Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Models That Have Been Tried and Found... Trying

The earliest observers of the sky realized immediately that the motions of those faraway objects were predictable. It's now a pop-culture assumption that any enigmatic ancient construction was probably sited and aligned in accordance with the rising and setting of various significant lights in the sky.

These days, astronomers are aware of millions of objects flitting about in our celestial neighborhood, many of which, were they to collide with the surface or -- at sufficient speed -- atmosphere of our own world, could snuff us all out in very short order. As new asteroids are detected, they are observed and catalogued, and these observations are modeled on computers to see whether there is any danger of a new Chicxulub-style extinction-level event.

Modeling asteroids involves amassing data about each object's mass and motion, based on known values developed by mathematicians over several centuries. The more individual bodies are added to the model, the more complex it becomes -- but even now the job is profoundly simple compared to some other disciplines that have attempted to use computer models.

When you are dealing with, for example, living things such as viruses that are prone to mutation in extremely short timespans, your modeling assumptions have a half-life that can fall well within the decision loop of any agency or government. Using such a model to attempt to prescribe policy is irresponsible at best -- and potentially criminal at worst.

Yet that is precisely what happened with the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic of 2020. A complete post-mortem of policy responses and their consequences may well find, and many expect them to find, that the model-driven response cost more lives than had the response followed more established, time-tested patterns.

Epidemiology is only the most dynamically complex discipline to have been subjected to flawed computer modeling. Decades of flawed economic policy have been driven by computer models. Climate models have been used as a bludgeon to attempt to impose extreme changes on world civilization in the name of urgency.

Someday astronomers may announce that the Earth is at risk from a possible asteroid impact. They will defend this claim based on their computer models of celestial motion, and given the challenges and timeframes involved they will argue that some type of response is urgently demanded to fend off a global apocalypse.

Ideally, that response would be forthcoming, and it would be successful.

But not if the political overreach of economic, climate, and epidemiological modelers lead people to disregard all such efforts as garbage.

You can't expect to model every system accurately in a computer when you don't even know what you don't know about that system. Economists acknowledge that in any group of seven of them you will get at least eight opinions. Climate and epidemiology are vastly more complex, and there is no sign that the modelers in those fields are anywhere near as humble as their astronomer and economist counterparts.

Don't blow this for humanity, you over-educated idiots. If your arrogant stupidity prevents us from averting another Chicxulub, it will be your fault.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Really Lousy Marketing Logic

Restaurants have for some reason decided to prevent people from casually perusing their online menus until they've opened an order -- which won't happen if the nearest store isn't yet set up for online ordering.

This is bad public relations. Sometimes it can even cost them a drive-thru order if someone wants to know what the options are before they get close enough to read the menu board. In this day of closed dining rooms, you can be in line for several minutes before reaching the menu board, and if you're trying someplace new or simply haven't bothered to memorize the menu (I'm told they can even change between visits!), that's a pain in the ass.

I want the chains to imagine carloads of hungry people driving by one of their stores with a huge backup in the drive-thru lane, and trying to have a look at the menu before deciding to brave that wait. Except the menu can't be found on the website. So they decide to download the app and look at it that way. It ain't there either.

"Can't find their menu anywhere, guys."

"Screw it, I just found the Five Guys menu online. Let's go there instead."

"They don't have a drive-thru."

"I downloaded their app. They have curbside."

Cha-ching.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

I Like Red Meat and I Cannot Lie

...but for reasons I won't go into here, I now know for absolute certain I will never attempt the Big Texan Steak Ranch's 72-ounce steak challenge.

Still looking forward to getting to Outback one of these days for some prime rib, or Five Guys for a bacon cheeseburger.

But even I have limits.

Apparently.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

#BidenDropOut?

From Legal Insurrection we learn that some prominent Democrats, concerned over increasing evidence supporting Tara Reade's claim she was sexually assaulted by former Vice President and presumptive 2020 presidential nominee Joseph Biden, are calling on him to pull -- er, I mean drop out.

I think at this point there is only one viable replacement candidate, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (at right).

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Slàinte

Tha Ealasaid, le gràs Dhè Banrigh na h-Alba, 94 bliadhna a dh'aois an-diugh.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Keeping the Wild Elephants Away

Old story: A man was riding a city bus in a major Midwestern metropolis, with a set of old phone books on his lap and an open window beside him. As the bus moved through the city streets, he periodically tore a page out of one of the phone books and threw the page out the window.

The bus driver, growing increasingly concerned about this odd behavior, radioed to the dispatcher and asked to have a police officer meet the bus at the next stop.

When the bus rolled to a stop at the corner, a uniformed cop was waiting, and saw a page come flying out of the bus window. He boarded the bus and made his way down the aisle to where the man was sitting.

"Hey, buddy, why are you throwing paper out the window of the bus?"

"To keep the wild elephants away," replied the rider matter-of-factly.

"Say again?"

"I'm doing this to keep the wild elephants away. They're huge, dangerous beasts and they could trample an innocent man, woman or child if they're not kept off the streets."

The cop took a deep breath and sighed. Why do I always get the lunatics? he wondered. "Mister, there isn't a wild elephant for miles around here! The zoo doesn't even have one!"

"There, you see?" retorted the bus passenger. "It works!"

When the facts finally come out about just how many people ever actually got sick from the Wuhan bat fever (as opposed to what seems to be the asymptomatic majority), and what the actual mortality rate was as compared to the hysterical predictions amplified by the panic-mongering media, some will argue that these actual, much lower figures are proof that their response to the pandemic danger was justified.

I'm not saying there never were any wild elephants, but don't let anyone tell you that throwing paper out of the bus window is what kept them from trampling innocent citizens.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Oh, Don't Pretend to Be Surprised

Via Instapundit, this from AppleInsider:

Zoom has become a popular platform due to widespread coronavirus work-from-home policies, but it's been beset by multiple security and privacy blunders since its boom in usage.

Because of those concerns, various government entities, private corporations and public organizations have banned its members from using the app — including both Google and at least one chamber of the U.S. Congress.

Here's one of the specific privacy concerns (same AppleInsider link as above, emphasis mine):

In March, a Motherboard investigation found that Zoom for iOS app was sending data to Facebook analytics without explicitly outlining the practice — and even if a user didn't have an account.

I'll be on my fainting couch.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Joe Biden Interviews Prospective Running Mates, 6

Biden: "My story begins in nineteen-dickety-two. We had to say 'dickety' because Hitler had stolen our word 'forty'."

Senator Bernie Sanders: "Then after World War Two, it got kinda quiet, 'til Superman challenged FDR to a race around the world. FDR beat him by a furlong, or so the comic books would have you believe."

Biden: "We can't bust heads like we used to, but we have our ways. One trick is to tell 'em stories that don't go anywhere -- like the time I caught the ferry over to Harrisburg. I needed a new heel for my shoe, so, I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Harrisburg in those days."

Sanders: "Anyway, about my washtub. I'd just used it that morning to wash my turkey, which in those days was known as a walking-bird. We'd always have walking-bird on Thanksgiving, with all the trimmings: cranberries, injun eyes, yams stuffed with gunpowder."

Biden: "Ah, there's an interesting story behind this nickel. In 1957, I remember it was, I got up in the morning and made myself a piece of toast. I set the toaster to three: medium brown."

Sanders: "Three wars back we called Sauerkraut 'liberty cabbage' and we called liberty cabbage 'super slaw' and back then a suitcase was known as a 'Swedish lunchbox.' Of course, nobody knew that but me. Anyway, long story short... is a phrase whose origins are complicated and rambling."

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Why I Have Nothing to Say About the Extinction-Level Event Going on Around Us All

I am not a physician nor an epidemiologist.

I've been so unsociable as a habit for so long that right now the greatest impact on my life from the Chinese disease pandemic is caused by other people who would have had no impact on my life whatsoever under normal circumstances. How's that for a kick in the head?

Even just going to the store is such an ordeal that I had gotten in the habit years ago of buying large amounts of consumables so that I can avoid going back for as long as possible. And yes, that includes what you think. It was fine when I was the only one doing it...

I saw a model output for a low-population-density state out west that anticipated the spread of the Chinese disease tapering off starting in the latter half of next month.

Let's all hope so. And let's all hope there's an effective vaccine and sufficient treatment resources if/when it comes back.

Our retirement savings are still down by almost 20% from before people started acting like it was the end of the world. If we could just get that turned around...

Yeeaaaaahhhh..... that'd be great...

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

There's Trying Too Hard, and Then There's This Post

I've changed my mind. I'm going to vote for Joe Biden in November.


...April Fool.



It might be funnier if I'd used my phone to post it. 'Cause, you know, "phoning it in"...

Monday, March 30, 2020

Ancient History, 1

On April 30, 1789, George Washington was sworn in as the First President of the United States under the terms of the newly ratified Constitution. This was just a month short of exactly 231 years ago. For the sake of discussion, let's assume nothing changes in the next 31 days.

In that time, 44 men have held the presidency (Grover Cleveland is counted twice because his two terms were non-consecutive, which is why the 44th man to be President, Donald Trump, is the 45th President). This averages out to a new President every five and one quarter years.

There have been stretches of time in which we have had a lot of presidents, and other stretches when we had very few. Between March 4, 1801 and March 4, 1825, a stretch of 24 years, only Thomas Jefferson (1801-09), James Madison (1809-17), and James Monroe (1817-25) occupied the presidency.

During a similar stretch of 24 years -- March 4, 1837 to March 4, 1861 -- there were eight: Martin Van Buren (1837-41), William H. Harrison (1841), John Tyler (1841-45), James Polk (1845-49), Zachary Taylor (1849-50), Millard Fillmore (1850-53), Franklin Pierce (1853-57), and James Buchanan (1857-61). Of those eight, not one was elected to a second term; two, Harrison and Taylor, died in office; Tyler and Fillmore, respectively, succeeded them but were never elected President in their own right.

Bonus fact: Van Buren was the first President of the United States not named Adams to be denied re-election.

Obviously the Van Buren-Buchanan period was exceptional; the combination of two presidents dying in office, and six others being consistently rejected for re-election, is a juxtaposition of circumstance no one ever hopes to see again.

The Jefferson-Monroe period, however, is less so. The occurrence of a 24-year span in which there were only three presidents, while rare, is not unique. The unprecedented case of Franklin Roosevelt being elected four times in succession led to a three-president (Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower) stretch lasting from March 4, 1933 to January 20, 1961 -- almost 28 years (the 20th Amendment ratified in 1933 changed the date on which presidential terms begin and end).

More recently, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama headlined a similar three-president stretch, running from January 20, 1993 to January 20, 2017.

But there has never been a case where four consecutive presidents have each served a full eight years in office. If Donald Trump does win re-election as I expect, and serves the entirety of his second term, he will cap an unprecedented era in American history.

Considering that the Van Buren-Buchanan period of eight presidents culminated in the secession crisis and Civil War, the tendency now to keep re-electing presidents seems to belie the depiction of America as irredeemably polarized.

But, time will tell, I suppose.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

All Kidding Aside

I've had fun with the idea of the Democrats trap-dooring Biden out of the nomination at the last minute, but in the cold light of day I'm confident he will be the nominee. The train wreck will go forward as pre-ordained.

Nor will he put Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama on the ticket as his running mate. The worst-case scenario of Trump winning re-election is bad enough without giving him a landslide (or a bigger one than he would already get), and neither former First Lady is going to want to be blamed for a defeat of those proportions.

The longshot odds of a Dem victory won't keep the party from leaning on Biden to choose somebody youthful and promising, just in case -- somebody they'll convince themselves (wrongly of course) is better than a Dan Quayle or a Sarah Palin. Stacey Abrams might fit the bill, now that Andrew Gillum is off the table, or they might find a far-left Latina who isn't disqualified by age (like AOC) or by being even more scatterbrained than Biden (also like AOC).

So no, there is no Black Swan Event looming on the blue horizon. Trump will defeat Biden in November and that's that.