Monthly Archives: August 2013

Review: The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and Other Writings

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and Other Writings
The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and Other Writings by James Weldon Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a mixed race man, though much darker of skin color, some people easily identify me as Black. Others have no clue and try to figure it out with, “Where are you from?” as though no one with my skin color is from Georgia. My first time I had work through “Where are your parents from?” and “Why do you look like that?” ti understand.

Occasionally I have thought it might be easier to pass. My speech and other behavior already confuses people into thinking I am not Black. (Passing means allowing people think you are White when not so.) This autobiography presents the case passing has the same and its own trials. Ah, well.

Besides, I just need a benefactor to take me to Europe for a couple years.

View all my reviews

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4 »

Shortcuts: Multitasking

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking)

This one combines the worst of Illusions and Math. We trust our senses and inadequately assess risk.

We have limited capacities for attending to what happens around us. Two or more objects are not being held at the same time in memory. We switch between them. Once we have copied them from long term or permanent memory into working memory then short term, we can find those copies pretty quickly again. The more complicated the behavior and the more dissimilar the two or more tasks, the worse we multitask. By worse, I mean we are more prone to error and take longer time.

Given all the research and media coverage on how bad we are at multitasking and risks associated of texting and driving, I see people doing it daily. A law here allows police to write tickets to people who do it for the past few years. Texting is also pretty bad even on hands-free devices. Like other risky behaviors, these approaches are unlikely to stop humans from putting themselves in dangerous situations.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking)

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4 »

Shortcuts: Math

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking)

Behavioral economics fascinates me. Humans have amazing abilities to miscalculate risk with extreme confidence they accurately assessed it. These appear to be rules of thumb which work in certain situations, but really are not applicable to others yet most people do.

Part of the problem gauging risk, I think, comes from a lack of consequences in low risk situations. Switching from writing a script to answering an email and back while sitting at my desk is extremely low physical risk. Switching back-and-forth between driving and answering a text message can seem like no big deal when even 23x more likely to have an accident is still one in thousands. A lack of having an accident or close call while driving is seen as evidence of the ability to text and drive without a problem. (After all how risky is it operating a car of several hundred pounds?)

Following the causal chain of events presents us with problems. We sometimes pick the wrong causes. We then are more likely to pick that wrong cause over and over. Logic and science are tools invented to combat these problems. Testing the idea with large samples eliminate variation as a confound. Others testing with the same or slightly different experimental designs point out the relevant scope.

“Garbage in; garbage out” can also trip us. We poorly assess the reliability of inputs from illusions I discussed earlier, so the calculations based on garbage were never going to be good anyway.

Strangely enough slowing the process down and thinking about it from many different angles can even exacerbate the problem as we get mired in so much data or processes we cannot make a decision.

Technology helps us do the same calculating just faster. Some helps us validate the outputs. I look forward to technologies that help us identify the correct inputs. My big beef with predictive analytics is doubt the correct inputs are being identified, so the outputs might have lots of garbage. 

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking)

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4 »

Shortcuts: Labeling

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking)

Homo Sapiens Sapiens cheated evolution in one critical way by creating language. Rather than rely totally on instincts, we pass along an enormous amount of information to our proteges. These may not even be the descendants of our genes. In working together on something, we share enormous amounts of information.

Everything including physical objects, ideas, and behaviors all have a label. Sometimes more than one. A label is a way of identifying something without having to go into the gory details of explaining it every time. (Like I just did.) I can call something an “apple” and anyone who understand this word knows what I mean. Labels bring efficiency to language. Until it does not.

Maybe English is a special case. Between Frisian (the ancestral language that make English belong to the Germanic family) and French from the Norman Invasion, English has multiple words for things. Throw in the Melting Pot that is the United States with making up jargon for everything. This language is an absurd mixture of strange meanings. Certain words like “set” have so many definitions one needs to hear or read it in context to understand it.

The we also have LABELS. LABELS are also labels, but have the special nature of how we classify other people. They are how we split people up into groupings to say one is not like another. White vs Black. Extrovert vs Introvert. East Coast vs West Coast. Democrat vs Republican. All are arbitrary. Many are misunderstood. They drift into caricature stereotypes causing hurt. This is where our -Isms arise. Nationalism, racism, or sexism would have no place without powerfully overly broad LABELS. As our conversations become more mature, we need more and more LABELS to express the nuances even while others resist change.

We need labels in order to communicate with each other. We just need to recognize their fallibility. And somehow avoid hurting each other while expressing ourselves.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking)

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4 »

Shortcuts: Illusions

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking)

We like to think only those things we experience exist. Or even can experience. What about those things we can experience that do not or never did exist? That is what illusions are. They are cases where we trick the brain into believing something happened that did not. Or tricking the brain into thinking is experiencing reality when it is missing crucially important.

Michael Bach has a nice optical illusions page to demonstrate how easily our eyes are tricked. Every sense we have can be tricked. The food industry has worked wonders in devising how to trick our senses of smell and taste. When you feel something crawling on you and look to see nothing, that is your sense of touch going haywire.

Illusions can also be dangerous. Eyewitness testimony is the worst evidence we use in the legal system. Witnesses rarely capture and retain all the details. And how they are interviewed can allow them to fill in these gaps with other evidence and skew their results to confirm that same evidence. Say the police pick up a suspect and present that photo with others to a witness. The witness picks the photo of the suspect and later out of a line up. If the suspect actually only resembles the culprit, then these two steps confirm for the witness (and the police) the suspect’s guilt even though the witness saw someone else. We attend to similarities when searching and ignore the differences. And we will go with the closest option given choices.

Inattentional blindness also falls into my illusions category. Paying too much attention to something means we have no idea about what else is happening. The train operator on his cell phone not noticing the curve for which he needed to slow down and derailed. Multitasking while operating a vehicle is dangerous because of this.

Of course, everything we experience is really the interpretation of signals to the brain. One of my favorite experiments was people wore goggles that inverted the image so everything appeared upside down. The brain just adapts to the error and interprets the picture to the desired orientation. Do not like what you see? The brain can solve that problem. Another favorite experiment was ending phantom pain in missing limbs by using mirrors to make the limb appear to exist again.

My favorite metaphor for how the brain works is Object-Oriented Programming. Different parts of the brain perform different functions. The functions adapt (are reprogrammed or reconfigured) based on the needed interpretation of the data. Of course, the adaptations are not always 100% correct. Nor do they always adapt in time not to avoid errors.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking)

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4 »

Shortcuts: Intro

We humans laud our superiority over the rest of the world. We even claim to be better than other humans. The chief attribute we compare is intelligence.

An interest of mine regarding Psychology in college was failures of the mind. Phineas Gage suffered a brain injury that drastically changed his behavior. That was really cool! Yet, that and other cases are relatively rare. More universally, the brain works much more nuanced than most people give credit. I think much of the problems of society tie back to how the brain works and maybe even societal attempts at glossing over the limitations.

Rather than one really long post, I am going to break these up into several. And much of this has been bumping around in my head for months, but I took a few hours to lay it all down.

    1. Illusions
    2. Labeling
    3. Math
    4. Multitasking

For going on a decade, I have called these Cheating. Rather than taking in all the information, completely processing it, and strategically acting upon it, our brains selectively attend to a small portion, throws out even more, and acts upon incomplete information. Most of the time it works. Much of the time it doesn’t and we have no idea so we just think it works. Every once in a while we get burned by our brains not following the rules we expect them to follow. So to make this more palatable, I am going to try calling these Shortcuts.

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4 »

Detecting .NET Version

Background: We got a notice a few minutes before last week’s maintenance window that side work to configure a tool ran into a snap. Today we found out that the server intended to be used did not have the right .NET version. Why did they not just install it? Good question.

This made me curious about which of the 114 servers have which version. So I found a Stackflow post on identifying .NET version. I then wrote this Powershell wrapper script around one of the solutions. The one I picked looks at the registry keys.

# Get my list of servers
$computers = Get-Content ‘server_list.txt’

# Contact each server in the list in order before moving on to next
foreach ($computer in $computers)
{
# Remote connect to current server
Invoke-Command -computername $computer -scriptblock {
# ID host name
$remotehostname = c:\windows\system32\hostname.exe
# Find largest .NET version
$dotnet = Get-ChildItem ‘HKLM:\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\NET Framework Setup\NDP’ | sort pschildname -des | select -fi 1 -exp pschildname
# Write hostname and .NET version
Write-Host “$remotehostname == $dotnet”
}
}

The foreach loop essentially forces the Invoke-Command to do the test in order. This is slower as it contacts the remote server, does the commands, then closes the connection. Without it, servers would respond at about the same time and the output reside on the same line and out of order.

Probably there are better ways to do this, but I am just a beginner.

Also on the Stackflow page there are better approaches. Because uninstalling .NET does not remove the registry keys, this method is vulnerable to be incorrect. I guess that is a possibility.

Oh, on which have what: 22 have .NET2, 48 have .NET3.5, and 44 have .NET4. Not consistently obvious factors like version of the application, life cycle tiers, or anything obvious explain why which have what. Though, they do tend to be the same version within the same cluster of servers.

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4 »

Face Recognition Obfuscation

Parents of young children posts lots and lots of photos on Facebook. Tags in the photos of their children are of either or both parents. Children under thirteen are not allowed on the site. Babies lack the motor control to operate a camera or computer. So expecting children to have their own identities on Facebook are probably unrealistic.

Now that Facebook attempts to identify photos of people automatically, boy is it confused with these parents. Underneath photos of a friend’s child, Facebook had the “Want to tag <parent’s name>? Yes No.” Um, no.

Those of wanting to go anonymous on Facebook and prevent suggestions for friends tagging you in photos, the solution is to create a photo bank of someone else you tag as yourself. Facebook will not know to tag you when a friend uploads a photo of you. Of course, you will want to prevent friends from tagging you too.

 

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4 »

Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage

This rings very true.

by Maria P. P. Root, PhD

I HAVE THE RIGHT…

Not to justify my existence in this world.
Not to keep the races separate within me.
Not to justify my ethnic legitimacy.
Not to be responsible for people’s discomfort with my physical or ethnic ambiguity.

I HAVE THE RIGHT…

To identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify.
To identify myself differently than how my parents identify me.
To identify myself differently than my brothers and sisters.
To identify myself differently in different situations.

I HAVE THE RIGHT…

To create a vocabulary to communicate about being multiracial or multiethnic.
To change my identity over my lifetime—and more than once.
To have loyalties and identification with more than one group of people.
To freely choose whom I befriend and love.

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4 »

Listing Lists

A mini project is to hand over the course packages for the prior product to each of our clients. A good idea was to include a list of the files so down the road, if something is missing then, we can say this list in the ticket has what you received.

So I wrote this shell script to make the lists for me. (Well, really the analyst doing the hard work wanted to know if he should make the list. Told him I could really easily through Linux.) This is because I am talking about 385,528 courses and 37 targets. First step generates a list of the clients (schools) involved. Next, the path to where the files are stored have two subdirectories, so I pull them out of the path. The list generates with a find command stripping out the “./” at the beginning and writing the results to a file. Finally I check the size and number of lines in the file.

SCHOOLLIST=`find /${BASEDIR} -name bak`
for SCHOOLDIR in $SCHOOLLIST
do
cd $SCHOOLDIR
SCHOOL=`pwd | awk -F\/ ‘{print $4}’`
CLUSTER=`pwd | awk -F\/ ‘{print $3}’`
find . -name “*.bak” | sed -e ‘s|^./||g’ > ${BASEDIR}/${CLUSTER}/${SCHOOL}/course_list_${SCHOOL}.txt
head /${BASEDIR}/${CLUSTER}/${SCHOOL}/course_list_${SCHOOL}.txt
done
ls -h /${BASEDIR}/*/*/course_list*
wc -l /${BASEDIR}/*/*/course_list*

Since each course is on its own line, I can compare these numbers to other known numbers of courses.

So nice to get the computer to work for me. Purely by hand this would have taken days. It took about half an hour to craft the core and make sure it looked right. Then another half hour for the loop to work right.

Of course, I need to figure out how to do this in Powershell. :)

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4 »