Same behavior, different outcomes?

I wonder how this event was different from this one?

In the first (most recent) story, an elected city councilman who held an alleged thief at gunpoint was himself arrested because the police saw him pointing the gun at the suspect. In the second (older) story, a state senator held four teens he suspected of having broken into a warehouse he owned at gunpoint. The story says he "brandished" the gun and told the suspects to "put their hands up", then gave them chocolate chip cookies. It doesn't say anything about the state senator pointing the gun or what the arriving sheriff's deputies saw.

I guess the moral of the story is, if you're going to hold someone at gunpoint, don't let law enforcement see you pointing the gun, and give your suspects chocolate chip cookies.


How many times did you vote?

How many times did you vote?

Once? Twice? Zero? For most of us, there's no way to know.

I pointed this out to my wife as we left our poll yesterday evening. Her response: "Why does that matter? We've never been able to tell in the past."

True. This has been a weakness in US election practice for a long time. What would be a sensible solution?

I'd like to receive a printed copy of my vote with a unique code on it. The vote tallying process could then populate a website where I can look up my code and verify my vote. I should also be able to 1) download the vote data and satisfy myself that it has been counted correctly, 2) not see any personally identifying information connected to any vote.

Several issues would have to be address: How do I know that the data I get from the website reflects real vote data (as opposed to data someone made up)? How do we adequately secure the vote verification website? How do we ensure that the website has enough horsepower to support the traffic it will receive? How do we ensure against redirection or phishing style attacks (in which the attacker persuades the voter to believe data from a bogus website)? How do we protect the vote verification website against denial of service attacks?



Natural processes tend to be circular. The byproduct or waste of one organism becomes the fuel or food for another. Everything produced by one process gets consumed by another.

Artificial processes tend to be linear. Waste plastic and hydrocarbons have no natural consumers. Recycling is an attempt to close the loop and reuse the waste materials we produce, but it takes a lot of effort and attention, something that tends to diminish compliance.

To live in a truly sustainable way, we need to find ways to make our processes circular without requiring a lot of effort.

An experiment of one

What I used to eat:
  • quarter pounders with cheese
  • other kinds of hamburgers
  • French fries
  • Combos
  • full fat potato and/or corn chips
  • fried or grilled chicken
  • weight: 260 (height: 6 feet)
  • typical blood pressure: 140/95
  • BMI: 35.3 ("severely obese" according to the BMI calculator at http://www.bariatricedge.com)
What I eat nowadays:
  • steel cut oats (.5 cup for breakfast)
  • frozen fruit (berries, melon, mango, peaches, grapes, pineapple)
  • frozen vegetables (carrots, snap peas, brocolli, asparagus, etc.)
  • fresh fruit: grapes, apples (in season), melon (in season), citrus, etc.
  • fresh vegetables: kale, spinach, sugar snap or snow peas, carrots, edamame (green soybeans), cherry tomatos
  • dried fruit: apricots, raisins, etc.
  • boiled potatos (with ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, yum!)
  • beans
  • Subway veggie sandwiches
  • weight: 195
  • typical blood pressure: 109/70
  • BMI: 26.4 ("slightly overweight" according to http://www.bariatricedge.com)
I'm still hoping to get my weight down to around 184, which would give me a BMI of 25 ("healthy" according to http://www.bariatricedge.com).



Check out Clifford Pickover's "ESP Experiment". Pretty amazing, huh?

Well, watch this! I can do it, too, and you don't have to click anything!

Pick a letter from the list below and say it out loud:


Got your letter? Okay, now scroll down....

Look at this list:

1 2 3 4

Hey, presto! I've removed your letter!

Okay, okay, so I removed *all* the letters. I *did* remove yours, didn't I?

Look back at Pickover's site. The first list of cards are:

Khearts, Jclubs, Kspades, Qdiamonds, Qclubs, Jdiamonds

Depending on which "eye" you click on, there are two "exit" lists with "your" card "removed":

beta1: Qhearts, Kclubs, Jhearts, Qspades, Kdiamonds
beta2: Kdiamonds, Qspades, Jhearts, Kclubs, Qhearts

Notice: NONE of the cards on the first list appear on either of the exit lists.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Pickover's experiment is the set of responses it gets (well, the set of responses he has posted, anyway). They range from simple mystification to extremely complex hyptheses attempting to explain the "result". Some respondents clearly "get it" while others appear to "get it", but offer jargon and obfuscation to play along with Pickover's misdirection. Sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference between a response from someone who was honestly tricked and is offering a hypothesis to explain the mechanism of the "telepathy" and someone playing along with the illusion. (My wife suggests that Mr. Pickover may have simply made up *all* the responses.)

Perhaps the funniest responses are the ones that say, "Nope, you screwed up. My card was still in the final set." The only way this could happen is if the person simply got confused and remembered, for example, Qdiamonds as Qhearts. (Or lied, my wife points out.)

Could it be that *all* our religious, metaphysical, spiritual explanations are this kind of over-explanation of simple changed lists?


Musings on The Shape of the World

The legal system is always behind. It can only respond to what has already been done. An act must be committed before it can be recognized as contrary to the public interest, eventually defined as a crime, as being against the law (the law being simply what someone has decided is in the public interest).

Historic trends, like agriculture at the dawn of history, trade during the Middle Ages, the Industrial Revolution, commercialism in the 1800's and early 1900's, the Information Revolution, and, most recently, globalization, cannot be resisted effectively. There are (at least) three responses one can make: futile resistance, attempted exploitation, or attempted shaping.

These historic steamrollers tend to flatten those who resist them. The nomadic hunter-gatherers who declined to join in the agricultural revolution were pushed out to the least desirable land, treated as uncivilized, and sometimes harassed or killed. The gentry who tried to control or limit trade in the Middle Ages found themselves outflanked -- if trade were disallowed here, it sprang up over there. The Luddites who violently resisted the Industrial Revolution are now a historical footnote.

In each revolution, some managed to exploit the trend of things effectively. Some became fabulously weathly by understanding the dynamics of the new way of things and aligning themselves to profit from it. Marco Polo, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison are examples of those managed to ride the wave of their respective revolutions and won big. Others tried but failed in one way or another.

In every revolution, there was the opportunity, not always taken, to moderate and shape the effects of the revolution to help those displaced by it find their way in the reconfigured world.

- The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman
- Protecting America's Health by Philip J. Hilts