Misc: December 2009 Archives


December 31, 2009

This decade retrospective post is in conformance with Section 123(a)(1)(j)(ii)(c) of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

During this decade, I had the opportunity to use many great fasteners, but in my opinion the best of these was the 10-24 rack mount screw—Allen head, of course, superior to the #2 Phillips (too finicky), and the Robertson (too Canadian). Other excellent choices include the zip tie, 5 minute epoxy, and duct tape.


December 12, 2009

Terence Spies recently pointed me to the results of survey on a variety of controversial philosophical issues. It's actually surprising how little consensus there is on some pretty straightforward questions:

Newcomb's problem: one box or two boxes? [* -- EKR]

Other 441 / 931 (47.3%)
Accept or lean toward: two boxes 292 / 931 (31.3%)
Accept or lean toward: one box 198 / 931 (21.2%)

... Teletransporter (new matter): survival or death?

Accept or lean toward: survival 337 / 931 (36.1%)
Other 304 / 931 (32.6%)
Accept or lean toward: death 290 / 931 (31.1%)


Zombies: inconceivable, conceivable but not metaphysically possible, or metaphysically possible? [* -- EKR]

Accept or lean toward: conceivable but not metaphysically possible 331 / 931 (35.5%)
Other 234 / 931 (25.1%)
Accept or lean toward: metaphysically possible 217 / 931 (23.3%)
Accept or lean toward: inconceivable 149 / 931 (16%)

One thing that surprises me is that quite a few more people (56.4%) accept physicalism of the mind than survival in the teletransporter scenario (36.1%). I'm not saying that there is a straight line reduction from physicalism to survival, but you're think they'd be pretty connected. In other news, 72.8% of philosophers accept or lean towards atheism.

Another odd feature of this survey is that the questions are deliberately sketchy unless you're familiar with the jargon (hence my links above). The survey authors explain this as follows:

The questions are phrased in a minimal way, in part because further clarification would usually be tendentious and would call for still further clarification in turn. Of course any philosopher can find ambiguity or other problems in such a question, so a number of "other" options are available. Nevertheless, we strongly encourage you to adopt the most natural interpretation of each question and to report an acceptance or a leaning toward one side or the other wherever possible.

For the record: my positions are two boxes, survival, and no idea.


December 6, 2009

Check out this fascinating NYT article on the use of fake badges by New York City police officers (þ Emergent Chaos). The executive summary is that unlike other jurisdictions, the NYPD treats badges like they are made of gold:
In many other cities officers are allowed to have more than one badge, or do not get penalized for losing their badge if promptly reported.

"I remember asking in Miami, 'What happens if you lose a shield?' " said John F. Timoney, the departing chief of police there, who was a first deputy commissioner in New York. "They said, 'You get another one.' It's no big deal."

Mr. Timoney said that he never had a dupe, but that plenty of friends did. "They were so paranoid, they would get a dupe, then they would hide the original in a safe until they retired," he said.


Fake badges cause so much concern that when officers are promoted or retire and are required to turn in their shields, they must place them in a special mold at Police Headquarters to ensure that they fit. That's because most duplicates are purposely made slightly smaller to distinguish them from the original.

Metal badges, while an important symbol of authority, are a lousy method of actually establishing legitimate authority. I have no idea whatsoever what a legitimate NYPD badge looks like and I doubt you do either. Moreover, as this article establishes, it's relatively straightforward to make a fake that is mostly indistinguishable from the real thing (you noticed that the fake badges are deliberately different, right?) An identification card is a much better choice: they're probably not any harder to forge (though potentially you could use holograms and the like as anti-forgery measures), but they have the advantage of being biometrically tied to the holder, so if you do lose your badge then it can only be immediately used by someone who looks a lot like you, which is a lot better than use by anyone who picks it up.

Given that, other than tradition, fetishization of the badge, etc. it's not clear what the virtue of keeping a really tight rein on legitimate badges is. Indeed, if officers are so terrified of losing their real badges that they respond by getting fake badges, then the result may be that they take less care with them than if they were merely told to be careful with minimal penalties. Moreover (as has often been observed about fake ids), you've just created a real infrastructure in the production of legitimate-appearing badges. So, whereas ordinarily if someone wanted to impersonate a policy officer they might need to buy a rare lost badge or find someone to do a custom job, now there are plenty of people set up to make high quality duplicates.

Oh, I should mention that this passage reflects a rather odd theory of authenticity:

Called "dupes," these phony badges are often just a trifle smaller than real ones but otherwise completely authentic.

Marcel Duchamp, call your office..