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Taleb and the language of risk

Last night, I read about Nicholas Nassim Taleb on English Language and Usage StackExchange (EL&U). Professor Taleb wants to introduce a new word to the vocabulary of global financial collapse, antifragility:

So let us coin the appellation “antifragile” for anything that, on average, (i.e. in expectation) benefits from variability.

Consensus on EL&U was that this was a creative but unnecessary neologism. I echo the concerns of other EL&U users: Antifragility might cause confusion (maybe it is “anti-fragility”). There are many adequate, extant wordsthat Taleb could use, however, antifragility is a term that will be uniquely associated with him.

I am not convinced that there are many entities that actually thrive due to uncertainty. A delta hedge that is long volatility is the only construct that I can think of off-hand. Perhaps that was what Taleb had in mind.

The original Black Swan

There was a slightly less contemporary black swan, the novella written by Nobel-prize winner Thomas Mann toward the end of his long and distinguished literary career.

The plot of that short fiction work also pertained to an anomalous event, one that could be considered a statistical outlier.

Antifragile

Alternatives to antifragile include robust, durable, survivable as in “survival of the fittest”, flexible, having high tensile strength, adaptable or tempered like Damascus steel.

As others said on EL&U (in response to, “Is there an existing word for antifragility?”),

I don’t think there really is a single word term for something that breaks or dies or whatever when stress is removed from it. (Phoenix)

and

Taleb means resilient, but he’s confusing survival of the species/system with survival of the individual. In the end I see an almost wanton muddying of the difference between individual and “group” survival – where “group” could be any level from small partnerships to global corporations to capitalism to humanity itself. The higher levels effectively require potentially fatal changes to happen at lower levels – survival of the fittest is what drives evolution in the first place. (FumbleFingers)

I found a recent review of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, with a new section “On Robustness and Fragility”, on the Amazon website. Wading through Mediocristan is amusing, sarcastic, yet acknowledges the merits of Professor Taleb’s work.

Categories
Economics

HIPAA Risk

A Systematic Approach to Managing Business Associate Risk

The need for a structured Business Associate oversight program for data security risk management.

HIPAA and the HITECH Act have highlighted the importance of Business Associate (BA) security. Covered Entities (CEs) need to effectively manage Business Associates security risk, and BAs need to understand their compliance requirements and liability under HIPAA and HITECH for PHI.

Categories
Tech

Will the Pentagon use a contractor to merge information networks?

I read an article the other day, Pentagon to merge information networks. The following section caught my eye in particular,Defense Department leaders have decided that the best way to protect sensitive information from cybercriminals and internal leaks is to consolidate its 15,000 networks into a single “joint information environment.” JIE is a set of security protocols — which the Pentagon calls a single security architecture…Although the JIE is not a “program of record” with its own funding line, it will be financed under the Pentagon’s $23 billion cybersecurity budget. Leading the massive network integration effort is the Joint Staff, U.S. Cyber Command and Defense Information Systems Agency [DISA].

                                                — via National Defense Magazine, 13 September 2013

Categories
physical science

Summer days and nights of 2009

This video was recently featured on the HPC Wire YouTube channel. It is an animation of the summer weather of 2009, as only super computers can do! HPC refers to “High Performance Computing”. Cray was one of several contributors to the project. I still think of Cray as THE super computer developer, though those days are probably past.

What’s so special here?

A recent HPC Wire article about climate change explained why simulation at such a fine resolution (7-kilometer) was so difficult, because it required:

a special allocation of computing time on the Athena supercomputer at the National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS)… For six months, the entire 18,048-core system was at the disposal of the team. Among the results … were simulations that represented boreal summer climatology at 7-kilometer resolution

Notice shifting cloud cover and precipitation in shades of gray scale during the summer months of 2009. The quality is exceptional.

I appreciated that the production group chose NOT to use any music, nor narrative, during this 1 minute, 38 second animation. I wish that were more common, especially for brief, well-annotated videos like this!

Climate change perception v. evidence-based reality

I read a rather comprehensive technical paper that should be enough to convince anyone that something has changed, for the worst, in the Earth’s climate: Distributions and Trends of Death and Destruction from Hurricanes, 1900–2008, Willoughby, H. (Jan 2012); Nat. Hazards Rev., 13(1), 57–64. This led to some thoughts that I wrote up, regarding climate change and New York City’s physical infrastructure, in light of the recent storm, Sandy.

Finally, I find it difficult to ignore the odd perception gap between climate change denialists and the growing body of climate change evidence. I found an analysis of that discrepancy and its possible cause from an unexpected source: An article in Nature, “Why we are poles apart on climate change” by a Professor of Law, at Yale University School of Law. He wrote something a few months prior to this, a bona fide scholarly journal article, which had some distressing conclusions which I think are correct, though I don’t exactly understand the cause, see The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks Kahan et. al. (Apr 2012); Nature Climate Change 2, 732–735:

Members of the public with the highest degrees of science literacy and technical reasoning capacity were not the most concerned about climate change. Rather, they were the ones among whom cultural polarization was greatest.

HTML5 video

If possible, try to view this in full screen mode for optimal effect. The video supports up to 720p.

I suggest trying the YouTube HTML5 player. It is in beta, but works well, and has been available for nearly a year. Most videos seem better when viewed with HTML5 instead of Adobe Flash, whether YouTube or Vimeo. There is less of the dreaded “Flash Crash”, although they can get laggy. I always enjoy the comparison!

Categories
political science

Threat assessment of Iran

Iran is no more likely to use nuclear weapons than any other nation that has such capabilities.

Comparisons

Iran is not riddled with out-of-control corruption. Consider Nigeria. Nigeria is an oil-rich nation but operates most of its petroleum production facilities at only 40% of capacity. Nigeria must even import refined fuel for its own consumption. Iran doesn’t do that.

Unlike Afghanistan, Iran has a decently educated population. What of matters such as state-imposed religion, negligible women’s rights and censorship? Regardless, it is highly unlikely that the people of Iran find the prospect of war, in the Middle East or elsewhere, to be a desirable outcome. The cascade of destruction from ANY country using nuclear weapons would be disastrous, whether it were the U.S.A., France, India, Israel, Russia or others.

Policy

U.S. foreign policy has been unclear to me lately. I do not see motives of self-defense, nor of imperialism. But the “war on terror” is not going well. The U.S. cannot sustain a constant state of foreign conflict. Yet that appears to be the case, continuously since 2002, and intermittently throughout the preceding 40+ years. 

When necessary, there will be intervals of war. These must have a conclusion. The delineation between peace time and war time needs to be finite, discrete.

Peace and war and peace

I am a U.S. citizen and I love my country. I don’t want us to be in wartime conflict on two or three fronts for years at a time, particularly since the “fronts” are not adjacent to our sovereign territory. Terrorist actions on U.S. soil, e.g. the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, elsewhere, on September 11, 2001, must be responded to decisively. That doesn’t necessarily mean going to war though. Let the CIA, or military counter-intelligence do what they are intended to do.

The first three months of 2012 have seen tensions in the Strait of Hormuz, nearby international waters, the sovereign waterways of Iran, and of neighboring countries. The same issues were a concern last year at this time, though. Barbs were exchanged in the international press. Nothing awful happened. Not last year, not this year. Iran recently held military exercises and announced production of highly enriched uranium fuel. What of that? 

Iran seems to be participating in the world community much as other countries do, and have done for centuries, with saber rattling as a show of strength.

Categories
political science

Risk perception and reality

This is an excerpt, selected by Moi, from the article Risk perception, a recent post that appeared on the Soapbox Science Blog, Nature Publishing Group.

Sometimes, no matter how right our perceptions feel, we get risk wrong. We worry about some things more than the evidence warrants (vaccines, nuclear radiation, genetically modified food), and less about some threats than the evidence warns (climate change, obesity, using mobile phones when we drive). That produces a Perception Gap, the gap between our fears and the facts.

The Perception Gap produces dangerous personal choices that hurt us and those around us (declining vaccination rates are fueling the resurgence of nearly eradicated diseases). It causes the harm to health of chronic stress (for those who worry more than necessary). And it produces social policies that protect us more from what we’re afraid of than from what in fact threatens us the most (we spend more to protect ourselves from terrorism than heart disease)… which in effect raises our overall risk.

We do have to fear fear itself…too much or too little. So we need to understand how our subjective risk perception works, in order to recognize and avoid its pitfalls.

Here was the take-away for me: Societal risk management has to recognize the risk of risk misperception–  recognizing the risk that arises when our fears don’t match the evidence. This is truly the risk of The Perception Gap. It has always been relevant, and becomes so once again in light of the recent E-coli outbreak in northern Europe. The Guardian UK used that as a starting point for a well-written and up-to-date article about the hazards of risk misperception and the consequences of irrational behavior.

Kahneman and Tversky did extensive research on this topic. I am not concerned whether articles like the one referenced above are derivative, in the sense of revisiting past work. Possibly it is an application in the context of current events. Or it may be entirely original new work. My concern is solely that there is an awareness of the reality, and that it be acted upon.

Categories
physical science

Radiation levels in Japan and the U.S.A.

Radiation levels in Japan post-Fukushima

The source for this chart is Ryugo Hayano, Ph.D. Professor Hayano is the Physics Department chair at The University of Tokyo. Click on the chart to view a larger version, with higher resolution. It used to link directly to the Hayano account on one, then another image sharing site, but both are out of business now. (Lack of persistent URLs is a problem everywhere.)

I offer my thanks to @hayano and Daniel Garcia. Daniel R. Garcia Ph.D. is a nuclear scientist from France, doing a postdoc at TEPCO, in Fukushima. He was there prior to the earthquake and tsunami. Daniel frequently sends updates as @daniel_garcia_r. He works at the reactor site every day, takes photos, and makes them available via Twitter.

Both Daniel and Professor Hayano are reliable, because they never confuse Becquerel with Sievert with Roentgen. They know radio-isotopes and their half-lives better than nearly anyone. Daniel was needed to assist the press a few weeks ago, when there was confusion between Cesium 137 versus Iodine 137 and again between Iodine 131 versus Uranium 137.

Other locales, other radiation levels

The Radiation Network is an excellent resource for radiation information in the U.S.A. and other parts of the world. It is a network of civilian volunteers using a protocol to report radiation readings, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sensor stations are located throughout the contiguous 48 states, Hawaii,  Alaska and Norway. There was one in Northern Japan. Sadly, that sensor went off-line last month.

The Radiation Network is non-profit, all volunteer and headquartered in Arizona. Tim is the public face of the Radiation Network. Using software developed for this purpose, Tim collects and aggregates the real-time data from the sensor stations, then updates the map online with the readings at one-minute intervals. The Radiation Network went online nearly a decade ago, and offers reliable baseline measurements for comparison. This facilitates detection of any incident. The criteria for elevated radiation levels include:

  • Rule-out protocol for false positives, e.g. spikes due to sensors  malfunctioning;
  • Level of radiation that is significant: Higher than the threshold AND sustained, and how long “sustained” is;
  • Exogenous causes such as geography. Readings in Colorado are always higher due to the higher elevation,

The website is basic but functional. There are Radiation Network maps of Europe, Japan, and the US (broken out for Alaska and Hawaii), and a message. The message is a running log of updates.

Categories
Economics

Long Tail Tales

I found this chart on Chris Anderson’s old TypePad blog. Chris Anderson is the original “Mr. Long Tail” (more details follow at the end of this post).

The Long Tail of Travel

What does the long tail of travel look like now? What is the breakdown of the stacked bars for years 2009 and 2010? I would guess that the long tail of travel has shortened. Why would the trend reverse? (Note that I resisted the temptation to say “turned tail”).

Two reasons:

  • Air fare increased due to higher fuel costs, discouraging those who would take the path less traveled, and 
  • Less leisure travel, and probably less business travel as well. This would be due to an increase in risk-averse tendencies for passengers concerned about deteriorating economic circumstances, whether their own or in general.

Chris Anderson’s 2009 post included another premise: Travel destinations had become more diverse due to the effect of social media tools. Specifically, that

  • better word-of-mouth communications, and
  • peer ratings and reviews

were highly credible. As a result, travellers were more willing to try destinations that were less mainstream, not necessarily promoted by the travel industry, and thus more diverse. And so the long tail grew.

Social media effect

Has the “social media effect” (I prefer to think of it as a more efficient means of information propagation) been sufficient to overcome the economically-motivated forces to the contrary?

There is only one way to answer that. Run the data! 

I’ll see what I can do, as a follow-up post. Any expression of reader interest would be an additional motivation. Feel free to express your enthusiasm (or otherwise) as a comment. Note: Study included U.K. travel data only.

The Long Tail

For fans of the original New York Times best seller, published in 2006, or even for those who never read it (like me), here’s your reward for stopping by my Annex.

The Long Tail is now available as an 80-page graphic novel. As part of the promotion, read it free of charge for the next two months, before the official release date by SmartComics in late April. Or check this Twitter communique for additional details.

Disclaimer: I am a 100% UNPAID communicator of information. This is not an endorsement. But I will mention that Chris Anderson seems to be reasonably worthwhile as someone to follow or better yet, include on a suitable list for Twitter users. He is @chr1sa.

Categories
political science

Political Risk Exposure and Social Media

URL shortening was rarely seen anywhere other than micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter and Status Net’s identi.ca. Shortened URL’s are not prudent from an information security point-of-view, as one takes a leap of faith by clicking on a link that is not descriptive. Descriptive links are also preferable for economic reasons, as they are reputed to figure positively in the mysterious world of search engine optimization (SEO) for page rank.

Yet shortened URL’s are gaining acceptance. They are very convenient.

Libyan Hawk of Qureish via Wikipedia

Twitter introduced its own shortening service in September. Facebook did too. Google provided URL shortening with its goo.gl product in December 2009. Google expanded the range of goo.gl for use on any domain, as it was restricted for use with Google product pages before October. However, there is a new and surprising consideration when making a case for, or against, URL shortening: Political risk exposure.

Top-level domains (TLD’s) are assigned by ICANN. Generally speaking, each sovereign nation has its own TLD. For example, websites registered in Australia use the .au suffix, German sites are .de , while Japanese sites are .jp . The Libyan Government is the official registrar, as designated by ICANN in 2005, for all .ly sites, which are also the domain-of-choice for leading URL shortening services bit.ly ow.ly and vb.ly .  What will be the consequences of Libya’s domain seizure of vb.ly on October 6, reported by Econsultancy- When All Your Shortlinks Belong to the Libyan Government, on these .ly URLs?

RowFeeder is a social media oriented web analytics service. It stands out from the glut of other Twitter-verse services by delivering reports directly to a spreadsheet. In the RowFeeder company site’s latest post, lead developer and co-founder Damon Cortesi described a new feature for RowFeeder customers: availability of URL shortener bit.ly.

RowFeeder Offers URL Shortening with bit.ly

You can now put a bit.ly link in the tracking field, and have a new column in your downloads with bit.ly click counts at the time of each post… [storing] the click data along with the Tweets and Facebook posts about a specific piece of content.

In light of the recent disruption in the .ly domain space, I enjoyed the closing lines of the announcement:

Please note: This feature has not been approved by the Libyan government, so count clicks at your own risk. Our vb.ly integration is on hold pending recent news.

*Emphasis is NOT mine.

Categories
Tech

Evolution Robotics

Bias is bad. My prior post could be misconstrued as pejorative commentary, unfairly targeted at Tweetup, an innocuous, and free-of-charge, client application for users of the Twitter micro-blogging service.  Twitter certainly is responsible for the silly avian-themed jargon that is steadily seeping into common vernacular, undermining my ability to sound impressive when pretentiously blathering away, as I’m doing right now. However, Idealab, the owners of the Tweetup social influence metric software did not create the Cult of the 140 Character communication standard.