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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I've been pondering a question for a while, and I can't figure out the answer. Because it's odd and analytical, I thought I'd talk about it here. It comes from a digital card game I play a bit, but the question applies more broadly.
Suppose you have a deck of cards which has been properly shuffled and dealt from. Some effect or game mechanic instructs a player to look through the deck and pull out any one card whose suit is Spades then shuffle the deck.
Now suppose you are playing the same game on a computer. The same effect or mechanic is used. Because it is on a comuter, the game can show you the player his or her options without revealing the order of the deck. Because the player does not gain any information about the order of the deck, the game does not shuffle the deck after. The deck's order is left exactly the same, save one card has been removed.
The question I've been pondering is, are these two approaches effectively the same? In terms of effective randomness, does removing a card from a randomized deck have the same effect as removing the card then shuffling the deck? If both approaches were used many times in many games, would there be any difference in the overall effect on games and the order cards are drawn in them?
I've been silent on this site recently because as of late I don't think anything I say matters. As I've mentioned a few times lately, the blog I respected the most used to be Cilmate Audit. It and its proprietor, Steve McIntyre, had a huge impact on me as I grew up.
I discovered McIntyre's first website back when I was in high school, and I followed his the subsequent blog for well over a decade. Following it taught me a great deal, both about technical matters and how the foibles of people shape aspects of our world. I could go on, but I don't want to as I've lost any and all respect for the site as of late.
To demonstrate part of why I've become disillusioned, I'm going to discuss the question of whether or not Hillary Clinton's private mail server got hacked. Following from this, I'll ask, did someone commit a felony by destroying the evidence which would have shown whether or not that server was hacked? Finally, did the person investigating this topic ignore such a felony to cover things up? Thses may seem like strange questions, but they stem from McIntyre stating:
Comey whitewashed the situation, saying that there was no evidence that the Clinton server had been hacked. “No evidence” because all the server logs had been destroyed. Comey ignored the obstruction of justice.
According to McIntyre, the head of the investigation into Clinton's use of a private mail server, James Comey, whitewashed the situation by ignoring a felony then misled people by saying there was "no evidence" Clinton's server had been hacked when that was tautological as the evidence which would have shown such was destroyed. This narrative is delusional.
Hey guys. I've been spending way too much time over at Climate Audit this last week or so because they've been discussing the (supposed) Russian hacks of various computer networks within the United States. System security is a topic I've long been interested in so naturally I was curious what people were saying there. I regret have even looked now.
The quality of the discussion for the last few posts at Climate Audit is surprisingly low. It's nothing compared to what used to be found on the site, which is a shame as I alwlays held the site in high regard. Don't worry though. I'm not going to start some inter-blog argument today. Today, I just want to show you one of the most hilarious arguments I have ever seen anyone make, an argumend endorsed by Steve McIntyre, proprietor of Climate Audit.