Category: science

Guns, Homicides and Data

I came across a fascinating post at Jon Udell’s blog, “Homicide rates in context ,” which starts out with this graph of 2007 data:

A map showing gun ownership and homicide rates, and which look very different

Jon’s post says more than I care to on this subject right now, and points out questions worth asking.

As I said in my post on “Thoughts on the Tragedies of December 14th,” “those who say that easy availability of guns drives murder rates must do better than simply cherry picking data.”

I’m not sure I believe that the “more guns, less crime” claim made by A.W.R. Hawkins claim is as causative as it sounds, but the map presents a real challenge to simplistic responses to tragic gun violence.

Negative temperatures?

Absolute zero is often thought to be the coldest temperature possible. But now researchers show they can achieve even lower temperatures for a strange realm of “negative temperatures.”

Oddly, another way to look at these negative temperatures is to consider them hotter than infinity, researchers added. (“Atoms Reach Record Temperature, Colder than Absolute Zero“, Charles Choi, LiveScience and

It seems to me that this is very strong evidence for the Simulation Argument, since apparently the simulation has some integer underflow problems. The researchers have proof of concept code.

The original, paywalled article is in Science, “Negative Absolute Temperature for Motional Degrees of Freedom“.

Usable Security: Timing of Information?

As I’ve read Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” I’ve been thinking a lot about “what you see is all there is” and the difference between someone’s state of mind when they’re trying to decide on an action, and once they’ve selected and are executing a plan.

I think that as you’re trying to figure out how to do something, you might have a goal and a model in mind. For example, “where is that picture I just downloaded?” As you proceed along the path, you take actions which involve making a commitment to a course of action, ultimately choosing to open one file over another. Once you make that choice, you’re invested, and perhaps the endowment effect kicks in, making you less likely to be willing to change your decision because of (say) some stupid dialog box.

Another way to say that is information that’s available as you’re making a decision might be far more influential than information that comes in later. That’s a hypothesis, and I’ve been having trouble finding a study that actually tests that idea.

For example, if we use a scary button like this:

Scary button with spikes

would that work better than this:

File JPG is an application

If someone knows of a user test that might shed light on if this sort of thing matters, I’d be very grateful for a pointer.

Can Science Improvise?

My friend Raquell Holmes is doing some really interesting work at using improv to unlock creativity. There’s some really interesting ties between the use of games and the use of improv to get people to approach problems in a new light, and I’m bummed that I won’t be able to make this event:

Monday Dec 17th – 7:15 to 9:15pm
835 Market Street, Rm. 619, Downtown San Francisco State University Campus

Register at http://www.acteva.com//booking.cfm?bevaid=234451
In advance- $15 At the Door- $20

What happens when you combine the playfulness of improvisation with
the rigor of science? The Life Performance Coaching Center which
leads people from all walks of life in a performance-based approach to
human development is pleased to host Dr. Raquell M. Holmes founder of
improvscience. Holmes has been bringing the discoveries in human
development and performance to researchers and educators in many areas
of science including biology and computing sciences.

In this exploration for scientists and those interested in creativity
and development, participants are introduced to what the
improvisational arts bring to science. Learning to build with the
contributions of others and see opportunities for improvisational
conversation helps us to take risks and discover new ways of seeing
each other and our work.

Come and play as we break down the social barriers that can inhibit
creativity, exploration and discovery.

Helen Abel, LCSW, has worked with people to develop their lives for
over 30 years as a social worker, therapist and coach. She is on the
staff of the Life Performance Coaching Center where she leads the
popular Playground series {link if available} where people learn how
to use their capacity to create, perform and play. As a life coach she
helps people access these same skills to develop creative and new
kinds of conversations with their friends, family and colleagues.

Dr. Raquell Holmes is Director of Outreach, Recruitment and Retention
at the Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling at University of
Connecticut Health Center. She helps biologists to incorporate
computing and computational resources into their teaching and
research. Community building and improvisational theater are explicit
components of the majority of her National Science Foundation funded
projects. She founded improvscience to provide scientists with
opportunities to develop skills in leadership, collaboration and
innovation. Since its inception improvscience has worked with over a
thousand professionals in Science, Technology, Engineering and
Mathematics education and research.

Neil Armstrong, RIP

Neil Armstrong in Eagle, photographed by Buzz Aldrin

Neil Armstrong died August 25, aged 82.

It’s difficult to properly memorialize this man, because, to a degree almost unheard of in our media-saturated times, he avoided the limelight. A statement by his family notes:

As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life.

EC has a certain fondness for privacy and for Apollo. If you do, too, please consider this suggestion made by Armstrong’s family:

For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.

Image source: NASA

New Species Discovered on Flickr

Semachrysa Jade

There’s a very cool story on NPR about “A New Species Discovered … On Flickr“. A entomologist was looking at some photos, and saw a bug he’d never seen. Check out the photographer’s site or Flickr pages. The paper is “A charismatic new species of green lacewing discovered in Malaysia (Neuroptera, Chrysopidae):
the confluence of citizen scientist, online image database and cybertaxonomy
:”

The online images were then randomly examined by the senior author (SLW) who determined that this distinctive species was not immediately recognizable as any previously described species. Links to the images were forwarded to additional experts in chrysopid taxonomy to elicit comment on its possible taxonomic identity. After extensive discussion it was concluded that the species was likely new to science but its generic placement inconclusive based solely upon the images at hand.

I find it fascinating that the distinction of a new species is keyed on a morphological difference like this. While I know nothing about the chryopidae, and this is just a lay comment, but substantially larger variations occur in dogs without driving the claim of a new species. Does anyone know what makes for a new chryopid?

Photo by Kurt, aka Hock Ping Guek.

The Evolution of Information Security

A little while back, a colleague at the NSA reached out to me for an article for their “Next Wave” journal, with a special topic of the science of information security. I’m pleased with the way the article and the entire issue came out, and so I’m glad that the NSA has decided to release it.

The core of the article how to evaluate the investments we make in security, today and at low cost, if only we choose to take advantage of it.

The entire article is available here: The Next Wave: Security Science and I’m happy to be able to make my article available as a separate (high quality) PDF: “The Evolution of Information Security

Active Defense: Show me the Money!

Over the last few days, there’s been a lot of folks in my twitter feed talking about “active defense.” Since I can’t compress this into 140 characters, I wanted to comment quickly: show me the money. And if you can’t show me the money, show me the data.

First, I’m unsure what’s actually meant by active defense. Do the folks arguing have a rough consensus on what’s in and what’s out? If not, (or more) would be useful. Just so others can follow the argument.

So anyway, my questions:

  1. Do organizations that engage in Active Defense suffer fewer incidents than those who don’t?
  2. Do organizations that engage in Active Defense see smaller cost-per-incident when using it than when not? (or in comparison to other orgs?)
  3. How much does an Active Defense program cost?
  4. Is that the low cost way to achieve the better outcomes than other ways to get the outcomes from 1 & 2?

I’m sure some of the folks advocating active defense in this age of SEC-mandated incident disclosure can point to incidents, impacts and outcomes.

I look forward to learning more about this important subject.

Feynman on Cargo Cult Science

On Twitter, Phil Venables said “More new school thinking from the Feynman archives. Listen to this while thinking of InfoSec.”

During the Middle Ages there were all kinds of crazy ideas, such
as that a piece of rhinoceros horn would increase potency. Then a
method was discovered for separating the ideas–which was to try
one to see if it worked, and if it didn’t work, to eliminate it.
This method became organized, of course, into science. And it
developed very well, so that we are now in the scientific age. It
is such a scientific age, in fact that we have difficulty in
understanding how witch doctors could ever have existed, when
nothing that they proposed ever really worked–or very little of
it did.

But even today I meet lots of people who sooner or later get me
into a conversation about UFOS, or astrology, or some form of
mysticism, expanded consciousness, new types of awareness, ESP, and
so forth. And I’ve concluded that it’s not a scientific world.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be
given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know
anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you
make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then
you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well
as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem.
When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate
theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that
those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea
for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else
come out right, in addition.

It’s excellent advice. Take a listen, and think how it applies to infosec.

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