Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Gut assement glitches

We like to think that we are experts at sizing people up.  On the basis of brief encounters we size people up.
But at least in the cases were people know they are being assessed, and thus can put on their social face, the numbers don't look real good.
Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, 17 January 2014 (hat tip: MR)
"We have a deep-seated need to feel that we can judge character," Jason Dana, of Yale University, told the Boston Globe recently. But many studies suggest we can't – and a new paper co-authored by Dana is especially damning. He looked at "unstructured interviews", the free-wheeling kind of interview that's usually crucial to getting a job. Participants were asked to predict the academic performance of two college students: in one case, they were given data on the student's past achievements, age etc; in the other, they got the data, plus a chance to interview the student. Consistently, interviewing led to less accurate predictions. The students who looked best "on paper" really were. Of course, you might have other reasons for wanting to see how someone handles themselves in conversation, but for forecasting performance, gut feel got in the way.
Technically, the problem with unstructured interviews (or dates) isn't that they're insufficiently informative. It's that they're too informative. Bombarded by data, we seek refuge in "sensemaking", clinging to stories that seem to render things clear. But those stories might include racist or sexist stereotypes about who's good at what. Or they might be the seductive stories of candidates skilled at interviews, yet rubbish at the job itself. "Because of sensemaking," the researchers write, "interviewers are likely to feel they are getting useful information from unstructured interviews, even when they are useless." Settling on a coherent story feels good, but that doesn't mean it's accurate.
The one question that they note a correlation, "Do you like beer?" to first date sex, reminds me of the statistic that one of the best predictors of early sex by woman is that they smoke cigarettes. One doesn't exactly lead to the other, but certain groupings of non-random behavior, overwhelm the random portions.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Feral Cities

 There are all sorts of ways for civilization to end.  They need not be global, nor fast.

Feral Cities (pdf)
Richard Norton, Naval War College Review, 2003
Imagine a great metropolis covering hundreds of square miles. Once a vital component in a national economy, this sprawling urban environment is now a vast collection of blighted buildings, an immense petri dish of both ancient and new diseases, a territory where the rule of law has long been replaced by near anarchy in which the only security available is that which is attained through brute power.  Such cities have been routinely imagined in apocalyptic movies and in certain science-fiction genres, where they are often portrayed as gigantic versions of T. S. Eliot’s Rat’s Alley.. Yet this city would still be globally connected. It would possess at least a modicum of commercial linkages, and some of its inhabitants would have access to the worlds most modern communication and computing technologies. It would, in effect, be a feral city.
I saw this quote in David Kilcullen's Out of the Mountains.  As he notes, That this kind of city " has no essential services or social safety net. Human security becomes a matter of individual initiative-conflict entrepreneurs and community militias emerge, Mad Max style.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Combative moves from chess

This is a nice enough piece on World Chess Champion, Magnus Carlson who hails from Scotland.

It notes the he is a particularly nettlesome foe, and I thought that the idea of being a nettlesome foe seemed like a pretty good idea to me.  Given the dueling nature of chess, it is not surprising that some of the moves sound rather militaristic in tone.

The nettlesome World Champion
Jonathan Rowson, The Herald (Scotland), 29 December 2013 (hat tip: MR)
  1. Avoid errors yourself
  2. Play relatively quickly
  3. See complexity where others assume simplicity.
  4. Develop exquisite timing for when to change the nature of the position.
  5. Navigate towards positions where there are no obvious moves.
  6. Believe in your opponent's greater and ultimate fallibility.
  7. Keep going relentlessly.
  8. Be ever ready to pounce.
  9. Kill them without mercy.
  10. Smile for the cameras.
Hmmm... Oh, well.  Not exactly an easy set of advise to follow: for chess or life in general.   The general concept of being relentless and seizing on moments of opportunity are probably reasonable.  Being remorseless in combat is usually not too hard; most people are too scared to do otherwise once they get going.
But, all and all, not a universally transferable list.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Robot metal bands

Well we have had virtual girlfriends, and robot waitresses, so why not robot musicians.

Apparently speed metal met the human limitation, and went beyond:

In Speed Metal, Fastest Drummers Take a Beating
Neil Shah, Wall Street Journal, 29 December 2013
When new technologies arrived, metal drumming standards entered the realm of the physically impossible. Today, many bands write songs using computers without even rehearsing them. When an English band recently came to Mr. Mynett's studio, "none of the musicians could play the parts they'd written," he said.'... Paradoxically, to make drum tracks sound more human, metal producers deliberately introduce mistakes into their own programming. "They cover it up," Mr. Mynett says. "The idea is to make people think the virtuoso is real."
This sleight of hand can cause embarrassing missteps live, but bands often rely on some computer drum tracks for concerts, too—especially if performances are recorded for a live album, says producer Russ Russell, 44, from Northamptonshire, in central England. "There are some 'live' albums where there's not that much 'live' on it."
Too funny. Where is Sarah Conner when we need her?
Apparently, a fuller version of the idea has already been explored.
Robot Rock (from video here)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Inside meth

The widespread use of meth, goes a long way toward making our countryside a unified whole, with our hollowed out suburbs, and half-abandoned urban cores.  Think of it as a successful sort of multiculturalism - granted of a hellish sort.
A professor, foolish or brave, embedded himself into the modern meth culture of Jefferson County, Missouri.
He had many interesting items to note, but I thought one unusual, but on target comment was:

I Embedded with a Community of Meth Users
Alice Robb, New Republic, 6 January 2014 (hat tip: MR)
It’s like you or me taking ADHD meds—a sort of legitimated form of speed. Adderall is middle-class meth. It motivates people to produce themselves as the kinds of avid, goal-pursuing, risk-taking and at-the-ready subjects of late capitalism. The stressed, anxious and overworked individuals that animate many segments of the US ‘mainstream’ economy are perhaps the more presentable kin of the emaciated, toothless, pockmarked, wide-eyed and busy meth users I encountered.
It's interesting to see that the original headline appears to have been something like "Meth: Adderall for Construction Workers".  We are indeed a self-medicating society.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Apocalyptic fishing

As Yves noted at the tail end of the link (see hat tip) “These stories will pop up with ever more frequency in the future. Considering that over 1 billion people strictly depend on fisheries for most of their protein intake, this could turn very ugly in the not-so-long run.”
Jess Bridgood, New York Times, 31 December 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Shrimping in the Gulf of Maine was so bad last season that Randy Cushman, a longtime fisherman, wondered if there was any point in going out at all.
“I can honestly say it was the worst catch that I’ve ever seen in my career,” said Mr. Cushman, 51, who has captained a boat for more than 30 years. “I was calling people and saying, ‘Let’s shut this fishery down, this is stupid.’ ”
Regulators recently did just that, closing the 2014 Gulf of Maine shrimping season — which, in a normal year, might have run from December through the spring — to give the supply time to recover.
Catastrophic fishing events are no longer big news.  Ouch!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Terminal lunar cataclysm

The stability of our solar system is an illusion of our short time span looking at it, and Newtonian Clockwork physics.  There has been a lot of movement.

At one point Jupiter comes in close enough to the Sun to seriously mess up Mars.  Earth would have been toast, but it did not exist yet.

There is the potential for further movement.

The Madness of the Planets
Corey S. Powell, Nautilus, 12 December 2013 (hat tip: NC)
So are we home free? No again. “The terrestrial planets, they are not totally stable,” Morbidelli says. That instantly captures my attention: Earth is one of the four terrestrial planets. “Mercury is on the edge of the instability, and it could go nuts, start to encounter Venus, then the orbits of Venus and the Earth could become unstable themselves.” From there, Venus could collide with Earth, or Earth could go careening off on a totally new orbit, sterilizing the planet. The odds are not great, but they’re not all that small either—about 1 percent over the next few billion years.
I have been re-reading Lucifer's Hammer, so this is all of interest to me.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Pot shots at power

I am not sure what to think of this one. It occurred around the time of the Boston Marathon attack, but does not appear to be linked.  It took a little while for the news to percolate to a national level.
Sounds sort of Uni-Bomber-like to me, but within a group setting.
Shane Harris, Foreign Policy, 27 December 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Around 1:00 AM on April 16, at least one individual (possibly two) entered two different manholes at the PG&E Metcalf power substation, southeast of San Jose, and cut fiber cables in the area around the substation. That knocked out some local 911 services, landline service to the substation, and cell phone service in the area, a senior U.S. intelligence official told Foreign Policy. The intruder(s) then fired more than 100 rounds from what two officials described as a high-powered rifle at several transformers in the facility. Ten transformers were damaged in one area of the facility, and three transformer banks -- or groups of transformers -- were hit in another, according to a PG&E spokesman...
"These were not amateurs taking potshots," Mark Johnson, a former vice president for transmission operations at PG&E, said last month at a conference on grid security held in Philadelphia. "My personal view is that this was a dress rehearsal" for future attacks.
Having done a little work around utility systems, I can second the articles comments that this is not the work of neophytes to the power grid.