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Robert Reich (Trump’s Plan to Neuter the White House Press Corps)

January 15th, 2017

And he repeatedly lied. But the media in attendance weren’t allowed to follow up or to question him on his lies.For example, Trump wrongly stated that “the Democratic National Committee was totally open to be hacked. They did a very poor job. … And they tried to hack the Republican National Committee, and they were unable to break through.” Baloney.FBI Director James B. Comey said there was evidence that Republican National Committee computers were also targeted. The critical difference, according to Comey, was that none of the information obtained from the RNC was leaked. Also, according to Comey, the Russians “got far deeper and wider into the [DNC] than the RNC,” adding that “similar techniques were used in both cases.”

Source: Robert Reich (Trump’s Plan to Neuter the White House Press Corps)

Unfortunately this is a poor example. The DNC was hooked by a very simple phishing operation and whoever was responsible for advising Podesta did indeed do a "very poor job" (and so by implication did whoever hired him right up to Podesta and the DNC leadership themselves). Almost cetainly the RNC was "also targeted" by "similar techniques" but as Comey said, the Russians  “got far deeper and wider into the [DNC] than the RNC.” This is totally consistent with Trump's claim that "they tried to hack the Republican National Committee, and they were unable to break through.” That claim may be "Baloney", in that other techniques did get in to the Republicans and the discovered embarassing information was not released, but there is nothing in Reich's rebuttal to justify that counter-claim.

Does Networking Make Us Smart or Stupid?

December 10th, 2016

Stephen Downes links to Amy Burvall on her daughter's reliance on her friend Ellie as a source of information.

I think the question in her antipenultimate paragraph: "Do we crave more temporal, less formal interactions, even if it means the information we receive is at risk for being less accurate?" should be answered with a resounding "Yes!" - which means that it is quite possible that the way we most naturally use networked knowledge is making us stupider rather than smarter. Of course other possibilities exist and the network also allows us to access central sources which are subject to corrective review from a wide variety of directions, so contra Nicholas Carr I am not worried about Google Making Us Stupid but neither do I share David Weinberger's confidence that Networked Knowledge Makes Us Smarter.

In any case, it's the long-range structure of the network that matters, and the evidence from Nov 8 and June 24 is that the network is disconnected to such an extent that those of us in the "smart" bubble were unaware of the extent of the "dumb" one.

Source: #rawthought: Your Ellie – On the Primacy of Networked Knowledge | AmusED via #downes

Should Schools Teach General Critical-Thinking Skills? 

December 5th, 2016

This article claims that "critical thinking" should not be taught as an independent discipline - largely because success in any particular area is allegedly more dependent on detailed knowledge of that area. But one of the main reasons for teaching "critical thinking" is to train people to evaluate the arguments and claimed expertise of others in areas where they do NOT have loads of experience or knowledge themselves. As such, it is perhaps THE most important thing a person can learn .... if indeed it can be taught.

But an important point made or implied in the article is that there is precious little positive evidence that those who claim to be teaching critical thinking are having any measurable success. This is certainly an appropriate application of critical thinking to the claims of those who claim to teach it. But it does not address the question of whether or not those skills should be taught if possible. A proper application of critical thinking to the article itself requires us to investigate whether or not the graduates of a "critical thinking" class are  or are not better able to identify a charlatan than those who took the "placebo" class. Being too lazy to do so myself I will leave this as an exercise for the reader.

Some Math Ed Stuff 

December 5th, 2016

Inverse Functions are certainly a minefield for students, and the situation is not helped by teachers' use of sloppy language to describe the concept and the prescription of a mindless ritual for answering assigned questions.

This article points in the right direction although it's not quite perfect in my opinion1. But what got my friend Bruce to comment was one of the authors taking the objection to explanation by procedural prescription into another area where it might be less apt - namely the concept of average value.

Note 1:
Expressions like "the inverse of y=f(x)" are problematic because the relation defined by y=f(x) is the same as that defined by x=f^-1(y) and does have inverse relation defined by y=f^-1(x). So, contrary to the article, it is in some sense correct to say that the "the inverse of y=f(x) is y=f^-1(x)", and the formal definition of functions as sets of ordered pairs does justify "switching x and y" if this is interpreted and explained properly.

Prepare to be inspired (fromBBC via Butterflies and Wheels)

December 5th, 2016

Connie, this is for you:

The BBC has an annual series called 100 Women. BBC 100 Women names 100 influential and inspirational women around the world every year. We create documentaries, features and interviews about their lives, giving more space for stories that put women at the centre.

Source: Prepare to be inspired - Butterflies and Wheels

Liberal Elite Give Thanks to Trump Voters 

November 26th, 2016

By Rob CoxNEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - This is the week when all Americans give thanks for the bounties bestowed on them by the Blessed Creator...


Source: Cox: Liberal elite owe gratitude to Trump voters | Reuters

Munk Team is Irresponsible 

October 3rd, 2016

Source: Munk Debates - U.S. Election

This is a very misleading press release! It leads the non-reader to conclude that the resolution was approved by the audience when the "winning" team just managed to reduce its rate of disapproval. This result would only be a "surprise" if one had advance expectation that the Con team were the better debaters (which, with no disrespect to the Con team, would certainly be foolish given the people involved).

Why I love the Jehovah's Witnesses

August 9th, 2016

In general, I find that commitment to a text which one can interpret for oneself is less harmful than commitment to some class of annointed interpreters of such a  text. And although I don't share such a commitment myself, I do find much in the bible that I agree with, as well as excuses within the text for discounting those parts I find offensive. By and large I find the JW interpretations to be supportive of a humane treatment of our fellow beings and, with or without the biblical support, I find their publications to present fair and reasonable advice regarding human behaviour.

But what I particularly enjoy in those publications is the "Was it Designed?" feature in their 'AWAKE!' magazine. This regular feature describes some wonderful aspect of our biological world with the conclusion "What do you think? Was it the product of evolution? Or was it designed?". The puzzles posed are sometimes easy but often quite challenging and I cannot imagine a better set of resources for a Biology teacher wishing to encourage students to see how the evolutionary algorithm so often produces designs which improve substantially on the best that an "intelligent" human might have devised.

Source: Website Search | JW.ORG

Possible New Physics at CERN 

May 7th, 2016

Matthew Buckley is writing a nice series of articles for the Boston Review about The Search for New Physics at CERN . He is aiming to give enough of the background for readers to get an idea of how recent observations may indicate something beyond the "standard model" of elementary particles. If confirmed by subsequent observations this will provide a significant constraint on the kind of theory that can bring gravitation into the big house of quantum theory - and by doing so may help to focus the currently diverse efforts on a track that has the best chance of success.

This is a great series of articles, but I do have one quibble.

In his discussion of the Higgs discovery Buckley says:

"How likely was it that the bump was due to chance? Not very likely: 1 in 3,488,560."

But I think there is a difference (recently pointed out by the ASA in its "statement on P-values") between the likelihood that the bump *was* due to chance and the probability that such a bump *would* occur in the absence of non-chance effects.

I suspect that Buckley is well aware of this as he does not make the same error in his subseqent statement about the new observation:

"Similar calculations show that the ATLAS bump at 750 GeV could occur by chance only once in 6285 tries."

Indeed his expressed fear of being trapped into working on the explanation of an effect that is not real shows that he doesn't really think that the probability of this new bump being just a chance occurrence not due to a real effect is as low as 1 in 6285.

Trump Accepts GOP Nomination - Concedes Presidency to Hillary Clinton

May 3rd, 2016

Celebrating his status as the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, Donald Trump thanked his family and supporters, and was as magnanimous as he could manage regarding his recent opponent Ted Cruz. But he turned somewhat ungracious in his concession of the actual presidency to Hillary Clinton who, he predicts, 'will be a poor president' .

No Market-Driven Solution?

March 26th, 2016

British journalist Paul Mason seems to echo Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything in his claim that There Is No Market-Driven Solution To Our Climate Catastrophe

But although I am no fan of concentrated private capital I think both of them beg the question by overlooking the constraints that must inevitably be included in the definition of any market. These almost always are expected to include laws against theft and murder, and the solution to all environmental problems including climate is just to also include the prohibition of any permanent environmental impact. If "dumping" of wastes into the atmosphere and oceans was just flat out prohibited (with the onus being on any economic actor to retain and maintain control over any by-products of its activity) then the market would immediately favour whatever source of energy (or anything else) could be made most cheaply within that constraint.

(I am not claiming that this would be easy, just that it is quite independent of solving the problem of fair distribution of wealth and/or opportunity)

Saudi Oil Minister Gives Good Advice

March 26th, 2016

Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Suggests Canada, Others Will Have To 'Get Out' Of Oil

(He left off the word "consumption" but I'm sure that's what he meant)

More Dangerous Even Than Muslims!

March 26th, 2016

The Chronicle of Higher Education asks: Does Engineering Education Breed Terrorists? But I suspect that it's more about whom the discipline appeals to than how they are trained

Some things that might attract a person to engineering (not necessarily applicable to all engineers, but strong enough to attract a non-representative sample into the profession):
-need for control
-attraction to systems with well-defined rules
-being more interested in things than in human feelings
-desire for ability to surprise by doing things that others can't
-being committed to a campaign of terror and wanting the skills to carry it out
Need I go on? No one factor will explain all cases, but there are good reasons not to be surprised by seeing more engineers among the terrorists than say womens' studies majors.

Of course the proportion of terrorists who are engineers is not the same as the proportion of engineers who are terrorists, but the 90 identified engineering terrorists are undoubtedly a larger proportion of the total population of engineers than the 500 of the full sample are as a proportion of the entire Islamic world. So perhaps Donald Trump should take note of the fact that being an engineer is a higher risk factor than being a muslim. And since we don't know how to identify which is which, we should subject all engineers to special scrutiny in airports etc - at least until they agree to weed out their own bad apples - and maybe the only way for a country to be truly safe is to ban them from entry altogether and put ankle-bracelet location monitors on those that are already here.
Source: Does Engineering Education Breed Terrorists? - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Why The Renewables Revolution Is Now Unstoppable | ThinkProgress

February 1st, 2016

It's now possible to incorporate very large amounts of variable renewable power like solar and wind into the electric grid cost-effectively without harming reliability. Here's how.

Source: Why The Renewables Revolution Is Now Unstoppable | ThinkProgress

This is all very well, but the main problem with renewables is not load balancing (which is merely a technical, albeit perhaps non-trivial, issue), but rather achievable capacity. The basic fact that needs to be addressed is that although solar power could concievably meet all of our needs for as long as we will exist as a species, it cannot concievably be brought up to scale within the next 100 years. Wind, on the other hand just doesn't have the potential to do more than cover our non-transport needs. To power our demands for personal and materials transport, something much more substantial is needed, and for the next 100+ years "renewables" aren't it. There is however an option which has been available for over half a century with the capacity to be ramped up within half a century (from whenever we decide to actually go ahead with it), to provide all of our energy desires (let alone needs!). But it is politically incorrect to advocate it, so I will leave it to you to guess what it might  be.

What Does the Blacklock's vs Vintners Decision Really Mean?

December 5th, 2015

According to Shannon Rupp at The Tyee

Journo-owned media shop Blacklock's Reporter battled a breach of their paywall, and won.

which she definitely thinks is a "good thing" -

contra, say, Howard Knopf and Michael Geist.


Gifts in Kind 

November 21st, 2015

If anything is sillier than demanding "original receipts" for purchases on behalf of an organization it must be the idea of doing likewise for "gifts in kind" - especially since many such gifts are of items purchased so long ago that any receipt would probably have faded into illegibility if not actually dissolved into dust. But electoral organizations do have to provide some sort of accounting for such gifts so it may be both useful to develop some capacity for doing so between elections, and also to have some understanding and appreciation of the extent of member contributions beyond the merely financial.

Certainly all member contributions need to be acknowledged and have their importance understood, but this does not require any detailed accounting at the level of requiring receipts or whatever.

And with regard to establishing and enforcing contribution limits, it is important not to place a greater reporting burden on those with smaller individual contributions.

Yes, it is important to be aware of (and hopefully limit) the extent to which wealthy individuals and corporations can influence the outcome of an election by contributing goods and services of high value to their preferred candidates. But we need to do so in a way that does not place a burden on the less wealthy  to account for the costs of baking a cake for a potluck that equals or exceeds that placed on a major corporation for those of providing a campaign bus or private jet for their chosen right wing candidate!


Source: gifts in kind - Google Search

Original Receipts 

November 21st, 2015

I am a member of an organization whose Finance Committee has been advised to require "original receipts" for all reimbursement requests (and also for "gifts in kind"! But I'll get to that second bit of nonsense later).

Now it should be obvious that the idea is made ridiculous by the fact that most vendors will happily print out a second copy of the "original" receipt if requested (and that these flimsy items typically fade to invisibility within just a few months anyhow!), but for a bit more authoritative response I tried a Google Search.  And what did I find?

Original Receipts For Expense Reimbursement Policies

We are looking at eliminating the requirement of obtaining all original receipts. We currently require original receipts and scan these into our systems.

to which a typical response was "we are living a new world here, where most of the actual receipts will be in fact be mere printouts from the computer. For example, you have electronic air tickets (even for international travel), hotel bills are also printed on plain piece of paper, etc. This will be the majority of the travel expense. Hence, in such a situation there is no sense in actually collecting the original receipts as it will be the same as the scanned copies printed out."

Why Asking for Receipts Is Old School…. - Oversight Systems

Nov 25, 2014 - Original expense receipt requirements are an old school approach to expense control. In fact, I saw a recent list of the top five reasons why ...

Does the IRS accept scanned receipts for tax write-offs ...

Dec 22, 2010 - The rule that supports scanned receipts is called Revenue Proclamation 97-22. The rule states that scanned receipts are acceptable as long as they are identical to the originals and contain all of the accurate information that are included in the original receipts.

But when it comes to the taxman we certainly do need to obey the rules!

Can You Shred Scanned Receipts? › Recordkeeping Systems

Learn CRA's and IRS's policies about accepting scanned receipts in place of originalsource documents ... they are different!

Photocopies/Scans of expense receipts | AccountingWEB › Any Answers

Of course, original receipts (whatever that means) are necessary where required by law - and in such cases it doesn't matter that the requirement is stupid. But in situations where the use is just for record keeping (and especially if the scale of he enterprise is small enough that duplicate submissions would be easily identifiable) they are completely unnecessary. And it is certainly clear that their requirement is by no means a universal or even "standard" accounting practic.
Two personal experiences contribute to my disdain for the idea that "original receipts" are in any way useful. One, from my professional life, involves a compulsive thief and liar who produced a cleverly forged "original receipt" to cover up a theft which was only discovered and proved by other means (after which a more careful examination did identify physical evidence of he forgery). And another from volunteer work in which "original receipts" were provided for items which were similar to, but of higher value than, those made available to the organization (and again, it was only after the fraud had been identified via a larger pattern of suspicious behaviour that the differences in model number were noted).

Mythical Myths #47-50 Spinach&Popeye

November 18th, 2015

This is cool because it has several components. That the iron content of spinach is a myth is itself a myth is just the starting point of a fascinating investigation of a number of related myths about how the confusion first came about and then came to light (some of which are themselves actually true and so only mythically myths). Thanks to Mike Sutton who may well be the world's champion in identification of mythical myths.

A story started thirty years ago by nutritionist Professor Arnold Bender, and famously supported by the immunohaematologist Professor Terence Hamblin, that a decimal point error made in 19th Century research of the iron content of spinach led to its erroneous promotion, is completely untrue.

Source: BestThinking / Articles / Science / Chemistry / Biochemistry / The Spinach, Popeye, Iron, Decimal Error Myth is Finally Busted (Article)

"Good Reasons"

November 15th, 2015


In a review of Vaclav Smil's books on global energy use, Tim Maly at The Atlantic, after explaining the virtual impossibility of transitioning to low energy density primary power sources in time to avert potentially catastrophic global warming, tells us that:

We know how to make nuclear reactors and hook them up to the grid, but Americans just don’t want to do it anymore. And there are good reasons for this!

So, the only transition away from carbon combustion that can occur quickly enough to save us from significant warming is the transition to nuclear. But hey, there are "good reasons" not to go that route. So I guess we'll just have to run the 4 degree experiment and see who survives.

or as commenter 'Theoretical Conspiracist' put it more politely:

A nonsense, throwaway sentence like this really mars an otherwise excellent article. I say that not to deny that there are "good reasons" for the policy/political resistance in America to nuclear power, but to remark on this odd, defensive, kneejerk inclusion of that "Hey, not that there's anything wrong with that!!" aside in an article whose overall conclusion is that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have been honest or realistic about climate change and energy policy yet.

Since nuclear retains the existing grid infrastructure and has improved energy density (vastly advantageous to wind and solar), we really ought to be doing more to consider nuclear as a clean power source, perhaps as a transition to that far-future renewables infrastructure. We ought to interrogate the so-called good reasons and weigh them honestly against the alternatives rather than just handwaving briefly and moving on toward an otherwise terminal dilemma.


Source: What The History of Fossil Fuels Teaches Us About Renewable Energy - The Atlantic

Do Pigments "Have" Colour?

November 8th, 2015

A recent article in The Atlantic piqued my interest but left me very much unsatisfied as to what, if anything, underlies the "pantone" system. So I decided to Google for more info.

The second reference I found was a lot quicker and less "gushy" in getting to the point (or at least to the point that I was interested in), but only slightly more informative.

And the third was clearer about the Pantone distinction - in that it identified the Pantone system as involving many more different pigment types than CMY. But in the end it too failed to fully explain why more than three are needed (and why no finite set, including the Pantone system itself, can ever be "perfect").

In fact any colour experience can be reproduced with just the three signals corresponding to our three kinds of cone receptors, so the RGB system is capable of producing a light to match any colour that we can ever see.

But that's the colour of light, not of an object or pigment.

In fact, no actual thing we see, whether object or pigment, actually "has" a colour. It is light that has colour and what pigments do is modify the colour of the light with which they are illuminated by subtracting more of some frequencies than others. The colour of the reflected light then is what we see, but this depends both on the properies of the object and on the spectrum of the ambient light. Since lights of quite different detailed spectrum can produce the same RGB signals in our eye, and there are many different detailed subtractions that can take a given "white" light to any particular value of the RGB signals, it is both possible to have the same pigment look different under two "white" lights which we cannot tell apart and to have  two pigments which look the same under one light and different under another - even when the two lights seem to us to be exactly the same. This last is the real weakness of the Pantone Matching System. Unless one is just comparing with other Pantone products, a matching that works under one light might not work under another.


How Pantone Became a Global Authority on Color - The Atlantic
RGB vs. CMYK vs. PMS – Why doesn’t my print out look like my screen? - CreativeMediaWorks
CMYK VS. PMS - The Printer