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2017 July 12

Join the Day of Action for Net Neutrality on July 12th

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 07:57
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Today is the “Day of Action” for net neutrality—a day when people and businesses everywhere can speak up for the important role that regulation plays in ensuring freedom of speech.

The FCC wants to destroy net neutrality and give big cable companies control over what we see and do online. If they get their way, they’ll allow widespread throttling, blocking, censorship, and extra fees. On July 12th, the Internet will come together to stop them.

via Join the Day of Action for Net Neutrality on July 12th

It may seem strange that regulation is important for freedom, but freedom of speech and freedom of the press requires that those who provide the infrastructure (historically the public marketplaces and parks, nowadays the internet) not be allowed to censor based on content or who is speaking.  This is precisely the principle of net neutrality, which does not allow ISPs to charge different fees or provide different services dependent on whose data is being sent.

My Internet Service Provider (ISP) is a small local one, and they are very strongly in favor of net neutrality—it is only the very large, monopolistic ISPs like Verizon that favor being allowed to take bribes to give some services preferred access to consumers.  Trump appointed a Verizon executive to remove net neutrality and concentrate power in the hands of the monopolists, but today is a time to push back and insist on freedom.

Go to Join the Day of Action for Net Neutrality on July 12th to find out more about net neutrality and to sign a petition asking Congress to defend it!

2016 June 1

Poll data and electability

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:03
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I’m a bit worried about the possibility that Donald Trump might win the Presidential election.  I don’t personally see how any sane person could vote for him, but US politics never seems to have been ruled by sanity.

I was looking at the poll summaries at RealClearPolitics:

I hope that the “superdelegates” at the Democratic national convention are watching these polls also and doing everything they can to make sure that Trump is not elected, even if it means that their favorite candidate doesn’t get the nomination.

2016 January 16

Lawyers to avoid

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:40
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If I were ever stupid enough to run for public office, I know one group of lawyers to avoid at all costs: Seattle-based Garvey Schubert Barer.  Apparently the bright boys there decided to issue Wikimedia with a take-down order for putting up pictures of copyrighted campaign materials from the Bernie Sanders campaign. (source:

Never mind that the whole point of campaign stickers and buttons is to have them displayed as widely as possible.

Never mind that including pictures of campaign materials in an encyclopedia is clearly covered by fair-use doctrines.

Apparently Garvey Schubert Barer hires idiots.  I wonder whether they will make a public apology for doing something stupid, but they’re lawyers, so I doubt it—they probably still think that they can make a case for it being the “right” thing to do.   The takedown order has been withdrawn, but the media storm about it is just about to start.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would conjecture that this was not the act of an incompetent and idiotic lawyer (though, in the real world, that is the most likely explanation). Instead, I would conjecture that the lawyer who did this was paid under the table by some rich guy who feared that Sanders might win the election, after all the money he had spent to buy Clinton’s favor.  (The Republican candidates were all bought and paid for decades ago, and their handlers are unlikely to attack Sanders in this way, because in their bubble chamber Sanders can’t win—he has no billionaires backing him, and everyone in their world knows that anyone who isn’t a billionaire is a loser—just ask Trump.)

I understand that the Clinton campaign is starting to attack Sanders, which I think is a strategic error.  Part of what has been making the Democrats electable is that they have been behaving like adults, rather than petulant toddlers like the Republican candidates. In fact, I think that a lot of Democrats have been secretly hoping for Sanders/Clinton double-bill, with the primary mostly about who gets top billing. I know it goes against the grain of American politics to have a competent person as a vice presidential candidate—but it would be nice to have two competent people, either of whom would make a good president, working together as President and Vice President.  If the Clinton and Sanders campaigns start throwing mud or engaging in dirty tricks, then it will be nearly impossible to put together such a winning ticket.

Personally, I’m rooting for Bernie, as is most of the town I live in (Santa Cruz has been described as The Leftmost City), as I am tired of center-right politicians like Obama and Clinton being described as leftists or socialists.  Why does the media allow the wingnuts on the far right to redefine the “center” far to the right of where the center really is?

We need to get more progressive politicians at the state and national level, to undo the  damage that has been done by the concentration of wealth and privilege in the hands of a very small group of greedy men.  Bernie Sanders is one of the few progressives who has survived Washington with his honor mostly intact.  (Barbara Boxer is another, but she seems to be withdrawing from electoral politics and has rather tepidly endorsed Clinton, as a show of support for female politicians.)


2012 October 27

Antiscience beliefs

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:04
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Scientific American has recently published an article by, Antiscience Beliefs Jeopardize U.S. Democracy.  The article provides some historical context for anti-science politics in the US, but is mainly an opinion piece about the dangers of the growth of anti-science positions in mainstream US politics.  It is an article well worth reading if you worry about the future of the US (and the world).

The article also points to an evaluation of the two presidential candidates on several key science-policy questions.  Neither candidate did particularly well, but there were some clear differences between them.  If there are any scientists still undecided about which candidate to support, the article is worth reading.

2012 July 22

Coursera Course Catalog

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 17:12
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Because of the news about all sorts of prestigious colleges joining Coursera, I decided to look over Coursera’s  Course Catalog.  They now have 111 courses, which sounds like a lot, until you realize that a medium-size institution like UCSC offers about 1000 undergrad courses every quarter.

I’m having trouble getting an exact count, as there does not seem to be an easily accessible report of total numbers of distinct courses offered—I can get some information about the number of different sections of undergrad (that is, distinct classroom assignments) at around 1300 from the course schedule, and the number of undergrad courses taught in a year by tenure-track faculty as about 1000 a year, but the first has a lot of duplication and the second excludes the huge number of courses taught by lecturers or instructors who are not tenure-track.  Also, I only counted undergrad courses, but 37% of the course tenure-track faculty teach are grad courses.

In any case, it is clear that Coursera is offering only a tiny fraction of what their member universities offer.  A lot of the courses look like they were chosen more as advertisements than as substance—picking some of the most popular courses as a “look how great we are” come-on to get people to attend the university.  Nothing wrong with that, and probably the only way the universities can justify the enormous expense of a MOOC (massive open online course), given that they bring in no direct revenue to cover their expenses.  [I think MOOC actually stands for massively over-hyped online course.]

A lot of the courses that are offered are the “book learning” courses that require no lab facilities, no face-to-face discussions, and no close mentoring.  They are the easiest courses to offer, but the ones least likely to save universities much by switching to an online format (those sorts of lecture classes are already relatively cheap per student).

One exception is computer science classes, since the specialized equipment needed for CS courses is now so cheap that just about anyone who can access on-line courses has the necessary equipment already, and much of the software needed for CS courses is available free (often open-source).  If grading the courses is reduced to low-quality automatic checking of programs (a travesty that has already happened in some brick-and-mortar CS courses), then there is nothing stopping the scaling of fairly advanced courses to MOOCs.

Coursera, Udacity, and other MOOC providers are riding a wave of venture capital, but I’ve yet to hear a coherent business plan from any of them.  At some point the capital will run out, and unless some way of paying the developers and maintainers is found (Coursera has 20 people on their “team page”), the companies will collapse.

I suggest that people who want to participate in one of the MOOCs do so in the next year, because it is not clear whether the idea will find a way to become self-sustaining or not.  Right now, the courses are free because they are heavily subsidized.  That subsidy is unlike to last long.

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