Earworm vs Code

I was just listening to DJ Earworm’s United State of Pop 2012 (yes, again) and in a moment of awe and appreciation, thought to myself “a computer is never going to be able to figure this out”. That’s sweet and sentimental, but it’s probably wrong.

Whatever process Earworm used to compose this piece, it probably involved listening to these songs repeatedly throughout the year. I imagine him sitting at his computer, wearing huge headphones, and just soaking in the music until pieces of the song came to him and he built upon them to competition. That sentence should sufficiently display my near total ignorance of the music making process for our purposes. But no matter his actual process, what he did was an amazing feat of pattern recognition and synthesis that computers and software just can’t do with songs.

Nevertheless, the same general process of pattern recognition and synthesis is involved in the creation of photographic mosaics, especially those patented Photomosaics of Robert Silver. Recognize the patterns of shapes and colors within individual photos and synthesis them into a larger image. Earworm does just that, but with words and pieces of music. With enough time and effort, code could accomplish the same task. Until then, we get to enjoy human craftsmanship.

Medical Pot and EBT

When I stepped out of my house around 6am Tuesday, I noticed a news van at the end of my street near the medical marijuana dispensary. Concerned that there has been a robbery, I went to investigate. No robbery fortunately, just KIRO doing a story on a bill in Olympia that would end the ability to use Electronic Benefits Transfer – EBT –  cards to purchase medical marijuana among other changes. Alex Limon and I got talking about it and she asked me if I’d like to make a statement on film. The full segment is here, but they used more of my statements in the shorter 6:30 broadcast.

Frankly, it was a pretty uninformed statement and having never used EBT, I’m not familiar with the rules or it’s detailed intentioned. EBT is a very flexible program and a person can purchase over the counter medication with it. I was thinking of this during the interview and was wondering how people with EBT benefits pay for traditional prescription medication. Afterwards I realized that the EBT beneficiaries would also likely have Medicaid to assist with those medications. And that’s where the issue illustrates the complexity of a marijuana’s legality.

Where Medicaid strictly a state program, medical marijuana prescriptions – easy as they are to obtain – should logically be covered. But the Federal government considers marijuana a Class 1 Narcotic and is unlikely to allow federal fund to be used for personal purchases or  marijuana, medical or otherwise. The Federal government should reclassify it as a Class 2 narcotic, allowing Medicaid users to purchase marijuana for medicinal purposes in the states where that is legal. That’s unlikely in the near term and so while I am hesitant, I have limited objections to allowing EBT benefits to purchase medicinal marijuana. In a few years, we will have data on EBT and marijuana usage and can revisit the issue with an informed discussion then

Voting to Strike

The contract negotiations between Boeing and SPEEA – the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace – is a small battle in a much larger war between the labor and management. That violence is a readily accepted metaphor shows the foolishness of the current fight and the missed opportunity to grow the shared economic pie. Corporate managers have an opportunity – and I believe the principled obligation – to expand the economic benefits for their shareholders, their people, and their communities together. Instead of cooperating for mutual benefit, Boeing management has pitted the company against its employees. My vote to authorize a strike will be a vote against this false choice and the tunnel vision of my current management.

Of course, this is not the position I want to be in. I have better uses for my money and time than a strike. My sisters both have milestone birthdays this year and I want to visit them. New cycling gear would make bike commuting easier. But the cash for those items are in the strike fund at the moment. Boeing management has things to work on, but instead they cynically fight their own coworkers and employees. Last summer they chose hardball negotiating tactics and in the autumn sent us a horrible contract that was rejected by 96% of the union. But now that management’s piss poor business strategy for the 787 has grounded the fleet and continues to steal the company of cash, time and energy, Boeing management tells us it’s time to “come together”. How convent.

I must give credit where it is due, for Boeing management has played their hand masterfully. They started the negotiations at such an extreme, almost tempting their engineers to walk out in anger. But with their dramatic shift in position back near the status quo, they are emboldened to insist on two significant takeaway: divide the union and reduce retirement compensation. I’ve no objection to reforming, redesigning, or recreating the pension plan, but I cannot accept this false fight, I cannot condone it, and I will not vote to approve it.

I recognize the idealism, perhaps misplaced, that drives my emotions, my reasoning, and my actions. This is based on the high moral expectations I have for people who claim to be leaders, expectations which seem out of step from what passes as modern American business. My friends and colleagues who accept this contract do so for rational reasons and what are surely sound economic reasoning. I do not fault them for economic and pragmatic reasoning is frequency more useful in decision making. But I cannot follow that route. I cannot approve of the corporate hypocrisy and in my one chance to fight directly with the forces that seek to undermine the middle class, I will not let my own economic interests obscure my ideals.

I vote no.

City of the Future

The City of the Future

I done a bit of traveling over the last few months and it’s given me a chance to compare Seattle to some famous cities. And for all it’s flaws and shortcoming, despite it’s infamous “process” and passive aggressive streak, Seattle at the cutting edge of cities and posed to be the city of the future.

At the heart of this over simplified assessment, is the fact that cities allow human to effectively manage resource constraints. From ancient times to the present, cities have proved an effective method for organizing large populations. As world population grows and competition for scarce resources again grows fierce, cities and nations that more effectively utilize resources will led and prosper. Seattle has multiple edges on this front.

As type, I reap the dividends from huge hydroelectric investments made 50, 60, and 70 years ago which now provides the region with inexpensive, reliable energy and the farming regions east of the mountains with flood control and reliable water supply. Seattle secured it’s fresh water supply by purchasing and strictly limiting access to the Cedar and Tolt River watersheds. Compare this with the aquifer issues in the Midwest, water shortages in London, or battles over the Colorado River. And over the last decade, Seattle has streamlined and upgraded it’s waste stream, moving away from the idea of trash and actively seeing the organic and non-organic elements as potential resource opportunities in the terms of composting and recycling.

These don’t seem significant until you get out of the city. Recycling is Boston can be a challenge and the city is heavily reliant on gas and nuclear energy sources. Monterrey California, to my surprise, just tosses their food scraps in the garbage. London lacks trash bins on it’s Victoria Embankment but has barges in the river to collect garbage. And recycling in Paris was practically impossible.

Seattle’s huge shortfall is obviously our piss-poor public transportation system. London’s Tube was 150 years old when the first Link line opened in 2010. But we could catch up quickly for our relatively young city if we decide to build a Seattle Subway and I’m helping with that effort. Cycling and greenways – helping with that too – are another inexpensive transportation solution and watching the bike commuter in London was inspiring.

Fortunately, some of our leaders think Seattle has a bright future too. Mayor McGinn gave a talk recently sharing his vision for our future. He’s fighting for real transportation solution by funding the studies on high demand transportation corridors and laying the groundwork for the rest. If we can solve our transportation problems, we’ll be well on our way.

And we need to solve those problems, because not only is no one making more land, the coastal metro areas around the country will be losing it while our hills stay high and dry.

Over the Edge

A Republican friend asked me recently what I thought about the upcoming fiscal cliff, pointing out that the CBO estimates the combination of spending cuts and tax increases could reduce GDP by up to 4%. So now conservatives are for government spending? I understand the political posturing and mental back flips, but it erodes my trust in Republicans ability to govern. The fiscal cliff is doing exactly what it was designed to do – force everyone’s hands.

Per conventional wisdom, I’d like to see a Grand Bargain along the lines of Simpson-Bowles, but with my own tweaks. We should reduce government spending by reducing military spending by 10%, ending the drug war, overhauling farm subsidies and reinvigorating agricultural insurance, eliminate many tax expenditures on loopholes and deductions, and pegging Social Security and Medicare eligibility to life expectancy. For wealthy Americans, the Bush tax cuts should be repealed – 97% of small business owners will be unaffected – and an additional flat tax or surcharge applied to incomes over one million dollars. The middle class has to pitch in too though, not for the revenue, but on principle and to improving the functioning of the overall economy. To that end, we need to phase out the mortgage interest deduction on second homes over three year and on first homes over ten years and eliminate the tax deduction on employer provided health care. The whole country needs to move towards a Canadian-style single payer system and this will be a necessary step.

Many of this doesn’t need to happen by December 31 to avoid the fiscal cliff. I give some kind of Grand Bargain 50/50 odds on being worked out. Many in the GOP remain bound to the anti-tax raising pledge, but I’ve heard some promising statements since the election. Their messy end run around the pledge is to go over the Cliff and re-cut taxes afterwards. The destination is the same, but their pledge and ideals remain intact. My money is on this high risk, high reward scenario.

The Steady March of Progress

Today’s wonderful enshrining of equality in Washington State is another step forward in the Unite State’s steady march of progress. Yeah, we started with high ideals and some rotten application, but over the last 236 years, we’ve made progress. Adult male suffrage, the end of slavery, woman’s votes, true religious freedom, and now gay rights, the arc of American history is crystal clear. It’s not been all roses, but those setbacks have been temporary and eventually recognized for the moral failures they were. Our country is stronger when we protect our vulnerable citizens, strongest when the worlds of the 14th Amendment are respected.

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

E pluribus unum

Everything in its Right Place

Seattle’s been fighting over its future recently. Which is good, it needs to happen. Americans need to understand that in the new normal of the Great Recession, Long Slump, and Climate Change, a car dependant life style is a luxury few can truly afford and none should be forced into. We need to encourage growth in dense nodes around the region allowing people to choose lifestyles that minimize automobile use and enable high capacity transit. This land use pattern will simultaneously reduce the price of housing, enable more low-income housing, and decrease the pressure on single family home zoning to be up zoned.

Northgate is the prime candidate for this density. It’s already a regional commercial and transpiration hub, will have a train line in ten years, and with acres of parking lots is ripe for redevelopment. So it’s distressing to hear Metro and Sound Transit barreling headlong down the path towards building another $20 million dollar parking garage at Northgate. A recent Metro study shows that the highest majority of Park & Ride users live within Seattle and the concentrations of users within walking and cycling range. This belies the general assumption that Northgate transit users are coming down from Snohomish, and this makes intuitive sense. If your commute is 15 or 20 miles, once you’re in the car, transferring to a bus just isn’t worth the time. I’ve done the same calculation in reverse – Seattle to Boeing Everett – for five years. But if you can hope in your car for a quick two or ten minute drive to fast reliable service to the expensive parking areas of Downtown, First Hill, and the U-District, the transfer makes sense.

Where Northgate P&R Cars Live

Metro’s data illuminates a huge public policy opportunity. Instead of spending $20 million dollars subsidizing expensive and unhealthy lifestyle choices, Metro and Sound Transit could spend that same money on a variety of mitigation measures to enable non-car choices and develop their current and future ridership.

  • Building sidewalks and installing signage in adjacent Maple Leaf to encourage walking trips less than a mile
  • Frequent commuter-oriented circulator routes in Haller Lake, Licton Springs, and Pinehurst
  • Increasing and advertising peak-hour service on current routes
  • Directly funding the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plans to speed construction of relevant improvements

Northgate is destined to be a center of Seattle life in the next century. But we’ll handicap it and punish future residents if we enable current residents to keep subsiding neighbors to driving their cars incredible short distances and letting them park for free on public lands. There are higher and better uses for Northgate than asphalt and concrete.

Update – 12/21/2011
As Bruce points out, Sound Transit is legally obligated to replace parking lost to Link construction, which I discovered after authoring the original post. And while there are options to mitigate another large parking garage at Northgate, any newly constructed parking should not be free to commuters, shoppers, or residents. San Francisco has proven people are flexible when it comes to the cost of parking and paid parking will limit demand and could generate revenue for the transit agencies.


The Head and the Heart

If it wasn’t clear before, Obama and Netanyahu don’t get along. And since all politics are intensely personal, this rift between two men who just happen to be the leaders of the United States and Israel, could cause real damage to both countries, especially in regard to Iran’s nuclear program. But what it doesn’t prove is that Obama is hostile Israel, nor that the “United States” is hostile to that country as a whole.

Recent history is ripe with examples of counties, especially the US, who are hostile to a current government or a specific leader. Take Clinton’s, Bush’s, and Obama’s approaches to North Korea, which combined targeted sanctions on the assets and international movements of North Korean leaders with food and oil programs for its people. The British defense of the Falkland Islands involved a limited response on the Argentine military without the actual or implied threat to the nation as a whole. NATO supported the Libyan Rebels to remove Qaddafi and focused its power on his forces, not the population, most institutions, or the civil and industrial infrastructure. Bush didn’t lead the United States to destroy, partition, loot, or cleanse Afghanistan or Iraq, but merely to remove their government and leaders. All this is in clear contrast to the United States’ behavior from the Civil War through Vietnam in which campaigns of near Total War were the norm. For the last 40 years, western nations and the United States in particular have clearly distinguished between a nation’s government and its people and sovereignty.

If the Obama administration is hostile to the Netanyahu administration, it is because Netanyahu has prioritized Judea and Samaria over the Jewish and Democratic identities of Israel.

I Have Foreseen It

The Keystone Pipeline, like the oil it is designed to carry, is a terrible deal. For a few thousand temporary construction jobs, we enable Canada to rape the landscape, pollute their water, and further dig our Climate Change hole. And yet someday, this pipeline or one with an identical purpose will be built.

It’s simply a matter of supply and demand. We’ve probably hit peak oil, at least with the light sweet crude that made the modern Middle East and Alaska. When this easily accessible oil was plentiful, the price of oil stayed low. But as it disappears and the price increases, the difficult, dirty, petrol – thus far too expensive to extract on an industrial scale – will become viable. The Canadian oil mixed with sand, Gulf oil a mile underwater, Coloradan oil shale all become profitable when oil is stays around $95 a barrel. And that is only a matter of time.

This reframes the question from “Yes or No”, to “When”? The answer, from an environmental and sustainable economic answer is, after we’ve moved away from oil as our primary fuel source. Petrol is an amazing substance, which enables us to create a rainbow of plastics that underpin our advancing – for now – society. And yet we insist that the best and highest use for this amazing organic compound is torching it.

The Keystone should be allowed only after a multiyear international commitment to address Climate Change is ratified by the Senate. It will be a step backward, but only after two steps forward, and that is more progress than our nation is making now.

On Statistical Significance

Dear Max,

Please review your lessons on statistical significance and blocking your experiments. Your data set can skew your analysis, and frankly, this kind of error casts doubt on the rest of your work.

 Troop Size and Dead by Select American Enemies