Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Fake news and misleading stats…

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

Hmm…LinkedIn? Now that Microsoft owns them, you have to wonder what they’re using that website for beyond ads. They’re certainly discouraging discussion groups, my favorite feature, but for what reason? Maybe they realize they can’t compete with Google or Facebook—the former makes a major portion of its profit from ads, although Google+ is weak compared to both in discussions, and the latter is trying to catch up with the ads but lights up with discussions.

They all have fake news. Should we also call misleading stats that appear on all of these fake news? Stats are rarely “clean.” First, authors of articles using them often leave out the hypotheses and description of how the dataset was collected and processed. Second, they often jump to conclusions based on biased sampling techniques. Third, the author of the article can choose, and often does, only those stats that support her or his opinion. It’s all a bit like the Bible: you can find stuff there that will support any position if you look for it.

Yep, many articles quoting stats are fake news if not downright lies. Here’s a recent example that occurred on LinkedIn. The author of a post was probably an innocent victim, but she provided a link to an article about a Nielsen report that gives stats showing ebooks are in decline. Do you follow links like this? It can be dangerous because the link might allow a virus or other malware to invade your laptop or smart phone. Your best bet is to go to the original site if it looks OK and read the article. That said, I read the entire Nielsen report.

But more on Microsoft’s LinkedIn for a moment. I’ve never found much use for it. I have a lot of connections. A lot of them are good people who seem to think I’m someone useful to connect with. Me, the introverted fiction writer? The shy fellow who will never do blog radio and is uncomfortable at any event where I have to appear in person and participate in one-on-one conversations? (I taught large lecture classes at one time, but there is a certain anonymity in that situation that made them easier for me. First days were scary in any class, though—and I was the professor!)

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Is nuclear power off the table?

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

In my forthcoming novel, Gaia and the Goliaths, #7 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” Detective Castilblanco considers some of the pros and cons about nuclear power. The novel’s main theme involves climate and environmental issues, pro-environmental activism, and attacks on the environment waged by corporations and their political sycophants.  Russia, known for its lack of concern about the environment and the Chernobyl disaster, plays an important role too. These issues are current ones now, considering the new U.S. administration that will invade Washington D.C.

Mr. Trump and his cabinet choices will probably set back any progress we’ve made on environmental issues, except for states like California that are far more progressive than Washington, and there are plenty of willing accomplices for Trump’s team in the GOP-dominated Congress. The new president thinks global warming is a hoax and climate control isn’t necessary. But questionable actions have been taken by Dems too. There is a general consensus among politicians that nuclear power is bad, so let’s get rid of it.

For example, Governor Cuomo of New York has championed the closing of the Indian Head power plant on the Hudson, mentioned in my novel, without having any viable alternative for replacing the power the plant generates. Many European countries depend on nuclear power, as does Japan. Is it dirty energy? Are nuclear power plants accidents waiting to happen? Have politicians created a Frankenstein monster in order to win votes from environmental activists?

First, let’s state for the record what affects global warming and is bad for the climate, namely fossil fuels. Presumably Cuomo, who has no technical background and is apparently channeling Van Helsing in his pursuit of nuclear energy as an evil vampire, will replace Indian Head’s power output with coal-burning or natural gas power plants. Those are worse for the environment. We need to reduce the carbon footprint, not augment it. Any environmental campaign must be anti-fossil fuels because there is no way to use them that won’t damage the environment. Period.

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Irish Stew #59…

Monday, January 9th, 2017

International

Classic Putin? His refusal to expel U.S. diplomats in response to Obama’s retaliation for Russian hacking and inviting the diplomats’ kids to a Christmas party made me wonder if a bare-chested Putin would ride in to the party on a reindeer sporting the rest of Santa’s costume. Even without the latter, Putin’s response makes Putin look like a PR genius (can I hire his PR people for my books?) and Obama look like a chump. McCain rightly states that Putin is a murdering thug, though, and certainly not on Santa’s “nice list,” so maybe Trump’s chump for SecState won’t be approved by the Senate. Trump is swimming in dangerous waters! No one likes Putin except Trump and the narcissistic despot himself.

I’ve been very careful to separate the sleazy practices at the DNC exposed by the Russian hackers from the criminal actions of the hackers and the man who commands them, Vladimir Putin. Obama is right to say that we should be on the same page about Putin’s nefarious attempts to undermine the American election, now established by U.S. intelligence leaders—Putin is the enemy here. But I’m not alone in wondering if Obama and other Dems would give a rat’s ass about this if it had been the RNC that was hacked, or if HRC had won. Those who would say HRC lost because of the hack in spite of the findings from the intelligence community, and the continue to blame the FBI director, should just move on. Trump won, figure out why, and never let it happen again. Moreover, let’s work our butts off to keep this psycho Il Duce from destroying the world!

The art of the deal? To many one-percenters, war is a business. Either Trump wants to pander to these ghouls, or he wants a piece of the action. The U.S. sells more arms to the rest of the world than any other country and, of course, the Pentagon still wants their new and improved toys too. People get rich off war. Il Duce Trump, not content with the endowment Nature gave him, wants to extend it by forging new swords to brandish internationally. “Let’s have another arms race,” he says, “because we’ll have bigger and better bombs.” (OK, I couldn’t find the direct quote, but that’s the idea!). We have a recipe for disaster on an international scale. At the very least, I can see international conflagrations occurring as more bodies, Americans and others, are poured into the maws of Mars. Insane!

National

What’s with deifying Elizabeth Warren? This faux-progressive is becoming Mother Teresa and Joan of Arc for all HRC’s liberal faux-progressives licking their wounds after the presidential election. I can imagine “liberal Catholics” (now there’s an oxymoron!) proposing her for sainthood. Just remember, ye true progressives across the land, she campaigned for HRC in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the primaries instead of Bernie Sanders. Remember that guy, the one who could have beaten Il Duce Trump? Warren and the rest of HRC’s sleaze-team got what they deserved. And Warren is part of that crowd! She just announced she will run in 2018. I’m hoping there’s a true Massachusetts progressive candidate who will run against this faux-progressive in the primary.

Healthcare. Mitch McConnell says the first item on the agenda for the new Congress is to end the Affordable Care Act AKA Obamacare. McConnell, Ryan, and others in the GOP are already talking about slashing Medicare and Social Security, and Medicaid is on the way out. Do the American people really want to turn back the clock to when health insurance meant insurance that you would die young? When insurance companies dropped you as soon as you contracted something serious? When millions of people’s insurance reduced to emergency visits to ERs?

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Irish Stew #58…

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

[Double billing today…don’t get used to it, but 2017 is starting out with a lot of news to comment on. Don’t be shy. Your comments are always welcome, even rants. Just keep them clean!]

International

Russia and Syria declare ceasefire. How nice of them! Who’s speaking for the rebels? We have an international refugee crisis in the area; Aleppo, Palmyra, and other cities are completely destroyed and their populations dead; and Assad and Putin are patting each other on the back and chortling about how many rebels they’ve killed. Maybe ISIS will regroup and refocus and go after Assad—he deserves it!

Team Assad/Putin are closing in on Stalin’s record for murders, and Papa Joe had a lot more years under his belt. If there’s a Devil, he has some good assistants who work despotic hand in skeletal hand with the Grim Reaper. So little time…so many people to kill!

Say goodbye to the two-state solution. Netanyahu doesn’t want it, Trump doesn’t want it, and the Arabs don’t want it because it works against their campaign to destroy Israel. The main problem in the Middle East? Everyone wants a scapegoat. Secondary problem? Saudi Arabia! Even with low oil prices, the Saudi royalty are still living the rich life. When their people reach the level of the long-suffering Palestinians, maybe something will change. By then Netanyahu might be begging for his life!

National

Media and public senility. Loss of short term memory, they say, is one indication of senility. Whether senility or just plain stupidity, the American media and public have become so focused on the Russian hackers that the big issue has been forgotten. Did Russian hackers help Donald Trump or hurt HRC? There’s a difference, folks, and not recognizing it is part of that senility or stupidity too!

Not to minimize cyberwarfare crimes perpetrated by pimp Putin’s hacker-whores, let’s deal with reality: there were sleazy crimes committed by HRC and her followers once Mr. Sanders entered the primaries, and they continued all the way through them, the convention, and the 2016 election. Here’s a Bishop Berkeley-like question: if illegalities are committed by a candidate, campaign, and political party, does it matter who exposed them?

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Irish Stew #57…

Monday, December 19th, 2016

International

Let’s go to war! Cyber warfare, of course. Maybe Obama actually said to Putin, “We can do stuff to you,” but he’s been like a turtle swimming in molasses with his actions against the Russian despot. And it’s not just Putin’s hackers. We should declare cyber warfare against all hackers. The bozos who stole more than 1 billion plus users’ info from Yahoo (obviously not just U.S. users are represented) and are selling it on the dark web should be tracked down and thrown in jail. Edward Snowden should be kidnapped in Russia and brought back to a firing squad. X Manning (I don’t know what to call her/him, so I’ll use X) should join him.

Screwing around with idle threats, Mr. President, will not clean up the internet. Stop this now, or it will only get worse. If it comes to turning power plants off or creating run-away nuclear facilities or crashing multiple commercial planes, it’s too late. Let’s get NATO involved too, because this war is international and Europe is threatened, although they might be too complacent to realize it.

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Irish Stew #56…

Monday, December 12th, 2016

[It’s been awhile. I use this potpourri of news when I want to make a lot of mini-op-eds about current affairs—hence the name. Or, if you like, my Irish temper blows, and then I stew. Because I already had a political op-ed set for tomorrow about the healthcare crisis, I decided to pair this with “Monday Words of Wisdom” and clear my writing to-do list a wee bit. Let’s go to it…]

International

More Saudi duplicity. I’ve often railed against the duplicitous Saudis in this blog. Sometimes I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. Here’s yet another example of their duplicity: while we’ve been fighting the Taliban, among others, in Afghanistan for years, the Saudis have been playing both sides, but more in support of the Taliban! To quote a recent Times article: “Saudi Arabia is critical [in Afghanistan] because of its unique position in the Afghan conflict: It is on both sides.” Was Machiavelli a Saudi? They represent the primary source for destabilization in the Middle East and are indirectly (if not directly) responsible for countless tortures and murders of innocents. They are NOT our friends.

Taiwan calling. This is one case where government intervention was required—lots of it! During the election, Trump bloviated a lot about his loathing of the People’s Republic of China (like many communist naming inventions, it’s not a republic and certainly doesn’t belong to the people). He took a congratulatory call from the Taiwanese president. Big deal! Irony?  Obama can call a brutal and murdering dictator in Cuba and Trump is criticized for accepting a call from a democratically elected leader?

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Cosmological distances…

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

Some excitement was caused recently by the announcement of an E-type exoplanet, Proxima b, a planet orbiting the red dwarf Proxima Centauri in the Alpha Centauri triple-star system (Alpha A is a G-type star like the sun, while B is a K-type star, but both are much brighter than Proxima). That system is about 4.3 light-years from Earth, or 40.14 trillion kilometers. (Conversion lesson: convert to statute miles.) The size of the Milky Way is about 100, 000 light-years, so Proxima is right around the corner. Right? Wrong! Even distances in our galaxy are “huuuuge,” to borrow a word abused by two recent presidential candidates and the SNL comics.

More excitement was caused by the report from scientists at the RATAN-600 radio telescope at Zelenchukskaya in Russia. They detected a strong signal apparently originating in the direction of the G-type star HD 1611595, known to have one warm Neptune-like planet (40-day orbit). This star is 94 light-years away. The Russian report to the SETI committee was made without many details.  The star might have rocky E-type planets too, so many UFO-ET enthusiasts and sci-fi addicts are in a frenzy, spurred on by the meaning of the acronym—“Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.” While some other Russian scientists wrote the whole thing off as terrestrial interference (covering their butts?), the scientific jury is still out (comments updating this are welcome).  95 light-years is many times 4, of course, but still small in comparison relative to galactic distance markers—4 is a walk to your neighborhood convenience store; 95 is a short car ride to the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts.

Let’s counter some knee-jerk reactions to these reports first. Coincidentally, SETI has a new focus on red dwarf stars. They can live billions of years longer than G-type stars, where SETI’s emphasis has traditionally been, because we know at least one G-type star, ours, has an intelligent civilization (although “intelligent” might be a questionable word to use sometimes). That extra stellar lifespan might allow a red dwarf like Proxima Centauri to be home to an ancient civilization far advanced beyond ours (and actually be intelligent?). The hurdles are enormous, though, for any kind of life in such a system, because livable E-type planets would have to orbit the parent star so closely that they would be tidally locked, one face always turned toward the star. That means life as we know it could only exist in that transition zone between eternal day and eternal night.

The second report is a bit more difficult to put down in this way: an E-type planet could exist farther out from HD 1611595 and have life. Without knowing the details of the signal (I only know it’s strong), one can’t use it to mark the source as being intelligent. If it were narrowband, seemingly coded, and beamed directly at us (how could they know to do that when radio had just been invented on Earth 90 years ago?), you might have something. But consider this: one scientist estimates that ten-to-the-thirtieth (one followed by thirty zeroes) watts would be needed to broadcast this signal if omnidirectional (i.e. not specifically aimed at us), and ten-to-the-fifteenth watts if beamed directly. The first corresponds to a Kardashev Type II civilization, one that harnesses all energy emitted by its sun (Dyson sphere?—that’s physicist Freeman Dyson, not my author-friend Scott Dyson); the second to Type I, a civilization that “only” harnesses all the energy falling on its planet.

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Common sense in a nonsensical world…

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

If your perception about U.S. policies is that they don’t make sense, you are correct—most of the time they don’t. Not necessarily in order of importance, here’s why: First, the courts are stuck in the 19th century because the laws are. Second, American foreign policy is still based on the credo that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Third, the people running everything, the super-rich, don’t give a rat’s ass whether things are done right, as long as they get richer. I could go on, but you get the idea. Sure, problems in the 21st century are complex, but incompetent people and institutional resistance to change for the better make them more so.  My definition of conservative: someone who’s so satisfied with what they have that they don’t want any change. There’s a place for that attitude, but not in the three points I mentioned.

I’ve suffered in my life with both types of judicial systems, English and Roman. In the first, precedents are given weight so that there’s continuity to “justice” (the meaning given to that word could be a fourth problem–just ask the innocent victims of gun violence or those who think Hillary Clinton should be in jail). In the second, the system inherited from the Romans and popular in Latin countries, you can do anything the law doesn’t specifically prohibit (that’s why those countries’ constitutions, if they have one, are so long).  Both are unwieldy. The first practically precludes adapting to changing times, a conservative’s delight. For example, the internet was invented in 1983 (ARPANET) and only assumed something resembling today’s chaos in 1990—let’s give it thirty years. Adding to that the fact that most justices and juries (formed from users, not techies) have no tech background at all, you can see that the justice system can’t possibly make informed decisions about scientific and technical issues most of the time.

Roman justice has a similar problem. Its laws tend to be more “written in stone,” so new science and technologies occur without any control whatsoever. It’s impossible to prohibit something when it hasn’t even been invented yet, and when it is, it might be too late to prohibit it. Progress occurs so fast nowadays that neither judicial system can keep up. Unscrupulous people will take advantage of that, human nature being what it is. Common sense tells me that technical regulatory boards are called for to keep pace with the progresses in science and technology—groups of high-tech “philosopher kings” in the sense of Plato, incorruptible individuals serving limited terms. Again, given human nature, that word “incorruptible” is key. Do such individuals exist? But there’s no doubt the current system is broken and must be fixed.

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Reasonable people thinking unreasonably…

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

If you think the world is going mad, it is. That’s another way of saying people are crazy. The recent Pokemon Go craze is just the tip of the iceberg. Like that minions game on the iPhone, I thought Pokemon Go was harmless until people started walking in front of trucks, getting robbed by thieves or molested by perverts, and in general looking like actors auditioning for The Walking Dead. Not so harmless are some of the other things occurring as reasonable people think unreasonably or believe things not based on fact.

Nancy Reagan believed in astrology; many people do. They believe the zodiac signs determine their personal fates; Nancy Reagan used them to advise Ronnie about global affairs! People hold similar beliefs about Tarot cards, séances, and palm readings. Some people would never own a black cat or walk under a ladder. All these superstitious beliefs have zero science behind them. It is amazing that our science and technology have come this far with all these nuts around. Even so-called scientists can believe really stupid things. It’s embarrassing. Despite the pics from ISS and imaging satellites, there are still people who think that the Earth is flat and the center of the Universe. And I’m talking about otherwise sensible people, not primitive tribe members in Africa, Australia, or South America.

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Irish Stew #55…

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

International

Saudi duplicity. The Kingdom has an agenda. They try to pretend they’re friends, but they push a 6th century version of Islam just as much as ISIS. Most of the al Qaeda murderers who plotted 9/11 were Saudi, and the Saudi government helped them, not to mention the training in the Saudi’s religious schools that teaches young men to hate the West. They are also trying to radicalize Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo and those in the old Islamic USSR countries. Their agenda is clear: time travel back to that 6th century caliphate. And you thought ISIS was the problem?

This last weekend, the government finally released the full 28 pages of the 9/11 report originally deemed TOP SECRET because they embarrassed our “Saudi friends” (with friends like that, who needs enemies?). I downloaded a copy and will peruse it in detail. At first glance, it seems nebulous and full of doublespeak, par for the course when it comes to national security. Here’s a quote from the Times article describing it: “Subsequent investigations…pursued the leads described…and found that many had no basis in fact.” Pox on the Times for bad reporting. What investigations? Do we have access? Many, but some did. Which ones? Really bad reporting. And people wonder why we have conspiracy theories! It’s only paranoia if it’s…you finish the phrase.

BREXIT and the new PM. Looks like the Brits have to live with their choices. I found it amusing the story about a town that had voted Labour for many decades voting to leave the EU in spite of that party’s pleas. Both Sanders and Trump here in the U.S. tapped into similar sentiments, but Hillary is still supporting TPP because Wall Street does.

I don’t expect the new PM to last long, although both Labour and Conservative parties should be walking the halls of Parliament like Lady Macbeth—they have blood on their hands, but Macbeth has already died. “Double, double, toil and trouble, pot boil and cauldron bubble….” British politics is more like a pressure cooker now.

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