Neil Armstrong, RIP

Neil Armstrong in Eagle, photographed by Buzz Aldrin

Neil Armstrong died August 25, aged 82.

It’s difficult to properly memorialize this man, because, to a degree almost unheard of in our media-saturated times, he avoided the limelight. A statement by his family notes:

As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life.

EC has a certain fondness for privacy and for Apollo. If you do, too, please consider this suggestion made by Armstrong’s family:

For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.

Image source: NASA

What story was that?

A friend is trying to track down a science fiction story in which the president had a death sentence at the end of their term.

I know you’re all smart and good looking and at least one of you will know the exact author and title.

Regulations and Their Emergent Effects

There’s a fascinating story in the New York Times, “Profits on Carbon Credits Drive Output of a Harmful Gas“:

[W]here the United Nations envisioned environmental reform, some manufacturers of gases used in air-conditioning and refrigeration saw a lucrative business opportunity.

They quickly figured out that they could earn one carbon credit by eliminating one ton of carbon dioxide, but could earn more than 11,000 credits by simply destroying a ton of an obscure waste gas normally released in the manufacturing of a widely used coolant gas. That is because that byproduct has a huge global warming effect. The credits could be sold on international markets, earning tens of millions of dollars a year.

That incentive has driven plants in the developing world not only to increase production of the coolant gas but also to keep it high — a huge problem because the coolant itself contributes to global warming and depletes the ozone layer.

Writing good regulation to achieve exactly the effects that you want is a hard problem. It’s not hard in the “throw some smart people” at it sense, but hard in the sense that you’re generally going to have to make hard tradeoffs around behavior like this. Simple regulations will fail to capture nuance, but as the regulation becomes more complex, you end up with more nooks and crannies full of strange outcomes.

We as people and as a society need to think about how much of this we want. If we want to regulate with a fine-toothed comb, then we’re going to see strange things like this. If we want to regulate more broadly, we’ll likely end up with some egregious failures and frauds like Enron or the mortgage crisis. But those failures are entirely predictable: companies occasionally fake their books, and bankers will consistently sell as much risk as they can to the biggest sucker. For example, Bush administration’s TARP program or Seattle taking on $200 million in risk from a hedge fund manager who wants to build a new sports stadium. At least that risk isn’t hidden in some bizarre emergent effect of the regulation.

That aside, long, complex regulations are always going to produce emergent and chaotic effects. That matters for us in security because as we look at the new laws that are proposed, we should look to see not only their intended effects, but judge if their complexity itself is a risk.

I’m sure there’s other emergent effects which I’m missing.

New Species Discovered on Flickr

Semachrysa Jade

There’s a very cool story on NPR about “A New Species Discovered … On Flickr“. A entomologist was looking at some photos, and saw a bug he’d never seen. Check out the photographer’s site or Flickr pages. The paper is “A charismatic new species of green lacewing discovered in Malaysia (Neuroptera, Chrysopidae):
the confluence of citizen scientist, online image database and cybertaxonomy
:”

The online images were then randomly examined by the senior author (SLW) who determined that this distinctive species was not immediately recognizable as any previously described species. Links to the images were forwarded to additional experts in chrysopid taxonomy to elicit comment on its possible taxonomic identity. After extensive discussion it was concluded that the species was likely new to science but its generic placement inconclusive based solely upon the images at hand.

I find it fascinating that the distinction of a new species is keyed on a morphological difference like this. While I know nothing about the chryopidae, and this is just a lay comment, but substantially larger variations occur in dogs without driving the claim of a new species. Does anyone know what makes for a new chryopid?

Photo by Kurt, aka Hock Ping Guek.

Paul Ryan open thread

Oh, what the heck, it hasn’t been chaotic enough around here. So, I’ll give you a topic: Paul Ryan. Commentary from The Economist starts:

IN THE polarised world of American politics, achieving bipartisan agreement on any topic is a rare feat nowadays. So perhaps it’s worth celebrating the fact that, had it been put to a vote, the pick of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running-mate likely would’ve gained support from both parties.

Please, continue. Was it a hail mary move? Will Ryan energize the Republican base enough to get out more votes? Will he drive votes to the Democrats?

What do you think?

Oh, and bonus points if you can tie in internet security.

Fascinating Job at PayPal

Someone reached out to me about a job that looks really interesting:

The Director of Security Experience, Education & Research (SEER) will be responsible for defining the customer-facing security strategy for PayPal , define product roadmaps to enhance feature security and usability, drive customer security best practices adoption throughout our industry, and drive customer security education and engagement in coordination with PayPal’s marketing and global operations teams. The SEER Director will also play a leadership role in helping set the authentication strategy, research agenda, and lead a team to establish a customer-centric culture …

I think the hiring manager has put together a fascinating set of tasks, which, combined with Paypal’s reach, that has a real potential to make the world a better place, and so wanted to help him find the right candidate.

http://ebay.referrals.selectminds.com/jobs/13745

An Argument Against Jargon

Lately I’ve been savoring Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. Kahneman is one of the originators of behavioral economics and a Nobel prize winner. The book is tremendously thought provoking, insanely well written, jargon-minimizing, and just comes together beautifully. It’s a book where you struggle with the ideas and their implications, rather than struggle through the prose to get to the ideas.

One of the little things that made me squee with delight was where he said:

Why call them System 1 and System 2 rather than the more descriptive “automatic system” and “effortful system”? The reason is simple: “Automatic system” takes longer to say than “System 1” and therefore takes more space in your working memory. This matters, because anything that occupies your working memory reduces your ability to think.

I am totally dropping that on the next person who uses “novel” where they mean “new”. (And yes, you can make the argument that novel means “not really new but not publishied in some peer-reviewed place, and you can take that argument, fold it until it’s all nice and sharp, and then store it as appropriate.)