Archive for February, 2016

February 19, 2016

Apple, the FBI and cryptography

by Neil Rickert

This is about the case in the news, where Apple is refusing to comply with an FBI request to help them access an iPhone.

I side with Apple on this, and that’s the main thrust of this post.

I described what I see as the technical issues in a post on my technical blog.


When I was growing up, everybody knew everybody.  The shopkeeper knew what kind of food we normally purchased.  The neighborhood butcher knew what kind of meat we purchased.  In some sense, there wasn’t a lot of privacy.  However, what they knew was not written down.  The cash register receipt listed only the amount paid.  It did not list the items purchased.  It would have been very difficult for anybody to use that knowledge to construct a detailed dossier on our family.

Today, we are in a very different world.  Everything thing is record, and some records are archived where they will be available for long periods of time.  My relation with the shopkeeper (really, the supermarked manager) is far more impersonal.  But he has recorded data about the items that I have purchased with my credit card.  I probably should pay cash, to make it hard to identify me from the recorded data.

Today, it is far easier to build a detailed dossier.  And identity thieves do just that, as a way of stealing identities and then using the stolen identity to steal from bank accounts.

February 5, 2016

Denton: “Evolution: still a theory in crisis” — a review

by Neil Rickert

Michael Denton has a new book, “Evolution: still a theory in crisis“.  So I picked up a copy, and will review it in this post.  I actually purchased the Kindle version of the book.

Structuralism vs functionalism

Denton outlines the main gist of his argument in chapter 1, where he explains that he is a structuralist rather than a functionalist.  He expands on that in later chapters.

Denton seems to be using “functionalism” to describe what I would call “pan-selectionism” or “pan-adaptationism”.  So he would see Dawkins, and probably Jerry Coyne, as functionalists.  Denton himself prefers structuralism, which is an emphasis on the forms or body plans (he uses the term “bauplan”) of organisms (or groups or organisms).

I’m inclined to say “a pox on both of their houses”.  I am not a pan-selectionist.  I usually say that I am not a Darwinist, for I see Darwinism as an over-emphasis on natural selection.  To me, Denton’s preference for structuralism seems strange.  Surely the structural features are their because of their functional role.

In section 1.1, Denton writes:

It is hard to imagine two scientific frameworks as diametrically opposed as structuralism and functionalism.  Whereas functionalism  suggests that function is prior and determines structure, structuralism suggests that structure is prior and constrains function.

Tags: ,