Framing Dangers

IMG_0163
From my 2015 beach trip

Hurricane Michael leveled much of Mexico Beach, which is a place I know pretty well. Spread out over my lifetime, but a rough impression is, I think, I have spent about half a year at this particular town. That would rank it third longest of places where I have lived.

Several people have expressed surprise about this hurricane was as strong as it was. I wonder if part of the problem is communication. This hurricane quickly intensified. A meteorologist I follow from UGA wrote Tuesday morning when it had increased to a Cat 2:

Michael will likely be a Major Hurricane (Category 3 or higher) at landfall.

And on Monday in Forbes:

As I write this, the [Big Bend] region is staring at the very real possibility of a strong category two or major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) making landfall in the Wednesday-Thursday time frame this week.

He was communicating this storm was quickly intensifying and to expect something far stronger than the usual storms that strike this area. People I love live in Valdosta, which was being named dropped over and over as a likely target for the storm after it made landfall. Everyone I know chose to hunker down and ride it out even as the likely winds to hit Valdosta increased through tropical storm to Cat 1 and Cat 2. People with large trees that could cave in the roof of their homes. My wife’s extended family in the Panama City area also chose to stay.

Why? I called my mother to encourage her to come to stay with us because Valdosta was in the path. She didn’t want to leave. My mother described that Hermine was pretty bad, but it wasn’t that bad for them. A tree damaged just a corner of the roof. Hermine was also a Category 1 with 80 mph winds where it came ashore and probably down to tropical storm strength where Mom lives. Thankfully Michael came ashore well west of Hermine and tracked away from Valdosta family, so they were spared the worst part. We still have not heard from most of my wife’s Panama City family.

So, while meteorologists were trying to say, “this is going to be really bad,” people didn’t really hear it that way. Mom is someone who took meteorology courses in college and wasn’t getting the message. The UGA one has a timeline defending that the NWS did enough to provide notice.

4 am Monday CDT (October 8): …  there is a real possibility that Michael will strengthen to a major hurricane before landfall.

He also said:

Yes, the rapid intensification was shocking but there was plenty of information hinting or explicitly stating that a major hurricane (even category 4) was possible.

I guess my point is hints are not enough. The reason why stores have prices ending in 99 cents is that one extra cent difference lowers sales because people tend to have the impression it is more expensive. Saying “3 or higher” pins people to think 3, not 4 or 5. This effect, called Framing, is pretty well studied in how people make poor decisions because of it. Even marketers study how to use it to influence shoppers. Maybe if some behavioral economics experiments are done to see show Framing affects the way people interpret meteorological messaging, scientists looking not to overstate what they are seeing may learn they are inadvertently giving people a different impression than intended. It is a struggle to be sure, to find the correct way to communicate this stuff.

I Miss Google Reader

The Google+ shut down reminded me that I still miss Google Reader. Google also shut it down about 5 years ago.

I use Inoreader now, but I do not spend nearly the amount of time reading through it that I did GR. I could spend hours a day browsing through articles and mulling the content. Now, I spend about the same amount of time on Twitter instead.

Some old GR posts.

Buh Bye Google+

After a security lapse with the now dashed hopes for a Facebook killer social media site in Google+, it is now going to be shut down for most users. They apparently want to keep it around as a competitor to Slack? LOLz.

Google says Google+ currently has “low usage and engagement” and that 90 percent of Google+ user sessions last less than five seconds. Still, the company plans to keep the service alive for enterprise customers who use it to facilitate conversation among co-workers. New features will be rolled out for that use case, the company says. Google is focusing on a “secure corporate social network,” which is odd considering this announcement comes alongside news that the company left profile details unprotected.

Funnily enough, this post is going to go to Google+. See, I have WordPress Sharing set to post to Google+. I rarely go to Google+ anymore, but I have two users who +1s my posts there. Go figure.

Politics as storytelling

Two decades ago, during my biweekly game in Berkeley, the black, white, and Latino players engaged in a series of long, heated debates about O.J. Simpson’s guilt or innocence. We didn’t necessarily change each other’s opinions about the case, but we gained a far deeper understanding of each other—and our respective group’s experiences—in the process. This surely affected our political perspectives too.

I’ve been mulling this scene. I think the reason I like to discuss politics with people of all perspectives is peeking under the onion layers. Prod someone into talking about something they are passionate about, and they tell stories. They describe how something makes them feel by talking about how it relates to a past event.

Okay, some people are going to be purely factual about a position. That is boring to the human brain. A story engages us. So people eventually fall into telling stories that make their point.

Most people fall near the center of a spectrum on a random issue. And, how they are asked about something can influence how they respond. Ask about abortion and someone is either for or against. Ask about different types and some people who are against turn out to be okay with allowing some types. Tell different stories about a certain type and depending on the details some people can flip their stance depending on the elements it contains.

We do this without really being aware. And I love to notice people not being aware of these inconsistencies.

And these stories reveal far more about them than just the stance. The stories we tell reflect an attempt at shaping how a person wants to be perceived. We instinctually leave out the parts that we don’t want others to know, but others who have experienced the same event know those details. Those omissions also over time get lost as we forget them.

USB Drives to Move Election Malware

From “Can Georgia’s electronic voting machines be trusted?“:

Though voting machines aren’t directly connected to the internet, witnesses testified last week that USB drives are used to transfer election data from internet-connected computers to election servers.

So, computers that are connected to the Internet are used to move data to the election servers. Malware can be used to reach those computers. The theory here is the election servers by not being on the Internet are more secure because they are “air-gapped.” However, Stuxnet eight years ago taught us: Not as much as once thought.

Stuxnet was never intended to spread beyond the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz. The facility was air-gapped and not connected to the internet. That meant that it had to be infected via USB sticks transported inside by intelligence agents or unwilling dupes, but also meant the infection should have been easy to contain.

USB drives are the prime vector to contaminate air-gapped computers. It sounds like the election officials are aware because they added this claim to the article:

Election officials say security precautions protect voting machines from tampering. For example, a USB drive is reformatted every time before it’s plugged into an election server.

I find it unlikely they download data onto a USB drive, delete that data by formatting the USB drive, and only then insert the blank USB drive into an election server. It would be easier just to not use a USB drive at all. They probably mean they format the USB drive while it is in the potentially infected Internet-connected computer, which would not prevent malware from inserting itself onto the USB drive at the time the GEMs data is copied onto the USB drive.

 

18th Anniversary of Blogging

Here is my first blog post from 18 years ago, which makes it as old as a legal adult. Wow…

Two Footballs

I got started at a place called Diaryland. A friend, Lacey, had started using it. Back in those days, I was up for trying pretty much anything geeky friends were doing. Blogging was a natural place for me to go.

Diaryland became Pitas and the site there was the first Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric. As other platforms became available, I tried them all:

My activity is far less now than it was back in 2000, but as I understand, most people active back then primarily post on Facebook or Twitter.

Qualification for President

The office of President of the United States is an enormous one. This is a person who in order to run the government has to appoint over a thousand positions. The senior advisers number over a hundred.

Being able to locate and retain the services of high quality people is a huge challenge. Throw in the winner has less than 3 months from election to occupancy to get a good start. And the longer it takes, the more people question your ability to do the job.

Looking at the current administration, it strikes me that painfully obvious issues are starting to bear fruit.

  1. The President was picked by voters to shake up Washington elites. People like the Speaker of the House and Senate Leader are having to acclimate to change. This is why PotUS hates the legislation, but has to sign anyway to preserve the symbiosis.
  2. As an non-politician outsider, his inital advisers were limited to early supporters who tended to be fringe elements who burned their normal bridges. Or hacks no one else would hire. These are people without power or influence who suddenly have to figure out how to wield it. They were fringe because no one trusted them. They are why scary policy keeps getting retracted.
  3. Later advisers are elites whe saw the winds of change (sycophants). They are there because power is there. These are the people getting fired within a year because of corrupt instincts.
  4. Once everyone saw who would be President, longtime political operatives who disagree with most instincts of the president but love country and party signed on. These are the people trying to restore the status quo from the hacks and sycophants.
  5. The Deep State are career government employees of all parties. They provide the inertia that is the reason why presidential candidates usually to cause much actual change. The government needs them to function and there are millions compared to the thousand appointees.

The anonymous Opinion piece about the Republican Resistance is part of #4. There probably has always been elements of the above in administrations. Other administrations appointed almost all political operatives or people mentored to become one. Is it better? It worked smoother as these people were aligned with the bosses and easily replaced when not. It gets stuff done and allows the PotUS to focus on policy instead of little fires every day.

Talk about a Constitutional crisis is probably overblown. As is calling people keeping the status quo traitors. Their oath of office is to the country not the President. Many people are going to do their best for the country.

Next time, perhaps people will better consider whether a candidate has shown the experience of setting up a government. How they run their campaign is a useful way. Establishing functional headquarters in states who run a strong ground game talking to voters and being able to bring on advisers with strong connections shows what kind of government they will build.

GA Voter Registrations Increase

I was reading an article about how the two candidates for governor represent two sides of voter registrations. One ran an organization who went around getting people registered to vote. The other ran an organization who got legislation to make it easier to remove registered voters and make it harder for people to prove their identity to cast a vote.

Kemp said his record proves he has increased voting access.

The number of registered voters in Georgia increased from 5.8 million when he took office in 2010 to 6.7 million today.

The way this is stated suggests he increased the number of voters by 15% which is impressive.

But, then I remembered that the Georgia population over the same period increased by a significant amount. Maybe a similar amount of people became registered voters? From 2010 to 2017, the adult population was 7.4 million and increased to 7.9 million. So the adult population increased by 0.5 million and the number of voters increased by 0.9 million. That seems like maybe the registration efforts have been successful.

Next, I thought maybe as a percentage of the adult population would better reflect the true state. In 2010, about 78.9% of the adult population were registered to vote. (Used the 5.8 million registered voters above and the Census numbers for adults in 2010.) The Census doesn’t have a 2018 estimate yet, but the registered voters from the quote are for current (August) in 2018. I went looking for historical registered voters records on the Secretary of State website, but they have only as recent up to 2014. Next, I looked at 2017 election results in hopes of finding one. Interestingly, the May 2018 primary claimed there were 6.1 million registered voters. So, I looked at the August 1 number in Kemp’s own website which is: 6,176,672.

Going back to the original, the Georgia population increased by 0.5 million and the number of voters by 0.3 million. As a percentage, it was 78.9% in 2010 and using the 2017 population and 2018 number of voters, the percentage was 78%. So the percentage of adults registered to vote dropped by almost a full percent. (The Georgia population is probably higher in July 2018 than it was in July 2017, so the percentage of adults registered to vote is probably lower.)

Not as good. And the AJC needs to fact check numbers like this. And, the Secretary of State needs to not inflate the number of registered voters by 10%.

Pseudo-Following

There are a handful of people who post interesting things, but I cannot stand the 99% of what they post. Is it worth the pain sifting through thousands of crap posts to reach the one gem?

I discovered that I have a strategy for this dilemma. Follow someone who reposts the interesting stuff. Let them do the hard work.