Misery as motivator

Or de-motivator; something to think about…

The Unhappiness Motivator
http://dilbert.com/blog/entry/the_unhappiness_motivator/

I think Scott is on to something here. I have commented several times that I became a life-long learner in spite of my educational experience rather than because of it. If I wasn’t convinced that our boy would just goof off the whole time I would switch to home schooling immediately (maybe in a few more years, got to get his commitment as well as the boss’). I think the whole homework thing (indeed, the entire educational industrial complex) could honestly be considered a conspiracy to diminish kid’s interest in learning.

I am not sure what would be an acceptable solution (though I have talked about a couple (even here, I believe)), but what we have only ‘works’ if you consider subjecting kids to misery for 12 years in preparation for them being unhappy the rest of their lives is a good thing.

A brief note

I have ‘low side’ access at work again, though hopefully I won’t need it to keep my mind occupied (meaning posts might not increase in frequency). Work is still ‘promising’ (as opposed to actual), though I am told that as of tomorrow I will get my own hardware on which to play. I did amuse myself a bit (and try to re-establish my coding skills) by writing a multi-threaded high-speed in-memory logger that will (attempt) to write out the log on program termination (by catching signals). It works with control-c; I am not sure how else to test it.

Anyway, I have a semi-stable place to work now. I have been able to keep my half-office until I get kicked out (my supervisor doesn’t ‘own’ the office), so perhaps months and knowing how bureaucracy works, maybe even years. Other than the commute home (the commute to work is pretty painless as I leave when most of the lights are still blinking), this is a pretty ideal situation, so I am going to try to claw on it for as long as possible.

There is little else to report. We have hired a guy (team of two, actually) to complete the walls around our pool since it seems the rate of the walls collapsing is faster than our efforts to build the walls. He comes highly recommended and works pretty cheap (really cheap compared to inside the ‘rat hole’ of the DC metro area) and literally lives right around the corner (of course, out there in the country that means a mile or so away). If he works out well on this project we might use him a bit more (though we can only afford a bit more).

I am to talk with my patent lawyer today about the status of my (vanity) patent, hopefully there is some progress being made.

Howzabout this weather? Teens at the beginning of the week and 70’s in the middle, then back to 20’s at the end of the week. Must be the end of the world, eh?

Drought

My new job hasn’t given me access to the ‘low side’ (i.e., Internet) yet and possibly not for weeks yet to come (possibly not at all). I have been going through a bit of a news withdrawal lately, been stuck with broadcast news and WaPo, which naturally means I haven’t been getting unbiased information. Since this is a three day weekend I might be able to catch up a bit on the more unbiased news, though the activation energy necessary to blog might be more than usual so don’t expect too much. I am trying to motivate myself to do something other than sitting in front of the tube when I get home, with little success so far (though I did put in a 4 mile jog on Thursday). Last week was all about setting up accounts, getting briefed and reading background information. The work looks interesting (can’t talk very much about it since most of it is classified), lots of high speed network processing. I am to learn to talk to FPGAs (though it is not looking like I will get any chance to program them, at least for the near term) and it looks very likely I will get to learn the tricks to run on ‘bare metal Linux’, so hopefully I can build up my ’embedded’ creds. Though my commute is much shorter distance (10 miles vs 30), the time really isn’t much better since this route has me going through _lots_ of lights. It also seems in many places that the lights are deliberately timed to _decrease_ traffic flow, so I get to spend a lot of time sitting and waiting for colored bits of glass to make decisions for me. Supposedly I will be shifting back closer to my old commute route in a ‘few weeks’, but that might turn out to be more like a couple of months. I have been ‘upgraded’ to half an office (as opposed to open cubes), so that counts for something, but since I am a ‘short timer’ at this facility they didn’t feel it worth while to get me low side access. I did discover, though, that they have a mirror of Wikipedia on the high side, so did manage to learn a few things (most work related, though I did slip a bit of personal learning in). They also have Safari books on-line as well, so have been reading up on FPGAs.

I really like the idea of programmable hardware. Years ago (over a decade now) I was very interested in building molecular-scale computer components (my business plan started with molecular memory, but sadly I never got any investor interest) and had given a lot of thought on how to program something with millions of tiny parallel processors on it and my intention at the time was to have the ‘hardware’ (more like wet-ware) programmable as well, so I had already invested some energy into understanding how FPGAs work even before I knew anything about this particular product. Many of my co-workers came from the hardware side and have pretty much to a man counseled me against pursuing this direction, but I have worked at the server/database level for over a decade and don’t find that particularly challenging anymore. I am told that working at the hardware level is a lot harder and the pay is no better (in some cases even less), but I am too stubborn to be happy with work that bores me no matter how well it pays. I would like to revisit my idea of molecular computers at some point, but it will probably have to wait until I retire (or win the lottery).

Not much happening on my patent application front. I suspect that the lawyers have taken a bit of advantage of my job transition to focus on other things (I can’t afford to pay them to work on my stuff full-time, not at $750/hr!) so felt they needed a bit of nagging. March 15th is the point at where the US patent process switches from first-to-invent to first-to-file, so that is what is driving the timing.

A three day weekend now, hopefully we can get some visible progress done on the greenhouse/pool. I am somewhat optimistic, but it is really cold out there and even though the wind is light, it is very uncomfortable.

No progress on the osmotic energy front. Got to break this habit of sitting in front of the tube when I get home. I have the same problem with the aquaponics; I need to get started on my basement prototype because even the best-case scenario for the DNA patent is two years before I have any chance to focus on it full-time and I don’t want to waste all that time in case nothing comes of it. Basically, I am a lazy bastard and have to change enough of that to have any real chance of changing my fate. That fate, though, is still not too bad even if I don’t ‘win the lotto’ or manage to get off my butt and do research. Presuming the US doesn’t explode (implode?) in an apocalypse (and my wife and I continue with our current earnings) our target retirement is in ‘only’ 12 years and if my new job turns out to be even half as interesting as I hope, much of that time should fly by. Hopefully retiring at 60 we will still be young enough to do many of the things we have talked about over the years (both of us are interested in adventure racing, hopefully our bodies will hold up enough to at least cross the finish line). I expect our earnings won’t go to zero, somehow I doubt my wife will turn her back completely on her nursing career and I expect to grow all sort of things in my greenhouse, surely I can sell some of that stuff, but even if we don’t make a dime we should be able to live comfortably. Of course, the apocalypse could happen, but then all bets are off. Besides, you have to make some assumptions to make any plans; historically things have never been as bad (or as good) as people fear (hope), so statistically middle-of-the-road is probably the way things will fall out.

Yall have a great weekend now, yahea?

Minority report

Precognition software used to predict which prisoners will murder
Minority Report style systems might seem creepy, but they’re no more flawed than human parole officers
http://www.salon.com/2013/01/11/precognition_software_used_to_predict_which_prisoners_will_murder/

Kinda interesting, but I agree with the author that the alternative (letting parole officers guess) is worse:

However, in this instance directing concerns at the technology itself is misplaced. This would assume that parole officers don’t also base their decisions on which parolees remain “criminal risks” on limited, flawed and highly problematic variables, and also punish people accordingly. As the software’s creator told Wired, the algorithms simply replace the ad hoc decision making done by parole officers. As long as parole boards employing the software don’t view it as some perfect predictor of criminal futures, the precognition technology is no more troubling than the vagaries of human decision making in our prison systems.

Of course, the ACLU and whatnot will surely get this killed soon; better to have a much worse system that is incapable of universal upgrades in place (parole officers) than an indendent algorithm that can be upgraded with better information. One of the reasons I still remain a bit skeptical that we will be able to turn to computer driven cars anytime soon.

Our Government sponsored Ponzi scheme…

Secrets and Lies of the Bailout
The federal rescue of Wall Street didn’t fix the economy – it created a permanent bailout state based on a Ponzi-like confidence scheme. And the worst may be yet to come
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/secret-and-lies-of-the-bailout-20130104

I have mentioned the massive taxpayer funded gift to our Wallstreet masters before, but even then I failed to totally appreciate how far, wide and deep the corruption goes. Matt, once again, peels the layers of deception back (though I feel confident that we _still_ don’t know the scale of the situation!) in an easy to read way. However, please don’t read this if you are taking heart medication! You might blow a gasket and I don’t want to feel responsible for it. As a by the way, Matt added a post that showed that the scam our government has been operating had more impact than ‘just’ to taxpayers: Secrets and Lies of the Bailout: One Broker’s Story.

How is it “too big to fail” banks wound up getting bigger? Is it collusion when the government actually _IS_ Wallstreet?

It is a long article, but to encourage you to read it I excerpted a few passages I thought might motivate you to read the whole thing…

Through behavior like this, the government has turned the entire financial system into a kind of vast confidence game – a Ponzi-like scam in which the value of just about everything in the system is inflated because of the widespread belief that the government will step in to prevent losses. Clearly, a government that’s already in debt over its eyes for the next million years does not have enough capital on hand to rescue every Citigroup or Regions Bank in the land should they all go bust tomorrow. But the market is behaving as if Daddy will step in to once again pay the rent the next time any or all of these kids sets the couch on fire and skips out on his security deposit. Just like an actual Ponzi scheme, it works only as long as they don’t have to make good on all the promises they’ve made. They’re building an economy based not on real accounting and real numbers, but on belief. And while the signs of growth and recovery in this new faith-based economy may be fake, one aspect of the bailout has been consistently concrete: the broken promises over executive pay.

The bailout ended up being much bigger than anyone expected, expanded far beyond TARP to include more obscure (and in some cases far larger) programs with names like TALF, TAF, PPIP and TLGP. What’s more, some parts of the bailout were designed to extend far into the future. Companies like AIG, GM and Citigroup, for instance, were given tens of billions of deferred tax assets – allowing them to carry losses from 2008 forward to offset future profits and keep future tax bills down. Official estimates of the bailout’s costs do not include such ongoing giveaways. “This is stuff that’s never going to appear on any report,” says Barofsky.

The implications here go far beyond the question of whether Dimon and Co. committed insider trading by buying and selling stock while they had access to material nonpublic information about the bailouts. The broader and more pressing concern is the clear implication that by failing to act, federal regulators­ have tacitly approved the nondisclosure. Instead of trusting the markets to do the right thing when provided with accurate information, the government has instead channeled Jack Nicholson – and decided that the public just can’t handle the truth.

The first independent study that attempted to put a numerical value on the Implicit Guarantee popped up about a year after the crash, in September 2009, when Dean Baker and Travis McArthur of the Center for Economic and Policy Research published a paper called “The Value of the ‘Too Big to Fail’ Big Bank Subsidy.” Baker and McArthur found that prior to the last quarter of 2007, just before the start of the crisis, financial firms with $100 billion or more in assets were paying on average about 0.29 percent less to borrow money than smaller firms.

By the second quarter of 2009, however, once the bailouts were in full swing, that spread had widened to 0.78 percent. The conclusion was simple: Lenders were about a half a point more willing to lend to a bank with implied government backing – even a proven-stupid bank – than they were to lend to companies who “must borrow based on their own credit worthiness.” The economists estimated that the lending gap amounted to an annual subsidy of $34 billion a year to the nation’s 18 biggest banks.

Worst of all, the Implicit Guarantee has led to a dangerous shift in banking behavior. With an apparently endless stream of free or almost-free money available to banks – coupled with a well-founded feeling among bankers that the government will back them up if anything goes wrong – banks have made a dramatic move into riskier and more speculative investments, including everything from high-risk corporate bonds to mortgage­backed securities to payday loans, the sleaziest and most disreputable end of the financial system. In 2011, banks increased their investments in junk-rated companies by 74 percent, and began systematically easing their lending standards in search of more high-yield customers to lend to.

This is how an oligarchy works, folks. The rich get richer and everyone else takes it in the ass.

What is the difference?

Why Americans are dying earlier than their international peers
http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/09/health/international-health-report/index.html?hpt=hp_bn1

I am almost interested in digging up the report to read the details. It is well known (among people who bother with facts) that the US pays the most for health care and (compared with its peers) has the worst outcome. Add to that juicy fact that our health care costs _continue_ to grow much faster than inflation and you have a recipe for a bunch of sick people paying their very last cent to get sicker and die after treatment. We aren’t that far from that point already when a respected medico-scientific panel states that there is actually a societal health detriment to the use of PSA screens and mammograms only to be completely ignored. Personally, beyond the obvious lack of universal health care, I point the most proximal cause for this phenomenon at our massively for-profit health care system starting with the huge pharmaceutical companies (that have bigger budgets for advertising than they do for R&D). Yes, to a certain extent having a for-profit system gets some research done more quickly than might happen in a not-for-profit paradigm, but to me the cost of the system, that our for-profit system pushes useless (or worse!) medicine (no different than witch doctors in many respects), outweighs the occasional benefits. One of the reasons why science and medicine jobs pay less than what I get in the infosec community (half or so (this doesn’t include doctors, naturally)) is because many people who get in the ‘biz are doing it because they love it and almost any pay is good enough. Ergo, the exact same work could get done for much less. The big company CEOs, of course, don’t make do with such paltry paychecks, but take a step down from the C-Suite to where the work is done and there is a dramatic decrease in take-home pay (of course, that is true for purt near our entire dysfunctional ‘capitalistic’ (oligarchical, really, and far from the same thing) society). Anyway, the huge cost of medicine isn’t because it costs a lot to provide good health care but because we as a society have bought into the notion that it is somehow necessary to pay outlandish profits (many on-patent drugs have 99.9% profit margins (meaning if you spend $100 on the drug it cost the company 10 cents to produce it (yes, I know they have to recover their R&D costs, but I have explored that math as well))), much of which is directed to very few people at the top (and some diverted to actual stock holders, but that is increasingly decreasing; why doesn’t the Tea Party bitch about that?). Anyway, this report is no shock or surprise to me, but I guarantee that nothing will change here and in another decade an identical report will be produced likely outlining an even worse dichotomy.

Just like the dot-com crash as well as the popping of the housing bubble, the crash of our society is easy to predict in general, but impossible to predict specifically. It is time to make arrangements to emigrate!

Good ole double standard

Why are Bob Woodward’s WH sources – or Woodward himself – not on trial next to Bradley Manning?
The extremist prosecution of Manning, accused of “aiding and abetting al-Qaida”, poses a real threat to US press freedom
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/10/manning-prosecution-press-freedom-woodward

It is only a classified leak if it is done by people the administration doesn’t like. In _any_ other case it is OK and not a violation of the laws of our country.

Just like torture is what other countries do, not what the US does.

And terrorism is only done by Muslims, NEVER by white people!

I realize that the only thing that stays the same is change, but I just have a lot of trouble envisioning the pendulum swinging back toward the middle (where, naturally, it will blast by toward another extreme). It just seems to me that we have a new ‘center’ and that point is now one where here in the US things like equal application of the law are quaint relics of an ancient, vanished time. Wealth and power will always provide some form of immunity to the hard knocks of ordinary people, but today it provides wholesale immunity where it seems there is no crime so violent or reprehensible that a privileged person should ever have the slightest bit of concerned. The extreme right wing babbles about arming for bloody revolution because Obama the ‘socialist’ is in office. They should be arming because Obama the oligarch is in office instead, but of course if Romney was doing the exact same thing (he no doubt would be continuing the Bush/Cheney/Obama policies) they would cheer him.

We sheeple deserve the fucked up government we have, after all, we make not the slightest tiniest bit of effort to change it. When the jack-booted secret police come for you (or more likely me), everyone else will turn a blind eye because by then to show any sympathy will be showing guilt by association.

I think the movie V for Vendetta was unrealistic in that it presumed that the sheeple would rise up if given incentive. I have increasingly lost faith in our citizenship to give a damn when their rights are stripped away.

Fucking morons!

Stati

I’ve been ill the past few days which is one reason my level of posting has been low. Another is that I am moving to a new job starting Monday (which might mean my blogging might take a more permanent hit; one of the reasons I started blogging was that my current job had so little to occupy my day) and been getting things ready for my absence. My new job, in case anyone is interested, is C++ programming on a Tilera CPU (sort of like a supercomputer on a chip, with up to 100 cores all linked by an internal mesh network) on an intrusion detection-like system. I might even get the opportunity to do some FPGA and embedded ARM programming. I picked this over some systems engineering opportunities largely because SE work tends to be mostly about sitting in meetings all day attempting to extract actionable meaning from clients. While I heard a couple of very persuasive arguments that someone with my background would be better spending time doing the sorts of things that junior developers lack the experience to do (in most cases), ultimately it boiled down to that I would rather do heads-down programming on my own time (I generally work 5:30-2 which gives me a minimum of several hours of daylight when I get home to do things) than sit in meetings on someone else’s time. The money really wasn’t that different and while from a career perspective SE work is probably a better direction, I am really _really_ hoping that we can retire early in ‘just’ 12 years, so I don’t need to squeeze that much more out of my current career path to accomplish that goal. Besides, I also think that few junior programmers have the chops to maximize throughput on hardware like that and I have been itching to have the chance to do so for years and years now.

Regarding my patent I had a bit of a scare when I realized that several years ago I had, when attempting to get help from a hardware forum (never offer to pay for advice! almost all the responses I got were sarcastic complaints about how little I was offering when had I not even offered to pay they no doubt would have given the same advice for free), basically described the core of my technical approach and one of the commenters cleverly guessed exactly what my intent was/is. Fortunately, it seems that because I never discussed the _application_ of what I was asking about, according to my patent lawyer, that doesn’t amount to disclosure of prior art. Looking back at my notes, I have been hammering away at this idea since mid 2007, so over 5 years now. It sure would be nice to get something for all that effort (a couple of thousand hours, I estimate), but a little kernel of me still thinks it will all be a waste of time. I guess once a dog gets beaten enough it begins to consider being beaten as the normal course of events.

My wife and I are considering attempting to expedite our greenhouse/pool project by hiring some carpenters. On the one hand I would love to see that work gets done during the week, but on the other hand, we are already running over budget (shocking, I know) and are already having to juggle funds to ensure we can finish paying for the project (or rather, finish the project by putting the expenses on credit cards and then spend the next 3-5 years paying them off). It is really frustrating the glacial pace of the construction (last weekend I probably shouldn’t have done anything because of my illness but felt since the bulk of the work at this time is just dumping gravel into the bottom of the pool and grading it out it would be OK, something that was working until I realized I had forgot an element and had to dig some of the damn gravel back out, probably why I missed work on Monday), it took us over 2.5 years to get the occupancy permit for the house (3 years before it really was ‘done’), in April we will have been at this thing for 2 years and it is hard to feel confident we can be done with it by the end of the year. If we could just win the lottery!

I have been obsessing about ‘osmotic energy‘ the last few days (Tuesday night I actually had a lot of trouble getting to sleep because of it). On Monday I read this interesting article on the use of osmosis to generate energy and was rather frustrated to learn about something that has been around since at least the early ’70s that I hadn’t heard about. I have invested over a decade into studying alternative energy (as well as mainstream energy, no doubt I could bore you for days with what I know about nuclear energy) and thought my knowledge base encompassed all forms of alternatives (viable or otherwise). I have done some preliminary research and calculations and it isn’t something that is quite so simple as it is made out to be (is anything?), but I have been doing a lot of thinking that the basic concept is quite sound. There is a very strong focus on use of naturally occurring intersections of fresh and sea water when I think there are other opportunities that might be much better (because I haven’t finished my calculations and might want to pursue this as research I intend to be rather cagey about my thoughts). As yet I think there is a very strong possibility that by combining a few different techniques I have learned about over the years it might be practical to make this concept into a viable alternative that might actually be able to scale to the point it could supply a meaningful portion of the world’s electricity. Lots of ifs yet, but such is the nature of research. Shortly I might find it worth my while to invest some actual bucks and bench hours into this, or I might conclude that there isn’t enough ‘there’ there as I did with the ethanol from fallen apples. In principle there are around 64 kilowatts in the difference between a gallon of pure water and a gallon of saturated brine (that is, kilowatt/second, so you need 3,600 of them for a kilowatt/hour). Based on some reading so far the max realistic amount of energy that can be extracted is a bit less than 50%, so each pair of gallons, when mixed appropriately, has the potential to produce 32,000 watts (or 8.8 watt/hours). You can see how this wouldn’t be practical in a car, for instance. A 20 gallon tank would only produce 88 watt/hours, probably not enough to get you out of your driveway (for comparison, a gallon of gasoline has the potential of 36,000 watt/hours, though generally you only get 10-15% of that to the wheels (still, 40x on a per-gallon basis)). However, when weight and volume are less of an issue (such would be the case for many industrial processes), the amount of energy potential starts to be meaningful. It is likely to remain a niche product, though, just like concentrated solar, geothermal and tidal energy, but I can envision some scenarios where it could have wider appeal, which is why I continue to explore it.

Stupidity as a survival characteristic

Big Brains Are Pricey, Guppy Study Shows
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130103131110.htm

Kind of amazing to me that there is a survival element in having smaller brains, but the results of the experiment mentioned in the above article appear to have some pretty solid conclusions. I got a copy of the primary research paper and it seems clear: the bigger the brain the smarter the guppy, but the smaller the gut and the fewer the offspring. It seems to me that when there is no evolutionary pressure for bigger brains (such as rapidly shifting environment, scarce or highly variable food sources, etc.) then there is evolutionary pressure _against_ bigger brains that can rapidly (in evolutionary terms) take over the population. If the ‘dumber’ ones breed more often than the ‘smarter’ ones (man, does that sound so damn familiar with us humans!) then the population gets increasingly dumber (man this keeps sounding so apropos!). Brains are expensive things and it appears that evolution (a bit of anthropomorphizing here) doesn’t ‘like’ to waste energy on them. The authors of the literature indicated that in just two generations of selection (they were the ones doing the selection, so the big brained boys were put with the big brained girls and vice versa, some thing that might happen extremely rarely in nature) they had populations with statistically different brain sizes. It seems to me that in certain parts of our world there has been selection for a lot longer than two generations (imagine, if you will, some banjo music playing in the background ;-)), so I wonder if anyone has information to show if that is currently happening to humans (be careful doing the measurements, though; bears have smaller brains than we do and they routinely kill people!).

I have always equated the ‘meek’ who shall ‘inherit the Earth’ as being the best breeders, this article says they get a ‘bonus’ with their best breeder award as well.

Court upholds right to give police the finger

Court upholds right to give police the finger
A New York man can seek damages following a disorderly conduct arrest when he “flipped the bird” at police
http://www.salon.com/2013/01/04/court_upholds_right_to_give_polive_the_finger/

I couldn’t think of a better title, so stole the one from the article. I like this comment by FredRated:

WTF, common sense rears its ugly head? I thought it went extinct years ago.

And “believing his hand gesture to be some sort of distress signal” lol!

PoodlePlay, though, points out the obvious:

Swartz should be grateful that he didn’t get the shit kicked out of him.

This decision notwithstanding, it is important to remember that any cop can arrest you any time he damn well pleases, and if he happens to be an asshole, he can make life very unpleasant for you.

So at the end of the day, what did Swartz prove, other than the fact he is not only a colossal douche-bag, but a damned lucky one, too?

While I initially thought that this might be a tiny thawing in the police state, I pretty much agree with PoodlePlay and it is much ado about nothing. Just like Rodney King got his ass repetitively kicked even after winning a civil rights judgement against the cops. Dumbasses will always piss off the cops who will use their position of authority to retaliate. The problem I have is when the cops get a permanent get-out-of-jail-free card and no matter how outrageous their activities they suffer no consequences. Of course, just like the rest of our police state injustice system I don’t expect my complaining about it will do a damn bit of good, but I thought the article might be amusing to my reader(s).