Monthly Shorts 4/​2022

Link post


Elon Musk was once asked about the regulatory situation of providing satellite internet without the local country’s permission. His response was uniquely Muskian:

Elon Musk @elonmusk
@thesheetztweetz They can shake their fist at the sky

September 1st 2021

1,290 Retweets11,916 Likes

Now, it turns out, there are also other options. Dictators can, for example, launch electronic warfare measures against SpaceX’s operations. Fortunately…it turns out that SpaceX is better than the Russians and so Ukranian internet access continues.

Fun piece on military inter-service conflict (in favor), if that’s your jam.

One of the things I’ve had to grapple with, at my age, is understanding just how meaningful 9/​11 is to people older than me. Two months of car crash deaths get shown on TV, and everybody goes completely mad. I go to a panel on national security work, and every single panelist and the moderator says that their inspiration to enter government service was 9/​11. The Census Bureau handed over information on Arab neighborhoods to DHS (the story is more complicated than that: DHS seems to be both lying and incompetent and the Census Bureau did something both understandable and legally required, but this is the short version). We passed the Patriot Act, setting up massive denial of civil liberties by means both legal (new authorizations) and structural (empowering a type of agency that cares very little for such things at the expense of Justice and State, which do).

DHS has seized over $500 million in currency from people who didn’t follow said signage.

State and local taxation is usually regressive in America.

Code and Consequences

This request was intended to inform the implementation work. Instead, all hell broke loose.

After the 2019 CNSTAT meeting made clear that evaluators were not accounting for the biases of the published data, the Census Bureau attempted to inform stakeholders that they were not comparing their analyses to ground truth. Having nothing else to compare the data to, this information was not well received by either data users or other census advocates.

If the Census Bureau were to publish datasets that that included fractional or negative population counts, this was bound to confuse and upset external stakeholders, including lawyers and judges.

This is a surprisingly fascinating article on the introduction of differential privacy at the Census Bureau. Reading between the lines a little, the authors imply that differential privacy reduced error, and that it was seen as increasing error because it produced different results from datasets released through more statistically “damaging” privacy-preserving processes (“swapping”). It’s somewhat an examination of the hard problems involved in communicating highly technical information to a diverse group of stakeholders, many of whom believed comfortable lies that what should have been a small process improvement made impossible. It’s a story about how a small and comprehensible technical constraint (that census data consist of census reports, not merely statistical contents)

I also get to admit an error here: I hadn’t realized the extent of data manipulation in prior census reports, and the related conclusion that the cost of introducing differential privacy is much smaller than I’d thought.

Interesting reddit post as a breakdown on crypto, from a relatively sympathetic person bringing data!

Cool new technique available on Edge for beating private mode blockers.

Some of you might have thought you’d sleep well tonight. “Fun” fact: it’s possible to insert backdoors in ML models that can’t be detected by computationally bounded observers.

Typeclasses are a really nice way of doing many sorts of classes in Python!

The future of VR is very soon and very cool. Here’s Meta talking about their new experimental feature to let users fix permanent points in physical space that stick around session to session.


If you just want more history, here’s a timeline, with dots for every event in Wikipedia. Try clicking on them!

Nature, in its entire history, has had 115 retracted papers. 50 of them have happened in the past seven years. Retraction Watch is really cool.

Next time you fly, you can download Flyover Country in advance, and then have a guide with you to all the cool geographic features out your window! Thank you, geoscience outreach humans!

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