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AvatarComments by Michael Cain in reply to Oscar Gordon*

On “On Writing of Wrongs

Or we can have states split into two groups of approximately equal size, one which holds that voting is a privilege and people expected to jump through hoops, and one which holds voting is a right and should be as easy as possible.

On “The Old Elephant

If you had seen harnessed elephants putting up the big top, you would remember it.


I am just old enough to have seen a small traveling circus once: the parade, seeing elephants harnessed to pull up the poles for the big top, being close enough to the performers to see the patches on their costuming.

On “On Writing of Wrongs

Don't move here, then :^) A carrier strike force does nothing for the state's actual military goals, which are to interdict the inflow of Texans.


Portland doesn't want a carrier strike group, they want a well-disciplined Marine expeditionary unit. Who can be told, "Clean out the Antifa camp." Or "Clean out those people at Malheur." At least, listening to my long-time friends in the Portland suburbs, that's what they want.


As if metro Portland could afford a carrier strike group. Or would want one :^)


There is an often cited fact that California would be a G10 country if it were an independent nation but this neglects the fact that California does not have to pay for its own defense and still gets some money from the Federal Government (especially for disaster relief).

I think your accounting is wrong here. California has a state GDP now, of which roughly 19% gets sent to Washington, DC and 12% goes to Sacramento (plus locals). As an independent country with that same GDP it would no longer send money to Washington, and could spend a portion of that 19% on its military. That's quite likely to cost less than its current contribution: the US spends ~3.5% of GDP on the military; most European countries seem to get along fine on ~2%. The details might be interesting. Currently, California's "share" pays for something over one full carrier strike force. I don't think an independent California would have much interest in one.

On “What, exactly, is a $2000 check?

...there certainly seems to be ambiguity.

No, there's not. There's Tlaib and AOC with an internet megaphone, but zero evidence that they have 218 votes in the House for $2600 rather than $2000. Zero evidence that they have 60 votes in the Senate for $2600. Zero evidence that they have 50 votes in the Senate to kill the filibuster for $2600 rather than $2000.

For the next two years, the only place there's ambiguity is whether McConnell and the Senate Republicans will draw a line that the Senate Democrats will kill the filibuster to cross. That every Senate Democrat, including Manchin and nine Mountain West Senators, will kill the filibuster to cross.

On “Not An Escalation of Trumpism, An Acceleration of Consequences

What I have read about Jenna Ryan all says that the private jet belongs to a friend who was going to Washington and invited Jenna along. At least some of her posts/tweets/whatever were all "Squeeee!!" about flying private.

On “What, exactly, is a $2000 check?

Don't use f-u-c-k (less the dashes) or any word that includes it. Just don't. It's going to get your comment tossed into moderation every time, and someone with editor privileges is going to have to go scan it, see that that word is the reason, and manually approve the comment.

I believe that the traditional substitute here is "fish".

On “January 6th: A Layman’s Post About Group Behavior

Alternate description: time and scheduling. Lots of military (and civilians) had to be at work on Wednesday morning. Lot of people could get Wednesday off, but couldn't afford to get from (for example) Utah to DC in time for the march. May just be the pseudo-academic in me, but this is a really hard math/sociology problem.

On “Drinking Cheap Vodka Will Kill You: A Twitter Parable

The Skeptic: “Really? If driving is tough to teach an AI how to do, how much harder is literally the entire rest of human existence?”

I'm not nearly as optimistic about AI as the real optimists are, but there needs to be a response. Driving requires sub-second response, feedback loops to be sure the car is doing what it's been told, and continuous recognition of an entire dynamic environment. Moderation? Entire rest of human existence as expressed through typed text. 99% of which doesn't have to be recognized, only recognized as speech within the terms of service. One second response is fine. Do you remember Google Translate from ten years ago? When you had to specify the source language, and what you got back was often really bad? Today it auto-recognizes >100 languages, deals with a lot of misspellings, and almost never produces gibberish. If I were in charge at Twitter, I'd put my humans to work purely on meta moderation (a la Slashdot for the last 20 years): finding bad decisions. Then add those to the training database.

Sometime -- maybe already done but not published, but no more than three years -- this will be a solved problem. Someone will do a clever thing on top of a brute force neural network. Twitter will probably be able to afford it. The little guys, maybe not.

With my futurist hat on, driving will be a solved problem within ten years, at least sufficient to meet what I think, with my futurist hat on, the first killer app for it: keeping the boomers in their suburban houses for another decade rather than having to dump them into much more expensive institutional arrangements.

On “Thawing The Pump

When I was a lad, six or eight I suppose, there was still a hand pump outside my grandparents' house in a tiny town in southern Iowa. It disappeared after the day one summer when I managed to pour enough hot water down it to get the (probably) old leather seals to expand so it would work. Around that same time, the house next door had a small hand pump mounted on the kitchen counter and extending over the sink because the old lady preferred it to the taste of town water. (The rest of that house was properly plumbed with town water and sewer.)

On “Drinking Cheap Vodka Will Kill You: A Twitter Parable

Cloud computing, loosely, is when you don't own or maintain the hardware and system software. Your Air Force hardware served Air Force clients. No one called up to say, "I need 100 virtual processors with 16G, Linux, and Perl 5.24 this month, and 24 terabytes of storage with near real-time synchronization across North America and Europe." That's what Rackspace or AWS sell. And are fine if the next month you call up and tell them you only need 50 processors, or 500, and want to add storage in Asia.

When I was in graduate school getting an applied math degree one of the professors used to complain, when he was handing back homework, "Mr. Cain, of course, simply beat the problem to death with a computer." The current AI and ML fall in the category of beating the problem to death with a computer. With varying degrees of success. I read the other day that the people at Google Translate had trained a neural network that had a trillion coefficients. Now that's a club suitable for beating a problem. Twitter and Facebook just need bigger clubs.

On “Weekend Plans Post: Hey Rocky, Watch Me Pull A Rabbit Out Of My Hat

So I am choosing to remain 51 for another year, or, hell, maybe start going backwards….

Inside every old person is a young person who looks in the mirror and says, "What the f*ck happened?" I am officially 67 now; by a variety of statistical sources, that gives me less than 20 expected years. It's not enough. There are too many things that I still don't know. And I can't learn them as fast as I used to.

On “From Twitter Safety: Donald Trump’s Twitter Account has been Permanently Suspended

Under US anti-trust law, being a monopoly is not illegal. But being classified a monopoly in court makes certain business behaviors illegal. The first step in any anti-trust proceeding is to define the market that has been monopolized. Back in the 1990s, everyone was surprised when the federal courts agreed that "desktop computer operating systems" was a market. Once they did, there was no question about Microsoft engaging in illegal behavior, the only question was what the remedy would be. I am fairly eager to see what "market" Facebook is accused of monopolizing.

On “Songs About John Henry

There was a limited period of time when the man-vs-machine mythos could generate folk stories and songs. Before long, it was simply understood that once an appropriate machine could be devised, it would displace human labor. Or more often, enhance it. The steam-powered drill had to have a human operator, and the steam-powered saw in Walt Disney's Paul Bunyan rip-off of the John Henry story was run by the salesman. We don't have folk songs telling the sad story of someone with minimal skills and a word processor displacing the highly skilled typists that preceded them. Although I will admit that when I was much younger and had had too much to drink, I toyed with the idea.

When I went to work at Bell Labs in 1978, the Labs had a skilled typing pool to convert engineers' scrawled handwriting into polished technical memoranda. UNIX -- and in particular, its typesetting tools -- were just coming out of the research division. Over the course of two years, the typing pool first converted to troff, and was then disbanded and engineers were forced to learn to type. Not a big deal for the younger lot -- I had already been in trouble for doing my writing at home on a typewriter and giving that to the typing pool. I cringed watching some of the older staff labor over a keyboard. The Labs threw away millions of engineer-hours because they declined to offer touch-typing courses.

On “Pity Parler 3: Amazon Brings the Receipts in Lawsuit Filing

To what end? IIRC, Twitter operates its own hardware and system software platform. An option that was available to Parler, aside from the fact that it's a hell of a lot of work and up-front money compared to leasing virtual resources from AWS or Azure.

On “It’s Not Just About A Speech: Impeachment and President Trump

Phone meta data, yeah. IIRC, all the major carriers have a batch of mini-cells covering the Capitol because of the load. So they know if your phone was there (even if you didn't make or receive calls, unless you had the device completely powered off), if calls were made/received, the numbers of the to/from parties, duration, etc. The actual audio content, probably not. Text content is considerably less protected.

People get unpleasant surprises all the time regarding how much meta data their carrier has about them. Ditto for other companies if you have inadvertently turned on some features of, for example, Google Maps.

I wrote intracompany white papers back in the mid-1990s about how the internet and the rise of portable smart devices eventually meant the end of most of personal privacy.

On “Impeachment, President Trump, and Evidence That Demands a Verdict

Overall, Liz has to deliver for Wyoming. Not "look how reactionary I am" deliver, but more concrete stuff. Her constituents spent the summer breathing smoke from fires on federal land. They've figured out that there's no big future in coal, but there is in natural gas and wind and pumped hydro storage. Keeping their share of the Colorado and North Platte River water. The deals she needs to cut are with the bigger bluer western states that can fund regional fire-fighting air fleets and will buy gas, wind, water, and pumped hydro energy.

On “From Rolling Stone: What Happened to Promises to Disband the Minneapolis Police?

I note that the cities (which includes the big suburbs) up and down the Colorado Front Range are now putting money into co-responders, mental health professionals that are dispatched 24/7 for calls that appear to have a mental health aspect. So far as I can tell from reading, everyone including the regular LEOs are pleased with it.

On “From Twitter Safety: Donald Trump’s Twitter Account has been Permanently Suspended

Signature Bank is posturing: they are closing Trump's two personal accounts with them. According to his disclosure forms, Trump has personal accounts (ie, checking, saving, money market, small trust) at several US banks. The big break with US banks happened years ago, when they quite lending money to Trump, the Trump Organization, or any projects in which those were involved.

I don't recall the FDIC rules about demand deposit accounts at all. I'm not sure that Signature can arbitrarily terminate client accounts.

On “When People Become Stateless

Not vandalism, but on my first day of work at Bell Labs in NJ, I was driving my beat up Toyota with Texas tags on the Garden State Parkway. A NJ State Trooper pulled me over, made me get out of the vehicle, went over my car fairly closely, and despite not finding anything gave me a long lecture about all of the gun restrictions in NJ.

On “Them’s Fightin’ Words: The First Amendment and Incitement

I worked on the staff of a western state legislature for too long. I saw your question and automatically reared up with fingers poised to spew.

I was always told that the unofficial motto of the Western Governors Association staff is "Do you know what those d*ckheads at BLM have done now?"

Bureau of Land Management, established in 1946, for the uninformed.


I seem to recall reading that the US is one of only a few countries in the world where "conspiracy" is an actual crime.

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