Friday, November 30, 2012

Numbers are People

It's easy to forget this, that numbers are meant to reflect reality (except in pure mathematics in which case they are reality).  I ran into this the other day, when a chart was misunderstood and so transportation costs were double-counted.  With a connection to the real world it was clear that if you're not shipping goods to the dock (it was about forgone export income), then you shouldn't count the cost to ship to the dock (at least not the way we were doing the accounting; I suppose you could use a different method and have them as a savings).

On a larger scale, we often hear about unemployment.  It's always some percent or other.  But people are rarely at 8% unemployment themselves; maybe hours are cut, but they tend to be at either 100% or 0%.  In aggregate things might not look so bad, but no one lives in aggregate; they live their own lives.

Unemployment is actual people without jobs.  People without jobs suffering under stress and lost opportunity.

I ran across an interesting study a few weeks ago, which I have sadly forgotten the name of, which looked at employment decisions by MBA students.  The researchers gave two ways for the students to decide what to do with workers.  One was to give them a set of formulas about productivity and labor and benefit costs.  They'd solve the formulas just like any other.  The other method was to give them lists of workers.  Guess which group laid off more workers.

We don't need job-creators.  We need employers.

Monday, November 26, 2012


I saw this the other day.  I'm not sure this is a review.  It will be in two parts: first, my whining about it; second, my feeble attempts to grasp the symbolism.

There are spoilers, though I try to keep particular scenes vague.


Can we get some basic security?  How about this: Don't have any physical connections, whether cables or wireless, between the newly-recovered laptop of the crazed hacker genius and the network that controls everything at MI6.  Even if you don't expect the laptop to unlock all the security doors, wouldn't you at least want to keep it isolated to ensure that you don't have other malware slipping into your system?

When it appears that there is an assassination plot aimed at M or MI-6 in general, don't you lock the court doors?  I'd expect that a hearing filled with ministers would at least have more security than a few cops in an unlocked room and apparently no response teams when alarms are tripped (such as the metal detector, and surely someone in the courtroom could trigger a distress).  Also, why did MI-6 not have anyone sent to the hearing once they thought M was being targeted there?

The timing on the train was ridiculous.  Also, why not just have two explosions, one a little closer, so you don't need to rely on the train?  Or why not include a gun in the package and shoot Bond when he goes around the corner?  I suppose since it took 15 years to plan he had some time to throw in a few useless-but-flashy gestures.  While we're on the subject, for all the planning, he appeared to be completely unprepared for the actual assassination and escape, as if he'd mapped out every single step up to the moment when he enters the hearing... and is suddenly stuck firing a couple clips into hardwood before fleeing.

Was I the only person who thought that sneaking into the shower of the sex slave was perhaps not the nicest thing?

Q was not particularly good. I have no problem with the actor, but the character was useless.  The gun and radio were straightforward and useful (though I think the gun should have gotten more use than just not being fired once).  However his much-vaunted computer skills seemed to accomplish nothing.  He was the one who stuck the laptop in place to take over everything.  He couldn't even seem to unlock the computer (granted it was pretty nifty, but as a movie character, it's his job to be able to crack that sort of thing).

I think Javier Bardiem is good at villains.  His performance in No Country for Old Men was perfect.  His performance here was great.  But I don't know that he was the right type of villain.  He wasn't power-hungry, greedy, or ideological.  He wasn't even just bitter and after revenge (as in Goldeneye).  Instead he was insane.  He was obsessed.  There is focus and determination, implacability, but those are not the same as a man who had a stronger argument for an asylum than a knife in the back; except of course for the problem that he'd escape and get right back at it, so I still think it is best that he was killed.

I don't like it when the villain murders dozens or more people and in the end all the hero does is kill him.  I don't mean that he needed to be tortured or put on trial, but that he clearly had a lot of help and yet the network he created, all the other plots he had, are left entirely untouched.  Presumably his island was taken care of, but beside that, nothing.  In the end it is rather depressing.  I know that that is realistic, that single crazy people commit horrible crimes and are stopped without any larger context of evil being removed, but if I need depressing news about terrorism, I have the news.

It felt as if they were trying to make computers the new weapon, information and deception the new battlefields.  But they should know that they aren't new anymore.  Goldeneye was based in part on the nerd who lacked hacking everything.  Tomorrow Never Dies used control of media and manipulation of public perception.  Terrorism of the non-supervillain sort got only a couple tangential references with a few agents embedded in terrorist cells and one being executed by them.

I don't like it much when an entire plot line depends on one single bit of luck.  No, not Moneypenny missing the shot.  Instead, the cyanide capsule failing.  If he'd just died, no problem!  This ties in with my dislike of lone-wolf enemies (except when the hero is alone as well).

The movie seemed to be filled with it, and then I forgot most of it.

The house was Britain: filled with relics, the cold home, and the island which would be defended to the end.  No matter what happened in the rest of the world, the island would be defended.  That is perhaps the entire modern Bond franchise: refuge in a secure past.  And then they blew it up without even killing the bad guy.

The conflict between MI-6 and the civilian government felt like something that is almost happening in the real world.  We're almost questioning what our secret sides do, but not quite.  I think we should.  The film seemed to take a "shut up and let them get the job done" approach.  Certainly the ministers appeared to have nothing to contribute.

Bond always seemed to have missed the train.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Home and the Apartment

I'm currently renting and probably will for the foreseeable future.  I've been at my current place for about a few months over a year and I'm used to it.  It feels like home, a secure place.  My place.

Of course I don't own it.  Someone else does, and they can dictate the rules.  One such rule is that they can show it to potential renters.  They must give at least 24 hours notice, but I cannot refuse it.  They need only tell me 24 hours in advance and then they can intrude.

In my opinion, that's part of what defines a home: the inability of others to intrude.  Legally or culturally they cannot enter without permission.  That's why even though I'm not a fan of guns or the "get off my property" attitude, I do think people should be able to defend their homes.

I never actually saw anyone in my apartment.  The showing was when I was at work; 4-5pm and I get back at around 5:15.  I'm not sure if that was better or worse.  I unlocked my door, knowing that someone else had unlocked it and locked it not long ago.  I went in cautiously.  It had fully struck me: people can get in when I'm not there, without my permission, and I don't even know who those people are.  I turned on the light near the door and then continued back toward my bedroom.  On the way through the doorway I picked up the bat for some comfort.  Checking the bathroom I knew it was all empty.

But it wasn't empty.  It was filled with the sense that others had been there, in my space, without my invitation.  I'd shown it to relatives and my brother had stayed a couple nights, but those were family, using a key that I gave him.

This worries me, as a general societal trend.  We're renting more and more.  Not just homes, but everything else.  That includes software, where we tend to get licenses, not ownership.  And so we get terms of service, rules about how we can use it, and at times a loss of privacy.

Maybe I'm just weird.  I get annoyed when I wake up my computers and realize that they had a patch overnight.  I'm glad for it; I prefer that Microsoft get security updates out with as little delay as possible, and overnight it doesn't interrupt me.  It would probably annoy me if I was interrupted by a restart.  Yet it still bugs me to have someone reach out into my computer while I slept, when I thought it was asleep too.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Maybe secret shadowy scary money isn't so bad after all

After billions were spent the election left things unchanged.  Obama was reelected.  Democrats still have a majority in the Senate (I'd not call it control).  Republicans still have a majority in the House.  Some governors moved around.

The net result was the status quo.  On the macro level, it appears that all the ads and spending netted out to nothing.  That means that we can't make a "harmful to democracy" argument.  Though the lack of effect does suggest a "wasteful and useless" argument.  But that's largely a problem of excessive income disparity driving wasteful spending, not of the particular type of spending.  If it wasn't dishonest attack ads, it would be yachts.  At least attack ads just waste TV time and advertising executives, rather than resources that could reasonably be expected to go to something useful.

So let's not worry about the spending.

In related news, I didn't find either of the speeches to be particularly good.  The Obama one was nice and had some energy, but it didn't connect for me.  I wasn't inspired.  Romney's speech had a good message, but he just does not seem capable of projecting human feeling.  Also, why the one last "job creators" drop?  I'm sick of that term.  Why not use "business owners"?  Seems like a more accurate term.  I much preferred the speeches of four years ago, particularly McCain's speech, which I thought was an excellent unifying speech.

And finally, I was glad to see that the rape candidates were defeated.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Of course voter ID makes sense, says the person who was automatically handed one at age 16

If you're like me, you had driver's ed taught in high school, starting at 15, and eventually you got your license at 16.  From then on, having photo ID was a trivial matter, maybe a few hours at the DMV for a renewal or new license, but nothing more than a bit of wasted time.  No paperwork or hoops, just time.

From this perspective, voter ID seems simple enough.  We have state-issued IDs, so why not have us show them and magically we'll have fixed voter fraud.

The first problem is that this doesn't actually fix anything.  Vote fraud, when it happens, is not done in-person.

The second problem is that this would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters, maybe more, who do not have driver's licenses.  Maybe they didn't need to drive.  Maybe it wasn't offered and the hurdles were too high.  Whichever way, the end result is that they were not handed their photo ID at age 16.

I've voted in three elections now; two for president and three for Congress.  At none of them have I been asked for any ID.  I'd registered ahead of time, again, without showing ID.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Three tries at election reform

It may be hard to fully abolish the Electoral College.  It will also be hard to do this.  But let's try for this one change: Remove senators from the formula for calculating electoral college votes.

If that somehow passes, then move to the next stage of election reform: moving it to the federal level.  This has many advantages for democracy.

First, it removes irregularities between state voting rules.  In other words, states can no longer selectively manipulate their voting rules to disenfranchise those groups that they don't like.

Second, it would actually reduce voter fraud.  Voter ID won't do anything to fix that because the voter fraud that does happen is not in-person.  Instead it is through the mail, taking advantage of the state-level monitoring, allowing people to vote in multiple states.  Federal-level monitoring would catch this.

These might both be impossible.  The first because the same states which are disproportionately represented in the Electoral College are also disproportionately represented in the Senate.  The second because states are always reluctant to give up their right to take away yours.

So let's try one last change: Make November 6 a national holiday, every two years.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Don't put King and MLK right next to each other

I had a bad morning.  First I set out on my journey to a part of Madison that I rarely go to.  I left way too early and got there with 20 or so minutes to spare.  So I wandered about in the cold, seeing something new at least.  Time for the meeting and I went into the address on King.  Except that there did not seem to be a third floor, not in that part of the building.  Hm...  I recheck and notice that I have the address wrong, off by one.  But that address isn't across the street.

At this point I'm late and rather frustrated.  I'd gotten there early, not late!  Thankfully, the people walking down the street were friendly and helpful, pointing out that there are two Kings, Martin Luther King that I was on, and King just around the corner.  I tried that one and managed to get to the meeting only 20 minutes late.

This leads me to a modest proposal: Do not put streets with similar names so close to each other.  This is especially problematic if they would be shortened in similar ways, such as King.