Thursday, April 30, 2009


young turks via andrew sullivan

"The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture... The United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture, and so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture," - Condi Rice.

Isn't it telling that the first person to ask her this question this directly in public was not a professional journalist? One of these days, those guys' jobs could be in jeopardy ... oh, wait!

* * * *

& 4.30.2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cloud Computing: From Object to Fabric

Edge 282

MARKOFF: ... there was this other — the Mirror Worlds notion .... Because it basically — you know, computing reflects reality.

GELERNTER: Exactly. As the Gaussian code, as the scientific computing, spun off in one direction, my own interests were really in the other direction. More at the user level. The Mirror Worlds idea began with the idea of delocalized information floating out there so that I could look into my computer and without knowing where to look, what file on which computer, I can sort of tune in the information I wanted the way I tuned in CNN on a TV. I don't have to know where CNN is and I don't have to know on what operating system my TV is running, or the software on my cable box — I just tune it in and I assume it's there.

That was the basis, together with the little towns and villages in New England where my wife comes from. She comes from Cape Cod, so then we were driving around in beautiful little village-lets and they really look the way they're supposed to look. A large white church in the center and they often have a pond next to the church and a mill maybe and the pond is absolutely still. Not all the time. But, you know. So you look at the pond and you see a perfect reflection of the church and stuff like that. This is not a revelation. This is the way mirrors work.

So this is going to the cybersphere and the real world will be mirrored on the surface of software essentially. Instead of having to penetrate the real world, go places, deal with institutions in their real-world manifestations, which involves a lot of trouble and a lot of time and a lot of energy, in some cases necessary and desirable but not always, I'll be able to tune in any part of reality I want. The university I'm a student at, the company I work for, the local school my kid goes to, a hospital where I help, for instance, and so forth.

MARKOFF: What's so striking about that to me is that

the world is just now catching up with that.

Ideologically where you were, and what so hit me over the head at that point where Mirror Worlds came up, is that that was in a sense flying in the face of the computing ideology of the times, which were predominantly personal. You, and to a certain extent Mark Weiser at Xerox, had this notion — his notion of ubiquitous computing had many echoes of your ideas. This so much flew in the face of the computing industry and the nature of our view of computing at that point. And we still haven't caught up, basically. It's clear now with cloud computing that that's the direction the world's moving in. But only now.

GELERNTER: I think that's absolutely true. You, John, were the first guy to tell me, "When I look at the Web, it is sort of like a mirror world, although it's not quite there in that it doesn't have the real time flow, it's more static." I started thinking about it then — I think you were the first person actually to put that proposition to me.

After that there was really a flood of a lot of people saying, "Well, this is an important book, it predicted the Web, blahblahblah." If anything, the fault of the book — well, there are plenty of faults in the book — is that it was too conservative, in one sense. It was published in '91 and said, "We're going to start seeing this ten years from now; take it from me, you're going to start seeing something like this in reality." But in '94 the Web took off.

We still aren't at a Mirror World type situation where we're at a real time mirror of reality. But in other respects,

the technology is bubbling up all over.
SHIRKY: In some highly instrumented domains we are starting to see it, where people are instrumenting things with sensors. The other thing I think is so striking about it — John mentioned this, right — is that you were flying in the face of the dominant view of the computing industry. What you said, which is simple economics but radical to the industry is, computers will become abundant because people care about them. And when they become abundant enough, we'll stop caring about them.

Because then we can take them for granted. In '91, no one was ready to take computers for granted yet. They were the fetish object themselves. What I got from it — to me it was a revelation, I was just moving in this direction in those times and I felt like I'd been given a new brain reading it — was the sense of, "oh right, this is going to fade into the background and the computer stops being the object you care about."

That movement from object to fabric was absolutely prescient.
GELERNTER: Object to fabric is a beautiful way to put it. I think a lot of the computing industry is still stuck at the object level. I mean it's the engineering in the box that really, really matters. I started telling my students at some point in the 90's, "The picture is the system." They'd say, "Tell me about GUI design but we're going to go the graphic art department, or something. We don't have to talk about the interface here. We have more important things to do. We're talking about the real technology." As far I was concerned, I didn't care about the machine. I mean I cared about it, but the machine wasn't the point. The interconnect wasn't the point. It was a picture. I was dealing with a picture — the picture matters to me. I didn't really care how the picture was produced, but the picture from my point of view was the system.

SHIRKY: That was not the way the computing industry wanted to think, certainly not in the 1990's. Although there were people at Sun whose work on Java was — there was a lot of prescience in the Mirror Worlds thinking — and so on JINI and JXTA.

And in more recent years, the book has been — Technology Review ran a piece [sub. req.; video] two or three years ago saying, "Well, Google Earth is just taken from a figure." They ran a piece about Google Earth with figures from the Mirror Worlds book and saying "You see this is just what Mirror Worlds said about it." And Second Life and stuff like that, but for other reasons.

. . .. ... ..... oOo ..... ... .. . .

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


update: Dear Conservative Americans, TPM 3.23.2010

. . .. oOo .. . .
C: Thought this might be of interest.
I: it was. thank you. i am heartened by the character of the debate. it feels to me like these issues are moving into the light, where they belong.
C: Debate always good. Lying to get elected always bad, but all too common.
I: well, unlike you and the wsj editorialist, it is too early for me to reach conclusions about the nature of the obama adminstration's positions and actions. for example, the obama administration's legal positions (especially to the extent they advance some of the same arguments of the predecessor administration) may be interpreted as merely presenting the question appropriately to the other co-equal branches of government.

To the courts: advancing legal positions has the effect of squarely (and appropriately) asking for an adjudication. Whatever the arguments on the merits of the issue, the obama administration is here recognizing the judiciary's check on executive power. The administration's positions may be upheld or overturned; but they will needs be decided! To the extent the administration merely drops the arguments, that moots the question for the courts, removing it from judicial purview. These questions have perhaps never been so cleanly teed-up, with so vivid and complete a factual record. The obama administration's actions are (so far as I can tell, anyway) dramatically increasing the possibility that the questions will receive appropriate jurisprudential and public scrutiny. Which may have a dramatic influence in bringing about a world resembling the one evoked by obama's campaign rhetoric decrying the previous administration's policies. That is, a world in which our constitutional principles have been restored, and in which the rule of law exists and applies.

To Congress: Similarly, the Obama administration's positions, e.g., with regard to prosecutions of previous administration officials, have been criticized as inconsistent with previous campaign rhetoric. Yet, the administration's positions and actions have the effect of teeing up the issues for analysis and investigation by an appropriately independent DOJ, as well as by the Congress. Much work is being done, and we will shortly be seeing some more of the results, which will at the very least inform our own ability to analyze what is going on, and whether it is good or bad, or a lie or what-have-you.
C: Hmmm.

Seems to me there was no advancing in the courts (Ninth Circuit) of Bush's wire tapping policies, much to the consternation of the judges. Not much public scrutiny here, only bashing Bush while doing the same thing that he was. Besides that the Constitution grants the President powerful tools to defend the country from attack that were never intended to be adjudicated.

The rule of law will mean that people who want to cut our heads off with a steak knife while chanting to their God (see Berg video) will all claim they were tortured and their cases will be thrown out and they will be released. (By the way if you have not had the stomach to watch this you really should. Kind of puts the threat that civil society faces from these folks in perspective).

Hopefully my family will not suffer the consequences.

I think our enemies are laughing at Obama and preventing another 9-11 should be done by any means in order to preserve civil liberties. If there is another 9-11, I doubt there will be many left.

Extraordinary times require new and sometimes extreme measures. See FDR wiretapping anyone, at any time, for any reason without a warrant. And then of course the small infringement on Japanese American's civil liberties. Another minor matter when Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. These actions, while violating the rule of law, ultimately preserved civil liberties for all and did not result in the creation of a police state.

Just like with a sausage it is sometimes best to not know what is going into it.
[I]: Sounds like Peggy Noonan:

C: Brave men are doing, or were doing, difficult things so we can sleep warm and safe at night. Why hamper their efforts by granting people who want to kill you and me the constitutional rights of an American citizen? To make it easier for them?

What you refer to as work appears to me to be politics at its worst - essentially maintaining many of the same policies while bashing those that created them. Very easy to be a Monday morning quarterback while forgetting the post 9-11 environment that the Bush administration was faced with.

Finally if you are going to release details about CIA methods why not include the results that those methods were responsible for? But then again I am sure we could have gotten the same thing by yelling at them.

I remain hopeful that those who believe in the rule of law will keep a close eye on this administration and speak out just as forcefully as they did against Bush. I am certain there will be ample opportunity to do so, like 90% tax rates for certain groups etc.

Small government, low taxes, and free markets!!
I: speaking of FDR:

"Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

... You and I are definitely not perceiving anything like the same elephant -- I don't know what-all you base your opinions on, but they come out sounding a lot like Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, and the neoconservatives, and Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove's politics of fear. Sure there are scary terrorists out there with steak knives, etc. ... But geez, calm down. Don't let your reason continue to be hijacked by fear. The sky is not falling. Open your mind and pay attention, using the tools of the information age. You have to read something other than the WSJ and that same old echo chamber.

As I wrote to you last May, my own politics are guided by principles which I believe are not, fundamentally, in conflict with yours. I think we just have very, very different understandings of the facts and of the processes by which understandings of the facts are formulated. I do value your friendship, and I still think it is worthwhile to continue to work to understand each other's views and find common ground.

By 'processes by which understandings of the facts are formulated,' I mean something along the lines of the following (also from our May 2008 exchange):
  • We are seeing the emergence of filtering, accreditation, and synthesis mechanisms as part of network behavior. These rely on clustering of communities of interest and association ... but offer tremendous redundancy of paths for expression and accreditation. These practices leave no single point of failure for discourse: no single point where observations can be squelched or attention commanded – by fiat or with the application of money. Because of these emerging systems, the networked information economy is solving the information overload and discourse fragmentation concerns without introducing the distortions of the mass-media model. Peer production ... is providing some of the most important functionalities of the media. These efforts provide a watchdog, a source of salient observations regarding matters of public concern, and a platform for discussing the alternatives open to a polity. [Benkler, The Wealth of Networks 271-72.]
  • While there is enormous diversity on the Internet, there are also mechanisms and practices that generate a common set of themes, concerns, and public knowledge around which a public sphere can emerge. Any given site is likely to be within a very small number of clicks away from a site that is visible from a very large number of other sites, and these form a backbone of common materials, observations, and concerns. ... Users self-organize to filter the universe of information that is generated in the network. This self-organization includes a number of highly salient sites that provide a core of common social and cultural experiences and knowledge that can provide the basis for a common public sphere, rather than a fragmented one. [Benkler, The Wealth of Networks 256; see also].
C: Maybe you should come talk to some of my Irish friends who were in the towers on 9-11 and tell them they have nothing to fear. That would be an interesting conversation that I would pay money to watch.

My opinions are rooted in historical fact and not the product of any news organizations. Appeasement of ones enemies has never worked and it never will. The FDR quote you site is referring to the economy and not external threats.

I always find it interesting that the left attacks the messenger (Bill O'Reilly, Limbaugh etc.) rather than sticking to the details at hand. So one more time, did FDR's and Lincoln's actions merit prosecution or where they actions taken that were necessary given the conditions at the time? Is Israel a police state where there are no civil rights or are they just doing what is necessary to stay alive, realizing that civil rights are of no use if you are dead?

... You have the luxury of not fearing people who openly state their desire to kill Americans wherever they can be found. The President does not have that luxury. He can not sit quietly while people, who are in the country illegally, are learning to fly jet planes while showing no interest in how to land them -- see Bill Clinton and Janet Reno.

Anyway I think we simply need to agree to disagree. I believe that people checking out books on how to wage Jihad and build dirty bombs should get a visit from the FBI and you do not. ([I]: You don't know what I believe.)

While [my wife] might look OK in a Burka [my daughter] would not.
I: ok, I agree to disagree.

and FDR was talking about fear not being a good strategy. that's what I'm talking about.

[I]: Obama, 5/16/2008

Sen. Leahy 4.22.2009
"I kind of like to read the page before I turn it."

legal opinion

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


the uptake

re MN Senate Election Contest Ruling:

Senator-elect Al Franken speaks to reporters outside his downtown Minneapolis townhome following a three-judge panel ruling [.pdf] declaring Al Franken the victor in the U.S. Senate contest.

Shot by Noah Kunin, Edited by Chuck Olsen, April 13, 2009.


flashback 01.17.2007

flash forward: 05.04.2009


07.08.2009 with interest

Monday, April 06, 2009


Kicking off our conversation, Stephen remarks that, “Wolfram|Alpha isn’t really a search engine, because we compute the answers, and we discover new truths. If anything, you might call it a platonic search engine, unearthing eternal truths that may never have been written down before.”

Despite his disclaimer, Wolfram|Alpha looks like a search engine, in that there’s a one-line box where you type in a question. The output appears a second or two later, as a page of text and graphics below the box. What's happening behind the scenes? Rather than looking up the answer to your question, Wolfram|Alpha figures out what your question means, looks up the necessary data to answer your question, computes an answer, designs a page to present the answer in a pleasing way, and sends the page back to your computer.




He regards Wolfram|Alpha as a natural outgrowth from his own work on Mathematica and on the NKS notions of complex computation. “Most of us only have one idea,” he remarks. “My idea is to make the world computable. Mathematica was about finding the simplest primitive computations, and designing a system where humans could hook these computations together to create patterns of scientific interest. NKS was about the notion that that we can start with primitive computations and not bring in humans at all. If you do a brute search over the space of all possible computations, you can find ones that are rich enough to produce the natural-looking kinds of patterns that you want. And Wolfram|Alpha is about how we might build the edifice of human knowledge from simple primitive computational rules.”

* * *


Friday, April 03, 2009

Inside Obama's bank CEOs meeting

politico via tpm

The bankers struggled to make themselves clear to the president of the United States.

Arrayed around a long mahogany table in the White House state dining room last week, the CEOs of the most powerful financial institutions in the world offered several explanations for paying high salaries to their employees — and, by extension, to themselves.

“These are complicated companies,” one CEO said. Offered another: “We’re competing for talent on an international market.”

But President Barack Obama wasn’t in a mood to hear them out. He stopped the conversation and offered a blunt reminder of the public’s reaction to such explanations. “Be careful how you make those statements, gentlemen. The public isn’t buying that.”

“My administration,” the president added, “is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.”

The fresh details of the meeting — some never before revealed — come from an account provided to POLITICO by one of the participants. A second source inside the meeting confirmed the details, and two other sources familiar with the meeting offered additional information.

The accounts demonstrate that despite the public comments on both sides that the meeting was cordial, the tone in the room was in fact one of mutual wariness. The titans of finance — men used to being the most powerful man in almost any room — sized up a new president who made clear in ways big and small that he expected them to change their ways.

There were signs from the outset that this was a business event, not a social gathering. At each place around the table sat a single glass of water. No ice. For those who finished their glass, no refills were offered. There was no group photograph taken of the CEOs with the president, which typically happens at ceremonial White House gatherings but not at serious strategy sessions.

“The only way they could have sent a more Spartan message is if they had served bread along with the water,” says a person who attended the meeting. “The signal from Obama’s body language and demeanor was, ‘I’m the president, and you’re not.’”

According to the accounts of sources inside the room, President Obama told the CEOs exactly what he expects from them, and pushed back forcefully when they attempted to defend Wall Street’s legendarily high-paying ways.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Fractal Quantum Gravity

re T.N. Palmer, Invariant Set Hypothesis (2008.12.05)

* * * *

What has been missing, [Palmer] argues, are some key ideas from an area of science that most quantum physicists have ignored: the science of fractals, those intricate patterns found in everything from fractured surfaces to oceanic flows (see What is a fractal?).

Take the mathematics of fractals into account, says Palmer, and the long-standing puzzles of quantum theory may be much easier to understand. They might even dissolve away.

It is an argument that is drawing attention from physicists around the world. "His approach is very interesting and refreshingly different," says physicist Robert Spekkens of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada. "He's not just trying to reinterpret the usual quantum formalism, but actually to derive it from something deeper."

* * * *

Palmer believes his work shows it is possible that Einstein and Bohr may have been emphasising different aspects of the same subtle physics. "My hypothesis is motivated by two concepts that wouldn't have been known to the founding fathers of quantum theory," he says: black holes and fractals.

Palmer's ideas begin with gravity. The force that makes apples fall and holds planets in their orbit is also the only fundamental physical process capable of destroying information. It works like this: the hot gas and plasma making up a star contain an enormous amount of information locked in the atomic states of a huge number of particles. If the star collapses under its own gravity to form a black hole, most of the atoms are sucked in, resulting in almost all of that detailed information vanishing. Instead, the black hole can be described completely using just three quantities - its mass, angular momentum and electric charge.

Many physicists accept this view, but Palmer thinks they haven't pursued its implications far enough. As a system loses information, the number of states you need to describe it diminishes. Wait long enough and you will find that the system reaches a point where no more states can be lost. In mathematical terms, this special subset of states is known as an invariant set. Once a state lies in this subset, it stays in it forever.

A simple way of thinking about it is to imagine a swinging pendulum that slows down due to friction before eventually coming to a complete standstill. Here the invariant set is the one that describes the pendulum at rest.

Because black holes destroy information, Palmer suggests that the universe has an invariant set too, though it is far more complicated than the pendulum.

Complex systems are affected by chaos, which means that their behaviour can be influenced greatly by tiny changes. According to mathematics,

the invariant set of a chaotic system is a fractal.