What a Wonderful World, sung by Eva Cassidy
When I listen to Eva Cassidy, already diagnosed with the metastatic cancer that would be killing her, singing at her final concert “What a Wonderful World,” my tears are not so much, or at least not only for young Eva Cassidy, but for all of us, so ready to love and create and be generous (if our early lives don’t take those hopes out of our hearts) but instead shunted off into harder and lesser and more painful lives than our childhoods imagined. And even then, our hearts keep hoping and dreaming of love and fulfillment. They keep looking for chances to give joy to people we love.
I have to say, if I were god, it would never in ten million years occur to me to create any hell to punish my people. Instead, my heart would be breaking daily to witness their courage, their generosity, their imagination. Instead of plotting dark hells for the people who did not worship me in exactly the right way, I would be knocking myself out to figure out how my god-powers could be used to stop suffering and to make people more kind and more joyful. But of course, this is me, Betsy, oldest of four children, who can advise even gods! (I still think I’m right though.)
You already know to watch out for poisoned teacups, but what you should have been worrying about instead …
An internet-based team of “three people from the United States, three from the Ukraine, two from China, one from Estonia and one from Belarus” (says Reuters) stole credit card numbers by millions from US retailers, and sold them “… to people in the U.S. and Europe for thousands of dollars. The buyers then withdrew tens of thousands of dollars at a time from automated teller machines, officials said.” Even so, the chief conspirator’s lawyer sounds very confident that his client will never enter a jail cell.
“Do not rent from U Haul,” the young policeman told me. “They are a bad company. Believe me, you do not want to rent from them again.”
One dirty un-airconditioned 14-foot van (we had reserved a 17-foot van but they didn’t have one) was waiting for me at 282 Lynnway in Lynn, MA, 20 miles from my house. This was the truck that U Haul had “reserved” for us, taking a credit card number hostage after we reserved a truck online. As the contract made clear, they expected our bill to reflect not only the truck’s rental fee but a mileage charge for 40 miles round-trip just to get the truck to the stuff we hoped to move.
The truck had only 1/4 tank of gas in it. It clanked and clattered as I drove it away. It groaned and grumbled whenever I pushed the speed up beyond 30 mph.
It totally quit when I got just 4 miles from the place where I rented it, blocking a lane of traffic on Revere’s busy VFW Parkway. I was able to pull about 6 inches of the truck’s nose into a store’s driveway before it stopped moving entirely. I will leave you to imagine the comments of other drivers, having to maneuver around my dead truck in traffic already bumper-to-bumper on a 94 degree hot and humid Saturday.
I called 911 to ask for help getting the road clear. They said they would send me a tow truck. I then called the U Haul “emergency service” number and spent 10 fruitless minutes listening to recorded messages, asking me to procure a pencil and paper and be ready with the name of a nearby cross-street in case they ever decided to answer.
The policeman came first, with a tow truck too small for my 14 foot van. We waited some more in the heat, and a second van came. The second tow truck towed my van to Action Towing in Revere, MA. The people who work for Action Towing are great–thanks so much, Bill and others, for all your kindness. They also got me a taxi back to the U Haul office in Lynn (which did not want the truck returned to them–that’s why it was towed to Revere, MA to await a visit of somebody from “the 800 number.)
While I was enjoying the kindness of strangers in Revere and Lynn, Frank easily found a U Haul truck in Cambridge, MA–something that corporate U Haul neglected to mention when kidnapping our credit card number to “reserve” a truck that promised them 40 extra miles of mileage charge. I got back to the Lynnway, explained the situation to U Haul folks there, and drove my car home again to help with the very last of the moving.
By 8 p.m. Saturday, we had returned the 14-foot Cambridge van to the U Haul office on Main St. where we got it. By 9:30 a.m. Sunday, we started getting text messages from U Haul that their Cambridge truck had not yet been returned. Phone calls and email to U Haul about this went unanswered. Finally I drove my car down to the Cambridge office, waited in line to speak to an agent, and was reassured that the email was “just a formality” reflecting the fact that the Cambridge office had been a bit slow checking in all the vehicles returned that morning. Estimate of my time wasted on this “formality”? At least two hours.
The rest of Sunday we had a vacation from U Haul. This morning (Monday), we started getting text messages that their truck from Lynnway had not yet been returned. I called the 781 phone number from the text message–“Just a formality” they assured me. Then I got more text messages asking me to call them “urgently” about the missing Lynn truck. I called them back–still “just a formality” but maybe I should now call their 800 number. I called their 800 number and had a long (and recorded) conversation with somebody there,. I explained that they were now the third office of U Haul to get the information that their non-functioning truck was waiting at Action Towing in Revere, because somebody else at their 800 number had told Action Towing that they couldn’t pick the truck up themselves until Monday.
After 10 minutes on the phone with the 800 number, they suggested I should now call folks in Lynn and re-give them all the information that I had given them in person on Saturday when I returned there by taxi to get my car. I explained that the people in Lynn had told me that the truck was no longer any business of theirs and I needed to talk to the 800 number–to the very people who now were asking me to call the people in Lynn.
That was this morning. At 1 p.m. and then again at 5 p.m. I got more text messages from U Haul asking me what I’d done with the truck I rented in Lynn, asking me to call the 781 number. I called the 781 number again–“Just a formality” they said, so I shouldn’t worry.
I’m so glad to hear that I shouldn’t worry, aren’t you?
“U Haul?” said the young policeman. “Don’t ever rent from them. Believe me, I see a lot of things in this job. You do not ever want to rent a truck from U Haul.”
The good-old U Haul that helped us move stuff for 20+ years has been replaced by some corporate monster that I’ll never deal with again.
May 13th, 2007 · Comments Off on Dirty old math books hold clue to dirty elections
Here’s a fun science mystery with surprising ways to catch bad guys and metadata flavor–which makes it hard to know where to begin this blogpost…
Bad guys are juicy–suppose that you’re a bad guy. Suppose you want to fake bookkeeping data or election results. Well, bwa-ha-ha, bad guy, you’re going to leave a mathematical “bad-guys-R-us” slimy trail–because fake random numbers like yours don’t obey Benford’s Law. Real ones do.
Benford’s Law describes–oddly, nobody understands why–many if not most huge collections of numbers.* Baseball statistics, lengths of rivers, areas of counties. Half-lives of radioactive isotopes. And vote counts, when those vote counts aren’t tampered with.
Big numbers have nine choices for their first digit–1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9. Right? So you’d expect that one-ninth of all big numbers would start with each of those digits.
Bzzzt, wrong! Almost 1/3 of Benford-law-following numbers start with 1–just for example. Naive human fraudsters, on the other hand, create fake numbers that mostly start with 5 or 6–poking their inventions into what they imagine is anonymity’s forgiving middle.
Now for the dirty math books–I knew you were waiting–Benford’s Law was found, independently, in 1881 (Simon Newcomb) and 1938 (Frank Benford). Lisa Zyga at PhysOrg.com says:
Benford and Newcomb stumbled upon the law in the same way: while flipping through pages of a book of logarithmic tables, they noticed that the pages in the beginning of the book were dirtier than the pages at the end. This meant that their colleagues who shared the library preferred quantities beginning with the number one in their various disciplines…
Yes, dirty library-book pages! Important pre-Google metadata about what people before you found interesting.
Bad guys who created fake election data imagined that they were just creating new data–but Benford’s Law meant they left metadata behind. Forensic teams who want to find election fraud can use Benford’s Law to find out which sets of data have bad guys behind them.
Now, as for you good guys, for deeper insight into metadata, I recommend David Weinberger’s new book, Everything is Miscellanous. Meanwhile, for you bad guys, one message of both David Weinberger and Frank Benford is paraphrased clearly in Matthew 10:26:
…there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.
Uh-oh. And I consider my own self a good guy.
* p.s. Not all data sets follow Benford’s Law. Both Wikipedia and Zyga give counter-examples, such as (to quote Zyga) “data sets that are arbitrary and contain restrictions..For example, lottery numbers, telephone numbers, gas prices, dates, and the weights or heights of a group of people.”
Frank and I watched that Dixie Chicks movie tonight–three young women, toting seven babies among them, trying to make a career in the public arena, end up a focus of loonies who think it’s great fun to target prominent women with ugly insults, an attempt to wreck their career, and some (maybe credible and maybe not) death threats.
I had no idea, when I borrowed Shut Up and Sing from my little sis in Florida, that it would be so relevant to the current blogstorm surrounding ugly insults (and more) aimed at some of the blogosphere’s most high-profile women on some websites that just got called out by Kathy Sierra.
I’m glad that by pushing back hard and loudly and effectively, Kathy Sierra has got some much-needed wider public attention to cyber-bullying. I would have preferred it if her mention of their names hadn’t aimed lynch-mob psychologies toward two of my most admired elder-bloggers, Jeneane Sessum and Frank Paynter. (And I am proud of my old friend Dave Winer for stepping up to defend Frank and Jeneane and even Rageboy, all of whom have said some pretty harsh things about him in the past.)
I think that those who wrote ugly stuff about Kathy and Maryam and Tara deserve to think about what it would mean to have their own real names permanently attached to the nasty stuff they wrote in some “sekrit” web clubhouse.