30 January 2018

Thought for the Day - 30 January 2018

So, there's a braying replacement for New Gold called bitcoin. You may have heard of it and there have been numerous reports that actually spending it can be a clusterfuck. Now, it turns out, the attempts to augment transactions have led to pilfering. Isn't Bitcoin, et al supposed to be super-duper secure?? Right.
The whole point of Bitcoin was to get rid of the middlemen that dominate the financial system. But in the past few years, most bitcoin buying and selling has been conducted using middlemen--the exchanges that let people turn traditional currencies into digital coins. Users have flocked to exchanges in part because the original Bitcoin network can't process enough transactions to allow for seamless trading.

Not to mention the damn gummint. Off to the Yukon!!!

28 January 2018

Poor Little Rich Boys

Every now and again, some reporting generates such a level of outrage that one ought to let some little time pass before putting pen to paper, or in this day and age, fingers to keyboard. Well, here's the latest such. To be frank, I can't tell whether the Editors of the NYT are attempting to show the Trumpistas that even the Failing New York Times understands and has mucho sympathy for the plight of the highly paid yet uneducated and unskilled (and increasingly unemployed) in the Empty Counties.

Or, one might hope, the intent is to provide transparency into their arrogance and self-entitlement. Who knows?
At age 28, Mr. Zmija, like most of the coal mineworkers here, has not lost faith in the industry. He is considering applying for a coal job in Alabama, or he may return to his old mine job in Maryland, although it pays far less than the $106,000 he made last year at 4 West. A sign in his living room says, "I'm a proud coal miner."

Still, he grumbles about the turn of fortune at 4 West, saying, "It feels like a slap in the face."

Right. And how much does a school teacher, a person whom you've likely never paid any attention to, make? $35,000 minimum and $40,275 average. Now, that's fair, right?

So, for those who still think that micro-quants are the bee's knees and the macro-folk are just politics, consider such a distortion. Or not.
William Laviolette, a 26-year-old maintenance worker at the mine who made roughly $55,000 last year, said that if he didn't find another mine job, he would go back to school to get his high school degree.

Some how, I don't think his heart is in it. After all, he'd be taking a giant step down if he goes on to get a BA in education and gets a position teaching other members of the uneducated elite.

24 January 2018

I Told You So - 24 January 2018

Remember all those missives about New Gold and the effects, always ignored by Orange Julius Caesar and his minions? Well, mainstream pundits are beginning to notice:
... the world believes your national currency -- and the world's reserve currency -- is suddenly not worth what it used to be. Moreover, the dollar's decline could eventually have some very serious knock-on effects on the president's precious stock market performance.

Moreover, all that looming inflation, by Democratic Socialists of course, has been here for years. But, of course, it's driven by the 1% dumping all that idle moolah into stocks and bonds. Being the New Gold means you have to pay attention.
... if the greenback's rout deepens and pushes crude oil past the $70-a-barrel threshold. This isn't the kind of round number Mr. Trump will want to brag about on Twitter.

I told you so.

20 January 2018

Chinese Checkers

More than once in these endeavors the notion that Orange Julius Caesar will seek to squelch or even pervert macro data to support his agenda. We see this already at EPA (the top of the linked page is a screenshot from EPA, not the site; just so you don't get confused). We can expect the same, and I already sense that a thumb is on the scales with recent reporting from the agencies (call me suspicious), as time goes on. Remember, fascists turn to lying when the tale gets too outlandish.

Those who look at the "Chinese miracle" have long suspected that Beijing has a 3 kilo foot on the scales. Here's a recent report. Expect similar from this administration.
"It's just simplistic to say they lie or they don't lie," said Pauline Loong, the founder and managing director of Asia-analytica, a Hong Kong consulting firm specializing in mainland China. "They define their data differently, and they keep changing their definitions."

What Kellyanne calls alternative facts.

All macro-quants should be concerned.

19 January 2018

Days of Future Present

If you're old enough, and I sure has heck am, then the term "sneaker net" will be familiar. Hadn't run across it in a while. Today is one of those times.
The use-case presented to us in our briefing was one for video editing, where a film studio has a server/machine full of these drives, and when a days recording is done, the drives can be packed up and shipped to a visual effects studio (either by courier, or by placing an intern on a flight) to do their magic. This is commonly known as sneaker net, and offers much better bandwidth than transferring the raw 8K/16K footage through fat internet pipes. (Big data center services, like Google/Amazon, literally ship petabytes of data around using couriers, as the overall bandwidth is quicker.)

And there's this from that embedded link (and the memory of reading it years ago still gets tickled in the lower brain stem!).
Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.
-- Andrew Tanenbaum, 1981
[my bold]

And cheaper, I'd bet.

18 January 2018

Hadley R [update]

Previously mentioned, "R for Data Science" is useful reference for the WickhamWay of doing R. I've been reading in a desultory way since receiving it, thus came across this bit on p. 291 "Vectors":
I think it's better to start with tibbles because they're immediately useful, and then work your way down to the underlying components.

Yes!!! Finally, An Important Person who takes my view! R is, first and foremost, a Stat Pack Command Language. 99.44% of R users just want to get some study done with Existing Machinery. Yes! Which, not to put too fine a point on it, is why so many have difficulty with math and stat in school: the curriculum is set up to build a "solid foundation" before teaching anything the student, in a later academic/professional venue, will use. By the time that stuff comes around on the guitar, the "solid foundation" has devolved to mush in the lower brain stem. Fact is, most of the angst in learning later math/stat comes from having forgotten Algebra I/II in high school.
An easy-to-read guide to sharpening math skills for those who have taken mathematics and elementary algebra in high school or college and find they need to brush up on these skills for use in their professional or personal life. Examples and problems are related to real-life situations.

No More Distractions [update]

An occasional subject of these endeavors is the non-productivity of GUI "productivity" programs in the PC/Mac arena. I've made reference to studies going back to early Word showing that WYSIWYG does little to improve quality of content. From personal experience, folks get enamored of playing with fonts and other filigrees. Attention to content actually goes down (and that paper is from 1999; I read others earlier).
For what it is worth, in my opinion as somebody who used Word for several years before switching to TeX, and who has a keen interest in typesetting, no worthwhile features have been introduced into MS Word for Windows since version 2.0 of circa 1990.
Another take on the issue (and the comments are a stitch):
[Word] guarantees job security for the guru, not transparency for the zen adept who wishes to focus on the task in hand, not the tool with which the task is to be accomplished.

The way we got control of it was to give people a workflow that said "don't bother about any formatting whilst you write". No headlines, no figures, as basic and unadorned as possible. This had the advantage that they could use anything they liked to generate it.
-- Comment 10 of post

Well, a couple of recent stabs at that pinata for your amusement. From some time now, turning off the color bling.
To combat phone addiction, Harris suggests enabling grayscale on your phone.

Then, today, Farhad Manjoo has his take on the problem. Reaches the same conclusion, not surprising.
Companies that make money from your attention — that is, ad-supported apps like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube — now employ armies of people who work with supercomputers to hook you ever more deeply into their services.

One of the side effects of Data Science is its complicity in manipulation of "users". Doesn't sound much like science to me. The end of Western Civilization is before our eyes.

15 January 2018

The Devil is in The Details

So let me get this straight. Anonymous sources tell the WaPo that Orange Julius Caesar referred to some countries as "shithole". Later, Durbin confirms; likely the original source (but hasn't admitted, to the best of my knowledge as of now). Right Wingnut brown nosers deny he said those words. Now, it happens, that the argument is whether it was shithole or shithouse countries. So, I guess, Durbin lied. May be.

14 January 2018

If The Only Tool You Have Is A Hammer

... everything tends to look like a nail. Let's start with the latest edition of The Transitory Quote:
We have built the digital world too rapidly. It was constructed layer upon layer, and many of the early layers were never meant to guard so many valuable things: our personal correspondence, our finances, the very infrastructure of our lives.
-- Zeynep Tufekci/2018

You'll see it for the next few days in the preamble.

It should come as no surprise that I was involved with computers at the birth of the innterTubes, though not a moving force in that birth. Even in the early days of the World Wide Web (I wonder, does anyone remember that term?), I knew the history of its origins: ARPANET. The multi-level network model was worked out the make all this happen. HTTP, also, actually had a meaning: HyperText Transfer Protocol. The design, and purpose, of the net was to facilitate the movement of technical papers among researcher. IOW, text files of moderate size. Unix, likewise, was designed for the purpose of driving in-house, character terminal based, word processing systems. IOW, text files of moderate size.

Should it be surprising that such tech can only be finagled into streaming porn to your phone or desk or 80" plasma with difficulty?

09 January 2018

Another R Book

It should come as no surprise that I, being a codger, prefer my books with pages sewn into a spine and hard covered. For the last few decades those have been mostly about relational databases and things quant. R being the latest obsession. The pile never seems to diminish.

One kind of interesting aspect of the R world is that there is a bomb thrower amongst them, not wholly unlike what's going on in the political world. That would be Hadley Wickham. Some years ago there were reports of naughty words towards him. You can let your fingers do the walking through the Inntertubes (you'll even find a bit of prose from Your Humble Servant in one such thread).

Which brings me to his latest (with co-author), "R For Data Science". I don't think it's best as a learning text for R per se; Crawley is still (but, yes, a little long in the tooth) my preferred intro with ggplot2 to get up to date graphics. But as a reference on Wickham's tidyverse, it's canonical.

Here's a recent view:
The tidyverse is an 'opinionated' collection of R packages that duplicate and seek to improve upon numerous base R functions for data manipulation (e.g. dplyr) and graphing (e.g. ggplot2). As the tidyverse has grown increasing more comprehensive, it has been suggested that it be taught first to new R users. The debate between which R dialect is better has generated a lot of heat, but much light.

Here's one point from the book that, at one time, likely would have gotten major flames:
R is an old language, and some things that were useful 10 or 20 years ago now get in your way. It's difficult to change base R without breaking existing code, so most innovation occurs in packages. Here we will describe the tibble package, which provides opinionated data frames that make working in the tidyverse a little easier.

Anyway, recommended. O'Reilly spent some extra moolah on color graphics and text to make a pretty book. On the whole, I'd rather they'd spent the money to put it in a Rep-Kover binding.

05 January 2018

Wages of Sin

There continues to be noise from both sides, both sides, about why it is that we have more than traditional Full Employment, ~4.1%, yet wages/incomes have barely moved up since the Great Recession. Orange Julius Caesar brayed during the election that the issue was that Obama/BLS were lying, and the "real" employment rate was much, much higher; 42% was his favorite. No one who has a brain believed that. But doubting the truth of U3 is valid.

But the fact is, BLS has always published various versions (with various definitions, naturally) of the unemployment rate. The one labeled U3 is the "official" rate over the years. But that rate doesn't include folks who would be looking for new/better full time employment if they thought it mattered. Including those folks, and other marginally attached workers, makes for U6. You can play with the display.
The current U6 unemployment rate as of December 2017 is 8.10.

So, for the first time in history, Orange Julius Caesar is sort of right. The slack manifest in such a much larger U6 is why "full employment" U3 doesn't drive wage/income increase. The Right Wingnut Leona Helmsley Memorial Tax Cut for the 1% won't trickle down to drive up wages. There is zero historical evidence that such will happen.

James Bond vs. Spectre

I'll reference the Anandtech discussion of Meltdown and Spectre, just to have one. I expect any of the myriad others will do.

The question of interest to me is: how can there be a common "hardware bug" on, at least, five different machines? Those being Intel, AMD, ARM, POWER, and Z. It is acknowledged that the execution units on the metal aren't the ISAs of these machines, but rather some "simpler" RISC-y machine. Is there really only one way to build such a machine, algorithmicly? Or has the cross-licensing of patents led to there being one-best-way? Is the reality, there really is only one processor out there with myriad front-end decoders for all ISAs? And is the bug really on the metal, what most folks consider the hardware? Or is the bug in a common algorithm, implemented by all these 'proprietary' machine front-ends? Does Spectre, in particular, make a laughingstock of cpu patents? After all, if all of these allegedly unique architectures can be fiddled with in the same way, there has to be a common nexus in the implementations. And it is settled that algorithms can't be patented.

That the fixes are (going to be) in micro-code leads one to suspect that there may be just one hardware cpu in the world. It's a small world after all.