The Creepiness Factor

Here’s something that may surprise you: People get creeped out when you use their personal information to profit from them. In a study by Ithaca College, researchers discovered that buyers were less likely to make purchases from vendors who acquired their personal information through dubious means and without their consent.

Your JoeDog, on the other hand, gets creeped out when targeted ads miss the mark. “What the hell did I type into Google to make them think I’d like a copy of The Osmonds Greatest Hits?”

I, Leg Brace

exoskeletonHumans have tried to improve the physicality humans for as long as there have been humans. Our big brains often produce big ideas that our puny bodies can’t realize. We’ve made wings in failed attempts to soar. We’ve produced an endless array of footwear, body armor and extensions for our appendages to improve our physical performance. Generally these devices have failed us but sometimes — such as in the case of artificial wings — they’ve killed us.

In our quest for improved performance, physics is generally the meanie that bites our ass. In 1890, a Russian inventor patented a device to improve our ability to run, walk and jump. Unfortunately, it was too heavy and burdensome to actually enhance performance in any of those areas. “This thing sucks. Take it off.”

In 2013, a Belgian team finally produced a version of the 1890 prototype that was able to offset the burdens of its own weight and produce a net positive performance gain. That may seem like a long time but it’s only about three professional lifetimes. Now the gains keep coming.

An American team led by Steven Collins at Carnegie Mellon have developed an extremely light spring-loaded brace which boosts the performance of the calf muscles and the Achilles tendon by absorbing small amounts of energy when the foot hits the ground. The team reports a 7% performance gain.

Gregory Sawicki, one of the paper’s co-authors, put that in perspective for the Guardian. “A 7% reduction in energy cost is like taking off a 10-pound backpack, which is significant. Though it’s surprising that we were able to achieve this advantage over a system strongly shaped by evolution, this study shows that there’s still a lot to learn about human biomechanics and a seemingly simple behaviour like walking,” he said.

Not bad, humans. Not bad at all.

Robots Will Drive Your Drunk Ass Home

audiAn Audi just drove itself across the country:

Nine days after leaving San Francisco, a blue car packed with tech from a company you’ve probably never heard of rolled into New York City after crossing 15 states and 3,400 miles to make history. The car did 99 percent of the driving on its own, yielding to the carbon-based life form behind the wheel only when it was time to leave the highway and hit city streets.

With any new technology there will be winners and losers, those who benefit and those who suffer. In this case, beer drinkers might be the biggest beneficiaries. “Why yes, I can have one more.” While truckers seem the likeliest of losers.

Long haulers have already been squeezed out of the middle class. It will take a some time, but this is probably the tip of the final dagger. Older operators should be able to ride current technologies into sunset but younger truckers better have a Plan B. Their days are likely numbered.


[Wired: An Audi Drove Itself Across The Country]

[WAPO: Trucking Has Become Just Another Low-wage Job]

Technology Without Good Policy Is Worthless

Yes, pilot suicide is rare. It’s even rarer in commercial airlines. Post-9/11 cockpit doors were supposed to prevent this type of event. They were supposed to keep suicidal maniacs out of the cockpit and away from the controls. Yet last Tuesday one of these locking doors helped facilitate another suicidal crash. You may certainly call that ironic but it’s the type of bitter humor we can do without.

[WaPo: German Crash Raises Questions About Airplane Security]


Amazon Web Services Free Edition

(Or how to run a website on a shoestring budget)

Last fall, Your JoeDog moved this site into Amazon’s web cloud. He’s using a micro instance on the free tier. It’s free for a year then $0.017 an hour after that.

Note that “micro” part. We’re talking about a pretty lean server. When it first came online, this site screeched to a halt at semi-irregular intervals. It was running out of memory. To increase its capacity while remaining in the free tier, Your JoeDog added some swap. “How do you add swap space in AWS?” Glad you asked. Here’s how:

  $ sudo /bin/dd if=/dev/zero of=/var/swap.1 bs=1M count=1024
  $ sudo chown root:root /var/swap.1
  $ sudo chmod 600 /var/swap.1
  $ sudo /sbin/mkswap /var/swap.1
  $ sudo /sbin/swapon /var/swap.1

You can check your creation with the free command:

  $ free -m

By adding swap, Your JoeDog was better able to keep this site humming. Unfortunately, it still locked up. One day, it locked up for an extended period of time.

To monitor the site’s availability, we signed up for pingdom. There’s a free version which allows you to monitor a single URL and send text alerts. (Email won’t do us much good since that service is hosted here.)

Not long after the alerts were configured, one fired. The site was down(ish). Downish? What’s that mean. It was more like a series of brief outages. While this was going on, Your JoeDog’s inbox started filling with new-comment-needs-approval messages.

LINK SPAMMERS!! Some asshole was botting the site with unthrottled comment posts and they essentially DOS’d it.

To free up resources, Your JoeDog created an AWS database instance and moved his content from a local database with an export/import. There’s only one reason you shouldn’t do the same: cost. After the free period, you’ll be charged for that as well.

So what’s the moral of this story? If you can afford it, don’t waste your time on the free instance. These micro VMs are too light to handle traffic bursts. And if you’re a serious business, then you really shouldn’t bother. In the grand scheme of things, Amazon’s computing-for-lease is really inexpensive … except, of course, if you’re a lowly open source developer.


Robots Schmobots

Total Factor Productivity

Total factor productivity measures residual growth that cannot be explained by production inputs. Its level is determined by the efficiencies of labor and capital in production. Huh? What are you talking about? Basically, it’s a measure of productivity attributed to technological or organizational improvements. Then why didn’t you say that?

As you can see in this chart Your JoeDog cooked up with FRED, total factor productivity has leveled since the late 1990s. In other words, the pace at which humans are replaced by robots has slowed during the Internet Age. More people lost jobs to automation in the 80s and 9os than lose them now. That’s comforting … I guess.

So all the angry monkeys pecking CAPLOCKED rants about automation in the comments sections are simply displaying ignorance. Automation isn’t their foil – it’s bumbling economic stewardship.

There’s no reason to believe that employment won’t return to its 1990s levels if policy makers either increased aggregate demand or made labor scarcer, i.e., spent money or enacted labor laws. Unfortunately the people George Carlin referred to as “the owners of this country” oppose both measures. Blame them, not robots.


Will Artificial Intelligence Take Over The World?

singularitySome are concerned that self-improving artificial intelligence will destroy the world. Stephen Hawking thinks it could destroy mankind. Elon Musk recently tweeted, “I hope we’re not just the biological boot loader for digital superintelligence.” The Guardian thinks they will disrupt jobs while leaving humans physically unharmed.

The idea is this: we build robots with smart digital brians. Those robots use those brains to build even smarter brains. Once they achieve recursive improvement, robot intelligence will rapidly advance. The most advanced species on the planet won’t a species at all – it will be a line of super intelligent robots. Welcome to the technological singularity.

People fear these machines will one day turn on humans and destroy mankind. That could occur in one of two ways: 1.) They intentionally destroy us or 2.) They unintentionally destroy us.

The first scenario requires a goal. To intentionally destroy us, robots must want to destroy us. They’ll need a test case to measure improvement. “This feature kills better than the old one.” Computers don’t feel emotions. They’re not driven by love or hate. If they’re driven to kill humans it’s only because we programmed that feature in the first place. We could be that stupid, but this seems improbable.

The second scenario seems more likely. Self-improving artificial intelligence could be programmed to reverse global warming. When the robot is ready to go-live with its fix, it better have it right or it could render the planet inhospitable to life. In other scenarios, they could deprive humans of resources as they work tirelessly to achieve a goal.

But what if robots achieve something akin to emotion? If they can set their own goals or follow their own “interests”, then who knows where this technology will go. They may devote resources to solving math problems or they might hunt humans for sport. Either way, if technology destroys humanity, we’ll have only ourselves to blame….




CTR Is Hard

Sproxy is a word Your JoeDog invented to describe his [S]iege [Proxy]. At the time of this writing, this site has the top three positions for ‘sproxy’ on Google. In the past week, nine hundred people typed ‘sproxy’ into the Google machine. Of those nine hundred, only 110 clicked a link to this site. That’s a 12.22% click-through rate for a made-up word that describes an esoteric piece of software that exists right on this very site. Let’s just say that falls a little below expectation….




Nerd Splaining Large Numbers

Holy shit — the Economist really outdid itself. What now? In this post, they explained why Gangnam Style will break YouTube’s view counter. They used 3726 characters and 612 words to explain that computer integers don’t go on forever. When the Gangnam Style counter reaches 2,147,483,647 it will stop counting. Why?

Integers are stored in a series of ones and zeroes. On a 32-bit platform, you can only store value in 32 consecutive ones or zeros. Go to this binary to decimal calculator and put 32 ones in the binary field. Press “Calculate” and you’ll get this answer: 4294967295.

But the Gangnam Style counter is maxed at half of that? How come? That’s because computers use positive and negative numbers. The range falls above and below zero, i.e., from -2,147,483,648 to 2,147,483,647. Gangnam Style is approaching the upper bound.

If YouTube switched to 64-bit architecture they could capture up to 9 quintilian views.

Remember kids, there are 10 kinds of people in this world. Those who understand binary numbers and those who don’t.

[Economist: Wordy Word Words on Computer Integers]


Why Do Investors Love Amazon?

What’s happening at Amazon isn’t suppose to happen in modern finance. Shares are rising as profits are falling:

Amazon shares are up around 150 percent since mid-2010, which perhaps not coincidentally was the last time the company had sizable profits. In other words, investors really decided they loved the company only when net income began to slide.

Any fool can run a profitable company but it takes a gutsy person to build the world’s largest retailer….

[New York Times – All Amazon Is Missing Is a Profit]