Archive for May, 2011

Obama vs Osama, Final…and this time I mean it.

May 30, 2011

So, this is really my last post on the topic. I thought I’d covered everything in installment 3, but the key issue is still to be addressed.

That issue is the fact that none of our “enhanced interrogation techniques” (AKA torture) — those justified because they would provide time-urgent information (like Where’s Ozzie?) — none of them contributed to the intelligence on the raid. None of them. (more…)

The WA State Budget – Income taxes, and sales taxes for the poor

May 28, 2011

Well, the new budget is out. The state has been in an extreme bind for years now, being beset with both declining revenues and extreme divisions in viewpoint in the legislature. Here are my views on the topic, which, of course, have nothing to do with the views of any of my past, current or future employers.

Certain, umm…. patriarchal, segments of our political spectrum like to compare the government to a family, with claims that a family can’t long spend beyond its means. This is, of course, totally false for the federal government, and only partially true for a state. But let’s assume it’s true for Washington state. (more…)

Curried Oatmeal Refritos

May 27, 2011

Oatmeal is bland. Oatmeal is healthy. If you ate nothing but oatmeal and kale you would live ten years longer, and it would serve you right.

Seeking to liven up my breakfast I asked, what would liven up oatmeal? A steak! Yesss!! Well, …erm… no. Eating oatmeal with steak is kindof missing the point, isn’t it? OK, is there something I could add to oatmeal, other than more jam, that would unblandify it?

Harking back to a Tea and Cookies recipe, I remembered something about adding curry. Yeah. Curry. Not too hot, ’cause you want to get the full flavor. And as long as I am adding curry, I could add some fried onions and garlic, because every curry dish calls for fried onions and garlic (OK, not the ice cream, but that’s a different post).

So, chop a quarter of an onion –WW Sweet if possible — and fry until turning brown. Turn down heat and add a good glop of crushed garlic. I buy mine in a jar and ya wanna make something out of it? Well, that’s what I’m doing here.

A third of a cup of flavorless instant oatmeal (artisanal, none of this commercial Quaker stuff), two thirds of a cup of boiling water, a tablespoon of curry powder, generous pinch of salt. Mix, set aside for a bit.

When it sets, stir in the onion and garlic. Dump back in the frying pan. Brown on both sides. Note to chef: even when browned it doesn’t hold together well on the flip. May need a binder, like eggs.

Slide into a bowl. Taste.

Add salt. Taste.

Add more salt. Taste.

Add more jam.

Oatmeal is bland. Just sayin.

Robotalk – Much less than meets the eye

May 24, 2011

Or ear.

IEEE Spectrum has an article on two robots learning to communicate.

Lingodroid mapping maps

The thing is, as far as I can tell from the IEEE article (the press versions being less than useful), the two ‘bots were programmed to map their surroundings (presumably to a fine distance scale) using laser and sonar sensors. They were programmed to exchange gross location data, said data being a random string of consonant-vowel pairs. They were programmed to use this information to establish range-and-bearing data, and to exchange that data via a random string of consonant-vowel pairs. They were programmed to play games like “let’s go to pize”, and to compare their locations when each had thought they’d gotten there.

As a result of this programming, they were able to adjust their internal tables that mapped precise locations to coarse positioning words (the positions were coarse, not the words), such that they generally agreed that this region of precise mapping should be designated as that region of coarse mapping.

This is an interesting development, but it’s more along the lines of a good application of fuzzy logic than it is “development of language.” Essentially, they are creating ‘lingustic variables’ and then defining various membership functions on those variables. They have been programmed to be able to adjust those membership functions so that both of them agree on their shape and location.

So, did they reinvent fuzzy logic, or did they just apply it as programmed? IEEE doesn’t say.

Obama vs Osama 3

May 23, 2011

Here is a Google News reprint of an AP report based on un-named sources. Read it fast, because the link will probably rot within a week or so.

It sounds just screwed up enough to be true. I had wondered why they hadn’t landed on the roof and worked their way down, a pretty standard tactic. Now I know. They planned on it, but the helicopter crash made that mode impossible.

There’s been a lot of talk and a lot of speculation and a lot of angst about the details, and the legal basis, of the raid. Personally, I don’t have much trouble with any part of it. Now that the dust has settled, and the early, propagandistic, statements, have been retracted, we can make some statements.

1. OBL was the leader of a para-military organization that had formally declared war on the US. He was a valid target, every bit as much as Rommel was when the SAS raided his headquarters in North Africa in 1941. In fact, the compound was acting as a headquarters. It was a valid target. Yes, there were women and kids there. That merely shows that his culture is different from our culture.

2. He had to have had a support group in PK. Did everybody in Abbottabad know? No. Did the entire PK government know? Of course not. My guess is that he had a couple of highly placed, possibly retired ISI, contacts in Abbottabad, and that one of the reasons he felt safe there was the promise that they had links to current government officials and would warn him of any operations. Given the likelihood of a leak, we were right to not include the PK government in the operation. (more…)

The End is Nigh

May 20, 2011

And Something Positive knows it.

Happy Eliza Doolittle Day

May 20, 2011

It’s the 20th of May.

wear a hat
From DoctorMacro

Wednesday Wii — Gunslinger Guy

May 18, 2011

So, wanting to do some pointing/tracking training on my left hand, which seems to be somewhat tremor-prone these days*, I went out and bought a handgun — well, OK, a gun-grip-shaped artifiact designed to hold the Wii controller — and a FPS-like game. I say FPS-like because it’s Link’s Crossbow Trainer, which is no better than an entry-level FPS. I figured I can use the gun-grip for both LCT and for things like the snowball game in Wii Fit Plus.**

Gun grip

The reason I went for a gun-grip is that the standard Wii controller isn’t really a point-and-shoot device. It’s a move-the-cursor-on-the-screen-and-shoot device. (more…)

Systems, General Systems, Systems Dynamics, and the Earth 2

May 15, 2011

Good artists copy, great artists steal. I just leech. Once again, Vandana Singh has come up with an excellent essay over on Strange Horizons. There, she talks about the importance of not just preserving biodiversity, but restoring it. This is important, because an ecosystem is a tightly woven mesh, pulled taut over an uneven, spikey, even, fitness surface. Cut one thread and the mesh twists and distorts. (more…)

Obama vs Osama 2

May 11, 2011

There are two other issues that I skipped over in my original writeup. First is the question of mixed vs pure strategies. Second is the question of value assignments.

In game theory, when you don’t have a dominant strategy, or a saddlepoint (where both players have no incentive to move), you have two choices. First is to go with a pure strategy. That means you pick the high payoff strategy and stick with it. That automatically means that you will lose a certain percentage of the time. Not only that, your opponent can detect this, and change their strategy accordingly. Your second choice is to go with a mixed strategy, playing the two feasible strategies in combination to maximize your payoff. You automatically lose part of the time, but you will pick a secondary strategy when a secondary strategy is needed, just often enough to make it worthwhile. The problem comes when you have a one-shot game — you can’t depend on the wins and losses evening out in the long run, because there is no long run. Traditional analysis suggests you still use some random number generator to decide what to do, even if it’s only the once. Depending on the relative likelihoods, this might be a good idea. Since I doubt that President Obama used formal game theory to make his decision, I think it’s also unlikely that he rolled a D20 die to determine the outcome.

The second issue is that of assigning values to the outcomes. My values were highly subjective, not to say, rigged. You may conclude that pattern-bombing Abbottabad would have a larger downside than shown. That’s fine. That’s perfect.

You see, what building this game does is force you to make your assumptions explicit. The same holds true for modeling and simulations and other kinds of games. Many times when people are arguing over something, and it seems like they are arguing past each other, it’s a case of one person having one set of assumptions about how the world works, and another person having a different set of assumptions. Forcing us to bring these assumptions out into the open means we can start arguing about the assumptions, not some presumed second order effect that occurs if they’re true. There are a number of assumptions made in the OvO game. One is, what is the probability of an ISI leak if we tell them. Greater than 50%? 90%? Another is, what’s the difference in payoff among the three strategies, assuming we get OBL. There are others, but they are left as an exercise for the reader.

Chez Osama

May 10, 2011

According to the BBC, the Osama bin Laden house was known locally as “Waziristan Haveli” or “Waziristan Mansion,” which is probably why the government and the press started calling it that.

Now, the Online Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t agree with me (“origin unknown”), but I wouldn’t be surprised if “haveli” isn’t from a Sanskrit root that moved into the European side of the Indo-European Languages divide as “hovel”. To quote Neil Stephenson, it’s “what a Pakistani bricklayer would consider prosperity.”

Just sayin.

Lost in the Food Desert

May 9, 2011

The USDA has posted a map showing the food deserts of the US, places where the low income population lacks access to fresh supermarket food, due to lack of stores or lack of transport.

Most of the largest, the ones in the West, the ones that jump out, are food deserts because they’re, well, deserts (or indian reservations, which amounts pretty much the same thing). Others represent truly poor urban people, poorly served — the Washington Highlands area of SE DC, across the highway from Bolling AFB is a good example, and one that’s in sight of the Capitol dome.

The map is a laudable effort, but there are some anomalies. One desert tract plots neatly on top of Fairchild AFB, WA. This would imply that our military is underpaid or that USDA doesn’t realize that commissary = supermarket. The first is a possibility. At a number of times in the past, low-ranking, large-family enlisted members have qualified for food stamps. However, if that were the case, you’d expect other bases to also be listed as deserts. Well, McChord/Lewis (WA) is not, and Vandenberg (CA) is not, and Barksdale (AR) is not, but MCB Twentynine Palms (CA) is, as are FT Belvoir (VA) and Andrews AFB (MD).

So, it’s a link worth exploring, but carefully.

Obama vs Osama

May 6, 2011

While I was prepping for a class last week, it struck me that part of the decision-making process for the Osama bin Ladin raid could be modeled as a game theory exercise.

Setting the Stage

CIA believes OBL is living in a compound in Abbotabad, PK. We have three strategies for taking him out.
1. Two B-2 bombers, carrying 16 x 2,000lb bombs each.
2. Helicopter raid by Special Operations Forces
3. Joint raid with PK government forces.

Each of these has advantages and drawbacks. How do we decide what to do? Enter, game theory. (more…)

Deep Thought vs Moore’s Law

May 6, 2011

Sorry, guys. The link has rotted. Even VS’s FaceBook page can’t get you there.

Most people overestimate the short term impact of new technology, and woefully underestimate the long-term impact.


See the full sized version at Virtual Shackles.

Osama 2

May 3, 2011

So, he wasn’t armed. And he didn’t pull his wife in front of him. And she wasn’t killed.

I think I’ll wait a while longer.


May 1, 2011

So, we have four facts:
1. He’s dead
2. We’ve got the body*
3. It was a US operation
4. Inside Pakistan**

*Well, had the body. Presumably, we still have some forensic bits.
**Big expensive house in a town north of Islamabad

At this point, everything else is conjecture and filler. I’ll wait a bit to see what rolls out.

My first question is, how much of the information that led to the raid was obtained through “enhanced interrogation techniques”. You want to bet none?