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Archive for May 5th, 2019

Boeing apparently did not know what it was doing

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There’s incompetence, there’s criminal incompetence, and there’s deadly criminal incompetence. Boeing seems to have all three. David Gelles and Natalie Kitroeff report in the NY Times:

When Boeing began delivering its 737 Max to customers in 2017, the company believed that a key cockpit warning light was a standard feature in all of the new jets.

But months after the planes were flying, company engineers realized that the warning light worked only on planes whose customers had bought a different, optional indicator.

In essence, that meant a safety feature that Boeing thought was standard was actually a premium add-on.

Boeing detailed its initial confusion about the warning light in a statement released on Sunday, adding new details to what was already known about the flawed design and introduction of the 737 Max, its best-selling jetliner.

The initial lack of knowledge about the feature’s functionality, along with the delayed disclosure, add to the concern about Boeing’s management of the Max’s design. The revelations add to Boeing’s mounting problems, which include frayed relations with airlines and customers, multiple federal investigations, growing financial costs and the remaining work to get the Max flying again.

The warning light notifies pilots of a disagreement in the sensors that measure which direction the plane is pointed, a potential sign of a malfunction. This light could have provided critical information to the pilots on two flights that crashed shortly after takeoff in recent months.

In both doomed flights — Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 — preliminary investigations suggest that there were problems with these so-called angle of attack sensors early in the flights, activating new anti-stall software that sent the planes into unrecoverable nose-dives.

But the disagree alert worked only on planes with an optional indicator that displays the readings from the angle of attack sensors, Boeing said on Sunday.

Because only 20 percent of customers had purchased the optional indicator, the warning light was not working on most of Boeing’s new jets. Neither Lion Air nor Ethiopian had the indicator.

After discovering the lapse in 2017, Boeing performed an internal review and determined that the lack of a working warning light “did not adversely impact airplane safety or operation,” it said in its statement.

As a result, Boeing said it did not inform airlines or the Federal Aviation Administration about the mistake for a year.

Only after the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 last October did Boeing discuss the matter with the F.A.A. The company then conducted another review and again found the missing alert did not pose a safety threat, and told the F.A.A. as much.

Boeing and the F.A.A. put out public updates late last year that described the warning light as available only if the optional indicator had been purchased as well.

But neither statement made it clear that Boeing had intended for the disagree alert to be standard in all planes.

Continue reading. There’s more.

Boeing failed, and it was a big failure. It seems likely that the confusion resulted from the rush job to get the 737 8 Max delivered (to keep Airbus from picking up contracts) and the fact that Boeing was responsible for their own safety reviews, with the FAA not in the picture (budget cutbacks so that the wealthy get tax cuts) contributed as well.

Also, in the Washington Post: “Boeing waited until after Indonesian plane crash to inform FAA of 737 Max safety review.” That decision also seems criminal. That report begins:

In the months after Boeing started delivering its new 737 Max jets in 2017, the company’s engineers discovered a problem: One of Boeing’s suppliers delivered flight control software that did not meet its requirements, Boeing disclosed Sunday.

It wasn’t until after a deadly plane crash involving related flight control software that the company informed regulators about the issue, which safety review committees from Boeing and the FAA determined was a “low-risk” problem, according to a statement on Boeing’s website. . .

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2019 at 6:06 pm

Something that will eventually come in handy: After-a-death-occurs checklist

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A bit morbid, but we all shall run into it at some point, and this checklist will be handy when we do. This one is specific to Washington state, but it will serve as a guide. It begins:

Here is a checklist of important things to do when someone close to you dies in Washington State.

This can be a very overwhelming and emotional time. It is a good idea to read this checklist before a death occurs, in order to plan and understand the practical steps of this difficult process.

It is also helpful to keep all your important information in one location and tell someone where you keep it.

The words “deceased” and “decedent” mean “the person who died.” “Estate” is the property belonging to the person who died.

This checklist is an excerpt of the Handbook for Washington Seniors: Legal Rights and Resources, by Legal Voice. Specific chapters in the Handbook are referenced for more information throughout this checklist.


❑ Call 911 right away if there is an unexpected death in your home. The medical team will help you figure out the next steps. If the deceased was receiving hospice care, call the hospice.

❑ If a death is expected to happen soon, call your doctor or your hospice to discuss what to do when or if a death happens in your home.

❑ Most deaths occur in hospitals and other places such as nursing homes. Talk to the staff about their process.

❑ Contact close family and/or friends of the deceased, the deceased’s doctor (if a hospice is not involved), and the deceased’s lawyer, if any. If the deceased cared for dependents (for example, grandchildren), make arrangements immediately for their care.

❑ Look for any written instructions (sometimes called a “Letter of Instruction,” “Final Instructions”, or “Disposition Authorization”) for funeral or memorial service arrangements, and burial or cremation arrangements. Also look to see if the deceased named a “Designated Agent” to take care of those arrangements (sometimes this is included in the deceased’s Advance Directive documents such as in their Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, or in a Living Will). If not found, ask close friends, the deceased’s doctor or the deceased’s lawyer if they know where these instructions are. Also, look for any pre-paid services, such as burial services or cremation.

For more information about who is responsible under Washington State law for these after-death arrangements, see the “Funerals, Burials, and Cremation” section of the Dealing with Death chapter in the Handbook for Washington Seniors: Legal Rights and Resources.

❑ Look for records of the deceased person’s desire to donate organs or tissue (usually noted on a Washington State driver’s license with a red heart symbol or the word “Donor,” or mentioned in the deceased’s “Final Instructions”). Give this information to the deceased’s doctor or hospice immediately (or before the death, if possible).

❑ If you are the named “Designated Agent” (or if none, if you are the person allowed by Washington State law to automatically be the Designated Agent), you should arrange for . . .

Read the whole thing and save it somewhere.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2019 at 11:21 am

Posted in Daily life, Law

The Trouble With Joe and Bernie

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Paul Krugman makes some good points in the NY Times:

It’s still very early, but Joe Biden has emerged as the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Bernie Sanders is in second place, although he appears to be fairly far behind, and one poll shows him in a statistical tie with Elizabeth Warren. So what should we think about the men currently leading the field?

Well, I have concerns. Not about electability, a topic about which nobody knows anything. Never mind what today’s general election polls say: What will polling look like after the inevitable Republican smear campaign? The answer to this question depends, in turn, on whether news organizations will cooperate with those smears as gleefully as they did in 2016.

No, my concerns are about what will happen if either man wins. Are they ready for the political trench warfare that would inevitably follow a Democratic victory?

The trouble with both Biden and Sanders is that each, in his own way, seems to believe that he has unique powers of persuasion that will let him defy the harsh reality of today’s tribal politics. And this lack of realism could set either of them up for failure.

Start with Biden, a convivial guy who has maintained good personal relations with Republicans. All indications are that he believes that these good personal relations will translate into an ability to make bipartisan deals on policy.

But we’ve already seen this movie, and it was a tragedy. Barack Obama took office with a message of unity and bipartisan outreach, and a sincere belief that he could get many Republicans to back his efforts to revive the economy, reform health care, and more. What he faced instead was total scorched-earth opposition.

And Obama’s belief that he could transcend partisanship nearly sank his presidency. Crucial months were wasted trying to devise health reform legislation that could attract Republican support; Obama’s signature achievement happened only because Nancy Pelosi’s heroic efforts dragged the Affordable Care Act across the finish line. He was willing to make a “grand bargain” with Republicans that would have undermined Medicare and Social Security, deeply damaging the Democratic brand; he was saved only by the G.O.P.’s total intransigence, its unwillingness to contribute a single penny’s worth of tax increases.

The big concern about a Biden presidency is that he would repeat all of Obama’s early mistakes, squandering any momentum from electoral victory in pursuit of a bipartisan dream that should have died long ago.

Sanders, by contrast, doesn’t do bipartisanship. He doesn’t even do unipartisanship, refusing to call himself a Democrat even as he seeks the party’s nomination. But what Sanders appears to believe is that he can convince voters not just to support progressive policies, but to support sweeping policy changes that would try to fix things most people don’t consider broken.

That, after all, is what his Medicare for All push, which would eliminate private insurance, amounts to. He is saying to the 180 million Americans who currently have private insurance, many of whom are satisfied with their coverage: “I’m going to take away the insurance you have and replace it with a government program. Also, you’re going to pay a lot more in taxes. But trust me, the program will be better than what you have now, and the new taxes will be less than you currently pay in premiums.”

Could those claims be true? Yes. Will voters believe them? Probably not. Polling shows that support for Medicare for All falls off drasticallywhen people are informed that it would eliminate private insurance and require higher taxes.

You might try to rationalize the Sanders position by saying that Medicare for All is an aspirational plan, and that in practice he would be willing to accept a more gradualist approach. But that’s not what his behavior suggests. On the contrary, Sanders has conspicuously refused to support measures that would enhance Obamacare, even as a temporary expedient.

For Sanders, then, it seems to be single-payer or bust. And what that would mean, with very high likelihood, is … bust.

We’re not talking about right versus left here. The Democratic Party has become much more solidly progressive than it used to be, and that will be reflected in the policies of any Democrat who makes it to the White House. The issue, instead, is whether he or she will be willing to face up to the harsh realities of today’s politics.

Democratic candidates in the next tier of the current race seem to get it. Warren’s proposals are very progressive, but they’re also incremental, and even her fairly radical ideas, like her proposed wealth tax, poll well. Anyone who watched Kamala Harris at Wednesday’s Barr hearing knows that she has no illusions about the state of partisanship.

Biden and Sanders, however, come across as romantics. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2019 at 10:11 am

History of the Capital AI & Market Failures in the Attention Economy

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Regular readers know how intriguing I find the evolution of memes. A meme is anything that you can learn from another person or teach to another person: a word, a song, a dance move, a cooking technique, a way to tie a scarf or make a tool, a social ritual, and so on. The passing of such knowledge from one person to another is reproduction of the meme, and inevitably some variation occurs. “Reproduction with variation” is something with which we’re familiar from biology, where that phenomenon, combined with some scarcity of resources, inevitably (by logical necessity) results in evolution: those variations best able to exploit the environment crowd out competing variations. This process of evolution also is true for memes, where the environment is primarily human attention.

Of course, evolution must deal with chance occurrences that alter the environment: the impact of that asteroid 65 million years ago immediately changed the environment and altered the direction of evolution, and in the evolution of memes the same sort of chance interruption—conquest, climate change, and so on—can alter the environment as well, shaping subsequent meme evolution (cf., for example, the evolution of languages, those being memes).

At first the memes of human culture were simple things. In the evolution of lifeforms, a billion years passed with simple one-celled life being all that there was. But when multicellular life appear, the pace picked up, and over the next billion years there emerged the variety and richness we see today.

The same sort of sequence happened with memes. Initially, it was simple: one learned from another which sorts of rocks worked best as tools. Then, probably after the meme of language began to emerge, the meme of working on rocks to make them better tools. With language, which allowed elders to tell the young what had been learned, the pace very gradually picked up, and then a few thousand years ago, things really started to accelerate, with memes evolving at an ever more rapid rate.

Although the same Darwinian logic drives the evolution of memes and the evolution of lifeforms, memes evolve millions of times faster (just look at how memes have evolved over the past two centuries). Memes include social organizations, and these memeplexes (clusters of mutually supporting memes, similar to multicellular animals—the idea of corporations, for example, and the specific instances of corporations) also evolve.

Note that memes in competing with other memes “seek” their own survival. The memes that succeed are those that best capture the attention and support of the hosts (namely, humans). And memes, like lifeforms, quickly evolved mechanisms to protect their existence and ensure their spread. Indeed, mechanisms in lifeforms often have analogues in memes. Take, for example, the immune system that protects a lifeform by fighting and rejecting things that might harm it, and consider the immune system that, say, North Korea has developed: no outside influence allowed into the country, and those whose ideas are contrary to the memeplex occupying that country are isolated, driven away, or killed. Memes “seek” their own survival, and benefits to the host (the human animals whose minds are the meme’s environment) are optional. (Cf. the ants controlled by an invading fungus.) Religions, when looked at as memes, have quite an array of tools to keep themselves safe and active: promise of future benefits, punishment of apostates, rituals to reinforce belief, and so. And indeed the family of religion memes has been quite successful: it arose early and has lasted long.

Another memeplex, much more recent than religion, is the corporation: it recruits, organizes, and controls a group of humans to achieve a specific purpose. Corporations fail, of course, but those that succeed through some variation or another grow stronger and even, like beavers and humans, adapt the environment to their own benefit. With such a rate of meme evolution, will memes achieve consciousness, as memes?

They may already have. Consider again the corporation. Corporations have a culture: 3M, IBM, Apple, and so on. Just as we remain ourselves even as the cells in our body die and are replaced, corporations maintain their identity even as works and managers are replaced. 3M has been in existence since 1902, and none of the original personnel are around, and none of their replacements, and none of their replacements, and yet the corporation is still active and still has a culture. The corporation’s culture will change somewhat over the years, just as we ourselves change over the years, but that overall memeplex is still going strong.

I offer this as background and context for the article I’m blogging. If you’re interested, I highly recommend The Meme Machine, by Susan Blackmore, and also this paper she wrote. The paper is of particular interest in this context, since it discusses what happens when memes (in effect) achieve a kind of consciousness and are able to create new memes. Keep that paper in mind as you read the article below. Another book, somewhat easier reading, is The Evolution of Everything, by Matt Ridley. I also recommend Daniel Dennet’s book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life. (All three books are available in Kindle editions, BTW, though the links are to secondhand printed copies. Blackmore’s paper can be read at the link.)

The article by Andrew Kortina is lengthy and includes quite a few graphics. It begins with this:

The article begins:

This is a lengthy discussion, so I’ll begin with a summary.

The basic idea in this post is to consider capitalism as a highly efficient objective function (or “AI”) with its parameters optimized for the satisfaction of our short term desires rather than our long term interests.

Paranoia about runaway feedback loops – in consumer capitalism, artificial intelligence, mass media, ‘Wrestlemania politics,’ etc – ultimately stems from the inscrutability of the emergent behavior of these complex systems to the individual actors and observers operating within them.

Rather than responding with Luddite / anarchist nihilism, we should remember that technological and social systems like these have dramatically reduced our exposure to the unpredictability of the natural world and greatly improved living conditions on a number of dimensions over the past few centuries.

At the same time, we should not ignore warning signs of a dystopian future, nor should we hope that a ‘personnel change’ of institutional leaders will solve our problems.

Because the problems at hand are complex systems problems – where the root causes are not the actors themselves, but the ill-designed structures and incentives that dictate their actions – we should think about redesigning the rules and incentives of social, political, and economic systems as the path forward.

After making the case for how we can better understand these systemic failures, I’ll discuss some frameworks that might be useful places to look for solutions, and then I’ll conclude by proposing a few examples of structural changes that might lead towards better outcomes. (Feel free to skip to the Practical Recommendations section, if that is where your interest lies.) . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2019 at 8:19 am

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