Monday, March 30, 2015

Defending Darwin?

Regarding Defending Darwin, a recent article by James Krupa in Orion magazine: Keep in mind that there are several confounding factors in teaching evolution in a religiously conservative (in the American sense) area.

  1. If you're not from around here (or even if you are), you may not realize that the United States are not especially unified, culturally. Essentially everyone lives in a bubble, scientists, Swedes, Baptist ministers. No one is really evil ('cept me; but I'm always rooting for the underdog); very few people are actually stupid and the term "ignorant" is one to use with care (it applies some people much of the time but everyone some of the time). Unless you've had this fact rammed down your throat, the fact that some people say different things than you do often seems like prima facie reason to believe that there is something seriously wrong with them.

  2. The conflict between religion and science is at a much deeper level than evolution or any other specific question about facts. Religion is based on belief in the absence of (or even in conflict with) evidence. Science is (or should be) based on doubt even in the presence of evidence. (Quick quiz: Did Albert Einstein waste the last half of his life opposing quantum mechanics?)

    I enjoyed Stephen J. Gould's book on the conflict between religion and science, but he rather missed the actual point. ("I make it clear that one can accept evolution and maintain their religious beliefs. They are not mutually exclusive": yes, at the risk of having to compartmentalize the activities of science and religion; but everyone does that anyway. I like to fancy myself a scientist, but my understanding of most of science is at the level of religion; I don't have enough physics to really evaluate evidence, so I'm just going along based on results. Likewise, I don't have the chemistry or the biology. I suspect the vast majority of any scientists or engineers are in a similar boat, although I know too many of both to expect not to be set on fire for this statement. In any case, I'm mostly going along because I like the results.)

  3. Evolution, on the student side in this article at least, is essentially irrelevant to the lives of the students. (Modulo, of course, the evolutionary medicine points; many of those are as compatible with creationism, though.) This is a course on biology for non-biologists; the facts of biology have no practical, visible effects on their lives. That might change if they go full-crazy and assert something like the immutability of species, but that isn't the mainstream of creationist thought. Whether whales descended from a strange, wolfy sort of critter is as irrelevant to non-biologically inclined students as whether whales' tails are oriented vertically or horizontally to students in Kansas. Or, whether nitrogen compounds are exciting.

Teaching evolution in these classes is valuable solely because it teaches an understanding of how science works, which (a) most practising scientists don't really have but which (b) is kind of important if one is going to be dealing with modern policy decisions. Which one is. On the one hand, that makes this class one of the most important that the students could take, but on the other it makes this class one of the least important: personally, I don't care if you believe in evolution or not if you can make reasonable, reasoned decisions. (Unless you believe the world was created 4000 years ago, all of the evidence otherwise was planted as a trick, and that the god who did so is benevolent. I'm staying away from that guy. There's something seriously wrong with him.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Why Your Netflix Traffic is Slow?

Regarding Why Your Netflix Traffic is Slow, and Why the Open Internet Order Won’t (Necessarily) Make It Faster by Nick Feamster, I'm having significant difficulties with this paragraph:

Comcast claims that Netflix was sending traffic at such high volumes as to intentionally congest the links between different transit ISPs and Comcast, essentially taking a page from Norton’s “peering playbook” and forcing Comcast and its peers (i.e., the transit providers, Cogent, Level 3, Tata, and others) to upgrade capacity one-by-one, before sending traffic down a different path, congesting that, and forcing an upgrade. Their position was that Netflix was sending more traffic through these transit providers than the transit providers could handle, and thus that Netflix or their transit providers should pay to connect to Comcast directly. Comcast also implies that certain transit providers such as Cogent are likely the source of congested paths, a claim that has been explored but not yet conclusively proved one way or the other, owing to the difficulty of locating these points of congestion (more on that in a future post).

Now, peering negotiations are an ugly, unpleasant activity that I'm quite happy never to have been a part of. But I don't find this particular claim to be "reasonable and plausible", in the author's words. Where is the congestion?

  • Inside Netflix? Nope.
  • Between Netflix and their transit providers? Seems unlikely; Netflix is paying them, after all. Such congestion would effect many of Netflix's customers and be against Netflix's interests.
  • In the transit providers? Possibly, but again, Netflix is paying them. Further, Netflix connecting directly to Comcast is the first thing Netflix would do, if the transit providers were trying to squeeze more money out of them.
  • Between the transit providers and Comcast? That seems to me to be the most likely interpretation of that paragraph. But if Netflix is doing this intentionally; say, by directing 90% of their traffic to Comcast customers through Tata, those customers are most likely to be unhappy with Netflix, not Comcast---any traffic from a customer out that doesn't go through Tata is fine, so they wouldn't likely perceive any problems with anything but Netflix. Further, that seems to contradict the statement that "[customers] routinely experienced high latency to many Internet destinations every evening during 'prime time'". And if the congestion is not hitting one specific transit provider, then the idea that it is intentional on Netflix's part is silly and Comcast's peering relationships are simply inadequate for the traffic its customers are using.
  • Inside Comcast? Well, I could see almost anyone wanting to have an unrelated third-party pay for their infrastructure upgrades, but....

Then, there's this: "The best technical solution (and what ultimately happened) is that Netflix and Comcast should interconnect directly." The best technical solution? The best technical solution? (Here's a hint: a fully-connected network is not a good technical solution.)

But the ultimate problem here is: "This is where market leverage comes into play: Because most consumers do not have choice in broadband Internet providers, Comcast arguably (and, empirically speaking, as well) has more market leverage: They can afford to ask Netflix to pay for that direct link—a common Internet business relationship called paid peering—because they have more market power."

Comcast has more market power because it is a monopoly and the problem with monopolies is precisely that they use their market power to squeeze money out of counter-parties.

As an aside, I find Feamster's comment reply, "What is false in Oliver’s presentation (and many of the claims in the popular press) is his claim about what causes that slowdown. The cause of the slowdown is congestion, not intentional throttling," to be simply disingenuous. What exactly is the difference between intentional throttling and intentionally introducing congestion by not upgrading inadequate peering relationships?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

IPv6 seen in the wild!

Don't ask how I got here, but I was looking at the revision history of a Wikipedia page and saw:

(cur | prev) 16:20, 18 December 2014‎ 2607:f470:8:b044:3d66:5782:2dba:2c8b (talk)‎ . . (9,582 bytes) (0)‎ . . (→‎Dialethiesm may be a more accurate model of the physical world) (undo)
(cur | prev) 00:14, 30 November 2014‎ 2601:e:8100:701:4124:33e5:9859:fc9d (talk)‎ . . (9,582 bytes) (-19)‎ . . (→‎Fixed ) (undo)

Yep, those are IPv6 addresses, doing minor edits on a Wikipedia page. Hell hath frozen over and the future is here.

This officially marks the first time I've seen IPv6 used for something other than testing IPv6 or demonstrating IPv6, or demonstrating that someone is an IETF wank.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Haskell's biggest flaw

And then a great, deep voice, like as that of James Earl Jones, spake unto me, saying,

The greatest flaw of Haskell is the inability to define the identity function in a point-free style.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Quote o' the day: uh....

From bestpcinfos on Hacker News:

Don't forget to put the tarp over the ham basin before departing for olfactory shoes.

I've got no idea what it means, but it does sound like good advice.