William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 394 of 645

The New Ballad of Chicken Little

Once upon a day, so bright and fine
Walked Chicken B. Little. A scientist, mind!

“The sky is blue,” he said, “but I am not.”
“For I know much, quite quite a lot.”

His head was in the sky
So he did not espy
The sleeping fellow lying by
the soft grass near the pine.

Chicken Little tripped!
“I am vexed,” he said, “Truly hipped!”

“Who knew the woods would be so rich in people!
They stack up in a great ugly heap hill!”

So Chicken B. Little thought and he mused:
His brilliant mind was naught confused.

“What accounts for this human pollution?
I think I have the simple solution.”

He shouted and cried and then he out-louded,
“The natural world is way over crowded!”

He wrote his revelations down
And brought them straight in to town,
Right to Henny Penny, publisher of books,
Who said, “Ok, I will take a look see.”

“If what you say is true, the world is in for trouble.
And with global warming our trouble is really double!”

The pair rushed the warning words into print
Where they became an instant, chilling hit.

They were read by Cocky Locky, activist,
Who said, “We must tax, tax, tax, I insist!”

“Tax and regulation are the only true solutions
That can really rid us of these human pollutions.”

He said, “There is ample precedent
For us to warn the president!”

So the three ran off to arouse those far and near
And tell them that the end was almost here.

They soon met Turkey Lurkey, who was up for re-election.
He said, “My vote will be our ammunition
In the fight against those damned deniers;
Those oily fat-cats, rogues and liars!”

As they considered what to do,
Up walked Foxy Loxy, who ran an NGO.

“I can help you boys fund your cause
All you need do is sign this clause,
And promise fealty to that great -ism
Which the best of us call socialism.”

“What is this thing called socialism?” asked the troop.
“What does it mean? Can it help our group?”

“It is only for the brightest lights
For those who are sure they’re aways right.
It would put forever and ever in charge
Those whose minds are exceptionally large.”

Each of the four said, “That’s for me!”
Because to find some wiser cannot be.
How perfect, how wonderful and marvelously sublime
If the world were run on scientific lines!”

As they were cooing and comparing IQs,
The Fox said, “Come, all! Let’s join the queue!
We’ll finish the deal in my dark lair.
(It only looks dark; it is actually fare.)”

So down they all went, in one long line,
trusting themselves and thinking, “O, How fine!”

When the door finally closed and all the lines signed
The Fox ate them up: My, how he dined!

But he was not sated; he hungered still.
If only more bodies could add to his mill.

Where could he go to find the great minds
Who would fain rule over all of mankind?

It was then he remembered that great invention
The human-caused change of climate convention!

The End.


A little doggerel never hurt anybody. Thus, I have no compunction dedicating this poem to Anne Ehrlich, who has taken up her father’s burden of telling the world that it is nearly finished.

One Out Of Four, Most Used Statistic

Were you aware, and did you know, that one out of four Americans:

Obviously, this is one, sick, twisted, emaciated, obese, poor, disease-ridden country. With statistics like these—which are just a small sample of those available—people must be dropping dead on the sidewalk in massive numbers daily. Whose fault is it?

Why all these groups, advocates, activists, propagandists, and other agitators fixate on the “one out of four” statistic is anybody’s guess. Perhaps “one out of three” is so high as to appear absurd, and “one out of five” is not deemed sufficiently large enough to frighten.

Meanwhile, true aficionados of made up statistics will enjoy this site “Everything I do is wrong“, which claims that milk will reduce the symptoms of PMS (of which one out of four women undoubtedly suffer).

As men at this delicate time in our lives, we will want to have recourse to guidelines of how to apologize for not doing anything wrong. This site can help. It is the source of the graphic above.

Welcome Back BYTE!

BYTE is back!

It was the winter of 1979. Allen Ordway, Brian Grenke and me sat at a table in the Algebra teacher’s room. We were typing in a Basic program, carefully inputing each line number, from the back pages of BYTE magazine onto a brand new TRS-80 computer.

The print on the pages was microscopic. It contained hundreds and hundreds and even more hundreds of lines of code. We took turns typing it all in over several days. All the data was saved on a tape recorder-like device that hooked up to the computer. What a miracle! All that typing saved on a cassette. BYTE

When finished, it turned out to be some kind of shooting game. A small “tank” would bounce back and forth on the bottom of the screen, and whenever the space bar was pressed, a “missile” would launch towards these blocky objects at the top. If the blocky object and missile intersected, points were added to a running total at the top.

What fun! We could go into the code and tinker with it. Make the tank bigger, or the missile slower. Ever better, we could give ourselves extra lives.

My triumph was to take a column from BYTE and use what I had learned from it to create a spoof program, whose purpose was to mimic the command line of the TRS-80 (this was long before the days of computer GUIs). Then, when some unsuspecting soul would try to type in his programs (for course credit), the TRS-80 would at first behave and process the commands normally, but after a few lines the machine would begin to insult the user. These insults were taken personally and caused more than one freak out.

And then there was Jerry Pournelle’s columns, whose columns I didn’t always follow but which I always read. Plus, all those ads for all that stuff which I just had to have, but which I had to wait until Halloween of 1985 to get. This was a Commodore 128, purchased at a Kansas City toy store when I was TDY from Kadena AFB, and which had 128 full kilobytes of memory, thank you very much.

BYTE is back! But only, so far and possibly forever, on-line. Jerry Pournelle is back. Of course, Pournelle has carried on Chaos Manor on his own site for many years, but it’s nice to seem him back under the old banner.

Missing are the pages of tightly packed lines of code. Well, code is one of the cases where if you have to ask how it’s done, you’ll never learn. You just have to go out and figure it for yourself, liberally borrowing from working code.

The look and feel of BYTE is there: the website has decidedly old-school feel to it. The editor Gina Smith has included Tips and How-To columns, with titles like, “Disconnect the HP TouchPad the Correct Way”, “Check How Long Your Computer Has Been On”, and “How To Resize Large Photos in OS X with GIMP.” As some geeks say, “Meh.”

The real fun is always in the reviews. BYTE doesn’t quite reach the level of independence and objectivity of, say, Consumer Reports, but they’re more authoritative and trustworthy than going to some fanboy’s site. Usually.

Controversy already! In the first issue, Demetrius Mandzych had the poor sense to take on Apple. If you’re a die-hard Steve Jobs follower, I advise you to avert your eyes from what follows.

Mandzych said,

Consumers need a wakeup call. So does the press. Stop giving Apple or any other company a free pass. Companies are beholden to shareholders, not customers. They care only about the money they make this quarter, this year, what have you. They are for-profit enterprises, after all.

The reaction was, as you might guess, about sixteen miles past vehement. Mandzych’s piece was poorly written, but what fun to see the Apple-natics react like fans at a wrestling match arguing over which spandex-wearing mat-grabber is best! The beset upon Smith was forced to line-through the entire column and prefix it with a long explanatory note of “How sorry, lesson learned, etc.”

Head on over to BYTE.

Appeals Court Confirms TSA X-Ray Strip Search Validity

The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit has confirmed that criminals and suspected criminals have more rights and more protections under the Fourth Amendment than do citizens who want to fly.

Judge Douglas Ginsburg, in Electronic Privacy Information Center v. TSA, wrote that (pdf) airport searches are different than evidence searches. Airport searches fall under the legal, but not necessarily moral, category called “administrative” which require no evidence or suspicion of wrongdoing on the person or persons undergoing the search.

Whereas criminal searches require sufficient suspicion of wrongdoing, in some cases suspicion strong enough to require a warrant from a court before a search can be conducted. It is Judge Ginsberg’s opinion that as long as a criminal does not fly, he can be assured that he will not suffer unreasonable search and seizure.

Unless that criminal happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and runs into one of TSA’s “Viper” or “THOR” teams, which are mobile, non-airport bands of armed agents stopping citizens in any old place. Judge Ginsburg did not mention the Viper and THOR teams.

Judge Ginsburg commented on the X-Ray and backscatter machines that irradiate citizens in an effort to search for non-suspected armaments, which are defined as “nonmetallic, chemical, biological, and
radiological weapons, and explosives, in all forms.” Judge Ginsburg showed no appreciation of the extreme, indeed undefinable, breadth of “all forms” of weapons.

The Judge also appeared to have no recognition that the “studies” conducted by the TSA that purportedly demonstrate the safety of the irradiation searches could be flawed and that it is possible that harm to some is possible.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center did not do a stellar job in arguing their case. EPIC had the good idea to invoke the Muslim religion’s proscription on third-parties viewing nude Muslim females, but they forgot to bring a Muslim woman with them to court. Judge Ginsberg accepted the TSA’s counter argument that if they couldn’t find a Muslim to complain, that therefore none existed.

The Judge found adequate protection of privacy in that the software which displays the nude bodies of passengers obscures their faces, is not capable of storing the images, and that the agents themselves are forbidden (but who checks?) to take pictures of the images.

What the Judge failed to see was that after a person has been irradiated, he still might be forced into a pat down or strip search. Given that no diagnostic instrument (such as X-ray machines) can ever be perfect, these instruments will give false indications of concealed weaponry, thus triggering more invasive searches.

The argument EPIC should have used was that these more invasive searches are not warranted by the evidence of these “false positives”, thus sufficient suspicion for invasive searches does not exist. Precedent for this argument exists in “lie detector” screenings for spies. We have hard, empirical evidence on the frequency of false positives, which could have been demanded from the TSA, and on the number of true positives—i.e., the number on bona fide bomb- or biological-weapon carrying terrorists the TSA has actually identified. Which is 0 or close to it. And let’s not forget those actual baddies the TSA missed.

The Judge also found it convincing that TSA searches were not unreasonable because he was impressed that passengers had a choice to which invasive search passenger’s preferred: x-raying or pat down. This is a distinction only a lawyer could love. It is like arguing that a man was not murdered because his assailant offered the victim a choice between a gun and a rope.

The TSA did come in for a spanking, but of the “Oh, you naughty boy” type. EPIC argued that TSA did not give the public any chance to chime in on the nature of the searches and that the TSA, in a willy-nilly manner, invented whatever rules they liked. The TSA concurred and effectively said, “Why, of course we did not announce. We’re the TSA.”

This was, finally, inadequate according to the Judge who said, “the TSA has not justified its failure to initiate notice-and-comment rulemaking before announcing it would use AIT scanners for primary screening.” But he still let the TSA have their way because, and I quote, not to would cause a “disruption” in airport screening. We musn’t have one of those!

Meanwhile, we still ask: where is the left? Nothing but crickets heard. It is enough to drive one to distraction.

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. — Benjamin Franklin


Update Although funny, I removed the analysis of this parody from the original article. Do read this (real) analysis by a lawyer.

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