Sunday, December 18, 2011

Profiling, stereotypes and accuracy

Psychological profiling and body language can be valuable tools for law enforcement so they can identify potential dangerous people or situations.

There are some important issues here, CAN is one, "...can be valuable tools..." and the other is "...identify potential...".

When we do a scientific experiment we have to qualify our measuring devices by checking them against standards. Some equipment can be checked against standards in the lab. Some equipment needs to be calibrated by specialists with specific equipment which has been properly qualified. We keep the qualification records and include copies of them in the results of our experiments.

Typically the equipment will have a specific variability, something like "this tool will measure X units within Y units."

Psychological profiling and body language require a carefully calibrated Observer. Someone who is properly trained. On top of that no one observation identifies a particular type of personality or situation.

The Israeli's supposedly developed a list of criteria that they use to identify potential suicide bombers. There are about 20 items on the list which includes nervous behavior with some sub-items, body language which indicate nervous behavior for example. If someone is displaying 15 of the 20 items the probability of them being a suicide bomber is supposedly about 90%.

So the Israeli's hand this list off to their recruits and then they are capable of identifying the potential bad guys?

No, they spend a ton of time in class rooms, they watch movies, review hundreds of photographs, re-enactments and then finally they go out and actually practice identifying out in the field with someone who is an expert.

After that they have developed a very specific skill that allows them to accurately identify POTENTIAL suicide bombers that they can arrest, search and question. Many times the person is not a suicide bomber, and sometimes they are and lives are saved. How often are mis-identifications made? Israel does not share the profile list or the statistical incidence of incorrect identifications.

On the other hand psychologists go to school for a while, engage in a few experiments and then go out to practice. Anyone good at their job is continually educating themselves. Some of these profilers talk to people involved in crimes and develop some criteria and it becomes popular to believe that these people have become as good at general profiling as the highly and specifically trained Israelis are at specific profiling.

How about police profiling. It typically involves passing around a list of criteria and maybe a couple of hours in profiling classes.

In other words it is crap.

Right now we don't have a specific set of criteria that identifies a person from a chimpanzee. Probably because no one really thinks we need one right? No, not exactly.

In cultural anthropology there is a problem, how do we identify "thinking species" or "civilized" from "non-thinking" or "uncivilized" species. One of the criteria is tool use, of course birds use tools sometimes as well as chimps. Sometimes criteria involving burial rights are used, respect for people who have died. Sometimes familial relationships are used. Right now "civilized" is a politically incorrect as well as a scientifically incorrect term because there is no real, universally accepted criteria which identifies civilization.

The idea in cultural anthropology is to identify the transition from ape-like creatures to people like creatures and we can't do it.

We need multiple criteria. We need specific criteria that when combined are unlikely to occur anywhere but in the group we wish to identify. Incredibly smart, very educated people can't identify "civilization", but, less smart, less well educated people can identify "at-risk" people.

For example, most serial killers are middle age, white men, but, not all middle age white men are serial killers. Most serial killers were abused as children. Not all middle aged white men abused as children are serial killers. Etc, Etc.

Sometimes profiling can help identify a specific suspect from a smaller group of suspects. You can't use the general population as a suspect pool and use profiling to identify a specific person as a suspect no matter how often they do it on television. Sometimes profiling can narrow the suspect pool.

In reality psych profiling is always subjective and can't be effectively qualified. You can't specify how often a profiler is going to be right with any statistical certainty.

Lie detector tests, which uses accurately qualified equipment, can't evaluate specific human behavior with any certainty. How well do you think even the most highly trained people can do? At the very best they will be less accurate than a lie detector test.

In other words, not accurate at all.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


When I was a kid we always got at least one flashlight for Christmas. My brother and I played hard and I doubt if any of those lights survived. I know I don't have one.

My Great Grandfather bought a bunch of land north in Northern Michigan. We used to go up on the weekends. No plumbing or electricity. In the woods the dark is something fierce, you can't see your hands in front of your face. If you have to take a dump in the middle of the night you take a flashlight. As a result of this interesting childhood all the men (and to an extent even my sister) in my family have a kind of a flashlight fetish. If I consider you a member of the family you get a flashlight at Christmas.

I almost always have one in my pocket. When my Grandfather died I slipped a 1xAAA Maglite in his suit coat pocket during visitation. My sister cried. Everyone wanted to make sure it actually worked. A non-working flashlight is about as useful as an unloaded gun.

There are flashlights all over my house and I have a lot of experience with them. I buy different flashlights and I test them out. Over the years I have learned a lot about flashlights and I figured I would give people a few pointers from what I have learned.

Flashlights are all about electrical connections. Back in the “old days” the corrosion protection of the individual components was so poor that they often “rusted” or oxidized causing electrical connection problems. Old timers used to carry steel wool so they could clean the connections when their flashlights failed. If you have ever seen an old “steel wool and batteries to start a fire” article now you know why anyone figured you would have both steel wool and flashlight batteries.

These days the plating on the components is so good that even the cheapest flashlight typically works better than a really good fifty year old flashlight. I have cheap Chinese LED flashlights that are 7 or 8 years old and still work great.

Every electrical connection causes resistance. The cleaner the connection the less resistance. Electronics typically use gold or gold plating to reduce the potential for corrosion and resistance in the circuit. Flashlights (reasonably priced flashlights) do not use gold connectors. Some gold plating is so cheap it wears away almost instantly. Other times gold plating on spring contacts cracks and causes connection problems. A contact needs more than gold it needs quality engineering and manufacturing.

Battery technology has also improved. Most flashlight batteries are 1.5 volts. “Lantern” or “Big flashlights” have 6 or 12 volt batteries. Some batteries are made from different materials. Alkaline batteries are the most common these days. Carbon batteries are still around, if the battery is marked “Heavy Duty” and is not marked “Alkaline” it is a carbon battery. Lithium batteries are the same size as alkaline or carbon batteries, but, they are typically 3 volts. Double A batteries in lithium are 3.6 volts.

Bulb technology has also improved a great deal. We have LEDs which use less power for a reasonable amount of light. I really like LED flashlights. When I want a bright light I use an incandescent bulb. It is possible to buy High Intensity Discharge (HID) lanterns which have very bright lights and use less energy.

Typically a flashlight brightness is all about voltage and the bulb. The more voltage, the brighter the bulb. Not all bulbs can handle the voltage though. If you put 2 AA lithium batteries (14500) with a standard AA bulb the bulb will burn up. If you put a 2AA lithium batteries in a flashlight with a bulb typically used in a 4 or 5 D cell light the light will be really bright and if you have a plastic reflector it could melt.

If your flashlight quits working and you know the bulb and batteries are good it means the connections are corroded. Some flashlights have slide switches and in the old days the sliding motion rubbed off the corrosion protection. Once the corrosion protection on the switch was gone it would rust and the flashlight wouldn't work. Most good flashlights use real switches these days. Most cheap flashlights like kids flashlights still use crappy slide switches, but, the corrosion protection is better so they last longer.

Incandescent flashlight bulbs require voltage. Ohms law tells us that resistance times amperage equals voltage. Batteries have a limited voltage and amperage. As the battery is used the voltage and the amperage are reduced. A 1.5 volt battery is typically okay until the voltage comes down to around 1.1 or 1 volts. If the corrosion in the connections causes too much resistance it takes more amperage to achieve enough voltage to light the bulb. The cleaner the connections the higher the amperage and the more voltage reaches the bulb.

LED lights are dependent on amperage. I won't get into the difference in electronics. You can make an LED work by including a resistor in the circuit. Better LED lights use a special device called a “buck puck” which limits the amperage no matter what the voltage is. Some LED lights need a full amp to work. Most use about 350 milliamps, some use 700 milliamps.

Watts are determined by multiplying voltage and amperage. A 1 watt light using 2 AAA batteries has 3 volts (nominally) and so it needs about 333 milliamps.

Now that we understand the basics we can troubleshoot flashlights when they have problems. I use a multi-meter. I have a cheap Chinese 2xAA (2 double A batteries) aluminum LED light that no longer works. I tested the push button switch in the end cap and it works fine. No resistance. The tube of the light carries the electricity to the bulb. Good bulb. Good batteries. Where is the problem?

I checked the connection at the top of the tube with the bulb and it works fine. The problem is the connection between the tube and the end cap. No electrical flow. Fix the connection and the flashlight works. In this case the batteries had corroded and some of that corrosion had filled the threads. I used a 12ga brush to clean out the battery tube.

I don't believe someone can have too many good flashlights. I do believe people can overspend on flashlights. Plastic bodies are not better or worse than metal bodies. The places to look for quality in a flashlight are the connections, primarily the main spring, the switch and the bulb contact. The cheaper these pieces are the lower the quality of the flashlight.

Corrosion is a problem so find a water proof flashlight and try to minimize temperature swings which cause condensation inside of a flashlight. Water is a form of concentrated oxygen and oxygen causes corrosion. I have shoved small moisture absorbent packets under the main spring in a water proof flashlight to try and reduce condensation so the flashlight will be less temperature sensitive.

The cardinal rule, inspect your flashlights often, once a month is usually fine. More if you live in a very humid area. Inspect means, remove the end cap and pull the batteries. Switch them around. Turn the flashlight on and slap it against your hand a couple of times. If the beam wavers you have a problem. Replace the flashlight or troubleshoot and repair.

Battery tops and bottoms can become corroded. Replace the batteries or rub leather on the tops and bottoms of them. Steel wool is useful too, but, the steel wool puts tiny scratches which cause the battery contacts to oxidize faster. Test the flashlight again.

Beam still wavering? Springs can lose their “spring-y-ness” over time. Replacement springs are useful parts to keep around. Try stretching the main spring a little to increase “spring-y-ness”. This will also reduce the life of the spring.

Still wavering? Clean the contacts on the bulb contact.

Still wavering? Clean any other contacts you can reach.

Still wavering? Get a new light.

Maglites are still probably the best value in flashlights. There are lots of good manufacturers, I like Rayovac and Duracell and EverReady. I stay away from high priced lights like Streamlight. You can make your own choices and I hope this article helps you make a more educated choice.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Taxes, GDP and wages

The really screwed up government of the United States is screwing up even more lately.

There is one way to save the US economy, raise wages.

Currently there is nothing wrong with the US tax code, except for the capital gains tax. The Capital Gains tax should only apply to the first $100,000 in capital gains. After that capital gains should be considered normal income.

Payroll taxes should stay the same regardless of income. PAYROLL, as in taxes paid by employees.

The highest earning 10% of tax payers in the United States pay the most taxes, 70% of the nations tax burden. These 13,768,000 tax payers paid $610,000,000,000 total income tax on a total adjusted gross income of $3,380,000,000,000 for an average adjusted gross income of about $245,000 each.

Yep, the top 10% of income earners in the United States make an average of $245,000 each.

The average income in the United States is $56,710. Total income $7825,000,000,000 divided by 137,982,000 taxpayers equals $56,710.00.

Wow, that's a lot of money! That was sarcasm, it really ain't. Let's subtract out that top 10%.

$7825,000,000,000 minus $3,380,000,000,000 equals $4,445,000,000,000 total income.

137,982,000 minus 13,798,000 equals 124,184,000 taxpayers.

$4,445,000,000,000 divided by 124,184,000 equals $35,793.66 average income.

So, the 90% of people in the United States making under $245,000.00 makes an average of $35,793.66 in income.

We can make the point a little better.

The bottom 50%, 68,991,000, of taxpayers made a total of $1,055,000,000,000 and an average of $15,291.84.

Wait a second, what about that "middle class" then, the people between the bottom 50% and the top 10%?

124,184,000 taxpayers minus 68,991,000 taxpayers equals 55,193,000 "middle class" taxpayers.

Total income of that group equals $4,445,000,000,000 minus $1,055,000,000,000 or $3,390,000,000,000.

So $3,390,000,000,000 divided by 55,193,000 equals $61,420.83 and that is your "average middle class income".

Now have we started getting a handle on income disparity in the United States?

If we want to fix the economy we have to increase the wages of the bottom 50% of tax payers in the United States.

We have to find a way to employ them in jobs where their incomes increase.

Corporations are using really bad math to minimize their costs. The less they pay workers, the less workers can spend and the less money the corporations make so the less they pay workers. This is a self defeating ideology guaranteed to destroy the economy of the United States.

Back at the turn of the century Henry Ford proved that the more money you pay workers the more money the workers spent and the more money the corporation made.

Washington needs to quit including families making over about $125,000.00 in "middle class" and giving them "middle class" tax breaks.

I don't have a problem with the tax code the way it was in 2010. I think we need to leave it that way, except for some small changes to the capital gains tax and eliminating the social security cap.

Wait, I also think employers need to pay 75% of the social security taxes collected and social security should be collected for every employee. People who have been in the top 10% of income earners for 10 years or more should not be eligible for social security.

Employers should also pay 100% of the cost of medical insurance. Period.

The only way to drive up the tax base is to increase income. Washington likes to increase the income of people in the top 10% because increasing their income 1% is easier and makes Washington more money than increasing the income of the bottom 50% by 10%.

The morons in Washington are going to screw this country over doing what is easiest.

We can't wait around hoping another Steve Wozniak invents something and has a friend like Steve Jobs to sell it creating the "tech bubble".

If we don't encourage "out of the box" behavior and education as well as improving the income for that bottom 50% to increase the odds of someone finding the next "tech" that invention might be in Asia, India, Russia or Europe.

And the US will be sitting there, broke and stupid.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Sliders, Inter-Dimensional travel and Arrogance

Ever seen the show “Sliders”? It is kind of hokey. The story is about 4 people who “slide” from one dimension into another parallel dimension where they often find copies of themselves.

A book by Paul Melko, “The Walls of the Universe” describes a similar situation.

Heinlein and many others have written about these "Parallel Earths".

Maybe they exist. Probably not.

String theory supports the idea of a multi-verse composed of multiple “string” universes, which we call “dimensions”, inter-twined with each other. Kind of like a thick rope twisted from multiple strings. Okay, not exactly, but, kind of.

Some people believe that new dimensions are created every time we make a decision, as if the individual thoughts of a single person were capable of the act of creation. Not very likely in my opinion.

Personally I think it is pretty arrogant to believe that our individual thoughts control the multi-verse. For me, our human arrogance and ignorance is very entertaining. Far more entertaining than hokey fiction.

I believe that, IF the multi-verse exists, each universe “evolves” in an individual isolation.

There may be natural physical occurrences which “split” a string into two sub-strings and then reconnect, or not. Under these circumstances it MAY be possible that both of the sub-strings are equal to the string they split from. In this case it MAY be possible that two “versions” of a person may exist simultaneously.

I think that is very unlikely. In fact I think it is unlikely that the Earth exists in any other dimension much less billions of copies of all of us.

If the universe splits the two strands are not necessarily identical. In fact, I think it would be as unlikely as identical twins being identical. They may look very similar and have the same DNA, but, the two people are very different.

However, I believe there are millions of worlds with unlimited resources available to those who can travel between dimensions.

There is another issue, the “infinite monkey theory”. The Infinite Monkey theory states that intelligent life is as inevitable as the fact that an infinite number of monkeys pounding on an infinite number of type writers will eventually pound out every literary work ever produced.

The problem with that is the distance between these works. The average book has about 80,000 words and many have as many as 1,000,000 words. The odds of a monkey pounding one out is 1/101^80,000. Every keystroke is at random so 1 out of 101 with a 101 key keyboard. It takes between 80,000 and 1,000,000 correct strokes to create a literary work. So the monkey has to beat the 1 in 101 odds 80,000 times.

That is a pretty BIG number and we can use it to represent the distance between manuscripts by multiplying the BIG number by the average distance between stars. Wow, really BIG numbers.

Not exactly. Inter planetary travel is possible. Inter-dimensional travel is theoretically possible. If we travel inter-dimensionally through enough universes, our BIG number of universes, we will eventually run into a planet with intelligent life.

Still, the odds of finding intelligent life are directly related to the odds of intelligent life developing on a planet.

From a scientific viewpoint, if God exists the odds of two intelligent life forms coming into contact are pretty good.

If God does not exist and life is a random event which occurs with a statistical regularity. Because there is only one life form on Earth intelligent enough to control it's environment to the point where we can build vehicles capable of interplanetary travel we can assume that the possibility for the development of intelligent life exists and that typically only one intelligent species develops per planet.

This may or may not be true.

Dolphins and whales are fairly intelligent even though they do not possess the mechanical dexterity to control their environment. It may be possible that two different intelligent species can develop without one destroying the other.

That is not very likely if Darwin's “survival of the fittest” is correct.

Animals typically wipe each other out regardless of their position on the endangered species list. In fact animals have wiped out far more species than people have.

It is a shame we very probably don't have an infinite number of nearly identical copies of ourselves out there in different universes.

It does make for interesting fiction though.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

How to create an impossible to decrypt cipher

Pretty simple stuff.

First, go out and download 99 text files from some site like Make them all under about 100,000 words. There are many books with around 80,000 words and some with more.

Now write a note to someone.

At the beginning of the note place a two digit number which identifies the text file.

Now create a program which converts each letter into a number like 00048203. The first six numbers identify the word in the text file. Five is enough if you kept the text files under 99,999 words. The next two numbers identify the letter in the word.

The same number is not used twice. If a letter appears a second time it will be taken from a different word.

If you want to get really tricky and overly complex, write the program so it changes the word count. For example word 482 might not be word 482, maybe the program only uses every other word or every third word or maybe it rotates the usage based on the identifying number of the text file, for example text file 99 always uses the 9th word. Maybe a number is added with the text file, 08199 for example, and the second number of the first three identifies the word skip pattern, maybe the first or third or maybe the square root of the number of maybe the number is divided by the second number from the text file number. With 08123, the 81 could be divided by the 3 from text file number which gives me 27 and I just use every seventh word.

This is actually a pretty simple program to write, not that I would ever admit to writing this program or using it. If I did it, the program would actually take an extra step of hiding the numerical message inside of an image.

Rename the program to something that is normal on your computer and drop it into the correct directory. I could have renamed mine "notepad.exe" and made it so it only worked as an encryption/decryption program when you ran it from a DOS prompt with an option. Otherwise it just looked like Windows Notepad.

I could then send the image to someone who had the program and the exact same 99 text files.

Every so often I could change the 99 text files and bingo, we have an encryption package that is impossible to break, unless someone manages to get both the program and the correct 99 text files.

If you do something like this, downloading the files from a place like Change the number of words in the beginning of your text file, add or subtract something that is unlikely to be noticed without a direct file to file comparison. Zip all the text files into one zip file and upload it to a server or distribute a CD by hand or snail mail.

You want to make sure that all the files are exactly the same and are not changed by anyone during the time you are using this system of encryption.

Swap the text files around every so often.

This encryption can be used in e-mail, chat rooms, forums, hidden messages, etc.

There are other forms of less secure encryption that can be used more easily.

This encryption can only be broken if someone has both the program (or processing pattern) and the currently used text files.

You can do this by hand also, although that is not quite as much fun.

One of the conspiracy theories I have heard is that Gideon's Bibles were placed in hotel rooms to make sure U.S. Spys had "the book" they needed to decrypt notes they received. Truthfully, if I was a "Russian Spy" it would probably be the first book I checked so I don't think that works very well.

This method can be used with any King James Version of the Bible (almost, sometimes the wording changes). There are 66 books so the first two numbers are between 01 and 66. The second three numbers are the chapters. The next three numbers are the word. The last two numbers are the letter. (If you go to letter, maybe you just stick with words :-). 32003102 is "the" and 3200310203 is "e".

The individual books of the Bible from have kewl scripture numbers 32:003:005 that can convert into 32003005023 or 3200300502303. Have to love those scripture numbers.

Want to get really wacked? Convert the number into binary. You could convert the binary into words like "on" and "off" or "true" and "false". So the number one becomes 00110001 and then becomes truetruefalsefalsetruetruetruefalse. Yeah, I reversed it for another level of confusion. This makes a simple message into a huge monster of text that can cause any overworked geek's eyes to just glaze over and any computer to spit it out as gibberish.

Using the Bible for this stuff is pretty common though and someone could break your code pretty quickly.

So if you are a script kiddie looking to learn and use an easy method of encryption with your buddies or an international beanie baby smuggling ring or just a group of people who hate the idea of someone eves dropping on your conversation's write yourself up a program or get a geek friend to write yourself up a program. Just be careful you don't break any laws about writing computer ciphers.

Guy Fawkes, Revolution and V

So there is a movie a friend recommended to me where an anarchist dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask destroys London in order to overthrow an oppressive theological regime. One of the actors is Natalie Portman who stared with Jean Reno in "The Professional" so I watched the movie.

The moronic anarchist ends up imprisoning and torturing the character played by Portman. He then explains that she had to discover a diary written by a woman imprisoned for the crime of being a lesbian in the same context he had.

I call the anarchist a moron because no two people in the world ever share the same context. The variety of experiences in their lives cause them to view everything in a different way.

The anarchist assumes that everyone has to be tortured and imprisoned to understand the concept of wrongful imprisonment and torture because he believes that without that wrongful imprisonment and torture he would not have been open to the thoughts and feelings expressed by the lesbian.

This anarchist is a psychotic sociopath.

Please, it is acceptable to oppress someone if you believe it necessary for their edification? Anyone who agrees with that ideology needs to take a trip to their nearest lobotomist.

Personally I am willing to fight against any regime that enforces it's brand of religion onto the population. In my opinion the United States is currently working very hard to enforce a form of atheism on the citizenship of the nation. Eventually it will probably be illegal to display any religious symbolism anywhere in the United States. No more crosses on churches, no more fish on the backs of cars, no more stars of David, no more golden domes, etc, etc.

Ridiculously fish with feet will probably still be allowed though.

Currently Democracy is still working away at maintaining religious freedoms as well as the freedom of speech. When Democracy fails those of us who believe in the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech will revolt against those who have corrupted the United States into a "Freedom from Religion" nation.

Personally I think Islam will eventually come out the winner and the United States will eventually become an Islamic Theocracy, after the "Freedom of Religion" revolt occurs.

I very much doubt if I would choose a Guy Fawkes mask as a symbol of the revolution though.

Guy Fawkes was a member of a failed revolution against the oppression of the protestant English Monarchy. More than that, Guy Fawkes was a religious fanatic working for the Catholic Church against King James, "The Protestant King" who forced the publication of an English translation of a "Divine Latin Bible". The English are happy with their Monarchy and would gladly kill anyone opposing it (including The Lady Diana according to some).

Personally I would rather choose Castro or Mao or Stalin, all whom I believe were mass murders rather than a failed revolutionary like Che Guerra or a religious fanatic like Guy Fawkes.

Unlike Marx, Mao, Guerra, Castro, Stalin and our moronic "V", I do not believe that the proletariat need to be forced to adopt a socially responsible form of government. I believe that the United States and Western Europe have shown it is possible to use Democracy to balance a socialist/capitalist form of government.

I also think that the Democratic form of government becomes vulnerable to an outside force like Islamic Terrorists. The more stable and peaceful things become the more vulnerable they are to fanatical religious violence of the kind enjoyed by Guy Fawkes and Osama Bin Laden.

On the other hand, fanatical and oppressive violence such as that used by "V" and the oppressive regime "V" fought against are not usually susceptible to fanatical violence from a lesser force. Yeah, I know, "V" won in the movies even though he wore a Guy Fawkes mask. In reality "V" would have suffered the same fate as Good 'Ole Religious Fanatic Guy.

Essentially a fanatic has to wait until the regime is happy with peace, not putting resources into "violence" and then attack. If the regime counter-attacks wait until it becomes bored and goes away and then attack again. If the regime counter-attacks wait until it becomes bored and goes away and then attack again. Repeat until the regime falls.

This is how the North Vietnamese kicked ass on the French and the United States and it is how Al Queda is kicking ass on the United States. The only way to win against them is to keep the fight out of the borders of the United States, but, there are too many morons not reading Mao, Marx and Hitler to ever figure that out.

Kill one of the generals of the resistance movement and end the movement? Maybe, it has happened in the past but I doubt very much if it will succeed with Al Queda. I believe it is more likely to create a power vacuum filled with more people struggling to become the leader identified with Al Queda. Essentially a political hydra. Can we kill them all? Maybe, but, I doubt it.

Either we figure out a way to change the beliefs of religious fanatics OR we kill them all OR we begin learning Arabic and invest in Guy Fawkes masks hoping "V" shows up like Dr. Manhattan and kills all the bad guys.

Since we can't do the first and we are withdrawing from Afghanistan (no to the second) I figure it is time to invest in Religious Fanatic Guy Fawkes masks and apparently a bunch of people in the Occupy movement agree with me :-)