Almost unbelievable

posted by marco on 06.05.25 at 14:54, in the news, insanity, politics, news, politics, null, Leave a comment Permalink

From this NYT article about very severe recently discovered flaws in Diebold voting machines:

David Bear, a spokesman for Diebold Election Systems, said the potential risk existed because the company's technicians had intentionally built the machines in such a way that election officials would be able to update their systems in years ahead.

"For there to be a problem here, you're basically assuming a premise where you have some evil and nefarious election officials who would sneak in and introduce a piece of software," he said. "I don't believe these evil elections people exist."

What planet is that guy from? More importantly, why the hell is our democracy being entrusted to his company?!?!


posted by marco on 06.04.07 at 13:51, funny, in the news, random, null, Leave a comment Permalink

You knew it was coming...the RIAA and MPAA finally joined forces.

MGM vs. Grokster

posted by marco on 05.06.27 at 11:06, computers, in the news, technology, Leave a comment Permalink

The U.S. Supreme Court decided the MGM vs. Grokster case today in favor of MGM. So what does this mean?

My first thought was that this is A Very Bad Thing. This case has been in the works for quite some time now, and I've always sided with the geeks against the content cartel. But it's interesting to take a look at the actual court opinion. I read most of it, and I was both surprised by some of the facts I learned and hit by how reasonable the opinion is. (I haven't yet read the concurring opinions of Ginsburg or Breyer.)

The main argument in favor of Grokster that has stuck in my mind the last few months is that the 1984 Sony Betamax case should apply here because the tool (software in this case, hardware in the Betamax case) has "substantial non-infringing uses" and the company that merely makes the tool can't be held liable for the uses it is put to by the various and sundry characters who use it.

The problem is that the Betamax case isn't really relevant here. There are some nit-picking legal reasons why not that are described in the opinion, but the one that stands out for me is the following: it's clear that Grokster and StreamCast (which distributes Morpheus) are NOT merely the makers of an impartial tool that could be used for evil, but rather they actively promoted, encouraged, and sought the illegal distribution of copyrighted works using their software. They actively courted former Napster users, promising them both implicitly and rather explicitly that the copyrighted works they found on Napster would abound on Grokster/Morpheus. They responded to emails from users asking how to acquire and play copyrighted material, helping those users in quite direct ways. And they also had plenty of internal communication that shows they saw distribution of copyrighted materials as the core use of their software. StreamCast's CTO even said at one point "[t]he goal is to get in trouble with the law and get sued. It's the best way to get in the new[s]."

If you're wondering about this case and its result, I encourage you to read the opinion. It was enlightening for me--I realized this wasn't just a case about openness and technology vs. stifling innovation. If you think that mass distribution of copyrighted songs/movies isn't or shouldn't be illegal, that's one thing, but short of that it seems to me that the Supreme Court hit the nail on the head when it said that Grokster and Streamcast are in the wrong.

What we need now is for a truly impartial filesharing system to become popular and have more substantial actual non-infringing use...

A mini-rant on sizes

posted by marco on 05.06.15 at 10:14, coffee, random, 1 comment Permalink

I was catching up on some nonplatonic reading when I read this post by Graham (and its comments) about Starbucks coffee sizes. They bug me. Graham likes them. Therefore, I rant.

Since I don't often go to Starbucks, whenever I do actually go (or when I encounter their nomenclature at another coffee shop, which is unfortunately happening more and more), I have to study the menu for a minute to remind myself whether "tall" is bigger or smaller than "grande" and so on. Once I see the order of the sizes on the menu that lets me translate into small, medium, and large, I can order my drink. But whenever I say "tall" or "grande," it feels like I'm capitulating to a trend that's both smugly corporate and painfully trendy.

And contrary to what Graham and Ben say, it *does* matter what size a "venti" is--since venti is Italian for 20, as a 20 oz size it actually makes the most sense of all the names!

Enough for now...maybe I'll read nonplatonic again in another two weeks and see if anyone (Graham?) has protested.

Comment from: ben [Member] ·
that venti bit is both amazing and obvious. I really don't like ordering by volume, it feels very clinical... "I would like a 16oz latte in a 20oz glass."
Permalink 06/15/05 @ 12:14

Things that go bump in the night

posted by marco on 05.05.12 at 09:56, computers, technology, 2 comments Permalink

My computer rebooted last night. Twice. Once at 11:24pm and again at 2:00am, though now its clock is an hour behind, so who knows when it really was.

I can't figure out what happened--I don't think the power went out, since my alarm clock wasn't reset. Did my computer get hacked into? Maybe, though the only port open is 22 and I haven't heard of any recent ssh vulnerabilities (and although I do regularly get batches of ssh login attempts for common usernames and/or root from far-flung IP addresses, I seriously doubt that's it).

My system logs aren't particularly helpful--nothing shows up right before the reboots.


Comment from: haX0r [Visitor]
I did it. I be 1337 haX0r.
Permalink 05/12/05 @ 15:36
Comment from: marco [Member] ·
Oh shit--now the hacker broke into a computer at Lauren's place and is posting from it...
Permalink 05/12/05 @ 15:55

Be ready for a nuclear blast

posted by marco on 05.05.04 at 11:53, null, random, random, Leave a comment Permalink

My ear can't spell

posted by marco on 05.04.18 at 16:58, random, random, Leave a comment Permalink

I was at lunch with Jessica today in a nice little Japanese place near campus. I overheard two people at a nearby table saying "reduction in rank" and "kernel" and thought they must be from the statistics or CS department, and was curious exactly what they were talking about.

Then I heard them say something about "punishment in the military."

Craziness in Ecuador

posted by marco on 05.04.16 at 17:48, in the news, news, Leave a comment Permalink

Yesterday Ecuador's president, Lucio Gutierrez, dissolved the supreme court and declared a state of emergency. Today he lifted the state of emergency, though he now faces even more calls for his resignation.

Ecuador hasn't had good luck with its presidents...there was Abdala Bucaram, not-so-affectionately known as "el loco," who has just returned from 8 years of exile after being president for a short time. Gutierrez was elected with wide support among the population, but he's fallen from favor due to his dealings with the IMF that have been very non-beneficial for Ecuador's people.

The overall rampant corruption in Ecuador doesn't help things either.

A bit about statistics

posted by marco on 05.04.14 at 10:26, math, math, 1 comment Permalink

Collin wrote:

I'm not saying that there are huge error bars on something like the infant mortality rate in a country like the US, but they're still there. Basically my point is that there will allways be sample error.

Right--unless you're using a population instead of a sample. Take birth rate, for instance. What I was trying to say before is two things. First, if you do actually measure all births for any given year, then that number is an actual count, not a sample, so there is no sample error, so you would need no error bars. Second, it seems completely infeasible to get all births on record because there are just too many people who are under the radar of the system. No I wasn't trying to say that the U.S. government is aware of every birth; I pointed out that the very poor and the illegal immigrants are likely not to be counted, and others are sure to fall through the cracks as well.

Ben wrote:

I think the best way to model it is to treat the population as drawn uniformly from an infinite distribution since drawing a full population from a finite distribution would conglomerate additional stochastic processes with example selection.

Ben, I don't think I understand exactly what you're saying. Let me explain the way I understand it, and maybe you can respond if you understand things differently or if I'm completely missing what you're getting at.

SE(x) = \sqrt{\frac{1}{n-1} \sum_{k=1}^{n} (x_k - \bar{x})^2} When you put "error bars" on graphs, what you're doing is showing confidence intervals, typically 95% confidence intervals, meaning that you're 95% certain the true value lies within the interval shown. This interval can be calculated from the standard error, or sample standard deviation, given by the formula to the right. (The 95% confidence interval is approximately the estimated mean plus or minus twice the standard error.) Note that this depends on the sample size n but not the population size. We can use this statistic because of the assumption that the population is sufficiently large compared to the sample size that drawing without replacement approximates drawing with replacement. It's also based on the assumption that the samples are drawn uniformly at random.

Both these assumptions fail to hold in the case of looking at all recorded births for 2004 in the U.S. First, the "sample" you're looking at is pretty close to the size of the population (an extremely pessimistic estimate is one order of magnitude off, which is still too big for this assumption to work). And second, you're getting a very biased sample if you're recording people who are born in hospitals and/or who report births and not recording people who are born at home or somewhere else out from under the government's eye. So if the numbers from the CIA world factbook were calculated from "complete" birth records and so on, then I suspect that they made the assumption that the records truly are complete and presented them without confidence intervals since they are true numbers. Or would be if the records were truly complete and accurate. In any case, I think you'd need a pretty sophisticated model of how many people are born without being recorded in order to say anything more definitive.

Of course, you could take an alternate approach. You could take random samples from the population and find out how many births there were in your sample, then use that to estimate the rate in the population (complete with error bars to account for sampling error!). If you thought that you could take these random samples in a manner more truly representative than the difference between births reported and births unreported, you might get a better estimate this way. But you'd probably be going on one of geography, driver's license records, voter registration, or phone book listings, and these probably wouldn't get you results significantly more representative than birth records.

Maybe that's what you were trying to say, Ben. Anyway, I think there was something else I meant to write but this is too long anyway, so I'll stop here.

Comment from: ben [Member] ·
And I speak nonsense again... My point was that they're two ways to look at the entirety population data:

(1) The entire population of some finite distribution (actual births/deaths).

(2) The entire population of some finite distribution (actual births/deaths) dependent on random variables which are drawn from a larger random distribution (possible circumstance surrounding a birth/death).

Given the random elements in modeling life, I would think (2) would allow you to do more.
Permalink 04/14/05 @ 14:58
posted by marco on 05.04.13 at 18:12, politics, news, Leave a comment Permalink

Rice said she believed strongly in the "role of debate, the role of the open and free exchange of ideas."

But, she said, when decisions are taken, "I fully expect that people will support those decisions because there is only one president of the United States and that's President Bush."

The coming Apocalypse

posted by marco on 05.04.11 at 15:52, null, insanity, Leave a comment Permalink

Cable modem, burning bright

posted by marco on 05.04.08 at 12:30, computers, null, Leave a comment Permalink

And I've seen speeds above 600 kB/s at times...

This shouldn't be loose

posted by marco on 05.04.07 at 20:33, null, bicycles, 5 comments Permalink

I just noticed a loose piece on my bike: the ring in the left-hand image is dangling and swinging around the pedal axle. It looks like it should screw onto the shaft going through the frame, but that's not sticking out enough to catch the threads--as shown in the right-hand image, it's poking out a bit on the other side.

So for all you bike gurus: what should I do about this? The part in the right-hand image looks like it has two flattened edges so I could turn it with the right kind of wrench--should I go to The Missing Link and use their tools to screw that in? Or should I just bang on it to try to whack it back the other way to screw on the ring? Or is it something different that needs to happen?

Comment from: collin [Member] ·
No banging! No banging!

Those two pieces are lockrings, and they should not be loose. In fact they're usually very difficult to take off. Assuming nothing is too stripped, you should go to a shop an grab a, uh, lockring wrench. Which looks like this. Now unless I'm wrong, one is normally threaded and one is reverse, and I can never remember which is which. Now it may be possible to tighten them without pulling the crank arms off but I'm not sure. None of this is hard, if you'd done it before it would take 15 minutes.

Ben, Graham, anything to add?
Oh, and grease them before you put them back on.
Permalink 04/07/05 @ 22:10
Comment from: collin [Member] ·
Now that I look closely...
Are there only 2 threads outside the bottom bracket shell on the non-drive side? That seems strip prone to me. Ben, you've seen this thing in person...
Permalink 04/07/05 @ 22:15
Comment from: marco [Member] ·
I think what you're saying looks strip prone is the part that I think should be out farther. I was guessing that there was one piece that went through the frame with the lockring on the drive side connected to the threads sticking out of the other side. Am I wrong?

The lockring on the non-drive side is loose and swinging around. In this picture, you can see that I'm holding it at a different orientation. But when I try to get it on the threads to tighten it, it doesn't grab the threads.
Permalink 04/07/05 @ 22:43
Comment from: graham [Member] ·
Heres what you will need to do to fix the problem for good. You might be able to fix it temporarily without tools and without removing the cranks, but everything would probably work loose again very quickly.

1. Remove the cranks.
2. Loosen the left side bottom bracket cup (the thing screwed into the frame) 4 or 5 turns.
3. Using a wrench, tighten the right side cup into the frame. It should be pretty tight. If i remember correctly, the right side is threaded backwards, and the left side is threaded normally.
4. With a spanner, screw the left side cup back in until you feel it come to a stop against the bearings. Then back it out a quarter turn or so. The spindle should rotate easily, but without much play.
5. Thread on the lockring, and while still holding the left cup in place with the spanners, use the lockring tool to tighten the lockring against the frame. Again, it should be pretty tight.
6. Put the cranks back on.

This should be a 5 minute job for a competent bike mechanic, so depending on how much this place charges for using their tools, it might be worth it to just have a shop do it. I'd ask them specifically beforehand how much it would cost to have them tighten your bottom bracket.
Permalink 04/08/05 @ 00:45
Comment from: marco [Member] ·
I called the bike shop and asked them how much to tighten the bottom bracket, and they said about $10. But when I got there the guy saw my bike and said that I needed more than just tightening the bottom bracket and it would cost more like $25. That seemed a bit high, but I left it with him anyway because it's still probably better than spending a long time screwing it up myself.

When I asked him afterwards what the difference was between what he did and "tightening the bottom bracket," he said that the part that was supposed to be fixed had come loose and had to be re-attached, or something like that. I didn't completely follow what he said. Anyway, it's all better now: the ring on the left side is nice and tight, and the cup on the right side isn't hanging out of the frame.

Thanks for the tips.

By the way, Graham, just using their tools is free--you leave your ID with them and that's all. Still, I probably wasn't really up to doing this one myself.
Permalink 04/10/05 @ 19:44


posted by marco on 05.04.07 at 14:37, null, literature, 3 comments Permalink
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Comment from: devin [Member] ·
This is the epipgraph of the book I'm reading right now, Jared Diamond's _Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed_
Permalink 04/07/05 @ 15:19
Comment from: scott [Member] ·
How is that book?
Permalink 04/07/05 @ 22:18
Comment from: devin [Member] ·
How is that book?

It is a very interesting book. It is worth reading, if only for the history.

I'm only about half-way through, and I've learned much more than I expected about the colonization of Polynesia and the Vikings exploration of the New World. Somehow, when I learned about Vikings the first time around, the notion that the Vikings had made it to Greenland and Newfoundland was presented as extremely controversial. It wasn't (even back then); the evidence is overwhelming (there is a viking _church_ in Greenland, I mean come on).

The book looks at bunch of different examples of societal collapses (Vikings in Newfoundland after a decade, Vikings in Greenland after five hundred years, Anasazi, Maya, various Polynesian Islands, Easter Island, etc.) and tries to understand what caused the various collapses, why other seemingly similar societies didn't collapse, and what this means for Spaceship Earth.

Although Diamond (and his colleagues) did serious correlative studies on 81 Polynesian islands to try to figure out what factors caused an island to collapse/what allowed them to survive, the core of the book is really the reconstructed histories of the collapses. Because there is not enough data to do a serious statistical analysis of all of these societies, he uses the comparative method, instead.

Diamond has come up with a "five-point framework" (sounds like a Business School thing) to determine whether a society is at risk for collapse. These factors are 1) environmental damage, 2) climate change, 3) hostile neighbors, 4) friendly trade partners, and 5) a society's response to environmental problems.

My Mom (just finished taking her Comps for her Master's in Anthropology) calls Diamond's work in Collapse (and in _Guns, Germs, and Steel_) "Just-So" stories. She thinks they are a little too pretty, too reductionist, too willfully ignorant of specific circumstances.

Still, I am sympathetic to his theory. Climate seems to be very important. One thing I hadn't really realized was the effect deforestation has had on most of the famous collapsed societies. Deforestation in most climates is irreversible and causes massive erosion, leading to much reduced agricultural capability and in some cases (Iceland, in particular) barren moonscapes. Another common occurance was for societies to expand in a wet period and then when a concerted drought came, most of the population would die or leave.

The best parts of the book are the archeological ones. He describes the ways of life for the various societies and shows how all to often they're own ignorance (and sometimes denial) was their undoing. Someone had to have cut down the last tree on Easter Island, after all.

The book is very readable, although Diamond's writing style is sometimes weird (he compares the spread of Christianity through Viking society to McDonald's franchise expanstion, for example, and he uses the analogy of a bank account to describe soil health), and I'd recommend it to anyone who doesn't already know the history of these societies. It really is fascinating.
Permalink 04/08/05 @ 14:56

Trying out the new skin...

posted by marco on 05.04.06 at 23:13, misc, Leave a comment Permalink

I think I like it, though it still probably needs a bit of polishing.