Misc: October 2008 Archives


October 28, 2008

Tech lawyer Jennifer Granick's 2008 Election slate card is up. I'm a little puzzled by her argument against Prop 6:
PROPOSITION 6: Police and Law Enforcement Funding. Criminal Penalties and Laws: No
Shall of minimum of $965,000,000 of state funding be required each year for police and local law enforcement?

This proposition and Prop 9 are put on the ballot to (1) build more prisons and (2) send more people there. Incarceration is expensive and wasteful. Plus, here's what the Bay Guardian says about the main proponent of Props 6 and 9:

One man is largely responsible for both the misguided "tough on crime" propositions on this year's ballot: billionaire Broadcom Corp. cofounder Henry Nicholas, who has poured millions into the two campaigns. But a funny thing happened to Nicholas on the way to becoming California's poster boy for law and order. In June, he was indicted on numerous counts of securities fraud and drug violations (including spiking the drinks of technology executives with ecstasy and operating a "sex cave" staffed with prostitutes under his house).

Sex cave.

Isn't this an argument for prop 6? I guess not if you're not invited to the sex cave? Actually, WTF is a "sex cave"?


October 24, 2008

Put in your Etymotics (what? you don't have Etymotics? Get some), put on Peter Gabriel's Here Comes The Flood, close your eyes, and listen. Your ears will thank me.

October 20, 2008

Newswire reports on a Korean claim that they can produce hydrogen from water vapor dramatically more efficiently than current processes:
He said "Our laboratory tests show that CO2, CH4, or N2O was dissociated by low energy. We also confirmed that hydrogen (H2) and vapor(H2O) was dissociated with similar efficiency (90% or more). Traditionally hydrogen is made by electrolysis. The electrolytic method uses 4-4.5 kwh energy for getting 1 cubic meter of hydrogen. Our method uses 0.1 kwh for the same volume of hydrogen. As known the high cost of electrolytic H2 does not allow to use it as a fuel.

I'm skeptical of this for two reasons. First, the standard method of hydrogen production isn't electrolysis, it's "steam reforming", which Wikipedia claims has an 80% efficiency. Second, the efficiency of electrolysis appears to hover around 50% (wikipedia again).Given this, it's hard to see how you can get an improvement of over an order of magnitude.

Even if we ignore these issues, the energetics seem problematic. The formation of H20 (gas) via the reaction of oxygen and hydrogen produces around 240 kJ of heat/mole of hydrogen. Running the reaction in reverse, we expect to consume around 240 kJ of energy/mole of H2, which gives us the thermodynamic limit for the amount of energy required to produce hydrogen from water. The article quotes .1 kwh/cubic meter of hydrogen. Assuming that's at STP, then that's about 50 moles of hydrogen (a mole of gas has a volume of about is 20 liters). So, if we divide by 50, we get .002 kwh/of hydrogen per mole. 1 kwh is 3.6x10^6 J, so if we multiply out (.002*3.6x10^6) we get an energy input of 7.2x10^3 J (7.2 kJ). So, unless I've totally forgotten my thermodynamics or I've screwed up my math somewhere (both are possible, I suppose), then I don't see how this result can be correct.


October 15, 2008

John McCain has been having some trouble with people sending DMCA takedowns to YouTube for his videos. His campaign wrote to YouTube but they were uh, unsympathetic:
On a final note, we hope that as a content uploader you have gained a sense of some of the challenged we face everyday in operating YouTube. We look forward to working with Senator (or President) McCain on ways to combat abuse of the DMCA takedown process on YouTube, including, by way of example, strengthening the fair use doctrine, so that intermediaries like us can rely on this important doctrine with a measure of business certainty.

Lessig argues that political ads should be privileged:

Chris Soghoian of Berkman has a nice post about McCain/Palin's call on YouTube to review takedowns from campaigns before taking them down. He criticizes it as "special rules."

True enough, it is a special rule. But isn't it appropriate? For here's the new game for politics in the YouTube age: complain enough to get an account shut down (according to YouTube testimony, 3 complaints gets an account shut down (pg 17 near the bottom), and ideally, do it at the critical time just before an election.

Of course, no one should be subject to this arbitrary game. But especially a campaign. Let's start here and begin to build out from a clear example of bad incentives.

This strikes me as exactly backwards: unlike you and I, McCain is actually in a position to do something about DMCA abuse: he can introduce legislation to amend the DMCA to make takedowns a lot harder to send. Why should he be allowed to avoid the consequences of laws like this, as opposed to having his incentives aligned with mine?

Incidentally, I don't really understand why presidential candidates need YouTube. YouTube is providing three services here: (1) conversion to FLV (2) advertising and (3) bandwidth. You can get your own FLV converters and it's not like the McCain campaign really needs YouTube's mechanisms to help people find their videos, so this leaves bandwidth. Obviously, it's cheaper to have someone else host your data, but with FLV chewing up about .5 Meg/minute and bandwidth running at << $.10/GB (my not especially cheap hosting service provider will sell you a flat rate 100 Mbps port for $6500/month), it's not out of the question to just host it yourself either. This has obvious advantages including not having to deal with YouTube legal.


October 8, 2008

I somehow pulled something in my back last night so forgive whatever writing comes through the Vitamin V. Anyway, I've been wanting to write about interpreting arguments through the filter of confirmation bias. Let me give you an example: someone is trying to convince you that eating meat is unethical. Halfway through the argument they also tell you that eating meat is correlated with a higher rate of heart attacks. How should you interpret this? On the one hand, this is an additional argument in favor of going vegetarian—presumably you wish to stay alive and so maybe if it's healthier you'd stop. Even if health isn't enough reason for you to switch, maybe the ethical argument had some impact but wasn't quite enough to push you over the edge, but combined with the health argument it's sufficiently convincing.

Here's the problem, though: whether eating meat is ethical has no bearing at all on whether eating meat is healthy (and mostly the other direction too, though of course if eating meat is unhealthy then there is a utilitarian argument against it being ethical). And yet people who believe eating meat is unethical are going to be a lot more likely to believe that eating meat is unhealthy (I would call this a form of confirmation bias). So, you immediately need to heavily discount the claim that eating meat is unsafe. Now, obviously, you can evaluate the arguments for yourself, but in real discussions you don't have time to completely evaluate every argument, so to some extent you rely on the fact that the person you're talking to has evaluated them and found at least the minimal factual assertions to be correct. Worse yet, you should consider discounting the claim that it's unethical: maybe there's some third reason that your interlocutor really has for being vegetarian and their ethical commitments are also the result of confirmation bias, so perhaps you should discount both their arguments, as well as any other arguments they happen to offer.

To give another example, Mrs. G recently had a conversation with a friend who's planning to vote Republican and one of the reasons he gave was some alleged political scandal involving Obama. I'm deliberately not naming it because it's irrelevant; it could just as well have been an alleged scandal involving McCain, and that's the point. Anyone who has been in the public sector for a while is going to have done some things that are questionable, or at least can be questioned. So, when tou an argument that Politician X's behavior was bad and therefore you shouldn't vote for them, it's important to figure out whether the argument is being used for support or ilumination. One test here is whether the person offering the argument thinks that any of X's primary opponents aren't corrupt. If they answer is "no", then this is suggestive (though not conclusive) of confirmation bias. What's more likely, that all of party X is corrupt or that you're the victim of confirmation bias and treating the sins of people you don't agree with more seriously than the sins of people you don't? And again, when someone offers me a lame reason for voting against X, it makes me discount their entire argument.

So, when someone offers me a bunch of logically independent reasons for policy X, my response isn't to treat them as additive, but rather that they're just throwing arguments at the wall to see what will stick, and I take them less seriously, not moreso. It's like resistors in an electrical circuit: multiple resistors in parallel have less resistance than any of the components, not more.