THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 616 March 29 - April 4, 2010
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March 29, 2010
I have been told that this was the warmest winter on record. I have also asked on what data that conclusion has been based, and just how much warmer this -- exceedingly cold by most reports -- winter has been.
I still have not seen the data, but we have this:
The one thing that seems certain is that the numbers are small: second decimal place fractions of a degree, as near as I can make out. I am not sure that makes a lot of sense: it certainly requires that we pay a lot of attention to the weights assigned to the various temperatures that go into the average that become the single figure of merit we call "global temperature." Indeed, one can question whether a "global temperature" accurate even to one degree, much less to fractions of a degree, has any real meaning.
Once again: we know that ice covered a lot of Europe and North America at one time. Perhaps that too was a "warm" period if we take an average of the Earth's temperature? I am quite certain we could come up with weighted averages that would justify the conclusion. The more I learn of how these numbers are produced, the less I understand what they mean.
Can it be said that anyone understands this? We have the warmest winter yet while snow covers much of the US and Asia; what does that mean, "warmest"? The sea temperatures are warmer so that more water vapor is produced so that more snow falls: but was the sea surface temperature caused by or greatly affected by CO2 levels? Is El Nino caused by AGW? I believe El Nino is much older than AGW could possibly be; am I in error?
Does anyone know where we can find the primary data: measured temperatures and the way they are averaged to produce the Earth temperature measure reported?
In the above, Dr. Spenser says "Sorry, folks, we don’t make the climate…we just report it." I am sure he believes that, but I don't. I suspect that the way these averages are combined has a great deal to do with the outcome in that I would guess another just as reasonable combination could produce figures a few tenths of a degree lower (I doubt higher: my guess is that the combination used reports the highest that can be justified; I have no evidence for this other than ClimateGate, but it does not seem unreasonable). Indeed, I suspect that with data manipulation I can come up with very nearly a full degree colder, making this one of the coldest winters on record.
I got this last night:
RIP. And thank you for sending this.
Arthur Robinson, who took over ownership of Petr Beckmann's Access To Energy after Beckmann's death, is running for Congress against DeFazio in Oregon. It's a bit of a one-sided race in that it's DeFazio's 13th term and he usually wins with about 60% of the vote: but this year may be different. This augurs to be a Republican year, and if Ted Kennedy's seat can go to a Republican, so can DeFazio's.
Robinson is a scientist and a conservative libertarian. He's also honest. It would be a more interesting world if he were in Congress. I'd sure like to see him there. I've been reading his Access to Energy (PO Box 1250 Cave Junction Or 97523) for many years, and I find myself in agreement with his vector (if not all his specifics) at least 90% of the time. As an example, he is far more certain that AGW is a hoax than I am, but his analysis of the effects of what we are doing about it are pretty well spot on.
Art Robinson for Congress
Maybe it was warmer:
That's actually more convincing than all the models. That you can measure...
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|This week:||Tuesday, March
I recall many years ago being a bit shocked when I first encountered European Airport Security people with sub-machine guns. I don't suppose those who live in New York and are dependent on the subways have any choice but I would be wary were I living there. Always know of a good place to take cover...
Despite the conventional wisdom and intellectualizations of critics, in the Hollywood Entertainment Industry isn't really an industry at all: it's an investment system that happens to specialize in investing in entertainment, which is a fairly risky business. Alternative investments, particularly short term investments for holding funds until an attractive entertainment investment offers itself -- are always kept in mind. Always. A few Hollywood investors may be attracted by the glitter and the opportunity to be on the Red Carpet and in the Kodak Theatre during Oscar night, but most are about as cold-eyed as you can get.
About half of Hollywood's revenue stream comes from video sales and rentals. Most of this is DVD sales and rentals.
In 2003 there were 12,000 DVD sale and rental stores in Spain; there are now fewer than 3,000, and the number is falling. DVD income from Spain is now so low that Hollywood is considering a policy of no longer selling DVD's there -- as they already have in South Korea. Apparently this is due to piracy. Spain has high-speed Internet access, no laws against "non-commercial" piracy, and a culture that doesn't consider it immoral to give a friend a copy of a DVD, much less to download a free copy. The Spanish Cabinet is considering anti-piracy laws including shutting down streaming sites, cutting off access to high speed Internet by those who frequently download movies, and other measures similar to those in France.
Meanwhile, technology advances make it a lot less expensive to make distribution quality movies. The capital costs for the physical equipment required to shoot, edit, and distribute a feature length color movie have got down to what a couple of enterprising young producers and directors could acquire by maxing out their credit cards (and I know at least one who has tried it).
In other words, what happened to the RIAA is now happening to the MPAA. The results in the recording industry are well known and profound. We'll see what it all does to the movie industry. The short term effects, though, are already with us: fewer jobs in the industry. The first victims are the "sustaining" movies, the old "B list" movies that were neither art shows nor expected to make a lot of money, but which kept the studios open, their staffs employed, and made, if not much profit (and almost never any 'profit' on paper), enough to cover their share of overhead and not lose anything for investors.
Where do we go from here?
The book publishing industry is a bit different. It has never made more than 5% return on investment and usually makes less; that is, book publishing has never been a way to get wildly rich, and while a few publishers did reasonably well, by reasonably well we mean six figure incomes and selling the company for under $20 million. At one time that was well understood; but that was back when there were a lot of publishing companies. Now they have been consolidated, mostly bought by conglomerates of investors who thought they could use management techniques to make publishing more profitable.
The result was to turn book publishing into something more like Hollywood: an investment operation that happened to publish books. Of course that didn't work. Fortunately many of those who were in the business because they love books and love what they are doing stayed with it. Meanwhile technology made it possible for smaller firms to survive, and now the distribution system is changing. It's all in flux, and we only dimly see where it is going.
Up to now, piracy hasn't had a serious effect on book publishing. Eric Flint and others in a position to know have been able to argue persuasively that authors never lose money from piracy and often gain: that is, think of piracy as free advertising, People read pirated electronic copies of books and buy a real copy. It's pretty easy to show that this is true for prolific authors, particularly those who have done series stories.
It's a bit less obvious with more obscure authors with a smaller body of works: do people buy paper copies of books after reading them as e-books? And of course it's a lot less clear that those who read a pirated e-book then go buy a legitimate copy.
As the technology improves it becomes easier and cheaper to produce books -- including producing a paperback book on demand. Advertising, publicity, and distribution change like dreams.
We'll keep tracking this. I think I know better than most what is happening and what will happen, but I suspect that there is more to come that I don't foresee. The one constant is that something like Moore's Law prevails. As technology changes...
March 31, 2010
The Democrats continue to protest that ObamaCare will save money and will not eliminate jobs, and they continue to rail against companies that have reported coming write-offs and layoffs caused by the new Health Care law.
The Wall Street Journal puts it this way:
I suspect that the White House strategists know exactly what they are doing, and hope to get the rumors going before coming out to say they understand the situation. It's fairly standard political tactics, and has been since, I don't know, the G. Washington Administration? Back in the days of newspapers a good rumor could go a long way before being pursued by the truth. This isn't what we have all been hoping for, but it's not change you can believe in either. Just politics as usual. Note too that Stupak, who seems to have sold his principles for some later to be names earmarks, is trying to take the high road. Good luck with that.
November continues to offer America an opportunity to turn back and forsake foolish ways. The first thing needed is to turn the rascals out. The Creeps have been properly chastised. Now it's time to rid ourselves of the Nuts -- but to do it without bringing back the Creeps. That can be done, but it will take some attention from intelligent Americans who up to now have been content to ignore politics. Of course one can ignore politics and ideology, but politics and ideology will not ignore you.
We take three newspapers. I generally read two of them, the Wall Street Journal and the so-called Los Angeles Times which is a Chicago based newspaper that pays little attention to the City and County of Los Angeles. Roberta reads the Daily News, which has been transmogrified from the Valley News into a city paper. Along the way it went from a conservative paper to one more standardly liberal, but compared to the LA Times it's right wing.
This morning Roberta found an article entitled "Math experts split on state's direction" by Sharon Noguchi. I can't find it on line (I suppose it will eventually appear in Google or Bing) and I probably wouldn't have noticed it, but Roberta reads everything on education and she pointed out that it's important. It's about school curricula and just when multiplication ought to be taught -- third grade as it sort of is now, or delayed to begin in fourth grade? There are other matters. They all assume that professors of education know something about teaching mathematics, which is unlikely.
[By coincidence, Jaime Escalante, who demonstrated that the professors of education didn't have anything like correct theories, died yesterday. Escalante demonstrated that you could teach advanced placement algebra at Garfield, one of LA's inner city schools long used as a symbol of what was wrong with LAUSD until Escalante made headlines with his "Stand and Deliver!" algebra program. Escalante's success is generally credited to his personality, but in fact he built a complete mathematics education department at Garfield, and much of his success depended on the support groups he constructed -- and much of it evaporated when his control was diminished. His departure from Garfield was not as simple as is usually described, and while his remarkable gifts as a teacher remained, and he continued to have successes, his fame diminished -- and the educati0n establishment was happy to credit his results to the man, but to ignore his methods. Jaime Escalante, RIP.]
One item in the "Math experts split on state's direction" article was a quote from Muhammed Chaudhry, CEO of Silicon Valley Education Foundation: "algebra has become a focus because completing it in eighth grade is the best predictor of college students." Roberta pointed that one out to me: on what is this based? What are the studies? On what data? It seems not unreasonable at first, but in my experience IQ tests -- which are considerably broader than math skill tests -- are better predictors of academic success. Of course the education establishment tends to ignore all the evidence on IQ tests, dismissing them on various theoretical grounds (including a misunderstanding of how modern IQ tests are constructed and the mechanisms for compensation for socio-economic status). That's another discussion for another time, but I would like to see the data on which Dr. Chaudhry's statement is based.
In the course of her thesis on education Roberta once collected a number of education studies, and of them all, I found few to zero to have any kind of valid experimental design. Education researchers don't seem to understand the actual principles on which statistical inferences are based, and their experimental designs tend to be wretched at best -- or at least that was my impression back when I paid more attention to them than I do now, and I have seen nothing whatever to make me change that opinion. Teachers sometime rely on education "studies" to justify using methods that often conflict with their own classroom experience. That would be a rational thing to do if the "studies" were based on rational designs, but that doesn't generally turn out to be the case. Pournelle's Law of research is that you can prove anything if you can make up your data, and you can prove darned near anything if you get to select your data, your subjects, or preferably both. Most education "studies" are designed to "prove" something, not to falsify a hypothesis.
In any event, Roberta is digging into this, but my conclusion is that the state doesn't know enough to dictate such matters. We don't know enough about learning to have a one size fits all educational curriculum. California public schools are not universally worthless, but many of them are -- and for two decades the California Dictate pretty well destroyed literacy and reading education in California by making war on systematic phonics. The then Superintendent of Public Instruction has since apologized to the generation of illiterates he produced, but that doesn't correct the problem -- and it's a very good illustration of why it's not wise to have one big overarching education policy.
Transparency and subsidiarity. Leave matters to local control as much as possible. But if our masters won't allow that, then intelligent parents have no choice but to get out of irrational school systems.
It is not the state's responsibility to educate your children. It's yours.
And on that score, look into the Robinson Curriculum http://www.oism.org/s32p28.htm It's a curriculum for bright kids. Whether you home school, send your kids to private schools, or leave their education to public schools, this could be the best $200 you ever spent. Well, other than a subscription to this web site...
More another time. It's lunch time.
April 1, 2010
Note: I do not knowingly do April Fool stories. I have several emails of stories that are probably April Fool; if they hold up I'll do something with them later.
You have seen Russell Seitz in both View and Mail many times. You may find this interesting:
If we need to change climate in a favorable direction we need to look into methods. This is certainly one worth looking into. Man made climate change can be in either direction. Now we need to know which direction to change it, which first means finding out for sure which way it is going and how fast. If we have the remedies in hand we need not spend so much time and fortune in frantic attempts to change the way we live.
The punishment of companies that have published upcoming write-downs due to the Health Care Act continues. This was supposed to be the time when we all congratulated Congress for giving us this present; instead, it looks as if the Act will cost jobs both in layoffs and in companies deciding against expansion due to the increased health care premium costs built into the Act. Now of course premium increases are predictable: no insurance company can take new insured with pre-existing conditions at the same rate they charge those without the pre-existing conditions, meaning that they have to raise premiums for all or go out of business. A company with a health insurance policy plan will have to pay the increased premiums, which increases their costs, which reduces their profits, and the SEC requires that this all be made public; so AT&T and Deere and Caterpillar report the upcoming losses, and are summoned before Waxman to be berated for spoiling the ObamaCare afterglow.
Of course Congress has about 20% approval rate just now, meaning that it would be a good idea for AT&T and Caterpillar et. al. to fight back hard. They need do more than emphasize the truth. Other companies ought to jump into this. Waxman can't summ0n them all. Any company that sees increased costs affecting employment should speak up now, and their Washington representatives ought to make a big deal of this: this isn't Ajax defying the lightning, because neither Obama nor Waxman is Zeus. Waxman's thunderbolt is a bit limp just now; AT&T can make this coming summons into something useful. Many did after McCarthy's antics made the Senate Internal Security Committee unpopular. Eventually both McCarthy's Committee and the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities were discredited. If thousands of companies came forward with anticipated writedowns...
The SCO - Novell battle may be ended. I'll have something to say on that in the column.
I don't do April Fool stories, but then I did get this mail
March 2, 2010
A reader has pointed out that the Senate Internal Security Committee (McCarthy's Committee) and the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities have been abolished or fundamentally changed, but there is more to the story than that.
This opens an enormous subject. First, on one level it is certainly true that "they were right" in that there was a real existential threat to the United States, and that this threat received considerable support from within the United States. HCUA (nearly always spelled HUAC by its enemies) and its Senate counterpart, acting as the Grand Inquest of the Nation, had the stated purpose of determining whether or not there were substantial dangers to the United States from communists, and whether a communist conspiracy had infiltrated and controlled or unduly influenced a number of supposedly non-communist or anti-communist organization, converting them into "fronts." Once again, the premise was true. There were substantial dangers. The transfer of nuclear secrets to the USSR is estimated to have been worth at least two years of expensive research in the Soviet development of their first nuclear weapons, and Soviet acquisition of nuclear weapons had a serious effect on Stalin's post-war policies and the Cold War. There were other effects. Nearly every agent the US sent to Russia was caught.
There was KGB (think a Soviet combination of the CIA and FBI) and GRU (Soviet military intelligence) infiltration of a number of American centers and organizations, much of it quite professionally done, much of it quite effective. There were Communists in high places in the Roosevelt government, and some of those officials had considerable influence over US policy. All this was new to the United States, and it wasn't at all clear what should be done about it. There were fundamental principles at stake.
For those interested in those times, I can recommend Whitaker Chambers' two books. The best known of those is Witness, which is universally denounced by much of the intellectual establishment for obvious reasons; the other is Cold Friday, which in many ways I prefer. Both are very good at showing how ideas have consequences, and the seductiveness of communism in those times.
Another book is William F. Buckley's The Red Hunter. It too gives much of the flavor of those times, and is often honest and revealing about McCarthy.
So: in the sense that there was a real threat, and there was a real conspiracy with real infiltration of American institutions (all of this pretty well proven now by the release of the Venona project papers among other things), the Committees were correct. They were also correct in their supposition that it was Congress' business to look into this. The Congress is the Grand Inquest of the Nation, and it is a co-equal branch of the national government. Harry Truman was no traitor, but his administration wasn't much interested in finding communist infiltrators.
The debatable question is how Congress ought to have gone about that business, and whether HCUA and the McCarthy Committee acted with suitable propriety and effectiveness, and whether many of those activities did not range over into political objectives with consequent abuse of power -- precisely as many are currently charging that Mr. Waxman is doing now. What is taught as history today distorts all these questions. Hollywood has almost universally portrayed those times as a pure abuse of power by an enraged Congress bullying helpless intellectuals, and that impression has seeped into the public consciousness. It would be well if that changed. It would be well if the American people understood that we faced a real challenge to the existence of the free world, and that the battle was closer than some suppose it was.
[Incidentally, Hollywood did manage to make one reasonably 'realistic' movie of the time in that OSS, as I recall, gets across that some of the French Resistance communists turned over non-communists to the Gestapo on political orders from Russia.]
And yes: many of the intellectuals caught up in the intellectual conflicts of that time were mere bumblers, or well-intentioned liberals horrified when they learned the truth about Stalin and Stalinism, and whose activities were entirely legal and whose only crimes were thought crimes, and they didn't commit all that many of those because they didn't give their activities much thought. Alas, many others were not. Julius Rosenberg boasted of being "Stalin's Soldier." A communist member of Oppenheimer's personal staff at Los Alamos, given an unsupervised leave from the Atomic City (where at one time the only telephone was on the desk of the Commandant and all outgoing mail was opened and censored) took a train to Manhattan and went into the Soviet Trade Commission offices there where he told them all he knew of the Manhattan Project.
HCUA and McCarthy didn't always -- perhaps I should say didn't often -- distinguish between the googoo intellectuals who had been communist sympathizers -- comsymps -- in the 1930's, particularly before the Hitler-Stalin pact, as opposed to the hard core communists and agents who hung on even after the Party Line invited all communist sympathizers to toast the "liberation of Paris for the Working People of the World" as the Wehrmacht marched in triumph down the Champs-Élysées. Both committees abused their powers, whether in erroneous over-enthusiasm for the cause or for political purposes.
In other words, it is a complex question. How much power should the national government have to look into matters of this kind? What business is it of Congress what beliefs people hold? Yet certainly they have the power and duty to look into activities directed by agents of foreign powers. What about agents of ideologies? Religions? It is a very large question and one we will not settle in one or a dozen essays.
So. To clarify my original point: it is debatable whether or not the United States ought to have a House Committee on UnAmerican Activities, one major debate being how in the world we should define "unAmerican". One can question the motives of some of those involved in these committees. But there is no questioning that they were looking into a threat that was real and substantial.
In this year of Grace we do not face the Soviet Union and the threats to the nation are not existential; but they are real -- Twin Towers proved that -- and continuing -- ask at Fort Hood -- and complex (are we really closing Guantanamo?) The current Congress isn't interested in questioning just how the Administration is handling this continuing threat. The next Congress may well be so interested. Perhaps it is time we thought about just what the Congress should be doing. November will be upon us sooner than you think.
March 3, 2010
I thought of buying an Altair at the time, but I wouldn't have been capable of writing a BASIC for it. I suppose PYTHON is the modern equivalent of BASIC but I wonder if we don't need a really good and simple language as easy to learn as BASIC was. I think we lost something as the computer revolution advanced.
I suppose Roberts got what he wanted when he sold out and signed a non-compete and financed his way to medical school. He seems to have enjoyed being a country doctor who had once been famous in high tech. I was in the act of ordering one of his programmable calculators when TI came out with the bubble gum card programmable, which I bought and used in my work on my Galaxy column. Ed Roberts, RIP
The iPad came out today. I'll have words on the iPad in the column. It could be a game changer, which is surprising in some ways. There's a lesson in there. I'll try to draw it out.
I will run this again next week:
For those who do not know: Take Back Your Government was Robert Heinlein's very detailed advice on citizenship and government. It was highly appropriate and useful when it was written but no one would publish it until Jim Baen finally did so in time for the Perot movement. I wrote an introduction to it which is still useful.
I am not familiar with the companion work, but given the low cost I can recommend the package. The Heinlein book describes an America that existed well into the Reagan era and which could be restored, although the media and the computer revolution have changed many of the details. At one time America was in effect governed by many thousands of volunteer precinct party workers. They are not so important now as they were then, but it's still a good way to learn something of elections, and the ground game is still important to real victories.
March 4, 2010
I have mostly taken the day off. I'll post a bunch of mail. Happy Easter.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the weekly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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