Monthly Archives: October 2013

Book Review, “Average is Over” by Tyler Cowan

I read this book after seeing a review in the Lexington column of The Economist magazine. The Economist review is good, but I do have a few quibbles with the book. First, let me say that the general theme, “average is over,” is I believe, right. I agree with Cowan that those who are able to work effectively with electronic devices and tools will be those who are able to hold down the higher paying jobs of the 21st century. Effective education is a part of the equation, as are motivation, perseverance, and native intelligence. Those who lack one or more of these qualities will have a hard time being in the “top 15%” of society, as Cowan postulates.

Now, on to my issues with the book. Cowan’s focus on chess, while understandably important to him, is but one case study, and I think that he uses empirical observations about chess and chess computer programs to project a narrow domain on both human endeavor and computational theory. Not only that, but he lets this example run on far too long. More important, though, is Cowan’s focus on “genius machines” and their ability to develop theoretical frameworks beyond the ken of humans. In chess or other computational problems, there are data and algorithms. Lots of data and sophisticated algorithms can produced results that are beyond human abilities due to the immense amount of computation and number crunching involved. By mining data, computers can find correlations that we didn’t know existed. But, can they determine if a relationship is causality or coincidence? To the extent that the answer is “computable” a computer is a wonderful tool.

I’m much less sanguine about a set of silicon having a spark (perhaps at the Kurzweil singularity) that allows it to develop theoretical frameworks (without significant fundamental changes in the science of computers). More data and faster execution won’t make the qualitative changes necessary for those results. Cowan is right that we are getting further removed from understanding the technologies behind our tablet computers and smartphones. However, as “magical” as the iPad may be, as Arthur Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” At its heart, the iPad, your desktop computer, or a supercomputer is still a von Neumann computer with one instruction from a program being executed after another. The processor (running its own sophisticated microcode) may support parallelism, predictive execution of code, modification of the code it’s executing, and a myriad of other performance enhancing features. However, it still at heart is executing one instruction after another and processing data with those instructions…albeit very quickly with a precision that a human can never match. Cowan’s economic analysis may be good, and his theory on the impact of technology on the workplace generally accurate, but he’s not a computer scientist.

All in all, it’s a good book. While my left-leaning democratic tendencies make me believe that we do need to provide a higher level of social services for those who are digital roadkill, Cowan’s thesis that the economic impact of technology is just beginning to be felt is something that I agree with wholeheartedly. Cowan highlights problems that our politicians need to address and that the electorate needs to understand.

Mackerel are still running…

I returned to the coast Thursday evening, but the weather forecasts had been going downhill all week. The cold front that was to kick out the low pressure area was going to stall and produce rain on Saturday. Hmmmm. I was planning to work remotely on Friday, including 4 hours worth of scheduled search committee phone interviews in the late afternoon, but Friday was going to be the best weather day of the next three days. OK, nothing time-critical that needs to be done on Friday morning, so shift a half-day to Saturday, when I’m sitting in the house watching it rain, anyway. Fish in the morning and do concalls in the afternoon. Sounds like a plan!

Jan and I headed out after breakfast Friday (and a quick beach walk for the dogs, who were quite pissed about getting left), launched and motored thru Bogue Inlet, and started searching the sky for birds working fish. Didn’t see any, so we just rolled the trolling lines off the stern and headed east. After 10-20 minutes, I spotted a disturbance on the water, soon followed by a flock of gulls, as we headed in that direction. We picked up a couple of small blues on the Gotcha’s. Then, as if someone had flipped a switch, we started seeing fish and bird activity all around. We caught a couple small Spanish along with more blues. We trolled for probably an hour more until we’d boated a half-dozen mackerel, all I wanted to clean and for eating while fresh. We released a good number of blues. I tried to plug up some fish while they were active, but the pods were quick to the surface and then sounded, and I couldn’t get in range with the plugging rod, much less the flyrod. Besides, the bite had slacked off, anyway. We toasted another successful fishing trip and headed in.

more mackerel-1024

Going thru the inlet, the tide was running out fast, and the rollers were big at the bar, several feet up and down the waves as we went thru. The “Defined Benefit” did a great job on that. When I got past that and sped up to plane, I noted that there was at least a 5mph difference between the GPS speed and the “water speed” on the boat speedometer, and the buoys were leaning heavily seaward.

Got back, did calls, hosed down the boat, pulled the fish out of the fridge and cleaned them.

That’s my kind of multi-tasking day…

Listening to the raindrops already falling outside…

First fishing trip on the “Defined Benefit”

The weather this past weekend was not the best, but Sunday was nice enough to take the boat out for a few hours of fishing. I’d moved some fishing gear on board, putting on a couple of boat rods for trolling, as well as plugging rod, and a variety of casting and trolling lures. I’ve also put my 9wt flyrod on board as well for times when the fish are on the surface.

It was overcast and cool with a 10 to 15 mph north wind as Jan and I headed from the ramp, around Archers Point, under the bridge, and out of the sound thru Bogue Inlet. The beach here faces south, so the north wind flattens out the ocean like a lake for the first couple miles offshore. As we headed out the channel, I spotted a cluster of boats around the first sea buoy. Didn’t see any birds working or signs of obvious fish activity, but I dropped a couple of lines off the stern and headed generally east (parallel to Bogue Banks), about a mile offshore. After a while, I took off the Hopkins and gold spoon I’d been trolling and put on two Gotcha plugs. Then I looked and saw some birds working the water several hundred yards away and we turned and headed in that direction. I got out the plugging rod and moved to the bow while Jan had the helm. Soon, she said, “is this rod supposed to be bouncing like this?” I put down the plugging rod and went to the stern and pulled in a nice Spanish Mackerel. We trolled a bit more, and picked up some small bluefish. A couple times we had more than one on, and Jan had to bring one in. The blues were vigorously working the water all around and I caught several on the plugging rod. I thought about rigging up my flyrod but decided to leave it in the rack.

We moved around the area, which oddly only a few boats were on. There was some vigorous disturbance on the water and we moved closer. I’m not sure what was there, but they were big. Saw dorsal and tail fins that made me think it was a pod of sharks. Jan asked if we could put some distance between us and them 😉 . One of the boat rods dipped again, and it was another Spanish, bigger than the first. By now, the sun was out and it was warming up, contrary to the forecasts. We puttered around a bit more, plugging up some more blues, and then decided we’d had a great time and headed for port. A great day! I’ll be back this coming weekend, and hope to repeat!

Picture of Joel with two mackerel

Nice Spanish Mackerel!

New Chromebooks

More new Chromebooks are trickling out. This week, HP announced their new ARM-based Chromebook (uses the same processor as the Samsung XE303, introduced a year ago), but more interesting, I believe, is the first formal announcement of an Intel Haswell-based system (a modified version, with less cache and lower speed, so it doesn’t carry the Haswell branding), the Acer C720. This system should have performance equivalent to standard Celeron-based Chromebooks (i.e. a bit better than the HP) and phenomenal battery life (in the 8-9 hour range). It also has 4GB of RAM, which makes a significant difference in Chrome OS performance. Rumors are that new Chromebox announcements are right around the corner as well.

As always, you need to understand what a Chrome OS device is and is not in determining if it’s right for you. It does not run Windows. You cannot install Windows programs on it. It does not run Mac OS X. It runs a variant of Linux, but you do not have administrative rights and can only install software from the Chrome Web Store, or run web-enabled applications from a hosted site. However, if you live your technology life in the cloud, and in particular if you have embraced the Google ecosystem, it’s an amazing device. Cheap, simple, foolproof.

Google will now sign HIPAA BAA for Google Apps…

A very significant development that I’d missed. Last month, Google announced that they would sign HIPAA Business Associate Agreements (BAA) for Google Apps. This is a significant sign of maturation in the cloud, and was important competitively for Google, since Microsoft will do the same for Office 365. As the HIPAA Security Officer for UNCG (a Google-adopting school) this is potentially a very big thing. We, like many universities, are a HIPAA Hybrid Entity (parts of the institution are subject to HIPAA and parts are not). We have HIPAA responsibilities in some of our clinics as well as our Student Health area. I’ve not looked at the BAA so I can’t speak to the terms, but this is quite interesting.