March 2007
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Month March 2007

Robert C. Dunnell’s graduate theory courses online!

While I was down in Long Beach recently, Carl Lipo and I talked about digitizing a series of video tapes made in the mid-1990’s of the last time that Robert C. Dunnell taught his graduate archaeological theory courses. Carl has found the time and some resources to start doing that, and the first couple of files (representing the first 5 or so class sessions) are now available in Windows Media format on his website. The classes are an amazing resource and learning experience. We have to apologize in advance for sound issues in lecture #2 — the colleague (who shall remain nameless) who was auditing the class and taping the lectures for us had some….technical issues.

Carl is digitizing all of Archy 497, the first of two quarters of archaeological theory. In 497, Dunnell focused on “formal theory” — concepts, key conceptual relationships, and the classification tools necessary for all explanation in archaeology. In 498, which likely will be the next digitizing project, Dunnell focuses on “explanatory” theory and the history of archaeological theory.

For those readers unfamiliar with R.C. Dunnell, he was my former academic advisor, longtime Chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Washington, key initiator and driver of Darwinian approaches to explanation in archaeology, and scourge of generations of first-year graduate students. Dr. Dunnell retired in the mid-1990’s and now resides in the Southeastern United States, surrounded by Mississippian mounds, archaeological sites, and decent BBQ joints.

TransmissionLab Version 1.3 available

A small update to TransmissionLab is available, which enables proper batch-mode operation and simplifies the command line acrobatics required for batch mode operation. This version is numbered 1.3, and is available either in source code format (from the Google Code Subversion repository) or as a binary JAR file release. The latter are found under “Downloads“, and include a matched JAR file, a ZIP file with library dependencies, and an example batch-mode parameter file.

Both the batch-mode parameter file and library dependencies have slight differences from Version 1.2, so be sure to grab both otherwise you’ll encounter errors starting up a simulation. In particular, this release adds a dependency upon the Jakarta Commons CLI library for command-line parsing, since this isn’t a strong suit of the Repast libraries.

This version also adds one statistic to the OverallStatisticsRecorder data collection module. For each simulation run, we calculate the average number of agents who have traits (measured at each model tick) which are listed in the “top N” list of traits. In other words, if you’re working with a “top 40” list of song-analogues, this statistic measures the number of agents whose chosen trait is a song in the top 40, as opposed to a trait that wasn’t frequent enough to make the top 40 list. This statistic is thus paired analytically with the parameter for the size of the “top N” lists, and the combination of the two should be interesting to examine across a range of mutation rate and population size parameters.

On a related note, LiveScience has an article on the upcoming article by Alex Bentley, Carl Lipo, Harold Herzog, and Matthew Hahn. I recommend it for a somewhat popularized account of the main conclusions of their 2007 paper. Since much of what we’re doing with TransmissionLab at the moment is going further along the lines suggested by Bentley et al., and earlier Fraser Neiman, Carl Lipo, and myself, it’s a good clue to the kinds of phenomena we can explore purely assuming that choice among alternatives is statistically random or neutral.

Monica Goodling and “Pleading the Fifth” to Avoid Congressional Testimony

Over the last couple of days, we’ve heard that Monica Goodling, counsel and aide to Attorney General Gonzales, will “take the fifth” to avoid testifying in front on Congress, unlike Kyle Sampson (who testifies tomorrow). At first blush I didn’t think much about this, because it seemed like a generic stone-walling tactic by folks who are trying to protect Gonzales.

But looking at the actual language of the Fifth Amendment, I’m wondering whether Goodling can actually refuse to testify using the Fifth Amendment in this case:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury….nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…

Of course, I’ve highlighted the relevant language above.

Goodling is likely relying upon everyone, including Congress, believing that because she is under oath, to give testimony when called would constitute “being a witness against herself.” This reading of the Fifth Amendment is exactly what causes this to be a potential controversy.

But one rule of constitutional construction, advocated especially by “strict constructionists,” is that we have to pay attention to the actual sentences and language itself — we don’t get to pick and choose which words, or clauses, or even sentences to which we pay attention. So when the language says, “nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,” doesn’t it seem like this language applies to….criminal cases? Is a Congressional investigation a “criminal case?”

Clearly not.

Could a criminal case arise out of misconduct in a Congressional investigation?


Does Goodling run the risk of incriminating herself by testifying honestly in front of Congress, if she’s engaged in wrongdoing?


Does Goodling run the risk of being charged with perjury if she falsely testifies in front of Congress, to hide that wrongdoing?


Does the Fifth Amendment apply to her during either a trial for some wrongdoing, or perjury for lying about wrongdoing?


Does the Fifth Amendment help her get out from between the horns of this dilemma, and get away scot-free?

Heck no, and Congressional leadership should not let that happen. If Monica Goodling needs to “make a deal” in advance for immunity, as happens seemingly every night on every crime drama on TV, in exchange for her testimony, let the deal-making begin. Because if there’s a deal, it’ll be a public deal, we’ll all know that she struck a deal to protect herself, we’ll hear her account of events, and can move on from there.

This is exactly the same deal we’d give anybody else whose testimony we needed to continue an investigation higher up the “food chain,” and no public servant is above the law, nor above the usual practice of law enforcement.

A humbling programming experience

I’m working a short script to post-process some simulation data from TransmissionLab, and because the scripting language I know best is Perl 5, I’ve written a short Perl program. I’ve been writing Perl since early 1994, and from about 1997 through 2005 I was fairly expert in the language, able to build and maintain fairly large, object-oriented systems that were actually readable by others. I even knew a fair bit about Perl internals, could link a C library to Perl via XS, and followed the (interminable) Perl 6 development process quite closely.

But I realized today that I’ve completely lost my fluency in the language. I’m struggling to re-activate the parts of my brain that understand deeply nested hash tables, objects, and other Perl-isms. I had to look at the perl man pages today to remember bits about foreach loops and the “defined” function. It’s coming back, and the program works, but it’s been slow. I guess that’s what you get for not using a language in several years.

Java is a terrific language for object-oriented development (as is C#, if I were working primarily in Windows), but it does insulate you from a lot of fairly-low level issues, in favor of giving you higher level expression. This little program I’m writing basically just looks for and reduces rows of data from experimental replicates and outputs the reduced data set with error terms. Simple descriptive statistics, plus a bit of data structure work. But without the Collections library and some of the Jakarta Commons stuff, I really had to think about how to do this.

Guess it points out how you need to keep using skills in order to keep them sharp.

Some preliminary thoughts on “ultra-networked” politics: the 1984 anti-Hillary ad in perspective

The identity of ParkRidge47, the heretofore anonymous author of the anti-Hillary advertisement which riffed on Apple’s “1984” commercial, was revealed today as Phil de Vellis, a former staffer for Sherrod Brown and ex-employee of political web design firm Blue State Digital. Naturally, this whole episode has the media endlessly repeating the truism that “candidates have lost control over their message,” and pondering the shape of the 2008 Presidential race as a consequence.

I have no well-reasoned wisdom to offer on this particular issue, only my immediate impressions. It seems to me that political candidates have been steadily losing strong control over their message for a long, long time. Never, in the history of our republic, have candidates had exclusive control over their message. Pamphleteering and broadsides were augmented with whistlestop train tours, which were largely replaced by radio, now talk radio and cable TV, which was supplemented by — and now is growing to peer status – the Internet. By the 2004 election the blogs made it clear that the Internet was going to serve as more than a pure advertising medium, or organizing tool. It was perfectly clear, except possibly to a few of the campaigns, that the chaotic nature of the Internet was going to express a multiplicity of voices: some “ruly”, some unruly, some claiming attribution, others hiding behind aliases and seeking to agitate anonymously. Much early thinking on this phenomenon was fairly utopian: the Dean campaign and the contributors to “Extreme Democracy” are cases in point. More discussion, more voices, is automatically a good thing in a democracy.

But is it?

Apple Knows Best…

Last week my 17″ MacBook Pro, now only a year old, suffered the “expanding battery problem” and I took it in for repair, and ended up replacing it because Apple’s diagnosis and repair service is so backed up (they quoted 200+ machines to service at the University District store) that they couldn’t tell me how long I’d be without a machine. Since basically everything I do is on the computer, this wasn’t going to work for me, and since I religiously back up my data, new hardware can easily get a “brain transplant.” So after an evening of playing Dr. Frankenstein and bringing the new machine to life (Target Disk Mode rocks, by the way), I took the old machine in the next day for repair.

Since the expanding battery was pressing the logic board up onto the keyboard, I figured a bit of refurbishment wasn’t a bad thing. In addition, my machine had a manufacturing defect where the right-hand speaker was soft unless you wiggled the mag-safe power adapter (who knows why THAT worked). So might as well fix that at the same time, since the machine will be in the shop for awhile. Once it’s back, I’ll probably sell it on eBay as a refurbished model, recouping some of my costs.