27 June 2008

Who owns the West

Great graphic at this blog on the percentage of each US state owned by the federal government.

26 June 2008

Boundless data does not mean the end of models

Chris Anderson is a very smart guy and I agree with him on his concpets of the Long Tail. However, I think he's very wrong on this idea.

"All models are wrong, but some are useful."

So proclaimed statistician George Box 30 years ago, and he was right. But what choice did we have? Only models, from cosmological equations to theories of human behavior, seemed to be able to consistently, if imperfectly, explain the world around us. Until now. Today companies like Google, which have grown up in an era of massively abundant data, don't have to settle for wrong models. Indeed, they don't have to settle for models at all.

Sixty years ago, digital computers made information readable. Twenty years ago, the Internet made it reachable. Ten years ago, the first search engine crawlers made it a single database. Now Google and like-minded companies are sifting through the most measured age in history, treating this massive corpus as a laboratory of the human condition. They are the children of the Petabyte Age.

The problem wiht this is that it works in the area where: you don't have to understand the underlying phenomenon to use it (Google selling ads based on the perception of value to the advertiser); you have a readily reported massive data sets (internet usage); and highly mathematically related items (difficult with taxonomy related ideas like biology or astronomy). It won't work at all with cosmology and other non-observational sciences.

Thanks for trying, but get your head out of the internet (I blog, ironically).

19 June 2008

Maybe evolution is a theory after all

One of my finer nits about evolution was that it was really more of a postulate than a theory. This was because it was hard to produce any experiments that could be used for hypotheisis testing. It was all based on assembling diparate observations and then crafting an explanation, consistent with chemical and biological processes that explained the observed data.

Now that may have all changed.
A major evolutionary innovation has unfurled right in front of researchers' eyes. It's the first time evolution has been caught in the act of making such a rare and complex new trait.

Essentially, they took E. Coli and grew it in twelve different populations for 44,000 generations and found that some of them obtained characteristics absent in E. Coli. The kicker is that the were able to test when the traits originated and reproduce the results.

The replays showed that even when he looked at trillions of cells, only the original population re-evolved Cit+ – and only when he started the replay from generation 20,000 or greater. Something, he concluded, must have happened around generation 20,000 that laid the groundwork for Cit+ to later evolve.

Lenski and his colleagues are now working to identify just what that earlier change was, and how it made the Cit+ mutation possible more than 10,000 generations later.

Pretty cool.

Karl Rove sounding very mature

Obama and McCain have both been quite populist and at times idiotic in their statements about the economy and 'big oil'. Karl Rove takes them to task.

Messrs. Obama and McCain both reveal a disturbing animus toward free markets and
success. It is uncalled for and self-defeating for presidential candidates to
demonize American companies. It is understandable that Mr. Obama, the most
liberal member of the Senate, would endorse reckless policies that are the DNA
of the party he leads. But Mr. McCain, a self-described Reagan Republican,
should know better.

I would have hoped for better from McCain. Perhaps he'll see it as an opportunity to create a contrast.

03 June 2008

John McCain his own man

The New York Times approves of McCain's independence,
There can be no doubt that McCain would not be a puppet - that having and opinion and judgment of his own, he would act from his own impulses rather than the impulses of others
- that possessing great integrity he would not sacrifice his country's interests at the shrine of party...

Just kidding, that was written of John Adams in the Philadelphia Aurora. But it fits, and well.

Taken from John Adams by David McCullough, page 464.

Bardot vs. Islam

She's one of the few liberals who doesn't turn the other way when she sees something she doesn't like. Now if she could get PETA involved...

I still don't understand how it's considered 'racial hatred'. Islam is not a race, but a creed.