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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.

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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.

Making America corrupt

January 30, 2019

Under federal law, it is illegal to assign a veteran’s pension to a third party. That is both an infringement on the free market, and an important protection for veterans. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau oversees retail credit, putting payday lenders and similar businesses within its scope. Alas, it was headed, until recently, by Mick Mulvaney, a Republican who favors the shysters over their marks. So it is not surprising that it just fined a conman scamming veterans one dollar for his crimes.

We have a president who himself is a conman and incessant liar, who runs his White House as a family business, who appoints industry lobbyists and heads to run regulatory agencies for the purpose of defanging them, who has created the most visibly corrupt administration in US history. So it is hardly surprising that the US has fallen in an index of national corruption.

Tattoos and logos

January 29, 2019

Nothing is permanent in the capitalist economy. None of the bikers of my youth, getting their hog’s logo inked onto their arm, ever imagined that one day a struggling Harley-Davidson would introduce electric models. How many of those geezers now will seek out tattoo parlors to have that logo overdrawn with something a bit more, um, traditional? You can’t go wrong with an octopus.

The problematic EU

January 28, 2019

While Brexit is the problem that Britain has made itself for the foreseeable future, for the EU it may be a distraction from some larger problems. The EU is barely starting to grapple with how to achieve its own security, now that the guarantee from NATO has been made uncertain. That the House voted overwhelmingly that the US stay in NATO more is evidence of current risk than prevention of future change. The Euro continues to create problems, absent any fiscal policy that spans the region where it is the standard currency. Authoritarian governments in Poland and Hungary challenge the EU’s commitment to human rights and democracy. So it’s quite understandable why some who realize that Brexit is an almost unbelievable act of national self-harm nonetheless think at this point it should proceed, lest the attempt to walk it back provide further distraction to these deeper problems.

Mark Blyth provides insight into the underlying issues that globalization has wrought. The fact that those problems are real doesn’t mean we should go backwards.