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The failure of the 737 Max – evil software

 

 

 

An interesting read is available about the cumulative failures of the Boeing 737 Max. The author is a pilot and a software developer Gregory Travis.

“So Boeing produced a dynamically unstable airframe, the 737 Max. That is big strike No. 1. Boeing then tried to mask the 737’s dynamic instability with a software system. Big strike No. 2. Finally, the software relied on systems known for their propensity to fail (angle-of-attack indicators) and did not appear to include even rudimentary provisions to cross-check the outputs of the angle-of-attack sensor against other sensors, or even the other angle-of-attack sensor. Big strike No. 3.

None of the above should have passed muster. None of the above should have passed the “OK” pencil of the most junior engineering staff, much less a DER.

That’s not a big strike. That’s a political, social, economic, and technical sin.”

The article makes clear that the failure is essentially regulatory. Boeing’s goal was to make the 737 Max look like it was not a new aircraft but a continuation of the previous design, when it was not. The FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) does not have the engineers to detect the changes and blow the whistle.

“As airplanes became more complex and the gulf between what the FAA could pay and what an aircraft manufacturer could pay grew larger, more and more of those engineers migrated from the public to the private sector. Soon the FAA had no in-house ability to determine if a particular airplane’s design and manufacture were safe. So the FAA said to the airplane manufacturers, “Why don’t you just have your people tell us if your designs are safe?”

The airplane manufacturers said, “Sounds good to us.” The FAA said, “And say hi to Joe, we miss him.”

and further:

“The 737 Max saga teaches us not only about the limits of technology and the risks of complexity, it teaches us about our real priorities. Today, safety doesn’t come first—money comes first, and safety’s only utility in that regard is in helping to keep the money coming. The problem is getting worse because our devices are increasingly dominated by something that’s all too easy to manipulate: software.”

 

 

The rotary dial cellphone

Justine Haupt’s rotary dial cellphone

Justine Haupt explains the cellphone which she made:

“Why a rotary cellphone? Because in a finicky, annoying, touchscreen world of hyperconnected people using phones they have no control over or understanding of, I wanted something that would be entirely mine, personal, and absolutely tactile, while also giving me an excuse for not texting. 

The point isn’t to be anachronistic. It’s to show that it’s possible to have a perfectly usable phone that goes as far from having a touchscreen as I can imagine, and which in some ways may actually be more functional. More functional how? 

  • Real, removable antenna with an SMA connector. Receptions is excellent, and if I really want to I could always attach a directional antenna.
  • When I want a phone I don’t have to navigate through menus to get to the phone “application”. That’s bullshit.
  • If I want to call my husband, I can do so by pressing a single dedicated physical key which is dediated to him. No menus. The point isn’t to use the rotary dial every single time I want to make a call, which would get tiresome for daily use. The people I call most often are stored, and if I have to dial a new number or do something like set the volume, then I can use the fun and satisfying-to-use rotary dial.
  • Nearly instantaneous, high resolution display of signal strength and battery level. No signal metering lag, and my LED bargraph gives 10 increments of resolution instead of just 4.
  • The ePaper display is bistatic, meaning it doesn’t take any energy to display a fixed message.
  • When I want to change something about the phone’s behavior, I just do it.
  • The power switch is an actual slide switch. No holding down a stupid button to make it turn off and not being sure it really is turning off or what.

So it’s not just a show-and-tell piece… My intent is to use it as my primary phone. It fits in a pocket.; It’s reasonably compact; calling the people I most often call is faster than with my old phone, and the battery lasts almost 24 hours.”

More on her cellphone in Gizmodo here.

Susan Ray’s kitchen, Nantucket, 1875 and Bill Gates

Occasionally a picture is worth a thousand words. This painting would have been made sometime in the latter half of the 19th century, around 1875, on Nantucket, a prosperous whaling island off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts,

You will note the absence of everything that makes a modern kitchen convenient. Start with the absence of pipes and of cold (not hot) running water. No sink. No wood stove, only an open fire. Mrs. Ray emerges from a larder in which  food is stored.

No electricity: and thus no dishwasher, refrigerator, washing machine, dryer or lights. Scarcely a counter-top on which to cut and prepare a meal. In case you wonder about what is hidden at the other end of the kitchen, the painter did the other end too. You can see a sideboard, a small table, a mirror, a sconce for a candle, and the fireplace. Not even a wood stove!

These were prosperous people of the time. Not rich, but not suffering either. Note the fine piece of furniture below the mirror. Note the wide (16-18  inches?) sawn planks of old growth pine and the lack of water stains on the whitewashed ceiling. They lived in a comfortable house, by the standards of the time.

All this is a world before fossil fuels or electricity. Doubtless it had a very low carbon footprint.

When I read about carbon taxes, and rich magnates like Bill Gates saying we have to get carbon neutral by some date in the near future, I ask myself, do these fools understand what it was like to prepare a meal in Susan Ray’s kitchen?

Says Bill Gates:

To prevent the worst effects of climate change, we need to get to zero net greenhouse gas emissions in every sector of the economy within 50 years—and as the IPCC recently found, we need to be on a path to doing it in the next 10 years. That means dealing with electricity, and the other 75% too.

50 years is nearly twenty years less than what I have lived already. Two hundred years would be a more reasonable time horizon.

Read him, he exemplifies a kind of insane rationality that fails to understand that the world cannot get to carbon neutrality at any price we can afford, political or economic, in fifty or a hundred years, if ever. Insanity is not the absence of rationality, but the excess of it. Just think of Susan Ray’s kitchen when you think of a low carbon footprint, but  you should take out the fireplace and replace it with a wood stove, if the authorities will permit it. That is a low-carbon footprint kitchen. Why is it so difficult for the intelligent of our time to understand that they have embarked upon a course of folly and destruction?

Global warming catastrophism is a disease of the intelligent, like Communism in the 1930s.

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Wikipedia relates

Eastman Johnson, (July 29, 1824 – April 5, 1906) painted “Susan Ray’s kitchen”. Hewas an American painter and co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, with his name inscribed at its entrance. He was best known for his genre paintings, paintings of scenes from everyday life, and his portraits both of everyday people and prominent Americans such as Abraham Lincoln, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His later works often show the influence of the 17th-century Dutch masters, whom he studied in The Hague in the 1850s; he was known as The American Rembrandt in his day.

George Gilder thinks that Google is run by delusional brilliant Marxists

George Gilder was right about a lot of really important things, including especially the future of the computer, the one that you now hold in your hand, called the smartphone. You have forgotten how revolutionary that prediction was in 1990 when he published “The Death of Television”. Some of you were not even born then, I suppose.

Now Gilder has published another significant book, predicting the demise of Google, or at least its dominance.

Gilder observes that by supplying things for free, Google avoids many problems that arise from payment, including the obligation to provide security, to a great extent. Worse, Google avoids the learning process that is acquired with capitalist transactions.

He considers that blockchain technologies will fix much of what is ailing in America. [In this I remain skeptical, but hopeful as well.]

“They [the Silicon Valley apostolate] have a business plan and solutions which are inappropriate to the human mind”. He sees the human mind as the essential source of value, and that Google and cloud-dependent technologies are over-centralized. “Blockchain is an answer to the cloud mind”.

The number of IPOs has been falling, the number of companies on the stock market has also been falling. Consistently with Peter Thiel’s thesis, we do not seem to be getting the innovation that we ought. According to Gilder, the invention of Etherium has halted this decline.

Consequently he takes issue with Ray Kurzweil,  the guy thinks we are approaching a singularity of machine intelligence. Says Gilder, “if you don’t understand consciousness, you don’t understand thinking. Thinking doesn’t produce consciousness, consciousness produces thinking. All these computer scientists are trying to explain away consciousness….To say, oh well, we don’t know what consciousness is, but our computers will compute so fast that it wont matter, that consciousness will emerge like one of their clouds, is I think, one their fundamental vanities of the [Silicon] Valley”.

“What I am against, as Bill Buckley used to call it, ‘immanentizing the eschaton‘; imagining some technology that you came up with last week will end the human adventure, that will subsume all our minds in the clouds, governed by eight giant companies in China and the US, with a few nerds in Israel contributing all the new ideas. This is the vision that I don’t think is going to prevail. I think the human adventure will continue after Google.”

Amen to that, brother.

At 79 years of age, George Gilder speaks as if he were suffering from some neurological ailment that I am not qualified or able to diagnose. Yet he remains a formidable thinker, a seer. I like him. He believes that in principle, machines cannot think, and I agree with him. He foresees the end of the dominance of the current masters of the universe, and how it may come about. He has addressed a vital issue of public interest in Life after Google. Curiously, paradoxically, Gilder reminds me of Timothy Leary, the acid apostle, by his great optimism, but unlike Leary George Gilder is grounded in a formidable mind

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The Google video of 2016: Guardian values and Pharisees

Sergei Brin, cofounder of Google

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRf9UxsM-NE

https://youtu.be/FRf9UxsM-NE

(Paranoid note: every other video I have loaded appears in full, but Google’s video of its own meeting appears only as a hyperlink).

 

 

“I certainly find this election deeply offensive” said Sergei Brin, co-founder of Google. “So many people don’t share the values we have”.

And it goes from there. Fear. Everyone is supposed to feel fear at the prospect of the Trump regime. Minorities are in danger and need to be stood up for. Women likewise. Liberal values are to be stood up for. Yet the same corporation endlessly touting its values fired James Damore in August 2017 for politely protesting the corporation’s bias towards preferential hiring of  women.

I have had experience with Google employees at several levels of seniority over the years, and I feel quite certain that the vast majority are leftist Democrats, which is not surprizing considering the San Francisco Bay area culture. But what bugs me – as the movie reveals – is the enormous self-vaunting, the endless prattling on about their “values”. This is a company whose core business is to sell advertizing. It guts previous business models and replaces them with its own. This is normal creative destruction, in the manner that Schumpeter spoke of. However painful, this is the stuff of economic progress. And talk to former newspaper people if you want to know what Google has wrought.

When the Vice President says that “this is a place where you can bring your whole self to work”, clearly she does not include conservatives (min 16:30)

“We all talk a lot about what it means to be Googley”, said CFO Ruth Porat. The endless blather about tolerance, respect and diversity grates when one compares it to the outrageous and actual treatment of Damore. More, the tone of the film is that the poor people of Google have endured something like the 1940 Blitz of London, or having been unhoused by a hurricane, and that they need reassurance and a group hug, and assurance tot the 10,000 or so working on visa that their visas will remain valid.

Values, values, values: it is irritating and faintly nauseating.

A few years ago the late Jane Jacobs published a marvellous concise book called Systems of Survival. It dealt with the differences in morality between what she called Guardian institutions – the church, the regiment, the academy – and commercial institutions.

If you hand a suitcase of cash to a businessman, that is right and proper, because you are exchanging cash for a private benefit. If you hand a suitcase of cash to a public official, that is a crime of corruption. Why? Her book seeks to answer the question. She also said that corruption occurs when a commercial corporation adopts Guardian values. Thus, the old telephone monopolies constantly appealed to their status as institutions serving the public, and they had a genuine public service ethos. They could afford the attitude because they were monopolies.

Google has Guardian values, but instead of public service being its goal, that is, actually doing something for the general public, it constantly propagandizes its membership/employees with the notion that it stands for superior values: tolerance, inclusion, and diversity being the modern conception of virtue. It thus succeeds in being smug, intolerant, exclusive, and as proud of itself as the Roman Church of centuries past.

Is Google morally bankrupt? Is that not too harsh? It all depends on whether you pay attention to anything Jesus said about Pharisees, about words without deeds. It is not what we put into our mouths that defiles us, but by what comes out of our mouths that defiles us.

In the case of Google I am prepared to argue that the company needs all the self-vaunting talk of values to disguise from itself and its staff that its real business is centralizing the control of information. In short, an illiberal idea being carried out by liberals prattling on about their superior values.

 

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Here is Joe Rogan talking to James Damore, and you will find out all you need to know about Google’s values:

 

 

 

The New Dune

I hear that Denis Villeneuve is making a reprise of Frank Herbert‘s Dune. It will take a supreme artistry to outdo the evil depicted by David Lynch’s version of Baron Harkonnen and his nephews.

Trump would make an excellent Baron Harkonnen, except he is an actual tough guy, not a fat actor playing one.

“He who controls the spice controls the universe!”

Though it was a commercial flop at the time, Lynch’s Dune is a triumph of the artistic imagination. It bears obsessive re-watching.

Also worthy of mention is the TV  miniseries.

Pinker versus Taleb

 

Rebel Yell has said that a communist can live with a national socialist as long as they have the same ideas of cleanliness and tidiness. I incline to agree, and it is in this irenic spirit that I declare my willingness to live with Steven Pinker, but NOT agree with him. We are not as far opposed as two totalitarians, but we have our issues.

I have just read Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Skin in the Game; they make a fascinating contrast in styles. The issue between them concerns two different and largely incompatible ways of knowing the world.

I had heard that Taleb had written incendiary reviews of Pinkler’s previous work, The Better Angels of Our Nature, wherein Pinker argues that we have entered an era of declining losses by death in war, the Long Peace, following World War 2. Taleb thinks this is nonsense; the post world war 2 peace is just an artifact of not having had a serious war in 70 years, which will most assuredly come, says Taleb, we know not when, but we had better not bet against it.

Pinker is a Montreal-born professor of psychology who teaches at Harvard. He opposes political correctness, disparages the blank slate idea of mind, upholds the reality of group IQ differences, regards Islam with a baleful eye, and rightly considers that we are living in and age of unprecedented, widespread and increasing prosperity. His main axis of attack is against the prevailing catastrophism and cultural negativism at universities and in modern culture more generally. His books demonstrate that the world is getting better for everyone, rapidly. So far so good.

Taleb says in effect, not so fast, dude. On the main contention of The Better Angels of Our Nature, that human propensity for violence is declining, Taleb maintains:

we as humans can not be deemed as less belligerent than usual. For a
conflict generating at least 10 million casualties, an event less
bloody than WW1 or WW2, the waiting time is on average
136 years, with a mean absolute deviation of 267 (or 52 years
and 61 deviations for data rescaled to today’s population). The
seventy years of what is called the “Long Peace” are clearly
not enough to state much about the possibility of WW3 in the
near future.

Pinker’s cheerful reasonableness really grates in Taleb, and I can see why. Taleb comes from the Dark Side: his formative experience was growing up in Lebanon’s never ending civil war in the 1970s, whereas Pinker’s folk came from the Snowdon-NDG side of Westmount Mountain in Montreal, where hard working Jewish immigrants rose the ladder of success after escaping anti-semitic persecution in Tsarist Russia.

So one guy in his youth experienced the world going to shit, and the other experienced the pleasant rise from Yiddish-speaking working class to  professoriate in two or three generations of Anglo-Montreal. And then off to Harvard where, through a stellar intelligence and hard work, he has written a series of highly successful books, most of which attack contemporary nonsense.

Yet Pinker manages to go off the rails in ways that send me and Taleb crazy. He accepts that the world will on average experience a 1.5C rise in temperature by the end of the 21st century, and perhaps by 4C or more. (Many reasonable people think so too, though I think the higher figure of a 4 degree C rise in a century is rubbish.) In any case the projections of increase are beside my point.

It is the proposed solution and his treatment of it that crosses over into well-reasoned insanity. It concerns planetary engineering by cloud seeding to lower the intake of solar energy.

Pinker writes:

For all these reasons, no responsible person could maintain that we can just keep pumping carbon into the air and slather sunscreen onto the stratosphere to compensate. But in a 2013 book the physicist David Keith makes a claim for a form of climate engineering that is moderate, responsive and temporary.“Moderate” means that the amounts of sulfate and calcite would be just enough to reduce the rate of warming, not cancel it altogether…. “Responsive” means that any manipulation would be careful, gradual, closely monitored , constantly adjusted and, if indicated, halted altogether. And “temporary” means that the program would be designed only to give humanity breathing space until it eliminates greenhouse gas emissions and brings the CO2 in the atmosphere back to preindustrial levels.

How many heroic assumptions are made in this paragraph?

  • that we know enough to calculate the amounts of particulates to dump into the atmosphere when we cannot even measure an average global temperature when no such thing as an average global temperature exists – and that is just the beginning of the heroic assumptions along this path of reasoning.
  • that there would exist an institutional opposition strong enough to call a halt to the engineering, when all our experience to date shows that opposition to measures to control global warming are treated as a combination of treason and heresy.
  • that we can reduce CO2 to preindustrial levels without engendering the very poverty that burning fossil fuels extracted us from.
  • That we should reduce CO2 to preindustrial levels, when the evidence points to the greening of the planet under the influence of more CO2, which had sunk in the last ice age to levels so low (140 ppm)  that vegetation was starving for the CO2 it craves.

No engineering of the planet can by its nature be moderate, responsive or temporary. Can you imagine the shit storm if someone challenged the idea that global cloud seeding was not merely working, but plunging us back into the next ice age? That sea ice was expanding, glaciers descending and climate season shortening? Is there the slightest chance that the current toxic debates on climate change would be less dangerous when we have a world wide program of “moderate”, “responsive” and “temporary” cloud-seeding?

I kept hearing that Nassim Taleb was contemptuous of Pinker. He referred to him as a “higher level journalist” in his recent book, Skin in the Game. Then I read Pinker’s modest proposal, in the light of Taleb’s analysis of risk, and I understood. The tails of the distribution curves are always longer and fatter in reality than they are in the pure Gaussian bell curve, says Taleb, and gambling the planet on some wanker’s idea of “moderate, responsive and temporary” planetary engineering struck Taleb as the kind of idiocy only a Harvard professor could believe. As David Keith is also a Harvard professor, the two of them are drinking each other’s bath water, and I am sure both are splendid chaps, but they do not understand risk, and I think Taleb does.

Then, in Pinker’s final chapter on religion and humanism, Pinker comes up with this sort of gem:

“If the factual tenets of religion can no longer be taken seriously, and its ethical tenets depend entirely on whether they can be justified by secular morality, what about its claims to widsom on the great questions of existence?”

I keep wondering whether Pinker has connected the dots between religious decline and the raging SJWs he confronts at Harvard. Does he not see a link between empty rage, the confused, deeply unhappy people, and the fact they have been raised on a monoculture of “secular morality”: that the students he opposes and who try to shout him down are the products of a culture in decline from right understanding of man’s place in the universe? In short, the products of secular humanism?

The content of secular morality is a weak reed; it changes with every passing fancy, it denies the objective nature of truth. The difference between Islam and western concepts of political correctness is that Islam has fixed its “political correctness” for all time, ours changes with the week, into ever more insane attempts to explain inequality by every device other than that people, cultures, and religions are unequal, in fact, objectively unequal.

In short, in matters of what is central to happiness, the modern student is a shorn lamb in the wind, and people like Pinker are the sheep shearers, though they do not know it. Pinker wonders why their environment is so ideologically extreme and anti-enlightenment. Here we pass over into Jordan Peterson territory. Peterson has been dealing with the little savages from suburbia and has drawn direct links between secular values, post modernism, and the absence of religion.

Nevertheless, I warmly recommend both Pinker and Taleb. Pinker knows the world by facts and book learning and discussion; the other knows it by taking big risks with money and surviving, and by working out heuristics, which is Greek for rough and ready rules. The man who wrote the Black Swan and made a fortune betting against the real estate boom which crashed in 2007 is not to be trifled with. Taleb’s defence of religion is a remarkable insight into its value. He comments that God put Jesus into fully human form to show He had skin in the game.  Taleb is full of insights into bullshit detection, and his view of Pinker is that the professor is a higher form of BS. This may be true, it is certainly uncharitable, but Pinker can be read to profit regardless.

I know whom I would trust in a bar fight, both to see it coming and to get out in time, and to have enough tough friends to make an attack on us a painful waste of time.

I doubt that Pinker has seen the inside of the kind of bar where men can be seen wearing reflective outerwear from working on the roads, and where the men drink American domestic beers. But he would make an excellent dinner guest, as long as we could avoid the topic of religion and global warming.

Facebook, free speech and control

 

 

Matt Taibbi

One of the most important take-aways from Tim Wu’s The Master Switch is that censorship is facilitated by control of the market. Speech control follows ownership concentration. He points out how the Catholic Legion of Decency gained control of movies in the 1930s because of the vertical integration between movie theatre chains and production studios. In Wu’s phrase, a Catholic priest was controlling movies produced by Jews for a majority Protestant nation. The Legion of Decency could attach itself successfully to the movie business because the control of it was already secured by the owners of the studios.

“It is industrial structure that determines the limits of free speech.”

“The trick is that a concentrated industry need not be censorial by nature in order for its structure to produce a chilling effect on the freedom of expression….The problem is that a “speech industry” – as we might term any information industry — once centralized, becomes an easy target for external independent actors with strong reasons of their own for limiting speech. And these reasons may have nothing to do with the industry per se.” (The Master Switch at pp 121-123)

This brings us to Matt Taibbi’s article in Rolling Stone on Facebook: Can we be saved from the Social Media Giant?

The article needs to be seen as a useful changing of the subject, from Russia and Trump, to Trump and Facebook, to Facebook itself. It also signals a change in the description of the Internet, from an information cornucopia to an “informational landscape… controlled more or less entirely by a pair of advanced spying operations, Google and Facebook – and Facebook especially”.

Taibbi says that, “in many ways the [current] Facebook controversy is a canard”, meaning that the issue is media control, pure and simple, not Trump, and not Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Facbook has 2.1 billion customers today and grows by 50 to 100 million users per quarter, with revenues of $40.7 billion in 2017.

After a great deal of sanctimonious drivel from Taibbi about how everyone is becoming imprisoned in their own information ghettos – when were we not?- he gets to the real point. The “fake news” issue  is only the outer manifestation of the targetting of viewers with information, which is  a wholly legal advertizing technique. Moreover, it is “what the product was designed for.”

“Simply by growing so large that his firm ended up standing between media publishers and media consumers, constantly creating rules about who saw what, Zuckerberg and Facebook have created a thing America has never had before: an entrenched de facto media regulator”.

Obviously this is not fully accurate: see the discussion above about movie censorship, which lasted from the 1930s  until the 1960s. But Taibbi is accurate when he says that Facebook and Google can sell eyeballs to advertizers with exquisite accuracy, with the result that the two of them garner 63.1% of digital advertizing revenues

The complaint of publishers is that 1) they can never learn how the Facebook algorithm works, which determines who sees what, and 2) they receive frequently changing information on how to optimize content to reach maximum attention.

Taibbi indulges in a lot of ‘de haut en bas‘ – condescending –  talk about how the press used to work better in the days of printing presses, and how the soiled masses insist on getting their own reality manifested in their choices of media. He writes from the point of view of a Democrat contemplating the frightfulness of the lower orders insisting on their right to receive the information they want, which is part of the reason why Trump now sits in the White House.

Nevertheless, there is justice in his conclusion that “a functioning free press just can’t co-exist with an unaccountable private regulator”.

His argument ends up resembling the argument about net neutrality, which applies to underlying physical carriers of signals – or not. In net neutrality regimes, such as Canada’s, there exists a regulator that determines whether a behaviour by a carrier amounts to unjust discrimination against a particular use or a group of users. “Neutrality” is not an absolute but a sliding scale of offences and permitted actions. Most important, there is a referee.

In the case of Facebook and Google, we are not dealing with a carrier, but with a software platform, and no law governs their behaviour towards publishers seeking to reach audiences through them. No one has assimilated software platforms to common carriers, yet. No one has to my knowledge proposed common carrier obligations for Facebook and Google. Moreover the US Federal Communications Commission has just removed net neutrality obligations from the carriers. Verizon and Comcast and the like can now squeeze content and viewers as they think best.

It is evident that the forces assembling against Google and Facebook will be coming from the political Left, and not only from conservatives concerned that these companies are running political cults.

My concern remains that, if the technical structure permits it, if there are points of control, these will be used to limit free discussion.