Monday, February 26, 2007

Runway Quants in the Vortex: Useless Math

Or, How you gonna keep them down on the farm after they see the bare shoulders of those seductive quantitative models?

The ships was free of bounds, it was true. But it had entered a phantasm allegorical.
The compass needles spinning in overdrive, as the calendar pages sucked into the vortex. And the models began to spit out gibberish. Yet a lazy air conditioned mid-ought porch somehow came to mind.

Spent a couple of evenings at Dr. Shroud’s home on a visit in the mid oughts. Piled high were scientific journals, to be tossed about, launched hazhapardly in the air, and ingested like artsy scientific popcorn, I guess. There was that and true fiddle faddle too, and the tube was always on. The mags were fodder for grand illuminations in underneath the Shroud’s bald cranium.

The covers of the journals - I hadn’t really sat down with these types of publications for some ten years before - were surprising - very vivid, imagistic, literally abstract, because the computer model had come recently into being big time. The data was increasingly being modeled and visualized. Big rolls of colored toilet paper unflapping. Ordinate Mounds of pudding interspersed with graphs of cherries and whip cream. Topological candy, psychedelic morphing. All representing black holes in conjuration, populations in migration, penicillin reactions in Tibetans, and thangs. All bringing interesting visualizations of phenomena. Ones a good science head could nog on and, oh, I don’t know, maybe edge closer to cure for cancer.

Nay, colonel, you are jumping back when you should be jumping ahead.

Yes, true, in fact I am.

The model. You first hold it up and you are wary. Then it becomes familiar, and you believe it more than a fair representation. Like anything, the model can be mishandled The glue gets to you. It provides a warmth. Although it is just a theory, it starts to look better than the real thing. Even better if it’s a good theory; less better if not. Which brings us to the object of today’s post: Useless Arithmetic. A topic dear to the heart of many a school boy. The notion of Useless Arthmetic authored by Orin Pilkey and Linda Pilkey-Jarvis.

The notion of Useless Arthmetic is appealing. The models must make assumptions. As we move up the scale, as the systems become more complex, it is likely the assumptions will begin to overcome the outcome. Last straws and such. Theory has its limits in the real world. Thes notion is bopped about in the new book Useless Arithmetic.

The notion of Useless Arthmetic is appealing. But it does arrive during an important effort to move global warming from the debating society stage to the lets do something about it society stage.

Note the authors do see a problem with their assertion: One is climate change, in which, they say, experts' justifiable caution about model uncertainties can encourage them to ignore accumulating evidence, and so on. The shoe is usually on the other foot ["Remember when the facts dont fit the model, the facts got to change."]

As I looked closer at the blog trail of useless math tears it appeared authors were not entirely opposed to modeling, but were concerned that it is being overused and under-understood. The publisher has up some comments too. These are pr comments. Abuzz. "The book offers fascinating case studies depicting how the seductiveness of quantitative models has led to unmanageable nuclear waste disposal practices, poisoned mining sites, unjustifiable faith in predicted sea level rise ... " Oh those seductive quantitative models, they broke up many a happy home.

The Problems in Modeling Nature, With Its Unruly Natural Tendencies - New York Times
Useless Arithmetic; Why Environmental Scientists Can't Predict the Future
Places and Spaces: Useless Arithmetic
Under the Covers: Useless arithmetic? - Gristmill: The environmental news blog

Note.. .The American Scientist has about the best treatment here, but that article is only open to subscribers. Maybe I can summ it later...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Silver bullets, Kimosabe

Some of the stuff gets lost over the years. One web site I worked for transfered ownership, and the Web server actually fell off the back of the truck during migration.

Anyway, found this old story the other day about XML. It is from April 1999, and pretty suprisingly on target in a lot of ways as to what XML turned into. This story includes part of an interview I did via E-mail with Web Inventer Tim Berners Lee. I saved the email. It's around the house somewhere. A giggy kid I still is.

As a journalist, I wish I could have picked up on RSS seems to me like the killer app for least for content folks. XML:The last silver bullet -ADT

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Return of Corker Jambalaya - E Tu, fey!

Got to Dennis Pultinas' for dinner with Jake and Cecelia. And Allison, Walter and Detrich and met niece Ella. [Victor was in Ecuador on way to madri gras in Rio.] And we talked about trees, cats, buildings, New York. Dennis cooked fish and I served jambalaya. Added some comments to recipe which is more a general scheme than a coded program. Click to access.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Quick Chronicle: The Malt Cup Adage

Things I remember that I'd pass on [if you were teacihng your son to drive you would to].

Met this girl once, she was a roomate of a girl I was troubledly [uneventfully] courting.

How are doing? we say

Well I am a little shook up. says she.


Just had a car accident. I could have died.

Really? How?

I was coming in on the Mass Pike, and the car flipped over. I can't believe I walked away from it.

How'd it happen?

I just know I was getting a sip from a malt from MacDonalds. I tipped it over and it spilled, and I tried to grab it, and the next thing I knew the car was going sideways.

Background: This recalls a long-ago Florida plane crash where the pilot and co-pilot fixated on a recalictrant indicator light while, all the time, they were losing altitude.

Which leads to chronicle adage. Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel. And if you take them off the road if just to grab an Altoid, remember that you are courting trouble.

1939 – The Lost World of the Fair

Bubsy Berkeley’s musicals - linoleum, acrylic and fleshy - were an exotic Depression-era tonic that, historians have subsequently suggested may have softened the hard existential torrent that pelted a weary 1930s public. There were other expressions of The Dream of Beauty and Peace.

In 1939, the New York World’s Fair enlisted great commercial concerns like G.M., General Electric, Westinghouse and Consolidated Edison, together with the PR arms of nations such as Japan, USSR and Italy, to create great pavilions of something or other. This was suitably leavened with some burlesque [sometimes highbrow – Salvador Dali took part] and amusement rides, and it all came to be well after the fact something of a statement of what a wonderful world it could be and would be in some suitable place known as the future.

Futurama designed by Norman Bel Gedes was the GM exhibit and it epitomizes the fair for some folks…folks like me. It was like a Disney ride where you traversed the world of the future, replete with skyscrapered cities with super highways connecting. Not too far off really, there. But it was done to a scale where you didn’t see the angst and woe on the edges of the skyscraper parts of town. My father took me to the 1964 World’s Fair, in a quick afternoon, and I was only allowed choice of one exhibit [the Johnsons Wax pavilion and the Vatican pavilion featuring Michelangelo’s Pieta were already penciled in] and I insisted on GM’s 1964 Futurama. And I think I got something of a sense of the Futuralma Worlds Fair experience. I was gassed. But it could only have been wilder in 1939 when real Italian futurism was actually still in the air. What I count as the first TV broadcast – RCA’s take on F.D.R.s inspiring opening speech – happened there.

David Gelernter in “1939 – The Lost World of the Fair” tries to get the feel of the fair in 39. Which many have come to see as a last gasp of hope before world war. Gelernter surveyed a lot of books, interviewed fair goers, strove to evoke the ethos and cover the facts in this book. But I’d have to say it comes up short. The only other book I’ve read by Gelernter, who is a Yale professor of Computer Science [I got to talk with him a couple of times .. I credit him as inventor of the Linda distributed OS.], was Mirror Worlds, which kind of forsaw the simulated worlds of the Internet today. [Tragically, after Mirror Worlds, Gelernter was maimed by the Ludditic Unabomber.] That book was really hard to understand – Gelernter, if you will, was taken by the dream. This one, “1939,” comes up short as his incessant grounding in facts lets the air out of the dream. It’s tough, you gotta be here and you gotta be there. Getting the mix is the trick. I’m trying to be Fair, World.

I agree with the Amazon critic who called it a disjointed labyrinth of NYWF information. For a better take, I’d say check out "The World of Tomorrow" a documentary film on the 1939 World's Fair, narrated by Jason Robarts. But it is not apparent to me that that is in print.

Gelernter says the desktop metaphor is dead -ADT

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A note about a Web Service widget - RSS Include - and my feed about Racine..

This site's only widget...the RSS Include at Left ... went dark for a month or so. I dug into the RSS Include forums...and ...they did have an issue in Dec with their ISP not receiving their check for the hosting... but anyway..the thing has sprung back to is a chronicle of Deracination..things to do with Wisconsin.. go to to see what backed up when the widget went south... including news on Dr Little receiving recognition for his good the way, Racine's Barbara McNair, a friend of our friend, Savanah, died.

So anyway widgets going wiggy..what a notion! I remember very vividly having an opportunity to ask a question of Tim Berners-Lee [Inventor of the Web] years ago... the topic of the day was Web services.. at the time he was concerned about these Web services being out there and being called ut going a lot of was an issue he saw .. and one that really is out there now.

Chronicle Entry: Giving away ads

Until recently [things good or bad are in the past...the present is different], I'd never worked at a publication where we did not hear the refrain: "They are giving them away."

Now some good guys I worked with visit this site...don't get me wrong. We always tried.

This relates to the competition, who somehow always sell lower than us. We are talking about advertising pages here. As I have had the opportunity to switch from one pub to a competitve pub, I've had in turn the opportunity to observe the phenonona from opposite sides of the spectrum.

Many times I had correlative evidence that this was in fact true. Companies went out of business, but publications would continue to run their ads. They had the 'mechanicals' and they ran with them. But it got to where I had to grudgingly admire the competition merely for obtaining those mechanicals [over 20 years the mechanical, read: actual, version of the ad was often more daunting to obtain than was the money for the ad [one place I worked was bought and sold and the new accountant told me no one in the previous regime had ever tried to receive accountables for any ads they'd run but not received pay for.]].

Which leads to this Chronicle adage -

They may be giving it away but even that takes work.

What's it supposed to mean? Don't count out the competition too quick. Keep an eye on your processes. Is it easy to work with your orgainization? As easy as it should be?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Chronicle: That toggle switch moment of Jayne

Back in 1963, the Chicago Postmaster held up an issue of Playboy - characterized it as pornography. It was the issue featuring Jayne Mansfield. Now, at this point, Playboy had been being mailed for several years. The reporters asked the postmaster why he held up this one. Why hold up the issue with Jayne Mansfield? And he answers, yes they have shown it before, but Jayne has more of it.

What’s it supposed to mean?
The rules of logic and progression work up to a point. But then you can reach a critical mass, reach a threshold. The switch toggles state. Logic gives way to emotion. This could explain, for example, why you have a schedule for paying free lancers but you pay another one more.

The real story.
Like many things, I’ve used this story so long I believe it to be true. In fact, it was not the postmaster who made the remark about Miss Mansfield. Maybe I came up with postmaster bit. Discovered as I was posting this: Playboy publisher Hefner was arrested for obscenity by Chicago Vice Squad for the June 1963 pictorial "The Nudest Jayne Mansfield." The trial ended with a hung jury. And found Time coverage of event… Hefner was source of comment … to wit…

What got Chicago's vice squad into the act was an eight-page exposure in the June Playboy (circ. 1,250,000) of overripe Actress Jayne Mansfield. In bed and bubblebath, Jayne revealed everything except what an un-Sanforized G string might conceal. But there was nothing particularly unusual about that, for scores of equally nude "playmates" have appeared in the magazine in its 9½-year history. Why the pinch now? "Jayne has more than most," says Hefner by way of explanation. "She makes people nervous."

Uber Background:
What is a Herald Traveller Chronicle story? Something that has become a life lesson for me. You tell an anecdote that you think has some larger meaning. And retell it and retell it. Til over time it may becomes a koan. You risk boring people you meet, and you refine and hone. You think you are brilliant. So why not put it on your blog. This is your life.

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