criteria, could be more effective than both put together. Keep an eye on this idea.
Wednesday, Oct 22, 2003
Gator, a maker of spyware, sued PCPitstop for having a web page that said this:
Dump Your Spyware!There is more info here. Apparently Gator would rather be called adware, than spyware. I think that spyware is a more accurate description.
Why junk food is bad
John sends this article:
Junk food is fooling people into overeatingIt also says that 30% of British physicians would advise their obese patients that it is better to stay obese than to try the Atkins diet.
Of course fast food is high-calorie. It is supposed to be. People eat fast food to consume calories. If you don't need the calories, it is even faster to skip the meal.
Physicians are terribly misinformed about nutrition. Studies have shown that the Atkins diet is a healthy diet.
Tuesday, Oct 21, 2003
Brian Hayes wrote an American Scientist magazine column in the current issue about interval arithmetic. It mentions some research I did.
Saturday, Oct 18, 2003
World's tallest building
The news is reporting that the new Taipei 101 has taken the title of the world's tallest building from the Malaysian Petrona Towers. Here is a scale drawing of the 10 highest skyscrapers. As you can see, the Chicago Sears Tower is still the building with the highest point, and still has the highest substantial occupied floor. The Taiwan 101 has an observation deck that is slightly higher than the Sears Tower top floor, but that's about all.
The NY World Trade Center towers were taller, but they don't exist anymore.
The graphic in your front-page article on the new Taiwan skyscraper is not drawn to scale. If it were, then the Sears Tower in Chicago would appear to be still the tallest building in the world (although the Taipei 101 is higher according to certain obscure technical measures).Amazing, a newspaper editor called me about 2 minutes after I sent the email! He was very interested, and wanted to know exactly why I thought that the graphic was wrong. Since the paper thought that the graphic was important enough to put on page 1, I think that a corrected graphic should go into tomorrow's paper.
Update: No correction yet, but the SJ Mercury News says that it is still researching the matter!
Criminals go free in Frisco
Andy sends this SF Chronicle story:
San Francisco prosecutors led by District Attorney Terence Hallinan convicted less than a third of all adult felony suspects arrested in the city in 2001, according to the most recent California Department of Justice statistics available. Since 1996, the year Hallinan took office, his conviction rate annually has ranked last among county prosecutors in California, according to a Chronicle analysis of the state data.and comments:
This probably helped the pain management doctor in San Francisco beat the charges against him San Francisco is the best place for defendants in California, maybe in the entire the country. Also, note that it was a mistake for the dog mauling defendants to move the case to LA (I assume the defendants insisted on the move).John responds:
That was a shocking report on lawlessness in San Francisco. Just what you'd expect when the prosecutor is a red diaper baby, a child of notorious Communist sympathizers and fellow travelers, and a reputed Communist himself. Here is a bit of Google research on the Hallinans.SF is seriously out of step with the rest of California. Even the Democrat Calif. attorney general announced that he voted for Arnold. SF voted 80% against the recall, while other areas on Calif voted for the recall in a landslide.
Friday, Oct 17, 2003
Funny to see the NY Times devote an article attacking a movie review in a blog.
The movie Kill Bill has gotten rave reviews, but it really is just a silly Asian fight movie. It mainly shows a lot of killing with Japanese samurai swords. I guess I can say these things without the NY Times attacking me, because it doesn't care about Asians or Japanese. But Easterbrook made a fairly innocuous comment about Jews, and I guess the NY Times feels it has to scrutinize him. There is plenty of anti-Jewish bigotry in the Mohammedan world (eg, Malaysia, recently), but trying to find it in The New Republic seems really silly.
Update: Now Easterbrook has been fired from ESPN, and ESPN has purged his columns from their archives. Disney owns ESPN. The real problem here is that Quentin Tarantino movies make a lot of money because the critics like his style, and others like his over-the-top violence. It is a way to market a trashy slasher movie and appear respectable. Easterbrook was criticizing that.
I commented earlier that money was at the root of ESPN firing Rush Limbaugh. I didn't even think about ESPN being owned by Disney, and Disney being run by Eisner, and Eisner being Jewish. Businesses being run by Christians make similar decisions. But I suppose I risk being branded anti-Jewish for just saying this.
Easterbrook didn't just say that Hollywood studio managers are greedy. He says that Jews in particular should learn from Nazi history, and make less violent movies.So? It is annoying when people invoke the Nazis to make some point that really has nothing to do with Nazis. I don't agree with his point, but Jews, Christians, right-wingers, left-wingers, and everybody else invokes the Nazis whenever convenient. What was really offensive to Eisner is Easterbrook's suggestion that he is making money by "glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice."
Wednesday, Oct 15, 2003
ABCNews fingers Cub fan
The Chicago Cubs appear to be cursed. The turning point last night was when Cubs fan Steve Bartman hit a foul ball just as Cubs' outfielder Moises Alou was about to catch it. The Marlins went on to score 8 runs in the inning and win the game. It appears that Cubs fans just don't really want to win.
Monday, Oct 13, 2003
John send this Oregon story about how Intel lobbies for increased imported labor, while it lays off American engineers. Often the American has to train a lesser-paid Indian who replaces him.
Friday, Oct 10, 2003
Frivolous lawsuit of the day
John sends this story about someone suing the National Football League because a drunk fan had a truck accident after a game.
Thursday, Oct 09, 2003
Another ridiculous DMCA lawsuit
SunnComm is threatening to sue a Princeton student for publishing a copyright circumvention paper.
The copy-protection scheme is to put an "autorun" program on a music CD, and that program attaches a worm to the device driver. The circumvention is to hold down the shift key while loading the CD into a PC. A lot of people turn off the autorun feature anyway, as it often causes obnoxious programs to run.
Rush Limbaugh got fired for saying that people hope that black quarterbacks do well in the NFL. It was a mystery as to why anyone at ESPN would be offended by the remark. Now here is a possible explanation. An economist has done a study (described in this WSJ blog) on Race, Football and Television: Explaining the black quarterback effect.
It turns out that Monday night football TV ratings are 10% higher when there is a black quarterback playing. So that's why ESPN was upset! Black quarterbacks were increasing ESPN's football show revenues by 10%, and Rush blew their cover.
Wednesday, Oct 08, 2003
Amazing California election results.
The election shows how much the San Francisco area and the big city newspapers are completely out of touch politically. Outside the SF area, the election was a huge landslide for Arnold and the Republicans.
All the talk about how the recall was undemocratic sure turned out to be silly partisan propaganda. Arnold got far more votes than Davis ever got. What was undemocratic was:
Here is a SacBee list of recall myths.
The Manchurian Candidate
Hollywood is remaking The Manchurian Candidate, and someone just discovered that some passages in the original book were plagiarized.
Tuesday, Oct 07, 2003
This anonymous blog has some good criticisms of an EFF report on trusted computing. I agree that EFF's idea of putting an "owner override" into the TCG/NGSCB remote attestation is like fixing the limitations of cryptographic certificates by allowing anyone to forge them. I can see why EFF doesn't like the feature, but it wants to cripple the feature and make it useless. There are benefits to the feature, and some people may want those benefits.
Monday, Oct 06, 2003
LA County Prop 54 report
LA County says in a pre-election report that it will cost $7M to delete objectionable racial classifications from its computer systems. My guess is that they would actually save money by not collecting the data, but they are using Prop. 54 as an excuse to get funds. If you send a memo to govt. agencies asking them if they need money to comply with a change in the law, they usually say yes.
Biased news media attacks
The relentless attacks on Arnold by Democratic Party puppets continue. In they attempts to re-elect Gray Davis, the LA Times and other big newspapers have descended to a level where even the supermarket tabloids won't go. Most of the accusations are silly. Arnold is clearly not a Nazi, even if he once said that Hitler was an excellent speaker. Everybody agrees that Hitler was an excellent speaker. And if he was guilty of sexual harassment or anything like that, then why hasn't anyone sued him?
Gray Davis is a corrupt and incompetent governor whose policies have been a disaster for California. He only gets support by granting political favors to special interests, and by using nasty and unfair political smears on his opponents. Davis must be removed.
Of the 7-8M voters expected, about 2M have already voted by absentee ballot. Those votes will not affected by the last-minute Democratic attack on Arnold.
The hypocrisy of leftists is amazing. The San Jose Mercury News has been referring to Arnold as "actor" in its headlines for stories about Arnold Schwarzenegger's run for governor. It even does it when Bustamante or Huffington is in the same headline. The purpose to belittle Schwarzenegger as a serious political candidate. But when it prints stories about petty allegations about Schwarzenegger's history as an actor, then it uses his name. Here is an example. There it might have used a headline like, "Actor accused of making sexual advances", since it is a story about his activities as an actor.
MoveOn.org was formed to persuade people to ignore Bill Clinton lying under oath to avoid making a sexual harassment payment. But now, its two biggest issues on its web site are:
John sends this story about activists getting ready to challenge the election based on use of punch-cards, if the election is close.
The biggest complaints about punch-card ballots are that votes are sometimes lost when voters fail to follow instructions, and that there are difficulties in doing manual recounts. The article explains that 10% of tomorrow's voters will use the touch-screen voting machines. The machines are supposed to be better because they don't save any evidence of voter mistakes, and because they make a manual recount impossible! The machines have printers, but they have been deliberately configured not to print copies of the votes, as a manual recount would need. I think that the movement to switch from punch-card to touch-screen voting is seriously misguided.
Sunday, Oct 05, 2003
Bad DMCA results
The EFF has a good list of DMCA unintended consequences. The DMCA was an amendment to the copyright law that outlawed "circumvention" of a copy protection scheme.
I agree that most of these are undesirable, but why are they "unintended"? The EFF lobbied against the DMCA, and warned that all these bad things would happen. So I think that these consequences were anticipated, and intended.
Friday, Oct 03, 2003
Medical research bias
Most studies on the safety and effectiveness of drugs are funded by the company that profits from the drug in question. Andy sends this study showing bias.
Studies of aspartame in the peer reviewed medical literature were surveyed for funding source and study outcome. Of the 166 studies felt to have relevance for questions of human safety, 74 had Nutrasweet® industry related funding and 92 were independently funded. One hundred percent of the industry funded research attested to aspartame's safety, whereas 92% of the independently funded research identified a problem.
A lot of people who should know better still misspell kluge as kludge. As explained in The New Hacker's Dictionary, the spelling kluge is the correct one, both etymologically and phonetically.
Robert B. Reich
Here is another Democrat attack dog, Robert B. Reich, complaining about the Clinton recall/Florida recount/California recall connection.
Exhibit One: Impeachment. Bill Clinton’s Republican opponents sought to reverse the election of 1992 ... To be sure, Clinton’s liaison with Monica Lewinsky helped advance the Republicans’ cause ...It is true that George W. Bush got a minority of the votes in 2000, but Clinton got smaller minorities in 1992 and 1996, and Davis was elected with a smaller minority in 2002. Most Americans did not even want Clinton in the White House in the first place. Reich is trying to imply that the Clinton presidency was somehow more legitimate that GW Bush's, because Bush only got 48% of the popular vote, but Clinton was elected in 1992 with only 43%.
Anyone who is truly against "election re-engineering" would surely oppose the Florida supreme court's intervention in the lawful counting and certification of the 2000 ballots. All the US supreme court did was to put a stop to that re-engineering. Reich would be cheering, if he were just a stupid Democrat attack dog.
Thursday, Oct 02, 2003
John sends this ZDnet story about EFF criticism of Trusted Computing (aka Palladium, TCPA, NGSCB). Previous criticisms have been by Ross Anderson and Richard Stallman. More technical info can be found at Msft and here.
Good pictures here.
Sacrilegious man struck dead
This AP story says a 38-year-old man had to face secular and religious justice for having sex in NY's St. Patrick's cathedral. The NY judge was going to give him probation, when a higher power struck him dead. I don't expect any copycats.
Wednesday, Oct 01, 2003
CBS News reports on a poll that "showed Davis' support ebbing in four key categories: Democrats, women, moderates and liberals." Funny. Where else did he have any support?