November 2009 Archives

In case I wasn't clear enough yesterday, I believe that the most profound effect of the leaked climate change emails will be that the anthropogenic global warming movement will begin to lose the adherence of generally liberal geeks.

Up to this point, it was difficult to challenge the conclusions of AGW-believing climate scientists because most geeks don't have much expertise in climatology. We tend to consider ourselves scientists and to give other scientists in other areas of expertise the benefit of the doubt. Without a great deal of experience in climatology, it's hard for a geek to justify spending much time questioning the modes and methods of professional climate researchers.

However, the email leak has changed all this. Along with a hoard of emails, some source code for the computer climate models was also hacked and released to the public -- and the source code is an unusable mess. It doesn't take expertise in climatology to look at source code and determine that the code is garbage. There are many more geeks with software expertise than with climate expertise, and the geek community will go through every line of code and likely conclude that the computer models are so flawed that any conclusions drawn on them are without merit.

Despite the liberal tendencies of many geeks, I believe that the source code evidence will be insurmountable for most. Some will continue to cling to AGW because of a devotion to left-wing politics, but the majority of geeks will abandon their belief, and that abandonment by geeks will truly spell the end for AGW.

I'd venture that most software geeks are fairly leftist and generally support the theory that human activity is causing global warming. In that light, the biggest revelation from the recently hacked global warming emails might be the awfulness of the climate simulation code.

I've examined two files in some depth and found (OK so Harry found some of this)
  • Inappropriate programming language usage
  • Totally nuts shell tricks
  • Hard coded constant files
  • Incoherent file naming conventions
  • Use of program libray subroutines that appear to be
    • far from ideal in how they do things when the work
    • do not produce an answer consistent with other way to calculate the same thing
    • but which fail at undefined times
    • and where when the function fails the the program silently continues without reporting the error


More code analysis.

I'm pretty proficient at writing simulation software: it's how I earned my PhD and how I earn a living. I've also worked closely with self-trained programmers who only write code to advance their research in other fields, and I can tell you that their code is almost always terrible. Writing good software is extremely difficult, and it doesn't surprise me at all that the climate modeling software is so bad as to be useless. It is always wise to be skeptical about the outputs of simulations, especially if you cannot see the source code for yourself.

Is it just me, or does every single piece of software on my computer feel the need to download and install updates nearly every day? It's reaching the point of absurdity.

My wife loves dogs so we've watched a lot of Cesar Millan, and one of our favorite episodes of South Park is the episode "Tsst", in which:

When Cartman's mom realizes she can't control her son anymore, she gets help from an expert. The "Dog Whisperer" may have what it takes but Eric Cartman's not going down without a fight.

And now, three years later, life imitates South Park.

It’s little wonder, then, that some parents, and even a few child therapists, have found themselves taking mental notes from a television personality known for inspiring discipline, order and devotion: Cesar Millan, otherwise known as the Dog Whisperer.

The suggestion that the Dog Whisperer is also a Child Whisperer of sorts has popped up — sometimes couched as a joke, but, well, not really — in parents’ forums like blogs, online discussion boards, magazines, Twitter feeds and podcasts. Some parents are starting to take notice.

“When we started watching his shows, we had intended to apply his advice toward our dogs,” said Amy Twomey, a blogger on parenthood for The Dallas Morning News who is raising three children under 10 with her husband, Matt. “But we realized a lot of ideas can be used on our kids.”

Yep! Our thoughts were on that same track way before we had an almost-one-year-old. Thanks to Cesar's techniques, Violet quickly learned not to touch the television or video equipment that's right at her head level in the living room.

(HT: James Taranto.)

C. Edmund Wright makes an excellent analogy to explain why government officials aren't qualified to run the economy:

Can Barney Frank Dunk on Lebron? No, he cannot. Nor can anyone else in Washington. Nor can they catch passes from Ben Rothlisberger in the Super Bowl or strike out Derek Jeter in the World Series. They are not equipped to do so.

So what?

This ridiculous image speaks to the business malaise infecting the economy since Obama took office. The point is that politicians are equally ill-equipped to run the auto industry or the health industry or the lending industry or the insurance industry -- and their determination to do so is sucking all the dynamism from the entrepreneurial class in this country.

It's called hubris, and on the part of our leaders it will lead -- as it always does -- to tragedy. People need to know their limits, and in my experience the greatest part of humility is recognizing that everything wouldn't necessarily be "better" if I just had more power over you.

Since Obama made the promise I've asserted that there was no chance of him actually closing the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention facility in January, 2010... and I was right! (Along with many other people.)

President Obama directly acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay will not close by the January deadline he set, but he said he hoped to still achieve that goal sometime next year.

Obama refused, however, to set a new deadline. ...

Despite the slow trickle of prisoners out of the facility, Obama insisted in the interview that the facility will be shuttered eventually.

"We are on a path and a process where I would anticipate that Guantanamo will be closed next year," he said. "I'm not going to set an exact date because a lot of this is also going to depend on cooperation from Congress."

Unless I'm mistaken, Obama can move those prisoners to domestic federal prisons without permission from Congress. Is there some legal obstacle I'm not aware of?

I think the fact of the matter is that Obama is now beginning to realize that the promises he made during his candidacy were naive. I suppose I could be more cynical and say that he never intended to keep any of these promises at all, but even giving him the benefit of the doubt reveals that he was not even vaguely ready to be President.

Are you a stock or a bond?

Human capital is a measure of the present value of your client’s future wages, income and salary (net of any future income taxes and expenses). For example, if she is a doctor, lawyer, engineer or even a professor, she has probably invested an enormous amount of time, effort and money to finance her education. That investment will hopefully pay off over many future years of productive labour income in the form of job dividends over the next 10, 20 or even 30 years. Sure, clients can’t really touch, feel or see human capital, but like an oil reserve deep under the sands of Alberta, it will eventually be extracted and so it’s definitely worth something now. ...

Your human capital can be viewed as a hedge against the losses in your financial capital. So, as a 50-, 40-, or especially 30-year old, you should be willing to take more chances with your total portfolio, perhaps even borrow to invest or leverage into the stock market, because you have the ability to mine more human capital if needed.

I'm sorta both (my job is fairly secure, but I'm also a bit entrepreneurial), but time-wise I spend most of my time as a bond. I have taken this into consideration as I have designed my investment portfolio, and definitely take more risks that I would if I were self-employed.

(HT: My Money Blog.)

I interviewed with Google, but I stopped returning their calls after the second interview because I thought their interview process was dumb. I don't think they would have hired me anyway, because I didn't really conceal my frustration with their questions. Nightmare Google interviews appear to be common, which begs the question: why?

“Estimate the number of students who are college seniors, attend four-year schools, and graduate with a job in the United States every year.” This time I remained poised.

“There are about 300 million people in the nation” I began. “Let’s say 10 million of those are college students at four year schools. Only ¼ of those 10 million are seniors, so that would be roughly 2-3 million. If half of those students graduate with jobs, you’re looking at about 1.5 million kids.”

“Would you say that number seems high, low, or just about right?”

“I would say it sounds low, but maybe that’s because I’m going through the job-search process and I’m wishing the number was higher.”

I didn’t even get a sympathetic laugh. “That’s all. Good luck with your job search.” The phone clicked-- I was stunned. The abrupt sign-off was a clear indication that I wouldn’t be considered for round 2.

In my own case, I was asked to provide compilable C++ code over the phone to the interviewer. The interviewer said I could use a pen and paper to write it out before reading it to him, but was flummoxed when I told him that that wouldn't be possible. I was interviewing for Google from the workplace of my then-current job, and I was on my cell phone outside because I couldn't very easily do that from my cubicle. I asked if I could give him pseudocode, but apparently he had to type my response into an actual compiler to verify my coding ability. Then we got into an argument about how to implement a merge sort. Then the interviewer tried to convince me that the correct answer to a question he asked was to use a quick sort algorithm because it's faster than merge sort. Of course quick sort is not faster than merge sort in a worse-case scenario, which I tried to explain, to no avail.

At this point I suggested that we move on to the next question, but the interviewer would not do so until I verbally related some compilable C++ code for my preferred sorting algorithm. I did my best, but I highly doubt that whatever I told him would compile and successfully execute a merge sort. After this we did move on, but I could tell that the interviewer was as frustrated as I was, and the rest of the conversation was tense.

So, why does Google interview this way? Sure, they want to restrict their hiring to smart people who are likely to fit in with their corporate culture, but what company doesn't want that? Most companies, however, couldn't get away with interview questions like these because they aren't in Google's enviable top-of-the-heap position. Google interviews the way it does for two reasons: because it can get away with it, and to feed the egos of employees. It's not clear to me that this interview style actually contributes to business performance, but it certainly does not eliminate the possibility of future comeuppance. When Google tumbles off the top of the heap, you can be sure that their interview style will find some humility.

Here's a list of five successful social engineering techniques. And how about a social engineering FAQ?

Got any tricks of your own?

I'm not sure how the anonymous writer can characterize this as a wrongness by the Right while agreeing that Obama humiliated himself and America by groveling before Japan's emperor.

Obama's handshake/forward lurch was so jarring and inappropriate it recalls Bush's back-rub of Merkel.

Kyodo News is running his appropriate and reciprocated nod and shake with the Empress, certainly to show the president as dignified, and not in the form of a first year English teacher trying to impress with Karate Kid-level knowledge of Japanese customs.

The bow as he performed did not just display weakness in Red State terms, but evoked weakness in Japanese terms....The last thing the Japanese want or need is a weak looking American president and, again, in all ways, he unintentionally played that part.

I'm glad our current president is so much more subtle and nuanced than our previous.

I find this display of obsequiousness both distasteful and insulting to me as an American citizen.

(HT: Gateway Pundit.)

I guess this is a case of "if you understand, it probably doesn't apply to you": real marginal tax rates make work unrewarding for poor.

To say that antipoverty programs in the United States are perverted may be an understatement. When you take into account the loss of means-tested benefits (e.g., cash assistance, food stamps, housing subsidies, and health insurance), and the taxes that people pay on earned income, the return to working is essentially zero for those in the lower two quintiles of the income distribution.

For many of the working poor, the implicit marginal tax rate is greater than 100 percent. The long-run consequence of undermining the positive incentive to work is, of course, the creation of an underclass acclimated to not working; the supplement of cash and noncash benefits with income from crime and the underground economy; and the government resorting to negative incentives such as mandatory work programs.

Below, I show the relationship between earned income and after-tax income plus subsidies for a hypothetical Virginia family of three, consisting of one adult and two minor children. As you can see, the relationship is essentially flat from $0 to about $40,000 in earned income.

The point is that there isn't much reason for a poor family to work when every extra dollar they earn reduces the government benefits they receive by a dollar or more. It's hard to see how such a system benefits anyone, even the poor.

Too bad this kid will one day learn that her parents bartered custody of her for sculptures.

Udo Fritz-Hermann Brandhorst, an heir to Germany’s Henkel AG & Co. fortune and a major art collector, avoided a public court case in New York by settling a lawsuit filed by his former mistress involving two Damien Hirst sculptures and a custody dispute.

The settlement was reached Sunday night according to the woman, Venetia Kapernekas, and Brandhorst’s lawyers.

Kapernekas, a 49-year-old New York art dealer filed a suit in federal court in Manhattan claiming an interest in the two Hirsts, which have been valued at an estimated $47.6 million, court documents show. The custody suit, involving their 8-year- old daughter, was being heard in New York County Family Court.

Kapernekas has agreed to drop the federal suit and claims on the Hirsts in exchange for: custody of their daughter (Brandhorst gets visitation and vacation rights); a one-time payment of $100,000; a $500,000 trust for the daughter’s education; a loft on Wooster Street in Manhattan’s Soho district valued at about $5 million to be held in the daughter’s name as sole owner; $5,000 a month in child support; and $640,000 to cover Kapernekas’s legal expenses, according to Kapernekas.

Sad, but maybe the sculptures were simply being used as leverage to provide for the daughter's future?

(HT: Marginal Revolution, Felix Salmon.)

Last week I asked how Nidal Malik Hasan could shoot almost 45 people while surrounded by soldiers. My mistake was in assuming that soldiers on an Army base would be armed. Apparently military bases are gun-free zones, making them "target-rich environments".

Neither Smith nor the other victims of Hasan’s assault had guns because soldiers on military bases within the United States generally are not allowed to carry them. Last week’s shootings, which killed 13 people and wounded more than 30, demonstrated once again the folly of “gun-free zones,” which attract and assist people bent on mass murder instead of deterring them. ...

The first people with guns to confront Hasan, two local police officers, were the ones who put a stop to his rampage. And while Sgt. Kim Munley and Sgt. Mark Todd acted heroically, they did not arrive on the scene until a crucial 10 minutes or so had elapsed and Hasan had fired more than 100 rounds.

If someone else at the processing center had a gun when Hasan started shooting, it seems likely that fewer people would have been killed or injured. Furthermore, the knowledge that some of his victims would be armed might have led him to choose a different, softer target in order to maximize the impact of his attack.

Gun-free zones are naturally magnets for would-be mass murderers. I try hard to avoid them. The advocates of disarmament have a lot of blood on their hands.

Eamon Javers asks a contrarian question: "Is China headed toward collapse?".

Chanos and the other bears point to several key pieces of evidence that China is heading for a crash.

First, they point to the enormous Chinese economic stimulus effort — with the government spending $900 billion to prop up a $4.3 trillion economy. “Yet China’s economy, for all the stimulus it has received in 11 months, is underperforming,” Gordon Chang, author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” wrote in Forbes at the end of October. “More important, it is unlikely that [third-quarter] expansion was anywhere near the claimed 8.9 percent.”

Chang argues that inconsistencies in Chinese official statistics — like the surging numbers for car sales but flat statistics for gasoline consumption — indicate that the Chinese are simply cooking their books. He speculates that Chinese state-run companies are buying fleets of cars and simply storing them in giant parking lots in order to generate apparent growth. ...

This, Chanos and others argue, is happening in sector after sector in the Chinese economy. And that means the Chinese are in danger of producing huge quantities of goods and products that they will be unable to sell.

So how to hedge against China's failure?

To all America's veterans and those currently serving: thank you.

I've been trying to push towards an idea like this at my company: "Facebook" for scientists.

Unlike users of the regular Facebook, scientists won’t need to regularly update their profiles.

Instead, research details such as the name, title and publication record will be automatically culled from scientific journals and university Web sites.

“This new network will help researchers find one another and explore potential avenues of collaboration that they might not have considered before,” says Kristi Holmes, bioinformaticist at Washington University’s Bernard Becker Medical Library.

(HT: RB.)

Nancy Pelosi outmaneuvered Republicans by using faux abortion restrictions to get conservative Democrats on board with Obamacare.

In a victory for President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled House narrowly passed landmark health care legislation Saturday night to expand coverage to tens of millions who lack it and place tough new restrictions on the insurance industry. Republican opposition was nearly unanimous.

The 220-215 vote cleared the way for the Senate to begin debate on the issue that has come to overshadow all others in Congress. ...

In the run-up to a final vote, conservatives from the two political parties joined forces to impose tough new restrictions on abortion coverage in insurance policies to be sold to many individuals and small groups. They prevailed on a roll call of 240-194.

Ironically, that only solidified support for the legislation, clearing the way for conservative Democrats to vote for it.

If Republicans hoped that the abortion restrictions would push pro-abortion leftists into the "no" camp they badly miscalculated. Far more likely is that the restrictions will simply be removed by the conference committee if the Senate every passes a bill.

Nice job Republicans, you got played by one of the worst Speakers in history.

I feel like I saw this years ago... am I wrong?

Before addressing the terrorist attack at Fort Hood Thursday, President Obama opened his remarks with a "shout out" to Dr. Joe Medicine Crow who the president apparently believed was a "Medal of Honor winner". Crow did not receive the Medal of Honor, but was awarded the Medal of Freedom by... President Obama way way back in... August. Good thing we have such a cerebral president who is able to navigate the subtleties of leadership with such nuance.

Furthermore, am I the only one offended by the use of the word "winner" in conjunction with the Congressional Medal of Honor? The Medal of Honor is not won like a prize, it is earned by extreme bravery in the service of our country. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society uses the word "recipient" for people who have been given the medal, and that seems a lot more appropriate than "winner".

It's almost as if our president knows nothing and cares nothing about the military people he leads.

I've read a lot about the Fort Hood massacre, but one question hasn't been addressed: don't soldiers carry weapons? How did one gunman with two pistols manage to shoot 45 people without being stopped? Here's how it went down, according to most reports.

The shooting spree began as some 300 soldiers had been lined up to get vaccinations and have their eyes tested at a Soldier Readiness Center, where troops who are about to be deployed or who are returning undergo medical screening. Nearby, others were lining up in commencement robes for a ceremony to celebrate soldiers and families who had recently earned degrees.

Soldiers reported that the gunman shouted "Allahu Akbar!" — Arabic for "God is great!" — before opening fire, said Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, the base commander. He said officials had not confirmed that Hasan made the comment.

Officials are not ruling out the possibility that some of the casualties may have been victims of "friendly fire," shot by responding military officials. ...

The gunman was struck four times by a civilian police officer who was wounded herself. Base officials said Kimberly Munley fired on the suspect just three minutes after the gunfire erupted and that her efforts ended the crisis. Munley was recovering Friday at a hospital.

"It was an amazing and aggressive performance by this police officer," Cone said.

So maybe some casualties were the result of friendly fire, but I expect that the shooter caused the vast majority of them. With two semiautomatic pistols. While surrounded by soldiers.

Something doesn't add up.

Welcome to Argleton, the city that only exists in Google-land.

Argleton, a 'phantom town' in Lancashire that appears on Google Maps and online directories but doesn't actually exist, has puzzled internet experts. ...

The town appears on Google Maps in the middle of fields close to the M58 motorway, just south of Ormskirk. ...

Roy Bayfield, head of corporate marketing at what would be Argleton's closest university, Edge Hill, in Ormskirk, was so intrigued by the mystery that he walked to the where the internet indicated was the centre of Argleton to check that there was definitely nothing there.

"A colleague of mine spotted the anomaly on Google Maps, and I thought 'I've got to go there'," he said.

"I started to weave this amazing fantasy about the place, an alternative universe, a Narnia-like world. I was really fascinated by the appearance of a non-existent place that the internet had the power to make real and give a semi-existence."

When Mr Bayfield reached Argleton – which appears on Google Maps between Aughton and Aughton Park – he found just acres of green, empty fields.

(HT: RB.)

This is completely insane. Iraqis use magic wand to detect explosives.

BAGHDAD — Despite major bombings that have rattled the nation, and fears of rising violence as American troops withdraw, Iraq’s security forces have been relying on a device to detect bombs and weapons that the United States military and technical experts say is useless.

The small hand-held wand, with a telescopic antenna on a swivel, is being used at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq. But the device works “on the same principle as a Ouija board” — the power of suggestion — said a retired United States Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, who described the wand as nothing more than an explosives divining rod.

Still, the Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each. Nearly every police checkpoint, and many Iraqi military checkpoints, have one of the devices, which are now normally used in place of physical inspections of vehicles.

How do they work?

To detect materials, the operator puts an array of plastic-coated cardboard cards with bar codes into a holder connected to the wand by a cable. “It would be laughable,” Colonel Bidlack said, “except someone down the street from you is counting on this to keep bombs off the streets.”

Proponents of the wand often argue that errors stem from the human operator, who they say must be rested, with a steady pulse and body temperature, before using the device.

Then the operator must walk in place a few moments to “charge” the device, since it has no battery or other power source, and walk with the wand at right angles to the body. If there are explosives or drugs to the operator’s left, the wand is supposed to swivel to the operator’s left and point at them.

These quotes don't exactly inspire confidence:

The Iraqis, however, believe passionately in them. “Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs,” said Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri, head of the Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives. ...

“I don’t care about Sandia or the Department of Justice or any of them,” General Jabiri said. “I know more about this issue than the Americans do. In fact, I know more about bombs than anyone in the world.”

No doubt. If this device weren't getting people killed I'd say that the inventors at ATSC (UK) Ltd. are geniuses.

(HT: NW.)

William Voegeli writes a brilliant contrast between high-tax/high-benefit states and low-tax/low-benefit states. The archetypes are California and Texas.

In 1956, the economist Charles Tiebout provided the framework that best explains why people vote with their feet. The “consumer-voter,” as Tiebout called him, challenges government officials to “ascertain his wants for public goods and tax him accordingly.” Each jurisdiction offers its own package of public goods, along with a particular tax burden needed to pay for those goods. As a result, “the consumer-voter moves to that community whose local government best satisfies his set of preferences.” In selecting a jurisdiction, the mobile consumer-voter is, in effect, choosing a club to join based on the benefits that it offers and the dues that it charges.

America’s federal system allows, at the state level, for 50 different clubs to join. At first glance, the states seem to differ between those that bundle numerous high-quality public benefits with high taxes and those that offer packages of low benefits and low taxes. These alternatives, of course, define the basic argument between liberals and conservatives over the ideal size and scope of government. Except for Oregon, John McCain carried every one of the 17 states with the lowest tax levels in the 2008 presidential election, while Barack Obama won every one of the 17 at the top of the list except for Wyoming and Alaska.

It’s not surprising, then, that an intense debate rages over which model is more satisfactory and sustainable. What is surprising is the growing evidence that the low-benefit, low-tax alternative succeeds not only on its own terms but also according to the criteria used by defenders of high benefits and high taxes. Whatever theoretical claims are made for imposing high taxes to provide generous government benefits, the practical reality is that these public goods are, increasingly, neither public nor good: their beneficiaries are mostly the service providers themselves, and their quality is poor. For evidence, look to the two largest states in the nation, which are fine representatives of the liberal and conservative alternatives.

Lots of data follows, but I think the key point is that low taxes are easier to deliver than high benefits.

If California doesn’t want to be Texas, it must find a way to be a better California. The easy thing about being Texas is that the government has a great deal of control over the part of its package deal that attracts consumer-voters—it must merely keep taxes low. California, on the other hand, must deliver on the high benefits promised in its sales pitch. It won’t be enough for its state and local governments to spend a lot of money; they have to spend it efficiently and effectively.

But spending money efficiently and effectively is probably what governments are worst at, which is why the high-tax/high-benefit model never seems to work out very well. The cry is always for greater accountability and reduced waste, but the end result is always more of the same: tax dollars are redistributed to favored groups to the detriment of the public as a whole. Low taxes are so much easier to deliver.

The Obama administration is apparently negotiating a secret copyright treaty whose absurd contents have been leaked.

The internet chapter of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a secret copyright treaty whose text Obama's administration refused to disclose due to "national security" concerns, has leaked. It's bad. It says:

* * That ISPs have to proactively police copyright on user-contributed material. This means that it will be impossible to run a service like Flickr or YouTube or Blogger, since hiring enough lawyers to ensure that the mountain of material uploaded every second isn't infringing will exceed any hope of profitability.

That's just the start of the badness. The whole thing is completely impossible to enforce, so I'm not particularly worried about it. intellectual property is dead and a piece of paper won't bring it back to life.

(HT: RD.)

InfoWorld sticks artificial intelligence the top of a list of IT snake oil, but I think they're being extremely unfair in doing so.

The pitch: "Some day we will build a thinking machine. It will be a truly intelligent machine. One that can see and hear and speak. A machine that will be proud of us." -- Thinking Machines Corp., year unknown

Once upon a time, machines were going to do our thinking for us. And then, of course, they'd grow tired of doing humanity's bidding and exterminate us.

The good news? We haven't been offed by the machines (yet). The bad news is that artificial intelligence has yet to fully deliver on its promises [8]. Like, for example, in 1964, when researchers at the newly created Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab assured the Pentagon that a truly intelligent machine was only about a decade away [9]. Guess what? It's still at least 10 years away.

This attack on AI betrays a fundamental ignorance about the field. In fact, the biggest failures in the AI community have been over-promising and controlling expectations. As the InfoWorld article acknowledges, there have been a host of successful AI technologies developed in the past decades:

Technologies that seem mundane to us now would have looked a lot like artificial intelligence 30 or 40 years ago, notes Doug Mow, senior VP of marketing at Virtusa, an IT systems consultancy.

The ability of your bank's financial software to detect potentially fraudulent activity on your accounts or alter your credit score when you miss a mortgage payment are just two of many common examples of AI at work, says Mow. Speech and handwriting recognition, business process management, data mining, and medical diagnostics -- they all owe a debt to AI.

Add in: Google, TiVo, Netflix, Facebook, airline route management, military planning, weather forecasting, advertising, and thousands more applications. All these advances have descended directly from the field of artificial intelligence.

The difficulty is that as soon as a technology works it is no longer considered "artificial intelligence" -- it becomes just another algorithm.

(HT: RB.)

Ezra Klein notices that American pay more per unit of health care than other countries, but completely fails to understand why.

In other countries, governments set the rates that will be paid for different treatments and drugs, even when private insurers are doing the actual purchasing. In our country, the government doesn't set those rates for private insurers, which is why the prices paid by Medicare, as you'll see on some of these graphs, are much lower than those paid by private insurers. You'll also notice that the bit showing American prices is separated into blue and yellow: That shows the spread between the average price (the top of the blue) and the 90th percentile (the top of the yellow). Other countries don't have nearly that much variation, again because their pricing is standard.

Other governments set prices that are artificially low, often barely above the marginal cost for drug and equipment manufacturers. These prices are just barely high enough that it's worth selling products in these countries given that the products have already been developed, but the margins aren't high enough to actually finance the research and development that goes into creating the drugs and equipment. These R&D costs are carried by American consumers, which is why our costs are higher.

The problem, however, isn't that our costs are too high -- the problem is that foreign countries are free-riding on the American consumer and thereby paying too little. If the American government attempts to set our prices as low as those of other countries, the health care industry that cares for the world will wither and die. Instead, we should be looking for ways to force foreign countries to pay more reasonable prices.

One possible approach is to pass a law prohibiting the sale of any specific drug or equipment in America at a price more than X% higher than that paid by an average of the next 10 highest price countries. Such a rule would force the health care industry to either push for higher prices in foreign countries or stop sales there entirely, instead of settling for prices barely above their marginal cost.

Anyway, the point isn't that the health care industry is ripping off Americans, but that foreign countries are free-riding off our mostly free market.

Here's a sweet radio-controlled helicopter called the Blade mSR Ultra-Micro RTF Helicopter that looks to be an order of magnitude more advanced (and expensive) than the toys I've bought off of ThinkGeek. Here's a video, which I'd embed except that they seem to have disabled that option.

(HT: LM.)

From Pastor Wayne Zschech in Ukraine comes this beautiful prayer:

UKRAINE — Church Bombed in Ukraine — VOM Canada

Psalm 140:12-13
I know that the LORD will maintain The cause of the afflicted, And justice for the poor. Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name; The upright shall dwell in Your presence.

On Oct. 14, a homemade bomb was thrown into the Calvary Chapel church building in Kaharlyk, Ukraine. The building is also the residence of Pastor Wayne Zschech and his family. At 7 a.m., Pastor Zschech's wife awoke to the smell of smoke. Fire officials were called to the scene the blaze which caused minor damage to the building. The six people asleep in the church at the time of the attack escaped without injury. The assailants spray painted "Out with Sects" and "OYH," an abbreviated name for a Ukrainian Nationalist movement, on the church wall. Pastor Zschech later said, "We pray that the Lord would call people to salvation and that he would build up his body. We rejoice in being chosen worthy to suffer for the sake of our Lord and His Gospel. We do also pray for safety but hold this prayer out with open hands." Thank God no one was hurt in this attack. Pray that the perpetrators of this attack will be brought to justice and come to faith in Christ.

Google Voice is facing a probe by the Federal Communications Commission because it bypasses legacy telecom regulations by arguing that it is a software company, not a communications company. The end result is that users save money and parasitic telephone companies lose government-protected revenue.

A group of Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives called on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate Google Inc's ability to block calls to rural telephone exchanges ...

Citing media reports, AT&T has said the Google Voice service was blocking costly calls to phone numbers in certain rural areas in order to cut down on expenses. Phone companies are banned from blocking calls. ...

In 2007, the FCC told carriers they could not restrict calls to avoid fees associated with adult chat lines or free conference calls by companies routing calls through rural carriers in order to generate fees.

Here's how it works:

1. Rural phone carriers are allowed by the FCC to charge higher rates to other phone companies for call that go through their network. These higher rates are allowed because without them it might not be possible to operate phone services in areas with low population density.

2. Phone sex companies set up in rural areas and make revenue-sharing agreements with rural phone companies so they can split the high fees. (Of course the high fees wouldn't be needed to support the rural phone companies if the phone sex call volume were taken into account, but the high rate rules have existed for decades and will never be revisited.)

3. Legislators from rural areas get campaign contributions from rural phone companies, so they will fight to protect the high rate phone sex scam in order to protect these contributions.

Google provides Voice for free and realized that a high percentage of its cost was arising from a small number of calls that were being routed through these rural phone companies, so they decided to block the calls to eliminate the fees. FCC regulations prohibit telecommunication companies from blocking any calls, but Google argues that it isn't a telecommunications company, isn't offering phone service, and is not subject to FCC regulation.

The spat prompted an attorney for some rural carriers, Ross Buntrock, to file a letter on October 1 with the FCC to complain that AT&T is refusing to pay its bills to rural carriers.

"The only difference between Google's alleged call blocking and AT&T's refusal to pay terminating access charges for conference and chat-line calls is that the (local carriers) are forced to incur the costs of terminating AT&T's customers' traffic," Buntrock wrote.

A Google spokesperson said on Thursday that for AT&T to invoke rural America while AT&T is behind in its payments to rural carriers is "the height of cynicism."

AT&T isn't paying the fees either, which provides additional support for the obvious conclusion: the special high rates these rural phone companies are allowed to charge should be eliminated. The regulations intended to ensure that rural residents have phone service available have been corrupted to enrich rent-seekers, as most government regulations are. Let's deregulate, eliminate the parasites, and let the free market sort it out.

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