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  • Mar 28th, 2014 @ 8:19am

    Variant renderings of Cyrillic

    Misspelling or simply a different rendering of a name that's actually spelled in Cyrillic into the Latin alphabet? I have a colleague whose names can be Englished as Rojkovskaya or Rozhkovskaia (or two other variants) none of which are misspellings. One would think our government would have the wit to list all possible Englishings of foreign names written in other alphabets in important databases like terrorist watchlists, but I guess not.

    The fact that they don't and that American reporters attribute this to "misspelling", rather than the real cause -- variant renderings of Cyrillic -- is just more American insularity on display.

  • Mar 2nd, 2014 @ 8:46am

    Highwaymen?

    From the title I expected something about highwaymen.

    Of course, maybe collecting kickstarter funds to produce fairly pointless devices like tablet stands is a species of highway robbery.

    (Okay, I get the joke, it's about stands...)

  • Feb 8th, 2014 @ 11:55am

    Only two hops

    Well, this is good. With only two hops allowed, I should no longer have my e-mails read on the basis of searches centered on Bashar Al Assad (though my bishop's e-mails would still get read).

  • Feb 8th, 2014 @ 11:32am

    A bad data broker story

    For years, I was deluged with spam sent to my e-mail address (which is based on my full name, the initials of which I use as a screen name here at TechDirt), but with salutations to a Maria Flack, purportedly hailing from a non-existent town, Banner Elk, PA. (The only municipality in the United States called "Banner Elk" is in North Carolina.)

    The deluge slowed to a trickle when I contacted the offices of a legislator in Pennsylvania, who e-mailed me campaign materials. It seems the zip code the data brokers had attached to the non-existent town was in his district. Through his good offices the data brokers were disabused of the notion that my e-mail belonged to a person named Maria Flack, and within a few months the frequency of e-mail for the (probably also non-existent) M.F. fell to about one message a quarter.

  • Feb 7th, 2014 @ 10:25am

    Orbit vs. Space

    So the upshot of this is that one really needs to replace gravity either with centrifugal force (the big rotating space station model beloved of 1950's to
    1970's sci-fi) or constant acceleration to the midpoint of the journey, then constant acceleration in the opposite direction on the second half.

  • Dec 28th, 2013 @ 7:06am

    Re: Yes, Math is Hard

    And good public policy seems to be even harder. (As does getting good mathematical models for such policy, since just ham-handed looking at the amount of money the suggested program would hand out is not a good model of its cost.)

    The cost of living in Switzerland is much higher than in the U.S., so suppose we try instead giving every adult citizen in the U.S. a basic income of $1200/month (just over the Federal Poverty rate for Alaska for a household of one). This is taxable income, so everyone is paying back the share of it equal to their top marginal rate, and the political cost of implementing this is abolishing the whole existing Federal (and state) poverty-alleviation industry: no more bureaucrats being paid to determine eligibility for SNAP or WIC, no more money spent on those programs at all, shrink the IRS since no one has to monitor compliance with EIC requirements,...

  • Dec 5th, 2013 @ 4:31pm

    Human mascot names and martial virtue

    I have noted in other forums repeatedly that the vast majority of human sports-team mascots, including all American Indian-based team names, represent tributes to martial virtue, often marital virtue in a losing cause. Oh, there are exceptions, usually associated with some local attribute or event (the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Oklahoma Sooners spring readily to mind). But most, from the Minnesota Vikings, to the Washington Redskins, to the USC Trojans, to the U. Florida Seminoles, to the Fighting Irish, to various and sundry teams with names like Knights, Cavaliers, Crusaders, to my absolute favorite, the Yeshiva U. Maccabees, represent paeans to some group seen as exhibiting ferocity in battle and hardihood in the face of adversity.

    Most tribally affiliated Native Americans (or American Indians as those in Oklahoma prefer to be called) seem to appreciate the tribute, and are supportive of American Indian themed sports teams. Some of the last surviving Navajo Code Talkers seemed happy to sport Washington Redskins jackets when their own marital service was honored at a recent event. It seems that such names only cause offense to effete, oh-so-sensitive, politically correct types of whatever ethnicity who hold the very notion of martial virtue in contempt.

  • Nov 27th, 2013 @ 9:53am

    Re: Re: IPCC not credible

    You assert: Only people with money to lose from moving away from fossil fuels are fighting that it is not occurring.

    Really? Do you have any evidence that Robert Lindzen of MIT and Ross McKitrick of the University of Guelph and Robert Spencer of the University of Alabama, or even Anthony Watts of the blog Watts Up With That and the folks who run ICECAP, all have "money to lose from moving away from fossil fuels"? Or is this just an ad hominem attack: anyone who disagrees with the IPCC can be dismissed as an oil industry shill without evidence that they are, and without considering the validity of any critique they offer?

  • Nov 27th, 2013 @ 9:24am

    Re: The deniers are out in force today

    I'm not sure about "ordinary people", but there are quite a lot of reasons folks who don't have interests aligned with hydrocarbon extraction industries might object to the IPCC's findings:

    1. They are hard-core Popperians and regard 15 years of level temperature data, toward the end of the period falling outside even the 95% confidence intervals of the IPCC's models as a sufficient falsification.

    2. They actually understand that while weather is not climate, climate is weather, averaged over time and place, and that an averaging process does not somehow render a non-linear chaotic dynamical system predictable -- a recent survey suggested that 63% of professional weather forecasters doubt large-scale anthropogenic climate change. I suspect this is the main basis for their skepticism.

    3. They regard groups that advocate increased government control of the economy, particularly in ways which hobble economic growth, with the same sort of suspicion with which many posting here regard the oil and gas industries.

    4. They have more regard for the school of climatology based on astrophysics (prevalent in Russia, but with some representatives in the U.S. and Western Europe) than they do for the school of climatology based on general circulation models of the earth's atmosphere, and are much more concerned with the lack of solar activity of the sort correlated with ice-age events than with a rise in atmospheric CO2.

    5. They still think of the Medieval, Roman, Minoan and Holocene Warm Periods in terms of their older name "Climate Optima" and think a bit of global warming would be a good thing -- just think about the possibilities for the British wine industry -- certainly better than a new ice age.

    6. They are sufficiently familiar with paleoclimatology to regard the entire temperature rise from the end of the Little Ice Age in the 1850's to the leveling off of global mean temperature in the early 2000's as insignificant, and the whole thing as a proverbial tempest in a tea pot.

  • Nov 12th, 2013 @ 7:52am

    Bibliometric follies in the Heartland

    At my university, a large state university in a Great Plains state, our administration (and appallingly a faculty "task force") had the incredibly stupid idea of using bibliometric data (number of citations over a ten year period) to compare between fields. It turns out the average number of citations a paper receives in the short-run strongly correlates with the average number of citations in the bibliography of papers in the same discipline as the paper. The typical bibliography in microbiology and immunology runs for several pages (in small print) while the typical bibliography in mathematics might have from two to ten citations (there are longer ones, but they aren't typical -- in mathematics it is an honor to have your result turn "classical" and be cited and used without citation to the original paper in the bibliography).

    Add to the folly that they proposed using data from commercial publishers whose database excludes the major house journals of some professional societies (notably the Association for Symbolic Logic) and the journals (some published by professional societies, others online only) set up by academicians in protest against abusive practices of commercial publishers.

    This baleful trend is part of the rise of the all-administrative university in which management types, whatever lip-service they provide to the actual purpose of universities, behave as if university administration is the core function of a university, rather than research, scholarship or education.

  • Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:43am

    Cloud storage?

    Cloud storage has to be the weakest argument which can possibly be advanced here. If one is worried about security of files in the cloud, get an open source encryption program, check it for back doors, encrypt things on your local machine before putting them in the cloud and decrypt them when you get them back, rather than relying on the storage provider's encryption.

    The real issues involve shared and communicated data in contexts where everything has to be done online because sharing keys by physical transfer is infeasible.

    One wonders whether the NYTimes is cryptologically illiterate or is deliberately advancing a straw-man because they are really in favor of expanding the power of the state.

  • Sep 20th, 2013 @ 7:00pm

    Re: Re: Re: staged

    And why do you think that "attempting to sway someone with some kind of morality or religious pamphlet" should be treated differently than passing out Constitutions?

    Freedom of speech and freedom of the press (pamphlets and copies of the Constitution are printed) only work when the protect speech and writing that someone objects to (as you evidently object to printed advocacy of morality or religion). I think the Framers of the Constitution thought it protected the advocacy of immorality and irreligion, even though they objected to those every bit as much as the biens pensants of turn of 21st century America object to morality and religion.

  • Sep 20th, 2013 @ 6:38pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: staged

    You do realize that "gun crime" is a specious category created for propaganda reasons. The murder victim is just as dead and his or her friends and relatives just as bereaved if the crime was committed with a knife or poison or the assailant's fists and booted feet than if it was done with a firearm. The unarmed pensioner menaced by a young tough with a knife is just as endangered and just as likely to turn over the money she is carrying as the same old woman menaced with a handgun.

    The murder rate in the U.K. was lower than in the U.S. generally in the early 1900's when neither had significant legal impediments to firearms ownership, and, tellingly, than it was in New York state from 1911 onward when the Sullivan Act restricted gun ownership in New York, but His Majesty's subjects were free to own guns.

    Likewise the murder rate in Russia is much higher than in the U.S. even though per capita private firearms ownership is about 1/10th that in the U.S. I suppose it's a great comfort to the relative of murdered Russians that it wasn't "gun crime".

  • Sep 20th, 2013 @ 4:07pm

    Re: staged

    Oh, all he needed to do was register? Did you read the article? Maybe at your university registration lets a student exercise their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press un-molested by the campus "authorities", but evidently at Modesto, it does so only if you confine your activities to a tiny "free speech area" and to a time-window some at some future date when the limit of two free-speakers per day isn't yet used up.

    Private universities and colleges which limit free speech that is not disrupting classes deserve to be mocked and shamed. Public universities which do the same deserve to be mocked, shamed, *and* sued into submission to the First and Fourteenth Amendments, since their administrators and campus security personnel are agents of the state, and as such subject to the limits the Constitution places on the government.

  • Aug 20th, 2013 @ 4:29pm

    Lying vs. Bullsh*tting

    I commend to all Techdirt readers the charming little volume by Harry Frankfurt entitled "On Bullsh*t" (which can be read online at http://www.scribd.com/doc/2089043/On-Bullshit).

    Most utterances of our current President, whether true or false, fall under Frankfurt's definition of bullsh*t, and as such are more corrosive of honest political dialogue than actual lies. Obama says whatever seems expedient without regard for whether it is true or false, and has done so seemingly since he entered politics, if not before in his days as a community organizer.

  • Jul 18th, 2013 @ 8:56am

    Three Hops and Six Degrees of Separation

    "Three hops" from a given person could easily cover a goodly portion of the population of the world. And "three hops" from every person the U.S. suspects of ties to terrorism probably covers most of the e-mail users in the world.

    I've thought about the claim that if one connects everyone to each of their acquaintances no one is more than six degrees of separation from anyone else, and came to the conclusion that it's likely true (leaving aside isolated tribes in the Amazon and African bush): I know I've met someone (the metropolitan archbishop of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese) who in turn has met not only every recent POTUS, but also Bashar Al Assad, add one more degree of separation (in terms of acquaintances) and I'm likely only three degrees of separation from every world leader and every notable in U.S. politics (and a fair number of unsavory types in the Middle East), add three more and...

    In terms of e-mail communications, I communicate with my own bishop fairly regularly, he with the metropolitan archbishop, and he in turn has communicated electronically with Assad. So I would be swept up in a "three hop" search centered on the President of Syria. What this shows is that a "three hop" search is a fishing expedition and that while direct communications with a terror suspect might constitute probable cause, even a "two hop" search (which would catch my bishop when looking at Assad) is not based on probable cause, is a grotesque violation of the 4th Amendment, and in terms of improving national security is a complete waste of time.

  • Jun 22nd, 2013 @ 8:35am

    Re: Ideas can't be copyrighted

    No, ideas get patented: e.g. the RSA encryption algorithm, one-click purchasing, and every business method patent ever issued.

  • Jun 13th, 2013 @ 9:29am

    Secrecy protocols

    I had a similar reaction to the Manning case: if they want to prosecute him, first, at very least, they should publicly excoriate and fire the nitwit(s) who came up with security protocols that gave an Army PFC, yes a PFC with a high security clearance, but still, access to diplomatic cables.

    The fact that Snowden in theory was not supposed to have access to things he accessed (or so they say), makes the NSA maintenance of broad records of Americans activities all the more troubling. Even allowing, for the sake of argument, that standard NSA procedures do not allow access to any data about an identifiable American citizen, whether raw or the result of algorithmic analysis, without a FISA warrant, and even presuming (again for the sake of argument) that all FISA judges are honorable men with a deep commitment to the American constitutional order and the plain meaning of the 4th Amendment, how do we know that rogue agents (or maybe "rogue agents" with orders from Washington, cf. the Cincinnati IRS office) can't and won't access the data in violation of standard NSA procedures?

  • Jun 11th, 2013 @ 9:22am

    WTF???

    "There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collectóbut not wittingly."

    How does one inadvertently or unwittingly collect data [of any type] on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?

    The question wasn't whether the NSA collected any data on Americans -- in which case, I jolly well hope they do, provided said Americans are in direct contact with people we reasonably suspect of being Al Qaeda or foreign intelligence operatives -- it wasn't whether the NSA collected any data on innocent Americans -- in which case the answer would have been responsive, and a follow up on how often this happens could have been asked. The question was "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?"

    If NSA data collection on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans were really inadvertent, then there be a different type of scandal here about the competence of the folks running the NSA.

  • May 22nd, 2013 @ 8:16am

    Re: Don't Trust "FIRE"

    The fact is that right of center political speech, defense of traditional morality, and overt expressions of Christian piety are already suppressed on many campuses by university administrations without any push from Washington, while left of center political speech, objection to traditional morality and attacks on Christianity are given free reign. Any organization which genuinely defends free exchange of ideas on university campuses will, in the present environment appear right-wing, just as any organization which genuinely defended free exchange of ideas on university campuses in the mid-1950's woudl appear left-wing.

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