Statistics comes to Swarthmore College

Some years ago, I studied mathematics and statistics. At that time, there was only one statistician among the mathematics department members, maybe the entire Swarthmore College faculty, Gudmund R. Iversen. He was my academic adviser. Professor Iversen was grey, tweedy and Norwegian. He always addressed me as Miss Kesselman, which helped alleviate my shyness at the time.

Professor Iversen got his PhD in statistics from Harvard University in 1969. I noticed only one other familiar name on that very short list of all Harvard Statistics PhD alumni: Columbia University political science and statistics professor Andrew Gelman PhD in 1990.

Lunch with Tufte

Professor Iversen had a group of colleagues, all statisticians from other academic institutions. They would visit Swarthmore to give lunchtime talks, or more typically, late Friday afternoon presentations to mathematical statistics students.

Diagram of Napoleon's Russian campaign by Minard

Napoleon’s March to Moscow. Charles J. Minard, 1869

I recall one particular guest statistician. Edward Tufte was on the faculty of Princeton University, and had recently written his first book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. The venue was a small private room in Sharples dining hall. I was one of maybe 20 attending. (more…)

Just a Little Bit More Bitcoin Trouble

There has been so much tumult in bitcoin and crypto currencies over the past few days! Interest and concern extends far beyond arcane online communities. Motives vary.

screenshot of currency miner

Mining with Windows 7

Decentralized and anonymous

There are two conceptual pillars of trust that uphold bitcoin as being superior to fiat currency. The first is decentralization.

The fiat currency of reference is primarily the US dollar, for the time being. Why? Because the $US is the world’s reserve currency, for now. If Germany weren’t part of the EU, if Japan weren’t still in its lost decade and England weren’t so afflicted with problems, the Deutsche mark, Yen or British Pound Sterling would be attractive alternatives to the $US as a fungible, stable store of value.  As ideological (not market) confidence in the $US has diminished, the appeal of an apolitical, modern alternative increases. I won’t go off on a tangent as to why a currency printed by the U.S. Treasury in support of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy isn’t as highly esteemed as it was in the past. Obviously the $US dollar is a highly centralized currency.

The second conceptual pillar of bitcoin is anonymity. US dollars held as cash will be anonymous until one wants to use them for exchange for commercial transactions of size. Bitcoin has some anonymity short comings, too, but there may be tractable remedies.

Centralization of bitcoin

All markets are game theoretic. Bitcoin is more transparently so.  I really wish we could ask Professor John Nash what he thinks of bitcoin! Nash actually wrote a pleasant, accessible article about bitcoin-like currencies a few years ago.

I mention game theory because bitcoin’s most acute concern now is loss of decentralization. It is due to the documented, persistent existence of a 51% majority mining pool controlled by gHash.io. gHash is owned and operated by a private entity, cex.io. gHash’s market dominant behavior was noted in March 2014, but the situation was transient, unlike now. Monopolists, and cartels, can assert control as a function of mining power. See How a mining monopoly can attack bitcoin for a chart of strategies that mining pools can pursue as a function of hash power. It was recommended by Ed Felten in his post, Bitcoin mining now dominated by one pool.

Production and transaction costs

In theory, bitcoin is a perfectly smooth, zero transaction cost medium of exchange. (more…)

Published in: on June 17, 2014 at 12:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Public school education

Today’s post is somewhat of a departure for me. I try to avoid writing of subjects about which I have no formal training nor experience.

Not an autodidact

My only education-related experience has been passive, as a recipient. From kindergarten through 12th grade, I attended public schools in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I loved learning algebra, calculus, chemistry, English literature, French, U.S. history, physics, drafting, home economics, and orchestra. I find it difficult to learn from self-instructional materials. Learning by doing is effective, but requires some guidance.

Education from kindergarten through high school

I perceive betrayal of public interest throughout the U.S.A., due to federal government educational policy. New York City is especially troubled. Exceptionally wealthy individuals with ZERO experience or training in education have decided that they know what is best for America’s children.

The 0.1% of the 0.1%

The Brookings Institute describes them as the 0.1% of 0.1% in assets. Assets held is a robust metric for gauging wealth. It is important to distinguish between wealth and income. Income fluctuates from year to year, even for the wealthy. Causes vary. Some have profound impact, such as significant reversals of fortune. Some are merely transitory, e.g. accounting losses reported in order to minimize impact of tax law changes. These 0.1% of 0.1% individuals choose to actively direct the projects that are beneficiaries of their philanthropy.

Philanthropy, education reform and charter schools

Most education reform activists, or perhaps investors, have no knowledge, nor experience in public school education. Rather, they are exceptionally capable leaders of global software conglomerates. Others have great prowess as hedge fund managers, venture capitalists or real-estate moguls. Several are Wal-Mart family scions. Education reformers who have children educate them at private schools like Philips Andover or Choate, yet they claim that charter school operators provide a superior education, compared to public schools in the U.S.A. The same story can be told regarding MOOCs.

Comparison of Charter v. public ed

Statistically questionable comparison of charter v. public school performance via Wikipedia

Charter schools are similar to private schools, yet they are financed by public, i.e. taxpayer funds. They are not fiscally accountable, unlike public schools. Charter schools do not resemble Exeter or Choate-Rosemary Hall as far as quality of instruction or facilities, not at all! An increasing body of empirical evidence and peer-reviewed research indicates that charter schools are inferior to public school education, in myriad ways. The same is true for the uniformly despised Common Core Standards, by everyone other than ALEC and those who hold copyright to them.

common core is an unpopular ed policy

Local radio poll

Anti-Schumpeter

Schumpeter wrote about creative disruption. I think that the current school reform movement is better described as destructive disruption.

Unfortunately, the media tows the line of those who claim that teaching must be disrupted. This is because those who are wealthy are influential, and LOUD. They like to say that teaching must be disrupted, in order to keep pace with the inexorable path of scientific progress.

Why the need for disruption? We live in an era of technology! Existing pedagogy is allegedly archaic, resembling that which was used for the past 1000 years. Silicon Valley is especially fond of saying that. In fact, 20th century teaching methods were similar to those used for the past 1,000 years, and for good reason: Our brains haven’t changed in the past 10,000 years! Our cognitive processing and synthesis of information into knowledge has not evolved over such a short time span.

Technology is great, but technocrats who want to replace teachers with robots and mobile phone apps will do great damage. That isn’t how THEY learned math, reading or anything else! Yet most websites where programmers, PhD educated mathematicians or physicists gather, cannot say enough bad things about how repressive, stifling, corrupt and inadequate our public education system is. Where did most or all get their educations? Surprise: K-12 public schools, often followed by land grant universities! Most excel in their careers, in STEM fields. We are now said, as a nation, to be grossly deficient in STEM skills, although IEEE has evidence to the contrary. Trans-humanists such as Sugita are given $10 million grants to run schools without teachers, only the internet. And then there is the recent fascination with grit

Root-cause medley of societal malaise

So, just maybe, status quo pedagogical methods, as applied before 1990 (and Common Core), were exceptionally effective! And the problem, now, is not teacher inadequacy and the lack of iPad’s from kindergarten on. Instead, there are profound societal inefficiencies due to a decade or three of so-called Democrats, who are neither Democrat nor GOP nor libertarian. They are crony capitalists, neo-liberals, oligarchs in the wings. What’s happening now is a logical consequence of:

  • a Byzantine tax code full of loopholes
  • inconsistently applied, sometimes adversarial regulation
  • no protectionism or support of American products in global markets
  • anti-union federal government policy under the Obama Administration
  • dismantled immigration policy
  • never-ending wars, yet not calling it war, but rather “conflict”
  • anti-intellectual wisdom of the crowds and the sharing economy, euphemisms for exploitation of foreign workers/U.S. underemployed youth and feasting off The Commons, respectively
  • anti-intellectual arrogance, that is, too much Thomas Kuhn, not enough Thorsten Veblen!
  • “questioning everything” including mainstream scientific thought, while blindly following life coaches, anti-vaccination celebrities and pseudo-religious demagogues
  • dissolution of local community, partly due to unfair competition from huge e-commerce retailers; note that small e-commerce is hurt by this too!
  • ridicule and intolerance of religion, of any sort
  • failure to value the independent 3rd party press, e.g. “news is a commodity, distributed freely by the internet”
  • failure to distinguish between intellectual property laws that oppress innovation e.g. nutty software patents, NPE’s a.k.a. trolls versus copyright as a basic human right, that is, the right to be paid for one’s original work

I’ll stop now.

Disclaimer

In the style of Seeking Alpha investment analyses, I disavow any agenda, nor will I benefit in any way from this post. In fact, the contrary is far more likely, particularly since I am in search of employment. My passive experience with public education, that I mentioned earlier, is based on observations made by my mother and two aunts, each of whom has 20 years experience as public school teachers. Also, I have tutored college students who had trouble with calculus. I do that at my kitchen table, free, yet many can’t make time in their busy schedules, until failing out and retaking the class.

Published in: on May 17, 2014 at 9:28 am  Comments (7)  
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How to clean the Goo dot gl virus

computer virusThis is an example of an exceptionally false-positive computer virus concern. More accurate: General lack of having a clue.

How to clean the goo dot gl virus when you run it?

The worm spreads on Twitter as a link. Careful with this.

quora query

Computer Viruses: View the question and associated answers on Quora.

Published in: on December 21, 2012 at 4:54 am  Comments (4)  
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The problem with randomness

Comic Strip

Random number generators: The devil is in the details

How to generate random numbers from spam

I found this the other day, via WPRandom:

Generating random numbers is pretty complicated if you need them for cryptographic algorithms. This software generates them based on spam comments…

It caught my eye as a sort of “spinning spam into RNG gold”, or more likely, PRNG (pseudo-random number generated) gold. Many WordPress blogs, whether self-hosted on WordPress.org or not, effectively use Akismet as a comment spam sieve. As I’ve learned during my time with WordPress, and with spam comments, Akismet will not publish comments that it identifies as probable spam. This provides a possibly crucial aspect of SecurityDump’s application:

no one will be able to see the source of your numbers, unless they hack into your database

All the details are available on the Google project site for WPRandom, Problems and Attack Vectors wiki. I have no idea if SecurityDump worked the bugs out of this yet or not. I found it an amusing idea, though, to squeeze some genuine value from the efforts of spammers.

Published in: on October 5, 2012 at 3:51 am  Comments (8)  
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SHODAN related infosec assortment

wiki defcon 2

The other Defcon

I never attended DEFCON, though it remains a dream I hope to realize one day, soon. It may soon become too logistically awkward due to increasing numbers of attendees.

Shodan is a remarkable search engine. Traditional search engines use “spiders” to crawl websites. Shodan culls data from ports. It was created by John Matherly in 2007. He continues to develop it.

Shodan is helpful for locating web server vulnerabilities. It is available as a free service, for up to 50 searches. Query syntax includes searches by country, host name, operating system and port. Shodan can search for software AND hardware. It has been acknowledged by mainstream media. The most prominent coverage was in early June, via The Washington Post, when Stuxnet received so much press attention.

Me and Shodan

Next is my Scribd infosec collection. It isn’t exclusively Shodan-related. This is why. (more…)

Published in: on June 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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Periodic Table Gallery

An exciting time for chemistry

Two new elements, flerovium and livermoreium, also known as Fl and Lv, and formerly known by the much blander names of ununquadium and ununhexium, have been approved for entry[1] into the Periodic Table of the Elements!

timmurtaugh via Flickr

The Periodic Tattoo of Elements

In honor of the event, I assembled a minor gallery of favorite periodic tables.

The children’s Periodic Table on the U.S. EIA site provides the basics. Better yet, it links to the Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) Periodic Table, which is just as impressive and complete as I would expect.

Mendeleev and Dave Hobart

Celebrating the 175th birthday of Mendeleev’s Periodic Table

While viewing, consider a recent post by senior LANL employee David Hobart, Actinide Analytical Chemistry, History of the periodic table…and my history with it, which was charming, as well as educational.

There is an “evolution of the table” section, facts about the table’s inventor, Dmitri Mendeleev, born 175 years ago[2], and this:

As the legendary physicist Richard Feynman put it, “If some universal catastrophe was to engulf the world and humankind could retain only one scientific concept to rebuild civilization, what would it be? The chemist’s answer is almost invariably the Periodic Table of the Elements.

Memorable periodic tables (more…)

Published in: on March 24, 2012 at 9:02 am  Comments (7)  
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Ad hoc text analytics

Twitter 2009

I found an old sentiment analysis application. It has very unglamorous packaging but a  good algorithm under the hood. I ran the Twitter user id’s of the brightest people I know. well, know of, who are active Twitter users. The assessment of “bright” was subjective by me.  All are acknowledged experts or advanced degree holders. Maybe half speak English as a second language, but are sufficiently articulate that their “essence”, well, intelligence shines through.

Guess what: It worked! I don’t know if anyone cares about this sort of thing, that really sharp successful people score well on this sentiment analysis indicator. That doesn’t necessarily mean it would have any predictive value. And no one seems to care much about this anyway. But what I’m saying is that most of these people only have okay-ish Klout scores e.g. 40’s. But they’re not trying to use Twitter for any particular social media purpose. Well, I don’t know that with certainty.

Published in: on February 13, 2012 at 6:00 pm  Comments (6)  
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Chart art

Edward Tufte’s first text, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, introduced standards for graphical representation. It is considered the definitive guide for visual display of complex data.

UPDATE 4 September 2014

Mind map about Tufte data visualization

Visualization of Edward Tufte visualizing data

Visualizing Edward Tufte’s thought processes

I found this while surfing Flickr. Austin Kleon of Austin, Texas is the artist. The image represents the cognitive process by which Edward Tufte transformed raw data into digestible information while writing Envisioning Information, one of his many follow-on publications to Visual Display. It is a mind map.

Tuftese

IEEE Spectrum’s Innovation blog featured the topic of data visualization, profiling Edward Tufte as a practitioner. The emphasis was unusual for IEEE. “Tufte-isms” explores how Tufte’s ideas have influenced language:

Tufte, it turns out, is not only a doyen of data visualization but also a neologist par excellence. His most famous term might be chartjunk, which refers to chart elements that not only serve no purpose but may in fact hinder understanding. In Tuftese, when chartjunk takes a cartoonish form…the result is a chartoon.

SAS* surprise

(more…)

Published in: on February 4, 2012 at 10:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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Taleb and the language of risk

Black Swan by T Mann courtesy of Wikipedia

The original Black Swan

Last night I read about The Black Swan a.k.a. Nassim Taleb on EL&U SE (English Language and Usage StackExchange website). Apparently Professor Taleb wants to introduce a new word to the vocabulary of global financial collapse, antifragility:

So let us coin the appellation “antifragile” for anything that, on average, (i.e. in expectation) benefits from variability.

Consensus on EL&U was that this was blatant tub-thumping by Taleb.

The original Black Swan

I agree with my EL&U comrades-in-arms: Antifragility will cause obfuscation. There are many adequate, extant words*that Taleb could use. Instead, he is intent on creating a term that will be uniquely associated with him. I am not convinced that there ARE any entities that benefit from variability. A delta hedge that is long volatility is the only construct that I can think of off-hand, and I don’t think something that contrived was what Taleb had in mind.

Nassim Taleb already co-opted “Black Swan”. If Thomas Mann were still alive, I think he would have a decent case for plagiarism or even theft of intellectual property. Couldn’t Taleb have thought of an expression that wasn’t previously used by someone who won a Nobel Prize in Literature, who wrote a book with the same title, and pertaining to an anomalous event, also known as a statistical outlier?

Anyway, after the briefest of browsing on a search engine or two for antifragility, antonyms and humor, I found Fragile Web Development with SQL on Rails(more…)

Published in: on February 1, 2012 at 6:28 am  Comments (8)  
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