Monthly Archives: April 2014

Did Manchester United’s decline start under Ferguson?

Carl Bialik (previously known as The Numbers Guy) at 538 argues that Manchester United was exceptionally lucky in Alex Ferguson’s last season, and that David Moyes just kept steady a downward trend. Bialik’s point is that looking at finer measures of performance than simply points, such as the share of shots taken and the goal differential, United should not have done as well as ghey did last year, so Moyes should not be blamed for the (apparent) decline this year. There is a nice graph of the development of United’s share of shots taken the last 12 years in the post showing this clearly.

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Practical reasons for not allowing maltreatment

There are both principled and practical reasons for why one should not allow torture or maltreatment of suspects or convicts. A practical one that I believe does not get enough attention is the fact that to catch a criminal, one is often dependent on tips from people who know him. Rachel Gillum writes about “Why the NYPD’s decision to drop a unit that spies on Muslims may help counterterrorism,” because it is essential that the police be regarded as fair and impartial. What I am thinking about the fact that the bar for tipping law enforcement about an acquaintance, friend or relative probably depends on the treatment the suspect can be expected to get. For example, the father of the Detroit/underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab gave the CIA information before the son’s capture. Would he have done so if he expected that his son would face extensive maltreatment in the hands of the authorities?

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How does the Heartbleed bug work?

The Heartbleed bug is everywhere, so it is nice to understand it a little. xkcd has drawn it, but a few words might help to interpret his comic. The “heartbeat” option allows a computer to check that it still has a connection to a server. The computer sends a message, for example “asdfgh” that the server repeats back to acknowledge that it is there. Now, the bug allows tricking the server by telling it that the message sent is much longer than it really is, for example saying that the message “asdfgh” is 64 000 characters. Then the server does not stop after “asdfgh,” but continues with further 63 994 characters from its memory. Since many people use one server, these extra characters may contain usernames and passwords that other people have entered. The heart bleeds.

More information and advice about how to protect oneself at Vox or thousands of other places.

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The benefits of a surveillance state

Surveillance gets a bad rap these days, but here is another perspective, stated clearly for once: Stuart Armstrong writing in the Aeon magazine spells out what the benefits of total surveillance might be.  Summary: less crime, fewer resources spent on police and military, prevent pandemics and terrorists, help disaster response, provide data for research, practical applications, more global trust. (And he duly notes: “these potential benefits aren’t the whole story on mass surveillance.”)

Monthly book roundup – 2014 March

Books finished in March:
(Warning: reviews are unpolished and quickly written.)

American Hippopotamus by Jon Mooallem. The quest to start hippopotamus farming in the US in the beginning of the 20th century. Despite colorful characters, the book is a disappointment, since it takes the far-fetchedness of the idea of importing hippos as given and never gives a clear answer for why it did not happen. Many of the claims about hippos in the book are the oppsite of Jared Diamond‘s explanation in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies for why they were never domesticated in Africa-namely that they are aggressive and terrorial. To me it did what role such good arguments played.

Epic Win for Anonymous: An Online Army Conquers the Media by Cole Stryker. A look on what was the forefront of the internet, from simple message boards to 4chan, and later became common, like the cheezburger networks. Emphasizes the creativity and in some senses meritocracy that the internet has encouraged. Largely refrains from moralizing.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. I was not aware that the neurotic Elling had a fat American relative. (Or rather an ancestor, or at least a predecessor, as Ingvar Ambjørnsen’s Elling first appeared in 1993, as opposed to A Conferderacy…, which was published in 1980). Very funny, but I started to become quite tired of Ignatius J. Reilly a bit more than halfway through the book.

Guerrilla Warfare by Ernesto Che Guevare. Mostly practical advice, on organization, equipment, discipline, sabotage, and other things. Measured in tone and clear on things like decency towards the civilian population, etc. Also focus on learning and the need for indoctrination. No exaggerated portaits of the other side. It would be good if the tone of ideological discourse was more often like this.

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick. Information overload is fittingly the topic towards the end of Gleick’s great flood of information topics – language, writing, code, encyclopedias, dictionaries, computing, naming, mathematics, logic, computer science, genetics, the internet. Too much for me to take in, no less do justice to in writing. Recommended.

Nixon-Kennedy DebatesThe first televised debates between the US presidential contenders. In the fall of 1960. Much like todays debates. A bit more civilized and a little less spin. Nixon in the third debate: “And I only hope that, should I win this election, that I could approach President Eisenhower in maintaining the dignity of the office; in seeing to it that whenever any mother or father talks to his child, he can look at the man in the White House and, whatever he may think of his policies, he will say: “Well, there is a man who maintains the kind of standards personally that I would want my child to follow.”” Yes. Nixon was going to be elected president in 1968 and 1972, and resigned in 1974. Both were highly professional in the debates, as they would have to be to have come to this stage.

Ratings and old books are in the library.

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