Whatever Mother Nature throws at it…

Sandy Oct 25 2012 0320Z.png

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Sandy#/media/File:Sandy_Oct_25_2012_0320Z.png

I’m tempted to think that in spite of the Information Age, and the availability of information to be available at practically any time, people have truly lost the ability to remember the past.  And of course, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

In a recent New York Times article, the question of whether the Rockaways would survive another major storm/hurricane was brought up.

In a classic Janet Yellen/Irving Fisher moment, Mayor de Blasio was quoted:

“This boardwalk is planted firmly, and it will withstand whatever Mother Nature throws at it,” Mayor de Blasio said on a windy Friday in May.

Sigh.   The 1938 hurricane that hit the area was a category 3, way before climate change started to rear its ugly head.   The probability of category 4 or 5 hurricane hitting NYC is very, very small but Sandy was still on the low end of hurricane strength (category 2 Hurricane Sandy became extratropical before moving inland in southern New Jersey).  The fact that a category 3 storm did hit the area (in 1938, when hardly anything was on Long Island) is proof enough that de Blasio’s statement ignores reality.    Let’s not forget that yes, sea levels are rising, and at some point a combination of storm and sea level rise might make Sandy look like a summer thunderstorm.

In doing a bit of research for this article, this popped up (dated October 26, 2012):

What Happens When a Super Storm Strikes New York

Hurricane Sandy hit the NYC area only a few days afterwards.

Questions:

  • Are there any cultures that haven’t forgotten the past?
  • What other Janet Yellen/Irving Fisher/de Blasio statements have your heard lately?
  • How long until NYC or any other major American city is abandoned?
  • Which will be the first to go?  Miami?  New Orleans?   Or will there always be holdouts?  Some sort of Fukushima or Chernobyl event might clear a city.

 

 

 

This is why we will perish

101010

OK, we’ll all perish (no one gets out of here alive), but there are really interesting sign posts on the way to our general demise.   Forget about climate change for a minute; this one is the courtesy of the computer world, which is encapsulated in the “Underhanded C Contest.”

In this devilishly (!) clever contest, a human programmer is tasked with doing something “underhanded” but at the same time, looking “innocent” and unable to be picked up by even more serious study/analysis.  Perhaps, with enough analysis, you’d find the glitch, but these little programming “bon mots” are frighteningly clever, and are probably the tip of the iceberg when it comes to backdoors, both accidental and planned.

Because computers have become hideously complex, most of the time, we don’t have the time to manually verify everything ourselves.  We rely on computer tools and compilers to check things out; and if those tools don’t catch devious tricks and errors, we can be in a world of hurt.

Some of the underhanded things done in this contest have been:

  • “Fingerprinting” images that aren’t supposed to be fingerprinted
  • Making some computer operating systems look bad
  • Fiddling with file encryption, so a small portion of files aren’t really encrypted
  • Messing with a luggage tracking system
  • Spoofing a hypothetical nuclear weapons monitoring program

Yes, these were all theoretical exercises, but they really opened my eyes as to how complex and sneaky some folks can be in both coming up with interesting problems,  *and* how to sneakily perform the required tasks.  The website notes it is “The official perfectly innocent web page for law-abiding good guys,” and the FAQ makes some good points about why this kind of stuff is important.

For me, the larger view is that when these sorts of technologies can’t even be checked by humans, or even the tools that they’ve built to check them, and that’s where we start to seriously lose control.   These ideas and contests are probably the tip of the iceberg.

Questions:

  • What other technologies have this sort of glitch?  Could (or has?) an airplane (or spacecraft) designer come up with a subtle flaw (shades of Rogue One) that would make something incredibly vulnerable?
  • Is this a problem or a predicament? Is a solution possible, or is it too complex?
  • Could we go “backwards” and deal with simpler computers?

The troubled Northeast?

A possible fly (tick) in the ointment

My usual thought about the future of the US is that we might wind up with some form of JHK’s World Made By Hand, or JMG’s Star’s Reach, with the US of A going through an “I-go-slavia, You-go-slavia, We-all-go-slavia” moment.  Not pretty, but it isn’t too outlandish.

With the Southwest getting too hot, and the Southeast getting too wet (Florida and Louisiana going under), things in the northern part of the US might look pretty good, especially in places like the Northeast/New England.  Civic society has been around a bit longer, and there are still places that have ‘town meetings’ and even town squares, where people get together and still have some sort of interaction with each other.   There are still suburbs and ex-burbs, but upstate New York and New England do seem to have a bit of a climate buffer, and perhaps, even as Boston, New York, Providence, and other parts of the coast get swamped, the rest of the region might limp along.   There’s still a network of rivers and canals, and still a good deal of hydropower potential.

One fly in the ointment, as it were, however, is a recent rash (no pun intended, of course) of articles that this season will be one of the worst tick seasons ever, due to our interesting bit of changing weather patterns and climate.   Yes, the land might be fertile, but you could wind up with a place where you can’t walk outside in certain places, without all sorts of protective gear.  Already, there have been some anecdotal stories about people getting ticks while on paved biked paths!

Lyme disease is no joke, and nor is Rocky Mountain Spotted fever.   As much as those living in the Northeast might think a bit of warmer weather might be welcome, it may be that just as the Southwest will become unlivable due to a lack of water, the Northeast might be a tough place to live, simply because of the tick situation, or other critters that might start to find the warmer climate a nice thing.

Questions:

  • How likely or unlikely is this scenario?
  • What would happen if the woods became that infested with ticks?
  • What other climate effects might start to make life more miserable?

 

 

 

Janet Yellen and the permanent plateau

Ms. Yellen, the Irving Fisher of today?

A few days ago, Janet Yellen stated:

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said Tuesday that she believes banking regulators have made enough improvements to the financial system that the world will not experience another financial crisis “in our lifetimes.”

Addressing an audience at the British Academy in London on Tuesday, Yellen said the banking reforms put in place in recent years have made the financial system much safer. She said regulators are doing a better job of watching for the type of systemic risks that struck the global economy in 2008, bringing on the worst global downturn in seven decades.

“Would I say there will never, ever be another financial crisis?” Yellen asked. “You know probably that would be going too far, but I do think we are much safer, and I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes and I don’t believe it will be.”

When hearing this, my mind reeled.  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!  Not experience another financial crisis “in our lifetimes?”  Did she not read or see The Big Short, or know of LTCM, or a host of other near misses in the financial system, with lots of other people (with Nobel prizes to boot) saying similar things?

There’s a classic bit of hubris from the LTCM folks, which is summed up in this snippet:

…this bizarre belief was mindlessly replicated in the lead-up to the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-’08, with investors believing that a 20 percent decline in house prices “was likely to happen only in a time frame many, many trillions of years longer than the history of the universe.”

Janet seems to have crossed some sort of intellectual event horizon, where the Fed and the bankers can do no wrong.

Questions:

  • Is she having a ‘senior moment’?
  • What sort of person makes this kind of broad statement?
  • Is anybody betting on this kind of crazy pronouncement?
  • Does Ms. Yellen read any history books?

(Yes, we are off schedule this week – back with another interesting short article next Tuesday, 2017 July 4).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death

 

Someone close died last week, after a long and difficult illness.  What can one say?   It happens to all of us, but the reality of it is not just some abstract concept.  One day, you can talk to someone, and the next day they are gone.

One day, our shiny civilization is humming along, and one day, it may not be so shiny.  One day you can talk to people around the world in an instant, and one day, you may not. The bit from Ecclesiastes mentioned a while ago still rings true.

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

Still, we eat, we drink, we make merry.   We are an odd species, to say the least.   Curious to know how the future will look upon all of this, just as many of us wonder how people will look upon us when we are gone (individually).

 

 

 

 

Skin in the game

Paddy_Power_logo.png

(Folks with skin in the game; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paddy_Power#/media/File:Paddy_Power_logo.png)

One of the points that Taleb makes that is of great import is that unless you have skin in the game, you should shut up. The folks who have the ultimate skin in the game, besides those who are “in the line of fire” or the equivalent are those who put their money where their mouth is, and bet real money on real events.   The folks at PaddyPower, as silly as the name might sound, are at least those who are doing just that.

Like it or not, it is going to be an interesting four years, if the odds makers are at least somewhat correct.

Questions:

  • Is betting on events a good way to predict the future?   These folks certainly aren’t going out of business, so they must be doing something correct.
  • They have been wrong before, of course.   Do you think they are wrong here?