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Topics - Ageless the Drifter

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Spamalot / Thought my box had bricked
« on: July 09, 2014, 11:07:11 AM »
woke up this morning and had a black screen saying something about I/O error resulting from improperly removed media device

Hadn't had anything plugged into it for several hours prior to going to bed so I dunno what that was about. My S3 doesn't load up an eject option like most other phones/external hds/etc do when I plug it in so I hope that's not what resulted in this but I've had the phone for over a year now so I'm thinking not

I came this close ( ---> ||) to leaving my Windows 7 boot disc in florida when I left after this last trip down there. Thank fucking god I didn't. Had to try a half-dozen things to get it to work but it finally recovered completely.


Spamalot / new attack on titan comes out this month
« on: July 07, 2014, 06:02:49 PM »
I saw a whole thing about it on the facebook

General Discussion / Odds ratios are a catastrophe
« on: July 06, 2014, 01:14:12 PM »

Adam Larson sent me the following question about a study of obesity and a press release about it from NPR. The claim, made in both the press release and the underlying article, is that weight discrimination makes the already obese 3 times as likely to remain obese, and the non-obese 2.5 times as likely to become obese. Adam writes:

    They interpret odds ratios of 2.5 and 3 as “2.5 times as likely” and “3 times as likely”.

    Balderdash, yes? I assume what they’re getting at is that in one group something like 85% remained obese; in the other 75%. This gives an odds ratio of (.85/.15)/(.75/.25)=1.89

    So common sense would call it a 10 percentage point decrease or a 12% decrease, right?

Adam is spot-on. An odds ratio is the odds of an event happening for one group divided by the odds of a thing happening in another. Odds are summaries of probabilities that get used by sports books and nearly no one else, because they are counter-intuitive non-linear approximations to probabilities. If an event has an X% chance of happening, the odds that it happens are (X%)/(100-X%). The basic problem with odds ratios is that long ago someone (we should figure out who and curse their name) realized that for rare outcomes, an OR is approximately a relative risk, or (% chance thing occurs in treatment group)/(% chance thing occurs in control group). That is:

(0.01/0.99)/(0.02/0.98) ≈ 0.5 = 0.01/0.02

That has ever since been taught to applied statisticians working in certain fields (public health is one example) who use odds ratios for the scientifically important reason that they are the default output of many regression packages when you run a logistic regression.*

And so people misinterpret them constantly, presently odds ratios as relative risks even when they are not small, and the approximation does not hold. This is even before we get into the fact that calling a change from P=0.01 to P=0.02 a “100% increase in risk” is itself fairly absurd and misleading. It’s a one percentage-point increase. There is no intrinsic sense in which “the risk tripled” actually means anything. Did you know that if you go in the ocean you are infinity times more likely to get eaten by a shark than if you stay on land? (You probably did, but it’s a stupid number to think about. What is actually relevant is that the absolute risk went up by some fraction of a percentage point.)

For this paper, under the assumption that their regression adjustment doesn’t change too much, we can actually back out what the percentages really are. First, the effect on the not-initially-obese:

Mean outcome = (% discriminated)*(mean for discriminated people) + (1 – % discriminated)*(mean for non-discriminated people)
0.058 = 0.08X + 0.92Y
Odds ratio = ((mean for discriminated people)/(1 – mean for discriminated people)) / ((mean for non-discriminated people)/(1 – mean for non-discriminated people))
(X/(1-X))/(Y/(1-Y)) = 2.54
Y = (50X)/(127-77X)
0.058 = 0.08*X + 0.92*(50X)/(127-77X)
X = 0.1230
Y= 0.0523

So the change is 7.2 percentage points. Put less clearly, P(became obese) has gone up by a factor of 2.35 for those who experienced weight discrimination, relative to those who did not. That is different from the OR of 2.54, but their figure isn’t too far from the relative risk.

Repeating the process for their other analysis, however, reveals how misleading ORs can be:
0.263= 0.08X + 0.92Y
(X/(1-X))/(Y/(1-Y)) = 3.20
Solving these equations for X and Y gives us:
X = 0.505
Y= 0.242

Here the risk ratio is 2.08, not 3.20. The percentage-point change of 26.3 remains completely comprehensible, as it always is. Misusing odds ratios here allowed them to overstate the size of their effect a factor of 50%! I suspect, but am not sure how to prove, that with regression adjustment these figures could look even more misleading.

As most people who read this already know, even if presented correctly the figures wouldn’t mean anything. There’s no reason to believe the relationship being studied is causal in nature. Indeed, it probably suffers from classic reverse causality: people who are gaining weight (or failing to lose weight) are likely to perceive a greater degree of weight discrimination. But presentation matters too. First, clear presentation can help us make use of studies, even when they are as limited as this one is. As the above derivation illustrates, figuring out what an odds ratio actually means involves 1) the annoying process of scrounging through the paper for all the variables you need and 2) solving a system of two equations for two unknowns, which most people can’t do in their head. This detracts very substantially from a paper’s clarity: in general, when I see odds ratios presented in a paper, I have no idea what they mean. An OR of 2 could mean that the risk went from 1% to 2% or (to use a variation on Adam’s example) from 75% to 86%, or a whole host of other things.

Second, poor presentation has consequences. Health risks are often reported using relative risks, or, worse yet, using ORs that are presented as relative risks. This is often extremely misleading, since a doubling of risk could mean that the chance went from 0.001% to 0.002%, or from 50% to 100%. Misleading and confusing people about risks undermines the basic goal of presenting health risks in the first place: to help people make better decisions about their health.
*I honestly believe that if we made mean marginal effects the default, and forced people to do ORs and AORs manually, they would disappear within 10 years. Being forced to construct ORs manually would also force people to understand what they are, which would stop people from using them.

This is why everyone should have basic statistics classes before they're allowed to leave high school

and why basic statistics classes should stop being fucking stupid

Spamalot / Knitting
« on: July 03, 2014, 10:13:56 AM »
do you have any idea whether a settlement check from a class action lawsuit would go out as bulk rate mail? I don't even know if it's a standard thing--maybe it's just up to the company that has to write them.

It seems likely to me, but the people in the mail center at my old school say they can't forward anything that's bulk-rate and that that shit all goes back to the post office and gets recycled, and I can't imagine that'd be the policy if it's possible they're throwing out checks being mailed to people.

Incidentally, to anyone who filed as a claimant in that Naked Juice suit from a while back, your checks should've been mailed on the 24th of last month.

General Discussion / A court case may legitimately threaten Obamacare
« on: July 03, 2014, 09:32:39 AM »

Obamacare was left mostly unharmed this week despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled against its contraception mandate. But a far greater threat to the law is alive and well a few blocks away in Washington, D.C.

Any day now, a three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule in Halbig v. Burwell, an expansive challenge that goes directly after federal insurance subsidies. An unfavorable outcome stands to cripple a core component of Obamacare, without which the law may not be able to survive. Two of the judges, both Republican appointees, expressed varying degrees of sympathy for the challengers' case.

"Of all the challenges since the individual mandate, this is the one that presents the most mortal threat to the act," Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, told TPM.

At issue is whether the statute permits the federal exchange (which serves residents of 34 states which opted not to build their own) to dole out premium tax credits. Without the subsidies, which are benefiting millions of lower-income Americans, the individual mandate is unworkable because many people won't be able to afford insurance. And without the mandate, the coverage guarantee for preexisting conditions threatens to send costs soaring and destabilize the health care market.

The challenge was initially written off by some as a fool's errand because there's a lack of evidence that the Democrats who crafted and passed the Affordable Care Act intended to block subsidies on the federal exchange, which was designed as a backstop on behalf of the states. (They've signed a brief saying as much.) But the challengers seized on an ambiguity in the language of the statute which says the subsidies are to be provided by "an Exchange established by the State."

"If the legislation is just stupid, I don't see that it's up to the court to save it," Judge A. Raymond Randolph said during oral arguments in March.

Randolph, a George H.W. Bush appointee, said the text of the statute "seems perfectly clear on its face" that the subsidies are confined to state-run exchanges. Carter-appointed Judge Harry T. Edwards slammed the challengers' claims as "preposterous." So the deciding vote appears to be with George W. Bush-appointed Judge Thomas B. Griffith, who wasn't resolute but sounded unconvinced of the Obama administration's defense, saying it had a "special burden" to show that the language "doesn't mean what it appears to mean."

Turley said, "If this case were decided on the basis of the statutory language, the advantage goes to the challengers. If the court is willing to broaden its interpretation then the administration may have an edge. It depends entirely on how the panel structures its analysis."

If the three-judge panel rules against federal Obamacare subsidies, sources close to the case say the administration is very likely to request an en banc ruling -- a re-vote taken by the full D.C. Circuit. The math of the overall bench is friendlier to the White House: 7 judges are Democratic appointees and 4 are Republican appointees. Four of the judges were placed by President Barack Obama himself, all during his second term.

The legal basis for the lawsuit was crafted by Cato's Michael Cannon and Case Western law professor Jonathan Adler. The challengers lost the case in the D.C. district court. Cannon said on Wednesday he's "hopeful" about winning at the appeals court.

The White House declined to comment on the pending litigation and administration officials wouldn't weigh in on potential contingency plans if the D.C. Circuit court's final judgment is against the Obamacare subsidies.

"The text of the statute makes clear that the state establishment of an Exchange was never viewed as a condition for the availability of tax credits," read the brief signed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other legislative architects of Obamacare.

That'd be a pretty fucking absurd oversight if they just forgot to give the federal exchange the power to distribute tax credits. Jesus Christ.

General Discussion / This American Life leaves NPR
« on: July 03, 2014, 09:23:50 AM »

Ira Glass had lost his voice. That gentle, reliably nasal, public radio staple of a voice had been worked hoarse. On any given day, this would be an issue for Mr. Glass, 55, whose award-winning show, “This American Life,” is broadcast on nearly 600 stations and is consistently the top podcast on iTunes.

But it was an unusually big problem one recent Friday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where Mr. Glass and his team were deep in rehearsals. The next night, in two sold-out performances, they would be staging a mini-opera, radio drama and musical, starring 50 performers and hosted by Mr. Glass who, less than 36 hours from curtain, could not speak.

So, on the advice of his show’s singers, he found himself on the Upper East Side to see a throat doctor to the stars. The office was lined with head shots: Luciano Pavarotti, Celine Dion, Hugh Jackman. Despite being in certain quarters rather famous himself, an awed Mr. Glass snapped photos of all four walls, with close-ups. Then he was given a steroid shot and sent on his way. “It’s kind of a pain” getting sick, Mr. Glass said froggily the next day, “but it was 100 percent worth it.”

By Saturday night, his voice was back to its soft, sinusy self; and the audiences, mostly public radio geeks, cheered. It was yet another performative feat for Mr. Glass, a frenetically busy, insatiably curious public radio star who has repeatedly shown that he cannot be contained by the confines of his chosen medium.

Or, as of late, play by its rules. On July 1, “This American Life” became independent, leaving its distributor of 17 years, Public Radio International, or PRI.

That change is partly technical. The program is no longer delivered to local stations through public radio’s satellite system, but instead over the Internet through the online platform PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.

But the big impact is financial. Gone are a distributor’s financial guarantees, which in the case of “This American Life,” reached seven figures. Instead, Mr. Glass will now be responsible for the show’s marketing and distribution, as well as for finding corporate sponsors. It’s the equivalent of Radiohead’s releasing its own album “In Rainbows,” or Louis C. K.’s selling his own stand-up special — except all the time, for every show. It’s the kind of move that can signal radical changes in the public radio firmament, with National Public Radio and other distributors wondering who, if anyone, may follow suit, and whether Mr. Glass will return if he fails.

“You take on the risk if you have to do the marketing,” said Laura Walker, president and executive chief officer of New York Public Radio, which operates WNYC. “I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk way of making money. You’ve got to put in a lot of effort and do the work yourself.”

Mr. Glass himself described the move as no big deal: The show will still air on the same stations at its usual time. Listeners will barely notice. He has another project, too: Members of his team are creating a new podcast called “Serial,” available this fall, which will unspool weekly chapters of a long-form investigative radio story.

But disruptive change is something Mr. Glass has initiated repeatedly since creating “This American Life,” under another title, nearly 19 years ago. The show has spawned a competitive storytelling industry, both on radio and onstage, with “TED Radio Hour,” “Radiolab” and “The Moth” fighting for the same public radio listeners.

Mr. Glass himself has proved kinetic in his own interests, helping to create a comic booklet; editing a nonfiction anthology; and co-producing a movie (“Sleepwalk With Me”), a Showtime television series (which prompted his move to New York in 2006) and stage shows, several of which became simulcasts beamed to movie theaters. He has even inserted humor and creativity into those deadly on-air pledge drives, with clever spots and the creation of hip public-radio temporary tattoos.

So this latest experiment in distribution has radio insiders watching. “If anyone in public radio can pull it off, it’s him,” said Eric Nuzum, vice president for programming for NPR. “But I wonder what ‘pull it off’ means.”

One day early in April, Mr. Glass and a few colleagues took a conference call with executives at NPR, the 800-pound gorilla of public radio.

After announcing in late March that “This American Life” was severing its relationship with PRI, Mr. Glass said, he fielded offers from every public radio distributor, along with SiriusXM Satellite Radio. But NPR had the strongest pitch.

There was karmic symmetry to the call. Eighteen years earlier, NPR showed little interest in Mr. Glass’s nascent show, even though he had first worked for NPR, in its Washington office, at 19. (He moved to Chicago in 1989.) “I was the ex-intern with an idea. That’s not a winning position for anybody,” Mr. Glass said. So he and Chicago Public Media (then called the WBEZ Alliance), which produced the show, went to PRI.

This time, Mr. Nuzum told Mr. Glass that “This American Life” was undervalued; it should be charging stations more and airing at better times, according to Mr. Glass. The network also offered, Mr. Glass said, to top PRI’s annual seven-figure guarantee. (Mr. Nuzum would not comment on the talks.)

Mr. Glass had gone into the call figuring the show would stay independent, but suddenly he wasn’t so sure. “They really did give us pause,” Mr. Glass said. “It seemed like, ‘Oh, this would be so easy.’ ”

But Mr. Glass had been questioning the distributor model for some time. While PRI had handled the radio distribution, Mr. Glass and his team oversaw the show’s apps, podcasts and podcast underwriting. Those sales had far surpassed hopes: $180,000 from last year’s surplus helped pay for the Brooklyn show.

Mr. Glass wanted to keep that digital independence, waving off PRI’s hunger for involvement. And he began to think that “This American Life” could do better than with PRI as a distributor. While Mr. Glass and Julia Yager, PRI’s spokeswoman, said the prospect of sharing podcast revenues was never broached in the negotiations, the talks ended in deadlock. Both PRI and Mr. Glass describe the split as mutual and amicably reached.

“We believe we can do more in our underwriting, and we think it was maybe costing us with staying with them,” said Mr. Glass in an interview in his Chelsea office.

In the end, Mr. Glass turned down NPR, too. But he acknowledged that there is a lot of uncertainty. “That’s the one X factor hanging over our heads,” he said. “We could really, really be wrong.”

It doesn’t help that Mr. Glass is facing increased competition, which he himself helped shape.

In recent years, shows that sound strikingly similar to “This American Life” in tone and form have arrived on the radio dial. “Radiolab” and “TED Radio Hour,” to name just two, are already on nearly 500 stations each. They are both distributed by NPR, which because of its size can influence which shows air and when.

Still, Mr. Glass has shown himself adept at marketing. As any listener who has groaned through an on-air pledge drive knows, his pledge spots are the rarest of creatures, managing to be funny while having a dramatic arc. This is no accident; Mr. Glass said he gives them everything he’s got. “It’s every bit as ambitious as the hardest thing I ever do,” he said. “It just seemed like a macho act to try to kill it on the pledge drive.”

Yet the act of directly asking for money for his own show sometimes makes Mr. Glass squirm. The Brooklyn event was recorded live and turned into a $5 download on the show’s website, but the prospect of relaying this onstage to the audience was making Mr. Glass sweat.

“Is it crass that I’m selling the video?” he asked on the eve of the show, sitting on the carpet of an empty corridor at the academy with some of his producers. “I feel like a hack.” Backstage the next night, he was fretting again. “Did I sound crass?”

Several commenters clearly didn't read the article: they seem to think Glass is leaving the show, or the show is going off the air. ...

His discomfiture about earning money extends to himself. Mr. Glass’s own salary, while healthy, is relatively modest considering his stature. Still, he remains self-conscious about it. In recent years, he took home about $170,000 in compensation and benefits — commensurate with the senior producers on his show — a figure that went up to $278,000 in fiscal year 2013 at the direction, he said, of the WBEZ board.

But then, “feeling weird about it,” he asked to lower his salary the following year, to $146,000, he said. “Then this year, I asked to lower it again,” he wrote in an email. “It’s still a lot of money.”

But it’s not enough to pay for his life in New York. Two years ago, he and his wife, Anaheed Alani, who works at the fashion commentator Tavi Gevinson’s site, Rookie, bought a 950-square-foot one-bedroom apartment in Chelsea for $1.2 million. (They share it with their rescue pit bull, Piney.) To pay for it, Mr. Glass, who already works 60- to 70-hour weeks, began booking speaking engagements at a breakneck pace. He earns five figures per talk, proceeds from which, he said, account for the bulk of his income.

“He’s not motivated by money at all,” said Julie Snyder, a senior producer at “This American Life” and Mr. Glass’s longest-term employee. “I think he likes attention a lot more than money.”

Which is why, perhaps, Mr. Glass often spends speech-free weekends on the road with his show “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host,” which he would like to take to Broadway.

He had recently discovered a love of dancing, which he practices with sweaty avidity in a yoga studio near his home. Never one to do things halfway, Mr. Glass has suits that now hang loose; he has danced away 30 pounds in the last year.

“This American Life,” meanwhile, has expanded to a second work space, nicknamed the Western Bureau, down the hall from its offices in Chelsea. Two of its most senior producers, Ms. Snyder and Sarah Koenig, are working there on “Serial.”

Anyone might wonder whether Mr. Glass can continue this frenetic pace — acting as producer, radio host, speechmaker, dancer, Broadway dreamer.

After seeing him so aglow onstage in Brooklyn, Ms. Snyder felt a stab of dismay. The following Monday, she came to his office door.

“She said: ‘O.K., I can see what’s happening. You’re going to quit the show, you’re going to be onstage. That’s where we’re heading,’ ” Mr. Glass recalled. “I thought, ‘I’m not quitting the show! I’m not dead yet!’ ”

But Ms. Snyder said Mr. Glass plainly loves performing onstage “in a way that seems sincere and mystifying.”

“Not many people have a Broadway show and full-time public radio shows,” she said, only half in jest. “What am I supposed to think?”

“He can deny it all he wants,” she continued, “I felt like I should be making my Plan B. And I wanted him to know that it’s fine.”

Seems like a suicidal move to me, regardless of how well-loved it is.

Spamalot / KB
« on: July 02, 2014, 11:07:50 AM »

Weird to think about. I wonder if it'll take off. Either way I don't see something like this gaining any ground here for quite while.
British doctors voted last Tuesday to ban cigarettes for anyone born after the year 2000, the first step in an initiative to make Britain completely free of tobacco within the next 20 years.

The motion passed at the British Medical Association’s annual representatives meeting, the Guardian reports, and will soon lead to the doctors’ union lobbying the government to introduce the ban on kids currently 14 years or older.

The BMA has previously been successful in having bans enforced on smoking in public as well as in cars carrying children.

Tim Crocker-Buque, a specialist registrar in public health medicine who first proposed the ban, said it will stop kids from being attracted to smoking in their early teens, which is when 80 percent of smokers develop addictions.

He said,

    Smoking is not a rational, informed choice of adulthood. Eighty percent of smokers start as teenagers as a result of intense peer pressure.

    Smokers who start smoking at age 15 are three times as likely to die of smoking-related cancer as someone who starts in their mid-20s.

Crocker-Buque added that nine out of 10 smokers wished they had never started and that smokers who began at the age of 15 are three times as likely to die of smoking-related diseases as someone who started just five years after.

He went on,

    It is not expected that this policy will instantly prevent all people from smoking, but [rather it will] de-normalize cigarette smoking. The level of harm caused by smoking is unconscionable.

The medical professionals also highlighted that the incomparable power of cigarette addiction is evident in the fact that even a cancer diagnosis won’t get some smokers to quit.

They said this is the first of many steps to make Britain the first country to fully eradicate cigarettes by 2035.

Some doctors criticized the proposal, however, saying it would result in a black market involving cigarettes much more dangerous than those available today.

Others, notably ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Yohanna Takwoingi, also brought up the “forbidden fruit” concept, in which making something illegal only attracts kids to it more.

The BMA believes the opposite, that smoking should never have been viewed as “normal” and that even the smartest teens aren’t wise enough to use tobacco safely and in moderation at such young ages.

Crocker-Buque said, "It is time to play the tobacco end game."

One billion people are predicted to be killed from smoking-induced diseases in the 21st century.

General Discussion / DEA asks FDA to reschedule marijuana
« on: June 27, 2014, 08:51:02 PM »

Seems like kind of a big deal

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — In another sign that the 2014 is turning out to be a watershed year for marijuana drug reform, the federal Department of Drug Enforcement (DEA) has sent up the first of what undoubtedly will be the first of many white flags .

After a historic House vote to defund the DEA's operating budget for marijuana enforcement in the states earlier in the month passed (with a similar one now in the Senate), the government agency has now asked the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to consider removing marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs as defined by the Controlled Substances Act .

This classification is, most reform advocates say, a major step forward to reform required at this juncture. It is, however, just the first step of many that still lie ahead for marijuana just on a legal and policy level to allow broader medical and continued encouragement for commercial development across the country.

"It is a good sign that the DEA is starting to walk back its policy of interfering with marijuana research and rescheduling," said Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project, a drug reform focused group. "Unfortunately, this is a very tiny step."

Just interdepartmental wrangling could take months, despite an abundance of readily available studies and other evidence. In addition, as many in the national medical movement know, Israel has led the world in cannabinoid research for close to the last decade . Such research is not possible in the U.S. now because of marijuana's Schedule I classification.

That said, as marijuana is rapidly turning into the medical story of the year, it is doubtful that the issue will stall for long. Ultimately in a departmental overview such as this, which is highly politicized, impetus comes from the White House.

The issues at stake are as simple as they are ultimately complex -- drug-based crime as it intersects with health care. These are the issues very much in the national spotlight this month in New York, Florida and Washington, D.C. (which falls under federal jurisdiction). Both state legislatures compromised their way to highly restrictive medical marijuana laws. In Florida, much wider use of medical marijuana is up for a landslide victory ballot vote in November . In D.C. the City Council unanimously decided to expand medical access and use.

It was also in Florida, where both the issue of DEA enforcement is ever-present and where a new study showing the efficacy of CBD and THC was introduced into the political arena by GOP gadfly and billionaire Sheldon Adelson, that these issues came to a head.

"The safety and medical efficacy of marijuana are long-established, and the FDA has previously approved specific studies that the DEA later denied," Fox said. "The time has come to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act scheduling system altogether so that states can determine their own policies and research approval can be left in the hands of agencies dedicated to science, not criminal justice."

His thoughts were echoed across the country, perhaps most viscerally by Keith Henson of Pierce County (Washington State) NORML. Washington State is set to open for recreational, adult use business on July 8 and has an established medical vertical. "We are not for re-scheduling," said Henson. "We are for de-scheduling. Re-scheduling will make prohibition worse."

While this may seem unlikely to casual observers (and on either side) this is not far from reality, even at the FDA. CBD, the "other" cannabinoid that is fast becoming a household word, is already being given to children with severe epilepsy . Dronabinol, which is pure, albeit a synthetic form of THC, is now classified by the FDA as a Schedule III drug and has been since 2010.

--Written by Marguerite Arnold for MainStreet

Full disclosure, I speed read this article. A friend of mine who's a pretty sharp cookie seems to agree with it, but I have a knee-jerk reaction to anything that proposes "competition" as a solution to anything at this point. Curious what ya'll think.

We Don't Need Net Neutrality, We Need Competition

The minutiae of network topology and infrastructure are not traditional topics for comedians; seeing them discussed on late-night TV proves that the debate over network neutrality has truly made it into the mainstream. This is perhaps not surprising, thanks to some truly alarmist headlines, but also to the sheer importance of the Internet to modern life. Anything that could cause the "death of the Internet" surely concerns us all, doesn't it?

But the network neutrality debate is a muddy one at best, with different people using the term in different ways. Regulatory enforcement of the idea would at best prove inadequate to achieve what people want. At worst, it might even prove harmful to innovation and progress, potentially outlawing existing widespread and harmless practices.

In addition, the current fixation on network neutrality happens to work to the advantage of the large incumbent Internet Service Providers (ISPs). While they may oppose network neutrality regulations (or, indeed, any legislative or regulatory limitations on their business at all), so long as the debate centers around network neutrality, the largest ISPs can be confident that nothing will challenge their dominant market positions.

There is another way. Proven "unbundled access" schemes can provide the same perceived advantages as the "network neutrality" idea while avoiding the difficulties that network neutrality regulations could impose. The approach has been used around the world to establish competitive markets that ultimately rely on market forces rather than regulation to ensure that ISPs provide a quality service.
What's wrong with network neutrality?

Network neutrality, as traditionally described, is a straightforward proposition: ISP networks should not treat different traffic differently. For example, an ISP should not degrade the quality of Skype calls in order to promote the usage of its own landline or VoIP service. This kind of issue does crop up from time to time; Comcast, for example, agreed to pay $16 million to customers after it interfered with BitTorrent traffic to reduce the performance of the peer-to-peer file sharing program.
Further Reading
Comcast settles P2P throttling class-action for $16 million

Until February of this year, the FCC had rules that required this kind of network neutrality. ISPs were prohibited from blocking services and from offering paid prioritization. Verizon fought against these rules in court and substantially prevailed.

However, the longstanding fight between Netflix and the ISPs has given rise to a broader (and less accurate) use of "network neutrality." ISPs do not merely connect to a singular "Internet." Instead, they have a range of connections to other network providers such as Level 3 and Cogent that provide connections between consumer ISPs, datacenters, and other providers all around the world. Some of these connections are free, others are paid.

These are joined by hosting and content delivery network (CDN) arrangements, under which ISPs let companies attach their servers directly to the ISP network to ensure low latency, high bandwidth access to customers—for a fee.

Netflix performance on both Comcast and Verizon has suffered because these connections have become congested. The ISPs want Netflix (or the providers that Netflix uses) to pay to upgrade those congested connections or pay to colocate CDN servers within the ISP networks. Netflix cried foul and complained, but it ultimately capitulated, agreeing to pay both Comcast and Verizon.

This issue has been seized on by net neutrality advocates. Although the Internet has long had paid agreements of this kind, and has thrived in their presence, there has been concern that this situation is in some sense a violation of net neutrality—it functions as a kind of paid prioritization.

Since its court defeat, the FCC has been working on new net neutrality rules. The current proposals would prohibit outright blocks of traffic but potentially allow paid prioritization, though nothing is final yet, and with the FCC speaking out against paid prioritization in the past, it's by no means certain that such provisions will make it into the final rules.

Chairman: "There is one Internet: Not a fast internet. Not a slow Internet."
These rules are also unlikely to have any influence on the connections between ISPs and other providers—the external connectivity that was the cause of so much squabbling between Netflix and others. The FCC may ultimately choose not to allow explicit paid prioritization, but the same CDN and peering agreements that have existed for many years will amount to the same thing.

It's not obvious that the FCC can create rules about this behavior. Even if it were to somehow ban CDNs and paid peering, mere neglect on the part of the ISPs can be enough to cause problems for services like Netflix; if an ISP wants to promote its own streaming media solution ahead of a third-party one, it can simply choose to not upgrade capacity to Netflix's providers. Prohibiting these agreements and mandating upgrades would be necessary to truly put an end to this kind of "non-neutrality," but it's not obvious that the FCC has either the authority or the will to enforce such rules.

However, even the rules that the FCC can create, to enforce neutrality within the ISP network, aren't obviously desirable. Of course there are downsides to ISP interference, as the Comcast/BitTorrent case demonstrated. ISP tampering can be harmful to the end-user experience.

But one can imagine services that aren't so harmful. For example, an ISP could offer a paid service to let end-users pay to prioritize, say, VoIP and multiplayer game traffic, to ensure the lowest possible latency. This would likely fall foul of network neutrality rules, but should it? That's not at all clear; the latency impact on these services is real, and improving that latency is surely a legitimate action.

Other schemes might also fall foul of a strict net neutrality rule. In 2012, Comcast exempted traffic from its Xbox 360 streaming media service from being charged against data caps. Just this month, T-Mobile launched a new feature whereby traffic from some streaming music services isn't charged against the monthly data cap. The effect is clearly to make some services more attractive to their customers than others; in Comcast's case, it gives an advantage to Comcast's own services, in T-Mobile's it gives an advantage to third-party services. Is this neutral? Arguably not. Is it bad for ISP customers? Not obviously. Should network neutrality rules prohibit one or both of these things?

Network neutrality regulations cannot readily prevent the kind of ISP actions that have caused so many issues for Netflix and its customers, and they will tend to be over-restrictive, preventing the harmless as well as the harmful.

All these questions, however, dance around the real issue. The reason that these ISP policies are so troublesome, and the concerns over network neutrality so grave, is that the ISP market in the US is remarkably uncompetitive. It wouldn't be a big deal if Verizon's Netflix performance were suffering so long as Verizon's DSL and FiOS customers had abundant ISP alternatives offering similar performance. Indeed, such competitive pressure would probably prevent Verizon's Netflix performance from dropping in the first place.

While appeals to the power of "competition" can tend toward the hypothetical, that's not really the case here. We have some evidence from the global bandwidth providers, the ones to whom ISPs like Comcast and Verizon connect, who have to operate in a range of markets. Some of those markets, such as the UK, are competitive. Others, such as the US, are not.

Last month, Level 3 wrote that consistently congested network connections were solely found in markets where a consumer broadband operator dominated. Level 3 has six congested peering arrangements that have remained congested for a year or more, with the consumer ISP refusing to expand capacity. All are connections with locally dominant broadband operators, and five of the six were in the US.

Competition works, and competition sidesteps the difficulties of drawing up the right regulations to ensure neutrality. In a competitive market, the root cause of poor performance doesn't really matter. Regulators don't need to concern themselves with the difference between prioritization on the ISP's network and congestion at the edge of the ISP's network. Market pressure alone will penalize ISPs that suffer poor performance and promote those that do not. Even if some ISPs choose to engage in non-neutral behavior, Internet users will have alternatives that do not.
Net neutrality protects the dominant ISPs

Network neutrality rules, however, do nothing to create this market pressure. The entire debate appears to take the uncompetitive market for granted: given that the ISP market in America is uncompetitive, substantially dominated by large providers with a range of local monopolies, how can we ensure that they do not abuse these monopolies too much?

The solution is to attack the monopolies head on. The incumbent ISPs obviously have a huge advantage over any putative challengers: they've laid hundreds of thousands of miles of copper, coaxial cable, and fiber to homes and businesses across the country. This last mile network would cost many billions of dollars to replicate, not to mention causing substantial disruption every time a road has to be dug up.

But the solution to this is well-known and practiced in a number of countries around the world—including, at one time, the US: decouple Internet service provision from the last mile network. This is perhaps most abundant in the EU, where it goes by the name Local Loop Unbundling. The wired telecommunications market in Europe was largely dominated by a series of national monopoly phone companies. In order to promote competition, the EU required that these incumbent operators provide third parties access to parts of its infrastructure, in particular the "last mile."
Case study: The UK

The UK is one of the markets that Level 3 explicitly named as competitive; as a Brit, it's also the one with which I am most familiar. The country's phone market was dominated by British Telecom (BT), the once publicly owned national phone company. To meet EU and UK competition demands, BT's infrastructure—in particular, the phone exchanges, last mile copper and fiber, and street cabinets—were placed into a division called Openreach. Another division, BT Wholesale, offers Internet services ranging from ADSL and ADSL2+ to FTTP on top of the OpenReach infrastructure.

With these services, BT Wholesale leases to ISPs both the last mile connectivity (including the relevant hardware in the exchange) and the aggregated bandwidth from the phone exchange to one of 20 aggregation points around the UK. Each ISP leasing lines from BT is then responsible for connecting from these aggregation points to the Internet. This is where ISPs connect to the networks of companies like Level 3 and Cogent. BT Wholesale sells to a range of ISPs, including BT's own.

Providers can also skip BT Wholesale and deal with Openreach directly. They can get direct access to the copper last mile, installing their own DSLAMs in phone exchanges and providing their own backbone infrastructure. For fiber customers, Openreach provides Ethernet connectivity within the exchange, again with the ISP providing its own backbone infrastructure.

In this way, a range of competitive options is available. ISPs offer their own connectivity to the Internet itself, which means that BT isn't in a position to limit access to any particular Internet services, and ISPs can make their own decisions about, for example, the use of quality of service among their users.

In my phone exchange, for example, I had a selection of eight different ISPs that installed their hardware directly onto the last mile (leasing directly from Openreach), along with something on the order of fifty to one hundred ISPs selling services backed by BT Wholesale's products. Prices range from about $25/month for ADSL2+ (capable of up to 24Mbps or so) to about $50/month for 80Mbps FTTC.
A proven approach

The result, as Level 3 notes, is that there isn't any major long-term congestion (though of course short-term issues can arise, as new connections can take a few weeks to establish). And as one might expect from competitive markets, the cost for end users is lower than it is in the US.

Study finds American consumers paying higher prices for slower connections.
One concern of this kind of regulation is that it can discourage investment in the phone network. After all, if every company gets access to the upgraded network, the incumbent operator cannot achieve any competitive advantage by making upgrades. It's unclear how much influence this has in practice—some countries that use unbundling schemes have higher average Internet speeds than the US. It seems likely that with a little finesse—for example, allowing the incumbent a limited exclusivity period on any substantial new infrastructure—the impetus to invest in the network can be maintained.

This is a model for telecommunications regulation that works. It provides the safeguards against poor performance and ISPs trying to promote their own services (or punishing competing ones) that the net neutrality proponents want, and it uses market power to do so. It permits innovative or experimental new services to be offered, while ensuring that customers will be able to choose the kind of Internet connectivity that they prefer. It does this while avoiding sticky questions about where the "non-neutral" parts may be, or endless tedious debate about whether a particular service constitutes a paid "fast lane," mere paid peering, or something else entirely.

It does not do away with the need for legislation and regulations, of course, but by limiting the scope to the last mile, it makes that framework considerably simpler.

All it requires is the right mix of legislation and regulation.
Turning back the clock

Can that exist in the US? It has before. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed to break up the local monopolies held by the Baby Bells. It required the various incumbent phone companies to provide access to exchanges and the local loop so that competing services could be established. This allowed competitors to the incumbent operators not only to provide voice telephone services, but also DSL, without having to install their own copper lines. The FCC was empowered to oversee this and decide exactly how this unbundling should occur.

While the major telcos fought this, in 1999 the Supreme Court upheld the FCC's right to enforce the law and require incumbent operators to provide access to their network.

However, while it has the authority, the FCC has backed away from extending the scope of these regulations. Putative cable competitors argued that the same network unbundling access rules should apply to cable networks as well as telephone ones. But because the FCC classified cable Internet as an "information service" and not, as with a phoneline, a "telecommunications service," the Supreme Court held in a 2005 decision that cable companies were not required to unbundle.

A few months after that decision, the FCC subsequently extended this ruling to DSL, too, claiming that by bringing DSL regulation in line with cable (non-)regulation, there would be greater competition and investment. Similarly, the FCC never even tried to impose such unbundled access provisions to fiber connections.

But it almost surely could—and almost surely should.

The only losers in such a system are the incumbent ISPs with the local monopolies. That's why they fought this kind of regulation in the first place. Network neutrality can't threaten their dominant positions. Competition can.

Spamalot / fuck american airlines
« on: June 25, 2014, 03:00:02 AM »
Layover delays were so long I could've driven to Tampa from DFW and gotten there earlier. Not gonna sleep till 5 and gotta get up at 8 to drive across Tampa to some place I've never been and be in a BS TESOL class for fucking 9 hours with one other person fjfyevd7fuevdb)

Spamalot / speed reading is the best thing to happen to the internet
« on: June 24, 2014, 01:53:19 PM »
I think someone posted this link a while back when I made a post about finding an app that does essentially the same thing on android

shit saves me so much time reading articles only to find out they're shitty

wouldn't use it--at least not at high speed--for serious, heady reading you know you want to absorb well, but it's good for skimming probably-dumb articles you find in your fb feed/on TZT and click on on the off chance they aren't completely worthless when you're bored.

Want a book that gives a good overview of the early modern to modern history of China, Japan and Korea. I'm having a surprisingly hard time finding one. Feel like we've got enough history buffs here that it's worth a shot

Spamalot / Finished reading Count of Monte Cristo
« on: June 20, 2014, 07:28:12 PM »
Stopped reading it at the beginning of this semester and then picked it back up after I graduated+finished it on the road trip to Denver. Forgot to post about it.

I can see why you hated the movie, Grand. I still kinda like the movie on its own merit but it is a total Disnification of the book and I probably would've hated it too if I'd read the book first.

Book was alright. Had some attributes I didn't like: most memorably the frequent use of recountings by characters of past events in the form of a monologue completely without any change in tone from that of the third-person omniscient narrator. I also thought that for all the hoopla the eventual actual fruition of Dantes' revenge was pretty anti-climactic.

But overall it was enjoyable.

So what's the next book we're all going to agree to read that only I'll finish?

TZT GameDev / Guy spends 13 years making an indie platform game
« on: June 19, 2014, 11:55:43 AM »

Looks like it could be decent. Probably not good enough to justify 13 years when you consider what the guys in Indie Game did in 3 or 4, but I guess that's not the mindset to go into making a game with, either.

Guy's the same age as me. I don't think I tried my first hand at game-making (in RPGmaker 2k3) until 2005 or 2006 and that lasted maybe 6 months. I gave up when it came time to try to balance the combat system because I didn't wanna use the prestocked shit that comes with RPGM2k3 (feels to me like getting a tattoo out of a binder in the front of a parlor).

Spamalot / sors
« on: June 15, 2014, 02:35:22 PM »
Your dad looks like Michael Todd in your profile pic

General Discussion / Previous landlord confirmed crook
« on: June 12, 2014, 03:51:09 PM »
He told my room mate with two cats that there was no need for a pet deposit to keep cats, but charged me $150 for Euler (this is not the part that constitutes crookery)

The day we moved out he paid the next three tenants, himself, and his wife $10/hr each out of our deposit to clean the house (already immaculate. Fucker called me at 10am at a lady pal's house on the 31st to tell me to get my shit out so he could clean up the house because the contract ended at noon. [Don't leases end on the 1st?] I come home and each of the new tenants is alternatively walking swiftly in circles, staring blankly into an immaculate appliance while they polish a single already-clean spot endlessly or taking a 10 minute bathroom break just to look busy until the dickhead landlord told them he was satisfied the house was clean.

Now he isn't actually paying them anything--he's deducting their pay from the cost of *their* deposits, which he never intends to have to pay them back in full anyway because he'll just do the same thing to them.

So he texts us today to tell us that he's keeping half our deposit and doesn't even mention the pet deposit. I text him back to tell him where he can mail my check and tell him it was my understanding that my pet deposit was refundable. He tells me "you may want to talk to [room mate with cats] about that. When you all left, there were two pets/cats in the house. Until the cats live at this house [sic] I'll be keeping the deposit."

I told him if the new tenants want to keep cats it has fucking nothing to do with me no matter what his policy is on cats and deposits. I know my saying "I paid $150 by myself to keep my dog" and my room mate saying "he said there was no deposit for the cats" doesn't mean much unless we have some shit in writing, but am I wrong that there's literally zero legal basis for him to withhold money from either of us on the basis of the new tenants keeping cats, even if the cats belong to one of us?

Spamalot / Throwing shit out
« on: May 27, 2014, 09:06:16 PM »
Trying to whittle my possessions down to Euler + my bike + the contents of one backpack. Christ it's hard. I just went through my drawer of sentimental junk and threw it all out. Stuff like notes and letters from people who I'll definitely never see again, shitty old drawings and journal entries (lol), an old external hard drive I kept around cause I thought I'd be able to get it running again but never got around to it, etc. I mean yeah I get something out of seeing that stuff but I only ever look through it when I'm moving from one place to another. It's also hard throwing out* gift nick-nacks I only received in the last year seems like a dick move and throwing out electronic stuff that I'm 100% positive I'll have a use for at some point but so infrequently it's not worth carrying around everywhere always is also extremely difficult (there isn't time to sell it because most of it is p obscure and the rest of it is the type of stuff that there's a low enough demand for that even though someone may be willing to pay 10-12 bucks for it I'd be waiting for months and have to go through the hassle of shipping it to get that money).

*this is the point where I went away and came back drunk to finish the post

Spamalot / GRAND
« on: May 25, 2014, 02:09:20 AM »
It is looking pretty certain that I am going to be driving out to Denver around the first of the month with my friend. You're gonna be in SC till the 9th right? If it's cool for both of us to come we could swing out on the way--it's only another 200miles and we're making a trip of the drive anyway.

General Discussion / Anyone living in Denver?
« on: May 24, 2014, 07:35:46 PM »
Hey ya'll, I'm hoping to have work overseas by September but am considering moving out to Denver for the intervening months starting in July.

Wanna bring Euler, ideally. Could afford something in the neighborhood of $500/mo. Could be an apartment or just a room in a house with other people. Don't need parking--my jalopy won't make the trip so I'll be coming out with my bike in a friend's car who's moving out there also.

Checked out craigslist but mostly it's stuff that's too pricey for me or doesn't allow dogs or in one bizarre case it's a place that's cheap and allows dogs but doesn't allow drinking or members of the opposite sex to sleep over (???)

Anyone got any leads? A couch for a few weeks while I house hunt? I'm pretty tidy and ya'll know my demeanor.

General Discussion / This has to be BS right?
« on: May 21, 2014, 10:47:33 PM »
Too lazy to CP. Journalist claiming scientists claiming solar panels "suck energy from the sun" and could cause it to burn out in <500yrs if they became a major power source on Earth

General Discussion / Star Wars Ep VII may not suck
« on: May 21, 2014, 02:37:35 PM »
Star Wars: Force for Change - A Message from J.J. Abrams

It's being shot on film to try to match the original asthetic (this I don't care that much about but it speaks to the attitude of the producers)

It's being shot in actual locations rather than entirely on bluescreens

It's apparently going to employ puppetry

It's being written by the guy who wrote Empire Strikes Back

Spamalot / let's get ready to RPG
« on: May 21, 2014, 01:07:34 PM »
DARK DUNGEONS Full Trailer (Ultra HD)

Spamalot / Leto
« on: May 18, 2014, 08:37:20 PM »
the bad man is gone

he can't hurt you anymore

Spamalot / Lego movie
« on: May 17, 2014, 06:27:11 PM »
loved it. Did anyone else see it?

General Discussion / Injured
« on: May 17, 2014, 06:24:47 PM »
Pulled a muscle near my tail bone. No fucking idea how (buttsex jokes). Hurts to lean forward, climb stairs, stand up from a chair (standing up straight doesn't hurt, just getting up).

Was hurting a little yesterday but just enough to prevent me from going for a run. Was mostly ok earlier--didn't even think about it, really. Just got back from the movies and can barely walk, though. No idea why it got so much worse--maybe all the climbing in and out of the back seat of a two-door car, but that's my best guess.

I walk for graduation in 6 days. My last college party ever is in 6 days. This needs to fucking get better now ughhhhhhh

Spamalot / ᕙ༼ຈل͜ຈ༽ᕗ
« on: May 11, 2014, 11:24:53 AM »

See title. I'm getting a Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages certification. Most of the curriculum is standard, but I have to choose between a mod in teaching for business or a mod in teaching to children.

I'm pretty torn, although I'm not sure it makes much of a difference in the long run. I feel like the children one'd be more immediately beneficial, since I *am* applying to teach school kids overseas in the immediate future. On the other hand, I feel like the business one might be more helpful later? You can probably make pretty good money teaching Chinese (or w/e) business men to speak english working for a private company

But then, I dunno if I'd want to work for a big chinese conglomerate, either. And I don't mind kids as long as they're past the shitting-everywhere phase. I dunno.

General Discussion / Monument Valley
« on: May 07, 2014, 03:54:43 PM »
this game is the shit you should play it

Release Trailer - Monument Valley Game - out 3rd April 2014

It's an android/iphone game so it only takes an hour or two of solid play to beat but it's a work of art

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