Not everything happens for a reason

The phrase “everything happens for a reason” came up in a couple contexts recently (conversation with a friend, Radiolab, etc.). It’s a good example of an obviously false statement that contains plenty of useful insight, and is interesting to think about in that context. We’ll get the pedantic out of the way first: “everything happens for a reason” is literally true in the sense that the future happens for the reason that is the past.

Exponentially harder isn't hard enough yet

In well designed cryptographic security systems, the attacker needs to do exponentially more work than the defender in order to read a secret, forge a message, etc., subject to appropriate hardness assumptions. Maybe this is true for many non-computer security-ish systems as well, like choosing good representatives in a voting system or avoiding overpaying for advertised merchandise, and we simply haven’t reached the level of intelligence as defenders for the exponential effort of attackers to be prohibitive.

Inverse of a hash function

I’ve used Thomas Wang’s integer hash functions for years for various purposes. Using techniques invented by Bob Jenkins for general hashing (e.g., hashes of strings), Wang derived several hash specialized for fixed size integer input. His 64-bit version is uint64_t hash(uint64_t key) { key = (~key) + (key << 21); // key = (key << 21) - key - 1; key = key ^ (key >> 24); key = (key + (key << 3)) + (key << 8); // key * 265 key = key ^ (key >> 14); key = (key + (key << 2)) + (key << 4); // key * 21 key = key ^ (key >> 28); key = key + (key << 31); return key; } Key properties include avalanche (changing any input bit changes about half of the output bits) and invertibility.

Incremental revolution

The previous post described possible ways of removing artificial scale parameters from a political system, the most important being a way to remove the representational scale dependency via “direct democracy plus scripting” (for which I still need a better name). This post will describe how one might try to achieve such a system. Besides the obvious reason for such a discussion, the transition from one system to another provides an excellent thought experiment to evaluate the merits of both current and future systems.

Scale free government

I read The Dispossessed again recently, which is a wonderful book by Ursula K. Le Guin about a society of anarchist/revolutionaries where ideally everyone shares everything and is never compelled to do anything by anyone else. In practice all sorts of societal and structural compulsions arise, and half the book is about struggling with these internal contradictions (the other half argues how much better it is, contradictions and all, than the alternative).

The problem

From CBS News: On the one hand, [Obama’s] administration has defended a free, open Internet as it watched repressive regimes fall in the Middle East with help from social media such as Twitter. It has also been a proponent of the concept of “net neutrality,” which prevents Internet service providers from slowing online traffic that comes from file-sharing sites known to trade in pirated content. On the other hand, Obama and other Democrats have gone to Hollywood dozens of times to raise campaign funds over the years.

Citizens United and Lochnerism

Here’s a wonderful article by Lawrence Lessig from a while back on the Citizens United Supreme Court case, which prohibited congress from regulating independent campaign expenditures by corporations: Lawrence Lessig, Democracy after Citizens United This is linked off of, but I hadn’t read it in detail before. His core argument is great: in key places in their decisions, the justices made statements such as The appearance of influence or access … will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.

SOPA, PIPA, and citizen funded elections

I sent this message to Representative Nancy Pelosi, Senator Barbara Boxer, and Senator Diane Feinstein: Representative Pelosi / Senator Boxer / Senator Feinstein: I am writing to express my opposition to the anti-piracy legislation SOPA and PIPA. As a member of a private industrial research lab, my life and work depend critically on a free environment of information on the internet, and I believe this environment would be dangerously infringed by either of these bills.

Open access to federally funded research

The White House is asked for public comments on public access to federally funded research. Here are the relevant links, including the rather alarmingly title blog post by Aram Harrow where I found this: Could Elsevier shut down Call to action from the alliance for taxpayer access The details The deadline for comments is tomorrow, January 2. My comments follow. If you read this and have much better ideas for how to expand open access, please send your own!

Near optimal holdem play with one round of betting

Consider the following simplified version of Texas holdem, with two players Alice and Bob: Alice and Bob are each dealt two private cards. Alice posts a small blind of 1, Bob posts a big blind of 2. Alice either folds, calls, or raises by any amount $\ge 2$. Bob either calls or folds. Five more shared cards are dealt, and the winner is determined as usual.