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San Francisco's Housing Crisis Explained

wickerprints Re:As long as the Republicans... (357 comments)

It's not quite so simple as supply and demand, however. The problem is that if you flood the market with more housing given the current price levels and demand, prices would take a LONG time to head back down once the demand is met (and that's assuming that the demand is ever met at all). Simply put, there's just so much existing scarcity that even massive amounts of new development would only serve to blunt the increasing trend in housing cost, rather than actually hoping to bring it down.

That's not to say development is not part of the solution--it absolutely, absolutely is--it's just that the current state of affairs is so entirely fucked up, and has been allowed to persist for so long, that what you'll see if you open the floodgates of new development is that in the short term, you get all the negative consequences (gentrification, displacement) while serving only the ultra rich who can afford those new housing units, but none of the long-term, aggregate benefits of lower housing costs that are decades down the line.

4 days ago

Michael Bloomberg: You Can't Teach a Coal Miner To Code

wickerprints Phrased poorly (578 comments)

I'd like to interpret Bloomberg's statement to mean that it isn't realistic (or even desirable) to expect every blue-collar worker to be able to retrain in a highly technical field. Sure, some would be able to make that transition, but it's like asking programmers if they would have the desire to become physicians. It's not that people aren't smart or dedicated enough to do it, so much as it is the idea that a career in the tech sector is not some universal solution to everyone's job woes.

I also think that people who advocate such statements (very often, they are CEOs of tech companies) tend to have ulterior motives: they want to be able to pay their workers less money for more (and higher quality) output. While you might not blame them for having such a goal, I find it disingenuous how they wrap this desire up in some feel-good, altruistic sounding wish for more coders, more people to learn programming and computer skills, as if this is something that will create jobs. It doesn't work that way. Instead, it increases competition for existing jobs. These companies keep complaining about how there aren't enough skilled workers to fill the positions they have, but what they really mean is that there aren't enough *CHEAP* skilled workers. That's why they push this propaganda about H1B, teaching programming to kids, and fantasies about coal miners taking off their hardhats and learning Python and C#.

about a week ago

SF Evictions Surging From Crackdown On Airbnb Rentals

wickerprints Re:Adventure holiday! (319 comments)

Or even better, a furry militant lesbian. Or militant lesbian furry. The difference is subtle but not trivial.

about two weeks ago

Apple Refuses To Unlock Bequeathed iPad

wickerprints If she wanted them to have the data (465 comments)

Fundamentally, I see this as a security issue. If the deceased wanted someone to have the data on the iPad, she should have provided the means to have access to that data. You can't just bequeath it in a will and then expect everyone else to sort it out after you're gone. That's inconsiderate.

It's also hypocritical to hold a company up to high standards for maintaining security and user privacy, and then at the same time blame them for not just rolling over and handing over the means to decrypt that information. It's not Apple's responsibility to give the family that ability, but the owner of that content. If I have years of personal photos that I've encrypted and bequeathed to someone, I'm sure as hell not going to just say, "here, you get this hard drive full of encrypted memories, but good luck decrypting it--I'm taking the decryption keys to my grave." That's stupid.

Even if Apple can unlock that data and eventually does so, think about how that might look to some people, who would NOT want their heirs/family/descendants to have the means to rummage through their personal data. You see this happen all the time--families of the deceased try to weasel their way into secrets and intimate histories of those who died. If all it might take is some lawyers and potentially dubious documentation to get around a dead person's privacy, then I would think twice about leaving any personal data behind.

about a month and a half ago

Bitcoin Exchange Flexcoin Wiped Out By Theft

wickerprints Re:Fuck (704 comments)

It is exceedingly rare for a post to be both funny and insightful at the same time.

about a month and a half ago

Stack Overflow Could Explain Toyota Vehicles' Unintended Acceleration

wickerprints Re:Wow (664 comments)

Gives a new meaning to "race condition," doesn't it?

about 2 months ago

Adjusting GPAs: A Statistician's Effort To Tackle Grade Inflation

wickerprints curve = stack ranking (264 comments)

Grading on a curve is no different than stack ranking in the workplace. Why are so many of you advocating for the former when the latter is so universally reviled? Is it because with stack ranking, we're talking about livelihoods and money?

The way to fix grade inflation is to fix society's expectations of GPA and the meaning of grades themselves. That includes the way corporations view academic credentials and transcripts. If you want honest assessment of a student's performance, then start by fixing your own biases and unrealistic expectations that the only qualified candidates should have a 4.0 GPA, 2 PhDs, 3 MS degrees, have been published in at least a dozen research journals in their field, wrote their own operating system from scratch, and is a 3-time Ironman champion...just to be hired for some low-level QA assistant job. Unless of course you're an H1B from India, in which case the triathlete is now "overqualified."

I think that's the real dirty secret everyone knows but nobody is willing to acknowledge. The fact is, grades were lower in the 50s and 60s because people STILL GOT HIRED, and competition was not as fierce as it is today. Everyone knows that GPA these days doesn't reflect true ability or learning, but instead, how well you know how to game the system, which is exactly what corporate America wants anyway--just look at what they teach in all the MBA mills. Those are your future bosses, middle managers, executives. All ambition and buzzwords, but no substance; driving business decisions that treat the engineers, developers, scientists, and in general anyone who actually KNOWS anything...like slaves.

So, you want to fix the system by adjusting GPAs? Fix the way GPAs are used as a stick to beat qualified job applicants with, and then we can talk.

about 2 months ago

US Customs Destroys Virtuoso's Flutes Because They Were "Agricultural Items"

wickerprints Re:Very weird story (894 comments)

Fine the relevant agencies 100 billion dollars. It would all be for naught anyway--it comes out of the taxpayer's wallet, and nothing gets changed in terms of policy. That's the problem with government agencies: when there is political support for their mandate, even if they are guilty of egregious overreach in their authority, they can waste unlimited amounts of money without being held accountable.

Now, if instead the politicians' and employees own personal bank accounts were to be emptied every time the public deems they have done something wrong, THAT would change Washington overnight in a heartbeat. But who is the "public?" How do we hold these power-hungry thieves accountable? By "elections?"

about 4 months ago

Justine Sacco, Internet Justice, and the Dangers of a Righteous Mob

wickerprints Stupid article, stupid author (399 comments)

Ms. Sacco deserved everything she got. Nothing more, nothing less. If you do something so overwhelmingly and obviously stupid as what she did, and then compounded that stupidity by getting on a plane and going offline for several hours, what do you expect is going to happen? The author of the article is just trying to twist this sordid tale into some kind of cautionary example of the excesses of "internet justice." Meanwhile, kids are killing themselves because they're being bullied for doing nothing other than being themselves. Where's the author's outrage over that? Ms. Sacco neither has the excuse of being a child, nor the defense of having done nothing to offend. If you do something so stupid that NOBODY is willing to defend it, then why should she not suffer the consequences? One should also consider that the kind of people who would even entertain making such offensive remarks in a public forum are not the kind of people who are so easily shamed. They tend to be sociopaths who end up hardening their self-image in response to the outrage. Don't weep for the likes of her.

about 4 months ago

French Team Implants First Long-Term Artificial Heart

wickerprints Fantastic news! (106 comments)

Now I can finally realize my dream of faithfully reenacting having a Nausicaan skewer me through the back in a bar fight...although I'm not sure I'll have the presence of mind to laugh deliriously afterward.

about 4 months ago

Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Yahoo Form Alliance Against NSA

wickerprints Re:Damage Control Mode - ON. Well, fuck 'em all (293 comments)

Policy-wise, nothing really gets done in the US without the implicit consent of corporate power. This applies even to things like spying. The government is run by the wealthy elite and therefore the policies are designed to favor their interests. Where those interests may conflict, it is usually the entity with the greater influence or better connections that gets their way.

This latter point is where we stand with regard to warrantless domestic surveillance of US citizens by the NSA. The eight companies that have "allied" against this practice, albeit influential as a group, have been for the most part self-interested competitors, and many of them make no attempt to hide the fact that they run a business model that is predicated upon mining personal data from its users in order to sell advertising (Google and Facebook being the most notable examples).

However, that is not to say that they actively or "happily" collaborated with the NSA. The legal requirements, as far as we have been apprised of them, force their cooperation. It is not logical to assume that just because their business involves exploiting their users, that they would not object to NSA surveillance, because the latter does have a deleterious effect on the former. If users suddenly feel paranoid because they think these companies are (willingly or unwillingly) handing over their personal information to the government, then they would be more reluctant to share that data by posting it online. The fear of surveillance brings about increased awareness of the need for protecting one's privacy, which of course is NOT what these companies want. That is the essential argument behind their opposition.

In any case, these companies are merely the repositories for end-user information. The real culprits here, the ones who ARE happily handing over information to the government, are the telecommunications companies, notably AT&T. They are the ones who let the NSA install listening devices on their networks. And you will note that these companies have NOT banded together to protest this illegal surveillance program. They don't see any need to, because they have too much power (since the entire internet is reliant on them) and, unlike Google and Facebook, they have no incentive to protect the data that flows through their networks. If a subscriber doesn't want to share personal information about themselves to a social network, they can opt out of doing so, and the result is a loss of valuable data for the company that operates that network. But it is MUCH harder to completely forgo the internet entirely, which is what you would have to do in order to avoid having AT&T send your data to the NSA. And AT&T doesn't make their money off selling your personal information to advertisers. They make it off your basic need for connectivity.

about 4 months ago

Why Scott Adams Wished Death On His Dad

wickerprints Re:Well, isn't this nice (961 comments)

How do we know what would happen? As far as I am aware, euthanasia in the form of assisted suicide is not legal except in a few US states and in Switzerland.

But before we answer that question, for the time being, let's put aside what is going on in jurisdictions where such practices are legal.

I look at what is actually happening because of the current legal situation, and as is evidenced by Scott Adams' experience, there is clear proof of harm by prohibiting assisted suicide. There are many other people out there who share similar painful experiences, whose loved one died in protracted suffering, agony, and pain; who did express wishes to not be forced to live in such circumstances, but for physical reasons, could not terminate their own lives, and for legal reasons, were not allowed to delegate that responsibility to others.

I would consider the addressing of a real and surprisingly common injury to have more merit than a hypothetical or perceived injury. The fact is, these terminally ill individuals are going to die; it is simply a matter of how and when that death should occur, and the individual right to self-determination of that fact.

Now, let's look at what is actually happening with assisted suicide in those jurisdictions for which it is legal. Are bedridden Swiss people suddenly pulling the plug in droves? Is their society collapsing under the collective weight of some Alpine-induced ennui? Are there death panels of doctors killing patients in Washington? Were you even aware that these places allow assisted suicide because there have been reports of the unethical application of this practice? Were there news reports that someone was mistakenly killed off even though they would have lived, and the doctor used the legality of assisted suicide as a legal defense? Because unlike what you are imagining in your head, those fears have not come to fruition. You never actually state what those "things" and consequences are.

And as I have already pointed out, even if those imagined consequences were real, they would need to be weighed against the ACTUAL consequences of the status quo.

about 5 months ago

Why Scott Adams Wished Death On His Dad

wickerprints Re:Well, isn't this nice (961 comments)

No, I don't think he needs to dial it back. He is right, because it is only when we experience such things first-hand that we realize the truth. That is why he says what he says. When someone makes such a radical statement, don't just take it literally. Try to understand the context, and try to appreciate the underlying meaning.

Those who oppose euthanasia are people who either (a) have dogmatic reasons for doing so (e.g., religion), or (b) have never witnessed a loved one go through a protracted and painful terminal illness. They aren't able to comprehend because they live a comfortable life and cannot imagine what it is like to be terminally ill and incapacitated.

This is about the right to self-determination. It is about being able to have one's wishes respected after all self-control is lost. It is about the right to choose for oneself, as opposed to allowing the ideologies of others (complete strangers whose beliefs may have no bearing on your own) to legally prohibit you to make that choice because to them, it is about THEIR own abstract, moral discomfort, and not your own, REAL pain.

I would not want such a thing for myself. But that's a decision I'm making now, in good health. Personally, I'd rather be made into a popsicle. Freeze me and thaw me out like a cheap TV dinner when mankind figures out how to cure what ails me. However, I absolutely would not stand in the way of someone else's decision. Who am I to decree what is right and wrong for other people? What gives me the moral right to claim that I know better than the family that is going through such a difficult time?

about 5 months ago

22-Year-Old Norwegian Magnus Carlsen Is the New World Chess Champion

wickerprints Re:A champion may not even exist (131 comments)

I think the point that was being raised is that when you have different metrics of what constitutes "best"--e.g., "who is has the highest Elo rating" versus "who is the most recent winner of the world championship match," then it is possible (as was the case until just recently) that the answers to these questions could be two different people.

Personally, from all the evidence I've seen of various chess games played in recent times, I think it's fairly safe to say that Magnus Carlsen is the highest-performing chess player in the world today. That doesn't mean he is the most aggressive, or most tactical, or positional, or dynamic, or calculating, or gracious, or clever, or whatever. All it means is that, on average, he wins more often than other players. A lot of people seem to dislike him for personal reasons, and seem to find ways to justify their feelings by pointing to his games and saying "well, he did/didn't do this or that." They try to find something to criticize about his playing style, or some other nebulous, subjective aspect. Or they make some very dissonant rationalizations--say, cheering for Anand and saying how Anand will put Carlsen in his place, and then when Magnus won, they say how it was not because he played exceptionally well, but because Anand was "weak" or "timid" or "passive." I don't know how one can simultaneously exalt a player and criticize him in the same breath and expect to be taken seriously.

Another common accusation is that Carlsen is just "lucky." That is absurd on its face. Many games have been played where he has won. Luck cannot explain his competitive record.

about 5 months ago

22-Year-Old Norwegian Magnus Carlsen Is the New World Chess Champion

wickerprints Re:A champion may not even exist (131 comments)

You've misunderstood the first paragraph of my previous response. Non-transitivity is a property that is potentially exhibited by the nature of the ranking itself. More tournaments and matches will not eliminate non-transitivity from the ranking.

A very simple example of non-transitivity is the game of rock-paper-scissors. Rock crushes scissors, scissors cuts paper, and paper covers rock. No single choice is "better" than the other two. Although the evidence suggests that Carlsen is clearly the highest-performing chess player in the world today, that doesn't invalidate the notion that non-transitivity can occur in the structure of ranking chess players, or that it can occur in any other kind of competition.

All I have done in my previous post is explain the idea of a total order as it applies to ranking systems. I'm not suggesting that it is the state of currently ranked chess players.

about 5 months ago

22-Year-Old Norwegian Magnus Carlsen Is the New World Chess Champion

wickerprints Re:A champion may not even exist (131 comments)

In this context, a total order satisfies transitivity. But being "better" in chess doesn't necessarily satisfy this property. What this means is that on average, player B wins against player A more frequently, and player C wins against player B more frequently, but player A could also win against C more frequently, making it impossible to state that any single player is the "best." This can occur because different players can exhibit particular strengths and weaknesses in different aspects of the game.

Note that it is important to talk about the above in terms of 'average' performance. Although chess is deterministic, there are random sources of variation in skill, in that a given player does not consistently choose the move that reflects their true skill level (i.e., they sometimes make a mistake, or they have a flash of insight).

For an interesting, rather counterintuitive, and simple example of non-transitivity, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nontransitive_dice .

about 5 months ago

Samsung Ordered To Pay Apple $290M In Patent Case

wickerprints Re:It's not about innovation (219 comments)

If everything Apple designed was so obvious, then why is it that no one made the iPhone before Apple did? In particular, what kind of Samsung phones and phone operating systems existed when the iPhone was designed? If the various design elements of the iPhone are as obvious as you allege, then why couldn't an ESTABLISHED phone hardware manufacturer have anticipated it?

Apple, in many ways, is a victim of its own successful designs. Good design makes it seem as if the choices involved in the design process were "inevitable" and "natural" and "obvious." They make the user feel as if this is the way objects *should* feel and interfaces *should* work. Later on, when those design choices are emulated by others and become ubiquitous, people start to wonder how it could have been possible that any other approach existed. Combine this with the fast pace of technological development that you see in smartphones, which have become so computationally powerful in such a relatively short period of time in large part because people are willing to pay a lot of money every year to upgrade them--and you soon get a lot of public perception (especially from younger generations) that Apple never really did anything special or game-changing.

But if you go back not too far in history and look at the kind of "smart"phones that people had back when the original iPhone was designed, you will very quickly realize two things: (1) NOTHING else was designed like it in terms of its cohesive functionality. (2) The existing market lacked any significant innovation due to relatively little competition between the major hardware manufacturers. Nokia, at the time, was the biggest player, and because they didn't really care to innovate and push hard to change mobile phone design, you had companies making what were essentially the same kinds of crappy phones with tiny, low-resolution screens and awkward user interfaces. What passed as "smart"phones at that time were running very limited software, and the devices were expensive and underpowered. So only the business/tech class really used them.

When Apple announced the iPhone and people bought and started to use the device, it almost overnight changed how the general public related to mobile phones. I *still* remember what it felt like to use one after owning a Motorola V3X. It was one of those rare moments where I felt a very sudden and drastic advance in technology had occurred. It wasn't a perfect device, but it was definitely one where, for the first time since I'd ever owned any mobile phone, I saw the future and it was amazing. Google, at the time, was still focused on search, mapping, and advertising. Android wasn't even a CONCEPT until the hardware foundations were laid out by the existence of the iPhone.

Flash forward to the present--now my phone is just an everyday device. It doesn't feel special to me. But that doesn't mean that what Apple did was nothing short of single-handedly birth an entire generation of advanced handheld computing devices. I believe that Apple's patent war is ultimately self-defeating. They understandably want to protect the hard work they put into the iPhone, but the way forward is through more innovation, not staking claim to the past. But that does not invalidate the historical fact that, yes, Apple did do something no one else did before. And it wasn't obvious, it wasn't easy, and it wasn't Samsung's invention.

about 5 months ago

Stephen Wolfram Developing New Programming Language

wickerprints Re:yet another programming language (168 comments)

As I implied in my previous response, the answer was not supposed to be 1. I also probably didn't remember the example correctly, but my point is that I could not get the correct value in R, but Mathematica did get it.

For me, having confidence that numerical results shown are correct to within the precision displayed is more important than speed of calculation. I totally get that such things have a speed penalty. Python might be able to do it better and faster, but as I noted, my experience with that program is limited.

about 5 months ago

Stephen Wolfram Developing New Programming Language

wickerprints Re:yet another programming language (168 comments)

Being primarily a mathematician and not a computer scientist or engineer, I have used Maple, Mathematica, and R. At one point I knew Pascal and C. I've dabbled in Python.

Of all these programming languages, Mathematica was BY FAR the easiest language for me to learn to use. The way it does certain things makes so much more sense to me than the others--for example, how it handles functions and lists. Unlike C, it's a high-level language if you want it to be, although you aren't forced to use it in that way. Pattern matching is extremely powerful. And the syntax is totally unambiguous; brackets define functions, braces define lists, and parentheses are used only for algebraic grouping of terms.

The major criticism I have of Mathematica is that it is comparatively slow, mainly because of its lack of assumptions regarding the nature of the inputs. Internally, it tries to preserve numerical precision, it works with arbitrary precision arithmetic, and it doesn't assume values are machine precision. All this comes at a cost. Also, reading other people's code can be remarkably difficult, even if it's commented. The tendency is to write functions that do a lot of complicated things in one command, so code can be remarkably dense.

Most recently, I have had to learn how to use R, due to its abundance of statistical algorithms, many of which have not been implemented in Mathematica. There was a simple example where I tried to calculate a Bayes factor, and the expression was something like (1 - x)/(1 - y), where x and y were very small positive numbers, somewhere around the order of 10^-15. This calculation totally failed in R--the answer given was 1. Mathematica correctly calculated the ratio. Maybe I don't know enough about R to know how to preserve the necessary numerical precision, but it sort of shows that in Mathematica, such issues are handled automatically; moreover, if there is a potential problem, Mathematica warns you.

Anyway, this is all just personal opinion, really. The takeaway for me is that I see a lot of evidence that Stephen Wolfram is pretty good at designing computer languages for specific purposes. Yes, he's totally egocentric, but there's no denying that he is brilliant. When Wolfram | Alpha debuted, I remember thinking how totally stupid it was. And now...every single high school and college math student knows about it. It is one of the most ingenious marketing ploys I have ever seen. And the scary thing is, it keeps improving. It's almost Star Trek-like in its ability to parse natural language input. And I think that's the eventual direction that computer programming will evolve towards. Programs will not be written in code, but instead, as broad sentences, parsed by an AI which automatically performs the high-level task.

about 5 months ago

Weak Statistical Standards Implicated In Scientific Irreproducibility

wickerprints Re:Or you know.. (182 comments)

First of all, recommending that hypothesis tests be conducted with smaller tolerances for Type I error almost invariably imply a large decrease in power. There is no free lunch. There are many experimental designs for which the importance of making a positive inference (i.e., accepting the alternative hypothesis) is so great that you do need to set the alpha level very small. But if the test is to have any power, that means the data you must gather must be much, much more extensive. So, to simply say "alpha = 0.05 is too large because it admits too many irreproducible claims by random chance" sort of misses the basic point. A test conducted at such a level still has at most a 1 in 20 chance of observing a test statistic that would reject the null hypothesis even if the null is true. So a p-value of 0.04, for example, would merit further investigation. That's not so much a flaw of the frequentist methods as it is a flaw in interpretation, due to the natural tendency of investigators or clinicians to want a straightforward "yes/no" answer.

Bayesian methods, then, don't really offer intrinsically more meaning than frequentist methods. The main difference is that Bayesian methods, by their construction, force the investigator to draw an inference that is not characterized by a "yes/no" answer--in fact, it becomes a bit of a contrivance (e.g., Bayes factors and the calculation of cumulative posterior distributions) to try to interpret Bayesian analyses in this way. Don't get me wrong, that is an appealing and advantageous characteristic, whereas more care is needed to interpret the frequentist approach. But Bayesian methods also suffer from their own problems, many of which arise from the necessity of imposing some kind of prior distribution (so, for instance, Bayes factors are not monotone in the hypothesis).

The takeaway here is that in statistics, there is no magic bullet, no single approach that is supposed to be the "best" or "optimal" for inferential purposes. It is the role of scientists and investigators to perform the necessary follow-up analyses and meta-analyses to improve the credibility of a claim. So in a sense, the state of statistical methods in scientific research is NOT broken. It is working as intended, where people find enough evidence to stimulate further investigation, and it is through this process that previous claims are tested further. The only part that concerns me is how policymakers lacking in sufficient statistical background might put too much credence in a particular analysis--this idea that "oh, we found significance so this MUST be true"--or how the non-statistically informed public or media all too often distort the meaning of an analysis to the point of absurdity. But I argue that this is not a weakness of statistics. It is a deficiency in understanding brought about the human desire to act upon perceived certainties in a fundamentally uncertain world.

about 5 months ago


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