Morning Links

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

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50 Responses to “Morning Links”

  1. #1 |  SamK | 

    “We talked to all of our people and they didn’t touch her insulin,”

    HAHAHAH!! Oh, god , that’s a damned good laugh to start a Tuesday….

  2. #2 |  Justin | 

    Best facebook status I’ve ever read.

  3. #3 |  Deoxy | 

    If you could figure out the algorythm of where states ship winning scratch-off lottery tickets using publicly available information, why should that be against the law?

    I don’t think knowing publicly available information IS illegal (if there was any way for The Texas Lottery Commission to go after her, I suspect they would) – that such information IS publicly available, and that the system COULD be gamable like that, that is the problem.

    As to the casino guy, eh, what did you expect? I stay away from Vegas for several reasons, but the rigged nature of the system (both mathematically and “legally”) would be sufficient without anything else.

  4. #4 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Why would the headline about china surprise anyone? The Chinese government, whether Communist or Imperial, has treated it’s people as if they were livestock for thousands of years.

  5. #5 |  SamK | 

    Also…there are scads of problems with drug production; price controls alone aren’t the issue but price controls in conjunction with the rest of the process, specifically the inelasticity of production. It’s not as hard to start up a pharmaceutical production line as it is to get a refinery built, but it ain’t easy…if production capacity could easily be expanded to meet demand you might just see some of those out of work chemical engineers (yeah, I know one working at a Toys R Us, which counts as unemployed as far as I’m concerned) going after those low profit margins that are still ridiculously more than they’re currently making.

    If the government is going to restrict market responses it needs to assist the entrance of new businesses to the market. If there’s one thing I wouldn’t mind seeing my taxes go towards it’s new production lines to meet demand for life-saving items. More jobs, more useful things, more happy people.

    If, as noted, there are higher margin drugs readily available then I *still* think increased capacity is the thing that’s missing…at some point the bottom drops out of increased capacity for a single drug (ignoring cocaine and heroin and their ilk) and you simply have excess reactor capacity that can be easily (ok, not ridiculously easy, but certainly capable) switched to produce a drug with better returns…which would then be those now lower margin drugs under discussion.

    Seriously though, some of us (me) would be happy to do just this: start a new company producing drugs that are short and only make a crapton of cash as opposed to an asinine amount…and I get to keep my soul. I have, however, looked lightly into doing so and I find the credit requirements and time required to license the facility for production essentially beyond my current capacity. Beyond that, once the established companies see a startup looking at a niche they’ve ‘abandoned’ you’ll see ‘re-entry’ into that market. It’s damned difficult to make something like that work without government assistance.

    All that said? I don’t think we’re seeing quite the degree of shortages discussed in this article…it sounds like a PR campaign similar (in the opposite direction) to the constant braying by police about how our streets are suddenly inundated with whatever drug they want to use to drum up cash for new SWAT gear. Pharmaceutical companies are a lot like telecomm…they have a captive audience and the cost of entry is prohibitive. It’s only about half a step from open collusion to manipulate prices and once you sit down in the back rooms to drink and bullshit it’s not that half a step away. I’ll eat my left foot if there aren’t at least two of

    behind the ‘shortage’ and the story, not necessarily based in the US either. This is not an elastic market even if it were perfectly free, but it *is* an important one.

  6. #6 |  Highway | 

    SamK, I doubt anyone on a site like this would argue against there being regulatory capture issues with the FDA, Medicare, and pharmaceutical manufacturers. All that licensing, approval, patenting, production quotas, and other bullshit isn’t only thought up by the FDA or Medicare.

  7. #7 |  Marty | 

    Cory Maye continues to impress- it’d be so easy for him to play the victim card… Very cool!

  8. #8 |  Highway | 

    I know I read an article somewhere over the weekend (maybe even linked here) about Lottery Scratch-off and numbers games being ‘made’ by people who figured out that there are times where the expected payout is higher than the buy-in cost. So they’d do things like buy $300,000 worth of 2 dollar tickets, and end up making $500,000, which is a good return any way you slice it. One reason was because of the ramping up of all prizes when the top prize wasn’t claimed for a few months.

    The intention of the lottery is a tax on stupid people. But when stupid people run it, of course they’re going to get mad when smart people come in and beat the system they thought they rigged.

  9. #9 |  Curt | 

    Please tell me that the chain-link fence story is an april fool’s day joke…

  10. #10 |  ClubMedSux | 

    I think you’ve got the wrong link for the Missouri doctor story (maybe you meant this one?

    If that is what you had in mind, unless there’s more to the story, I think the headline is a bit misleading. They’re not getting paid to sleep; they’re getting paid to be on call 24/7. Many municipalities do the same with firefighters; here in Chicago, they work 24-hour shifts during which they sleep at the firehouse but I wouldn’t say they’re “getting paid while sleeping.” I’m all for scrutinizing how government dollars are spent, so I don’t have any problem with the MO legislature looking into it, but I think it makes sense that they’d have to pay more to get physicians to take undesirable shifts (like overnight at a mental hospital).

  11. #11 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    “Mr Rich proceeds to detail the myriad ways in which Ms Ginther could have gamed the system – including the fact that she may have figured out the algorithm that determines where a winner is placed in each run of scratch-off tickets.”

    Figuring out how the (rigged) system works, and its inherent flaws and quirks,
    and then capitalizing on it. Isn’t that what “capitalism” is all about?

  12. #12 |  Robert | 

    RE: The china headline. That didn’t surprise me, as I’ve been saying that they do that for years. I thought the headline was going to be the one about the recent news article that they are drying out and grinding up dead babies for sale as aphrodisiacs.

    RE: The lottery ticket thing. Why would they have any kind of algorithim for the distribution of the tickets? Shouldn’t it be completely random?

  13. #13 |  Curt | 

    re: gambling…

    It seems that what she’s doing is the equivalent of counting cards at the blackjack table. She’s using her brain to observe patterns and predict future trends. She wouldn’t be arrested at a casino because it’s not illegal. She’d just be thrown out and banned from returning.

    I doubt the state can get away with using the same approach, so they would have to either accept that she’s going to be them, quit running a lottery, or change the game to foil her system.

    +1 to Highway’s comment about stupid people vs. smart people playing lottery.

  14. #14 |  Chris in AL | 

    “…which questioned the validity of this ‘luck’ with which she attributes her multiple lottery wins to.”

    English muthaf@#ker. Do you speak it?

    (Don’t say “what!”)

  15. #15 |  TomG | 

    Historical preservation societies are another indication that we don’t actually own our property anymore (I’m not sure if we ever did). No one should be able to legally prevent you from making alterations to your real property and what it contains, on the basis of “historic preservation”. It would be one thing if you agreed that something needs to be kept in a certain state. But a group of people you didn’t select who make decisions about what is to be labeled historic….HELL NO.
    When did these groups get the power to tell homeowners what to do? And how much punishment will you get in by ignoring their demands?
    The whole thing is completely absurd. If you think something on my property is that important historically, guess what you can do? BUY IT FROM ME.
    If not, get the hell out and shut up.

  16. #16 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    “Why would they have any kind of algorithim for the distribution of the tickets? Shouldn’t it be completely random?”

    I’ve been told that generating random numbers is impossible. They have to simulate this ‘randomness’ with complex algorithms.

  17. #17 |  crazybob | 

    Wow, just wow – start with a falsehood and you get to bash government all you want in your fantasy world. Let’s get this straight:

    “Price controls” are when the government dictates the price a product can be sold on the open market. For the governmet to decide the price it will pay for a product is NOT a price control anymore than if you walked into a pharmacy and said “I won’t buy x because it costs more than y” would be a price control. Or an insurance company saying it would only pay X for a drug (something they do all the time). Walmart dictates prices to suppliers all the time – (sometimes the supplier refuses and the product isn’t supplied) why isn’t that a “price control”?

    In your rabid desire to bash government you ignore reality.

    The law says that the government should pay no more for a drug than the free market price. Doesn’t that seem reasonable? Or do you think the taxpayer should subsidize these drugs? Apparantly, because that what was going on! In fact subsidize isn’t really the right word – the word is gouge, as in “the drug companies were gouging the taxpayer”. But I guess we don’t have a problem with that.

    What is going on now of course is that the drug companies are deliberatly shorting the supply on cheap drugs in order to make bigger profits on the expensive ones. Of course that is there free market “right” – if a few people die in the process, what the hell!

  18. #18 |  Mattocracy | 

    Imagine if we had historic preservation back in the dark ages. We’d all still have roofs made from straw and mud.

  19. #19 |  Highway | 

    Here’s the story I read:

    This story may actually be related to the one I referenced above. It’s not that she’s going and buying *the* lottery ticket that wins. She’s buying thousands of lottery tickets, and then because of the payout multipliers is parlaying that into big winnings. The thing I quite haven’t gotten is why are there hundreds of thousands of ‘scratch-off’ tickets at a dinky convenience store in Texas? The other story referenced the ‘hours they monopolized the lottery machine printing that many tickets’, so it was a numbers game.

    There was another part of that article that talked about the ability to pick winning scratch-offs by pattern from looking through many of them. And I can also believe that the distribution algorithm for a state like Texas would favor sending big payouts to smaller towns, because that looks a lot better when people win. So if you think that a winning ticket is gonna be sent to a store, and you buy all the tickets at that store, you’re not going to be particularly surprised when you capture that winning ticket.

    To me, this is likely the same thing as that guy who figured out the patterns to Press Your Luck. Being observant and following the rules of the game. But the people who rig the games don’t like it when their system is figured out.

  20. #20 |  Highway | 

    Mattocracy, something that ties into that idea is something that gets to me too. There’s the idea that ‘the way things are *now* is the way they should stay’. Who wants to bet that on historic properties there was another landuse before that? Why aren’t we going *back* to that if it’s so important? Or how do you know that what might be built to replace it won’t be more historically significant later?

    This same thinking infects natural environment issues as well. Streams are systems that are constantly moving, changing banks, changing falls, changing landscapes. But in the last 20 years, stream restorations have become in vogue that essentially lock in streams where they are. In some areas, this is especially problematic, like Colonial areas like Maryland, where nearly all streams were dammed for mill power. The current streams cut through sediment deposited by these mill dams, and are pretty unstable. But it’s the current stream that efforts seek to ‘preserve’, even though this condition isn’t historically stable or representative of what the stream should be.

    The same thing applies to climate change. We know the earth has been warmer, and we know it’s been cooler. So why are so many efforts pegging a particular year to say “We should keep it like *this*”?

    Finally, I’ve noticed that it doesn’t matter if something was good, just that it’s rare, in the historic preservation racket. For instance, in Sykesville, Maryland, on MD 32 there is an Aluminum Box Girder Bridge, the longest of only 3 built in the US. The road has been moved off this bridge, but the bridge still stands because it’s very rare. It’s historically significant not because it’s a good bridge in design or materials, but because it wasn’t. Yet it’s preserved not as a warning of what not to do, but because it was built in the first place.

  21. #21 |  jb | 

    “The same thing applies to climate change. We know the earth has been warmer, and we know it’s been cooler. So why are so many efforts pegging a particular year to say “We should keep it like *this*”?”

    That makes more sense than your other examples. We have adapted our society, the location of our infrastructure, the way we farm, etc, to this type of climate, so changing to a new type would involve substantial dislocation and transaction costs. Whereas with historical preservation, there is no benefit to keeping things the way they were, and no societal cost to changing.

  22. #22 |  Lorenzo | 

    How long before Thomas Freidman lauds child selling?

  23. #23 |  David | 

    I’d much prefer to see someone put the SCIENCE! in forensic science, preferably in a way involving lightning and a giant underground lab.

  24. #24 |  rhofulster | 

    “Figuring out how the (rigged) system works, and its inherent flaws and quirks,
    and then capitalizing on it. Isn’t that what “capitalism” is all about?”

    No, that’s what “Crony Capitalism” is all about. Tulpa said it best on H&R yesterday:

    “There is no concentrated power in any American religion or corporation, except when the latter aligns with the state. Corporations are usually at each other’s throats. Hell, the SEIU has more power than probably any corporation in America other than some of the banks (see “aligned with the state” above).”

    The current practice of crony capitalism is a consequence of the promotion of activist government, and yes, when we have an activist government, some will be very good at gaming it.

    Capitalism is not defined by exploiting flaws in the system. Capitalism (I prefer the term free market) is a system in which the participants engage in voluntary arrangements as best they can.

  25. #25 |  Robert | 

    @ 16 “I’ve been told that generating random numbers is impossible. They have to simulate this ‘randomness’ with complex algorithms.”

    But from what I’m gleaning, they aren’t doing the algorithms to make it random. They’re doing it to make sure of a wide dispersal of the high dollar winning tickets, and that they are less likely to appear in high population areas. That would mean that there is a good chance (pun! Argh!) that some insider knows exactly where the winning tickets are going.

  26. #26 |  David | 

    Exactly. They’re generating the appearance of randomness, which is actually quite predictable if you know what the people who crafted the algorithm think looks “random.”

  27. #27 |  Judi | 

    Go Cory, Go Cory, Go Cory!

  28. #28 |  Geoff | 

    I don’t think the TSA thing is THAT outrageous. Ice packs often contain either ammonium nitrate or ammonium chloride both of which are well known to be components of explosives though it would require other components and some doing. I imagine that a bulletin was released to the TSA to be on the lookout. They probably over reacted when they saw the insulin bottles and syringes thinking these were the “other components”. I can imagine a reasonable narrative of how these harmless looking components could be used to create an explosion, but if they explain that it would essentially be giving out a how-to. I have flown probably 100 times with my insulin kit and have only once had security give it a second look, which oddly enough was at an airport in the Caribbean not the TSA. I personally don’t believe the icepacks are necessary so I’ve never traveled with them, after reading this I’ll likely never even consider it now.

  29. #29 |  TomG | 

    Geoff – the very existence of the TSA should be an outrage. At least, in the “land of the free”….

  30. #30 |  Geoff | 

    I agree about the TSA, but I thought I would at least try to see it from their perspective. If only our overloads would do that sometimes.

  31. #31 |  Jay | 

    The way you generate random numbers is by physically observing some sort of random phenomenon. An example of this would be having a bunch of numbered balls in a big shaker, and picking several. That system isn’t chosen entirely for spectacle!

  32. #32 |  Mattocracy | 

    In the city that I live in, our historic preservation board is often in conflict with our code enforcement department.

    Example: owner of an old ass house has part of his fence destroyed in a storm. Historic preservation board says he has to rebuild it in the exact same place, same style. Code Enforcement says that all new fencing has to be X number of feet from the street and he can’t rebuild exactly where it was.

    Pissing match ensues.

  33. #33 |  Andrew S. | 

    1. I love the geek bumper sticker (though I’m fairly sure you’d have to be driving close to the speed of light for the sticker to appear blue)

    2. Yay Cory Maye!

  34. #34 |  omg | 

    Exactly. They’re generating the appearance of randomness, which is actually quite predictable if you know what the people who crafted the algorithm think looks “random.”

    I’ve been told that generating random numbers is impossible. They have to simulate this ‘randomness’ with complex algorithms.

    Software developer here. This isn’t really true, although I suppose there is some “truthiness” to it. In software, if you want to make a random number, you usually use what is called a “pseudorandom” number generator. These generate random numbers, but in a way that can be predicted. This is fine for most situations.

    However, it is not impossible to get “true random” numbers, and you will want to use a “true random” source for many applications, especially anything related to cryptography. One way to get “true random” numbers would be to measure radioactive decay of a physical sample, measuring background radiation from the sky, or various functions dealing with sound. It is not impossible, and if the applications is important enough you should use a true random source.

  35. #35 |  Meister574 | 

    She figured out the lottery system, which was extremely flawed in that 1) the information was publicly known and 2) winning tickets were not sufficiently randomized. Casinos constantly change dice, cards, dealers, work schedules, etc. all the time to prevent such patterns. As for the casino owner’s comments, it’s not how it works. If they suspect cheating, they will usually try to catch you the act so they can arrest you with probably cause. But with something like card counting, which is not illegal, they just blackball you. As soon as you are recognized, you are kicked out. They have the right to refuse service to anyone.

  36. #36 |  TomG | 

    #32 – If I was feeling mischievous, I’d figure out which way I wanted to play it; i.e. if I liked the original fence, I’d rebuild it according to the city HP and tell Code Enforcement it is NOT a new fence at all, but a re-creation of an already extant one. And let Code Enforcement argue with HP.

  37. #37 |  Marty | 

    I bet we’ll see the lottery winner’s memoirs pretty soon- people will be clamoring for it and the govt will be freaking out about citizens implementing her system.

  38. #38 |  MacK | 

    This link should work for the Missouri state doctors get paid while sleeping.

  39. #39 |  H. Rearden | 

    Re #32:

    Probably a completely made up story, but fits the template:

  40. #40 |  Highway | 

    jb, the problem is that while the current ‘climate’ is what we’re used to, we have no idea if it’s better or worse than what might come later. It’s a fact that historically, mankind has prospered more when the climate is warmer than it is now, and less when the climate is colder. And maybe it would be better to move the arable land up in latitude and give, say, the US great plains a rest for a few decades. Will there be discplacement, sure. But there would also be new opportunities. And it always has to be added in the consideration that trying to hold climate where it is may be impossible, and even if it is possible, it would be at the expense of a tremendous amount of human progress and spent productivity.

    So trying to minimize the effects of change might be worthwhile for some, but for humanity as a whole, the effort is a loser, and in no way historically significant in the frame of reference of the earth.

  41. #41 |  Goober | 

    I’ve had my dealings with these Historic Preservation Societies and I still don’t get it. Their mantra is “No one wants to say that they were married in the church that used to be where the gas station is now,” which means that they would rather see a church that has outlived it’s useful life, that is probably structurally deficient, and will likely not be used by anyone because of the deficiencies of old buildings for modern uses, than progress in the form of a gas station that will create jobs, be used by the people in the area, and produce something useful.

    i rebuilt a building that is now 115 years old, had burned down three times, and had been abandoned for 36 years specifically because the developer that bought the land to build a college dormitory was disallowed to tear the building down to do so. The building was unsafe, rotten, and in a state of disrepair that I cannot even begin to describe. Skylights had been broken out decades ago, so it was raining, snowing, and so forth inside the building. Moreover, the building had been abandoned 36 years prior because it was essentially useless once it’s original use was finished – it was a hotel and storefront in a part of town that had evolved beyond hotels and storefronts – it is now an industrial center if anything. A college is moving into the area so they needed dorm space, and the HPS wouldn’t let them tear out this derelict of a building. he had to rebuild it to make it into a dormitory, sacrificing 20,000 square feet that he could have had had he been allowed to build the new building, and resulting in a moldy, rotten POS building that IMHO is unsafe for any student to live in. Your government, hard at work, splitting atoms with their mind.

  42. #42 |  TomG | 

    #41 – all true, and yet the question remains: Why do cities give them so much power? And if you defy them, then what? misdemeanor? felony? being forced to pay massive fines?
    It’s totally political, obviously. I’m sure their clout varies depending on what city and how “connected” they are.

  43. #43 |  Highway | 

    Cities give them power because it makes the city ‘look good’. Everyone loves nostalgia. Everyone loves to have things not change. It’s the argument like Goober says: ‘Nobody’ wants their memories replaced by a gas station.

    But they never see the reality, such as their memory being replaced by a blighted lot, or a run down building, or an unused church or movie theater. Even then, they adjust the picture in their mind to see the memory. If there’s a completely different reality facing them, that’s different. Plus, it’s the guilt factor: “oh, we *should* preserve heritage.” “We *shouldn’t* ‘let’ them tear that building down.”

    So they give these boards power that’s essentially unchecked by anything except the legislature and the governor (for state agencies) or the Mayor and city council. They’re not elected, and they have absolutely no reason to give in on anything, because they can always point to “We’re protecting ‘history’.” So you do what they want, or you don’t get your concurrence / permit.

  44. #44 |  Windy | 

    “If you think something on my property is that important historically, guess what you can do? BUY IT FROM ME. If not, get the hell out and shut up.”

  45. #45 |  albatross | 


    You can have algorithms that generate pseudorandom numbers from a smallish (100 bit or so) seed that are unpredictable, even if you see lots of outputs from the generator. Those are called cryptographic PRNGs, and they’re pretty common in crypto programs. But most PRNGs used by games and statistical software and used by default in compilers are the weaker non-cryptographic kind.

    The secret seed has to be generated by some unpredictable process, which can’t come down to just running an algorithm. In hardware, the process is usually built on top of thermal noise in circuits. In software, it’s usually based on measuring stuff that is ultimately affected by timing of hard drive accesses and human interaction with the computer and race conditions between independent pieces of hardware vying for the computers attention.

    The seed is a potential weak point, since if someone steals it they can predict all outputs, even if you are using a crytpographic PRNG. So some systems just do the physical process (like those lottery ball machines) or generate a new seed for every output (you can think of /dev/random as working kind of that way).

  46. #46 |  TGGP | 

    Hard for a lot of people with a criminal record to get jobs, especially in this economy. Good for Corey, and best of luck to him in the future.

  47. #47 |  The Pale Scot | 

    What, Corey’s been out of circulation for 10 yrs and he’s repairing transmissions? What on K-cars?

    On the other hand, if that good of a tranny mech, what Ijit locked him up?

    A good tranny mech is worth a 1000 trigger happy LOs, hell their rarer then good brain surgeons.

  48. #48 |  The Pale Scot | 

    3 martinis + 12 olives = degraded grammar skills

  49. #49 |  Sparky | 

    …aaaaaaaaaand in other news, Tom Friedman was unavailable for comment on link #7….too busy writing hagiography of the CCP, perhaps?

  50. #50 |  Danno49 | 

    I just cried tears of joy reading Cory’s FB post. The best thing I’ve read all day!