Because Money Is Liberty Coined

I really love these redesigns of the US Dollar:

5_reverse_final.jpg

There’s a contest, and I like these designs by Michael Tyznik the most. On a graphical level, they look like money. He’s integrated micro-printing, aligned printing (that $5 in the upper left corner, it’s really hard to print so it works when you look at light) and moire patterns to make copying and printing difficult.

But I like them the most because money is liberty coined. As everyone who doesn’t have it knows, without money, you have far less freedom. As the government takes more and more of our money and decides what to give us, our ability to make choices to pursue our own happiness diminish. As we make fewer choices, we lose the habits and lessons of liberty.

Further, as you have more money, you have more choices. You have more ability to take control of your life and make more choices. As you get away from having just enough to get by, you have money to play with. You have the ability to make decisions and implement them. Money empowers you to enjoy liberty and pursue happiness in more ways.

And with the bill of rights on the back of each one, it’s a beautiful way to tie together the money that we use with the liberty that it enables and represents.

A personal announcement

I will be entering the PhD program in Computational Social Science (with certificates in InfoSec and Economic Systems Design) at George Mason University, Fairfax VA, starting in the Fall of 2010.

"Go Patriots!"

I haven’t posted much lately because I’ve been arranging a major career change.  I’m happy to announce that I will be entering the PhD program in Computational Social Science (with certificates in InfoSec and Economic Systems Design) at George Mason University, Fairfax VA, starting in the Fall of 2010.  Assuming all goes according to plan, this will take five years.

Those of you how have read my posts or heard my presentations know that I’ve been committed to advancing the state-of-the-art in interdisciplinary research regarding information risk management and incentive systems.  This PhD program seems ideally suited to help me make progress toward these goals.  Both during and after graduation, my personal goal is to stimulate more interdisciplinary research, especially public-private-academic collaborations.

I plan to continue working in the private sector, both part-time and summers.  I’m talking with a couple of companies to see if we can arrange a flexible, win-win relationship.  If you know of any other possible employers in the DC area, please contact me.

(While comments here are fine, if you just want to offer personal support, comments, or questions, you can email me directly at: russell.thomas AT the domain “meritology.com”.)

It's Hard to Nudge

There’s a notion that government can ‘nudge’ people to do the right thing. Big examples include letting people opt-out of organ donorship, rather than opting in (rates of organ donorship go from 10-20% to 80-90%, which is pretty clearly a better thing than putting those organs in the ground or crematoria). Another classic example was participation in 401k retirement accounts, but somehow after the market meltdown, that’s getting less press.

A smaller example is how telling people they’re using more power than others, their power consumption declined. Awesomeness, right? Conservation is the easiest, freest power you can get. Remember that a 150 watt lightbulb consumes twice as much power as your laptop. And most of that goes to waste heat, but I digress. Let’s go back to that nudge study, described in this Slate article:

In a study evaluating the program’s effectiveness, Opower researchers compared power use before and after the HERs began arriving, and further compared this change with a group of control households that never received the reports. On average, the HER households reduced their consumption in the months that followed by a little less than 2 percent. Not bad, but probably not enough to save the planet.

and also:

One problem with this approach is that we all define “better” differently, as a new study emphasizes. UCLA economists Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn analyzed the impact of an energy-conservation program in California that informed households about how their energy use compared with that of their neighbors. While the program succeeded in encouraging Democrats and environmentalists to lower their consumption, Republicans had the opposite reaction. When told of their relative thrift, they started cranking up the thermostat and leaving the lights on more often. … One explanation is that many conservatives don’t believe that burning energy harms the planet, so when they learn that they’re better than average, they become less vigilant about turning the lights off. That is, they’re simply moving closer to what they now know is the norm.

People are complex. It’s hard to know what matters to people, and it’s hard to know what additional information will do to a market. As Hayek pointed out, this is why central planning fails. The planners can’t know all.

And when we start nudging people, lots more chaos will emerge. Planners don’t become better by giving people opt-outs from their planning. And while nudging is better than authoritarianism, it’s still worse than a government which does only what it needs to do.

In the case of energy consumption, a market is emerging to help people see what drives their energy consumption and environmental impact. Better to let a thousand startups bloom, and let the creativity of engineers and those who care deeply help people drive down their electricity use. Everyone else will pay for their long-burning lights, and if electricity is fairly priced, then that’s their choice.

The paper is at “Energy Conservation “Nudges” and Environmentalist Ideology: Evidence from a Randomized Residential Electricity Field Experiment,” National Bureau of Economic Research.

How to Get Started In Information Security, the New School Way

There have been a spate of articles lately with titles like “The First Steps to a Career in Information Security” and “How young upstarts can get their big security break in 6 steps.”

Now, neither Bill Brenner nor Marisa Fagan are dumb, but both of their articles miss the very first step. And it’s important to talk about that first step when talking about first steps in a career:

Do something useful.

Some ideas:

  • Write a new tool
  • Add an awesome UI to an existing tool
  • Break something interesting and responsibly disclose it*
  • Get more data out there
  • Analyze existing data in a new and thought-provoking way

We have enough people in infosec who are famous for being famous, or famous for being controversial. If you want to stand out from the pack, do something to move the field forward. Share useful work.

You’ll stand out a lot better than people adding to the chorus.

* You want to disclose it responsibly because it avoids a whole silly debate which detracts from attention to your work.

Lies, Damned Lies and Inappropriate Baselines

Thomas Ricks wrote a blog on Foreign Policy titled “Another reason to support Obamacare.” In it, he cited a Stars & Stripes report that one of out five veterans under the age of 24 is out of work.

However, Stars and Stripes compares total unemployment to 18-24 male vet unemployment. It took me less than 5 minutes to find the Bureau of Labor Statistics “Employment Situation of Veterans Summary” which states that “Young male veterans (those ages 18 to 24) who served during Gulf War era II had an unemployment rate of 21.6 percent in 2009, not statistically different from the jobless rate of young male nonveterans (19.1 percent)” and “Male veterans age 18 to 24 were more likely to participate in the labor force in 2009 than were their nonveteran counterparts–79.1 percent versus 69.1 percent.” (Emphasis added.)

The only element where veteran unemployment seems statistically worse is recently separated veterans, at 14.7%. However, they’re entering the worst labor market in decades, and there’s fierce competition for every job.

I expect better of the mainstream media, which is evidence that I’m not a Bayesian.

The Liquids ban is a worse idea than you thought

According to new research at Duke University, identifying an easy-to-spot prohibited item such as a water bottle may hinder the discovery of other, harder-to-spot items in the same scan.

Missing items in a complex visual search is not a new idea: in the medical field, it has been known since the 1960s that radiologists tend to miss a second abnormality on an X-ray if they’ve found one already. The concept — dubbed “satisfaction of search” — is that radiologists would find the first target, think they were finished, and move on to the next patient’s X-ray.

Does the principle apply to non-medical areas? That’s what Stephen Mitroff, an assistant professor of psychology & neuroscience at Duke, and his colleagues set out to examine shortly after 2006, when the U.S. Transportation Security Administration banned liquids and gels from all flights, drastically changing airport luggage screens.

“The liquids rule has introduced a whole lot of easy-to-spot targets,” Mitroff said.

Duke University press release, Mitroff’s home page, full paper.

Failure to Notify Leads to Liability in Germany

…a Bad Homburg business man won millions in damages in a suit against the [Liechtenstein] bank for failing to reveal that his information was stolen along with hundreds of other account holders and sold to German authorities for a criminal investigation. He argued that if the bank had informed those on the list that their data had been sold, they could have turned themselves in, receiving temporary amnesty and much lower fines. (“Taxman rakes in hundreds of millions thanks to stolen bank data“, TheLocal.de)

The decision was by the Liechtenstein high court. If anyone knows the details of the case (what duty was violated), I’d appreciate knowing more. Was it a violation of Liechtenstein bank secrecy law, or a general duty to disclose?

Via the web hacking incident database and “German Government Pays Hacker For Stolen Bank Account Data” at TacticalWebAppSec.

Evil Clown Stalking for your Birthday?

evil-clown-birthday.jpg

Dominic Deville stalks young victims for a week, sending chilling texts, making prank phone calls and setting traps in letterboxes.

He posts notes warning children they are being watched, telling them they will be attacked.

But Deville is not an escaped lunatic or some demonic monster.

He is a birthday treat, hired by mum and dad, and the ‘attack’ involves being splatted in the face with a cake.

What could possibly go wrong?

Evil Clown hired for stalking, threats and a pie in the face