Author Archives: Brandon Shollenberger

A Moral Dilemma

I've been struggling with a decision for the last week or so. About a week ago, I happened to stumble into an online... let's say area, where people are, amongst other things, openly discussing illegal activity they engage in. I don't mean they're having vague discussions. I mean there are specific, verifiable details. I can even identify a number of the people involved in them by name.

The problem I'm faced with is I don't view the illegal activity in question as "wrong." I'm not saying it is good or should be legal. I just don't care if people engage in it. For the sake of discussion, let's imagine the activity was selling marijauna (it is not). Given the locations and quantities involved, people could be facing significant jail time if I reported them to authorities.

So here's the dilemma. Do I have an obligation to report criminal activity to authorities even if I don't have a problem with the activity itself? Legally, I know I might. On the other hand, people routinely fail to report criminal activities for any number of reasons. And everybody breaks some laws. I don't know how one draws a clear line between speeding/selling a narcotic which makes one okay and the other heinous.

Supposing I don't report what I've discovered to the authorities, what about the area I've stumbled into. It was obviously meant to be secure. Can I walk away without reporting the security vulnerability I discovered which allows anyone to enter, even by mistake? If I do, am I not (partially) responsible for any future cases of someone stumbling in like I did? But if I report the problem, aren't I actively assisting criminals and helping them get away with breaking the law?

As a final question, the problem with the security for this area which I accidentally exploited gives me administrative control over everything which goes on in it. I've also confirmed there are no external backups. If I don't report what I've discovered to the authorities or the people engaged in criminal activity, what should I do with that control? Do I ignore it and never go back? Do I monitor the discussions out of some sort of voyeuristic delight and/or attempt to ensure no criminal activities of a more serious nature get discussed? Do I shut down the server and destroy all the evidence? What is the "right" thing to do here?

Why is This What You'd Argue About?

As most of you will know, I have been critical of Steve McIntyre recently in regard to a number of issues, including simple things like him (basically) claiming a person using Microsoft Outlook couldn't possibly be using a Google e-mail account. In my criticisms of him and his writings, I have repeatedly discussed factual, verifiable matters. Steve has chosen not to address... well, basically any of them.

Today I'd like to discuss a bizarre case where Steve decided to take a stand and firmly say I am wrong. For the life of me, I can't figure out why this would be an issue he'd want to take a strong stance on.
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Just a Thought on Randomness

Humans are terrible when it comes to randomness. They're bad at recognizing it; they are terrible at producing it. I think most people realize this so I'm not going to go on about it at any length. Instead, I want to provide an example which I find amusing.

Years back, a video game named Fire Emblem came out for the Game Boy Advance handheld console. It was a tactical role-playing game in which units fight one another. Whenever units attacked one another, they had a chance to hit and a chance to get a "critical hit." As is common in anything with randomness, people often complained about how they were unlucky in it. Quite often, people would say they thought the game's random number generator (RNG) was biased.

They were right. Kind of. You see, the game developers knew people feel this way when playing games. They knew no matter how perfectly random results might be, people would think they saw patterns in it. To try to reduce the unpleasantness this creates, the developers decided to rig the chance to hit rolls. Instead of rolling one random number from 1-100 for the percent chance to hit, they made it so the game rolled two numbers from 1-100 and averaged them.

Yeah, that's right. If you have a displayed 99% chance to hit, the only way you'd miss is if you rolled the 1% chance twice, If the opponent had a displayed 10% chance to hit, their actual chance to hit would be much lower. Yet people playing the game routinely complained about the RNG being biased against them.

I thought that was amusing enough to share.

A Question

I hit a snag in a post I've been wanting to upload for the last week. It turns out a small mystery I discovered in the leaked DNC e-mails is not quite as small as I had thought. I've downloaded the full collection of DNC e-mails and started running down some ideas/leads, but I don't know if I want to pursue it.

The problem I'm facing is it has been twenty years since the infamous hockey stick paper was published. I've seen a number of articles and blog posts about this (e.g. here). This has me feeling a bit nostalgic. You see, despite 20 years of coverage of the hockey stick debate, the original hockey stick still holds a number of mysteries. The chart was the biggest icon in the global warming debate, yet to this day, we still don't know how a number of things for it were done.

Think about that. The figure is arguably the most iconic image in one of the biggest debates of the last two decades, yet nobody can answer simple questions like, "How did the authors decide which data to use?" That's crazy. Ask anyone, "How did the authors decide which principal components to use?" I guarantee you, they won't know the answer. Nobody does. Some people think they know the answer, but every answer which has been offered so far can easily be proven wrong. Yet people still offer them. People say things which are demonstrably false because they simply won't examine the question. Everyone who does examine it winds up coming away bewildered.

I find that amazing. I would expect iconic work to be closely examined so people could understand it and all of its nuances. Nothing could be further from the truth. Global warming advocates have adamantly refused to give the underlying work for the paper anything more than a cursory glance. Global warming Skeptics have latched onto a number of talking points to "refute" it, but few of them have any real understanding of what the paper did.

That leads me to a question. Does the validity or lack thereof of the original hockey stick matter? If a person could demonstrate, indisputably, it was fraudulent, would it matter? Is there any discussion of the original hockey stick which could possibly change anyone's mind or behavior about anything?

If not, I don't see any point in me talking about it. I'd be better off spending my time on things like the DNC e-mails.

I Would Talk to You, but Hitler Was a Vegetarian

I have a post I planned to run today about a topic which arose from a recent post of mine. It needs a bit more work to finish it up, but I think it is interesting both for it's "big picture" meaning and some of the technical details which are involved. The thing I find most interesting about it is there's a question in it I can't figure out an answer to. I was hoping some public discussion might produce an answer.

But I can't run that post today. As much as I'd like to have a substantive discussion, I just can't since I see an article which came out yesterday which included any number of lines like, "Wind power was all the rage among Nazis, many of whom shared the party's fanatical commitment to the environment." This statement, and many more like it, come from James Delingpole, a prominent member of the global warming Skeptic movement.

This is the same Skeptic movement which likes to freak out any time someone calls them "deniers" because of how that's supposedly comparing them to Holocaust deniers. Why that would be beyond the pale while comparing people to Nazis would be okay is a mystery I could never hope to solve. Continue reading

Go Figure

So there have been some really stupid articles making the rounds about a joke in an episode of a sitcom named Roseanne. A leading actress for the show is named Roseanne Barr, making the title of the show a somewhat peculiar form of self-reference (her character is also named Roseanne). After waking up from sleeping, Roseanne's husband says, "We missed all the shows about black and Asian families." Roseanne responds, 'They're just like us. There, now you're all caught up!'

This isn't a particularly funny joke. On the one hand, it's a family in a sitcom saying families in sitcoms are just like them. On the other hand, it's writers of a show acknowledging their show is just like a bunch of others. Again, this is the same sort of self-reference the show's title shows. It shouldn't be surprising, and it certainly shouldn't be offensive.

Yet with society being what it is, a lot of people have taken offense. The person most responsible for this is one named Kelvin Yu, who said of it things like it:

implies that the point of any show about a minority family is simply to normalize them. That's it. The stories, the humor, the characters... not important.

Which iis all kinds of dumb. A sitcom about a black family is not special and unique simply for having a black family. Saying that black family is just like a white family in another sitcom should not be offensive. In fact, it should be viewed as a statement of equality, seeing people as being the same as one another despite any racial differences.

But as dumb as people complaining about that joke have been, I didn't want to write about it. Then I saw an even dumber response, a response to the reactions to the joke. And well, I can't resist talking about it. Be warned, it centers on a much less important issue than racial equality/discrimination.
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Restricting Medicine for Your Safety

Today I was unable to buy albuterol, standard medicine for treating asthma. I was, however, able to buy racepinephrine, a type of adrenaline which is bad at treating asthma and is dangerous.

So under United States law, I can't buy a safe and effective treatment. I can, however, buy an ineffective and dangerous treatment. Say what you want about Obamacare. The medical industry in the United States is screwed up. It really ought to be fixed.

Twenty Bucks

So today I shoplifted twenty dollars worth of stuff from Wal-Mart. I had quite a bit of difficulty. It wasn't that I had trouble not paying. In fact, the opposite was true. I probably could have stole $200 in goods without the employees noticing.

The difficulty was with the self-checkout machine. I tried to scan every item correctly and pay like I was supposed to. It just didn't let me. I didn't even know I hadn't paid for some of what I bought until I got home and looked at the receipt.

I feel a little bad, but hey, free pizza!

An Open Letter to Stephen MCIntyre

This is probably the hardest thing I've ever written. I've thought about it time and time again. I've tried to write it a hundred times, and I've deleted it for a hundred different reasons. The thoughts and emotions I want to convey are so great no words I could ever come up with could suitably express them. The words I type today will never be adequate.

To Stephen McIntyre, I want to say something. Above and beyond anything else, I want to say this. Thank you.
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Without Snark, no Matter How Much is Deserved

I've been mulling over how to write this post for a couple days now. The problem I have is what I want to talk about is so ridiculous there is no amount of snark which would be appropriate for it. I was considering writing a post about it without any snark, but I feel like doing that would give a misleading impression about the severity of what I discuss.

After weighing my options, I've decided to write the body of the post without snark while adding this disclaimer to warn people the neutral wording of this post should in no way be taken to indicate what I discuss is not ludicrous. Because it is. This post by Steve McIntyre is, without a doubt, the most absurd thing I've ever seen him write.

And make no mistake, this is no small feat. To this day, McIntyre has refused to acknowledge that Russia invaded Crimea. Russia sent military troops to occupy cities in Crimea, capture government buildings and hold its parliament hostage until they voted to secede from Ukraine.

McIntyre has not denied any of that. He doesn't admit it either. He simply ignores it and says none of that could qualify as an "invasion" because Russia had a treaty with Ukraine which allowed it to have a naval base in Crimea with some troops thers. The United States has military bases in many countries. I am certain he would McIntyre would not say the same if the United States sent troops from one of those bases to a region to occupy cities, capture government buildings and hold the government hostage,

I hope you'll forgive the segue here, but I believe a certain amount of moral outrage is appropriate for Russia's actions and the defense for them given by people like McIntyre. Plus, while today's discussion is about something nowhere near as heinous, it is somehow, more outrageous. And with that, I will refrain from any further rhetoric or snark.
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