Saturday, May 26, 2012

Space is the Place: Come to the High Frontier

The successful launch and docking of the Space-X Dragon (read here) validates the long involvement of private efforts to gain the high frontier. 

We have come to accept government involvement in space exploration and exploitation. We perhaps allow for competition between governments as India, Japan, and China join the USA, the European Space Agency, and Russia in launching satellites and astronauts.

In fact, the private efforts were first of course and were only shunted aside during the decades of collectivism in the 20th century.  In fact, private enterprise has the long term advantage in exploring and exploiting off-planet resources. 

No one in the 17th century who knew only the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company could have foreseen the Cunard Line, the Northern Pacific Railroad, or TransWorld Airlines and the immense profits made by carrying very ordinary people on very personal missions. The goal then was to haul raw materials (especially gold and silver) back to Europe. No one in 1620 or 1720 could have seen the world of 1820 or 1920.  Since then, we have gotten better at imagining the future. We now live somewhere between George Orwell and George Jetson. It is not that science fiction predicted the future, but that we learned to expect a future different from the past.  We call it progress. That can only come from spontaneous human action, not from central planning.  Progress cannot be directed.

Anousheh Ansari at Super Science Friday
U of M Flint, 2009.
Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic in pursuit of a record (and a cash prize) was privately funded.  Lindbergh introduced Robert Goddard to Daniel Guggenheim.  Then the wars intervened and the governments of the USA and USSR turned to former Nazis in their quest to conquer, command, and control the high frontier. 

Meanwhile, private efforts continued.  Robert Truax, OTRAG, Space Services, Inc., and CSTAR, all met with failure.  However, the Amateur Radio Relay League built its Oscar-1 in 1961 and since then 70 satellites constructed by hobbyists  have joined the dense flock of privately-owned birds in orbit.  Among those was the pioneering Telstar built by AT&T and a consortium which paid NASA £3 million (yes, UK pounds) in 1962, after the successful launch of Oscar-1.

With profits from selling their network switching technology, the Ansari family funded the X-Prize to stimulate the development of private launch vehicles.  Anousheh Ansari used her share to pay the Russian Federal Space Agency to take her to the ISS.  Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites won the prize. Despite a horrific setback in 2008, they have renewed their agreement with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and restarted their association with Microsoft’s Paul G. Allen.  Spaceship Two is currently undergoing tests (here and here).

Sunday, May 20, 2012

John Kemeny Knew: We Shall Have Computed

In Man and the Computer John G. Kemeny analyzed some aspects of society and a few institutions with suggested alternatives for them to be improved with the application of computers.  Many of Kemeny’s predictions were largely correct.  Some were very wrong. To be fair, the future of computers moved so fast that even William Gibson gave up cyberpunk for mainstream fiction. 

American Museum
of Natural History
Special Edition
Generally, John Kemeny failed to expect the invention of the microcomputer and the resultant home and office desktops and laptops that today are ubiquitous.  Although he wrote briefly about the advantages to video telephones, nothing he presented applies to the iPod. And much of what the iPod actually does –playing recorded music, taking pictures, giving directions to drivers – was not suggested for the video telephone. 

Throughout the book two complementary ideas frame the thesis: a regional network of mainframes will allow personal terminals for millions; this technology also will empower “social analysts” to attempt solutions to our problems.  Chief among those problems is traffic control in metropolitan centers.  But that only reflects the full range of challenges from overcrowding, over population and over consumption.  In short, John Kemeny was a fascist.  But a nice fascist.  He would never put anyone into a concentration camp for their beliefs, but he did see government authorities and academic experts as the central forces that can and should define and drive social progress.

Writing about business applications for computers, he outlined the power of management information systems.  He did not suggest that entrepreneurs would find computers helpful.  He certainly did not see a role for entrepreneurs in creating new modes of computing.  He did call for private entities to provide time-sharing mainframes and databases, but only to counterbalance the potential threat of government monopoly over information and access to it.  If John Kemeny read any Friedrich Hayek, it could only have appeared as an indecipherable alien language, written in Roman letters.

That aside though, this book was a seminal work and deserves attention for its positive attributes. 

Early on (35-37) he grants validity to the importance of games on the computer.  Gaming builds familiarity with the system, demystifying the computer. 
That describes my experience meeting my wife in 1977 in front of an HP 9830 on which our physics instructor at Lansing Community College, Claude Watson, taught “BASIC for Arts and Science.”
“At Dartmouth we do not consider these recreational uses frivolous. First of all, they are an important resource for recreation in a residential college environment. But, more importantly, for many inexperienced users the opportunity for playing games against a computer is a major factor in removing psychological blocks that frighten the average human being away from free use of machines.  Indeed, we are proud of the fact that one of the places that Dartmouth students take their dates to “show off” is the computation center.  While they are likely to play several games there, they are also quite likely to show off with programs that they themselves have written.” (35)

As a teacher, Kemeny’s insights into the value of computer-aided instruction were accurate.  (Ch. 7; 72-84; but also throughout) First, he acknowledged the importance of drill-and-practice.  Beyond that, he recognized that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it and we do that when we write a program to carry out a task. The three best uses from an educator’s point of view are rapid calculation, information retrieval, and the creation of algorithms.  (80) 

Kemeny correctly identified the need for a society of autodidacts, people who can teach themselves what they want to know by accessing databanks, journal articles, and lectures. (81-82).  Books will remain important and pleasurable (83), but their content must be supplemented with interactive learning sessions. 

Imagining “The Library of the Future” (Ch. 8; 85-98), Kemeny paints a detailed portrait of the product while totally missing the delivery mechanism. Focused on fiche images stored in card files and indexed by100-word abstracts, he did not expect that I could put “John Leonard Riddell” into Google Scholar and be led directly to a PDF of a lost work, Riddell’s 1836 monograph Memoir on the Nature of Miasm and Contagion. While some PDFs are image-only, this one is word-searchable.  I can quote easily and exactly to show Riddell’s assertion that disease is caused by germs (“animiculae”). 
Thomas Kurtz (Mac)
 and John Kemeny (PC)

For all of the prognostication and soothsaying, Kemeny in 1972 vastly underestimated the length, breadth, depth, and flow of the information revolution he would live to see welling up before he passed away too early in 1992 from heart failure. He calculated limits expressed in transmissions of megabits per second, delivering pages of storage, for dollars of rental time.  Today we throw out computers with more capacity than the network he dreamed of in 1972 for 1980.

Of course, he could not see the limitations and contradictions that would evolve from within a successful informatic revolution.

Kemeny wrote about the need for “computer programmers.” We are all computer programmers, but like oncologists who have their moles removed by dermatologists, we are specialists, too often as limited in our skills with computers as our parents before us.  The other day at work, I saw two young managers scan receipts to JPEG files with their iPods to facilitate the filing of expense reports.  As their technical writer, I know that neither of them knows much about word processing software, or they would not have Arial in their Calibri and they would know what the red squiggly underline is trying to tell them.  I warrant that none of the 40 project managers on my current infrastructure integration project could write a program to translate Roman numerals into Arabic numbers, though many of them are certified for Microsoft Project. (Myself, in 2007, I completed an undergraduate requirement for “computer literacy” by taking a class in Java a kind of Basic done up in Rococo.)

This post comes with some irony.  As I read the book, I made notes in the front, a couple of words and a page number for each.  Then I copied the page numbers and tags into this Word document to start the article.  To get them into order, I highlighted and sorted. Seeing 111 ahead of 87, I went back and prepended zeroes to the two-digit integers. Then I resorted.  Like much else, technology stays the same the more it changes.

Finally, Kemeny outlines a problem in simulation (traffic control) at some depth (130-135). He is correct that the general purpose digital computer allows flexible creation and testing of models.  One promise not addressed was the testing of existing models.

Today’s controversies in anthropogenic global warming only bring this into the front.  A model is based on assumptions.  Data tests those premises.  Real validation or falsification can only come from new data not in the original model; or else from different models employing the original data.  Aside from some curve-fitting with least-squares, we seem not to do much of this, certainly not in the social sciences.  If the essence of John Kemeny’s apology for computing is to be accepted, then modeling – both making and testing – must become a requirement for informatic literacy.

Postscript -- Speaking of literacy, to check the grammatical future in English, I googled "english grammar future tense" and read a Wikipedia article, then paged forward and read more at John Kemeny knew. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Gaudeamus Igitur

Economics professor Michael "wintercow" Rizzo at the University of Rochester posted some thoughts about graduation on The Unbroken Window (read "Godspeed" here).  Since graduating in 2010, I had forgotten about this rite of passage and what it means and what it meant to me at the time.  As I commented there, I really appreciated seeing my professors seated with the faculty at the front of the auditorium.  Too few attend. 

Searching YouTube back in 2010, I found many interesting presentations.  I was impressed with the European audience sitting there chatting and when the orchestra struck up the hymn, they rose and sang.  As it should be. This is the perhaps the best known version of "Gaudeamus Igitur." 

Gaudeamus igitur iuvenesdum sumus.
Gaudeamus igitur iuvenesdum sumus.
Post iucundam iuventutem
Post molestam senectutem
Nos habebit humus.
Nos habebit humus.

Vivat academia! Vivant professores!
Vivat academia! Vivant professores!
Vivat membrum quodlibet;
Vivant membra quaelibet;
Semper sint in flore
Semper sint in flore

Alma Mater floreat, Quae nos educavit;
Alma Mater floreat, Quae nos educavit;
Caros et commilitones,
Dissitas in regiones
Sparsos, congregavit
Sparsos, congregavit

Barack Obama, American

With a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas, President Obama was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961. He was raised with help from his grandfather, who served in Patton's army, and his grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle management at a bank. The White House

On the sociology and economics blog, OrgTheory, I had the opportunity to misunderstand, Dr. Kieran Healy of Duke, who wrote: "And thus did we start down the road toward the unlikely spectacle of a Black President endorsing gay marriage. Nice—counterintuitive, compelling, and more than a little ironic." (See the entire essay and comments here.) I still take issue with the claim that Pres. Barack Obama is "Black." He is indeed an "African-American" on his father's side, but that ignores the perhaps more important considerations on the distaff side.  His mother claims to be from Kansas; and Kansan-Americans are known to have Ozmian connections.  Maybe that needs to be investigated more closely... or maybe not... 

Stanley Ann Dunham
While completing my master's at Eastern Michigan, I had the opportunity to attend a guest lecture on race by Agustin Fuentes professor of anthropology at Notre Dame University. (See here.)  Dr. Fuentes's thesis is that "race" is ascribed, and only ascribed.  Race has no objective existence.  Moreover, other people define your race: you do not.  He showed a picture of Pres. Obama, and asked, "What is his race?" Some people said "Black" and others "African-American."   But his mother is white.  No one said "Caucasian-American."  That was Prof. Fuentes' point.  Later, he showed pictures of Micronesians.  Again, several people in the audience identified them as African, or Black. (I don't think anyone said "Negro.")  But, Fuentes corrected them all by saying that any genetic metric you can find would place them within the populations of Asians, not Africans.  

(An interesting conjecture, not presented then, is that the people we call Africans inherited their darker skin tones from these Melanesians who emigrated back to Africa in an interglacial period.)

We glide easily over the fact that the elder Barack Obama is from Kenya.  Kenya is in Africa.  But, again, the people among whom the elder Obama grew up were not Negroes or Negroids or whatever. They emigrated into Kenya from the north about 1000 years ago, about the same time that the Magyars (my mother's father's ancestors) were entering Europe from Asia. (I have B-positive blood, like many other people who happen to come from western Siberia in the Ob-Irtysh river basin.)  People move.  We walk. We run. We ride animals; and we ride in carts; and today we still measure internal combustion engines in horsepower.  In Indo-European languages many r-words denote running: Rhine, Rhone. rhino-, rhizo-...  Now we fly, flee, flow...  The first horror of any concentration camp is that you are not allowed to leave.  It is the one thing everyone wants to do.  Even if we settle into cities and onto farms, none survives isolated and self-sufficient. Trade is life.  And so some footloose herders from the Nile followed the flocks to Kenya... and one of them thought that America sounded interesting.

He was not alone.

We too commonly think that so-called "native" Americans came here from Asia by crossing a land bridge during a glacial period.  Maybe they did. Maybe some did while others found other routes.  It is interesting that the iconic totem pole is known among the peoples of the Pacific Northwest and the Maori of New Zealand.   Atlantis is not the place we all came from, but the place we all came to.

Atlantis: the Lost Continent (MGM, 1961)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Criminalistics: Science or Folkway?

Ahead of my May 8 talks to the forensics classes in the science department at Westwood High School in Round Rock, Texas, the teacher, Susan Seale, distributed a questionnaire of my own design.

Three intentions informed the instrument.  I wanted to prepare the classes to think about the science of crime scene investigation.  Second, how well could they correlate knowledge in general and about forensics especially. Also, I was fishing for an answer I did not have about the actual value of forensic psychology.

To take the last first: “In which cases did psychological profiling predict (or narrow the possible range) of the next victim and enable the capture of the criminal?”  The questionnaire (appended here), left this area blank. Any answer would do.  Of the 93 students, only one offered an answer not provided: “John Duffy (profiled by David Carter).” 

That sent me to the Internet. I discovered the case of John Duffy and David Mulcahy, the “Railway Killers” (or “Railway Rapists”), profiled by David Canter. (Dr. Canter’s website is here.)  In fact, Dr. David Canter only profiled Duffy. (“Much was made of the psychological profile constructed by Canter after the trial, as Duffy fitted 13 of the 17 observations made about the attacker's lifestyle and habits. Such profiling became immediately commonplace in policing thereafter.” – Wikipedia here.)   In fact, psychological profiling did nothing to capture George Metesky, John Duffy, or anyone else.  Psychological profiling is folkway masquerading as science. 

The students did a good job of identifying George Metesky, James Brussels, Fred Zain, and Joyce Gilchrist.  They also gave good summaries for the Daubert Test.  That said, though, they overwhelmingly believed that fingerprints, ballistics, and other perceptions are scientific.  In truth, only DNA meets the Daubert test.  

Kary Mullis received a Nobel Prize
for inventing PCR:polymerase chain reaction
which makes DNA typing cheap and reliable.
His website here.
It may well be true that a ballistics expert can match a bullet to a weapon. The methodology has never been statistically validated, or subjected to peer review, including the challenge of falsifiability. That holds true for fibers, hair, footprints, tire prints, or other evidence.  (Not only do you have have different kinds of hair all over your body - eyebrows, eyelashes, forearms, legs -  you have different kinds of hair on your head.) It may well be true that a perpetrator’s shoe can be matched to a print left at a crime scene.  But to what degree of matching? And how many other shoes would also match?  The reliability of fingerprinting remains the biggest lie in prosecutorial evidence.

I grant fully that I apply no scientific test to identify my wife. When I come home, I do not mistake her for a cousin of hers. Intuitive evidence is real.  But it is only evidence, not proof. And in a court of law, we demand more than gestalt feelings of lifelong familiarity.   

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 ( Ἔστιν δὲ πίστις ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις, πραγμάτων ἔλεγχος οὐ βλεπομένων.)

Tallies.  These are raw scores. I accepted most close answers. In some cases, the respondents missed the essence, for instance identifying correctly Joyce Gilchrist’s 3000 criminal cases and 20 years of service, but leaving out the charges of misconduct. Three caught my error in listing ”Fiber evidence” twice.

Take Home Survey
Prepared for Forensics classes at Westwood High School
By Michael E. Marotta, BS, MA.
May 8, 2012

Instructions: Do not put your name on this paper. It is an anonymous survey for statistical reporting.

Identify these:

George Metesky
James Brussels
Fred Zain
Joyce Gilchrist
Daubert Test

In which cases did psychological profiling predict (or narrow the possible range) of the next victim and enable the capture of the criminal?
George Metesky and/or James Brussels 75
Fred Zain 4
Joyce Gilchrist 15
Other Correct (Duffy/Canter; but others also generally correct) 9
Blank no answer 9 (No way to know if blanks indicate that the student believes psychological profiling to fail the Daubert Test. As Ellen Johnson famously noted: "The invisible and the non-existent look a lot alike.")
Other Incorrect 9

Which of these is an example of a scientific crime scene investigation method?
       Hypnosis          9
       Fingerprints      87
       DNA    87
       Hair Identification         87
       Fiber Identification        87
       Graphology 38
       Fiber Identification        (N/A)
       Shoe prints       80
       Tire prints         83
       Ballistics matching         83

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Forensics Bibliography

Westwood High School in the Round Rock Independent School District outside Austin runs a science class in forensics.  On Tuesday, May 8, 2012, I spoke to four forensics classes joined by two psychology classes on the topic of forensic psychology.  On the one hand, we all do forensic psychology every day.  Beyond that, most of what passes for profiling - especially via the mass mediated hyper reality of crime presented via television and the Internet - is junk science in the courtroom. 

This is the bibliography for those presentations.

Criminology: An Introductory Bibliography
Prepared for Westwood High School Forensics Classes
May 8, 2012
Michael E. Marotta, BS, MA

Cao, Liqun. Major Criminological Theories: Concepts and Measurement. Wadsworth Thompson Learning, 2004. Presents the common array of theories, each tested against one or more metrics.

Lilly, J. Robert, Francis T. Cullen, and Richard A. Ball. Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences. Sage Publications, 2007.  Presents the policy implications of about 30 different theories including classical choice, social control, Marxism, feminism, routine activities, and genetics.

Sutherland, Edwin H., and Donald R. Cressey. Principles of Criminology. J. B. Lippincott, 1924, 1947, and 1955. Sutherland’s paper to the American Sociological Association on white collar crime on December 17, 1939, changed criminology. His theory of “differential association” led to other “differential” theories. This textbook begins with causes and ends with parole.

The National Institute of Justice
A plethora of resources, including invitations and funding for conferences, studies, reports, statistics, findings, and opportunities for research.

The Innocence Project.
Since 1989 over 250 innocent people in prison have been released based on DNA evidence. However, DNA evidence does not apply to most cases, and 20,000 to 50,000 innocent people are in prison today.

Westervelt, Saundra D., John A. Humphrey, eds. Wrongly Convicted: Perspectives on Failed Justice. Rutgers University Press, 2002.

Cole, Simon A. Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification. Harvard University Press, 2001.

Gregg Barak
One of the leading criminologists of our time blogs about his many textbooks and his work on mass media, including “The CSI Effect.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Workers Paradise Promised an End to Money

From ancient times in western Europe the 1st of May has been a traditional holiday, often the first warm day of the year. In the 19th century international labor organizers turned it into “Labor Day.” In the old USSR, May Day parades were big events, as they had been with socialists all over the world. Since the publication of Das Kapital in 1867, radical communists, leftwing anarchists, and pale pink liberals all expected capitalism to be gone by May Day 2000.

While communism seems to have withered away, Marxist ideas still drive a lot of common assumptions about money, even in America.

Numismatic writers have hyped the 1804 dollar and other famous rarities to the point where millions of people believe that anyone can find a rare coin worth thousands if not millions of dollars just by checking their pocket change. Numismatic writers have nutured a myth that anyone can buy a coin today and hold on to it for 20 years and sell it at a huge profit. These errors in the philosophy of wealth stem from communist ideas about money.

In the popular science fiction series, Star Trek, only the Ferengi seem to enjoy money. Star Fleet and the Federation live without it. In fact, in one episode, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard tells a man from our time that in the future, people are more concerned with improving themselves than they are with the accumulation of things. This attitude, from a man in a uniform who commands some people and obeys the orders of others, begs a few questions.

In the absence of money, how does the Federation know whether to open a mining colony or build ships? This question has a moral dimension.  If it is more profitable to harvest subatomic particles, but the Federation in its non-monetary wisdom chooses to build a hospital, the seeming good deed actually must of necessity lower the quality of life within the Federation. That is what money tells us: how much something costs in the only terms that matter, human life.  

Money is a repository of human action. Action requires work, which is energy spent over time. Robinson Crusoe alone on his island needed money. He needed to know what actions would maximize his life. Whether and what to plant, whether and what to hunt are economic questions. Enter another person into the equation and money becomes more complicated. You now need money which is an accounting tool for someone else’s bookkeeping. Robinson Crusoe did not need complicated money even when Friday showed up because Friday had made himself Crusoe’s slave. That is the essence of communism.

It is a dichotomy that in our world slave nations have beautiful paper money while Americans put up with boring bank notes. Another way to look at it is that American money really is worth something, so it does not need three-dimensional see-through holograms. Even more, Americans design their own money. We are numismatists, applying theory to practice, when we choose the designs of our checks, or pick a charge card with a nice logo.

Silver Rouble: Proletarian shows Farmer the Dawn of a New Age
The core of American numismatic collectibles are the 19th and early 20th century coins that remind us of an earlier time. Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto called for the establishment of public schools, an income tax, and centralized banking. U.S. gold, silver, and bronze coins with images of Liberties, eagles, and Indians on them remind us of an earlier time when education, the funding of national defense, and the operations of demand deposit savings accounts were all done differently.

Collectors labor under the burden of a secret guilt: we are greedy. Numismatists such as the curators at the British Museum or the Hermitage are supposed to be above these feelings. They enjoy a purity that comes from studying material they do not own. And that may be fine for them. For most collectors ownership rests on pride.

Those who work hard for their money have every right to enjoy the products and services their money can buy.

Yet, even in America, we harbor a suspicion that capitalists do not earn their money. Asset management seems more like gambling than it does like driving a truck. That is a communist attitude. Investment banking seems like gambling mostly to people who do not know how to drive a truck.

The attitude that wealth comes from lucky gambling is the root of the fallacy that you can buy the right coin today and sell it tomorrow for more without doing any work.The essence of such sloppy thinking is the quick slide over the word “right.” What is the “right” coin?

Knowing the right coin from all the other tens of trillions of coins in the world today requires a mental effort. It is an effort that the communists have not successfully made. Perhaps in the future they will.

"Big Bang Theory" versus Post-Modern Philosophy
Karl Marx and the Dustbin of History
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
Knowledge Maps