Shared posts

19 Sep 00:00

Microservices and Jars

One of my clients recently told me that they were investigating a micro-service-architecture. My first reaction was: "What's that?" So I did a little research and found Martin Fowler's and James Lewis' writeup on the topic.

So what is a micro-service? It's just a little stand-alone executable that communicates with other stand-alone executables through some kind of mailbox; like an http socket. Lots of people like to use REST as the message format between them.

Why is this desirable? Two words. Independent Deployability.

You can fire up your little MS and talk with it via REST. No other part of the system needs to be running. Nobody can change a source file in a different part of the system, and screw your little MS up. Your MS is immune to all the other code out there.

You can test your MS with simple REST commands; and you can mock out other MSs in the system with little dummy MSs that do just what your tests need them to do.

Moreover, you can control the deployment. You don't have to coordinate with some huge deployment effort, and merge deployment commands into nasty deployment scripts. You just fire up your little MS and make sure it keeps running.

You can use your own database. You can use your own webserver. You can use any language you like. You can use any framework you like.

Freedom! Freedom!

Meet the new boss.

But wait. Why is this better? Are the advantages I just listed absent from a normal Java, or Ruby, or .Net system?

What about: Independent Deployability?

We have these things called jar files. Or Gems. Or DLLs. Or Shared Libraries. The reason we have these things is so we can have independent deployability.

Most people have forgotten this. Most people think that jar files are just convenient little folders that they can jam their classes into any way they see fit. They forget that a jar, or a DLL, or a Gem, or a shared library, is loaded and linked at runtime. Indeed, DLL stands for Dynamically Linked Library.

So if you design your jars well, you can make them just as independently deployable as a MS. Your team can be responsible for your jar file. Your team can deploy your DLL without massive coordination with other teams. Your team can test your GEM by writing unit tests and mocking out all the other Gems that it communicates with. You can write a jar in Java or Scala, or Clojure, or JRuby, or any other JVM compatible language. You can even use your own database and wesbserver if you like.

If you'd like proof that jars can be independently deployable, just look at the plugins you use for your editor or IDE. They are deployed entirely independently of their host! And often these plugins are nothing more than simple jar files.

So what have you gained by taking your jar file and putting it behind a socket and communicating with REST?

Freedom's just another word for...

One thing you lose is time. It takes time to communicate through a socket. It takes time to decode REST messages. And that time means you cannot use micro-services with the impunity of a jar. If I want two jars to get into a rapid chat with each other, I can. But I don't dare do that with a MS because the communication time will kill me.

On my laptop it takes 50ms to set up a socket connection, and then about 3us per byte transmitted through that connection. And that's all in a single process on a single machine. Imagine the cost when the connection is over the wire!

Another thing you lose (and I hate to say this) is debuggability. You can't single step across a REST call, but you can single step across jar files. You can't follow a stack trace across a REST call. Exceptions get lost across a REST interface.

Backpedal

After reading this you might think I'm totally against the whole notion of Micro-Services. But, of course, I'm not. I've built applications that way in the past, and I'll likely build them that way in the future. It's just that I don't want to see a big fad tearing through the industry leaving lots of broken systems in it's wake.

For most systems the independent deployability of jar files (or DLLS, or Gems, or Shared Libraries) is more than adequate. For most systems the cost of communicating over sockets using REST is quite restrictive; and will force uncomfortable trade-offs.

My advice:

Don't leap into microservices just because it sounds cool. Segregate the system into jars using a plugin architecture first. If that's not sufficient, then consider introducing service boundaries at strategic points.

22 Sep 01:39

‘Poor people don’t plan long-term. We’ll just get our hearts broken’

In the autumn of 2013 I was in my first term of school in a decade. I had two jobs; my husband, Tom, was working full-time; and we were raising our two small girls. It was the first time in years that we felt like maybe things were looking like they’d be OK for a while.

After a gruelling shift at work, I was unwinding online when I saw a question from someone on a forum I frequented: Why do poor people do things that seem so self-destructive? I thought I could at least explain what I’d seen and how I’d reacted to the pressures of being poor. I wrote my answer to the question, hit post, and didn’t think more about it for at least a few days. This is what it said:

Why I make terrible decisions, or, poverty thoughts

There’s no way to structure this coherently. They are random observations that might help explain the mental processes. But often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it’s rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of.

Rest is a luxury for the rich. I get up at 6am, go to school (I have a full course load, but I only have to go to two in-person classes), then work, then I get the kids, then pick up my husband, then have half an hour to change and go to Job 2. I get home from that at around 12.30am, then I have the rest of my classes and work to tend to. I’m in bed by 3am. This isn’t every day, I have two days off a week from each of my obligations. I use that time to clean the house and soothe Mr Martini [her partner], see the kids for longer than an hour and catch up on schoolwork.

Those nights I’m in bed by midnight, but if I go to bed too early I won’t be able to stay up the other nights because I’ll fuck my pattern up, and I drive an hour home from Job 2 so I can’t afford to be sleepy. I never get a day off from work unless I am fairly sick. It doesn’t leave you much room to think about what you are doing, only to attend to the next thing and the next. Planning isn’t in the mix.

When I was pregnant the first time, I was living in a weekly motel for some time. I had a mini-fridge with no freezer and a microwave. I was on WIC [government-funded nutritional aid for women, infants and children]. I ate peanut butter from the jar and frozen burritos because they were 12 for $2. Had I had a stove, I couldn’t have made beef burritos that cheaply. And I needed the meat, I was pregnant. I might not have had any prenatal care, but I am intelligent enough to eat protein and iron while knocked up.

I know how to cook. I had to take Home Ec to graduate from high school. Most people on my level didn’t. Broccoli is intimidating. You have to have a working stove, and pots, and spices, and you’ll have to do the dishes no matter how tired you are or they’ll attract bugs. It is a huge new skill for a lot of people. That’s not great, but it’s true. If you fuck it up, you could make your family sick.

We have learned not to try too hard to be middle class. It never works out well and always makes you feel worse for having tried and failed yet again. Better not to try. It makes more sense to get food that you know will be palatable and cheap and that keeps well. Junk food is a pleasure that we are allowed to have; why would we give that up?

We have very few of them.

The closest Planned Parenthood [family planning clinic] to me is three hours. That’s a lot of money in gas. Lots of women can’t afford that, and even if you live near one you probably don’t want to be seen coming in and out in a lot of areas. We’re aware that we are not “having kids”, we’re “breeding”. We have kids for much the same reasons that I imagine rich people do. Urge to propagate and all. Nobody likes poor people procreating, but they judge abortion even harder.

Convenience food is just that. And we are not allowed many conveniences. Especially since the Patriot Act [aimed at strengthening domestic security in the war against terrorism] was passed, it’s hard to get a bank account. But without one, you spend a lot of time figuring out where to cash a cheque and get money orders to pay bills. Most motels now have a no-credit-card-no-room policy. I wandered around San Francisco for five hours in the rain once with nearly a thousand dollars on me and could not rent a room even if I gave them a $500 cash deposit and surrendered my cellphone to the desk to hold as surety.

Nobody gives enough thought to depression. You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired. We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation.

Patients without medical insurance flock to a free dentistry event in Los Angeles. Patients without medical insurance flock to a free dentistry event in Los Angeles. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn’t give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don’t apply for jobs because we know we can’t afford to look nice enough to hold them. I would make a super legal secretary but I’ve been turned down more than once because I “don’t fit the image of the firm”, which is a nice way of saying “gtfo, pov”. I am good enough to cook the food, hidden away in the kitchen, but my boss won’t make me a server because I don’t “fit the corporate image”. I am not beautiful. I have missing teeth and skin that looks like it will when you live on B12 and coffee and nicotine and no sleep. Beauty is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that’s how you get the job that you need in order to be beautiful. There isn’t much point trying.

Cooking attracts roaches. Nobody realises that. I’ve spent hours impaling roach bodies and leaving them out on toothpick spikes to discourage others from entering. It doesn’t work, but is amusing.

“Free” only exists for rich people. It’s great that there’s a bowl of condoms at my school, but most poor people will never set foot on a college campus. We don’t belong there. There’s a clinic? Great! There’s still a copay [cost levied by health insurance companies]. We’re not going. Besides, all they’ll tell you at the clinic is you need to see a specialist, which, seriously? Might as well be located on Mars for how accessible it is. “Low cost” and “sliding scale” sound like “money you have to spend” to me, and they can’t help you anyway.

I smoke. It’s expensive. It’s also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted. It’s a stimulant. When I am too tired to walk one more step, I can smoke and go for another hour. When I am enraged and beaten down and incapable of accomplishing one more thing, I can smoke and I feel a little better, just for a minute. It is the only relaxation I am allowed. It is not a good decision, but it is the only one that I have access to. It is the only thing I have found that keeps me from collapsing or exploding.

I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don’t pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It’s not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn’t that I blow five bucks at Wendy’s. It’s that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to.

There’s a certain pull to live what bits of life you can while there’s money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are you will be broke in three days anyway. When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning. I imagine having a lot of it is the same thing.

Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It’s why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It’s more basic than food. You go to these people who make you feel lovely for an hour that one time, and that’s all you get. You’re probably not compatible with them for anything long term, but right this minute they can make you feel powerful and valuable. It does not matter what will happen in a month. Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We don’t plan long term because if we do we’ll just get our hearts broken. It’s best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.

I am not asking for sympathy. I am just trying to explain, on a human level, how it is that people make what look from the outside like awful decisions. This is what our lives are like, and here are our defence mechanisms, and here is why we think differently. It’s certainly self-defeating, but it’s safer. That’s all. I hope it helps make sense of it.

While I was thinking that maybe a couple of people would read my essay, lightning struck. A lot of people started to share it. Someone suggested that I submit it for posting on the main page of the website we hung out on. That wasn’t uncommon, so I did. The next thing I knew, the world had turned upside down. The Huffington Post ran my essay on its front page, Forbes ran it, the Nation ran it.

After the original piece went viral, I got a lot of emails from people who told me that they did not agree; they did not cope in the same ways. That’s fair, and true. Keep it in mind.

What was neither fair nor true was the criticism I received inferring that I was the wrong sort of poor. A lot of this criticism seemed to centre on the fact that I was not born into poverty, as though that were the only way someone might find herself unable to make rent. And yet we have a term for it: downward mobility. We have homeless PhDs and more than one recently middle-class person on food stamps. Poverty is a reality to more people than we’re willing to admit.

Overall, though, the response was overwhelmingly one of solidarity. I got thousands of emails from people saying they understood exactly what I was trying to describe, that they felt the same way. They told me their stories – the things that bothered them and how they were dealing with life. It’s not just me who feels this way, not by a long shot. Poor people talk about these things but no one’s listening to us. We don’t usually get a chance to explain our own logic. The original piece that you just read was simply that: an explanation.

I am doing what I can to walk you through what it is to be poor. To be sure, this is only one version. There are millions of us; our experiences and reactions to them are as varied as our personalities and backgrounds.

I haven’t had it worse than anyone else, and actually, that’s kind of the point. This is just what life is for roughly one-third of Americans and one in five people in Great Britain. We all handle it in our own ways, but we all work in the same jobs, live in the same places, feel the same sense of never quite catching up. We’re not any happier about exploding welfare costs than anyone else is, believe me. It’s not like everyone grows up and dreams of working two essentially meaningless part-time jobs while collecting food stamps.

It’s just that there aren’t many other options for a lot of people. In fact, the Urban Institute found that half of Americans will experience poverty at some point before they’re 65. Most will come out of it after a relatively short time, 75% in four years. But that still leaves 25% who don’t get out quickly, and the study also found that the longer you stay in poverty, the less likely it becomes that you will ever get out. Most people who live near the bottom go through cycles of being in poverty and just above it – sometimes they’re just OK and sometimes they’re underwater. It depends on the year, the job, how healthy you are. What I can say for sure is that downward mobility is like quicksand. Once it grabs you, it keeps constraining your options until it’s got you completely. I slid to the bottom through a mix of my own decisions and some seriously bad luck. I think that’s true of most people.

While it can seem like upward mobility is blocked by a lead ceiling, the layer between lower-middle class and poor is horrifyingly porous from above. A lot of us live in that spongy divide.

I got here in a pretty average way: I left home at 16 for college, promptly behaved as well as you’d expect a teenager to, and was estranged from my family for over a decade. I quit college when it became clear that I was taking out loans to no good effect; I wasn’t ready for it yet. I chased a career simply because it was the first opportunity available rather than because it was sensible. I also had medical bills. I had bouts of unemployment, I had a drunken driver total my car. I had everything I owned destroyed in a flood.

Demonstrators face tear-gas during protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Demonstrators face tear-gas during protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Tirado has been ‘hanging out with the kids’ there in ‘one of the most segregated places in America’. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

So it’s not just one or the other: nature or nurture, poor or not poor. Poverty is a potential outcome for all of us.

This is a huge societal problem, and we’re just starting to come to grips with all the ways that a technological revolution and globalisation have vastly increased inequality. You cannot blame your average citizen for those things. Nor can you blame individual companies – it is how we, collectively, have decided to do things. We got here partially because of bad policy decisions and partially because of factors nobody could have foreseen. Telling an individual company to do better is like telling a poor individual to save more – true and helpful, but not so easy in practice. Most companies, like most people, aren’t the top 1%. They are following the market, not driving it. Besides which, any asshole with money can buy and run a company. They’re not all smart enough to figure out long-term investments in human capital.

I am not, for all my frustration, opposed to capitalism. Most westerners, poor ones included, aren’t. We like the idea that anyone can succeed. What I am opposed to is the sort of capitalism that sucks the life out of a whole bunch of the citizenry and then demands that they do better with whatever they have left. If we could just agree that poor people are doing the necessary grunt work and that there is dignity in that too, we’d be able to make it less onerous.

Put another way: I’m not saying that someone doesn’t have to scrub the toilets around here. All I’m saying is that maybe instead of being grossed out by the very idea of toilets, you could thank the people doing the cleaning, because if not for them, you’d have to do it your damn self.

Working for the minimum wage

Working for minimum wage means that making a long-term budget is an exercise in wishful thinking. You just have however much money you have until you run out, and you pay whatever bill is most overdue first. When I was working in Ohio at a fast-food joint, I’d generally get about 25 hours in a week. That was paid at $7.50, making my weekly cheque $187.50.

My husband, working 40 hours at the same place, brought home $300. We made about $25,000 or so between us, working every week of the year. That’s a little over $9,000 above the poverty line for a family of two, or an extra $200 or so a week. We made ends meet, but barely. Not well enough to ever really feel comfortable or rest or take a day off without feeling guilty. And we were at the top of the bottom third of households that year, meaning that approximately one-third of the American population is living on the same sort of budget.

Or, for some, a much smaller one. The yearly income of a 40-hour-a-week minimum-wage worker is $15,080. So if you’re paying half of that for housing, you’re left with $7,540 to live on.

Yearly.

That’s $628 per month, or $314 per paycheck, for everything else – food, clothes, car payments, gas. If you’re lucky, you get all that money to live on. But who’s lucky all of the time, or even most of the time? Maybe you get sick and lose your job. Even if you land a new job, that measly $314 is all you’ve got to last you until your paychecks at the new place start up. Or what if, God forbid, the car breaks down or you break a bone?

This is what it comes down to: the math doesn’t fucking work. You can’t thrive on this sort of money. Period. You can survive.

That’s it.

Temporary work

There is something even worse than minimum wage. It’s called temp work. I bet that the majority of people – unless they’ve experienced it for themselves – would be shocked to find out that companies regularly hire temps to work full-time hours but because they hire these workers through temporary work agencies they have to pay no benefits and offer no job security. To save a buck, companies will regularly hire such workers for years. And they do it because it’s cheaper than hiring labour directly, and they are legally entitled to do so. The laws in America are so weak that we’re actually way behind South Korea (!) in temp worker protections.

So when financially comfortable people with health insurance and paid sick leave and all kinds of other benefits that pad their wallets and make their lives easier and healthier think that the poor are poor because somehow we lack the get up and go to change our circumstances… well, I’m not sure my reaction is printable.

One factory I lived near used to hire a revolving number of temp workers whom they laid off after 90 days – the point at which a temp worker is supposed to get permanent job status. Then after three weeks of unemployment, the plant hired them again.

That factory isn’t in town any more. It had gotten a break from the local government, making its first years there tax free.

And wouldn’t you know it, after the tax break expired, the company decided that the plant wasn’t profitable enough and closed it. A temporary factory that hired temporary workers.

Who says capitalism isn’t cruel?

Having no job security – and getting fired

We all know that a lot of folks think that poor people are lazy and incompetent. They think we get fired from jobs because we don’t know how to behave, or we’re always late, or we just don’t care. But what rich people don’t realise is how unbelievably easy it is to get fired. And a lot of times what gets you fired is that you’re working more than one job.

Whenever you are working for the kind of place that has a corporate office, you’re typically given the fewest possible hours – definitely less than full-time, because then they’d have to pay you benefits. But even though your employer might schedule you for 20 hours a week, you might wind up working 10, or 30. It depends on how busy it is – when it’s slow, they send you home, and when it’s busy, they expect you to stay late. They also expect you to be able to come in to cover someone’s shift if a co-worker gets sick at the last minute. Basically, they’re expecting you to be available to work all the time. Scheduling is impossible.

At one chain I was required to sign a contract stating that I was an at-will employee, that I would be part-time with no benefits, and that if I took another job without permission I would be subject to termination because the company expected me to be able to come in whenever they found it necessary.

And yes, this is legal.

So let’s break this down: you’re poor, so you desperately need whatever crappy job you can find, and the nature of that crappy job is that you can be fired at any time. Meanwhile, your hours can be cut with no notice, and there’s no obligation on the part of your employer to provide severance regardless of why, how or when they let you go. And we wonder why the poor get poorer?

Not feeling valued

Once I’m home from my shift, I try not to be short-tempered with my husband, whose fault my bad mood decidedly isn’t. In turn, he tries not to be short-tempered with me. Working at a low-wage job means getting off work and having just enough mental energy to realise what you could be doing with your life … if only you could work up the will to physically move.

And honestly, I wouldn’t even mind the degradations of my work life so much if the privileged and powerful were honest about it. If they just admitted that this is simply impossible.

Instead, we’re told to work harder and be grateful we have jobs, food and a roof over our heads. And for fuck’s sake, we are. But in exchange for all that work we’re doing, and all our miserable work conditions, we’re not allowed to demand anything in return. No sense of accomplishment, or respect from above, or job security. We are expected not to feel entitled to these things. Being poor while working hard is fucking crushing.

It’s living in a nightmare where the walls just never stop closing in on you.

Fast-food workers protest outside a California branch of McDonald’s. Fast-food workers protest outside a California branch of McDonald’s. Photograph: Kim Kulish/Corbis

I resent the fuck out of it every time my schedule’s been cut and then I’ve been called in for tons of extra hours, as though my time weren’t worth anything, just so that my boss can be sure not to pay me for a minute that I’m not absolutely necessary.

I resent signing away my ability to get a second job and being told that I can’t work more than 28 hours a week either.

The result of all of this? I just give up caring about work. I lose the energy, the bounce, the willingness. I’ll perform as directed but no more than that. I’ve rarely had a boss who gave me any indication that he valued me more highly than my uniform – we were that interchangeable – so I don’t go out of my way for my bosses either. The problem I have isn’t just being undervalued – it’s that it feels as though people go out of their way to make sure you know how useless you are.

I’d been working for one company for over a year when I injured myself at work in November and had to go on leave for two months because I couldn’t stand for long. So I wasn’t invited to the company Christmas party. I went as a co-worker’s date and watched as everyone got their Christmas bonuses. I didn’t get one; I was technically not in the managerial position and thus didn’t qualify. The fact that I’d worked the rest of the year didn’t count.

What really got me, though, was when the owner of the company thanked the woman who was filling in for me for working so hard all year. He didn’t recognise me at all.

Unpaid Internships

Here’s another thing the poor can’t afford: unpaid internships. I’ve had to turn down offers that might have improved my circumstances in the long run because I just couldn’t afford to work for nothing. Again, the people who can afford unpaid internships are getting help from home – in my world, everyone else has to work for a living. And this means that we’re being cut out of all that potential networking too. That’s at least one reason why I’ve never had much of a professional network: I never had the chance to build one. Accepting an unpaid internship, or one of those internships that basically pays you lunch money, is for people who don’t have to pay the rent.

Because I’ve always been in a take-what-you-can-get situation, I’ve wound up working the sorts of jobs that people consider beneath them. And yet people still wonder why we, working at the bottom, aren’t putting our souls into our jobs.

In turn, I wonder about people who think that those who are poor shouldn’t demand reciprocity from their employers. We should devote ourselves to something that doesn’t benefit us more than it absolutely has to? We’re meant to care about their best interests, but they don’t have to care about ours? If you’re going to put as little as possible into my training and wages, if you’re going to make sure that I can’t get enough hours to survive in order to avoid giving me healthcare, and generally make sure that I’m as uncomfortable as possible at any given time just to make sure I know my place, then how can you expect me to care about your profit margin?

Remember, you get what you pay for.

Smoking

We all cope in our own special ways. I smoke. My friend drinks. In fact, I’m highly confident in betting that you and many of your friends cope by drinking as well. Come home from a long day at work, and what do you do? Pop open a beer? Or a bag of potato chips? Or maybe you take a Valium when you’re feeling stressed out. Or get a massage. Or go to your gym and sit in the sauna room.

Why are other people’s coping mechanisms better than poor people’s? Because they’re prettier. People with more money drink better wine out of nicer glasses. And maybe they get a prescription for benzodiazepines from their own personal on-call psychiatrist instead of buying a pack of cigarettes. They can buy whatever they like and it’s OK, because retail therapy is a recognised course of treatment for the upper classes. Poor people don’t have those luxuries. We smoke because it’s a fast, quick hit of dopamine. We eat junk because it’s cheap and it lights up the pleasure centres of our brain. And we do drugs because it’s an effective way to feel good or escape something.

I get that poor people’s coping mechanisms aren’t cute. Really, I do. But what I don’t get is why other people feel so free in judging us for them. As if our self-destructive behaviours therefore justify and explain our crappy lives.

Newsflash: it goes both ways. Sometimes the habits are a reaction to the situation.

And unless you’re prepared to convince me that smoking and smoking alone keeps me poor, then please, spare me the lecture. I know it’s bad for me. I’m addicted, not addled.

This is an extract from Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado, to be published at £14.99 by Virago on 2 October. Click here to buy it for £11.99 with free UK p&p


Linda Tirado Photograph: Scott Suchman/Guardian

Linda Tirado, 32, was attending college and working in two low-paid jobs when she first posted her essay about America’s poverty trap on an online forum. The post went viral, and Tirado extended her essay into a book while still working at a pancake shop near her home in Utah. She now lives in Washington DC, with her husband, a former marine, and two small daughters. She works as a new-media activist and journalist.

Were you expecting what happened after your essay was published?
Oh, God, no! I was just on a message board. I was just talking to my friends the same way I’d done for many years. Then I went to bed, and then I went to work. It took me about two weeks to realise I was awake because I was pretty sure I was having a really fucked-up dream. There is no processing what happens when the internet looks at you and says: it’s your turn. It was insane: people were outside my house, they were calling my elderly relatives, I got 20,000 emails in a week. I still have no idea why it was this piece at this moment; it’s nothing me and my friends haven’t been saying for years. I don’t understand why it was controversial. Period.

After the initial fuss, some journalists began muck-raking, trying to prove that you weren’t what you said you were. How did that feel?
I’m not going to recommend it as a lifestyle choice. I lost a ton of weight in three weeks. If you need a crash diet, go viral. Whatever it was I managed to capture had enough power truly to upset some people. A lot of them hoped I was a poor little rich girl, living in a McMansion. Emotionally, it would have been easier to deal with. But I’ve never claimed to be anything that I’m not. Guys, I called the thing “Why I make terrible decisions”. So, I gave my welfare records to the Washington Post. Those things, and the teeth video, closed it down [in her essay, Tirado wrote that her teeth had rotted because she could not afford dental care, and that this made her unsuitable for working front-of-house in restaurants and offices; when this was disputed she posted a video online in which the ugly gaps in her teeth can clearly be seen]. The trouble is that a lot of people simply don’t understand the stratification in the lower classes. I wasn’t born in Appalachia with no running water. At Burger King I made $28,000 a year. Yes, you can survive on that money. But that’s not the point. It’s a 90-hour week. What is your life like while you’re surviving? Can you keep a family on it?

In your book you say the rich are afraid of the poor. Do you think fear played a part in the media’s treatment of you?
In America we have this myth that if you deserve it, you will have it. We’re afraid to look at our downtrodden because it undercuts that myth. There is a fear of the poor that is uniquely American. It’s especially hard to look at someone who could be one of their kids – someone like me who’s white and intelligent – and see them as poor. When the crash happened, there was a panic among the rich because suddenly wealth wasn’t only to do with how hard you’d worked. It could be taken away! They got really fearful. So much of Americans’ self-image is based on what we own and how we present ourselves.

How has your life changed for the better?
Well, I got the book deal, and I started being invited to meetings and stuff. But now I’m actually angrier than I was before because, God, this life is so easy! I haven’t done a day of work since I quit International House of Pancakes.

Can you make life as a writer and activist pay?
Money from the book deal has helped me pay off some stuff. But I don’t belong in the world of Dior and Calvin Klein. I don’t need to make much money to do what I want to do. I’m used to $28,000 a year, and if I can make that in this world, it will be cool.

Did you have any qualms about writing the book in such a way as to suggest that you’re still working in the low-wage economy?
I did worry about it a little. But then I thought: look, I was in this situation for the greater part of my life; I can still say “we”. I was poor as shit when I was writing it. Once the book comes out, I’ll start being more careful about using “we” because clearly I am no longer among the ranks of Burger King workers.

You claim that the poor are more generous than the rich. Isn’t it dangerous to make these kinds of generalisations? Doesn’t that make you as bad as those who, say, insist the poor are just lazy?
That’s true! The poor are more generous. They’ve done studies. Look, if I’d had more time, the book would be way more perfect than it is. But, also, these are my impressions. They don’t have to be fair, or even true. This is how we, the poor, feel. Reality is perception, right?

Why do you think, as you say in your book, so many poor people vote against their own best interests?
You’re assuming people feel any sort of connection to the system. I have a very close friend who votes Republican like clockwork. He understands the party doesn’t do much that is likely to help him as someone who might need welfare. So, as a social conservative, he’s going to vote according to which party supports his views on abortion, because that’s a thing that matters to him and he feels he can get movement on it, there will be a direct effect. Whereas if he votes on an economic issue, it’s just a different bunch of rich people doing a bunch of rich people things. It’s a question of marginalisation and trust. We [the poor] don’t trust anybody.

Why do so many people still buy the lie that the poor have children in order to get money from the state?
When rich people, and even just middle-class people, look at poor people what they’re thinking is: they’re lazy. All of us are conmen, cunning like rats. But it’s frigging ridiculous. Nobody is going to sign up for a full year of colic for two grand, no matter how poor they are. It’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. You don’t get more money for having more kids. You must give up work, and therefore money, in order to qualify for benefits, and even then it doesn’t come as cash. In the US, it comes as food stamps, or coupons. We’re not getting a cheque. People just don’t understand how welfare works.

The journalist Barbara Ehrenreich [author of Nickel and Dimed, an acclaimed account of her attempt to survive in low-wage jobs] has been a great supporter, hasn’t she?
She has been incredible. She is gracious with her time and energy. The foreword she wrote for my book stirs me a lot. She’s a heroine of mine. But a few people reached out to me. Another was the comedian Tom Arnold. He told me to trust that this was happening, to make the most of it.

What do you make of Fast Food Forward, the group that is attempting to unionise fast-food workers, organising walkouts and marches?
It has been very effective; in some states the minimum wage has been raised. But the corporate owners in fast food answer to their franchisees. They set the wages. The question is: how do we make the franchisees come up with a system that works for their employees? Still, the fact that people are doing this is nothing but a net good for America, and perhaps the rest of the world in a global economy. I also want to say this: the brass balls of these people! The amount of courage it takes a minimum-wage worker to walk out, knowing they will be retaliated against. These people are the bravest I’ve seen in some time. They’re blacklisting themselves.

I know you’ve been in Ferguson recently. What does the situation there [civil unrest has followed the shooting of a young black man by police] tell us about America in the wider sense?
I’ve been hanging out with these kids. They’re called Lost Voices. They are camping out and refusing to leave until the indictment comes down. And they talk about marginalisation, and about rage, and about not understanding why people don’t give them credit for being human. Sometimes they talk about jobs, too. St Louis is one of the most segregated places in America. What struck me was that when we outsiders said “We can’t believe the police are doing this on camera”, people were mostly just shocked that we were shocked.

Now you’re in the public eye, have you had your (controversial) teeth fixed?
Actually, I’m turning that into a project. So… no, not yet. But I will say my shampoo is much nicer now. I’ve also had three new tattoos. The TV people don’t like those at all. They make me wear a jacket.

Bookmarked at brandizzi Delicious' sharing tag and expanded by Delicious sharing tag expander.
22 Sep 09:54

How to see into the future

Highlights

Billions of dollars are spent on experts who claim they can forecast what’s around the corner, in business, finance and economics. Most of them get it wrong. Now a groundbreaking study has unlocked the secret: it IS possible to predict the future – and a new breed of ‘superforecasters’ knows how to do it

Irving Fisher was once the most famous economist in the world. Some would say he was the greatest economist who ever lived. “Anywhere from a decade to two generations ahead of his time,” opined the first Nobel laureate economist Ragnar Frisch, in the late 1940s, more than half a century after Fisher’s genius first lit up his subject. But while Fisher’s approach to economics is firmly embedded in the modern discipline, many of those who remember him now know just one thing about him: that two weeks before the great Wall Street crash of 1929, Fisher announced, “Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”

In the 1920s, Fisher had two great rivals. One was a British academic: John Maynard Keynes, a rising star and Fisher’s equal as an economic theorist and policy adviser. The other was a commercial competitor, an American like Fisher. Roger Babson was a serial entrepreneur with no serious academic credentials, inspired to sell economic forecasts by the banking crisis of 1907. As Babson and Fisher locked horns over the following quarter-century, they laid the foundations of the modern economic forecasting industry.

Fisher’s rivals fared better than he did. Babson foretold the crash and made a fortune, enough to endow the well-respected Babson College. Keynes was caught out by the crisis but recovered and became rich anyway. Fisher died in poverty, ruined by the failure of his forecasts.

If Fisher and Babson could see the modern forecasting industry, it would have astonished them in its scale, range and hyperactivity. In his acerbic book The Fortune Sellers, former consultant William Sherden reckoned in 1998 that forecasting was a $200bn industry – $300bn in today’s terms – and the bulk of the money was being made in business, economic and financial forecasting.

It is true that forecasting now seems ubiquitous. Data analysts forecast demand for new products, or the impact of a discount or special offer; scenario planners (I used to be one) produce broad-based narratives with the aim of provoking fresh thinking; nowcasters look at Twitter or Google to track epidemics, actual or metaphorical, in real time; intelligence agencies look for clues about where the next geopolitical crisis will emerge; and banks, finance ministries, consultants and international agencies release regular prophecies covering dozens, even hundreds, of macroeconomic variables.

Real breakthroughs have been achieved in certain areas, especially where rich datasets have become available – for example, weather forecasting, online retailing and supply-chain management. Yet when it comes to the headline-grabbing business of geopolitical or macroeconomic forecasting, it is not clear that we are any better at the fundamental task that the industry claims to fulfil – seeing into the future.

So why is forecasting so difficult – and is there hope for improvement? And why did Babson and Keynes prosper while Fisher suffered? What did they understand that Fisher, for all his prodigious talents, did not?

In 1987, a young Canadian-born psychologist, Philip Tetlock, planted a time bomb under the forecasting industry that would not explode for 18 years. Tetlock had been trying to figure out what, if anything, the social sciences could contribute to the fundamental problem of the day, which was preventing a nuclear apocalypse. He soon found himself frustrated: frustrated by the fact that the leading political scientists, Sovietologists, historians and policy wonks took such contradictory positions about the state of the cold war; frustrated by their refusal to change their minds in the face of contradictory evidence; and frustrated by the many ways in which even failed forecasts could be justified. “I was nearly right but fortunately it was Gorbachev rather than some neo-Stalinist who took over the reins.” “I made the right mistake: far more dangerous to underestimate the Soviet threat than overestimate it.” Or, of course, the get-out for all failed stock market forecasts, “Only my timing was wrong.”

Tetlock’s response was patient, painstaking and quietly brilliant. He began to collect forecasts from almost 300 experts, eventually accumulating 27,500. The main focus was on politics and geopolitics, with a selection of questions from other areas such as economics thrown in. Tetlock sought clearly defined questions, enabling him with the benefit of hindsight to pronounce each forecast right or wrong. Then Tetlock simply waited while the results rolled in – for 18 years.

Tetlock published his conclusions in 2005, in a subtle and scholarly book, Expert Political Judgment. He found that his experts were terrible forecasters. This was true in both the simple sense that the forecasts failed to materialise and in the deeper sense that the experts had little idea of how confident they should be in making forecasts in different contexts. It is easier to make forecasts about the territorial integrity of Canada than about the territorial integrity of Syria but, beyond the most obvious cases, the experts Tetlock consulted failed to distinguish the Canadas from the Syrias.

Adding to the appeal of this tale of expert hubris, Tetlock found that the most famous experts fared somewhat worse than those outside the media spotlight. Other than that, the humiliation was evenly distributed. Regardless of political ideology, profession and academic training, experts failed to see into the future.

Most people, hearing about Tetlock’s research, simply conclude that either the world is too complex to forecast, or that experts are too stupid to forecast it, or both. Tetlock himself refused to embrace cynicism so easily. He wanted to leave open the possibility that even for these intractable human questions of macroeconomics and geopolitics, a forecasting approach might exist that would bear fruit.

. . .

In 2013, on the auspicious date of April 1, I received an email from Tetlock inviting me to join what he described as “a major new research programme funded in part by Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, an agency within the US intelligence community.”

The core of the programme, which had been running since 2011, was a collection of quantifiable forecasts much like Tetlock’s long-running study. The forecasts would be of economic and geopolitical events, “real and pressing matters of the sort that concern the intelligence community – whether Greece will default, whether there will be a military strike on Iran, etc”. These forecasts took the form of a tournament with thousands of contestants; it is now at the start of its fourth and final annual season.

“You would simply log on to a website,” Tetlock’s email continued, “give your best judgment about matters you may be following anyway, and update that judgment if and when you feel it should be. When time passes and forecasts are judged, you could compare your results with those of others.”

I elected not to participate but 20,000 others have embraced the idea. Some could reasonably be described as having some professional standing, with experience in intelligence analysis, think-tanks or academia. Others are pure amateurs. Tetlock and two other psychologists, Don Moore and Barbara Mellers, have been running experiments with the co-operation of this army of volunteers. (Mellers and Tetlock are married.) Some were given training in how to turn knowledge about the world into a probabilistic forecast; some were assembled into teams; some were given information about other forecasts while others operated in isolation. The entire exercise was given the name of the Good Judgment Project, and the aim was to find better ways to see into the future.

The early years of the forecasting tournament have, wrote Tetlock, “already yielded exciting results”.

A first insight is that even brief training works: a 20-minute course about how to put a probability on a forecast, correcting for well-known biases, provides lasting improvements to performance. This might seem extraordinary – and the benefits were surprisingly large – but even experienced geopolitical seers tend to have expertise in a subject, such as Europe’s economies or Chinese foreign policy, rather than training in the task of forecasting itself.

“For people with the right talents or the right tactics, it is possible to see into the future after all”

A second insight is that teamwork helps. When the project assembled the most successful forecasters into teams who were able to discuss and argue, they produced better predictions.

But ultimately one might expect the same basic finding as always: that forecasting events is basically impossible. Wrong. To connoisseurs of the frailties of futurology, the results of the Good Judgment Project are quite astonishing. Forecasting is possible, and some people – call them “superforecasters”– can predict geopolitical events with an accuracy far outstripping chance. The superforecasters have been able to sustain and even improve their performance.

The cynics were too hasty: for people with the right talents or the right tactics, it is possible to see into the future after all.

Roger Babson, Irving Fisher’s competitor, would always have claimed as much. A serial entrepreneur, Babson made his fortune selling economic forecasts alongside information about business conditions. In 1920, the Babson Statistical Organization had 12,000 subscribers and revenue of $1.35m – almost $16m in today’s money.

“After Babson, the forecaster was an instantly recognisable figure in American business,” writes Walter Friedman, the author of Fortune Tellers, a history of Babson, Fisher and other early economic forecasters. Babson certainly understood how to sell himself and his services. He advertised heavily and wrote prolifically. He gave a complimentary subscription to Thomas Edison, hoping for a celebrity endorsement. After contracting tuberculosis, Babson turned his management of the disease into an inspirational business story. He even employed stonecutters to carve inspirational slogans into large rocks in Massachusetts (the “Babson Boulders” are still there).

On September 5 1929, Babson made a speech at a business conference in Wellesley, Massachusetts. He predicted trouble: “Sooner or later a crash is coming which will take in the leading stocks and cause a decline of from 60 to 80 points in the Dow-Jones barometer.” This would have been a fall of around 20 per cent.

So famous had Babson become that his warning was briefly a self-fulfilling prophecy. When the news tickers of New York reported Babson’s comments at around 2pm, the markets erupted into what The New York Times described as “a storm of selling”. Shares lurched down by 3 per cent. This became known as the “Babson break”.

The next day, shares bounced back and Babson, for a few weeks, appeared ridiculous. On October 29, the great crash began, and within a fortnight the market had fallen almost 50 per cent. By then, Babson had an advertisement in the New York Times pointing out, reasonably, that “Babson clients were prepared”. Subway cars were decorated with the slogan, “Be Right with Babson”. For Babson, his forecasting triumph was a great opportunity to sell more subscriptions.

But his true skill was marketing, not forecasting. His key product, the “Babson chart”, looked scientific and was inspired by the discoveries of Isaac Newton, his idol. The Babson chart operated on the Newtonian assumption that any economic expansion would be matched by an equal and opposite contraction. But for all its apparent sophistication, the Babson chart offered a simple and usually contrarian message.

“Babson offered an up-arrow or a down-arrow. People loved that,” says Walter Friedman. Whether or not Babson’s forecasts were accurate was not a matter that seemed to concern many people. When he was right, he advertised the fact heavily. When he was wrong, few noticed. And Babson had indeed been wrong for many years during the long boom of the 1920s. People taking his advice would have missed out on lucrative opportunities to invest. That simply didn’t matter: his services were popular, and his most spectacularly successful prophecy was also his most famous.

Babson’s triumph suggests an important lesson: commercial success as a forecaster has little to do with whether you are any good at seeing into the future. No doubt it helped his case when his forecasts were correct but nobody gathered systematic information about how accurate he was. The Babson Statistical Organization compiled business and economic indicators that were, in all probability, of substantial value in their own right. Babson’s prognostications were the peacock’s plumage; their effect was simply to attract attention to the services his company provided.

. . .

When Barbara Mellers, Don Moore and Philip Tetlock established the Good Judgment Project, the basic principle was to collect specific predictions about the future and then check to see if they came true. That is not the world Roger Babson inhabited and neither does it describe the task of modern pundits.

When we talk about the future, we often aren’t talking about the future at all but about the problems of today. A newspaper columnist who offers a view on the future of North Korea, or the European Union, is trying to catch the eye, support an argument, or convey in a couple of sentences a worldview that would otherwise be impossibly unwieldy to explain. A talking head in a TV studio offers predictions by way of making conversation. A government analyst or corporate planner may be trying to justify earlier decisions, engaging in bureaucratic defensiveness. And many election forecasts are simple acts of cheerleading for one side or the other.

“Some people – call them ‘superforecasters’– can predict geopolitical events with an accuracy far outstripping chance”

Unlike the predictions collected by the Good Judgment Project, many forecasts are vague enough in their details to allow the mistaken seer off the hook. Even if it was possible to pronounce that a forecast had come true or not, only in a few hotly disputed cases would anybody bother to check.

All this suggests that among the various strategies employed by the superforecasters of the Good Judgment Project, the most basic explanation of their success is that they have the single uncompromised objective of seeing into the future – and this is rare. They receive continual feedback about the success and failure of every forecast, and there are no points for radicalism, originality, boldness, conventional pieties, contrarianism or wit. The project manager of the Good Judgment Project, Terry Murray, says simply, “The only thing that matters is the right answer.”

I asked Murray for her tips on how to be a good forecaster. Her reply was, “Keep score.”

. . .

An intriguing footnote to Philip Tetlock’s original humbling of the experts was that the forecasters who did best were what Tetlock calls “foxes” rather than “hedgehogs”. He used the term to refer to a particular style of thinking: broad rather than deep, intuitive rather than logical, self-critical rather than assured, and ad hoc rather than systematic. The “foxy” thinking style is now much in vogue. Nate Silver, the data journalist most famous for his successful forecasts of US elections, adopted the fox as the mascot of his website as a symbol of “a pluralistic approach”.

The trouble is that Tetlock’s original foxes weren’t actually very good at forecasting. They were merely less awful than the hedgehogs, who deployed a methodical, logical train of thought that proved useless for predicting world affairs. That world, apparently, is too complex for any single logical framework to encompass.

More recent research by the Good Judgment Project investigators leaves foxes and hedgehogs behind but develops this idea that personality matters. Barbara Mellers told me that the thinking style most associated with making better forecasts was something psychologists call “actively open-minded thinking”. A questionnaire to diagnose this trait invites people to rate their agreement or disagreement with statements such as, “Changing your mind is a sign of weakness.” The project found that successful forecasters aren’t afraid to change their minds, are happy to seek out conflicting views and are comfortable with the notion that fresh evidence might force them to abandon an old view of the world and embrace something new.

Which brings us to the strange, sad story of Irving Fisher and John Maynard Keynes. The two men had much in common: both giants in the field of economics; both best-selling authors; both, alas, enthusiastic and prominent eugenicists. Both had immense charisma as public speakers.

Fisher and Keynes also shared a fascination with financial markets, and a conviction that their expertise in macroeconomics and in economic statistics should lead to success as an investor. Both of them, ultimately, were wrong about this. The stock market crashes of 1929 – in September in the UK and late October in the US – caught each of them by surprise, and both lost heavily.

Yet Keynes is remembered today as a successful investor. This is not unreasonable. A study by David Chambers and Elroy Dimson, two financial economists, concluded that Keynes’s track record over a quarter century running the discretionary portfolio of King’s College Cambridge was excellent, outperforming market benchmarks by an average of six percentage points a year, an impressive margin.

This wasn’t because Keynes was a great economic forecaster. His original approach had been predicated on timing the business cycle, moving into and out of different investment classes depending on which way the economy itself was moving. This investment strategy was not a success, and after several years Keynes’s portfolio was almost 20 per cent behind the market as a whole.

The secret to Keynes’s eventual profits is that he changed his approach. He abandoned macroeconomic forecasting entirely. Instead, he sought out well-managed companies with strong dividend yields, and held on to them for the long term. This approach is now associated with Warren Buffett, who quotes Keynes’s investment maxims with approval. But the key insight is that the strategy does not require macroeconomic predictions. Keynes, the most influential macroeconomist in history, realised not only that such forecasts were beyond his skill but that they were unnecessary.

Irving Fisher’s mistake was not that his forecasts were any worse than Keynes’s but that he depended on them to be right, and they weren’t. Fisher’s investments were leveraged by the use of borrowed money. This magnified his gains during the boom, his confidence, and then his losses in the crash.

But there is more to Fisher’s undoing than leverage. His pre-crash gains were large enough that he could easily have cut his losses and lived comfortably. Instead, he was convinced the market would turn again. He made several comments about how the crash was “largely psychological”, or “panic”, and how recovery was imminent. It was not.

One of Fisher’s major investments was in Remington Rand – he was on the stationery company’s board after selling them his “Index Visible” invention, a type of Rolodex. The share price tells the story: $58 before the crash, $28 by 1930. Fisher topped up his investments – and the price soon dropped to $1.

Fisher became deeper and deeper in debt to the taxman and to his brokers. Towards the end of his life, he was a marginalised figure living alone in modest circumstances, an easy target for scam artists. Sylvia Nasar writes in Grand Pursuit, a history of economic thought, “His optimism, overconfidence and stubbornness betrayed him.”

. . .

So what is the secret of looking into the future? Initial results from the Good Judgment Project suggest the following approaches. First, some basic training in probabilistic reasoning helps to produce better forecasts. Second, teams of good forecasters produce better results than good forecasters working alone. Third, actively open-minded people prosper as forecasters.

But the Good Judgment Project also hints at why so many experts are such terrible forecasters. It’s not so much that they lack training, teamwork and open-mindedness – although some of these qualities are in shorter supply than others. It’s that most forecasters aren’t actually seriously and single-mindedly trying to see into the future. If they were, they’d keep score and try to improve their predictions based on past errors. They don’t.

“Successful forecasters aren’t afraid to change their minds and are comfortable with the notion that fresh evidence might mean abandoning an old view”

This is because our predictions are about the future only in the most superficial way. They are really advertisements, conversation pieces, declarations of tribal loyalty – or, as with Irving Fisher, statements of profound conviction about the logical structure of the world. As Roger Babson explained, not without sympathy, Fisher had failed because “he thinks the world is ruled by figures instead of feelings, or by theories instead of styles”.

Poor Fisher was trapped by his own logic, his unrelenting optimism and his repeated public declarations that stocks would recover. And he was bankrupted by an investment strategy in which he could not afford to be wrong.

Babson was perhaps wrong as often as he was right – nobody was keeping track closely enough to be sure either way – but that did not stop him making a fortune. And Keynes prospered when he moved to an investment strategy in which forecasts simply did not matter much.

Fisher once declared that “the sagacious businessman is constantly forecasting”. But Keynes famously wrote of long-term forecasts, “About these matters there is no scientific basis on which to form any calculable probability whatever. We simply do not know.”

Perhaps even more famous is a remark often attributed to Keynes. “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”

If only he had taught that lesson to Irving Fisher.

Also published at ft.com.

Bookmarked at brandizzi Delicious' sharing tag and expanded by Delicious sharing tag expander.
19 Jul 04:00

September 19, 2014


That time a BAHFest entry was cited on parents.com.
20 Sep 18:58

Vote

by Gomez
Adam Victor Brandizzi

Resumo da eleição


18 Sep 13:26

Escócia pode perder seus pandas em caso de vitória do ‘sim’

by Felipe Corazza
Panda Tian Tian chegou ao zoológico de Edimburgo em 2011 (Foto: Rob McDougall/Divulgação)

Panda Tian Tian chegou ao zoológico de Edimburgo em 2011 (Foto: Rob McDougall/Divulgação)

Uma das consequências menos óbvias – porém, mais interessantes – do plebiscito sobre a separação escocesa da Grã-Bretanha pode recair sobre o zoológico de Edimburgo e duas de suas principais atrações: os pandas Tian Tian e Yang Guang (apelidados de Sweetie e Sunshine ao chegarem às terras britânicas).

Emprestados pela China à Grã-Bretanha como parte da “diplomacia dos pandas” adotada há tempos por Pequim, os animais virariam parte de um “impasse diplomático” no caso de uma vitória do “sim” à independência na votação que acontece hoje.

+ Siga o blog no Twitter

Sweetie e Sunshine chegaram a Edimburgo em 2011 como “presentes” do governo chinês aos britânicos. Na verdade, não são exatamente presentes. O acordo,  similar ao adotado pelos chineses com outros países, prevê um prazo de 10 anos e pagamentos anuais de empréstimo a um centro de preservação dos animais na China. A esperança britânica é a de que o casal de pandas consiga procriar em cativeiro – algo raríssimo.

O Partido Nacional Escocês, do premiê independentista Alex Salmond, defende que o acordo com a China, apesar da coroa britânica, foi assinado pela Real Sociedade Zoológica da Escócia, portanto, não haveria qualquer chance de perder os animais em caso de secessão. Mas líderes unionistas, desde 2012, questionam tal posição e dizem que há, sim, o risco de que os britânicos exijam seus pandas de volta.

Quem quiser acompanhar ao vivo o que Sunshine e Sweetie andam fazendo neste dia crucial para a Escócia, pode visitar a página do zoológico de Edimburgo que oferece uma câmera ao vivo do ambiente em que os animais estão. Pelo menos no horário em que este post foi escrito, nenhum dos dois aparentava grande interesse pela briga.

18 Sep 01:01

Memórias de carca-me

by brunomaron

memorias


Arquivado em:cara a cara
18 Sep 05:00

Crianças protegidas e inseguras

Durante a minha infância, quanto tempo eu passava sem a supervisão de um adulto?

Grosso modo, dos sete aos 12 anos, eu ia para escola sozinho, de "tramway". Pegava o bondinho a três quadras de casa, e a escola era a segunda parada: digamos que o conjunto levasse meia hora.

A volta da escola era a pé, com os amigos, brincando e conversando. Não levava menos de uma hora; eu chegava sempre atrasado para o almoço, mas isso era tolerado. Nos dias em que a escola se estendia até a tarde, a volta era mais longa: parávamos para brincar nas quadras de escombros dos bombardeios de 1943.

Eram lugares proibidos e perigosos; havia bombas não explodidas (é o que diziam), estruturas periclitantes e ratos, muitos ratos. Duvido que meus pais não soubessem: afinal, a cidade não tinha recuperado seus parquinhos e gramados –no lugar desses, havia os escombros. Nestes dias, então, a volta durava duas horas.

Uma vez em casa, eu me instalava à minha mesa de trabalho e estudava, direto, até o jantar. Claro, havia adultos no apartamento, mas, até o fim do dia, ninguém sequer entrava no meu quarto, nunca –ninguém, por exemplo, tentava saber o que eu estava lendo. Só na hora do jantar, minha mãe aparecia para verificar (por cima) se eu tinha terminado meus deveres. Eu ficava portanto sem adultos entre quatro e seis horas, a cada tarde.

No sábado, a partir dos oito anos, eu saía depois do almoço e voltava à noite –ia para o cineclube da escola, onde ficava por duas sessões seguidas.

Conclusão, eu ficava sem supervisão adulta sete horas por dia: uma média baixa, pois a maioria dos meus colegas dispunha do domingo (que eu passava obrigatoriamente com meus pais).

Claro, a diferença cultural entre Europa e Brasil se reflete na maneira de criar os filhos: na Europa, de qualquer criança, espera-se que, na medida do possível e antes de mais nada, ela "se vire". Mas, além dessa diferença cultural, os tempos mudaram.

Num artigo na revista "The Atlantic" de abril, Hanna Rosin lembra que, nos EUA, em 1971, 80% das crianças de oito anos iam para escola sozinhos. Em 1990, só 9% pareciam ser considerados capazes dessa "ousadia". Não temos os números de hoje, mas, se a tendência tiver continuado, não deve haver mais ninguém ou quase.

Agora, olhe ao seu redor e faça a conta: seus filhos, enteados, sobrinhos, quanto tempo eles passam efetivamente sem a supervisão de um adulto? Na classe média, entre motoristas, babás, professores particulares, repetidores, terapeutas, ortodontistas e bedéis onipresentes nos recreios, será que esse tempo existe?

A resposta tradicional a essa observação é que o mundo se tornou mais perigoso: haveria mais adultos mal intencionados, mais riscos –é preciso proteger as crianças. Pois é, Rosin lembra que, neste tempo, a taxa de acidentes sofridos por crianças não mudou.

Ou seja, o aumento do tempo de supervisão adulta e as novas regras de segurança (formais ou caseiras –nos equipamentos dos parquinhos, nas escolas, em casa etc.) certamente salvaram algumas vidas, mas não alteraram a estatística.

O que aumentou neste período, segundo Rosin, não foi a segurança, mas as fobias das crianças, que ficaram com medo dos comportamentos que lhes foram proibidos. Ou seja, as crianças não podem mais subir numa árvore; o número de acidentes em que uma criança cai de uma árvore não muda, mas aumenta o número de crianças que tem medo de alturas.

Não encorajo ninguém a, de repente, autorizar suas crianças a circular sozinhas e se aventurar por penhascos. Provavelmente, elas não saberiam o que fazer com essa liberdade inesperada.

Mas vale a pena se perguntar: se o mundo não é mais perigoso do que já foi, o que aconteceu? Por que nos tornamos supervisores compulsivos de nossas crianças?

Pois bem, o mundo não é mais hostil do que já foi, mas nossa confiança nele diminuiu, e talvez compensemos nossa falta de confiança protegendo nossas crianças da hostilidade que nós enxergamos no mundo.

Nota: como era previsível, proteger excessivamente nossas crianças as torna mais desconfiadas –não mais seguras. Se quiséssemos que nossas crianças fossem confiantes, seria preciso que elas fossem mais autônomas.

Regra sobre a qual valeria a pena voltar: a autonomia produz confiança, a proteção, ao contrário, produz insegurança.

27 Aug 15:12

Why Legal Pot is Better Than the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS

by Nick Gillespie

The ice bucket challenge has raised a huge amount of awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or "Lou Gehrig's Disease," which affects about 30,000 Americans.

Writing in The Hill, Andrew Gargano talks about an existing, effective way to ameliorate the disease's devastating symptoms: Medical marijuana.

A number of studies have shown that cannabis functions in many ways that are beneficial to those with ALS, from serving as an analgesic to acting as a soothing muscle relaxant. Cannabis also functions as a saliva reducer, and so it has the ability to reduce symptoms of uncontrollable drooling that is common among those with ALS. Additionally, cannabis has been found successful in use as an antidepressant, results which have also been confirmed by an anonymous, self-reported survey of ALS patients conducted by the the MDA/ALS Center at the University of Washington.

Most importantly, however, is that a 2010 study found that cannabis offered anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective effects when tested on laboratory mice. The researchers found that cannabis slowed the progression of the disease and prolonged cell survival, ultimately concluding that “it is reasonable to think that cannabis might significantly slow the progression of ALS, potentially extending life expectancy and substantially reducing the overall burden of the disease.”

While this information may seem incredibly relieving to anyone who suffers from ALS, only 34 percent of Americans live in the 23 states, and the District of Columbia, that currently recognize the important medical uses of cannabis.

Read the whole thing.

Hat Tip: Students for Liberty Twitter feed.

16 Sep 20:30

College students learning COBOL make more money

September 15, 2014, 10:32 AM

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Professor Leon Kappelman, Ph.D. He is the Director Emeritus, Information Systems Research Center in the Information Technology and Decision Sciences Department (ITDS) at the College of Business, University of North Texas (UNT).

Just by chance, Prof. Kappelman saw my ITworld blog titled COBOL will Outlive Us All and contacted me to tell me about a joint venture that UNT has with IBM and how his graduates get high-paying jobs with major US corporations that have COBOL based applications running within their data centers.

He said that many years ago they took COBOL out of the department’s Business Computer Information Systems (BCIS) curriculum because it was thought of as an outdated technology. Then, a few years ago they added it back in as two one semester electives at the suggestion of their advisory committee. As you may expect, this class teaches the full cast of characters needed to be a successful COBOL programmer including the IBM mainframe operating system, Job Control Language (JCL) and, of course the COBOL programming language.

Leon went on to say, that offering COBOL at the university was a win-win for everyone concerned. First, and most important, it was a win for the students who took the elective. Their average salary upon graduation was approximately $10,000 higher than their peer BCIS graduates who didn’t take the electives. Second, it was a win for the university’s corporate business partners because they had the ability to hire highly qualified college graduates who were willing and able to program in COBOL. It was also a win for IBM, who is helping create the next generation of COBOL programmers. Lastly, it was a win for the university by successfully maximizing the career skills and, thus the marketability of its students.

I asked Leon why he thought these students did so well financially upon graduation. He said to me that there are simply not enough people in the profession who have these skills and skill scarcity drives higher salaries. I then asked if he knew what career directions these students could go if they began their careers programming in a legacy technology. He reminded me that COBOL was not their only technical skill, they were trained in state-of-the-art programming technologies like Java and .NET, industry database technologies and all the other subjects that warrant a degree in BCIS, COBOL was just another arrow in their quiver.

Bookmarked at brandizzi Delicious' sharing tag and expanded by Delicious sharing tag expander.
12 Sep 20:45

Urna eletrônica. Transparência é segurança

Adam Victor Brandizzi

A urna é um grande avanço, mas realmente o TSE tá com poder demais.

redacaoestadao

quarta-feira 10/09/14

O Brasil é um dos únicos países cujo sistema de votação eletrônica não prevê uma forma de comprovação individual do voto. Mas há outras formas e alguns países vizinhos têm modelos bastante interessantes.

Por Silvana Batini Cesar Góes*

O comprador insere o cartão de crédito na máquina e o vendedor pergunta: “quer o comprovante do cliente”? O indivíduo hesita, mas leva o comprovante consigo. Afinal, ainda no mês passado um conhecido teve o cartão clonado. Melhor ter o papelzinho na mão.

Na urna eletrônica, digita os números de seus candidatos e sai sem nenhuma comprovação de que sua vontade foi fielmente registrada no sistema ou se sofreu alguma alteração fraudulenta. Precisa ter fé.

O Brasil é um dos únicos países cujo sistema de votação eletrônica não prevê uma forma de comprovação individual do voto. Esta previsão chegou a ser incluída na lei, mas o STF considerou-a inconstitucional, por violar a regra do voto secreto. De fato, em um país onde a venda de voto e os currais eleitorais ainda são frequentes, imaginar que um eleitor possa sair da urna com o espelho de seu voto pode, de certa forma, incentivar esta prática e garanti-la. Mas há outras formas e alguns países vizinhos têm modelos bastante interessantes.

A questão no Brasil parece simbólica. Migramos, na década de noventa, de um modelo rudimentar de votos em papel para um sistema informatizado e pioneiro. Era arrojado, seguro   e genuinamente brasileiro. Desde então, duvidar da sua confiabilidade passou a ser coisa de gente afeita a teses conspiratórias e lendas urbanas.

Os sistemas empregados nas eleições brasileiras são desenvolvidos e supervisionados pelo TSE. Submetem-se a critérios formais de controle e fiscalização por parte da OAB, do Ministério Público e dos partidos políticos. Na semana passada, por exemplo, aconteceu a Cerimônia de Assinatura Digital e Lacração dos Sistemas que rodarão nas Eleições 2014. O objetivo é dar um testemunho público da segurança e da credibilidade dos softwares que serão usados.

A dinâmica do mundo digital, todavia, parece não se encaixar em esquemas formais de controle. Por este motivo, era saudável a iniciativa que o TSE vinha mantendo de desafiar especialistas a encontrar vulnerabilidades no sistema, tal como vários países ainda fazem. Em 2012 uma equipe da UnB encontrou uma falha que poderia comprometer o sigilo da votação. Nas eleições deste ano não houve desafio.Por enquanto, não há registro de que vulnerabilidades possam comprometer o resultado das eleições. De toda sorte, exigir transparência na condução dos processos de escolha e proteção dos sistemas de votação não significa retrocesso ou alarmismo, muito menos afeição a teses conspiratórias. Também não implica em rejeitar o sistema atual. Mas compará-lo com modelos de outros países e incluir a comunidade científica na crítica pode contribuir para aperfeiçoá-lo.

A expressão da vontade popular pelo voto não pode ser um ato de fé. Não há espaço para dogmas quando se trata de soberania popular.

*Silvana Batini Cesar Góes é professora da FGV Direito Rio

Bookmarked at brandizzi Delicious' sharing tag and expanded by Delicious sharing tag expander.
16 Sep 00:43

A Better Ice-Bucket Challenge

Adam Victor Brandizzi

O cara começa meio que acusando mas desiste de falar mal do desafio no final. Embora concorde que possa haver melhores causas (e isso é crucial de se ter em mente em políticas públicas), também é bom notar que o sucesso da campanha da ELA é resultado de um mercado de ideias. Os proponentes arranjaram um bom jeito de vender a causa, e tiveram sucesso. Acho isso válido.

This has been a summer of sustained outrage: tenth-century zealots committing unspeakable atrocities in Syria and Iraq; a season of violence and hate in Israel and Gaza; and, in Ukraine, the invasion of a sovereign nation by a power-mad autocrat. There has, however, been at least one bright spot on the human frontier: the “ice-bucket challenge,’’ which so far has raised more than a hundred million dollars for the A.L.S. Association, which supports research and care for those living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Last year, the organization raised less than a quarter of that sum.

Unless you spent the summer in Antarctica, the mechanics of the challenge are no doubt familiar: dump a bucket of ice water on your head or make a donation—most people do both—and then challenge others to do it, too, and post it all on Facebook or some other social-media site. It has been a brilliant campaign, an ever-changing video chain letter, quick, easy to understand, a way to feel good about yourself while dripping, briefly, in ice water during the summer’s hottest days.

George W. Bush did it, and challenged Bill Clinton to do it, too. So did Gisele Bündchen. Matt Damon, who has long been committed to easing sanitation problems in the developing world, used toilet water. Bill Gates’s challenge was very Bill Gates: to drench himself, he designed a new contraption. According to the BBC, more than two million ice-bucket-related videos have been posted on Facebook, and twenty-eight million people have uploaded, commented on, or liked ice-bucket-related posts. Justin Bieber’s video, on Instagram, has more than a million “like”s.

It would seem churlish, then, to argue that all of this cheerful decency has been misplaced. A.L.S. is a horrible disease, causing intense suffering to its victims and to all those who love them. In a world with unlimited resources and bottomless generosity, A.L.S. research would deserve ten, even twenty times the money that it has just received. But we don’t live in such a world. And, while most people are repulsed by the idea, when we spend money on saving and prolonging some lives, we are making judgments about how much those lives (and others that we don’t try as hard to save) are worth.

Are people participating in the ice-bucket challenge because it is about A.L.S.? Let’s say that the meme had been devoted to fighting breast cancer, unsafe drinking water, Huntington’s disease, or Alzheimer’s. Would fewer people have participated? I doubt it. Once again, let me stress that I don’t think it is possible to question the good intentions of those who have anted up for A.L.S. But outcomes are another matter.

Ever since the nineteen-eighties, when ACT UP demanded (and received) increased focus on and money for AIDS treatment and research—which, until then, had been relatively neglected—medical funding in the United States has been based as much on who is lobbying for which illness as on the impact of the disease. Particularly in the age of the Internet, people often confuse what is right with what is popular or “viral.” Richard Posner made this point best, in “Economic Analysis of Law.” “The true utterance,’’ he wrote, is like the “brand of beer that commands ninety-five percent of the market and the false brand only five percent.”

But does it? Every life has equal value, but every cause does not. It’s estimated that A.L.S. kills more than a hundred thousand people a year, worldwide. Malaria kills at least five times that many; a million people die from tuberculosis. It should also be noted that people with TB or malaria can be treated, and cured, for a small fraction of the cost of treating somebody with A.L.S. As the philosopher William MacAskill recently wrote, “All people have an equal right to a happy, flourishing life; but some ways of spending money help more people, and help them to a greater extent, than others. This means we need to have a conversation about what the most effective ways of donating are.”

That is a conversation that almost nobody wants to have. In 1993, the World Bank came up with a new way for public-health officials to calculate the relationship between disability and the value of life. In the bank’s annual development report, economists focussed, for the first time, on the concept of the “disability-adjusted life year,” or DALY, a measure that has come to serve as the standard for how to assess the burden of a disease. Previously, the impact of an illness—cancer, the common cold, and everything in between—had usually been evaluated on the basis of how likely it was to kill you.

But life without good health also carries enormous costs for individuals, families, and societies. The disability-adjusted life year combines years of potential life lost owing to premature death with years of productive life lost to disability. Blindness is an example of a health problem that, while not fatal, can dramatically reduce one’s quality of life or ability to function within society. Alzheimer’s disease is another. (And so, of course, is A.L.S., a degenerative disease that destroys motor neurons and robs its sufferers of voluntary muscle movement, sometimes over years, often virtually paralyzing them before they die.)

The DALY metric has flaws, but it does make rough comparisons possible. The drug Riluzole, for example, slows the symptoms of A.L.S. and, on average, extends a patient’s life by three months. In the United States, that costs about fifty thousand dollars and would provide, by the World Bank’s standards, one disability-adjusted life year. Yet, as MacAskill points out, if we spent the same fifty thousand dollars on bed nets to prevent malaria, it would buy five hundred times as many life years by preventing the deaths of children.

By all means, keep dumping those buckets on your heads, and keep writing the checks. Occasionally, though, it might be worth sending them to an organization that fights malaria, or some other disease that threatens the lives of tens of million of people each year. The videos, the icy screams, and the crazy challenges will be just as much fun.

Bookmarked at brandizzi Delicious' sharing tag and expanded by Delicious sharing tag expander.
17 Sep 13:52

Bible-pushing Christians open the door for Satanic activity books in Florida schools

The Satanic Children's Big Book of Activities ( The Satanic Temple)

The Satanic Temple has responded to an Orange County, Florida decision to disseminate religious materials in public school by creating complementary materials that espouse the philosophy and practice of Satanism.

Last month, a Florida judge ruled that if the Orange County school district allowed Christian groups to disseminate Bibles and Christian-oriented religious materials in its schools, it would also have to allow atheist groups to do the same.

David Williamson of the Central Florida Free Thought Community — who recently fought against Brevard County’s attempt to ban atheists from offering invocations at public meetings — sued the district over its initial unwillingness to allow atheist literature with titles like “Jesus Is Dead” and “Why I Am Not a Muslim” in the schools.

A judge dismissed that case after the school board decided to allow the materials.

The Satanic Temple took advantage of this decision, deciding to flood Orange County schools with a pamphlet entitled The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities that contains kid-friendly Satanic lessons.

“These bullies are mad and afraid of things they don’t understand,” the instructions on the word-jumble reads. “Help Damian use inclusive language to defuse the situation.

The spokesman for the Satanic Temple, Lucien Greaves, explained that his organization “would never seek to establish a precedent of disseminating our religious materials in public schools because we believe our constitutional values are better served by respecting a strong separation of Church and State.”

“However,” he continued, “if a public school board is going to allow religious pamphlets and full Bibles to be distributed to students — as is the case in Orange County, Florida — we think the responsible thing to do is to ensure that these students are given access to a variety of differing religious opinions, as opposed to standing idly by while one religious voice dominates the discourse and delivers propaganda to youth.”

The Satanic Temple made headlines earlier this year when it successfully petitioned the state of Oklahoma to allow it to erect a goat-headed Baphomet statue adjacent to a display of the Ten Commandments.

Greaves made it clear that, in both cases, his organization is only responding to provocations by the Christian community.

““Even as we prefer public policies respecting secularism, we feel that opportunities — such as this — to establish an equal voice for contrasting religious opinions in the public square, tend to favor marginalized, lesser-known, and alternative religions,” he said.

“I am quite certain that all of the children in these Florida schools are already aware of the Christian religion and it’s Bible, and this might be the first exposure these children have to the actual practice of Satanism. We think many students will be very curious to see what we offer.”

Bookmarked at brandizzi Delicious' sharing tag and expanded by Delicious sharing tag expander.
16 Sep 20:30

Josh Haberman: What every computer programmer should know about floating point, part 1

Adam Victor Brandizzi

Cara, nunca visualizei tão bem os números de ponto flutante.

The subject of floating-point numbers can strike vague uncertainty into all but the hardiest of programmers. The first time a programmer gets bitten by the fact that 0.1 + 0.2 is not quite equal to 0.3, the whole thing can seem like an inscrutable mess where nothing behaves like it should.

But lying amidst all of this seeming insanity are a lot of things that make perfect sense if you think about them in the right way. There is an existing article called What Every Computer Scientist Should Know About Floating-Point Arithmetic, but it is very math-heavy and focuses on subtle issues that face data scientists and CPU designers. This article ("What every computer programmer should know...) is aimed at the general population of programmers. I'm focusing on simple and practical results that you can use to build your intuition for how to think about floating-point numbers.

As a practical guide I'm concerning myself only with the IEEE 754 floating point formats single (float) and double that are implemented on current CPUs and that most programmers will come into contact with, and not other topics like decimal floating point, arbitrary precision, etc. Also my goal is to build intuition and show the shapes of things, not prove theorems, so my math may not be fully precise all the time. That said, I don't want to be misleading, so please let me know of any material errors!

Articles like this one are often written in a style that is designed to make you question everything you thought you knew about the subject, but I want to do the opposite: I want to give you confidence that floating-point numbers actually make sense. So to kick things off, I'm going to start with some good news.

Integers are exact! As long as they're not too big.

It's true that 0.1 + 0.2 != 0.3. But this lack of exactness does not apply to integer values! As long as they are small enough, floating point numbers can represent integers exactly.
1.0 == integer(1) (exactly)
5.0 == integer(5) (exactly)
2.0 == integer(2) (exactly)
This exactness also extends to operations over integer values:
1.0 + 2.0 == 3.0 (exactly)
5.0 - 1.0 == 4.0 (exactly)
2.0 * 3.0 == 6.0 (exactly)
Mathematical operations like these will give you exact results as long as all of the values are integers smaller than \(2^{53}\) (for double) or \(2^{24}\) (for float).

So if you're in a language like JavaScript that has no integer types (all numbers are double-precision floating point), and you have an application that wants to do precise integer arithmetic, you can treat JS numbers as 53-bit integers, and everything will be perfectly exact. Though of course if you do something inherently non-integral, like 8.0 / 7.0, this exactness guarantee doesn't apply.

And what if you exceed \(2^{53}\) for a double, or \(2^{24}\) for a float? Will that give you strange dreaded numbers like 16777220.99999999 when you really wanted 16777221?

No — again for integers the news is much less dire. Between \(2^{24}\) and \(2^{25}\) a float can exactly represent half of the integers: specifically the even integers. So any mathematical operation that would have resulted in an odd number in this range will instead be rounded to one of the even numbers around it. But the result will still be an integer.

For example, let's add:
    16,777,216 (2^24)
  +          5
  ------------
    16,777,221 (exact result)
    16,777,220 (rounded to nearest representable float)
You can generally think of floating point operations this way. It's as if they computed exactly the correct answer with infinite precision, but then rounded the result to the nearest representable value. It's not implemented this way of course (putting infinite precision arithmetic in silicon would be expensive), but the results are generally the same as if it had.

We can also represent this concept visually, using a number line:


The green line represents the addition and the red line represents the rounding to the nearest representable value. The tick marks above the number line indicate which numbers are representable and which are not; because these values are in the range \([2^{24}, 2^{25}]\), only the even numbers are representable as float.

This model can also explain why adding two numbers that differ wildly in magnitude can make the smaller one get lost completely:

    16,777,216
  +          0.0001
  -----------------
    16,777,216.0001 (exact result)
    16,777.216      (rounded to nearest representable float)
Or in the number line model:



The smaller number was not nearly big enough to get close to the next largest representable value (16777218), so the rounding caused the smaller value to get lost completely.

This rounding behavior also explains the answer to question number 4 in Ridiculous Fish's excellent article Will It Optimize? It's tempting to have floating-point anxiety and think that transforming (float)x * 2.0f into (float)x + (float)x must be imprecise somehow, but in fact it's perfectly safe. The same rule applies as our previous examples: compute the exact result with infinite precision and then round to the nearest representable number. Since the x + x and x * 2 are mathematically exactly the same, they will also get rounded to exactly the same value.

So far we've discovered that a float can represent:

  • all integers \([0, 2^{24}]\) exactly
  • half of integers \([2^{24}, 2^{25}]\) exactly (the even ones)

Why is this? Why do things change at \(2^{24}\)?

It turns out that this is part of a bigger pattern, which is that floating-point numbers are more precise the closer they are to zero. We can visualize this pattern again with a number line. This illustration isn't a real floating-point format (it has only two bits of precision, much less than float or double) but it follows the same pattern as real floating-point formats:


This diagram gets to the essence of the relationship between floating point values and integers. Up to a certain point (4 in this case), there are multiple floating point values per integer, representing numbers between the integers. Then at a certain point (here between 4 and 8) the set of floating point and integer values are the same. Once you get larger than that, the floating point values skip some integer values.

We can diagram this relationship to get a better sense and intuition for what numbers floats can represent compared to integers:



This plot is just a continuation of what we've said already. The green dots are boring and only appear for reference: they are saying that no matter how large or small your values are for an integer representation like int32, they can represent exactly one value per integer. That's a complicated way of saying that integer representations exactly represent the integers.

But where it gets interesting is when we compare integers to floats, which appear as red dots. The green and red dots intersect at \(2^{24}\); we've already identified this as the largest value for which floats can represent every integer. If we go larger than this, to \(2^{25}\), then floats can represent half of all integers, (\(2^{-1}\) on the graph), which again is what we have said already.

The graph shows that the trend continues in both directions. For values in the range \([2^{25}, 2^{26}]\), floats can represent 1/4 of all integers (the ones divisible by 4). And if we go smaller, in the range \([2^{23}, 2^{24}]\), floats can represent 2 values per integer. This means that in addition to the integers themselves, a float can represent one value in between each integer, that being \(x.5\) for any integer \(x\).

So the closer you get to zero, the more values a float can stuff between consecutive integers. If you extrapolate this all the way to 1, we see that float can represent \(2^{23}\) unique values between 1 and 2. (Between 0 and 1 the story is more complicated).

Range and Precision

I want to revisit this diagram from before, which depicts a floating-point representation with two bits of precision:


A useful observation in this diagram is that there are always 4 floating-point values between consecutive powers of two. For each increasing power of two, the number of integers doubles but the number of floating-point values is constant.

This is also true for float (\(2^{23}\) values per power of two) and double (\(2^{52}\) values per power of two). For any two powers-of-two that are in range, there will always be a constant number of values in between them.

This gets to the heart of how range and precision work for floating-point values. The concepts of range and precision can be applied to any numeric type; comparing and contrasting how integers and floating-point values differ with respect to range and precision will give us a deep intuition for how floating-point works.

Range/precision for integers and fixed-point numbers


For an integer format, the range and precision are straightforward. Given an integer format with \(n\) bits:
  • every value is precise to the nearest integer, regardless of the magnitude of the value.
  • range is always \(2^{n}\) between the highest and lowest value (for unsigned types the lowest value is 0 and for signed types the lowest value is \(-(2^{n-1})\)).
If we depict this visually, it looks something like:



If you ever come across fixed point math, for example the fixed-point support in the Allegro game programming library, fixed point has a similar range/precision analysis as integers. Fixed-point is a numerical representation similar to integers, except that each value is multiplied by a constant scaling factor to get its true value. For example, for a 1/16 scaling factor:

integers equivalent fixed point value
1 1 * 1/16 = 0.0625
2 2 * 1/16 = 0.125
3 3 * 1/16 = 0.1875
4 4 * 1/16 = 0.25
... ...
16 16 * 1/16 = 1
... ...

Like integers, fixed point values have a constant precision regardless of magnitude. But instead of a constant precision of 1, the precision is based on the scaling factor. Here is a visual depiction of a 32-bit fixed point value that uses a 1/16 (\(1/2^{4}\)) scaling factor. Compared with a 32-bit integer, it has 16x the precision, but only 1/16 the range:

The fixed-point scaling factor is usually a fractional power of two in (ie. \(1/2^{n}\) for some \(n\)), since this makes it possible to use simple bit shifts for conversion. In this case we can say that \(n\) bits of the value are dedicated to the fraction.



The more bits you spend on the integer part, the greater the range. The more bits you spend on the fractional part, the greater the precision. We can graph this relationship: given a scaling factor, what is the resulting range and precision?


Looking at the first value on the left, for scaling factor \(2^{-16}\) (ie. dedicating 16 bits to the fraction), we get a precision of \(2^{16}\) values per integer, but a range of only \(2^{16}\). Increasing the scaling factor increases the range but decreases the precision.

At scaling factor \(2^{0} = 1\) where the two lines meet, the precision is 1 value per integer and the range is \(2^{32}\) — this is exactly the same as a regular 32-bit integer. In this way, you can think of regular integer types as a generalization of fixed point. And we can even use positive scaling factors: for example with a scaling factor of 2, we can double the range but can only represent half the integers in that range (the even integers).

The key takeaway from our analysis of integers and fixed point is that we can trade off range and precision, but given a scaling factor the precision is always constant, regardless of how big or small the values are.

Range/precision for floating-point numbers


Like fixed-point, floating-point representations let you trade-off range and precision. But unlike fixed point or integers, the precision is proportional to the size of the value.

Floating-point numbers divide the representation into the exponent and the significand (the latter is also called the mantissa or coefficient). The number of bits dedicated to the exponent dictates the range, and the number of bits dedicated to the significand determines the precision.



We will discuss the precise meanings of the exponent and significand in the next installment, but for now we will just discuss the general patterns of range and precision.

Range works a little bit differently in floating-point than in fixed point or integers. Have you ever noticed that FLT_MIN and DBL_MIN in C are not negative numbers like INT_MIN and LONG_MIN? Instead they are very small positive numbers:
#define FLT_MIN     1.17549435E-38F
#define DBL_MIN     2.2250738585072014E-308
Why is this?

The answer is that floating point numbers, because they are based on exponents, can never actually reach zero or negative numbers "natively". Every time you decrease the exponent you get closer to zero but you can never actually reach it. So the smallest number you can reach is FLT_MIN for float and DBL_MIN for double. (denormalized numbers can go smaller, but they are considered special-case and are not always enabled. FLT_MIN and DBL_MIN are the smallest normalized numbers.)

You may protest that float and double can clearly represent zero and negative numbers, and this is true, but only because they are special-cased. There is a sign bit that indicates a negative number when set.


And when the exponent and significand are both zero, this is special-cased to be the value zero. (If the exponent is zero but the significand is non-zero, this is a denormalized number; a special topic for another day.)


Put these two special cases together and you can see why positive zero and negative zero are two distinct values (though they compare equal).

Because floating-point numbers are based on exponents, and can never truly reach zero, the range is defined not as an absolute number, but as a ratio between the largest and smallest representable value. That range ratio is entirely determined by the number of bits alloted to the exponent.

If there are \(n\) bits in the exponent, the ratio of the largest to the smallest value is roughly \(2^{2^{n}}\). Because the \(n\)-bit number can represent \(2^{n}\) distinct values, and since those values are themselves exponents we raise 2 to that value.

We can use this formula to determine that float has a range ratio of roughly \(2^{256}\), and double has a range ratio of roughly \(2^{2048}\). (In practice the ranges are not quite this big, because IEEE floating point reserves a few exponents for zero and NaN).

This alone doesn't say what the largest and smallest values actually are, because the format designer gets to choose what the smallest value is. If FLT_MIN had been chosen as \(2^0\ = 1\), then the largest representable value would be \(2^{256} \approx 10^{77}\).

But instead FLT_MIN was chosen as \(2^{-126} \approx 10^{-37}\), and FLT_MAX is \(\approx 2^{128} \approx 3.4 \times 10^{38}\). This gives a true range ratio of \(\approx 2^{254}\), which roughly lines up with our previous analysis that yielded \(2^{256}\) (reality is a bit smaller because two exponents are stolen for special cases: zero and NaN/infinity).

What about precision? We have said several times that the precision of a floating-point value is proportional to its magnitude. So instead of saying that the number is precise to the nearest integer (like we do for integer formats), we say that a floating-point value is precise to \(X\%\) of its value. Using our sample from before of an imaginary floating point format with a two-bit significand, we can see:


So at the low end of each power of two, the precision is always 25% of the value. And at the high end it looks more like:


So for a two-bit significand, the precision is always between 12.5% and 25% of the value. We can generalize this and say that for an \(n\)-bit significand, the precision is between \(1/2^{n}\) and \(1/(2^{n+1})\) of the value (ie. between \(\frac{100}{2^{n}}\%\) and \(\frac{100}{2^{n+1}}\%\) of the value. But since \(1/2^{n}\) is the worst case, we'll talk about that because that's the figure you can count on.

We have finally explored enough to be able to fully compare/contrast fixed-point and integer values with floating point!

range precision
fixed point
and
integer
scalar (high - low)
\(2^{n} \times \text{scaling factor}\)
absolute/constant
equal to the scaling factor
floating point ratio (high / low)
\(2^{2^{e}}\)
relative (X%)
\(\frac{100}{2^{n}} \%\) (worst case)

If we apply these formulas to single-precision floating point vs. 32-bit unsigned integers, we get:

range precision
integer \(2^{32}\) 1
floating point \(2^{256} / 1\) 0.00001% (worst case)

Practical trade-offs between fixed/floating point

Let's step back for a second and contemplate what all this really means, for us humans here in real life as opposed to abstract-math-land.

Say you're representing lengths in kilometers. If you choose a 32-bit integer, the shortest length you can measure is 1 kilometer, and the longest length you can measure is 4,294,967,296 km (measured from the Sun this is somewhere between Neptune and Pluto).

On the other hand, if you choose a single-precision float, the shortest length you can measure is \(10^{-26}\) nanometers — a length so small that a single atom's radius is \(10^{24}\) times greater. And the longest length you can measure is \(10^{25}\) light years.

The float's range is almost unimaginably wider than the int32. And what's more, the float is also more accurate until we reach the magic inflection point of \(2^{24}\) that we have mentioned several times in this article.

So if you choose int32 over float, you are giving up an unimaginable amount of range, and precision in the range \([0, 2^{24}]\), all to get better precision in the range \([2^{24}, 2^{32}]\). In other words, the int32's sole benefit is that it lets you talk about distances greater than 16 million km to kilometer precision. But how many instruments are even that accurate?

So why does anyone use fixed point or integer representations?

To turn things around, think about time_t. time_t is a type defined to represent the number of seconds since the epoch of 1970-01-01 00:00 UTC. It has traditionally been defined as a 32-bit signed integer (which means that it will overflow in the year 2038). Imagine that a 32-bit single-precision float had been chosen instead.

With a float time_t, there would be no overflow until the year 5395141535403007094485264579465 AD, long after the Sun has swallowed up the Earth as a Red Giant, and turned into a Black Dwarf. However! With this scheme the granularity of timekeeping would get worse and worse the farther we got from 1970. Unlike the int32 which gives second granularity all the way until 2038, with a float time_t we would already in 2014 be down to a precision of 128 seconds — far too coarse to be useful.

So clearly floating point and fixed point / integers all have a place. Integers are still ideal for when you are counting things, like iterations of a loop, or for situations like a time counter where you really do want a constant precision over its range. Integer results can also be more predictable since the precision doesn't vary based on magnitude. For example, integers will always hold the identity x + 1 - 1 == x, as long as x doesn't overflow. The same can't be said for floating point.

Conclusion

There is more still to cover, but this article has grown too long already. I hope this has helped build your intuition for how floating point numbers work. In the next article(s) in the series, we'll cover: the precise way in which the value is calculated from exponent and significand, fractional floating point numbers, and the subtleties of printing floating-point numbers.
Bookmarked at brandizzi Delicious' sharing tag and expanded by Delicious sharing tag expander.
16 Sep 22:56

Will It Optimize?

Adam Victor Brandizzi

Errei todos :(

Will It Optimize?

July 23rd, 2010

See how well you know (or can anticipate) gcc's optimizer. For each question, the left box contains some code, while the right box contains code that purports to do the same thing, but that illustrates a particular optimization. Will gcc apply that optimization? Put another way, will the code on the left be as fast as the code on the right, when compiled with an optimizing gcc?

I used a pretty ancient gcc 4.2.1 for these tests. If newer versions have different behavior, please leave a comment.

Beware: not all proposed optimizations are actually valid!

1. Recursion elimination

Can GCC replace recursive functions with a loop?

int factorial(int x) {
   if (x > 1) return x * factorial(x-1);
   else return 1;
}
int factorial(int x) {
   int result = 1;
   while (x > 1) result *= x--;
   return result;
}
2. Loop-invariant strlen()

Will GCC hoist out strlen()?

unsigned sum(const unsigned char *s) {
   unsigned result = 0;
   for (size_t i=0; i < strlen(s); i++) {
      result += s[i];
   }
   return result;
}
unsigned sum(const unsigned char *s) {
   unsigned result = 0;
   size_t length = strlen(s);
   for (size_t i=0; i < length; i++) {
      result += s[i];
   }
   return result;
}
3. Multiplication by 2 to addition - integer

Will GCC transform an integer multiplication by 2 to addition?

int double_it(int x) {
   return x * 2;
}
int double_it(int x) {
   return x + x;
}
4. Multiplication by 2 to addition - floating point

Will GCC transform a floating point multiplication by 2 to addition?

float double_it(float x) {
   return x * 2.0f;
}
float double_it(float x) {
   return x + x;
}
5. Division by 2 to right shift

Will GCC transform an integer division by 2 to a right shift?

int halve_it(int x) {
   return x / 2;
}
int halve_it(int x) {
   return x >> 1;
}
6. If-else chains to switch statements

Will GCC apply the same optimizations to if-else chains as it does to switch statements?

void function(int x) {
   if (x == 0) f0();
   else if (x == 1) f1();
   else if (x == 2) f2();
   else if (x == 3) f3();
   else if (x == 4) f4();
   else if (x == 5) f5();
}
void function(int x) {
   switch (x) {
      case 0: f0(); break;
      case 1: f1(); break;
      case 2: f2(); break;
      case 3: f3(); break;
      case 4: f4(); break;
      case 5: f5(); break;
   }
}
Summing up

It is tempting to think of compiler optimizations as reducing the constant in your program's big-O complexity, and nothing else. They aren't supposed to be able to make your program asymptotically faster, or affect its output.

However, as we saw, they really can reduce the asymptotic complexity in space (question 1) and time (question 2). They can also affect calculated results (discussion of question 4) and maybe even whether your program goes into an infinite loop (see here).

On the flip side, several "obvious" optimizations are subtly incorrect and so will not be performed by the compiler, especially when they involve floating point. If your floating point code is demonstrably a bottleneck and you don't need exact precision or care about special FP values, you may be able to realize a speedup by doing some optimizations manually. However, untying the compiler's hands through options like -ffast-math is probably a better idea, and then only for the affected files, since these flags have a global impact.

And lastly, this isn't meant to be a prescriptive post, but we all know why micro-optimizing is usually a mistake: it wastes your time, it's easy to screw up (see question 5), and it typically produces no measurable speedup.

Code smart, and be safe out there!

Bookmarked at brandizzi Delicious' sharing tag and expanded by Delicious sharing tag expander.
17 Sep 11:00

Por que ninguém fala dos cristãos falangistas libaneses inspirados por Hitler?

by Gustavo Chacra

É comum afirmarem que o Mufti de Jerusalém, palestino, foi aliado de Hitler, como hoje escreveu um articulista na Folha. Mas raramente lembram que Pierre Gemayel, um dos líderes cristãos libaneses na primeira metade do século 20, visitou a Alemanha Nazista nas Olimpíadas de 1936 e, de tão impressionado com Hitler, voltou ao Líbano e criou um partido, o Kataeb (Falange, em árabe), de ideologia fascista e antissemita. Gemayel nunca escondeu sua admiração por Hitler e educou seus filhos com esta ideologia.

Nos anos 1980, Israel, ao invadir o Líbano, se aliou justamente a estes falangistas inspirados por Hitler, comandados por Bashir Gemayel e acusados pela mortes de uma série de outros líderes cristãos das famílias Frngieh e Chamoun, com ideologias bem mais moderados. Em parte, mesmo sendo cristãos, os falangistas foram responsáveis pelo enfraquecimento do cristianismo no Líbano.

A aliança entre Israel e os falangistas libaneses, que idolatravam Hitler e possuíam uma saudação nazista entre seus membros, culminou no massacre de Sabra e Shatila, o maior em um mesmo dia na história recente do Mundo Árabe – supera Bashar al Assad, o ISIS e mesmo o regime do Marechal Sissi, em segundo lugar. Calcula-se que até 3 mil palestinos morreram muitas vezes cortados em pedaços pelos milicianos falangistas cristãos há exatos 32 anos nestes campos em Beirute cercados e controlados por Israel. Os EUA e mesmo e até a Justiça de Israel condenaram Ariel Sharon pelo envolvimento indireto no massacre. A ação ocorreu depois da morte de Bashir em atentado atribuído aos palestinos – nunca ficou provado quem seriam os responsáveis.

Anos depois, no norte do Líbano, em um carro com falangistas libaneses, eu e um amigo meu americano judeu perguntamos a eles se preferiam sunitas ou xiitas – “São todos péssimos”, responderam. E os palestinos, perguntamos – “São como vírus”. Dos israelenses vocês gostam? “Judeus são franguinhos fracos. Precisam dez deles super bem armados para dar um soldado cristão libanês”. Nem dos cristãos armênios vocês gostam? “Armênio diz que é libanês quando estamos paz, mas quando começa a guerra vem dizer que são armênios”

Não custa lembrar que 1) tenho origem cristã libanesa e 2) os falangistas eram populares entre os cristãos, mas não representavam de forma alguma o pensamento do cristianismo libanês e 3) hoje a Falange ainda existe, mas perdeu bastante força

Não sei como faz para publicar comentários. Portanto pediria que comentem no meu Facebook (Guga Chacra)  e no Twitter (@gugachacra), aberto para seguidores

Guga Chacra, comentarista de política internacional do Estadão e do programa Globo News Em Pauta em Nova York, é mestre em Relações Internacionais pela Universidade Columbia. Já foi correspondente do jornal O Estado de S. Paulo no Oriente Médio e em NY. No passado, trabalhou como correspondente da Folha em Buenos Aires

Comentários islamofóbicos, antissemitas, anticristãos e antiárabes ou que coloquem um povo ou uma religião como superiores não serão publicados. Tampouco são permitidos ataques entre leitores ou contra o blogueiro. Pessoas que insistirem em ataques pessoais não terão mais seus comentários publicados. Não é permitido postar vídeo. Todos os posts devem ter relação com algum dos temas acima. O blog está aberto a discussões educadas e com pontos de vista diferentes. Os comentários dos leitores não refletem a opinião do jornalista

Acompanhe também meus comentários no Globo News Em Pauta, na Rádio Estadão, na TV Estadão, no Estadão Noite no tablet, no Twitter @gugachacra , no Facebook Guga Chacra (me adicionem como seguidor), no Instagram e no Google Plus. Escrevam para mim no gugacha

16 Sep 22:35

In a Word

by Greg Ross

tongue-shot
n. speaking or talking distance, voice-range

Inhabitants of La Gomera, a small mountainous island in the Canary group, use a whistled language called the Silbo to communicate over great distances. “This is a form of telephony inferior to ours as regards range, but superior to it in so far as the only apparatus required is a sound set of teeth and a good pair of lungs,” noted Glasgow University phoneticist André Classe in New Scientist in 1958. “The normal carrying power is up to about four kilometres when conditions are good, over twice as much in the case of an exceptional whistler operating under the most favourable circumstances.”

17 Sep 06:16

Day Job

by Greg Ross

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wallace_Stevens.jpg

Despite being a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Wallace Stevens held down a full-time career as an insurance lawyer. He took a job at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company in 1916, at age 36, and worked there until his death in 1955.

He composed his poems on hour-long walks that he took during his lunch break, stopping periodically to scribble lines on the half-dozen or so envelopes that were always in his pockets. He would also pause occasionally at work to record fragments of poems, which he kept filed in the lower right-hand drawer of his desk. Then he would hand the collected fragments to his secretary for typing.

He was promoted to vice president in 1934 but declined all further opportunities for advancement. His colleagues knew of his poetry, but he avoided talking about it, and he earned a reputation as “the grindingest guy … in executive row”: Working diligently and largely alone, he came to be considered “the dean of surety-claims men in the whole country” and “absolutely the diamond in the tiara” of his company.

“I find that having a job is one of the best things in the world that could happen to me,” he once wrote. “It introduces discipline and regularity into one’s life. I am just as free as I want to be and of course I have nothing to worry about about money.”

17 Sep 01:28

UK company working on a Hoverbike

16 Sep 10:00

Assembleia mais sucateada do país não tem telefone fixo nem computador

ESTÊVÃO BERTONI, DE MACEIÓ (AL)

Telefonar para a Assembleia Legislativa de Alagoas é impossível, pois linhas fixas na Casa não há. Para acompanhar o andamento de processos, só com muita paciência. Tudo ali é feito a mão.

Palco de recentes escândalos de desvios de verba nos últimos anos, a Casa é única entre os Legislativos do país.

Por mês, recebe cerca de R$ 12 milhões do Estado. Desse total, de R$ 8.000 a R$ 10 mil vão para a compra de material, segundo o presidente, Fernando Toledo (PSDB).

Assembleia Legislativa de Alagoas

Mesmo assim, de acordo com servidores, falta material de escritório. Há setores que promovem vaquinhas para limpar o ar-condicionado.

Toledo nega os problemas e afirma que nunca houve tantos avanços como em sua gestão (leia abaixo).

O blog visitou a Assembleia alagoana no mês passado e constatou a maior parte dos problemas apontados por funcionários.

Pelas mesas, há poucos objetos. A reportagem não viu mais do que cinco computadores. Quase todas as portas ficam trancadas e só um banheiro é aberto ao público.

Nos arquivos, as pastas ficam esparramadas pelo chão, e os documentos, amontados em caixas de papelão.

Eduardo Fernandes, 54, servidor há mais de 30 anos, diz acreditar que a assembleia seja a última repartição pública no Brasil a abandonar a máquina de escrever. Uma IBM elétrica só deixou de ser utilizada no protocolo porque quebrou há alguns meses. Agora, é tudo feito a mão.

A situação é tão crítica que, no mês passado, a equipe do expediente levou duas empregadas para fazer uma faxina geral, afirma Fernandes, diretor de apoio legislativo e presidente da associação de servidores.

Os poucos computadores, doados por um deputado, não são ligados em rede e apresentam defeitos.

“As leis daqui ainda são feitas nos livros. Quando me ligam de Brasília para saber uma informação, respondo que não tenho como passar.”

TELEFONES POR CONTA PRÓPRIA

Alguns deputados decidiram transferir linhas fixas que já possuíam para os gabinetes. As contas são pagas pelos próprios parlamentares. A reportagem encontrou telefone fixo nos gabinetes de três deles: Judson Cabral (PT), Ronaldo Medeiros (PT) e Joãozinho Pereira (PSDB).

“Se o mínimo que a gente precisa não tem, imagine creche, plano de saúde, auxílio transporte. A Assembleia vive se arrastando”, afirma Luciano Vieira, presidente do sindicato dos funcionários.

A insatisfação atinge os deputados. “É uma assembleia sucateada, sem agilidade. O processo de tramitação não é informatizado. É uma via crucis”, diz Judson Cabral (PT).

O deputado João Henrique Caldas (SD) denunciou a existência de uma “biblioteca fantasma”, que recebeu R$ 1 milhão, mas está deserta, como a reportagem constatou.

Em 2013, o deputado abriu as contas da Casa, que expôs problemas como pagamento de R$ 7 milhões a 66 beneficiários do Bolsa Família e a existência de mortos na folha de pessoal. A Mesa Diretora foi afastada por 70 dias e responde a três ações ainda não julgadas.

“Com o dinheiro que tem, era para ser uma das Assembleias mais modernas. É uma Casa que, se fechasse, não iria fazer diferença para o povo alagoano”, afirma Caldas.

Sérgio Jucá, procurador-geral de Justiça de Alagoas, diz que falta “decência” ao Legislativo estadual.

Ele diz que, em retaliação às apurações da Promotoria sobre as denúncias, a Assembleia reduziu neste ano de R$ 13 milhões para R$ 2 milhões a proposta do Ministério Público para despesas próprias de custeio. Toledo nega.

Dos 27 deputados estaduais de Alagoas, 19 vão tentar a reeleição, cinco podem ser substituídos por parentes, um não registrou candidatura e dois anunciaram que vão deixar a vida pública.

OUTRO LADO

O presidente da Assembleia Legislativa de Alagoas, Fernando Toledo (PSDB), minimizou a falta de estrutura e material na Casa.

Segundo ele, que chegou a ser afastado do cargo no ano passado após denúncias de desvios de verba, a Mesa Diretora da Casa concluiu, por exemplo, que não há necessidade de telefones fixos.

“As pessoas acham que equipamento público é de ninguém. Chegavam contas muito altas”, diz.

A verba para a biblioteca, afirmou, foi cortada e o espaço fechou por falta de uso. “Estive conversando com outros presidentes e ninguém acessa a biblioteca de nenhum Poder”, afirma.

Toledo disse que o fechamento de banheiros é eventual. “Pode haver manutenção, mas está tudo normal.”

O presidente afirmou que há licitação em curso para informatização de setores e que “nunca na história do Parlamento alagoano houve tantos avanços” como agora.

Ele negou que a Casa tenha cortado verba do Ministério Público em retaliação a investigações em andamento.

“Foi uma avaliação técnica. Tenho relação muito boa com todos os promotores”, afirmou Toledo, que não tentará a reeleição. Seu filho Bruno Toledo (PSDB) é candidato a uma vaga na Casa.

Siga o blog Brasil no Twitter: @Folha_Brasil
22 Aug 04:50

The Secret Playbook of Internet Trolls

by George Washington

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
What’s confusing you
Is the nature of my game

- The Rolling Stones

The reason that Internet trolls are effective is that people still don’t understand their game.

There are 15 commonly-used trolling tactics to disrupt, misdirect and control internet discussions.

As one interesting example, trolls start flame wars because – according to two professors – swearing and name-calling shut down our ability to think and focus.

And trolls will often spew divisive attacks so that people argue against each other, instead of bad actions and policies of the powers-that-be.   For example, trolls will:

Start a religious war whenever possible using stereotypes like “all Jews are selfish”, “all Christians are crazy” or “all Muslims are terrorists”.

Yesterday, the alternative news site Common Dreams caught a troll using scores of different user names to spew anti-Semitic bile. (Common Dreams discovered that the same troll was behind the multiple user names by tracking their IP addresses. And the troll confessed to Common Dreams.)

The troll is a “a Jewish Harvard graduate in his thirties who was irritated by the website’s discussion of issues involving Israel”.

He posted anti-Semitic diatribes – such as Hitler should have finished the job and killed all Jews – using one alias.  Then – a couple of minutes later – he’d post an attack on the first poster using a different alias, claiming that criticism of Israel is the same thing as anti-Semitism.  (Note: Holocaust survivors and Israeli ministers say it’s not.)

Why would a Jew post vile anti-Semitic comments?  Because normal people are offended by – and don’t want to be associated with – pure, naked anti-Semitism, and so they will avoid such discussions.  If the discussion was originally criticizing a specific aspect of Israeli policy, the discussion will break down, and the actual point regarding policy will be lost.

Similarly, anti-Semitic posts weaken websites by making them seem less reputable. Indeed, Common Dreams says that the troll’s anti-Semitic comments drove away many of that site’s largest donors … dealing a severe blow to its continued viability. That’s exactly what trolls spewing anti-Semitic bile are trying to do: shut down logical discussion and discredit and weaken sites which allow rational criticism of policy.

It is well-known that foreign  governments and large companies troll online. See this, this this, and this. For example, the Israeli government is paying students to post pro-Israeli comments online.

And American students are also attempting to influence internet discussion.

While the Common Dreams troll claims that he’s not sponsored by the state of Israel, government  agencies have manipulated  Internet discussion for years. This includes the use of multiple “socket puppet” aliases.  The potential for mischief is stunning.

Unless we learn their game …

16 Sep 15:00

Being Counted: Reporting My Rape at a School Under Title IX Investigation

by Katie Rose Guest Pryal

July 2014

The first thing I have to do is find out X.’s full name. I know his first and last name, but I want to have his middle name. Being able to say all three names has power. Like when I get mad at my kids and say all three names, they know they’re in deep shit.

I don’t even know how to spell X.’s first name properly—it’s a name with a couple of possible spellings. Since I figure he’ll be a practicing doctor now, I just Google him. I don’t think twice. I type his name into the search bar and Google takes me right to his home page. To the page of his plastic surgery practice in one of the wealthiest towns in the United States.

Cheesy synth-jazz plays in the background while I stare into the eyes of my rapist.

I am not prepared for this.

I am not prepared to look into his eyes after so many years. After one doctorate, one marriage, and two children. This is not something I could ever have been prepared for. I hit mute on my computer.

I hate this man. I hate that he has a plastic surgery practice. The menu for the work he does divides women into body parts like “thighs,” “face,” “breasts,” and “torso.” Women’s eyes stare at me through my screen. His homepage looks like a fucking porno site. I get his full name and shut the browser.

I type his name into the rape reporting notes that I’m preparing to bring with me to campus. The notes feel inauthentic when compared to the report of, say, an undergraduate in a moment of crisis. But I know I will fight similar battles to the young women reporting rapes after finding themselves naked in frat house broom closets or basements.

The rape reporting people on campus will want details (details I won’t have.) They will want to tell me what to do with my report (and I will have to resist them.) They will quickly form ideas about what kind of person I am the minute I walk through the door (and those ideas will likely be wrong.)

Because they will want details, I’m preparing notes. My first problem is that I don’t remember the date. Fortunately, I’m detail-obsessed. I’ve kept journals since age thirteen to record everything. So that’s the first place I look to find the date. But, for some reason, I didn’t write down much about X. raping me. I didn’t write down the date. This is very unlike me. (Note to Past Me: What were you thinking?)

No problem, though, because I also keep a detailed calendar. Like, if Adrian Monk decided to keep a calendar, he would be jealous of my calendar. He’d ask me for calendar lessons. I start flipping through my past calendars, year by year, to the calendar for 20-- … and it is gone. Fucking gone. They’re all lined up on the shelf, and that one is missing.

Now, I wouldn’t have written in the calendar “Raped by X.” on whatever day in 20--. But I would have written down when I was flying to visit a guy that I’d just started dating. The reason I was in Chapel Hill at all, instead of in Greensboro where I was attending graduate school, was to stay overnight with my sister so I could fly out of the Raleigh airport the next morning on Southwest Airlines.

In the early morning hours before that flight, X. raped me.

Read more Being Counted: Reporting My Rape at a School Under Title IX Investigation at The Toast.

16 Sep 02:37

¡Os jodéis, ateos! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA...


16 Sep 14:01

Gender-Bending Kids In Afghanistan

by Andrew Sullivan

El fenómeno “Bacha Posh”, niñas afganas obligadas por sus padres a vivir como niños> http://t.co/Vv3KiMGtTB pic.twitter.com/wSaW6QTy3n

— Telecinco.es (@telecincoes) May 21, 2014

In an essay adapted from her forthcoming book, Jenny Nordberg explains why some Afghan families raise their daughters as boys:

Officially, girls like Mehran do not exist in Afghanistan, where the system of gender segregation is among the strictest in the world. But many other Afghans, too, can recall a former neighbor, a relative, a colleague, or someone in their extended family raising a daughter as a son. These children even have their own colloquialism, bacha posh, which literally translates from Dari to “dressed like a boy.”

Midwives, doctors, and nurses I’ve met from all over the provinces are more familiar with the practice than most; they have all known bacha posh to appear at clinics, escorting a mother or a sister, or as a patient who has proven to be of another birth sex than first presumed.

The health workers say that families who disguise their daughters in this way can be rich, poor, educated, or uneducated, or belong to any of Afghanistan’s many ethnic groups. The only thing that binds the bacha posh girls together is their families’ need for a son in a society that undervalues daughters and demands sons at almost any cost. They disguised their girls as boys because the family needed another income through a child who worked and girls aren’t allowed to, because the road to school was dangerous and a boy’s disguise provided some safety, or because the family lacked sons and needed to present as a complete family to the village. Often, as in Kabul, it is a combination of factors. A poor family may need a son for different reasons than a rich family, but no ethnic or geographical reasons set them apart.

16 Sep 05:00

Comic for September 16, 2014

13 Sep 13:12

A campanha que virou piada

Marcelo Rubens Paiva

sexta-feira 12/09/14

  Campanha do Sindicato dos Médicos do Estado do Ceará (SIMEC) pergunta sobre ser operado por médico ou voar com piloto depois de tais profissionais terem fumado maconha.     Virou piada na Internet. E mostra um desconhecimento de causa, o que causa estranheza por se tratar de uma instituição que deveria se pautar pela [...]

Campanha do Sindicato dos Médicos do Estado do Ceará (SIMEC) pergunta sobre ser operado por médico ou voar com piloto depois de tais profissionais terem fumado maconha.

Virou piada na Internet.

E mostra um desconhecimento de causa, o que causa estranheza por se tratar de uma instituição que deveria se pautar pela ausência de preconceitos.

A coxinha é liberada, nem por isso um comandante de avião se entope de coxinha antes de um voo.

Nem de cachaça, Rivotril, Melhoral, energéticos…

E se tais profissionais são responsáveis pelas vidas de outros, como tratam daqueles que precisam de ajuda por estarem em estados alterados?

Aqueles que defendem a liberação da maconha no campo da saúde visam a melhoria da qualidade de vida do paciente, extraem e pesquisam os benefícios da erva, pensam no controle dos riscos da substância ao tirar a penumbra em que vivem usuários e viciados, e livrar cidadãos das consequências da violência e da polícia e prisões.

Bookmarked at brandizzi Delicious' sharing tag and expanded by Delicious sharing tag expander.
12 Sep 20:00

Pendulum Waves with Philip Glass



Pendulum Waves with Philip Glass

12 Sep 21:23

Neste post explico a melhor fórmula para derrotar o ISIS na Síria

by Gustavo Chacra

O melhor dos cenários para a Síria, neste momento, seria a manutenção do regime, mas com a saída de Bashar al Assad, e a inclusão de algumas figuras da oposição doméstica tradicional de Damasco. Um novo líder laico, mesmo sendo integrante do Baath ou das Forças Armadas envolvido nas ações militares, não teria sobre si o peso do nome Assad e poderia reatar as relações com a Turquia, se aproximar dos EUA, sem a necessidade de romper com Rússia, Irã e Hezbollah. Este novo líder, com o regime intacto, poderia ser armado pelos EUA e outros países para enfrentar o ISIS.

Armar grupos opositores supostamente moderados, como pretende Obama, será uma tarefa árdua e que levará muito tempo. Eles são fracos, irrelevantes, aliados da Frente Nusrah (Al Qaeda) e sem apoio popular. A chance de fracasso é enorme. Obviamente, Assad não irá sair por livre e espontânea vontade. Mas em vez de armar rebeldes, os serviços de inteligência dos EUA deveriam há tempos ter organizado um golpe de Estado para derrubá-lo em coordenação com membros das forças de segurança sírios.

Muitos comandantes militares e de milícias pró-governo sírios, sejam eles alauítas, cristãos ou sunitas, estão insatisfeitos com a performance de Assad. Sem dúvida odeiam os rebeldes do ISIS, da Frente Nusrah (Al Qaeda) e mesmo os tais moderados carpinteiros, engenheiros e padeiros, nas palavras de Obama. O regime ainda é a única forma de garantir a segurança de cristãos, alauítas e drusos. Os rebeledes, mesmo os tais moderados, cometerão genocídio se puderem. Nos tempos da Guerra Fria, um golpe provavelmente já teria ocorrido para manter o regime sem Assad. Era comum na América Latina e mesmo no Oriente Médio.

Ou, talvez, tenha havido uma tentativa em meados de 2012, quando o ministro da Defesa, o cunhado de Assad e seu irmão Maher foram alvo de um suposto atentado terrorista. Há quem diga que eles, em coordenação com países do Ocidente, planejavam dar um golpe de Estado e derrubar Bashar. Mas líder sírio, como tradicional Michael Corleone, não iria deixar seu irmãozinho “Fredo” (Maher) dar um golpe.

 Não sei como faz para publicar comentários. Portanto pediria que comentem no meu Facebook (Guga Chacra)  e no Twitter (@gugachacra), aberto para seguidores

Guga Chacra, comentarista de política internacional do Estadão e do programa Globo News Em Pauta em Nova York, é mestre em Relações Internacionais pela Universidade Columbia. Já foi correspondente do jornal O Estado de S. Paulo no Oriente Médio e em NY. No passado, trabalhou como correspondente da Folha em Buenos Aires

Comentários islamofóbicos, antissemitas, anticristãos e antiárabes ou que coloquem um povo ou uma religião como superiores não serão publicados. Tampouco são permitidos ataques entre leitores ou contra o blogueiro. Pessoas que insistirem em ataques pessoais não terão mais seus comentários publicados. Não é permitido postar vídeo. Todos os posts devem ter relação com algum dos temas acima. O blog está aberto a discussões educadas e com pontos de vista diferentes. Os comentários dos leitores não refletem a opinião do jornalista

Acompanhe também meus comentários no Globo News Em Pauta, na Rádio Estadão, na TV Estadão, no Estadão Noite no tablet, no Twitter @gugachacra , no Facebook Guga Chacra (me adicionem como seguidor), no Instagram e no Google Plus. Escrevam para mim no gugacha


15 Sep 00:00

Future Self

Maybe I haven't been to Iceland because I'm busy dealing with YOUR crummy code.
08 Sep 17:33

Afinal, quem são “os evangélicos”?

Homofóbicos, cortejados pela presidente, fundamentalistas. Massa de manobra de Silas Malafaia, conservadores, determinantes no segundo turno das eleições. De tanto que se falou sobre os evangélicos nas últimas semanas, nos jornais e nas redes sociais, talvez caiba uma pergunta: afinal, quem são “os evangélicos”?

A resposta mais honesta não poderia ser mais frustrante: os evangélicos são qualquer pessoa, todo mundo, ou, mais especificamente, ninguém. São uma abstração, uma caricatura pintada a partir do que vemos zapeando pelos canais abertos misturado ao que lemos de bizarro nos tabloides da internet com o que nosso preconceito manda reforçar. Dizer que “o voto dos evangélicos decidirá a eleição” é tão estúpido quanto dizer a obviedade de que 22,2% dos brasileiros decidirão a eleição. Dizer que “os evangélicos são preconceituosos”, significa dizer que o ser humano é preconceituoso. É não dizer nada, na verdade.

Acreditar que há uma hegemonia de pensamento, de comportamento ou de doutrina evangélica é, em parte, exatamente acreditar no que Silas Malafaia gosta de repetir, mas é, em parte, desconhecer a história. A diversidade de pensamento é a razão de existir da reforma protestante. E continuou sendo pelos séculos seguintes, quando as igrejas reformadas do século 16 deram origem ao movimento evangélico, aos pentecostais, e estes aos neopentecostais, todos microdivididos até o limite do possível, graças, novamente, à diversidade de pensamento – sobre forma de governo, vocação e pequenos e grandes pontos doutrinários. E boa parte dessas denominações não tem sequer organização central nem “presidência”, muito menos representantes possíveis, com as decisões sendo tomadas nas comunidades locais, por votação democrática.

Assim como não existe “os evangélicos” também não existe “os pentecostais”, nem “os assembleianos”: dizer que Malafaia é o “papa da Marina Silva” como disse Leonardo Boff, apenas porque ambos são membros da Assembléia de Deus, é ignorar que, por trás dos 12,3 milhões de membros detectados pelo IBGE, a denominação é rachada entre ministérios Belém, Madureira, Santos, Bom Retiro, Ipiranga, Perus e diversos outros, cada um com seu líder, sua politicagem e sua aplicação doutrinária. A Assembléia de Deus Vitória em Cristo de Malafaia, aliás, sequer pertence à Convenção Geral das Assembleias de Deus no Brasil.

Ignorância parecida se manifesta em relação ao uso do termo “fundamentalista”, como sinônimo de “literalista”, aquele incapaz de metaforizar as verdades morais dos livros da Bíblia. A teologia cristã debate há dois mil anos sobre a observação, interpretação e aplicação dos escritos sagrados, quais são alegóricos e quais são históricos, quais são “poesias” e quais devem ser tomados ao pé da letra. O deputado Jean Wyllys, colunista da Carta Capital, do alto de alguma autoridade teológica presumida, já chegou à sua conclusão: o que não for leitura liberal, é fundamentalista e, portanto, uma ameaça às minorias oprimidas. (Liberalismo teológico é uma corrente do final do século 19 que propôs uma leitura crítica das escrituras, completamente alegorizada, negando sua autoridade sobrenatural, a existência dos milagres, e separando história e teologia).

Só que isso simplesmente não é verdade. Dentro da multifacetação das igrejas de tradição evangélicas, há as chamadas “inclusivas”, mas há diversas igrejas históricas, tradicionais, teologicamente ortodoxas, que acreditam nos absolutos da “sola scriptura” da Reforma Protestante, mas que têm política acolhedora e amorosa com as minorias. Algumas criaram pastorais para tratar da questão homossexual, outras trabalham para integrá-los em seus quadros leigos; ou, ainda, como disse o pastor batista Ed René Kivitz, estão mais dispostos a aprender como tratar “uma pessoa que está diante de mim dizendo ter sido rejeitado pela família, pela igreja” do que discutir a literalidade dos textos do Velho Testamento.

O panorama da questão pode ser melhor entendido em Entre a cruz e o arco-íris: A complexa relação dos cristãos com a Homoafetividade (de Marília de Camargo César, da Editora Autêntica), livro que tive a honra de editar. Nele, o pastor batista e sociólogo americano Tony Campolo, ex-conselheiro do presidente Bill Clinton, diz: “Se você vai dizer à comunidade homossexual que em nome de Jesus você a ama (...) não teria que lutar por políticas públicas que demonstrem que você as ama? Pode haver amor sem justiça? Eu luto pela justiça em favor de gays e lésbicas, porque em nome de Jesus Cristo eu os amo.” Campolo, entretanto, faz distinção entre direitos e casamento: “O governo não deve se envolver nem declarar, de forma alguma, o que é casamento, quem pode ou não se casar”, ele disse. “Governo existe para garantir os direitos das pessoas. Casamento é um sacramento da igreja – governos não devem decidir quem deve ou não receber esse sacramento.” Campolo acredita que esta será a visão dominante entre cristãos americanos “em cinco ou seis anos”.

Entre os evangélicos brasileiros, há quem pense desde já como Campolo – distinguindo união civil de casamento. Há quem pense de forma ainda mais radical: que a união civil, com implicações patrimoniais e status de família, deveria valer não apenas para casais homossexuais, mas para irmãos, primos ou quem quer que se entenda como família. Há quem defenda o acolhimento dos gays nas igrejas, mas que se reserve o celibato para eles. Quem, embora sabendo que mais da metade das famílias brasileiras já não são no formato pai-mãe-filhos, ainda luta para restabelecer esse padrão idealizado. Há, sim, quem acredite que o seu conjunto de doutrinas e o seu modo de vida são fundamentais. Há aqueles ainda que, enquanto discutimos aqui, estão mais preocupados se a melhor tradução do grego é a João Ferreira de Almeida ou a Nova Versão Internacional. E há quem acorde diariamente acreditando ser o porta-voz do “povo de Deus”, pague espaço em redes de televisão para multiplicar esse delírio (mas, a julgar pelo 1% de intenção de voto do Pastor Everaldo, somente ativistas gays e jornalistas desmotivados acreditam nesse discurso). Esses são “os evangélicos”.

Na fatídica sexta-feira em que o PSB divulgou seu programa de governo, enquanto Malafaia gritava no Twitter em CAPSLOCK furibundo, o pastor presbiteriano Marcos Botelho, postou: “Marina, que bom que vc recebeu os líderes do movimento LGBTs, receba as reivindicações com a tua coerência e discernimento de sempre e um compromisso com o estado laico que é sua bandeira. Vamos colocar uma pedra em cima dessa polarização ridícula entre gays e evangélicos que só da IBOPE para líderes políticos e pastores oportunistas.”

Botelho não representa “os evangélicos” porque não existe “os evangélicos”. Mas Marcos Botelho existe e é evangélico. Assim como existe William Lane Craig, o filósofo que convida periodicamente Richard Dawkins para um debate público, do qual este sempre se esquiva; existe o geneticista Francis Collins vencendo o William Award da Sociedade Americana de Genética Humana; existe o presidente Jimmy Carter, dando aula na escola bíblica no domingo e sendo entrevistado para a capa da Rolling Stone por Hunter Thompson na segunda-feira; existe o pastor congregacional inglês John Harvard tirando dinheiro do próprio bolso para fundar uma universidade “para a glória de Deus” nos Estados Unidos que leva seu sobrenome até hoje; existe o pastor batista Martin Luther King como o maior ativista de todos os tempos; existe o jovem paulista Marco Gomes, o “melhor profissional de marketing do mundo”, pedindo licença para “falar uma coisa sobre os evangélicos”. E existe o Feliciano, o Edir Macedo, a Aline Barros, o Thalles Roberto, o Silas Malafaia e o mercado gospel. Como existe bancada evangélica, mas existem os que lutaram pela “separação entre igreja e estado” na constituição, e existem os que acreditam que levar Jesus Cristo para a política é trabalhar não para si, mas para os menos favorecidos.

Existe o amor e existe a justiça, como existe o preconceito, o dogmatismo, o engano, o medo, a vaidade e a corrupção. Não porque somos evangélicos, mas porque somos humanos.

* Ricardo Alexandre é jornalista e escritor, radialista e blogueiro, Prêmio Jabuti 2010, ex-diretor de redação das revistas Bizz, Época São Paulo e Trip. E é membro da Igreja Batista Água Viva em Vinhedo, interior de São Paulo.
Bookmarked at brandizzi Delicious' sharing tag and expanded by Delicious sharing tag expander.