MSDN comes to the party

Tim Ewald: “RSS at MSDN!” New RSS feeds for MSDN, including a comprehensive all-new-articles feed and separate feeds for Visual Basic, C#, C++, the overall Visual Studio product, the .NET Framework, and XML Web Services. There’s a lot of content in MSDN (even if most of it is by definition Microsoft-centric), and having an RSS feed through which to consume it makes it immeasurably easier to consume, navigate—and blog about, natch. Dave thinks so too.

Finally, a decent technical critique of TIA

DM Review: “TIAin’t.” Herb Edelstein points out four major problems with the TIA strategy from a technical point of view:

  • Data integration and data quality: How much time and money will the TIA folks spend just on trying to match disparate records from fifty state drivers’ license bureaus, hundreds of utility bill providers and credit application sources, and all the different banks, credit card providers, and so forth?
  • Too much data, too few examples: With only a handful of domestic terrorists and a US adult population of about 220 million, Edelstein points out, there’s way too low a signal to noise ratio: “Let’s assume there are 1,000 active terrorists in the U.S. (a number that likely overstates the case by an order of magnitude) out of a population (age 16 and up) of approximately 220 million. An algorithm could be 99.999995 percent accurate by saying no one is a terrorist. Even were we to look only at non-citizens (an arguable tactic), we would still have an accuracy rate of 99.99995 percent by declaring no one a terrorist.”
  • Lack of sufficient examples to create good signatures (identifying patterns). This is a technical refinement of the previous point, but basically the sample size of terrorists is so small that it’s hard to build patterns from them that can reliably be used to predict future terrorist activity. Further, Edelstein points out, terrorists exhibit adaptive behavior, learning from what gets other terrorists caught.
  • False positives. Edelstein summarizes this point as a kind of Hobson’s choice: you don’t want to falsely accuse anyone but you don’t want to miss any terrorists. And if you have a failure rate of your algorithms of 0.1%—an overwhelming success in most data mining applications—that’s still over 220,000 potential false positives!

Edelstein concludes that the right answer is to improve the technology and use it to answer fixed questions rather than look for patterns in all possible available data—to use the system for decision support rather than rely on it to make the decisions.

My question: given the large amount of money to be spent, and the large likely consequences of arresting and incarcerating innocent people, how big a disaster do we have to be able to predict and eliminate before a system like this justifies its cost?

These are the things about my neighborhood

  1. No matter how wet and nasty the previous night was, I’ve been waking up each morning to sunlight and a world washed clean. There’s a bit of a wet green glow everywhere I drive. (Never mind that much of it might be dandelions.)
  2. I discovered the world’s scariest parking lot in downtown Kirkland last night: not in terms of violence but just in terms of gravity. The lot is on a steep (about 40°) hill, and rather than have the cars park with noses facing toward the bottom of the hill, they have the spaces along the contour of the hill, so that the parked cars have their drivers side about two feet lower than the passenger side. I swear, I was afraid the car was going to tip over on me as I got out. Pictures soon.


Which vision of April?

Morley: “April is in my mistress’ face.

April is in my mistress’ face.
And July in her eyes hath place.
Within her bosom is September,
But in her heart a cold December.

Mr Eliot: April is the cruellest month. (Killer layout, apologies for the inevitable Tripod popups):

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

Best April Fool’s prank yet

Aaron Swartz writes at the Google Blog that he’s going to start a new topical blog, this one about everyone’s favorite paid-listing engine Overture:

Today is the Google Weblog’s last day. It’s been fun writing it, but it’s time to face the facts: Google simply isn’t relevant in this day and age. Sure, they were good and popular once, but now they’re nothing but a pale shadow of their former self.

The real action is over at Overture, which is quickly gaining the hearts and searches of the Web community. The techno-elite have as their start page, and often use the verb “to overture” in their sentences. There really is no place for Google in this world, which is why this will soon become the Overture Blog.

Hee hee. It’s a joke, right, Aaron?

Happy Birthday Scripting News and UserLand

Dave: “On this day six years ago I started Scripting News. Welcome to year seven of my humble weblog, and praise Murphy.…UserLand Software started in April 1988, fifteen years ago.”

Heartfelt congrats to Dave on this propitious anniversary. Scripting News was what inspired me to restart this page in earnest; I was unaware that there were any other blogs around when I began. And (as I’ve written before) the first version of this website was written in Frontier… and it’s still running in Frontier today.

Jim prepares to hit the trail

My good friend Jim, who I sang with at UVA and in the Cheeselords, is getting ready to hike the Appalachian Trail. As a management and technology project manager for the last few years, he has found the right way to go about the planning: tongue in cheek.

I have ultimate confidence in my ability to walk this thing because I have engineered a most excellent AT Planning Spreadsheet. I have an Executive Dashboard up front, based on my company’s “7 Keys to
Success” management methodology; a risk log; a menu planning tool measuring such dimensions as “calories per dollar”; and a pace-o-meter, which will allow my support team at home to track where I am at any given time, whether I’m at risk of missing milestones, when I should pick up my next mail drop, and so on. I only need to do the actual walking now.

Jim leaves Sunday. Godspeed, Jim, and maybe I’ll be able to get East to see you at some point along the trail.