The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

Being fast vs. being correct

| October 28, 2015

I’ve not blogged about my job hunt because it’s largely been unremarkable. However, one firm threw me for a loop recently in that they had me take a skills assessment. This is different than the “normal” type of assessments, which are things like “write me some code which does X”. As a general case, all of these are a waste of the applicant’s time, so I can’t imagine that companies who have such policies have a lot of applicants who are already employed. I only have time to do it because I’m on payroll to be in the office to answer the couple of questions which arise during the day.

Anyway, the test they had me take is supposedly roughly similar to a Wonderlic test. See:

Go take one, they’re fun. I’ll wait.

They remind me as roughly similar to IQ tests and, as I understand it, seem to try to test the same thing. Unsurprisingly, I score similarly on both. Now, I have issues with IQ tests in general (more on this later), but that’s not really my main objection to this test as a pre-screening for an engineering position. My objection is that what it measures (intelligence) is not of primary importance to being a good engineer. I’d argue that your top three qualities for a good engineer are:

  1. Being correct.
  2. Being thorough.
  3. Being smart.

The scoring of both IQ and Wonderlic tests are based on time limits. However, such time limits are not reflective of real-world situations, because, only very rarely do you need to do engineering under extremely short (say, 10 minute) deadlines. And, since lives may depend on it, being correct is more important than being fast. As such, a good engineer will check his work, running the calculation several times over by different methods to ensure the same result. Do this for a couple of decades, and it becomes so automatic, it’s hard to turn off when doing one of the aforementioned speed-based tests. Therefore, such tests likely disadvantage good engineers because the prime requisite is not emphasized in favor of the tertiary requisite.

On top of that, the secondary requisite isn’t tested at all! Now, I don’t know how to test that someone is thorough, excepting to pose a situation with a pile of corner cases which need to be handled. The best vehicle for this is likely a programming problem. But, basically:

  • It doesn’t matter how fast you are, if you’re wrong.
  • It doesn’t matter how fast you are, if you miss corner cases and it all falls apart because of that.

Now, on to my problems with IQ tests (because I’m sure I’ve hooked everyone with the tease and they’ve been waiting). My problem with IQ tests is that they say I’m smart (I consistently score 140 +/- 10), except I do not believe that I’m smart. That’s it. I have no data, just an anecdote with a sample size of 1. (Publish!)

Empirically, and “getting outside my own head” as it were, this is likely a result of selection bias. If you take, as a baseline, the idea that an IQ of 70 and below constitutes “mild mental retardation”, then you’re 30 points below the median score if 100. So, if you have an IQ of 120, and work with a bunch of people with IQ’s of 150, then, compared to them, you’re mildly retarded, despite the fact that you are “superior” relative to the general population. However, since you work with these people on a day to day basis, likely select friends of similar attributes, should definitely select a mate with similar attributes, raise your children similarly, etc. you surround yourself in this bubble of smart people which can lead to a skewed perception of what the world is actually like. (Not unlike how people surround themselves with similar reinforcing viewpoints on politics, social issues, etc – the “echo chamber” effect.)

Now, all that said, even though rationally I realize that the above is likely true, I find it hard to detangle myself from the viscerally emotional feeling of “not being that smart” – likely because I am a perpetually unsatisfied type A control freak.

So, my criticisms of IQ tests are likely all in my head, but one perceives reality through ones own cognitive biases, so that doesn’t make it any less real.

Updated kids gallery

| October 7, 2015

Clicky the linky.


| October 7, 2015

Had a little bit of a break from the job search last night and finished reassembling my second tank. Also got some treads on the APC after a little bit of cleanup sanding. It still needs a bit more.


All the recent updates

| October 7, 2015

So, I published a glut of stuff yesterday. Basically, we were all super busy leading up to this week because we had 2 weeks of engineering meetings to get the other divisions up to speed with what’s going on to ensure stable support of existing products. As of this week pretty much all knowledge has been transferred and we’re just wrapping up loose ends, so I have some time to blog in between people popping in to ask about loose ends and my having interviews with folks.

I’d say to expect to see more, at least until I start my new job, then it will go back to a more normal pace.

On the Confederate flag kerfuffle

| October 6, 2015

So, what annoys me about this is the total lack of understanding on the part of many people (but, that said, one of them may be me). But, let me back up.

For starters, having the flag of a defeated country flying at a government building is not appropriate. I mean, we don’t fly the British flag under the American flag at the Capital in Washington DC, right? So, I totally get the idea that folks should pressure their state governments to not fly the confederate flag.

Then there’s everyone else who want it banned or otherwise suppressed. They tend to fall into two (somewhat overlapping) camps:

  1. Those who recognize that the confederate flag has been appropriated by racists.
  2. Those who do not understand history.

Addressing the first, I agree that this symbol has been appropriated by racists. However, I do not understand this desire to ban it. Sure, it’s offensive, because racism is offensive, but which would you rather have – someone flying a Nazi or confederate flag, thus signalling that perhaps you want to avoid associating with this person, or such icons being banned, which means that every racist is a stealth racist, lest they be arrested? I’d rather have the former, because that way I can avoid such people.

Now, on to the second. For those not steeped in the conventional narrative of US history, here is a link to the commonly taught version of events: Trigger Events of the Civil War.

Note that no mention is made of anything monetary. But, have a look at this. Essentially, the idea is:

  • The US South sells raw materials and buys finished goods.
  • Great Britain sells finished goods and can produce and get them to southern markets more cheaply than the US North.
  • Hence, the US South buys a lot of British goods.
  • The US North enacts tariffs on imported goods.
  • This either causes Southerners to buy more expensive domestically made goods, or to pay more than they otherwise would for imported goods. Either way, they pay more.
  • To add insult to injury, the majority of this tariff revenue is spent in the north. Now, which is more likely to drive people (and note that there were still some folks who remembered the revolutionary war, which was fought over taxation) to secession: the north trying to abolish slavery when only approx 30% of the population owned slaves or the north causing prices on most things to rise for 100% of the population – and then using that money to live it up in the north?

In reality, it was likely a combination of both, but I fail to believe that folks would endure over a quarter million dead just to either keep or free people as property. As noble a goal as that is, were I a southerner who did not own slaves, I would tell folks to free their slaves and use some of that newfangled technology, and if I were a northerner, I’d suggest we do something like buy all the slaves. Indeed, most other nations were able to abolish slavery without such bloodshed, so why was the US different? Perhaps the economics of it?

Also (and this is even more speculative), one could argue that the existence of slaves (and the fugitive slave act) slowed the pace of innovation. But, let’s back up. The cotton gin, invented in 1793 makes processing cotton efficient, which means you need more cotton pickers and, hence, slaves. However, the first mechanical cotton picker was patented in 1850, though only becomes “viable” about a century later. But, what would have happened if economic forces had been different. So, let’s do a thought experiment. How about this sequence of events.

  • 1850 – first cotton picker patented
  • 1855 – US government takes all slaves by eminent domain. Sure, it’s expensive, but it’s cheaper than war.
  • The US does NOT impose protective tariffs on imported goods.
  • Former slave holders in the south either invest in the new cotton-picking technology, or hire their former slaves as workers paid a market rate (which likely would be initially low given the surplus of labor).
  • The south is not devastated by the war, and infrastructure continues to grow.
  • Over the next century, as wages go up and technology is cheaper, more agrarian workers are displaced and move into other sectors, the same as what happened when dealing with crops grown in the north. So, no half a million dead, and tremendous amounts of wealth destroyed. Freed slaves, initially poor, generation over generation gain new skills and lift themselves out of poverty (at least until the war on poverty starts), and the country prospers.

Would that it were so.

On Facebook and Somalia

| October 6, 2015

So, after listening to such interesting podcasts as EconTalk, The Cato Daily Podcast, FreeDomain Radio, and stuff by Adam Kokesh (I strongly suggest reading or listening to Freedom, as well as conversing with some learned colleagues for several years at this point, I was coming to believe that perhaps the world was progressing to something more productive, beautiful and conducive towards human growth and prosperity.

Then I rejoined Facebook.

Now, I did this to follow an excellent tabletop wargame and my local gaming shop, but pretty much immediately, lots of folks started friending me. If I knew them, I accepted their requests, which means they’re now in my feed, which means that I see all the random political things they post.

The first thing I realized is that I like most of my friends more if we don’t talk politics. The remaining few friends (all of whom I disagree with on pretty major points, BTW), can actually carry on a logical conversation while making decent points which cause me to challenge my thinking and perceptions, and therein lies personal, spiritual, and intellectual growth. The rest of them? Well, it just kind of devolves into trolling, name calling or other such foolishness. I’ve spoken to one of them who never engages in such discussion about this phenomenon, and he’s basically said that’s why he doesn’t talk about anything serious with anyone, ever. That way people don’t get upset and friendships don’t get ruined. While I don’t wholly agree with this approach, it isn’t without merit.

The meme in question

Anyway, there were a few ideas which I feel deserve to be remarked upon in the broader context.

  1. Raising the minimum wage doesn’t price people out of the market.
    • It does.
    • One of the justifications put forth was that places who have raised the minimum wage have experienced record economic growth and prosperity.
    • Firstly, neither growth nor prosperity have to do with employment – raising human costs can easily justify expanded automation which increases both of those things, while reducing employment.
    • Secondly, other places have had increased growth and prosperity too, and have not increased the minimum wage. It’s merely a correllation, not a cause.
    • Finally, it’s actually SUPPOSED TO. See this letter by Don Boudreaux which links to this analysis by Burton Folsom. This is further explained here. Quoting:
    • The minimum wage is really economic protectionism for more expensive, organized labor, because higher-wage workers gain an advantage from government regulations that outlaw competition from cheaper alternatives. This anti-competitiveness is even more significant when considering regional and national market conditions.
    • If the minimum wage was $8 and the union wage was $40, employers give up five hours of low-skilled work for every union worker-hour utilized. But increasing the minimum to $10 means employers give up four hours of low-skilled work for every union worker hour…. Workers and employers in high cost of living areas, where virtually everyone earns above the federal minimum wage, benefit, by raising the cost of production imposed on rivals where wages are lower.
  2. The world would be horrible if the Republicans had their way. People would still be slaves, there would be no labor unions, etc.

Now, when presented with the above, for the first they said that I (and those economists) were just plain wrong. As for the second, they basically said:

No, we meant conservatives, not Republicans. Everyone switched sides after the 60’s. Or 70’s. Or.. something, but the Liberal Democrats are good and the Conservative Republicans are bad!

My reply was essentially that all statists are bad and the negative consequences of coercive government policy leads to a more violent society, and minarchism/anarchism should be our goal. This devolved into a subsequent attack on anarchism, of me for criticizing systems from which I’ve benefited (the logic being that, since I drive on roads, attended a public university and elementary schools, that I’ve benefited from the govan interesting article about Somalia]ernment stealing peoples’ money on my behalf and therefore I cannot criticize the practice that funded the institutions from which I benefited. I called bullshit on that, and they said “no, that’s reality”).

Anyway, the one real gem to take from that was the following question:

Well, if that’s how you feel, why don’t you move to Somalia?

Hmm.. That’s a good point. I actually known nothing about Somalia. Let’s ask the Google. Well, this site has an interesting article about Somalia, and responds to that very statement. (It is well worth the read. I strongly recommend it).

If anyone wants to discuss this, feel free to email me, but I’ll not be arguing on Facebook anytime soon.

If we didn’t have government…

| October 6, 2015

One of the common arguments opposing anarchism is “If we didn’t have the state, then X wouldn’t exist.”. The problem with this is that it’s hard to say what would have been created in the absence of social structures – except when you sometimes get a peek into what might have been.

Take GPS for existence. “If we didn’t have the state, we wouldn’t have GPS” is a fine statement, and likely true. But, what most people really use GPS for is in-vehicle navigation. For that solution, I give you the Etak Navigator. If you take that, chalk it’s failure up to being too far ahead of its time (not unlike it’s contemporary, the Newton, then fast forward to the late ’90’s and early 2000’s where the hardware has finally caught up to ambition (remember, the first iPhone was only released in 2007) and you’d likely have a viable solution.

Heck, you could even use a combination of the existing dead reckoning (accelerometers, gyroscopes and compasses) and use whatever cell towers you can find to triangulate your position more accurately – no need for the tax man to steal money from people to put satellites in orbit so I can find my way to the nearest Panera…