Monday, July 15, 2013

7 Steps to Effective Copy-Editing

Most writers need an Intellgent Editer [misspellings intentional]
Like most writers, I loathe editing. It is boring, time-consuming – but necessary. Copy-editing requires detachment. Which is difficult, since we all tend to get attached to our work – an issue I addressed earlier using the lens of Behavioral Economics' IKEA Effect.

Humans struggle with new tasks: assuming I would edit better as I grew more experienced. This seems universal. But not with editing. Months later, however, I still sucked at copy-editing.

I realized a truism: “I had no process for efficient and effective editing.” And processes at work – from checklists to project management flow charts – make me more effective than many.

But how do you bring in rational process so it does not kill the creative sparkle? I think I succeeded. But it required discovering a free online copy-editor called Pro Writing Aid (http://prowritingaid.com/).

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Don't Badger Readers with the "Never-Ending Plot Line"


Learning from Ursula K. Le Guin, Roger Zelazny, Terry Pratchett and C.K. Chesterton

Creative writing, like all arts, lacks rules: There is no algorithm that will provide a reliable best seller every time. There are conventions, of course -- writers workshop saws like "show, don't tell" and "kill your adverbs -- find stronger verbs" for instance.

In practice, there is considerable lee-way; readers read the story, and not the mechanics. For instance, many Postmodern novels break the "Third Wall," and announce that there is a narrator telling a story -- Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, a captivating literary science fiction read ruined by legions of leaden high school teachers, comes to mind. This technique earns tisks during writer's workshops. Yet, Vonnegut's wonderful character, the hapless Billy Pilgrim, and creative treatment of the themes of the pointlessness of war keeps me rereading the story every few years.

By the way, Vonnegut enchants, makes me laugh and covers an immense theme in 288 pages. That's writing. But there are, of course, trends in publishing. At present, most Fantasy -- from Urban to High Fantasy -- suffers from the Multi-Tome-Epic-Arc plague.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Scratch my Back, I'll Scratch Yours

Reciprocity -- Scratch my back, I'll scratch yours
Help another, and they'll [be more likely] help you.
(Source: Regis-AND from Deviant Art)

The amazing social power of Reciprocity.

#2 In the Series "Applied Social Psychology"

by Leo Walsh


What makes Cognitive Science and Social Psychology fascinating to me is that we are very much "hard wired" to behave in almost scripted ways. There are itches that, try as we may, we have to scratch. Some of it is how we were raised, but a solid majority seems to be inherited. 

Arizona State University psychologist dubs one of these tendencies "Reciprocity." Which is just a fancy way of saying "One good turn deserves another." Or, "Scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." Regardless of the content, if a person does you a good turn, you are much more likely to comply with a request from them. Because we seem to maintain an internal "tit for tat" scorecard.

This is great under normal circumstances. But people can use this knowledge to exploit our better natures. This article examines Reciprocity in some depth.

I. The case of the Hare Krisna's


In his famous book on social psychology, Influence, Dr. Cialdini uses the case of the Hare Krisnas to illustrate the Reciprocity Principle.

The Hare Krisnas -- popular name for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) --  are Hindu religion based upon that country's ages deep religious traditions. It became popular with many Westerners during the late 60's. For instance, former Beatles' member George Harrison's song "My Sweet Lord," is a hymn to Lord Krisna.

However, most people in America and Britain found the Krisna's religion foreign. This posed serious fundraising issues for ISKCON. That was before, of course, the group stumbled upon an ingenious way to increase it's haul.

It went like this....
  1. A group of devotees would gather in a public place, typically an airport.
  2. They would approach a person, and give the passer-by a flower. They would insist. "It's a gift," and refuse to take it back
  3. After they "gave" the "gift," the Krisna Member would proffer their top jar. 
  4. As a result, their donations increased markedly, allowing ISKCON to purchase several large communal farms.
Notice that few "donors" supported the Krisna religion. Even fewer knew who they were. Most found them a nuisance. In fact, the comedy classic Airplane spoofs their tactice, where Robert Stack fights through a phalanx of Krisnas and other groups collecting alms.

II. Dennis Regan's experiment on returning a favor


And yet they gave. Why? Cialdini calls this type of knee-jerk reaction to social stimuli "Click-whirr."

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Science and the "Experimental Method?" -- [un]Common Sense (Pt. 3)

Image: The bottle Louis Pasture used to detect bacterial activity
The bottle Louis Pasture used to detect
bacterial activity (Wikimedia Commons)
by Leo Walsh

A lot of science relies on experiments. But not all. Massimo Pigliucci, a professor at the City University of New York, examines this issue in his wonderful book,  Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk,

Pigliucci re-considers the notion of experimentation as the "end all" of science. He lists out a series of scientific disciplines that resemble detective work rather than mad scientist, surrounded by test tubes: examples include climate science and geology. In these disciplines, scientists gather data and then "connect the dots," but cannot not run controlled experiments.

The hard sciences, like chemistry and physics, deal with simpler systems according to the author. Biological, cognitive and social sciences, by contrast, study much more complex systems.

An electron, for example, will not have it's trajectory influenced by an argument with its wife. Humans, on the other hand, are messy. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Overvaluing Our Creations

Image: I luv my Eddite
I luv my Edditer (Source: Blogspot)

How the "IKEA Effect" illustrates why writers need editors 


Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely, in his book The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic, tells of an concept dubbed "The IKEA Effect." Which means that we overvalue what we make. Even when we assemble pre-fabricated parts -- like IKEA furniture. 

If you know anything about Behavioral Economics, it turns standard economics on it's ear. Traditional Economics makes models based on assumptions. It's corner-stone assumption is that economic humans are rational, and calculate the "maximal utility" of  their decisions. 

Of course, even a cursory look at economic history makes this idea suspect. Think of the housing and internet stock bubbles. Or drill down to simpler example. Blind taste-tests show that people prefer McDonald's coffee to Starbucks' brews, yet drop $1 extra at Starbucks. 

Irrational, truth be told. 

So, Behavioral Economics begins by questioning economics' basic assumptions, using experiment instead of theory. Here is a paper from Harvard's Business School that discusses a few such experiments.  

Like all good social science experiments, Behavioral Economists' experiments are set up like a confidence game. The experimenter is the Con Artist. His subject a Patsy.

So Ariely describes an experiment he used to test the IKEA Effect. The people involved are Conman, the experimenter, and his subject, Patsy. Bystander1 & Bystander2 are people Conman recruits straight-men.

The experiment runs as follows...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How the West Was Won -- Blood Meridian

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the WestBlood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am really not sure of what I think about Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian . It traces the time an abandoned youth, "the Kid," spends rambling with the Galton gang through the ultra-violent days of the Wild West. At times the gang works as soldiers in the Indian Wars, slaughtering even the innocent, because they were paid per scalp. At other times, the gang acts like pure outlaw adventures -- for instance, tearing towns apart, or fleecing travelers at a ferry crossing that they commandeered. In fact, the majority of the book is filled with so much malicious gore -- both sanctioned and illicit -- that, after a while, the violence becomes dull as the reader grows inured -- "Okay. I get it. The world is often bloody, and men cruel."

But the way McCarthy writes about the cruelty is stark and evocative. He manages to bring a biblical cadence to the writing, while making his descriptions as stark and stripped-down as Hemingway. For instance...
"They rode like men invested with a purpose whose origins were antecedent to them, like blood legatees of an order both imperative and remote. For although each man among them was discrete unto himself, conjoined they made a thing that had not been before and in that communal soul were wastes hardly reckonable more than those whited regions on old maps where monsters do live and where there is nothing other of the known world save conjectural winds."


Indeed, McCarthy's command of language is part of the book's genius. But, unfortunately, not enough to save the book from "sagging" in the middle as the gang's catalog of atrocities grows. In fact, I left the book an my bedside for a couple weeks after getting about half way through, thinking, "where's the story?"

However, I am glad I finished. Because, like Melville before him, in McCarthy has written an evil little book, and you get the impression he feels spotless as a lamb. Indeed, Blood Meridian is even more stark than Moby Dick , and the antagonist -- the mindless cruel & sadistic, pederast & child murderer, and yet hairless and baby-like Judge -- is far more malevolent than the Great White Whale. Because, instead of representing a force of nature, the Judge is a human, who revels in humanity at its worst.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The High Price of Inequality

The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do BetterThe Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard G. Wilkinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An overall very interesting book that examines the negative impacts and/ or correlation of inequality on a variety social issues. While it seems to harp on the same theme -- inequality is bad for us, even the wealthy -- there are some times where I found myself thinking "correlation does not imply causation."

But the authors' case is very strong.

There seems little doubt that inequality, though, is driven by government policy. And thus reflects the hidden attitudes of those in power -- since the policies a nation's elite have followed across several decades and their effects are, rhetoric aside, the net effect of the power structures that run a country.

So what we are looking at is attitudes wrought in policies. Which impact people's lives, and come out as unequal distribution of income, with the rich getting richer, and the poor getting nothing.

The down side to this is that the United States is a negative outlier in nearly ever conceivable dimension when viewed against our peers. The rich get richer. Money flows into "cost-plus" military or engineers contracts given to influential contractors. And the profits flow to the wealthy shareholders, while those same companies move manufacturing jobs over seas.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

If the World was Perfect, It Wouldn’t Be

Yogi Berra (Wikimedia Commons)

Yogi Berra as the Greatest Philosopher of the 20th Century (an Idea I stole from Nassim Taleb's book "The Black Swan")

by Leo Walsh

I am a Cleveland Indians fan.

Which means that I am a "glutton for punishment," as my dad used to say.

It also means that I pretty much hate the Yankees. Because they buy up the best players in the Bigs, offering them huge salaries. Which drives up the salaries of all players, forcing the league to increase their pay scale to keep up. Which, in turn, makes it near impossible for mid-market teams like Cleveland to keep their stars. Which, then, makes easier for the Yanks to pick off the best players, increasing their revenue... Which drives up the salaries of all players... Etc. Etc. Etc.

This is because the Yankees are a "black swan." But more on that later.

My biases aside, I've gotta admit that "I love Yogi Berra." He is famous for saying things that seem completely wrong until you think about them. Here is a list of some of my favorites...

  1. “If the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be.”
  2. “90% of the game is half mental.”
  3. “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up some place else.”
  4. “Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true.”
  5. “The future ain’t what it use to be.”
  6. “Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.”
  7. “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
  8.  “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”
Of course, some of these may be apocryphal. Which Yogi addresses, with typical grace and ease...
9. "I never said most of the things I said."
Yankee or not, Yogi had wisdom. And in his interesting, and often frustrating book on randomness,  The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb makes much about the wisdom of Yogi.

For instance, take this gem: "The future ain’t what it use to be.”


Monday, June 10, 2013

Pondering the Imponderable -- Philip K. Dick's "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch"

The Three Stigmata of Palmer EldritchThe Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My love of Philip K. Dick (PKD)'s novels has always confused me. There are parts that seem dated -- like the protagonist of this novel, Barney Mayerson, sleeping with his assistant in this outing, The Three Stigmata of Eldritch Palmer . With full knowledge of his boss. And not one word about sexual harassment.

Quaint. And sexist -- though Dick really does not seem sexist.

And then there is the bad science, so typical of the era. On the surface, PKD's plots are similar to those of Frederick Pohl. Relying on easy space travel. Colonies Mars (possible, but very likely more difficult than most science fiction writers in the 50's and 60's imagined) and Venus (nearly impossible, and undesirable due to its thick atmosphere and green-house built-up heat). And, quite often, PKD's diction also seems like Pohl, Kornbluth, Smith, etc. Simple sentences. Snappy action.

And PKD's characters, in general, are flat. In this book, for instance, Leo Bulero is just a typical big businessman. Who has no ambition, no family connections, etc. His only concern is money. Another example is Mayerson's assistant, Roni Fugate. She is just a power-grabber, sleeping an manipulating her way "to the top."

But where PKD hits, he turns the trivial and campy into philosophical insights and inquiries that are, to me, captivating. He does this with wit, in a way similar to Vonnegut -- though PKD is less misanthropic. In The Three Stigmata of Eldritch Palmer PKD toys with the idea of God trying to contact humanity. And he uses a hallucinogenic drug that has some wicked after effects to examine the question, "What would it look like if a human was actually possessed by God? And if that God, wearing the mask of that human, would be able to enter people's dreams and hallucinations at will?" Which leads to the infinite regress, "Our God hallucinates a hallucination; which is contained in God's God's hallucination. Which is contained in God's God's God's hallucination.... And so on and so on, ad infinitum.

No other science fiction author does these explorations of epistemology nearly as well as PKD. And few write with the snappy wit and easy, satirical eye. So, while perhaps dated, The Three Stigmata of Eldritch Palmer was an enjoyable ride. Full of fun, with ingenious musings and an interesting concept examined in a neat way.

I would recommend this to both science fiction fans, and fans of postmodernist literature. Because, by and large, I find PKD as good as or better than most postmodernists. And a lot more fun to read due to the simplicity of style.


Leo Walsh is an author, living in Cleveland, Ohio. Follow him at http://www.leo-walsh.com/

View all my reviews

Friday, June 7, 2013

How Prevalent is Racial Profiling?

Ask yourself, "If I were to see a potential theft take place, would I treat a black perpetrator different than a white one? What about a pretty white girl"

Of course, most of us would say, "No." Mostly because most of us tell ourselves that are not prejudiced. 

That is what made this video so eye-opening. I wonder if Arizona's Sheriff Joe Arpaillo -- who has been ordered to shut down his illegal immigrant "hunting" operations -- had seen this video? Since it does point to a legitimate issue...


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

[un]Common Sense (Pt. 2) -- The Scientific Method

A woodcut from William Caxton's second edition of The Canterbury Tales printed in 1483 (Wikipedia)
A woodcut from William Caxton's second
edition of The Canterbury Tales
printed in 1483 (Wikipedia)
by Leo Walsh
I would like to start with a statement. That seems a bit too bold at first blush. But is quite profound...

"Science is not common sense. In fact, science often runs contrary to common sense." 

How can I say this? Well, let's run a little Thought Experiment.

Pretend that you suddenly wake up in an imaginary, long ago kingdom. Everyone speaks English flawlessly. But, unlike the Lilliputians, they have no fear of strangers. In fact, they embrace you, and take you in as one of their own.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Need for [un]Common Sense (Part 1)... What the case of Einstein and Eddington tell us about the power of science

Image: Albert Einstein in... Nikes?
Albert Einstein in... Nikes? (Flicker)

Observation--not Einstein's Rock-Star Status--Proves General Relativity: What does that tell you about science and scientists?

Albert Einstein was widely regarded as the sharpest scientific in the world when he published his General Theory of Relativity" in 1916. And yet, the theory was not immediately accepted.

Why? It was not verified.

General Theory, which reworked highly classical physics in the light of Einstein's verified Special Relativity, made some bold predictions. One was that the sun's gravity would displace weightless photons traveling from distant starts to earth. How could gravity effect something that is mass-less? According to the theory, massive objects actually "warped the space-time continuum."  Tough to swallow. Also, near impossible to test due to the sun's brightness.

In 1919, Arthur Eddington took advantage of a solar eclipse to measure the location of  stars, with known locations, whose light would pass near the sun. These meticulous observations confirmed Einstein's hypothesis.

As this and more evidence were collected and weighed against General Relativity's predictions, it became evident that General Relativity was an accurate model of the universe.

So what makes scientists different than most of us? 

Most of us believe what we believe, regardless of the facts. Or we tend towards "selection bias," and interpret data in a way that colors our perceptions.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Meet Author Tara Fax Hall: creator of the Lash and Promise Me paranormal series

Newest installment of Hall's Promise
Me series, "Taken for His Own"
Winding my ways through the labyrinth of writing a book, I've met a lot of interesting people who are bitten by the "writer's bug." These folks just need to write. It is an itch that they must scratch.

And these people come from all walks of life. Business people. Computer programmers. Impoverished waiters and  When I lived in Los Angeles, a couple of people in my writers' groups wrote for television. A job that they sort of despised.

Because their heart was not in it. It was just money. Sort of hearkening back to the sentiments that Seth Godin, the marketing 2.0 guru, stirred in me.

But one thing that all of these people have in common is drive. They have full-time jobs and lives. And yet they spend hours of their leisure time typing away.

And writers all have seem to have a desire to share their vision with a wider audience. And understand why others write, So, many in the writers' community spend much of their time helping other writers: critiquing drafts, suggesting changes, and helping each other get teh word about their books out. And Tara Fox Hall is no exception.

Not only is this graduate of  Binghamton University an active supporter of writers' community, but her own writing output has been prolific. In addition to working full time as a safety/ OSHA inspector, she has two multi-volume paranormal series to her name: Promise Me -- currently with 4 volumes -- and the 2 noevels and 1 novella  Lash series. And, in addition, has written some children's fiction.

Introducing Tara's newest Promise Me book. "Taken for His Own"

Friday, May 31, 2013

Write As If Your Life Depended on It

Image: "even snow melts" book cover
"even snow melts"at @Amazon
by Leo Walsh

I recently stumbled upon a short blog posting by marketing 2.0 guru Seth Godin called "As if your life depended on it" in my quest for information on  effectively market my recently published novel, even snow melts.

Ironically, Godin spoke to exactly what I was thinking about. Since there is a huge dichotomy between creating a work of art, and promoting it. Here is what Godin had to say (emphasis mine)...

"Art is best done all in, as if everything is on the line.  ... Marketing ..on the other hand, is ... a strategic game to be understood and tested."
Very true. Since when I do write fiction, I am completely focused on the creative act. Asking myself "What are my characters trying to say? Is this section, paragraph, sentence or word helping me convey my internal vision, the 'truth' as I see it and am trying to convey through my work?"

And then, I am faced with turning the work into a commodity. Which sort of bothers me. And then, I realize that the reason I wrote what I did was to communicate.

Godin continues, cautioning against being gratuitously commercial.
"The more you need to (must!) succeed at bringing the idea to market, the less success you'll encounter, because your fear will come through."
I think that we all sense that fear. Especially considering all of the free-time most writers I know devot to their craft. We toss our books to the world. And wonder if anyone will read them. Because, the dedication we show as authors aside, most of us want to either earn a living, or at least make some money from our ventures. And yet are often caught between the "sell out" vs. "starving artist" modes of thought.

Do we want to write just to be popular? Which means with calculation? Or do we just go all in? And write (or paint, sculpt, snap photos, etc) as if our lives depended on it?

I know that the best writers were artists. But many of them also had a flair for getting their works before people. Shakespeare wrote incredibly complex, poetic plays. And yet wrote for the popular theater. And I remember a story of young Jack Kerouac nearly camping in the offices of a perspective publisher who was skeptical of the free-flowing, disconnected but poetically exuberant prose of On the Road.

At the end of the day, I suppose, we've all got to live. And we have to live life to the full. So though it's a bit of a pain, why not create (live) hard, and market hard? You're only given one shot. And you may as well follow Neil Young's advice. "It's better to burn out, than it is to rust."

'Cuz rust never sleeps.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Infinite Jest: perhaps the finest American novel I have ever read

Infinite JestInfinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Leo's Rating:: 5 of 5 stars

There are some books that sit in the center of culture. Like big masses in physics, they either devour lesser tomes, or pull them into orbit about them. David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest -- like Joyce's Ulysses and Dante's Inferno were for their eras -- is one of these rare books.

Wallace displays incredible virtuosity in this book. It is by turns satirical, sad, funny and frequently heart-rending. And, like all great literature, manages to be both realistic and yet peel away the reality, to show what lies beneath the surface.

The central concern of this book is escapism. And the lengths that contemporary Americans will go through to escape our empty, frequently atomized realities. Where people are not valued as people, but value streams for mega-corporations. Often, people will go in for mindless entertainments. Like the samizdat, the movie that is supposedly so engrossing that a viewer will be consumed with watching it over and over again. They will not eat, sleep or go to the bathroom. instead, they watch.

This, of course, is "out there." And Wallace keeps this sort of tongue-in-cheek. Because it is part of a preposterous sub-plot in the book. And Wallace is pretty deft with his humor, especially when dealing with politics. Both the inept, commercialized government, and its cross-dressing secret policeman Hugh/ Helen Steeply, who functions as a tongue-in-cheek allusion to J. Edgar Hoover. And Wallace makes even the radical anti-government actors equally outrageous. By placing the main radical group in North America, the Quebec Separatists, in wheelchairs.

This is post-modern deconstruction on a massive scale. And a gas.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Following Ourselves: Cognitive Dissonance and why behavior change is sticky

Image: Smoker in front of a hospital
Image: Smoker in front of a hospital
(Source: Twelves' photostream on Flicker)

# 3 in the Series "Applied Social Psychology" 

by Leo Walsh

Human beings are strange creatures. Despite what we think, we behave in odd, irrational ways. 

One thing that has always amazed me is how loyal people can be to decisions that they have made in the past. We all like to be consistent. If you've always purchased Acme brand detergent, you always will.

And advertisers and politicians use this mental inertia to manipulate us into taking actions or buying things that are frequently not in our best interest. And quite often, we as people are unable to change our behaviors. This tendency to maintain consistency to avoid the pain and embarrassment of being wrong is what Psychologists call "Cognitive Dissonance."

1. Leon Festiger's Classic Experiment on Consistency


Leon Festiger, a professor of psychology at MIT, ran a classic social psychology experiment in 1959. As always, the experiment was set up like a classic confidence game. In this one, "Pasty" is the subject. And the experimenter is "Conman." ...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Genre writers cannot write?" Well read this book and say that...

More Than HumanMore Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am always amazed when I read authors from the Golden Age of science fiction. They write with economy. And tend to say more in 250 pages than many contemporary series say over a trilogy weighing in at 1,000 pages. I am thinking of masters like Bester, Le Guin, PKD, Heinlein and Clarke.

And now, I can add Theodore Sturgeon to that mix.

More that Human is a very interesting read. I really enjoyed the way Sturgeon tells the story. Especially in the last two parts, where the story is uncovered bit by bit as the characters come to terms with repressed memories. The technique is effective and poetic. In fact, there were times that the general style, which often runs towards the literate Gothic, reminds me a lot of Faulkner. Who said that genre writers cannot write?

The big idea in Human is "homo gestalt." That we are more than the sum of our parts. And that living in a connected network will help us all "blesh" into a single entity by each individual providing exactly what he or she does best. Anyone who has worked in a large organization or played on a sports team can sense the truth of this. For example, take a simple business organization. The sales guru has not the patience to crunch the numbers. So the finance guru must set limits to the deals the salesperson is making. But cannot program the order system so it will not allow prices below a certain threshold. So the IT guy is called to code it. Etc. But, off in the wings, there's the Industrial engineer worrying about inventory levels. And the finance guru trying to work with the engineer to minimize warehousing costs. Etc. Etc.

The big problem I have with the book, though, is that he makes this all a bit creepy. When he's just creating a complex, poetic "conceit" for teamwork, or Synergy. Sturgeon also seems to have the Social-Darwinian idea that Evolution is a climbing up, a bettering. When instead, Evolution tends to be random and driven by population statistics and probability. And, lastly, is the emphasis on psychic powers -- which are, to say the least, pretty non-scientific. So I class More than Human as a Scientific Fantasy, more in the lines of a Ray Bradbury, than as a Science Fiction tale proper.

Quibbles aside, a very good classic Science Fiction. I almost gave it five stars it was that good. So it is highly recommended to fans of Science Fiction & Fantasy.


View all my reviews

Friday, May 17, 2013

It from Bits & Bytes?: A review of James Gleick's "The Information."

The Information: A History, a Theory, a FloodThe Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick
Leo's Rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have not been this impressed with a general math/ science book since reading Douglas Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach /. Gleick's The Information introduces the reader in a pretty straight-forward way to the history of information. You learn about a lot of the key concepts -- coding, cryptography, the relationship between information & probability & entropy. And that Gleick manages to do this without reverting to the tough and often difficult math of information theory is remarkable. Since most people tend to freak out at when they see equations like this, the key equation of Information theory:

Information Theory's key equation
Fig. 1: Formula for amount of information contained within a system. 
What makes the equation interesting is that it is the same equation that describes the level of entropy, or disorder, in classical Thermodynamics. So it appears that information is essentially a force for ordering -- and is thus dis-entropic in physical systems.

And Gleick gleefully follows these ideas into some interesting fields. Of course, Information Theory stands behind computers. But it also explains the power of Gutenburg's printing press and literacy, a technology that allowed for completely reliable, accurate and interchangeable transcriptions of texts. And how this increased ability to capture and interpret information led to necessary standardization of core vocabulary (so we could understand each other better). And yet, instead of making us more regiments, those "redundancies" in language and vocabulary were, in a sense, necessary to creating truly noteworthy contributions to the world of information.

Because, following the laws of Information Theory, the most valuable message follows the rules just enough to be understood. But random enough to grant us surprise. Like, say, the regualr, almost mechanical fugues of Bach. That, for all their repetitions and formulaic adherence, still manage to delight listeners. Even today.

Gleick then expands his reach from the human world. And shows how scientist are applying the Theory to observed phenomena. He introduces us to Quantum Information Theory ("it from bit"). And how Information Theory has she light in evolution (through Dawkins) and how cells interpret the genetic code.

But Gleick finishes up on a cliff-hanger of sorts. Because, the theory addresses only information. And treats false information the same as true. And how our modern communications channels amplify these errors -- consider that about of Americans think that Barack Obama is a Muslim, despite the evidence. And points to the next level that needs to be approached: "Semantics."

But that, no doubt, is another book.

Overall, a great book. Better than Gleick's other excellent foray into theory, Chaos , The Information is a super enjoyable, easy to read book. That updated a lot of my internal paradigms about the current state of mathematical descriptions of the world that scientists apply. And made me think about communications channels -- Sender & Message & Encoding & Decoding & Receivers -- in a way that was refreshingly new.

Recommended for all science fans. And also anyone interested in communications -- writers, poets, artists, Web designers, etc.

View all my reviews

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tax Rates and Growth: What the data actually says

Cartoon of Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes confusing Bill O'Reilly
Cartoon of Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes
confusing Bill O'Reilly. (By rrllmm392 via Flicker.com)

News flash: Washington is crazy. And very often, it seems like they reject our desires. 


But, quite often, the government does do good work. And one of those bits of "excellent work" was the Congressional Research Services (CRS) 2012 research paper: Taxes and the Economy.

This paper is amazing, and does perhaps the finest job I have ever seen in asking quite frankly the question that has most of us puzzled: "What impact does the cutting of top tax rates have on the economy?" And in a few quick pages, divulges the following facts.

Overview of the CRS's findings in Taxes and the Economy.


  1. Top-Tier Tax Rates & Their Effect on GDP Growth 
    • Higher tax rates for the top 1% are weakly associated with faster GDP growth.
    • Lowering those rates leads to a slight decrease in associated GDP growth
  2. Lower Top-Tier Rates Produced only 1 Verifiable Effect
    • Consolidating income towards the top..
    • This is accomplished by redistributing wealth from the lowest two quintiles, and moving that wealth to the wealthy.
Ironically, these findings directly contradict many neo-Con fiscal policies that have been popular since Reagan. However, this has not stopped the GOP to continue to insist that "Tax cuts create prosperity. Which they do not. And yet, like I pointed out in my earlier article on the Laffer Curve, the GOP and most neo-Cons seem willfully ignorant of the import of the studies that prove their economics "incorrect."  

I would run some figures, but know that numbers often causes people's eyes to gaze over. So I took the liberty to cop a few graphics from the CRS that illustrate the real impacts of these largely destructive policies are having on the nation.

First off, let's look at the history of both the top-tier Average Tax Rates, as well as the Capital Gains Tax Rates, since the wealthy garner the majority of capitol gains (See Fig. 1).  

Notice that those rates have fallen considerably over the years. Especially from 1980 onwards, and the new neo-Con orthodoxy -- called Reaganomics, began to hold sway.

Notice that During the Clinton years, the rates were much higher than they are today. The Bush Tax Cuts of 2001 and 2004 have lowered those rates considerably. There is a solid argument that this is the cause of the deficit. Since the government is still pretty much "about the same." But the Federal income stream has slowed.
Fig. 1: Historical Trend of Top Marginal And Capital Gains Tax Rates, 1945-2011 (CRS)
Fig. 1: Historical Trend of Top Marginal And Capital Gains Tax Rates, 1945-2011 (CRS)

Next, Let's Look at The Tax Rates' Impact on GDP Growth (See Fig. 2)

Brave New WorldBrave New World by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read Huxley's Brave New World years ago -- right after I read 1984 . Back then, I found Orwell's vision creepy and scary. But less likely than Huxley's. Since I saw evidence of the population "disengaging," and "not thinking" all over the place.

Drug use in silly night clubs. Wealthy college students pulling lines of cocaine off of the bar. All the while not paying attention to things like Grenada, El Salvador, Pinochet and the Mujaheddin. And instead of reading, which takes work, people would just be vegging in front of the tube. Watching Married With Children and Beavis and Butthead .

All in all, things have not changed much. I still see Huxley's dystopia everywhere I look. Though I have grown up, and see the elitist, sophomoric flaw in my initial reasoning -- family and struggles and bills and relationships and heart break will do that to you -- there are some aspects of Huxley's dystopic vision which still ring true as steel. Becasue, all too often, people are treated like income streams. And indoctrinated into their "places" in society from birth on.

Sure, we don't play Centrifugal Bumblepuppy yet. But is X-Box much different? How many hours and dollars have been spent on video games? All the while the world is choc full of solvable problems. That we choose not to see.

So I am going to confirm my long-ago judgement: Brave New World merits five-stars. But my reasons now are different. I now see that Huxley does such an excellent job of painting two major ways that societies can dissolve into static entities.

One is the falsely conceived "Romantic" way of the "Nobel Savage." Which Huxley paints not as a Rousseau-type great place to live. Instead, in his hands, it looks pretty static. Filled with misery, devoid of science and exploration. And, since it lacks these "perspective" building elements. The "Savage" society turns in on itself. And rejects everything that smacks of newness.

But Huxley is too keen an observer to think that the rational "Scientific/ Postivistic" state would be much better. Since it would legislate out those things that make life worth living. Like love and loss. And deep attachments. And the passionate striving after things like art and "Truth". Things that take an entire being to experience, but which science and commerce just cannot provide.

What I found most incredible throughout the book was how fine Huxley draws his characters. For instance, I love that Bernard is both aware of his weakness and it's impact on him, yet is still controlled by it. He is missing the "outsiders" view that Shakespeare granted John. And thus could not see into, vocalize and then act in ways beneficial to his true self-expression. I also felt how painful it was for him to be that isolated. And how that isolation manifested itself as a desire to leverage his relationship with the Savage into a new-found popularity. Which, for a time, assuaged that isolation.

I, too, really felt for John. Who seemed dedicated to seeing people from a holistic perspective, not bound by conditioning, but inhabiting rich, complex interior worlds. Instead of being allowed to accompany Bernard to the island where other misfits were "ostracized to," he is sentenced to live life among people dominated by their conditioning. And the results -- truly tragic.

All in all, an excellent book that stands the test of time. Often funny in its satire. But ultimately a tragic look at the limits of rationality. And the inadequate responses to the dehumanization of man that both Positivism and Romanticism entail.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Review: The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thomas Pynchon manages to squeeze more meaning into 150 pages in The Crying of Lot 49 than most writers can pull off in twice that time. As always, Pynchon is a riot. His names are odd to say the least. Some examples include Oedipa and Much Maas;  Mike Fallopian; and Dr. Hllarius And his counter-cultural brain exuberantly draws up conspiracies that make Glenn Beck look sane.

Pynchon also draws a late 60's America that I know only through the movies. Cheech and Chong. "Gimme Shelter." "Easy Rider" -- which I hated. "Woodstock." "Harold and Maude" -- one of my favorite movies of all time. "Eraserhead" -- which still has me scratching my head. And "The Graduate." Etc. He paints the era with a satirical eye. A radio station with the call letters KCUF (a joke that every 13-year-old would find a gas). A half-crazed German shrink who wants to give women LSD as an experimental treatment. And the open highways and urban sprawl that the Interstate 101 (and it's elder sister, the slower 2-lane US 1, the Pacific Coast Highway) defined as it grew into present day California. Electronic music. Pimply-faced teens forming rock bands, called The Paranoids, trying to be the next "new thing." And child-actors, who starred in cheesy 1940's era action films hanging on in LA, but becoming lawyers.

Everything American. But told slant.

Thankfully, Pynchon manages to hide a lot behind the hair-brained trickery of his crazy facade. He does this more effectively than any other writer I can think of save James Joyce. And. like Joyce, Pynchon reveals, mocks, and then covers his tracks every step of the way. And thus, he forces us to be Maxwell's Demon. Separating wheat from chaffe.

And there is wheat here. A lot for such a short and, for Pynchon, approachable book.

The question central to Crying is "What it the nature of  reality?" And it's correlary "Is, indeed, reality real? Or is it just information that disintegrates into entropy between our ears?"

Pynchon never answers this head on. But he does so indirectly. Which is why he has his protagonist Oedipa Maas learn about a potentially fictitious underground postal system named W.A.S.T.E., and scrambling around California to find out what she can about it. And connecting W.A.S.T.E. to a similar delivery service burning the European Renaissance called "Trystero." Finding a strange symbol associated with both groups. And then finding that her ex, for whom she is acting as the executor for his will, has a lot of forged postal stamps. That all appear that they may, possibly be linked to W.A.S.T.E.. But, then again, may not...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

We We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am not quite sure why, but I found Zamyatin's We , considered by many to be a classic of dytopian literature, profoundly disappointing. The narrative is poorly structured, and it traces the protagonist's - the mathematician D-503 - descent into madness.

This sort of descent usually appeals to me. But here, Zamyatin leaves me cold. I never quite felt that the catalyst for D-503's madness, his love for I-330, was anything but staged. There was, it seemed, little there. And yet, this affection was supposed to instigate a "madness," which we know is love, that caused D-503's world to implode, making him unfit to exist in the perfect society, One State.

Not only is the book psychologically awkward to me, the world Zamyatin builds is filled with contradictions that, frankly, seem implausible. For instance, all citizens of One State live and work in transparent buildings, making it easier for authorities to spy on them. And yet, this state, obsessed by control, leaves the Ancient House, the sole opaque house on One State, untouched. And them allows their citizens to enter and exit said house at will. To further complicate things, Ancient House has assorted passages that, somehow, the authorities have never discovered.

Talk about your implausibilities.

And Zamyatin's style also leaves a lot to be desired. His interweaving fact and fantasy in D-503's mind seems clumsy. As does his contact with a group of free people living close to nature existing right outside the walls of One State - yet another implausibility.

There also seem to be a Romantic hint of Rousseau's "Nobel Savage" at work here. And the 19th Century's belief that rationality is flawed. And the only freedom a human can gain is by destroying rationality (One State). And replacing it with a naturalistic Utopia, where people live close to the land. Without realizing that One State is not a rational state, but a regressive state that nears theocracy in it's commitment to emotionless perfection.

So, sad to say, I cannot recommend this book. Which sucks, because I was really looking forward to reading it.


View all my reviews

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Guns, Culture and the Southern Impact: A more in depth look at the numbers

Gun Show in Houston, TX
Gun Show in Houston, TX
(Wikimedia Commons)  
Earlier, I posted an article that proposed a simple hypothesis: The gun culture is more pervasive in the southern states. And found a strong correlation between violent crime and how far south a state was. I also found that that correlation was more significant than the impact race had on violent crime.

The basic observation came from Steven Pinker's remarkable The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. But many people on political sites still questioned my results. So I dug back into the data.

Turns out that my initial findings were confirmed. Instead of all violent crime, I used murder rates in 2006 -- the only data that I could find that sperated out black from white murder rates cleanly. So, let's look at that dataset...

[It should be noted that the posted data did not include FL. And the author removed both HI and AK, and focused on the continental US.] 

Impact of Latitude Overall Murder Rate

Why We Conform: What the Asch Conformity Experiments tell us

Lemmings: "If everyone was jumping off a cliff..."
"If everyone was jumping off a cliff..."
by S1501 (Source http://s1501.deviantart.com/)

# 1 in the Series "Applied Social Psychology"

Knowledge is power, as the saying goes.

One of the greatest gifts that late 20th and early 21st centuries have given us is an appreciation of how we humans actually behave in groups. And our predictable biases that can be manipulated by dishonest marketers and hucksters to act in ways that run contrary to our best interest.

Even economics, whose classical theory includes the tenet that people in economics transactions make a rational decision to optimize their payoffs, turns out to be wrong. And people will make the same incorrect move at a relatively predictable rate. Which leads to Dan Ariely's seemingly nonsense title Predictably Irrational.

So knowledge is power. If you know that you have "defects" which kludge up you're thinking, you can defend against them.

Which leads us to today's topic: Conformity. And why do we tend to mimic others?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Impacts of Culture on Violent Crime: "Cultures of Honor" versus "Cultures of Law"

Fig. 1: Burr-Hamilton Duel
Fig. 1: Burr-Hamilton Duel (Wikipedia)
While reading Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, I was struck by something that he mentioned about "Cultures of Honor" (more info on Wikipedia) as a driving force in violence. In these Honor Cultures,  personal honor is defended directly and, when necessary, violently. These are compared to Cultures of Law, where the citizens put greater trust in the state to mediate disputes.

Historically, this manifested itself in "saving face." And dueling for perceived slights. In Western Europe, it was common to challenge a person who slights you to a duel. And it was very common in the US. In fact, even two of the most important figures in US history -- sitting Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and current Vice President Aaron Burr -- engaged in a famous duel in 1804 which left Hamilton dead.

Imagine: a Vice President shooting a cabinet member in a duel? Sounds incredible. But that is because, by and large, the United States have become, by and large, a Culture of Law in the 210 + years since then.

But, according to Pinker, there are still portions of America that that have Cultures of honor.

He brings this up to explain higher violence rates in African American communities. Since, historically, the police have been at best negligent to violence against African Americans - witness the history of lynchings in the South to Rodney King - leads to a sort of frontier justice mentality. Marginalized cultures have historically had to take justice into their own hands. Think about how the early Italian-American immigrants turned to the Mafia and the Irish to the Moll McGuire for protection since the police either ignored or were actively hostile to those communities.

Same song. Just a different group being recorded in a different year.

He also mentions that southern cultures maintain a greater need to "save face" than northern cultures. Which sounded reasonable, since southerners in my experience tend to be more hawkish. And the gun culture, as exemplified by the NRA, does seem centered around people in the southern states. So I was curious. And wanted to do a quick look at the data for myself.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

You Mean Humans Have Grown Less Violent? Steven Pinker on our better angels...

fig. 1: Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker  (wikipedia.org) 
I am currently reading The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Great book. But I kept on saying "this sounds familiar." When it dawned on me why. I've seen the basic outline for the material. I caught the basic argument in a Ted talk that Pinker gave in 2007. Which is shown below.

Often a summary is all a book needs. Indeed, when I discovered that I've already heard the material, I was almost tempted to return the book  And I'm glad I didn't.

Because  The Better Angels of Our Nature supports the hypothesis with a depth and breadth of  material that make his conjecture crystal clear. In fact, right now, I've graduated from healthy skeptic to reasonably certain that he is correct -- though I currently am only about a quarter of the way through the book. But my turning point was -- as always with nerdy me -- the data he uses. Because without data, you only have opinion. And everyone has an opinion... But with a good dataset, you have fact. And few people are armed with the truth. But to those that are, usually, goes the spoils.

He traces the decline in violence by tracing several well-documented phenomena.

  1. Plummeting murder rates in Europe after the Middle Ages. 
  2. The correlation between homicide and other violent crimes -- rape, assault, etc. 
  3. The declining percentage of the population that actually dies in war. (to See More, click below......)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Kettlebells: A better way to work out

A Russian strongman w/ kettlebell
A Russian strongman w/ kettlebell
The Gold's Gym I used to work out at in California employed a super-friendly trainer named Pam. Pam was a spark plug. She was in her early 40's, worked full time. managing a local business. She had three kids between 15 and 21. Her husband, who worked  IT support at Amgen, had just recently left her.

So, I being single at the time, I became friendly with her. And one day, I spotted her working out with with these odd weights that looked to me like cannonballs. So, I asked her about them.

She graciously took her time, and explained to me that they were called kettlebells, and originated in Russia -- though the Ottoman Turks used similar exercise systems as well. Russian exercise guru Pavel Tsatsouline brought the kettlebell craze to the West with his classic book on kettlebessl,  Enter The Kettlebell! Strength Secret of The Soviet Supermen

Like so much in fitness, Pavel was a bit of hype. He claimed it was the fasted way to strength and power. But much of that could have been fluffery. He is, after all, a marketer...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Gravity's Rainbow; "Now everybody--"

Thomas Pynchon, author of "Gravity's Rainbow"
Thomas Pynchon, author of "Gravity's Rainbow"
In celebration of Gravity's Rainbow's 40th Anniversary (or is it birthday?) I reread the book over March. And I've got to say it is still among the most challenging books I've ever read. Though, without a doubt, James Joyce's Finnegans Wake is hands down the most difficult.  I went through a brief overview of the novel, including links to some outstanding resources in an earlier posting, "Gravity's Rainbow" turns 40... and it's still amazing

Thomas Pynchon wants you to work. And, though at times the text seemed a bit dated to me -- a lot of the "hallucinations" rang of a Richard Crumb or Bugs Bunny montage to me -- there is something a lot deeper to this book. Which lacks a deep sense of humanity on one hand. But deals with science, the nature of reality, and the seeming conflict between the classical and quantum world views that it is still among a handful of books that, upon closing it, made me say "WOW!?"

World's Healthiest Foods: Keeping it simple

Worlds Healthiest Foods: Are available, tasty & good for you
World's Healthiest Foods: Available, tasty & good for you
Eating well, as the saying goes, is not rocket science. Sure, you have to be aware of things. Like sodium content and getting enough fiber. But, at the end of the day, it's about taking in quality calories, mostly fruits, whole grains and vegetables. And eating healthy, low-fat cuts of meat or seafood for your protein (if, like me, you cannot eat a pure vegetarian diet due to a food allergy).


But we Americans tend to muck everything up, and make complex that which should be simple. There are conflicting reports about what is healthy for you, and what isn't.

For instance, take eggs. Which have been "off limits," or egg-whites only. No yolks, because they are filled with cholesterol. Until recent research made it clear that, even though egg-yolks actually help lower overall cholesterol, and are chock-full of health benefits. And thus, the recommendation changes to "eat eggs, including yolks, several times per week.

 Which is why I think Micheal Polan, in his recent book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto  is so spot when he talks about the shifting "healthy/ avoid" foods. His advice is sage:
Eat whole foods, that a grandparent (or great grandparent) in 1900 would recognize as food [this means butter, and not Olivio; sugar or honey instead of Sucralose]. Eat mostly fruits and vegetables, with a smattering of nuts and whole grains. And keep your meat portions small -- about the size of a pack of cards. 

Aquaponics: Towards a truly sustainable agriculture

Figure: The nutrient cycle driving an aquaculture system
Figure: The nutrient cycle driving an aquaculture system
There is something about a really good idea that grabs me. Like when I first discovered that there were urban farms, with the farmers actually making more money by operating in city limits, and selling at farmers markets.

I was intrigued. Good idea. I even thought about pursuing this as a career option since I do have a lot of experience organic gardening. And, like always, I was looking for a challenge.

But reality made me rethink things. I had just moved from CA to OH. I had been laid off twice in the past five years when the businesses I worked for shut down. So going into business for myself seemed like a great opportunity -- when I got my financial head a little bit above the water. ...

Monday, March 18, 2013

"Gravity's Rainbow" turns 40... and it's still amazing

Figure: "Gravity's Rainbow"
"Gravity's Rainbow" 
There is something about February through June. Every year, I read the "heaviest" books out there in these months. Last year it was James Joyce's The DublinersUlysses and Finnegans Wake. In 2013, I figure to tackle some Pynchon, and Nabokov's Pale Fire .

So I decided to kick this year's heavy reading season off with the granddaddy of all postmodernist maximalist books, Gravity's Rainbow.

Why not? It's been 20 years, give or take, since I read it.

It turns out that the only difference between then and now is that The Simpsons spoofed the reclusive Thomas Pynchon. Other than that, the book has lost none of it's power. Nor, unfortunately, has it become any easier to follow. Which is why it is still considered a postmodernist masterpiece.

If you have not read it, prepare for a bit of a ride. It takes works, especially in the opening section, Beyond the Zero. Pynchon does not introduce you to characters, one after the other. Instead, his narrator jumps from character to character, scene to scenes abruptly. So it takes a while for the major players to coagulate into real people. And the plot becomes clearer...

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Laughing at the Laffer Curve: Sequestration and the tragedy of Trickle-Down economics

GDP Growth 1991 through 2010 (Source: Wikipedia)

I was raised during the Reagan years. I remembered all of the tough-talkers in the media, who sounded like they were talking about, spouted "Supply Side Economics," tax cuts and the Laffer Curve.

I sort of believed them. Until  I took university economics.

I was shocked. My profs -- and everyone knows the economics professors are among the most conservative members of any faculty -- scoffed at those ideas.

I mean, I thought those tough talkers were economists. Or knew what they were talking about.

Well, it turns out they weren't economists  And didn;t understand what they were talking about. And most of their ideas would never pass academic "muster." And thus, few would pass on to legitimate peer-reviewed journals.

And, years later, I have to agree with my professors. But for today, let's look at just one aspect of the current "tough talking -- but hollow -- economics, the Laffer Curve.


Basically, the Laffer Curve states when taxes are TOO high, then decreasing taxes would cause an increase in economic growth. And that increase in economic growth would bring more money in taxe revenue. 
Fine. That is a plausible position. But it turns out to be pure bunk.

But  how can I state this so clearly? How do we test my assertions? After all, experimentation is impossible in macro economics....

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Future Smuture: "The Singularity is (probably) bunk" and what the future will likely look like

Kurzweil's extension of Moore's law 
I love Science Fiction . So I am attacking Worlds Without End's lists of "Science Fiction Classics" and "The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010."

I have been amazed at how many 21st Century books focus on Vernor Vinge's "Singularity." Which is the idea that computers will eventually become sentient, and begin replicating themselves, rapidly creating a huge network that will colonize the entire galaxy. And, eventually, man will be able to "piggy back" onto this network to transcend reality.

Not particularly scientific -- even if it's based on Moore's Law and Metcalfe's  Law. The Singularity is scientific mysticism -- the natural correlate to Scientism, which is my term for people who deify science, and follow its dictates as if it were gosepl "truth." When science is nothing more than a rational, conscious exploration of what can be measured.

But, something  seems wrong about the Singularity. There evidence that science is hitting the wall on processor growth which will cripple the acceleration of technical progress on CPU's, which is central to Singularity Theory. According to what I've read, it will soon cost manufacturers too much to add circuits to chips. Not to mention that we are limited by the size of electrons and atoms. After which we are in the probabilistic quantum world. Which will make computing unreliable....

And let's not forget that we need people to write programs to take advantage of the new CPU's.

Or that our current use of network traffic is heavily weighted to mindless Tweets, X-Box Live, and watching American Idol on Hulu. While worthy projects, like the open source Mathematica replacement Sage Math, languish.

Not exactly the stuff of Artificial Intelligence...

Monday, March 4, 2013

Sustainable Jobs Viable? Conviction versus practicality

I have a friend, who owns a small solar consulting business in Cleveland. During a conversation, I objected about the cost of solar projects, and the long payback threshold  He said, "It's not about the cost. You have to be willing to take a stand."

That's great. If you're Amory Lovins.

Most of us are not martyrs. Me, I want my sustainability with Internet access, an I-Phone and Ohio State football.

And I have no doubt that I am speaking for the majority of us. We want real lives. And have commitments. We  cannot take the hippy solution, turning on, tuning in and then dropping out. See what that got the Boomers (end game, The Tea Party? Yikes!).

The relevant question to me seems to be, "How can a person earn a living, integrate with the community, and be sustainable?" And, in an economy like this. there is little doubt "earning a living" is more complex. The current unemployment statistics seems to indicate that, unlike in the past, layoffs have impacted all levels and all occupations according the the latest BLS statistics. So, across the board, there are more applicants than jobs.

So, the Green livelihood in question MUST fulfill the following...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Do Gun Laws Lower Violent Crime?


Gun Regulations are big news right now. Of course, no one wants a repeat of Newtown. Bust, as always when it comes to guns, passions reign. The NRA shouts“Guns make you safer. Because the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” And the Left shouts back, “We need more gun regulations. That's the only way to keep our streets safe.”

Being a skeptic by nature,  I wanted to find some data to analyze. I wanted the data to be relatively clean, coming from a reliable, unbiased source.  Finding violent crime data was easy. The US Census Bureau provided some very clean data on violent crime rates by state.

I was a bit more pressed when it came to data on Gun regulations. The only place I could find online that provided a clean, easy-to-use “gun law scorecard” was the Brady Campaign. But Brady tends to be advocates for gun control. And, thus, potentially unreliable. But they did seem to do a decent job of quantifying the laws that a state had on the books. So, instead of raw scores here, I took a state’s rank in the gun violence score card.

The completed data table is posted at the bottom of this page.

The results?

  • There appears to be no correlation between gun regulations and overall violent crime rates.
  • A state’s Brady Gun Law rank accounted for less than 1% of the observed variation on violent crime rates (to be exact, .0.67%).

The results throw into dispute claims by both sides in the gun regulation environment... 
  • NRA’s claim -- “Looser gun regulations decrease violent crime rates.” BUNK. If it were true, we'd see a steadier relationship, with laxer gun policies leading to lower violent crime rates.
  • The Left’s claim -- “Better gun regulations lower crime rates.” BUNK. If it were true, we'd see a stronger correlation between strong gun regulations and less violence
Therefore, my research leaves me in a quandary. Because the data support neither side ....