Saturday, September 24, 2005

Microsoft Addressing Consequences of Pernicious Complexity

Following up on my earlier post, Pernicious Complexity: - Battling Google, Microsoft Changes How It Builds Software:
"With each patch and enhancement, it became harder to strap new features onto the software since new code could affect everything else in unpredictable ways." (Fair Use archive in the first comment below.)

I don't know if Mr. Allchin had read Tainter by this time, but it sounds fairly likely.

This is a great article from the Wall Street Journal. Their editorial stance pissed me off a while back so I dumped them, but I always thought their reporting was good. Maybe I'll go back the next time they send me one of their "come back" emails. This also bodes well for Microsoft.

Money available for diversion to Katrina and Rita

Hey! Here's some "wasteful spending" money available for Katrina! Hey! Look! Here, right here!

Ah, never mind then.

Son of a bitch... Pattern of Abuse

Hat tip. And another.

The abuse we keep hearing about from Iraq has been a real shock to me.

I was an enlisted Army counterintelligence agent for five years back in the mid-'70's, and clearly remember the training we received on the Geneva Convention. There would have been no excuse for participating in such things, or for failure to report such things. "Following orders," it was stressed over and over and over again, was no excuse. Training on these things was not delivered with winks and nods, either. It was serious and sincere.

Though atrocities occurred back then, too, I'd come forward from that time with the clear impression that the chain of command at least tried to stay on top of things like this.

As little as just two or three years ago I was moved to write a letter to Russia's President Putin to protest the actions of Russian soldiers in Chechnya. One particular story had Chechen people forced to crawl gauntlets of Russian soldiers, who would beat them as they passed. One particular Chechen victim had been partially paralyzed and permanently tortured by a hammer blow to the spine. I was outraged, and the thought of such a thing happening at the hands of American soldiers didn't even cross my mind.

How stupid of me.

Along came Abu Grabass and stories like this, and I am disgusted and ashamed. It's not so much that these things happen as that the command structure seems so clueless. Complicit, even.

I would like to think that the officer class of the US military, being all christian and shit, would have a good handle on things like this, but apparently not.

During my time in the Army I met some of the best people in the world, and some of the worst. The latter seemed vastly outnumbered, though. Now I'm not so sure.

Friday, September 23, 2005

BBC NEWS | Europe | Vatican 'to ban new gay priests'

Hey Pope!

The empirical research does not show that gay or bisexual men are any more likely than heterosexual men to molest children. This is not to argue that homosexual and bisexual men never molest children. But there is no scientific basis for asserting that they are more likely than heterosexual men to do so. And, as explained above, many child molesters cannot be characterized as having an adult sexual orientation at all; they are fixated on children.

Faith is belief absent evidence, so I guess they can believe that homosexuals have a higher tendency towards child abuse than straights if they want. But then, I don't think the church really believes this; rather, they're scared of the fundies and facts are irrelevant.

The real problem has been the church's failure to deal with child molestation when it happened. They preferred instead to bury the problem and shuffle the guilty off to another parish.

In any event, the real aberration is celibacy. They don't even want you to jack off. Don't they know that prostatitis is called "monks disease" for a reason, or that masturbation prevents prostate cancer?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

That's enough <-- The Museum of Left Wing Lunacy

I've had enough of this right-wing shit thank you very much. For starters, they should can the sound effects.

In the introduction to his lecture, Our Energy Challenge, [here] [here], Dr. Richard Smalley refers to "right-brained" and "left-brained" people in the context of political tendencies, alluding to the same sort of Mars-Venus differences some say exists between men and women.

I think he's right. Whatever the case, the people behind this so-called museum of left-wing lunacy are wired differently from me. Looking at the site repels me, which is unfortunate because we need more not less accommodation across this divide. I enjoy Brooks and Buckley, but not these guys.

(Everybody should see Smalley's lecture, by the way. Very highly recommended.)

Bennett reverses: He's foe of Yucca

"The entire issue needs to be rethought, Bennett said. The fundamental principles of that new policy should include unqualified support for more nuclear power, that the nation work toward the technology that would allow reprocessing of waste and that all nuclear waste be left where it is until reprocessing can proceed, he said.

"If it is safe to transport nuclear waste, and it is safe to store nuclear waste at an interim storage site like Skull Valley, "by definition it is equally as safe to leave it where it is," he said."
Sounds like a punt to me.

Reprocessing of "spent fuel" is the way to go. Were it up to me, there would be absolutely no dumping of "spent fuel". So-called spent fuel still contains the vast bulk of its original fuel value. It should be reprocessed both to recover that fuel value and to radically reduce the amount, and lifetime, of nuclear waste ultimately needing disposal. Reprocessing "spent fuel" makes a great deal of sense.

On the other hand, leaving spent fuel at the plant in spent fuel pools or in dry casks, as is now the practice, is hardly as safe as putting it underground or gathering it from hundreds of scattered interim locations to one interim location.

Had Bennett said, "Reprocessing is now an option in this country" rather than " the nation [should] work toward the technology that would allow reprocessing of waste", I'd have been encouraged. Had he said, "Reprocessing is now an option and this bill mandates reprocessing over dumping" I'd have been very happy with it.

Reprocessing is already more than an option. It's a reality. The French, Japanese and Russians do it all the time. We should, too.

As it is, though, Bennett's stance is just pandering to anti-nukes and NIMBYs. As someone said, perfect is the enemy of good enough. Yucca will be good enough for now. Reprocessing would be better, but the energy situation is dire and we have to get a move on. All Bennett's stance does is shield him a bit from anti-nuke activists and NIMBYs at the expense of reduced prospects for nuclear energy.

Reducing the prospects for any relatively benign, massive-scale, non-intermittent renewable energy source is exactly the wrong thing to do to our modern industrial society, especially on the eve of peak oil and at a time when the reality of anthropogenic global climate change is acknowledged by all but the blind and self-interested. And yes, nuclear energy is relatively benign, massive-scale, non-intermittent and renewable.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Museum of Left Wing Lunacy

Update 20050919:

This morning the Museum is lacking their blogroll so I could not visit any new right-wing blogs, but I'm not sure it matters. So far the best thing I've noted is this picture.

I'll have to keep visiting for a little while, but I'm starting to think that there must be a Mars-Venus-like difference between at least this variety of conservative and myself. After I start looking I have to force myself to keep looking. Their facts are not my facts, and I feel their stance on my facts is that they are not facts. I've seen a lot of smug LOLing among them, and I simply can't stand "LOL". "Breaker breaker 1-9 good buddy." Just rubs me the wrong way.

Anyway, nice right-wing tits.


I've never considered myself "liberal" or "conservative". I've been around brilliant people of both self-descriptions. Invariably though, I find myself very much at odds with both sorts, enough to feel alienated from their respective camps.

For example, I'm 99% atheist so that's one strike against the presently ruling "conservative" party (who don't seem all that conservative to me, frankly). For another example, I'm pro-nuclear energy, so that's one strike against the "liberals" (who seem pretty damned conservative at times).

I'm stereotyping and simplifying, sure, but it's useful.

I'm pro-death-penalty so I'm at odds with the liberals. I'm pro-abortion so I'm opposed to that conservative mindset.

I'm a conscientious objector in the war on drugs so neither liberal or conservative thought in that arena holds much appeal to me.

I've watched enough of Fox News to turn away, having concluded they're a propaganda arm of the republicans. I've watched enough of the the major network news to turn away because of the lowest-common-denominator nature of their content (they titilate rather than inform, they don't cover a lot of very important stuff while devoting time to trivia). I still watch enough of both to confirm my conclusions.

I can't stand Ann Coulter, but I didn't much care for Al Franken's "Lying Liars" either. I very much like William Buckley and David Brooks, but I also like Bob Herbert, Frank Rich and Doonsbury (which I think is eloquent political commentary more than just a comic strip).

I'm suspicious of operatives like Carville and Matalin, especially because they're married.

I suppose I'm sympathetic to the old lady who, when asked how she'd vote, responded, "Vote? That would only encourage the bastards!" (Actually, I don't know whether that line was a joke, from a real old lady, or by a motorcycle journalist called Gordon Jennings, to whom I saw the quote attributed in a now apparently defunct forum.) The assertion that though our system was a mess it was still the best system around used to seem reasonable, but I'm not so sure anymore.

I've had libertarian tendencies all along, but when I read a little deeper into libertarian stuff I find it impractical, so I'm not a libertarian. I'm certainly no communist though some smart people have been.

So what the hell am I? Sometimes I think I'm basically a fatalistic, non-anarchic nihilist, meaning that I am driven to conclude by what I perceive as present and likely-future reality that it doesn't much matter what I am - that events have a course of their own over which there's very little hope of control. I am not a determinist because I don't believe in destiny, so the qualified "nihilist" seems to fit me.

Lately I've been paying more attention to blogs and similar outlets than to mainstream media. I don't read everything at each of the links I've collected, but I try to balance my collection of links and diversify my sources somewhat. My collection seems to be a little lefty, though, so I've blogged this site because they have a long blogroll of conservative sites I can check out.

Right off the bat, though, I like Pip Wilson's collection of founder's quotes better than theirs.

So Long New York Times <-- TimesSelect: Overview

I don't understand the New York Times' move to start charging for access to their editorial content. Were I in the business of propagating memes I'd want them to travel as widely as possible, including to those minds unwilling to pay for the privilege of reading them.

Looks like Maureen Dowd, Tom Friedman, John Tierney, Nicholas Kristof, Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, David Brooks, Frank Rich and others will have to find other avenues to my eyes. That's a shame. They are all brilliant writers. Were I one of them I'd be pissed at this move by the New York Times, because there are plenty of other brilliant writers out there unimpeded by this new hurdle.

Am I just being cheap? Maybe, but you've got to draw the line on expenditures somewhere. I'm already paying subscription fees to the New Republic, Scientific American, Skeptic, the Atlantic Monthly and others. I'm more inclined to cut the Atlantic Monthly and the New Republic than I am to start paying the New York Times another fifty of my finite bucks, for which I have plenty of other uses. I already tossed the Wall Street Journal a while back, but that was for another reason - their editorial stance became too much to stomach with their adoration of the charlatan Lomborg and their climate change "skepticism".

I can understand the Times' need to increase revenue, and if I used their archives a lot I would not mind paying, as I have not minded once or twice when I've done so. I could not care less about their sports content, and I have no use for their other Select services. Sorry, but if they want me to read their editorials they'll have to cover their expenses with advertising revenue.

Thanks, but no thanks. It's been swell, but I guess it's over. So long, New York Times. So long, esteemed opinion page authors. Maybe I'll read your stuff elsewhere some day.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Pernicious Complexity

Bruce Schneier linked to Marcus Ranum's "The Six Dumbest Ideas in Computer Security". It's all interesting, but what sets me off this morning is this sentence from the discussion on Schneier's page, in which Ranum says
We can make systems that are more powerful but less complex. I absolutely believe that to be true. It is, however, easier to build systems that are more complex and more powerful.
That's the problem.

Joseph Tainter's 1996 paper, "Complexity, Problem Solving, and Sustainable Societies", beautifully lays out the consequences of the lure of utility at the expense of complexity. [link] [Wikipedia] [Google]

Tainter's paper does not even contain the word "computer" (it's about energy and sustainability) but the central theme applies perfectly to the computer world. The point of Tainter's paper is that complexity and utility are related, and that the relationship over time is predictable. It starts out where you fix a problem by adding some complexity and get a great deal of utility in the process. Later on, when you have another problem you've got also to deal with the complexity you added before. Things are a little harder now, but you add more complexity because you can get more utility. Things continue this way for a while.

Eventually though (and this is where Ranum trails off) you start getting less and less utility for each increment of complexity, until it reaches the point where you're just dealing with the complexity and keeping things afloat somehow. The utility/complexity curve has levelled off. If you stay on this track, if you keep doing what you're doing, you'll start heading down the back side of the curve, adding more complexity to keep things going, but losing utility. Now you're on the road to eventual failure.

Read the paper. I'm not doing it justice.

If I were in charge of something like an IT shop, nobody would work for me that had not internalized Tainter's message. If I were in charge, internal customer service would "suffer" because internal customers would no longer automatically get what they want. All requests for new functionality, and all proposed approaches to existing problems, would have to be examined with respect to their impact on complexity. Very little would be adopted unless it somehow resulted in a reduction in effective complexity.

Of course, I wouldn't be in charge for long.

Read Tainter's paper.