Sunday, August 13, 2017

Programming and Programmers

My first computer was a used IBM 709 and the language was FAP, or Fortran Assembly Programming. The input was a paper tape! Yes, boys and girls, there were such things. I used it to analyze acoustic feedback instabilities in public address systems.

Does this talent make one better? In my opinion, not really. Programmers today are labor and VCs are capital. One should go back and read Marx.

Everything is divided into labor and capital

The software engineers are labor and the VCs and management are capital

Capital needs labor, especially in Silicon Valley, to think they are paid lots so that the value of capital's assets increase, such as real estate

Capital demands labor be compliant and not rebel

However there is a natural dialectic, labor vs capital, and this is just the beginning of that Hegelian dialectic, there will be more.

Thesis is the current model of the allocation of capital and labor.

Antithesis is the recognition by labor that they are being manipulated.

Synthesis will be the revolutionary change that is inevitable in this industry.

Strange that quasi Marxists, namely the current Capitalists, are in reality playing our Marx in real life, as capitalists!

Just a thought. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny, or What Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg

In Nature there is an article where they are applying the AI worlds approaches to plant systematics. Namely the process of sorting and arranging plants. They note:

There are roughly 3,000 herbaria in the world, hosting an estimated 350 million specimens — only a fraction of which has been digitized. But the swelling data sets, along with advances in computing techniques, enticed computer scientist ... and botanist ..., to see what they could make of the data. ... team had already made progress automating plant identification through the Pl@ntNet project. It has accumulated millions of images of fresh plants — typically taken in the field by people using its smartphone app to identify specimens. Researchers trained similar algorithms on more than 260,000 scans of herbarium sheets, encompassing more than 1,000 species. The computer program eventually identified species with nearly 80% accuracy: the correct answer was within the algorithms’ top 5 picks 90% of the time. That, says Wilf, probably out-performs a human taxonomist by quite a bit.

Now having done this a few decades ago,  and still proceeding to do so with Hemerocallis, the answer is not form but simple genetics. Sequence the genes, then using a mutation hypotheses base determine how the genes evolved. The use the shapes to see the effect. As is well know this process has been around since Linnaeus and it suffers from substantial defects. Just because a form looks close to something says nothing about the genetic evolution.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Those in Glass Houses Should Not Throw Ginkgo Nuts

I grow Ginkgo trees. This is a view of this year's Ginkgo nuts, ready to drop and then off to the cooling off period before potting for next season. Ginkgo trees are ancient, one of the gymnosperms or naked seed plants. Surviving for millions of years, amongst multiple climate changes and assaults. They line the streets of New York because they thrive on pollution. Good friends for humans. I have a few dozen on my land alone.

Now seventy two years ago today my father and his shipmates were in the North Pacific preparing for an invasion of Japan. They were the survivors of the battles at Leyte, Saipan, and other places in the Pacific. They had already been given their winter gear in preparation of the invasion. They knew how bloody Okinawa was and were preparing for even worse.
The above is what they found in Manila. The Japanese did this. Thus they truly feared what they would be up against in the invasion of the islands.

Then late in the day of the 6th of August they heard about Hiroshima. They did not cheer, the cried. For they knew this this was the true beginning of the end and that they would now have a chance of seeing their children.

Thus when revisionist "historians," such as the one in the New York Times, bemoans:

The Hiroshima ginkgos, the tenacious older siblings of the tender green trees in front of our North Carolina house, were able to resist the most devastating outcome of science and technology, the splitting of the atom, a destructive power that could turn the whole planet into rubble. Those trees’ survival was a message of hope in the midst of the black rain of despair: that we could nurture life and conserve it, that we must be wary of the forces we unleash.

They fail to understand that this plant had managed a survival of even greater proportions.  Referring to the Japanese curator who introduced this writer to the tree the author states:

By then middle-aged, his body was a testament to that war crime and its aftermath. One ear was flat and mangled, his hands were gnarled, and from a finger on each grew a black fingernail.

One can vehemently object to the use of the pejorative term, "War crime", as if war itself is not the very crime he detests. The Pacific was strewn with bodies. My uncle was riddled with Japanese machine gun bullets on Okinawa, yet survived, along with his men, and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The devastation on Okinawa was just a prelude to what would have happened on the main islands. I would take umbrage to the term "war crime". Neither the survivors nor the tree deserve such.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Guess Who Is Coming to Dinner?

Yep, it is that MIT Professor who thinks all of us out here in the real world are so stupid...Now he wants to teach us economics!

He tells us:

I’m excited to announce the launch of a new course on edX that covers Introductory Microeconomics. I’ve wanted to do a course like this for years. I have always found economics provides a terrific way to think about the world. Economics principles explain so much of what drives our everyday life: how people decide which goods to buy and how to spend their time; how firms set prices and hire workers, and whether the outcomes of markets are fair and efficient. These economics principles were inspirational to me when I first learned them as an undergraduate. I have gone on to apply to them to a set of topics I am passionate about, both as a Professor at MIT and as a policy expert for both state and local governments. Whether in the classroom, in Washington D.C., or in state capitals, I have found that basic economic principles never lead me wrong in terms of explaining important aspects of the world.

But wait, I thought we were beyond the pale, uneducateable, devoid of any intellectual merit. I guess it is like all those Shark movies, a shark can attack in any form, Zombie Shark anyone!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Health Care, Economists and Reality

The Health Care market is complex, and to understand it one must drop back and ask two questions. First, just what are we trying to accomplish with Health Care. Second, are there other examples of “insurance” that people buy which seems to work?

Let us answer these two questions quickly. First we want Health Care so that people who are sick can be treated in the best reasonable manner. Note I did not say best possible manner. It should be reasonable based on resources available. However if someone can afford more than they can personally buy more. Second, we have many examples of such an approach apart from Health Care. Namely home, auto, liability insurance.

What makes the other insurance factors work? Simple:

1. They are bought as an individual not through companies as a benefit. Every buyer gets to make their own choice.

2. Minimum levels are coverage are mandated but they really are minimal to protect third parties such as liability limits.

3. Added coverage is optional and can be purchased.

4. It is not tax deductible.

5. There is an un-insured motorist pool which can be made akin to the high risk medical pool.

6. Insurance companies are many and compete aggressively for customers.

Thus we have thousands of examples of such coverage. Then why is Health Care so crazy. Well there are many people who think they know.

In a recent NY Time article by an often self-proclaimed top economist the author states:

In Econ 101, students learn that market economies allocate scarce resources based on the forces of supply and demand. In most markets, producers decide how much to offer for sale as they try to maximize profit, and consumers decide how much to buy as they try to achieve the best standard of living they can. Prices adjust to bring supply and demand into balance. Things often work out well, with little role left for government. Hence, Adam Smith’s vaunted “invisible hand.” Yet the magic of the free market sometimes fails us when it comes to health care. There are several reasons.

Namely he contends:

1. Externalities abound. In most markets, the main interested parties are the buyers and sellers. But in health care markets, decisions often affect unwitting bystanders, a phenomenon that economists call an externality.

Now the externalities are also the unintended consequences. All too often whenever Government gets into the fray we see unintended consequences. Why? Simply because almost all legislation is written by lobbyists who serve the interest of their employers. The more legislation the more externalities. Externalities rare a result of the way legislation is created not inherent in Health Care.

2. Consumers often don’t know what they need. In most markets, consumers can judge whether they are happy with the products they buy. But when people get sick, they often do not know what they need and sometimes are not in a position to make good decisions. They rely on a physician’s advice, which even with hindsight is hard to evaluate.

Well consumers do not know what fender will get crushed by some moron trying to squeeze between you and an eighteen wheeler. You need coverage not specificity. That is the nature of insurance. When my car gets hit I do not know how to repair the fender or how to price it out. Same for dozens of other insurance markets. I am buying a policy to cover the unknown. Thus this reason is without merit.

3. Health care spending can be unexpected and expensive.

Same as the above. I cannot tell you when that moron in the black pickup tries to squeeze between me and the 18 wheeler. I was stopped to allow the 18 wheeler to safely turn. The moron in the pickup is just that, a moron! So his policy pays but mine increases my fee, perhaps because I did not have wings on my care to fly away. Why says insurance is logical.

4. Insured consumers tend to overconsume. When insurance is picking up the tab, people have less incentive to be cost-conscious.

Auto insurance customers do not, frequently. This is insurance fraud. They have adjustors for that. Now there is a corollary. Namely many people abuse themselves via obesity, alcohol, tobacco, and what we get is self-induced disease. That is the equivalent of a person having a multiplicity of moving violations. We have seen and addressed this element.

5. Insurance markets suffer from adverse selection. Another problem that arises is called adverse selection: If customers differ in relevant ways (such as when they have a chronic disease) and those differences are known to them but not to insurers, the mix of people who buy insurance may be especially expensive.

If everyone who drives must have insurance, actually it is the vehicle, then why not the same with Health Care. No exceptions. You may just have the minimum liability policy or you can get the top of the line. But you have it. Perhaps the bottom minimum is covered by a tax deductible. If people do not have the funds they great a tax credit to pay for it. But no free riders.

We had developed the details of such a plan some eight years ago. It is not hard and not overly costly. It gores a lot of oxen. From fat people charged a surcharge to companies getting rid of the benefit. It also get the Government out of telling me when to get a colonoscopy.

Learning to Talk ("Tawk") Like a New Yorker

I grew up on Staten Island. Now I gather that some folks grew up "in" Staten Island but grammatically that would make them a worm or gopher but I gather one must leave Grammar behind in the new Century. Now in my Senior Year of Secondary School after the Christmas break since I had already gotten into college, had my scholarships etc. I began to get a bit reckless. My father, in order to see that I stayed the straight and narrow decided I need some focusing. Now to put this in context my father was in the NYPD Youth Division and my degree of reckless behavior amounted to what today would probably make one a Saint, especially under the current management back in Rome, but I digress.

Thus my father with the agreement of the Headmaster sent me for the month of January to the NY Department of Sanitation, the Garbage folks for simplicity. Thus each day I arose at 4 AM and got the 110 Bus to another bus, and then to the NYDS garage with some 40-50 other folks. My first day I forgot my long underwear and wore chinos. It was 20 F and snowing. Needless to say I soon learned that looking "cool" was not an option.

Then out to shovel snow and collect trash. Twelve hours a day, from 6AM to 6PM, with an hour for lunch at some greasy spoon diner. I brought my own peanut butter sandwich.

What did I learn? The first was the use of the most famous profanity in New York, the one making the rounds in the current White House. After 4 years of Latin, through Virgil, I knew Grammar but I have never seen a single word which could be a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, gerund, preposition, etc ever. But I learned its usage like a pro. It made me a member of Good Fellas, I could F word with the best.

Now back to Virgil in February I learned several things. First, do not try these words out in Virgil, and do not try them in Chaucer, you see after Latin was Middle English. Where could I use my new found language. I had a good hold of street Spanish, Italian, academic French, and Latin, a smattering of classic Greek, but my Sanitation Department linguistic capabilities were homeless.

But alas, they now have a home! Doors have been opened by the literati in DC, by the very political lights that leads us forward. I have my skills fine tuned to take on any position in Government!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Going to the Movies

For over a hundred years when one wanted to go to the movies one saw a film that was of interest, found a theater that was showing it and then went to buy a ticket, arriving early if it was popular. The one sat through 30-40 minutes of painful video from ads to previews, oftentimes breaking eardrums.

Now it has changed. Really. You must go on line, choose your seat, choose your time, buy your ticket, and then off to the theater you go. There is no first come first served at the ticket counter, and in fact there is no ticket counter, just a scanning device that allows you entry into massive seats and still the same boom box.

But I suspect that one can now arrive respectfully late, avoid all the promos, and just see the film. This is a cultural change and I wonder where it may take us.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Most Influential Science Books

What can be influential in science, what books for example. The Guardian has run a piece and Richard Dawkins's Selfish Gene comes out on top. They note[1]:

Debates about the most influential science book of all time habitually settle into a face-off between Darwin’s Origin of Species and Newton’s Principia Mathematica. But a poll to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Royal Society science book prize returned a more recent winner: Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene. Dawkins took a decisive 18% of the vote, while Darwin was jostled into third place by Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything in the Royal Society poll of more than 1,300 readers. As interesting as the votes on the 10 books shortlisted for contention was the often passionate championship of titles that were left off the list. They were dominated by physics and cosmology. Silly not to include David Deutsch, sniffed one of many, who cited a range of works by the Oxford-based quantum physicist. Carl Sagan’s “mind-blowing” 1980 TV tie-in Cosmos garnered a clutch of votes from fans who described it as life-changing.

Now I thought about some of the works I have read over the years and especially the ones I have re-read, some several times. My most favorite is the two volume auto biography of Norbert Wiener. Each time I go through it I see more and more. It is the mind of a mathematician, a brilliant mind. Many think Norbert as a bit of an odd duck and in the Engineering world the folks like Shannon much more, but there is nothing like Wieners autobiography. It is a snapshot in time and a time when one could roam across the world and share ideas.

Now on to my list:

1.     Bell, Men of Mathematics
2.     Einstein, Relativity
3.     Einstein, The Meaning of Relativity
4.     Feynman, QED
5.     Feynman, The Character of Physical Law
6.     Gamow, One, Two, Three…Infinity
7.     Schrodinger, What is Life?
8.     Shannon and Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communications
9.     Watson, Double Helix
10.  Watson, Molecular Biology of the Gene
11.  Wiener, Cybernetics
12.  Winograd and Flores, Understanding Computers and Cognition

Just some thoughts.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

CBO Numbers

The CBO issued a report on the savings when eliminating Obamacare. They state:

CBO and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) have completed an estimate of the direct spending and revenue effects of the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act of 2017, an amendment in the nature of a substitute to H.R. 1628, which would repeal many provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). According to the agencies’ analysis, enacting the legislation would decrease deficits by $473 billion over the 2017-2026 period

Yet if you look at what they reported a day ago the savings would be almost $600 billion per-year! How can anyone believe these folks! What number is ever real! Well it is Washington after all.