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There be monsters.

February 12, 2019


Monster waves.

Vox explains why we can skate on ice.


Say, what?

February 11, 2019

Google is preparing to roll out a pair of applications for the hard of hearing: one that automatically transcribes speech to text in real time, and the other that uses signal processing to make spoken speech easier to understand.

Of course, anything wired with a jack that plugs in is a nuisance. Phone manufactures are putting a lot of emphasis on making their wireless buds ever better. The rumor is that Samsung’s new buds can be charged from the phone itself. Meanwhile, Apple is rumored to be building more biometric measurement into theirs.

I see a future where most everyone is wearing earbuds most of the time. And the one industry that loses are the companies that sell hearing aid services. There will be an app for that. Your phone will be able to detect your hearing loss, in what frequency range, and will track how it changes, with pop-ups alerting you to potential medical issues beyond “you should have worn earmuffs when shooting as a teenager, and not gone to so many rock concerts.” The product side of the industry likely will be snatched up by Apple and Google for its IP.

In the shadow of the wall

February 7, 2019

One reason many Texans oppose the wall, including many who otherwise are quite conservative, is that in Texas it necessarily cuts off quite a bit of valuable and interesting land on the shore of the Rio Grande. This morning, I woke to articles in my local paper about the coming destruction of the National Butterfly Center, and the threat to a historic chapel. State parks are at risk. Nature tourism is big money to the valley, attracting tourists, especially birders, from all over the globe. The wall threatens it. The unique ecosystem there spans both sides of the Rio Grande.

AtascosaRefugeThere is a common political discussion on the internet today, that would be silly were it not so tragic for this area. Trump supporters propound on the virtues of walls for border control. And even if some of those so propounding are soil engineers or civil engineers or environmental engineers or border control experts — usually none of the above — they are propounding without data or method. The notion of the wall did not come from some study by the Department of Homeland Security showing it to be necessary or cost effective or anything else. Without doing such study, no one has the basis for saying it is anything practical. We know how the idea originated: it was born as a campaign slogan. And now a campaign slogan turned into right-wing agenda will do a lot of harm.

Photo is from the Atascosa Wildlife Refuge, which I had the pleasure of sailing through in a small dinghy.

Tracking trends

February 6, 2019

Wired has a write up in algorithmic advance tracking trends in a data stream:

This particular puzzle is known as the “frequent items” or “heavy hitters” problem. The first algorithm to solve it was developed in the early 1980s by David Gries of Cornell University and Jayadev Misra of the University of Texas, Austin. Their program was effective in a number of ways, but it couldn’t handle what’s called “change detection.” It could tell you the most frequently searched terms, but not which terms are trending.

jay_misraMisra, a University of Texas professor who last year was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, taught the algorithms class some decades back, that I took with some colleagues I still know. And was founder of a startup for which I worked back then.

Who says you can’t take it with you?

February 5, 2019

When I was a child, I sometimes wondered how long those Swiss banks with numbered accounts would wait, before just transferring a client’s funds to their own account. After a century, it was guaranteed that the original depositor is dead. But what if he left the number to an heir? Would that be honored? Or did it really matter? After all, to a bank, it’s just more reserve capital. They only need a statistical model of how often old money is claimed.

In the case of cybercurrency, when an exchange’s founder dies, and takes with him the password that protects customers’ wallets, things are trickier. Especially for the customers who have lost their Bitcoin holdings.

Forgive me, Father…

February 1, 2019

Hermann Geissler, a priest at the Vatican whose job was to investigate sex abuse cases, has resigned after being accused of using the confession to pressure a woman into sex.

A woman has sued the Diocese of Austin, accusing a priest there, a different one, of doing the same. Which diocese has released a list of 22 priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of children. I wonder if any were known to my Catholic family members?

I previously speculated on how the ongoing sex abuse scandal affects American Catholicism.

Non-citizen voters still not a problem

January 31, 2019

The Texas Secretary of State is backtracking on that list of alleged 95,000 non-citizens on voting rolls. According to Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole:

We received a call from the state saying we should put things on hold. Some of the data that they received was flawed. Some of the voters had already provided proof of citizenship.

Harris County, home to Houston, has cleared 18,000 of those registered. Other counties also are being told the suspect list is suspect, including Nueces. From the first article, note what happened when this was done in Florida:

When Florida began searching for noncitizens in 2012, state officials initially found 180,000 people suspected of being ineligible to vote when comparing databases of registered voters and driver’s licenses. Florida officials later assembled a purge list of more than 2,600 names but that, too, was beset by inaccuracies. Eventually, a revised list of 198 names of possible noncitizens was produced through the use of a federal database.

When the Texas list similarly is whittled down to quite few, the Republicans will not advertise the fact that voting by people who aren’t citizens still isn’t a problem.