Author Archives: pappp

Against metrics: how measuring performance by numbers backfires

Source: Hacker News

Article note: Yup Yup Yup. I become more and more convinced that bureaucratization is the limiting factor of societies. Goodhart's law ("When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure") guarantees that we can't effectively measure, and thus Pournelle's iron law of bureaucracy ("In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.") takes over, and now you have a giant overhead machine that occupies all available resources. It's the "mythical man month" problem at maximum generality and scale.
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UK students on hunger strike want help for low-income peers

Source: Kentucky.com -- State

Article note: On one hand, doing _anything_ at UK is byzantine, so I absolutely believe the protesters claim that the services are hard to access, and I have no doubt that many of our students have basic needs not being met. On the other hand, there are already six full-time staff in 2 departments for this. The demonstrators are demanding another full-time position and another facility. I would be surprised if that didn't imply at least $500,000 a year in overhead on the task already, adding more people and more departments with overlapping duties but separate expenses will only increase overhead and obstruction. Make demands that actually help your goal.

A group of University of Kentucky students has started a hunger strike that they say won't end until the administration creates a "basic needs center" to help low-income students. The … Click to Continue »

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Ignore the noise about a scary hidden backdoor in Intel processors: It’s a fascinating debug port

Source: The Register

Article note: Everything is too complicated.

VISA: It's everywhere (on the system bus) you want to be

Researchers at the Black Hat Asia conference this week disclosed a previously unknown way to tap into the inner workings of Intel's chip hardware.…

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Biohacking Caffeine : Perfecting Dosage and Timing

Source: adafruit industries blog

Article note: Neat. A reasonably complete, deeply researched dosage scheduling tool for Caffeine.

Looking for ways to justify that fourth cup of coffee for the day? There are MANY studies on caffeine consumption including ones that look at fat burning enhancement, ideal dosage and timing. Let’s take a closer look at a 2018 study which we have pointed out before, but never took the time to explain how it works. The military department of defense and biotechnology have developed an algorithm that reduces our need for caffeine by 65% while increasing our alertness by 64%. How do we apply it to ourselves for optimal coding and focused hardware development?

The above screenshot was generated using the 2B-Alert Web page. This site was developed by the same military researcher who wrote up the study on “Caffeine dosing and strategies to optimize alertness during sleep loss“. Once you signup to create a free login it will ask you to set your unbelievable strong password. If you can get yourself through the password process it is on to typing in sleep data and caffeine dosages. The site provides automatic conversion from different caffeine sources so you don’t have to figure out how decipher milligrams on your own.

There are three graphs that can be generated once the sleep and caffeine data is entered. All of these are based on the Unified Model of Performance (UMP) which predicts effects of sleep loss and caffeine, as a function of time of day.

Mean Response Time – More alert means lower values. You can see above that each cup of coffee I consume creates a slight decrease in response time (faster, more alert). I found that less than four cups of strong 8oz aeropress coffee left gaps in my day where I got slower.

Mean Speed – This chart again shows clear peaks at coffee consumption times of 7am, 10am, 1pm and 3pm. My speed is projected to increase through the day. I tried generating graphs with only 1 cup and 2 cups of coffee a day, but it showed my performance was pretty much over by 4pm if I didn’t keep on chugging the black juice.

Lapses – The less lapses you have the better. Again the 4 cup model seemed to keep my lapses to a minimum for a 8 – 6pm work window.

While the 2B-Alert webpage is a bit clunky to use it does allow one to plugin exact sleep periods and specific caffeine doses for up to a week at a time. If you knew you were going to be in a sleep deprived situation and wanted to calculate the ideal caffeine consumption this would be the tool to use. My interest was more in daily performance to keep up a consistent work pace so my sleep schedule and coffee consumption look the same for each day.

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End-User Programming

Source: Hacker News

Article note: This is a topic I'm always conflicted and/or outside the major camps on. I do believe that systems should be designed for people to customize them to their needs, and develop both general and domain specific skills as they use them. The presence of the amazing things some people rig together with spreadsheets and other simple, familiar automation tools are plenty of evidence that this is a tenable system. On the other hand, I firmly believe the empirical evidence is that most people really don't have the developed reasoning skills to design and make things, and ultra-low-barrier-to-entry simplified systems only work to make dreck that they're designed to coerce. The process of working sophisticated relatively general tools is necessary to actually perform creative design. The rough conclusion is that we really need to design our social and educational structures to better support people onto sophisticated tools, rather than building coercive tools for idiots. That's a harder, longer, and less attractive to rent-seekers process. It's also vastly more empowering, and necessary for computer technology in general to be empowering rather than coercive.
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Facebook Stored Hundreds of Millions of User Passwords in Plain Text for Years

Source: Hacker News

Article note: Even the biggest, highest profile web folks are absolute amateur-hour bullshit. Is it because all the web tooling is bullshit? Probably. Is it because they don't give a fuck? Also, yes. Is it because we build complex systems way beyond our ability to manage without thinking about the consequences? For sure.
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Matt Taibbi finally makes sense of the Pentagon’s trillions in off-books “budgetary irregularities”

Source: Boing Boing

Article note: The U.S. military-industrial complex truly is the world's most amazing display of the iron law of bureaucracy. The influence of that kind of lucre is so corrupting that the process of being selected and act of touching it to attempt an audit appears to instantly put an entity in on the grift. I absolutely believe it is possible-and-easy to over bean-count and get in the way of doing things more than you save, and also to under bean-count such that the grifting grows out of control. Somehow, via perverse incentive, the DOD has done both, and produced a system which spends an unreasonable amount of energy and money on obstructive bean-counting, without actually having any idea or control over the flow of resources.

The finances of the US armed forces have been in a state of near-continuous audit for decades and despite spending billions of dollars and thousands of person-years trying to make sense of what the military spends, we're no closer to an answer, and no one disputes that there are trillions of dollars' worth of unaccountable transactions (but importantly, not trillions of dollars in spending) that make it impossible to figure out whether and when and how the Pentagon is being ripped off, or wasting money, or both.

Enter Matt Taibbi (previously), who is one of journalism's princes of incandescent invective, a superb polemicist at short and longer lengths.

But that's only half of the Taibbi story: the other half is his uncanny knack for unravelling baroque scams, cutting through the mind-numbing complexity and getting right to the chase.

That's what he's done in The Pentagon’s Bottomless Money Pit, an 8,000-word explainer on the Pentagon's budget crisis that is one of the clearest pieces of financial writing I've ever read, drawing in the structural, economic, personal and historic elements that have created the "bottomless money pit" that is the US military.

The problem is a snarled knot of many smaller problems. For example, the Pentagon has terrible IT systems. Leaving a "quantity" field blank in a purchase order form caused the computer to place an order for 990,000 units, for a total of $3.5 trillion. The order never went' through, but the system also had no way to unwind the transaction, so it was just left on the books, and mysteriously deducted later, creating an accounting overhang a third the size of the US GDP.

When the military manages to actually order things, it doesn't keep track of things. Key military materiel like nuclear weapons have historically not even been assigned serial numbers or tracking tags (the Air Force once accidentally shipped nuclear nose-cones to Taiwan, where they were expecting a shipment of helicopter batteries) (oops).

To make things worse, the system is genuinely full of waste and pork, which any kind of real audit would uncover. The military contractors who benefit from these scams have gotten so rich from them that they can afford to buy key Congressmen on the relevant committees, and so every legislative attempt to force the military to genuinely account for itself has died.

Which is not to say that there haven't been audits. There have. These audits have run for years, cost billions (literally) and either concluded that the system was unauditable as it stood, and needed a complete overhaul; or have later been revealed to be fraudulent and had to be retracted.

And that's where those trillions have gone. The military hasn't lost trillions of dollars, but its books contain trillions of dollars' worth of transactions, only a small fraction of which are real, and the noise in the system lets grifter military contractors rip off the taxpayer for billions, and their campaign contributions have ensured that this will never be fixed.

The Pentagon just committed to giving billions more to Big Four auditing companies to conduct another audit, though the best we can hope for from all this is that they will simply repeat the conclusions of the other auditors who've gone before them.

The Defense Department, for the most part, does not know how much it spends. It has a handle on some things, like military pay, but in other places it’s clueless. None of its services — Navy, Air Force, Army, Marine Corps — use the same system to record transactions or monitor inventory. Each service has its own operations and management budget, its own payroll system, its own R&D budget and so on. It’s an empire of disconnected budgets, or “fiefdoms,” as one Senate staffer calls them.

Instead of using a single integrated financial accounting system that would maintain a global picture of its finances at all times, the Pentagon built another bureaucracy to pile atop the others, called the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, or DFAS. Created by then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney in 1991, DFAS is in charge of collecting financial reports from all the different fiefdoms at the end of each month. DFAS is like a tribune traveling on horseback at month’s end, collecting a pile of scrolls from each castle.

In 2013, Reuters published a brutal exposé showing how DFAS accountants conducted a mad scramble at the end of each month to try to piece together records of transactions to justify spending. But in thousands of cases a month, no records existed. “We didn’t have the detail,” one accountant explained.

Complicating matters is the fact that money is allocated to the military on different schedules. If Congress gives the Navy $53 billion for operations and maintenance, as it did this year, the service is expected to spend all that money that year. Such expenses — payroll is another — are called “one-year money.” Meanwhile, research and development might be “two-year money,” and contracting might be “five-year money.”

The Pentagon’s Bottomless Money Pit [Matt Taibbi/Rolling Stone]

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Google jumps into gaming with Google Stadia streaming service, coming “in 2019”

Source: Ars Technica

Article note: Oh boy, you can stream rented games at whatever shit latency (and, less importantly, bandwidth) your asshole ISP deigns to provide, until google abandons and then kills the service as they inevitably will. That sounds ... completely undesirable, like every other iteration of this idea.
The Google Stadia controller, which includes a few custom buttons. The service will also support wired USB controllers and mouse-and-keyboard controls.

Enlarge / The Google Stadia controller, which includes a few custom buttons. The service will also support wired USB controllers and mouse-and-keyboard controls. (credit: Google)

SAN FRANCISCO—At the Game Developers Conference, Google announced its biggest play yet in the gaming space: a streaming game service named Google Stadia, designed to run on everything from PCs and Android phones to Google's own Chromecast devices.

As of press time, the service's release window is simply "2019." No pricing information was announced at the event.

Google Stadia will run a selection of existing PC games on Google's centralized servers, taking in controller inputs and sending back video and audio using Google's network of low-latency data centers. The company revealed a new Google-produced controller, along with a game-streaming interface that revolves around a "play now" button. Press this on any Web browser and gameplay will begin "in as quick as five seconds... with no download, no patch, no update, and no install."

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Beto O’Rourke outed as Cult of Dead Cow member, phreaker and writer of screeds

Source: Ars Technica

Article note: I don't agree with all his positions, and I'm not sure how viable he really is on the national stage (dude lost to _Ted Cruz_), but frankly affiliation with CDC indicates, to me, a surprising amount of wherewithal for someone that deep in politics.
WATERLOO, IOWA - MARCH 16: Democratic presidential candidate and former Cult of the Dead Cow member  Beto O'Rourke greets voters during a canvassing kickoff event with state senate candidate Eric Giddens March 16, 2019, in Waterloo, Iowa.

Enlarge / WATERLOO, IOWA - MARCH 16: Democratic presidential candidate and former Cult of the Dead Cow member Beto O'Rourke greets voters during a canvassing kickoff event with state senate candidate Eric Giddens March 16, 2019, in Waterloo, Iowa. (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman and Senate candidate and recently declared Democratic candidate for president in 2020, has been outed as a former member of what has been described as America's oldest hacking group—the Cult of the Dead Cow (CDC). O'Rourke admitted to his membership in an interview for an upcoming book, as Reuters reported in an exclusive based on the book.

O'Rourke's role in the group, starting in the late 1980s, was more focused on writing screeds for the CDC's text-file essays than hacking. O'Rourke, like other teens of the time, did find ways to avoid paying for long-distance dial-up phone service time to connect to bulletin board systems (BBSs) of the day across the country with his family's Apple IIe computer and 300 baud modem, which he often used to search of pirated games.

He eventually launched his own bulletin board system (BBS) called TacoLand, which Reuters' Joseph Menn reports was largely about punk music. "This was the counterculture: Maximum Rock & Roll [magazine], buying records by catalog you couldn't find at record stores," O'Rourke told Menn.

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School is all about signaling, not skill-building

Source: Hacker News

Article note: The author (an economist) oversells their case a little, but I don't fully disagree. My bad attitude about credentialism is both the source of most of my problems in academia, and the reason why I find teaching so compelling. I don't generally expect a lot of correlation between credentials and competence (Too many dumbasses with degrees and highly competent people with no formal credentials in my areas), BUT that isn't because of a _fundamental_ problem with college. Also helpful teaching at a school I have degrees from, it keeps me in the "If I let dumbshits through, it devalues all the other degrees from this program" mindset. A worthwhile college education is teaching you: - Intellectual and practical fundamentals in a field (underlying principles, terminology, etc.) - How to learn in a field (ties to the first) - Exposure to a field (what parts do you like working with. Enough of the other parts so you can work adjacent to them without being a menace. Etc.) - Buying you time when you can focus on self-development. - One last attempt to impose some general educational grounding to give you enough context to not be a goddamn idiot. - Demonstrating a minimum level of drive, follow-through, and social competence. Often, programs fall short, and higher ed as it currently exists deserves to die when it really does only serve as status signaling.
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