No Food for Thought

Food is something you should provide to your brain long before coming to this blog. You will find no food recipes here, only raw, serious, non-fake news for mature minds.

Whiste-blowing rewards

admin Saturday May 20, 2023

This month, the USA's Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has paid its largest award ever to an undisclosed whistle-blower who helped identify a presumably major securities law violation. Indeed, the reward amounted to 279 million USD.

The case being confidential, it is hard to judge the collaboration's value. But the incentive is pretty clear. What is easy is to wonder what would happen if instead of—or in addition to—exceptional awards, whistle-blowing was properly valued consistently. The SEC's own policy on awards is questionable, ignoring cases under 1 million USD in sanctions. For many people, the difference between no reward and a 200 000 USD reward may have more impact on their behavior than the difference between a 200 000 USD reward and a 279 million USD reward.

It's not easy to imagine that most of the 2022–2023 Pentagon document leaks could have been prevented with only 150 000 USD, had it been awarded early. How many hundreds of lives and tens of millions of dollars would such a reward have saved?

Dyson sphere

admin Thursday May 18, 2023

I remember being halfway through high school when I had the idea of optimizing solar energy by putting panels around the Sun and relaying the energy to Earth. I did not promote the idea a lot at the time, but it turns out that wouldn't have changed much. Even the concept's name was already established when I was born: unfortunately not a "Cloutier panel", but a Dyson sphere, named after Freeman Dyson, who explored the concept... in 1937.

Not only was I ignorant of its name, but I also didn't know such structures were considered as the defining element of "type II" civilizations, on the Kardashev scale.
Here's hoping our species goes type II before burning through our planet I.

L'assurance responsabilité (civile) au Québec : obligatoire pour certains locataires

admin Wednesday May 17, 2023

L'assurance de ses propres biens est bien entendu facultative. Les locataires de logements n'ont donc pas besoin d'une assurance habitation, mais qu'en est-il de la responsabilité civile?

L'assurance de responsabilité couvre un assuré qui serait poursuivi pour des dommages qu'il aurait causés. Notamment un résident qui endommagerait des résidences adjacentes en causant un incendie. À priori, la loi québécoise n'oblige pas les locataires à souscrire une telle assurance.


Par contre, plusieurs locateurs exigent de leurs locataires de souscrire une assurance responsabilité civile et même d'en fournir la preuve au propriétaire. Cette obligation venant avec des coûts considérables—en argent mais surtout en temps—on peut se demander si de telles clauses sont abusives. Si vous avez signé un bail doté d'un règlement vous imposant une assurance responsabilité, êtes-vous obligé de le respecter?

Selon un jugement de 2019, oui.

Tribunal administratif du logement wrote:
La clause du règlement qui oblige le locataire à détenir une assurance-responsabilité ne peut être déclarée illégale.

Ainsi, au Québec, l'obligation de détenir une assurance responsabilité dépend du règlement de sa résidence.

Integrity and openness - values to better distribute

admin Thursday May 11, 2023

It might seems strange for someone who was part of Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party of Canada government for 7 years to teach about integrity.

It's nevertheless interesting to see how former astronaut Marc Garneau looks back at his career in an interview with Paul Wells:

Marc Garneau wrote on 2023-03-14:

“One of the things I loved the most about NASA was that if you fuck up” — he paused before using the salty word — “you confess. That is the culture there.”

Probably this does not need to be spelled out, but here goes anyway. This culture of honesty was not a simple preference. Shuttle crews rode a lake of liquid fuel and twin towers of solid fuel at speeds their own ancestors could not have imagined. If a bug slipped into the system it could kill them and set spaceflight back decades, as indeed it did, twice. Owning up to error was the primary method of keeping colleagues, and the dream of spaceflight, alive.

“I did hundreds of simulations. I was the first non-American CAPCOM ever. CAPCOM’s the guy who talks to the crew in orbit for Mission Control. And we did hundreds of simulations. I covered 17 missions, just as CAPCOM. And after every simulation, where the crew, perhaps, had not picked up the problem and had not reacted properly to it, we’d do a post mortem.

“And that culture of honesty and openness, which you absolutely need in the space business — you can't have people making excuses or trying to hide things — that's what I love the most. And I wish it existed in all facets of life, including the one I ended up in.”

For want of honesty from politicians, it's nice to see occasional meta-(dis)honesty from former politicians. I for one can't wait for Vladimir Putin and his USA presidency puppet to exhibit some honesty about how much dishonesty they will have resorted to.

How wonderful would our world be if it wasn't for dishonesty?

Artificial Intelligence's Current Achievement: Unlimited Disruption?

admin Sunday April 16, 2023

In 2020, No Food for Thought asked whether AI's next achievement would be unlimited trolling. As far as I know, large-scale peer production remains mostly spared from such disruption so far.

That's not because AI hasn't "progressed" in recent years. It's just that so far, it has been directed towards social engineering and spamming. Teachers have to worry about AI more than peer producers.

Very little is "lacking" for this to change very quickly though. And more importantly, there is still virtually nothing preventing this from changing.

The conclusion was too right.
No Food for Thought, 2020 wrote:
Now is the time for globally verifiable identities.

Today, we can say that the time for globally verifiable identities was years ago. And unfortunately, very little progress has been made since.

Artificial intelligence is not the problem. It is our neglect and lateness which has condemned us to years of inefficiency, multi-level disruption, distrust, and—most problematically—out of control disinformation. As long as it lacks vision and unity, our species will keep going from one crisis to more crises.

2023-06 Update

"Trolling" might not be the best name, but it's now clear artificially generated text is starting to hurt peer production, with Stack Overflow possibly the most obvious victim. With still no solution in sight

2024 Update

The advent of bug bounties allowed to make profitable what could have been a predictable nuisance: bogus security vulnerability reports. It appears AI text generation is causing crappy reports to look credible, wasting even more developer time on invalid reports, which may now be majority.

If you want peace, prepare for war - fighting violence in hockey?

admin Wednesday April 12, 2023

I have always known that my mother's last boss, athlete Dean Bergeron, was paralyzed. But it wasn't before seeing this CBC News report tonight that I learned his injury was the sad result of a fight.

This comes with the good news that such fighting is now banned in Quebec's Major Junior Hockey League. What is concerning—though—is the reaction of players, including Georges Laraque, who seem to believe fighting somehow prevents violence. Would the old adage Si vis pacem, para bellum still apply to hockeyquestion

Having never really played hockey, I can't judge that view. Is it just human nature for offenders to find a justification for their actions, or does it highlight that hockey - like many similar sports - is unsalvageably violent? No matter how Canadian it might be, if hockey relies on fighting to ensure its safety, perhaps the Hockey Canada sexual assault scandal is just a symptom of a much bigger problem. If fighting violence in hockey is unrealistic, should we not fight competitive hockey itself?

Radio-Canada has a deeper discussion with Dean Bergeron in French.


Bergeron's accident might have been a blessing by preventing him from more fighting, as a new study on NHL "enforcers" shows how bad these fare.

Nvidia and the cost of truth

admin Friday April 7, 2023

Crhypeto is a costly waste. But truth, too, can be costly to tell, at least in the short term. In particular, telling the truth about crhypeto when you're one of the companies sucking the most money out of it.

For their courage in telling things like they are and actively discouraging misuse of their products, I congratulate KNP's March 2023 Hero of the month, Michael Kagan and Nvidia.

The elusive tech panacea - Solid state drives

admin Saturday March 18, 2023

This century has seen 2 revolutions in computer hardware: LCD screens and SSDs. In terms of computing, SSDs promised an order of magnitude of speed improvement, with greater reliability.

But in technology, the panacea is rare. Besides their lower capacity / higher cost, a decade after they became mainstream, SSDs remain harder to diagnose. And even with maturity, their reliability is quite comparable to HDDs'.

SSDs are a revolution which is still ongoing, but as computers mature, engineering them is more and more a matter of trade-offs.

Technological deceleration: a symptom of fragmentation and severe health hazards

admin Saturday March 11, 2023

One year ago, KNP warned against the perils of fragmentation. What’s happened since then:
• Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO.
• …and both started waiting for NATO’s approval.

True, democracies did manage to collaborate a little. But while we might have started to question ourselves, in autocracy land, Xi Jinping has won an unprecedented third term, further weakened trust in Canada’s electoral system, kept unscrupulously stealing democratic IP, and the Kremlin ensured the USA Congress got on the fastest path towards national (if not global) self-destruction yet. Recently, hypersonic missiles have started raining on Ukraine. Now, research is objectively showing democracy has lost its edge even in technology.

Democratic solidarity may have prevented a quick collapse and bought us some time, but let’s not wait until China gets actively involved to maximize the little time left. Orgueil and chauvinism are – literally – deadly diseases. As democracy gets older, it needs to prove its wisdom and swallow a pill infinitely less bitter than how Ukrainians are already feeling.

Le vrai défi Hilo : dépasser les incitatifs pervers

admin Thursday February 23, 2023

Les effets pervers sont innombrables. Il est ainsi bien connu que l'utilisation d'antibiotiques en agriculture rend l'humain beaucoup plus vulnérable aux bactéries en raison de l'antibiorésistance.

Malheureusement, les effets pervers débordent largement la sphère privée. De nombreuses politiques publiques peuvent ainsi causer de nouveaux problèmes. Obliger l'utilisation d'un casque à vélo peut ainsi nuire à la santé publique en réduisant l'utilisation des vélos.

Mais l'effet pervers le moins pardonnable est l'effet cobra, qui survient lorsqu'une mesure empire le problème même qu'elle devait mitiger.

Si l'effet cobra est loin d'être nouveau, ses leçons sont toujours bien mal assimilées. Aujourd'hui encore, l'enfer est pavé de bonnes intentions. Même dans les pays développés, les incitatifs pervers sont monnaie courante, surtout dans le domaine de l'environnement. Par exemple, en voulant décourager l'utilisation de l'automobile, un nombre incalculable de juridictions subventionne les autobus, encourageant bien entendu une augmentation des émissions causées par les autobus.

Ce genre de mesures à priori loufoques est devenu si courant qu'on ne les remarque plus. Ainsi, la filiale Hilo de Hydro-Québec a inauguré son nouveau concept de « défis Hilo ». La formule est présentée comme « simple » :

acceptez les actions automatiques proposées par Hilo et touchez une récompense pour chaque kilowattheure (kWh) non consommé.

Très bien... mais qu'est-ce qu'un « kilowattheure non consommé »? Combien d'énergie un client ne consomme-t-il pas?

La réponse à cette question absurde est - bien sûr - soit inexistante, soit arbitraire et imparfaite. Surtout, difficile de trouver une réponse le moindrement juste qui ne soit pas sujette à manipulation. Alors que Hilo publicise encore à grands frais ces « défis », ceux qui y ont adhéré ont déjà commencé à exploiter le concept. Ainsi, non seulement le gouvernement se ruine encore davantage, mais on gaspille l'électricité qu'on tentait de préserver.

Si le gouvernement blâme ce qu'il appelle des « tricheurs », quel être raisonnable accepterait de se faire avoir par les autres sans faire de même? Les « tricheurs » sont en réalité des enseignants forcés de faire la leçon à un gouvernement ignorant. On se dirige en effet vers un effet cobra si Hydro-Québec ne recule pas.

Malheureusement, l'échec de Hilo est un symptôme d'un mal qui a contaminé le monde démocratique. La solution est connue depuis des décennies : compenser les externalités négatives par le principe pollueur-payeur; et plus généralement le principe utilisateur-payeur. Le problème, c'est que le juste prix est un dissuasif. Les décideurs se retrouvent ainsi face à 3 options :

  1. ne rien faire
  2. prendre une mesure dissuasive, comme augmenter le prix pour refléter les coûts réels, qui sera fort probablement remarquée par leur électorat et risque de leur coûter des votes
  3. ou créer un incitatif qui semble tenter de régler le problème, tellement perverti qu'il risque de déclencher un effet cobra

Voulant éviter de se faire reprocher n'avoir rien fait et ayant peur de l'option #2, trop de politiciens sans courage se réfugient dans la dernière, comme leurs électeurs ne leur reprocheront pas (tant qu'ils ne réaliseront pas le déficit ainsi créé).

Le vrai défi ici ne devrait donc pas être lancé aux consommateurs, mais plutôt à la démocratie : combler notre déficit en éducation économique pour se permettre des mesures rationnelles, soutenables et—surtout—efficaces. De sorte qu'on puisse enfin imposer une tarification variable, même s'il s'agit d'une mesure dissuasive.

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