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Shared Circles including Yonatan Zunger

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Activity

Average numbers for the latest posts (max. 50 posts, posted within the last 4 weeks)

67
comments per post
32
reshares per post
249
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Top posts in the last 50 posts

Most comments: 250

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2017-07-07 11:06:21 (250 comments; 76 reshares; 431 +1s; )Open 

For nearly twenty-five years, we have allowed the institutions of democracy to wither. Congress has moved from a ruling body to a mere extension or opponent of the President; the rule of law, from the obedience of the President to any law he didn't like to civilian control of the military, has been enforced only by the continued goodwill of presidents.

Now our sins have come home to roost; having transformed the Presidency into a dictatorship for anyone who wanted it, we have elected a man who takes pride in ignoring custom and morality, and who instead cares for nothing but his self-aggrandizement and his pocketbook.

American Democracy has, in a deep sense, ended. Not forever: but when it is restored, it will be changed from the forms we grew up with, likely with far more safeguards, checks and balances. Our political circumstances will be changed as well; the age of America as... more »

Most reshares: 105

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2017-05-19 17:55:22 (58 comments; 105 reshares; 476 +1s; )Open 

I think I'm going to be sick.

If you want to really scare an engineer, have one of the last-line backups -- the ones that nobody normal even thinks about, the ones that are meant to make sure the system fails safe if something unimaginably apocalyptic happens -- fail.

The seed vault isn't the best backup against a global apocalypse; honestly, if that happens, then the odds of us being able to use this effectively aren't great either. But it is a backup against, for example, some rapidly-spreading plant disease causing a collapse of a major food crop. These backups are what we'd need to start engineering resistant strains if contamination happened globally faster than we could catch it. That's a nontrivial failure mode of our food system, and that's why this vault is really important to have.

It was designed to be self-operating, maintained at the... more »

Most plusones: 576

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2017-07-21 16:43:45 (79 comments; 73 reshares; 576 +1s; )Open 

Context for those who haven't heard: Sean Spicer disappeared into the bushes for the last time today.

Also, the suggestion of this tweet needs to happen.

Latest 50 posts

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2017-07-23 00:44:08 (14 comments; 7 reshares; 107 +1s; )Open 

Ouch. 

Ouch. ___

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2017-07-22 05:08:00 (187 comments; 45 reshares; 218 +1s; )Open 

There is one thing certain about the political crisis in the United States today: when it ends, the Constitution will be profoundly different.

There is one thing certain about the political crisis in the United States today: when it ends, the Constitution will be profoundly different.___

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2017-07-21 16:43:45 (79 comments; 73 reshares; 576 +1s; )Open 

Context for those who haven't heard: Sean Spicer disappeared into the bushes for the last time today.

Also, the suggestion of this tweet needs to happen.

Context for those who haven't heard: Sean Spicer disappeared into the bushes for the last time today.

Also, the suggestion of this tweet needs to happen.___

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2017-07-21 06:03:07 (40 comments; 24 reshares; 280 +1s; )Open 

A set of colorized photos of the 588th Night Bomber regiment of the Soviet Air Force, better known by the nickname their enemies gave them – the "Night Witches." (As well as a few of their sister 586th and 587th mixed in)

A small thing to notice in these pictures is the rather large number of medals they are wearing in their dress uniforms. On Yekaterina Ryabova's chest, for example, you'll see (in increasing order of precedence and gaudiness) the Medal for Defense of the Caucasus, the Order of the Red Star, the Order of the Red Banner, the Order of Lenin, and (highest of all in precedence but visually the simplest, just a simple metal star) the Hero of the Soviet Union.

As money was both a rather un-Communist reward, and generally in short supply anyway, the Soviets long favored medals and orders as rewards and recognitions for people. Units which had notable PRv... more »

A big collection of colorized pictures of Night Witches.

[Edited to add:] One thing that is really cool about them is that you see the ethnic diversity from all over the USSR.___A set of colorized photos of the 588th Night Bomber regiment of the Soviet Air Force, better known by the nickname their enemies gave them – the "Night Witches." (As well as a few of their sister 586th and 587th mixed in)

A small thing to notice in these pictures is the rather large number of medals they are wearing in their dress uniforms. On Yekaterina Ryabova's chest, for example, you'll see (in increasing order of precedence and gaudiness) the Medal for Defense of the Caucasus, the Order of the Red Star, the Order of the Red Banner, the Order of Lenin, and (highest of all in precedence but visually the simplest, just a simple metal star) the Hero of the Soviet Union.

As money was both a rather un-Communist reward, and generally in short supply anyway, the Soviets long favored medals and orders as rewards and recognitions for people. Units which had notable PR value were particular targets for decoration, which accounted in part for the extraordinary amount of tin shown here – but a bigger part of that was that the average member of the Night Witches flew over 800 missions, doing nighttime bombing of enemy positions out of obsolete crop dusters, carrying enough weight of bombs that there was no capacity for parachutes.

Via the +Self-Rescuing Princess Society.

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2017-07-20 04:18:43 (60 comments; 41 reshares; 305 +1s; )Open 

Strictly speaking, the Arctic Circle is named for the constellation Ursa Major (prominent in the Northern Hemisphere), but I'll take it. The Boreal Forest is, after all, home to an awful lot of bears.

Taxonomy, go home. You're drunk.___Strictly speaking, the Arctic Circle is named for the constellation Ursa Major (prominent in the Northern Hemisphere), but I'll take it. The Boreal Forest is, after all, home to an awful lot of bears.

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2017-07-19 01:18:07 (35 comments; 21 reshares; 153 +1s; )Open 

This is a wonderful slide deck about failures in complex systems – specifically in Space Shuttles, which are factories of some of the most bizarre failure modes imaginable.

I mean, do you design your electronics to handle the case where a diode suddenly transforms into a capacitor? You probably don't – but that failure mode is more commonly known as "a crack perpendicular to the connectors."

NASA has a truly terrifying collection of things that can and have gone wrong with systems (e.g. a diode transmogrifying into a capacitor); strongly worth reading.


___This is a wonderful slide deck about failures in complex systems – specifically in Space Shuttles, which are factories of some of the most bizarre failure modes imaginable.

I mean, do you design your electronics to handle the case where a diode suddenly transforms into a capacitor? You probably don't – but that failure mode is more commonly known as "a crack perpendicular to the connectors."

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2017-07-18 23:41:03 (57 comments; 59 reshares; 388 +1s; )Open 

You may have thought that Google Glass was gone and forgotten. It turns out that isn't the case at all. While it didn't work out well as a consumer product for all sorts of reasons, it turns out to be tremendously useful if you're doing work that requires your hands and your attention while also being helped by visual input – say, if you're working in a factory, or performing surgery.

As a result, the Glass team vanished back into Google X for a while and started working on what they discovered to be a much better use for the technology: as an enterprise technology for people at work.

Today, Wired has an article about what the new system looks like, and how it's being used at a growing range of companies – and how this technology is living up to its promise at last.

You may have thought that Google Glass was gone and forgotten. It turns out that isn't the case at all. While it didn't work out well as a consumer product for all sorts of reasons, it turns out to be tremendously useful if you're doing work that requires your hands and your attention while also being helped by visual input – say, if you're working in a factory, or performing surgery.

As a result, the Glass team vanished back into Google X for a while and started working on what they discovered to be a much better use for the technology: as an enterprise technology for people at work.

Today, Wired has an article about what the new system looks like, and how it's being used at a growing range of companies – and how this technology is living up to its promise at last.___

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2017-07-18 20:05:13 (78 comments; 30 reshares; 194 +1s; )Open 

This is an extremely interesting article (via @avflox) about how harassment is often part of a pattern of "versatile criminality" - that is, harassment which isn't a mistake or misunderstanding is generally not an isolated behavior, but correlated to other kinds of unethical and/or illegal activity as well. If true, this suggests better ways of investigating and dealing with harassment complaints, and ones which specifically identify and target bad actors.

I don't have time to write more about this now, but it's a pattern which seems familiar to me from other contexts as well, including fraud, online abuse, and sexual assault: a disproportionate fraction of this is done by a small number of people who do a lot of bad things, most of which go individually under the radar but which form a clear pattern when you see them all. 

This is an extremely interesting article (via @avflox) about how harassment is often part of a pattern of "versatile criminality" - that is, harassment which isn't a mistake or misunderstanding is generally not an isolated behavior, but correlated to other kinds of unethical and/or illegal activity as well. If true, this suggests better ways of investigating and dealing with harassment complaints, and ones which specifically identify and target bad actors.

I don't have time to write more about this now, but it's a pattern which seems familiar to me from other contexts as well, including fraud, online abuse, and sexual assault: a disproportionate fraction of this is done by a small number of people who do a lot of bad things, most of which go individually under the radar but which form a clear pattern when you see them all. ___

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2017-07-15 17:51:50 (8 comments; 15 reshares; 214 +1s; )Open 

Ouch. Via +Jennifer Freeman.

"It appears as if their entire society was centered around creating, out of thin air, actual jobs that paid an actual living wage."___Ouch. Via +Jennifer Freeman.

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2017-07-13 15:52:17 (32 comments; 18 reshares; 224 +1s; )Open 

Something for the "society" aspect of Politics, Society, and the Law - and for once, an example of society working at its best.

Via +Rugger Ducky​.

80 strangers linked arms to venture out in dangerous riptides to save 10 swimmers unable to reach the shore. Some of them couldn't even swim, but all of them heard the call for help and the battle cry for a human chain and they joined in to rescue the swimmers.

There are two sides to human nature: the light and the dark. Obvious, right?

You'd think it would be, but - at least lately - the dark side seems to be more prevalent. The good news is the lightness of love is stronger in us than we realize. It's everywhere, in all of our communities.

We need more reports of people being decent, loving, caring human beings. Especially now when so many of us are surrounded by discord and hate, we need to see more of the positive side of human nature.

#practicekindness #spreadthelove #sharethejoy #gratefulnothateful #youredoingitright___Something for the "society" aspect of Politics, Society, and the Law - and for once, an example of society working at its best.

Via +Rugger Ducky​.

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2017-07-12 19:26:03 (9 comments; 26 reshares; 218 +1s; )Open 

My workload ~ my propensity to shitpost and reshare shitposting on G+.

___My workload ~ my propensity to shitpost and reshare shitposting on G+.

2017-07-12 14:16:39 (9 comments; 1 reshares; 99 +1s; )Open 

No comment.

New Best Friend: "Would it be bad if I did X?"

Me: "You'd get called on the plastic tarp for that."

NBF: "Plastic tarp?"

Me: "It's for when you're calling someone on the carpet, but like your carpet."

NBF: "... Does that happen often in engineering?"

Me: "About as often as people X."___No comment.

2017-07-10 16:09:50 (63 comments; 4 reshares; 78 +1s; )Open 

I am enjoying this joke way too much. That said, when Robert says it's incredibly geeky, he means it – so if you aren't familiar with computability theory, he explains it at https://plus.google.com/+RobertHansen75/posts/3j8yRsv68Bk .

The geekiest joke ever -- and it was pulled on me. You'll need a modest bit of computational theory to understand the punchline. I'll explain the punchline in another post, but as is the case with most jokes, if you need the punchline explained then it just won't be funny to you.

=====

My first semester in graduate school I was taking Theory of Computation (among others). Perry sat next to me in class and capered through every problem like a gazelle. Me, I was getting by on brute force and ignorance, including on one exam turning in a four-page proof where Perry turned in a three-sentence proof.

After class Perry would sit with me in a nearby coffeeshop and help shed some light on the things I was confused about. He tutored for coffee: you can't beat that price. The coffee shop was Wild Bill's Uptown Cafe, which -- in my first semester of graduate school -- I did not know was a project of the university's school of social work, nor did I know that it gave good jobs with benefits to the downtrodden and disabled. All I knew that first week of graduate school was the barista was taking for-freaking-ever to get me two lattes and change.

When I walked over to the table where Perry was, I thunked down the coffee and the change. "I'm sorry that took so long," I told him. "Apparently, two coffees and change from a tenner is an NP problem or something..."

Perry blinked at me, then looked down at the change. He quickly counted it out, then looked back up at me. "I don't know," he said. "If the bill was $8.76, then it definitely is!"___I am enjoying this joke way too much. That said, when Robert says it's incredibly geeky, he means it – so if you aren't familiar with computability theory, he explains it at https://plus.google.com/+RobertHansen75/posts/3j8yRsv68Bk .

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2017-07-08 18:44:49 (54 comments; 29 reshares; 217 +1s; )Open 

There is so much good stuff in this article - from a discussion of the nature of racism to an in-depth analysis of what makes someone a total douche. You should read it.

Via +A.V. Flox​

There is so much good stuff in this article - from a discussion of the nature of racism to an in-depth analysis of what makes someone a total douche. You should read it.

Via +A.V. Flox​___

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2017-07-08 17:48:30 (106 comments; 41 reshares; 466 +1s; )Open 

Ouch. 

Ouch. ___

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2017-07-07 22:37:49 (171 comments; 98 reshares; 347 +1s; )Open 

It is hard to overstate the significance of this agreement between Trump and Putin. "Agreeing not to meddle in each other's domestic affairs" is a code-phrase used by Russia and China for decades - one that every US president has told them to go to hell about.

For those unfamiliar with the term: that includes executing journalists, persecuting people for sexual orientation, race, and religion, and of course, invading other countries, if that land has "historically been a part of (Russia, China, etc)." Putin considers Crimea and eastern Ukraine to be Russian domestic affairs, in much the same way that Xi considers Tibet, Hong Kong, and Taiwan to be Chinese domestic affairs.

For decades, Russia and China have been building their own international alliances, both using this as a key selling point. The basic pitch is "Come do business with us; unlike the... more »

It is hard to overstate the significance of this agreement between Trump and Putin. "Agreeing not to meddle in each other's domestic affairs" is a code-phrase used by Russia and China for decades - one that every US president has told them to go to hell about.

For those unfamiliar with the term: that includes executing journalists, persecuting people for sexual orientation, race, and religion, and of course, invading other countries, if that land has "historically been a part of (Russia, China, etc)." Putin considers Crimea and eastern Ukraine to be Russian domestic affairs, in much the same way that Xi considers Tibet, Hong Kong, and Taiwan to be Chinese domestic affairs.

For decades, Russia and China have been building their own international alliances, both using this as a key selling point. The basic pitch is "Come do business with us; unlike the Americans, we'll never interfere in your domestic affairs." This doesn't mean "domestic affairs" that might affect local markets, exports, or relations with the controlling country, of course; a country's currency policy is clearly an international matter. It means "you can engage in all the repression and corruption you want; we will in fact bribe you handsomely."

As a result, both countries have been building up "alliances" of dictatorships. Trump has just agreed to the #1 rule of being a member of the Russia Club.

And having joined that club, by implication, we are no longer running our own. Certainly anyone considering joining up with us will now know that we won't really act to protect them from Russian interference - and given that this interference is a major threat for a lot of countries (Russia has been quite expansionist lately, and has no trouble making demands of its clients), this makes the value proposition of an American alliance a lot less compelling. Basically, we have just moved from being a clear leader of the largest alliance of nations in the world, to being a tier-2 member of the dictators' club.

Let nobody say that Trump hasn't achieved anything. I think he just ended the Cold War - with a surrender. ___

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2017-07-07 11:06:21 (250 comments; 76 reshares; 431 +1s; )Open 

For nearly twenty-five years, we have allowed the institutions of democracy to wither. Congress has moved from a ruling body to a mere extension or opponent of the President; the rule of law, from the obedience of the President to any law he didn't like to civilian control of the military, has been enforced only by the continued goodwill of presidents.

Now our sins have come home to roost; having transformed the Presidency into a dictatorship for anyone who wanted it, we have elected a man who takes pride in ignoring custom and morality, and who instead cares for nothing but his self-aggrandizement and his pocketbook.

American Democracy has, in a deep sense, ended. Not forever: but when it is restored, it will be changed from the forms we grew up with, likely with far more safeguards, checks and balances. Our political circumstances will be changed as well; the age of America as... more »

For nearly twenty-five years, we have allowed the institutions of democracy to wither. Congress has moved from a ruling body to a mere extension or opponent of the President; the rule of law, from the obedience of the President to any law he didn't like to civilian control of the military, has been enforced only by the continued goodwill of presidents.

Now our sins have come home to roost; having transformed the Presidency into a dictatorship for anyone who wanted it, we have elected a man who takes pride in ignoring custom and morality, and who instead cares for nothing but his self-aggrandizement and his pocketbook.

American Democracy has, in a deep sense, ended. Not forever: but when it is restored, it will be changed from the forms we grew up with, likely with far more safeguards, checks and balances. Our political circumstances will be changed as well; the age of America as an unquestionable world leader is almost certainly over. While much of this change is needed and healthy, it will come at tremendous human cost, a cost which we need never have paid.



Or phrased another way: I have been warning you motherfuckers for years now, and you kept assuming everything would be okay. It is not, and we're now all the way in the chute; I've got no Plans B, C, or D left, there is no way we are getting out of this situation except the maximally hard way. There is no Impeachment Fairy or Magic Wall or whatever the hell else you're dreaming of that's going to make these problems go away; if you want to know what happens when democracy gently segues into authoritarianism, you're in it right now. The frog has been slowly and steadily boiled and we now think that of course you should be calm and humble around police, they'd be perfectly justified in killing to protect themselves, and of course you can't really enforce ethics rules against an elected official, they're elected, and worrying about him and his family personally enriching themselves is really secondary anyway, did you see his last tweet?

We are now firmly and irreversibly in the shit, and it's only getting deeper from here. You want out? Get a shovel. ___

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2017-07-07 10:07:50 (15 comments; 10 reshares; 83 +1s; )Open 

This is a pretty good article about different kinds of innovation which are needed at different times, and how to approach each.

Sometimes the bag of clams is the sanest thing in the room

+Yonatan Zunger please take note.

https://hbr.org/2017/06/the-4-types-of-innovation-and-the-problems-they-solve___This is a pretty good article about different kinds of innovation which are needed at different times, and how to approach each.

2017-07-07 10:03:02 (44 comments; 14 reshares; 146 +1s; )Open 

Quickly.

By their own accounting, Federal, state, and local government combined spend $1.5 trillion on healthcare or $4,600 per capita.[1] For this amount, we could purchase Canada's healthcare system right now and government would still spend less money.[2] That is, single-payer can be implemented without any new tax revenues and even allow a small tax cut. But, wait, there's more. Because employer-provided health coverage is untaxed, the Federal government alone would take in up to $250 billion in additional revenue as those health benefits are converted into wages.[4] This means that, taking a cautious outlook, single-payer would permit three times the tax cut of the Senate healthcare bill while achieving universal coverage.[5] An optimistic scenario, where all the savings are realized and all the new tax revenue from higher wages arrives, would provide nearly six times the tax cut.... more »

Quickly.

By their own accounting, Federal, state, and local government combined spend $1.5 trillion on healthcare or $4,600 per capita.[1] For this amount, we could purchase Canada's healthcare system right now and government would still spend less money.[2] That is, single-payer can be implemented without any new tax revenues and even allow a small tax cut. But, wait, there's more. Because employer-provided health coverage is untaxed, the Federal government alone would take in up to $250 billion in additional revenue as those health benefits are converted into wages.[4] This means that, taking a cautious outlook, single-payer would permit three times the tax cut of the Senate healthcare bill while achieving universal coverage.[5] An optimistic scenario, where all the savings are realized and all the new tax revenue from higher wages arrives, would provide nearly six times the tax cut.



[1] https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData/Downloads/highlights.pdf
[2] http://www.pgpf.org/chart-archive/0006_health-care-oecd
[3] https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData/Downloads/highlights.pdf
[4] Table 1, footnote a: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/how-much-does-federal-government-spend-health-care
[5] NB, the CBO uses a ten-year estimate, not a yearly one: https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/115th-congress-2017-2018/costestimate/52849-hr1628senate.pdf___

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2017-06-29 16:53:00 (29 comments; 14 reshares; 243 +1s; )Open 

ITYM "Hilariously right." Via +Steven Flaeck.

This may not be the first job to be automated. ___ITYM "Hilariously right." Via +Steven Flaeck.

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2017-06-23 20:52:54 (55 comments; 11 reshares; 161 +1s; )Open 

I frequently disagree (strongly) with both Doctorow and Brin, but on this, I'm with them. People in disasters generally help one another, not eat one another -- and will even band together to keep others from attempting to eat them. But if we predicate our understanding of crises on the hypothesis that mutual destruction would be the rule rather than the exception, we prepare ourselves in our present lives to view our neighbors as our natural enemies.

None of this means we should be foolish and assume that everyone has our best interests at heart; but it means we also shouldn't be looking at our neighbors primarily through the lens of how armed they are and what their likely protein content is.

Most of our neighbors, at least. :9

Using his WIRED soapbox to promote his new novel, Cory Doctorow takes the occasion also to fight some of the most hoary and destructive instincts of modern, lazy storytelling.

“Here’s how you make a dystopia: Convince people that when disaster strikes, their neighbors are their enemies, not their mutual saviors and responsibilities. The belief that when the lights go out, your neighbors will come over with a shotgun—rather than the contents of their freezer so you can have a barbecue before it all spoils—isn’t just a self-fulfilling prophecy, it’s a weaponized narrative. The belief in the barely restrained predatory nature of the people around you is the cause of dystopia, the belief that turns mere crises into catastrophes.”

This paraphrases the core point from my novel The Postman, which I wrote as a rebuttal to the Mad Max genre’s perpetual contempt for the average person. In my novel (and I admit that Kevin Costner did remain faithful to this notion) all hope for a restored civilization rests upon the survivors remembering one core fact: “I was once a mighty and noble being, called a citizen.” And hence, the great accomplishment of the story’s hero is not to defeat the villains, but to remind the people of that central fact.

Rebecca Solnit - one of the finest essayists in America - makes the same point in A Paradise Built in Hell, showing that time and again, our neighbors show pluck and guts, as when 80 average citizens rebelled, aboard flight UA93. And yet, authors and directors relentlessly trot forth the banal dystopia that Cory criticizes.

Doctorow distinguishes this tiresome cliché with his notion of the guardedly upbeat utopia. Not the boring aftermath of an enlightened and better civilization — no drama there! That’s why - in the much better tomorrows of Iain Banks, of Star Trek and my own Kiln People - most of the tales take place at a fringe or frontier. (The Federation is decent and good and fair, which is why we almost never look there.)

Likewise, Doctorow eschews a preachy utopia in favor of portraying its beginning, in danger and ferment. The initial problem may be chaotic and deadly, as in a dystopia, but with a crucial difference.

“Stories of futures in which disaster strikes and we rise to the occasion are a vaccine against the virus of mistrust. Our disaster recovery is always fastest and smoothest when we work together, when every seat on every lifeboat is taken. Stories in which the breakdown of technology means the breakdown of civilization are a vile libel on humanity itself.” He asserts that: “ the best science fiction does some­thing much more interesting than prediction: It inspires. That science fiction tells us better nations are ours to build and lets us dream vividly of what it might be like to live in those nations.”

As is very often the case, Doctorow presents important and thought-provoking notions. Alas, Cory does tend also to wave signs implying “Look here! I invented this idea!” And so, only in the interests of fairness, I do urge you also to have a look at my much-earlier missive on “The Idiot Plot,” and compare.

http://www.davidbrin.com/idiotplot.html___I frequently disagree (strongly) with both Doctorow and Brin, but on this, I'm with them. People in disasters generally help one another, not eat one another -- and will even band together to keep others from attempting to eat them. But if we predicate our understanding of crises on the hypothesis that mutual destruction would be the rule rather than the exception, we prepare ourselves in our present lives to view our neighbors as our natural enemies.

None of this means we should be foolish and assume that everyone has our best interests at heart; but it means we also shouldn't be looking at our neighbors primarily through the lens of how armed they are and what their likely protein content is.

Most of our neighbors, at least. :9

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2017-06-21 18:38:33 (15 comments; 7 reshares; 91 +1s; )Open 

Before Grindr, there were letters. This research paper (the article below summarizes it and links to the full text) is about how travelling businessmen in mid-20th-century America used letter-writing networks to create a sort of "distributed gay community" -- not one with a geographical hub, but a purely virtual construction.

Before Grindr, there were letters. This research paper (the article below summarizes it and links to the full text) is about how travelling businessmen in mid-20th-century America used letter-writing networks to create a sort of "distributed gay community" -- not one with a geographical hub, but a purely virtual construction.___

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2017-06-21 00:21:19 (25 comments; 40 reshares; 210 +1s; )Open 

Onomatopoeia in several languages: how to eat, fart, rev an engine, and explode around the world. 

Onomatopoeia in several languages: how to eat, fart, rev an engine, and explode around the world. ___

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2017-06-19 00:45:42 (45 comments; 19 reshares; 362 +1s; )Open 

This waste site near Butte, Montana – a former phosphorus plant – hides an incredibly alarming thing: a 500,000-gallon concrete tank of white phosphorus sludge. That sludge sits under a cap of 2-3 feet of water, steadily replenished by an automated system; on top of that are rows of plastic "bird balls" that keep waterfowl from landing on the surface and slow evaporation. If that water cap were ever to fail, the phosphorus would come into contact with atmospheric oxygen, bursting instantly into flame. That would, in turn, clear out any remaining water, causing the entire pool to explode and strew toxic smoke across the entire area, with quite a few towns in the crossfire. For those of you familiar with them, that pool can basically be thought of as about 853,000 WP grenades with a water pumping system keeping their fuse unlit.

There are quite a few things wrong with this, to saythe l... more »

This waste site near Butte, Montana – a former phosphorus plant – hides an incredibly alarming thing: a 500,000-gallon concrete tank of white phosphorus sludge. That sludge sits under a cap of 2-3 feet of water, steadily replenished by an automated system; on top of that are rows of plastic "bird balls" that keep waterfowl from landing on the surface and slow evaporation. If that water cap were ever to fail, the phosphorus would come into contact with atmospheric oxygen, bursting instantly into flame. That would, in turn, clear out any remaining water, causing the entire pool to explode and strew toxic smoke across the entire area, with quite a few towns in the crossfire. For those of you familiar with them, that pool can basically be thought of as about 853,000 WP grenades with a water pumping system keeping their fuse unlit.

There are quite a few things wrong with this, to say the least. One is the economic chicanery which allowed it to come into existence in the first place: the company which operated the plant (Solvay) was essentially allowed to continue to accumulate risk while they operated, and then simply walk away when they were done, taking all the profits of having accumulated that risk and leaving the costs behind for anyone in the vicinity. This kind of negative externality is at the heart of most major waste sites. Fortunately, the EPA is holding Solvay's feet to the fire to make them deal with this mess – by Solvay's proposal, by building a reclamation plant to actually mine the useful phosphorus out of the pit, and from anyone else's phosphorus waste that they care to get rid of. (Which, if it can be pulled off, seems like a fairly good idea to me.) In many cases this isn't possible, since either the company which operated the things creating the waste sites simply no longer exists, or it operated the sites through a shell company that was later destroyed, specifically so that there would be no legally responsible party left around.

But there's a second very serious problem here, which isn't economics, it's engineering. The water cap which keeps this pit from exploding needs to be continually refreshed by a pumping system, with a connection to an active water supply, and so on. Fortunately, water levels normally decline slowly (mostly due to evaporation), and so even if the pumping system failed for some reason, humans could be alerted and begin emergency measures in time. But if anything interfered with that, or if the site were left derelict, or if something were to physically disturb the water cap (e.g., something big slamming into it and splashing the water out of the way)... boom.

The technical term for this problem is that it doesn't fail safe: it requires continuous active measures to keep it from exploding. In a properly designed system, the complete failure of all external support (or any other easily-predictable problem) should cause the system to drop itself into a safe, if not necessarily good, state.

It isn't always possible to make a system fail safe for physics reasons; for example, if you fully stop a nuclear reactor by dropping the control rods in all the way, the core is still physically very hot – more than hot enough to melt into rubble if the cooling system were to fail. That means there's no immediate way to bring a reactor to a "cold stop," the state where you can simply walk away from it and it's safe. To compensate for this, reactors have all sorts of mechanisms to keep the cooling systems working under a wide range of circumstances, as well as designs to ensure that even if the core does melt, that won't lead to a release of radioactives beyond the containment vessel. This approach is called "defense in depth," and it's crucial to any kind of safety system, not just a nuclear one.

If you're interested in this, I highly recommend James Mahaffey's Atomic Accidents (recommended to me a few years ago by +Lea Kissner), a catalogue of every known accident in the history of nuclear physics, with a discussion of what went wrong and why. It shows how systems can be designed both well and poorly for worst-case disasters. (And will, I suspect, greatly increase your confidence in nuclear reactors.)

h/t @bridgietherease on Twitter.___

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2017-06-18 23:27:09 (48 comments; 20 reshares; 200 +1s; )Open 

What we see as super-realistic painting is in fact copying the camera's distortion of reality. A great Quora piece on this.

I remember when my younger daughter first started taking formal art classes, the first thing they did was tell her to stop making paintings from photos. This does a good job of explaining why that's the case.

What we see as super-realistic painting is in fact copying the camera's distortion of reality. A great Quora piece on this.

I remember when my younger daughter first started taking formal art classes, the first thing they did was tell her to stop making paintings from photos. This does a good job of explaining why that's the case.___

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2017-06-15 15:42:29 (117 comments; 26 reshares; 189 +1s; )Open 

Elections are critical infrastructure in a democracy, and should be treated as such: so this article argues, and in my opinion, quite wisely. While this article focuses on protection of critical infrastructure from foreign attackers, I would say the argument extends further still, into the entire way we run and operate elections. They need to be built for reliability even under adverse circumstances, easily monitorable, and create confidence in everyone that they are fair. None of these are easy with the half-assed way we currently run them. 

Elections are critical infrastructure in a democracy, and should be treated as such: so this article argues, and in my opinion, quite wisely. While this article focuses on protection of critical infrastructure from foreign attackers, I would say the argument extends further still, into the entire way we run and operate elections. They need to be built for reliability even under adverse circumstances, easily monitorable, and create confidence in everyone that they are fair. None of these are easy with the half-assed way we currently run them. ___

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2017-06-15 00:21:10 (85 comments; 17 reshares; 334 +1s; )Open 

This article walks us through the roster of the investigatory team that Robert Mueller has built up -- by all signs, one of the most talented groups of criminal investigators ever assembled. But the best part is the background stories, like the one that involved an FBI agent dressed up as a South African colonel improving operations efficiency at a visa renewal office just in order to be able to catch an international terrorist.

One day, there is going to be a movie about these people. It's going to be kind of awesome.

Via +Chris Jones

This article walks us through the roster of the investigatory team that Robert Mueller has built up -- by all signs, one of the most talented groups of criminal investigators ever assembled. But the best part is the background stories, like the one that involved an FBI agent dressed up as a South African colonel improving operations efficiency at a visa renewal office just in order to be able to catch an international terrorist.

One day, there is going to be a movie about these people. It's going to be kind of awesome.

Via +Chris Jones___

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2017-06-13 18:03:15 (56 comments; 23 reshares; 275 +1s; )Open 

I continue to find it strange when I encounter serious journalism in places like Cracked, but I have to say that this summarizes the ways in which the law can be bought all too well.

Or as the bumper sticker says: Invest in America — Buy a Congressman!

I continue to find it strange when I encounter serious journalism in places like Cracked, but I have to say that this summarizes the ways in which the law can be bought all too well.

Or as the bumper sticker says: Invest in America — Buy a Congressman!___

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2017-06-11 05:00:58 (62 comments; 9 reshares; 219 +1s; )Open 

June is a month not only of celebration, but of remembrance and of mourning. Some important words from +Michael Swearingen​.

June is Gay Pride month and while I know that festivities are happening around the globe with parades and parties, it doesn’t seem like people remember why we are celebrating.

Gay Pride is not a party month necessarily. Certainly it’s a time to celebrate because we’ve come a very long way in the past forty eight years, but it’s not just a random time to party and act the fool.

In 1969 in New York City, a drag queen had finally had enough of being harassed by the police along with her brothers and sisters at a gay bar called Stonewall. With one thrown brick, all the anger and frustrations that gay men, lesbians, and the drag community had been forced to endure became a movement. We were not nothing and nobodies. We were not less than. We were not fodder for jokes and humiliations and we were NOT sick or criminals. We were who we are and should be treated with equal respect just as any other citizen of the country (and world). Enough was enough and the Stonewall Riots were the beginnings of the LGBTQ struggle.

In the early 80‘s as we were pushing forward to be accepted, as things were looking much brighter for the community, a strange disease slowly started spreading. Stories began to appear of gay men with strange forms of cancer, and rare lung infections in 1981. By the end of the years, what we know of as AIDS had killed 121 out of 270 cases. Nothing much was mentioned because of course, it was all within the gay community. In 1982, the CDC first used the term AIDS, and cases were being reported in European countries as well. By the end of 1983, the number of US cases had risen to 3,064 and of those cases 1,292 had died. Still, there was little mention of the disease. But within our community, people were rallying and fighting for a cure to be found. People were staging protests (ACT UP) and demanding something be done. WE were at the forefront for the fight for survival and to end AIDS. We fought, we yelled, we made as much noise as possible and still the community struggled for acceptance because now people were afraid of catching AIDS and again, we were “unclean” to the ignorant.

The LGBTQ community created one of the largest and most moving and beautiful monuments to those who had fallen from AIDS. The AIDS Memorial Quilt. A massive undertaking of panels created for the loved ones who had died from AIDS. The Names Project is an ongoing testament of love and it is still going today. If you go to their web site, you can still create panels for loved one, find out where the quilt is going to be displayed and even host a showing. As to a current article on the quilt, there are 48,000 individual panels which began in 1985. The number of panels is still growing.

The men and woman that fought for OUR freedoms, and still struggle to do so in other countries, are what the Pride Month is about. It’s about all of us coming together in unity, not standing off in our “cliques”. It’s the drag community, the trans community, the lesbians, the bears, the twinks, the bisexuals, the gay comic book geeks, the people who are questioning just what exactly they are. It’s all of us, a family It’s the lipstick lesbian, the gay goth boy off in the corner, the militant gay rights activist, the wallflower secretly wishing that they could tell someone their secret. WE are the gay community. Black, white, red, yellow, brown and every color in between.

Gay Pride has been lost in the party. Lost are the memories of the struggles that came before to allow the chance to walk down the street with your boyfriend or girlfriend hand in hand without being bashed, to kiss openly in public, to get married legally. It is a time to celebrate, but not to act the fool. It’s not a time to get wasted and see how many people you can hook up with. It’s a time for our family to come together and remember and rejoice. A time to celebrate being who you are opening and freely.

I celebrate the entirety of our community. As a gay man, I love our lesbian sisters, our trans brothers and sister, our bisexual brothers and sister, our drag family, all those questioning where they fit into the sexuality mishmosh, and our straight allies who stand with us and for us. This is the LGBTQ community. This is the rainbow flag of all the colors in the spectrum equal and living together in harmony. This is my dream of brother and sisterhood where we don’t separate ourselves further. A community where the big burly bear in his leather is dancing with a femme twink. Where a gay man and a trans woman are sharing a laugh together. Where a drag queen is offered a drink by a lesbian woman in her biker gear. THIS is who we are and who we were and who we are meant to be. That to me is Gay Pride.

Remember our family. Remember those who came before us. Celebrate their lives and their struggles. Celebrate your own uniqueness. Celebrate the freedoms we have now. Celebrate each other in all aspects of the LGBTQ community. Celebrate life. Take your brother or sister’s hand and celebrate them. Do not forget the past, remember those who have brought you here, and proudly walk forward.___June is a month not only of celebration, but of remembrance and of mourning. Some important words from +Michael Swearingen​.

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2017-06-11 04:42:33 (57 comments; 15 reshares; 168 +1s; )Open 

CNN was not always the desolate wasteland of post-journalism; once upon a time, it was revolutionary, the place news changed from "something available once or twice a day in rationed amounts" to "something available at all times, whenever needed." And whatever the costs have been of the 24-hour news cycle, I will never forget how important it was to me during the first Gulf War, when missiles were landing next to my family, and I could stay next to it continuously, getting some reassurance that everyone was still okay from knowing which cities were being targeted.

But transmitting the news 24/7 is a serious responsibility - like switchboard operators, they were at the key junction of information, and had to be prepared to continue to transmit until literally the last second. In 1980, with nuclear annihilation a very real prospect, that "last second" was something we... more »

CNN was not always the desolate wasteland of post-journalism; once upon a time, it was revolutionary, the place news changed from "something available once or twice a day in rationed amounts" to "something available at all times, whenever needed." And whatever the costs have been of the 24-hour news cycle, I will never forget how important it was to me during the first Gulf War, when missiles were landing next to my family, and I could stay next to it continuously, getting some reassurance that everyone was still okay from knowing which cities were being targeted.

But transmitting the news 24/7 is a serious responsibility - like switchboard operators, they were at the key junction of information, and had to be prepared to continue to transmit until literally the last second. In 1980, with nuclear annihilation a very real prospect, that "last second" was something we all had to think about.

Given that, knowing that Turner not only had a plan for final sign-off, but that the plan remains fully armed and prepped to this day, a video in their internal database with the bright red annotation "HFR (hold for release) till end of the world confirmed," makes me unaccountably happy. I do not think I could ever work a critical system like that without such a contingency plan in place, even if it made my team think I was mad, and every so often I would check on it to make sure it was still properly set.

If you're wondering, the final sign-off will be a band playing "Nearer My God To Thee." The actual video is available in this story, in all its low-def glory.

(ETA: The video seems to have been taken down from the story, but it's still findable on YouTube at https://youtu.be/z6f7j1E61sM . Thanks to +Christian Nalletamby​​ for finding it!)

h/t +A.V. Flox​​​​___

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2017-06-06 15:49:17 (135 comments; 24 reshares; 263 +1s; )Open 

/popcorn

Oh, my god.

The unwillingness of some of the country’s most prestigious attorneys and their law firms to represent Trump has complicated the administration’s efforts to mount a coherent defense strategy to deal with probes being conducted by four congressional committees as well as Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.

The president’s chief lawyer now in charge of the case is Marc E. Kasowitz, a tough New York civil litigator who for years has aggressively represented Trump in multiple business and public relations disputes — often with threats of countersuits and menacing public statements — but who has little experience dealing with complex congressional and Justice Department investigations that are inevitably influenced by media coverage and public opinion.

The kicker:

“The concerns were, ‘The guy won’t pay and he won’t listen,’” said one lawyer close to the White House who is familiar with some of the discussions between the firms and the administration, as well as deliberations within the firms themselves.

(bolds mine)

___/popcorn

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2017-06-04 22:40:05 (56 comments; 13 reshares; 293 +1s; )Open 

An excellent article on a simple but important point: we're too ready to believe in a "Great Men" (or "Evil Men") theory of history, which the facts don't bear out. Monstrous leaders create tremendous destruction and suffering, but they don't emerge in stable societies; almost by definition, stable societies are the ones which have internal mechanisms which prevent such things from happening.

Trump is a symptom, not the cause, of Trumpism; and Trumpism is itself a symptom of a much broader failure of our society. The stories people incessantly told after the election about "the white working class" (a profound misnomer in several ways) were part of a general groping around of this idea, although they were largely fundamentally misguided in that they either viewed Trumpism as a sort of deliberate tactic to force attention, or as the uncontrollable flailing... more »

An excellent article on a simple but important point: we're too ready to believe in a "Great Men" (or "Evil Men") theory of history, which the facts don't bear out. Monstrous leaders create tremendous destruction and suffering, but they don't emerge in stable societies; almost by definition, stable societies are the ones which have internal mechanisms which prevent such things from happening.

Trump is a symptom, not the cause, of Trumpism; and Trumpism is itself a symptom of a much broader failure of our society. The stories people incessantly told after the election about "the white working class" (a profound misnomer in several ways) were part of a general groping around of this idea, although they were largely fundamentally misguided in that they either viewed Trumpism as a sort of deliberate tactic to force attention, or as the uncontrollable flailing of an implicitly infantilized "white working class" population incapable of expressing its needs.

Neither of these is true. As Haque points out in this essay, this is neither a transient tactic ("we'll go back to supporting normal governments as soon as there are better subsidies for coal mining!") nor childish foolishness; it's the deliberate destruction of the basic social contract by people who feel they no longer have anything to gain from it. ___

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2017-06-04 19:00:42 (11 comments; 12 reshares; 144 +1s; )Open 

Not much to add; my words should not block the light of theirs.

'I Fall Asleep, Just Standing Like That' ~ Xu Lizhi

The paper before my eyes fades yellow
With a steel pen I chisel on it uneven black
Full of working words
Workshop, assembly line, machine, work card, overtime, wages...
They've trained me to become docile
Don't know how to shout or rebel
How to complain or denounce
Only how to silently suffer exhaustion
When I first set foot in this place
I hoped only for that grey pay slip on the tenth of each month
To grant me some belated solace
For this I had to grind away my corners, grind away my words
Refuse to skip work, refuse sick leave, refuse leave for private reasons
Refuse to be late, refuse to leave early
By the assembly line I stood straight like iron, hands like flight,
How many days, how many nights
Did I – just like that – standing fall asleep?___Not much to add; my words should not block the light of theirs.

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2017-06-03 01:34:40 (65 comments; 36 reshares; 404 +1s; )Open 

A very good point about both eyeglasses and medicine – including anti-anxiety meds.

Incidentally, eyeglasses aren't simply medical devices: they're prosthetics. Specifically, they're prosthetic corneas, and if you need them continuously, especially if your ability to see is considerably reduced without them, you're probably about as attached to them as people get to prosthetic limbs.

We don't often think about this; instead, we think about prostheses as some kind of exotic category, relegated to "other people." But I've found this line of thought very useful when designing computer software and hardware: when, for example, you think of writing as a type of simple prosthesis for the fallibility of memory, or search as a prosthesis for our inability to instantly recall the sum total of human knowledge, you start to think about how they should workve... more »

Very very good point about antidepressants versus glasses.___A very good point about both eyeglasses and medicine – including anti-anxiety meds.

Incidentally, eyeglasses aren't simply medical devices: they're prosthetics. Specifically, they're prosthetic corneas, and if you need them continuously, especially if your ability to see is considerably reduced without them, you're probably about as attached to them as people get to prosthetic limbs.

We don't often think about this; instead, we think about prostheses as some kind of exotic category, relegated to "other people." But I've found this line of thought very useful when designing computer software and hardware: when, for example, you think of writing as a type of simple prosthesis for the fallibility of memory, or search as a prosthesis for our inability to instantly recall the sum total of human knowledge, you start to think about how they should work very differently. Of course they should be trivially carried about with you, and accessible as easily as you think; any deviation between the action of looking something up in search and the action of simply remembering it is room for improvement.

Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.

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2017-05-31 05:17:14 (75 comments; 47 reshares; 452 +1s; )Open 

The bad news: SIM cloning is a relatively straightforward attack, and someone could easily intercept these calls and pretend to be Trump.

The good news: It would almost certainly be an improvement.

#covfefe

The bad news: SIM cloning is a relatively straightforward attack, and someone could easily intercept these calls and pretend to be Trump.

The good news: It would almost certainly be an improvement.

#covfefe___

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2017-05-29 21:30:15 (104 comments; 6 reshares; 144 +1s; )Open 

This could turn into a great kid's project. I could imagine making a box set of this: it would contain all of the parts, and a book with it that walked you through everything, starting from building the tools you need to debug, through a register, and a decoder, and so on, until you'd built an entire simple computer yourself. I could imagine something like this being really good for kids in the 10-16 range, depending on the kid in question.

What kind of computer can you build with just 38 TTL chips? The Simple-As-Possible computer, from Malvino's 1992 book, Digital Computer Electronics. Two videos and full building instructions within. An excellent learning experience, surely. There's an in-browser emulator too, although I can't seem to get it to run any code:
http://ellisgl.github.io/SAP-1-CPU/___This could turn into a great kid's project. I could imagine making a box set of this: it would contain all of the parts, and a book with it that walked you through everything, starting from building the tools you need to debug, through a register, and a decoder, and so on, until you'd built an entire simple computer yourself. I could imagine something like this being really good for kids in the 10-16 range, depending on the kid in question.

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2017-05-25 18:46:48 (62 comments; 9 reshares; 170 +1s; )Open 

Something short and politics-free for your day, inspired by what I was eating: the physics of mixed nuts.

Something short and politics-free for your day, inspired by what I was eating: the physics of mixed nuts.___

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2017-05-24 18:26:52 (31 comments; 43 reshares; 255 +1s; )Open 

Have you ever wondered how your data is stored in the Cloud? Here's the real, no-fooling answer -- involving imaginary Greek islands and sheep. Many sheep.

By the time you reach the end, you'll understand some of the trickiest ideas in modern computer science.

(Long-time readers will remember that I posted this here on G+ several years ago!)

Have you ever wondered how your data is stored in the Cloud? Here's the real, no-fooling answer -- involving imaginary Greek islands and sheep. Many sheep.

By the time you reach the end, you'll understand some of the trickiest ideas in modern computer science.

(Long-time readers will remember that I posted this here on G+ several years ago!)___

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2017-05-23 18:14:19 (75 comments; 37 reshares; 302 +1s; )Open 

A really extraordinary speech, powerful and true - and worth reading.

If you haven't read this transcript or heard the speech yet, do.

Landrieu hits the proverbial nail squarely on the head.

New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture.

America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp.

So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.

___A really extraordinary speech, powerful and true - and worth reading.

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2017-05-23 04:51:45 (27 comments; 16 reshares; 210 +1s; )Open 

On the plus side: Thanks to +Irina T., I have found a book review of several books about owls. I have always loved owls for their grace and silence, and for the beautiful efficiency of their hunt – not the overt power of an eagle or falcon, but something far more focused on overwhelming force by complete surprise.

On the minus side: It appears that, to this day, nobody has written an overview of the Strigiformes and titled it A Companion to Owls. Ornithologists, you are letting me down.

On the plus side: Thanks to +Irina T., I have found a book review of several books about owls. I have always loved owls for their grace and silence, and for the beautiful efficiency of their hunt – not the overt power of an eagle or falcon, but something far more focused on overwhelming force by complete surprise.

On the minus side: It appears that, to this day, nobody has written an overview of the Strigiformes and titled it A Companion to Owls. Ornithologists, you are letting me down.___

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2017-05-21 03:16:05 (46 comments; 6 reshares; 177 +1s; )Open 

Wow. This is the first time I've been actively interested in watching a new Star Trek series in... I'm actually not sure how long. Since TNG, maybe. It looks exciting, well-written, and well-acted.

And honestly, I could use some Roddenberyesque optimism right about now. It would be nice to think about a future which wasn't apocalyptic, every once in a while.

Wow. This is the first time I've been actively interested in watching a new Star Trek series in... I'm actually not sure how long. Since TNG, maybe. It looks exciting, well-written, and well-acted.

And honestly, I could use some Roddenberyesque optimism right about now. It would be nice to think about a future which wasn't apocalyptic, every once in a while.___

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2017-05-19 17:55:22 (58 comments; 105 reshares; 476 +1s; )Open 

I think I'm going to be sick.

If you want to really scare an engineer, have one of the last-line backups -- the ones that nobody normal even thinks about, the ones that are meant to make sure the system fails safe if something unimaginably apocalyptic happens -- fail.

The seed vault isn't the best backup against a global apocalypse; honestly, if that happens, then the odds of us being able to use this effectively aren't great either. But it is a backup against, for example, some rapidly-spreading plant disease causing a collapse of a major food crop. These backups are what we'd need to start engineering resistant strains if contamination happened globally faster than we could catch it. That's a nontrivial failure mode of our food system, and that's why this vault is really important to have.

It was designed to be self-operating, maintained at the... more »

I think I'm going to be sick.

If you want to really scare an engineer, have one of the last-line backups -- the ones that nobody normal even thinks about, the ones that are meant to make sure the system fails safe if something unimaginably apocalyptic happens -- fail.

The seed vault isn't the best backup against a global apocalypse; honestly, if that happens, then the odds of us being able to use this effectively aren't great either. But it is a backup against, for example, some rapidly-spreading plant disease causing a collapse of a major food crop. These backups are what we'd need to start engineering resistant strains if contamination happened globally faster than we could catch it. That's a nontrivial failure mode of our food system, and that's why this vault is really important to have.

It was designed to be self-operating, maintained at the required -18C primarily by the cold temperatures of Svalbard. An isolated station that would let the people who worry about our food supply sleep at night. But the system never expected this scale of climate change; and with the permafrost melting, water flooded in and froze in the entryway. Thank all the gods, the vault itself remained unbreached, but the system can no longer be considered to be stable in its own right; it's being manned 24/7 until we can figure out how to stabilize it.

h/t Ursula Vernon.___

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2017-05-19 15:50:44 (13 comments; 13 reshares; 169 +1s; )Open 

On the shores of the Bering Sea, a team from the University of Aberdeen has been working for seven years with the Yup'ik village of Quinhagaq to excavate an extraordinary trove of archaeological finds -- a collection of over 50,000 artifacts so far, including the wooden ritual masks seen below. These artifacts are extremely fragile, beginning to decay the moment they are exposed to air, and when the project first started there was no way to conserve them on-site, so they were taken -- often still covered in dirt! -- to Aberdeen to be preserved.

This is the remains of a village destroyed in a battle 400 years ago, when attackers besieged a village and smoked out its inhabitants. Today it's being recovered in a race against time: as the climate warms, the permafrost is collapsing, exposing these fragile artifacts for the first time in centuries.

You can read more about the... more »

On the shores of the Bering Sea, a team from the University of Aberdeen has been working for seven years with the Yup'ik village of Quinhagaq to excavate an extraordinary trove of archaeological finds -- a collection of over 50,000 artifacts so far, including the wooden ritual masks seen below. These artifacts are extremely fragile, beginning to decay the moment they are exposed to air, and when the project first started there was no way to conserve them on-site, so they were taken -- often still covered in dirt! -- to Aberdeen to be preserved.

This is the remains of a village destroyed in a battle 400 years ago, when attackers besieged a village and smoked out its inhabitants. Today it's being recovered in a race against time: as the climate warms, the permafrost is collapsing, exposing these fragile artifacts for the first time in centuries.

You can read more about the Nunalleq site in this National Geographic article: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/04/artifact-melt-alaska-archaeology-climate-change/

The dig is still going on, incidentally, and they are still accepting both students and volunteers for this summer's dig season in July and August: https://nunalleq.wordpress.com/2017/05/16/excavate-nunalleq-this-summer/___

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2017-05-18 05:16:50 (16 comments; 14 reshares; 185 +1s; )Open 

By modeling the dynamics of a T. Rex head down to the individual muscles, researchers have come up with a good estimate of how its bite worked - and showed that T. Rex was specially adapted to bite through bones, revealing the juicy marrow within. This puts it in fairly specialized company, along with modern species like the hyena and the bearded vulture; bones are a rich, but hard-to-access, source of nutrition, and a mistake while biting could cost you your teeth and thus your ability to eat. Only a few species have developed tools just for this, and in each case it has proven a valuable adaptation when resources are scarce. 

By modeling the dynamics of a T. Rex head down to the individual muscles, researchers have come up with a good estimate of how its bite worked - and showed that T. Rex was specially adapted to bite through bones, revealing the juicy marrow within. This puts it in fairly specialized company, along with modern species like the hyena and the bearded vulture; bones are a rich, but hard-to-access, source of nutrition, and a mistake while biting could cost you your teeth and thus your ability to eat. Only a few species have developed tools just for this, and in each case it has proven a valuable adaptation when resources are scarce. ___

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2017-05-17 22:38:35 (136 comments; 23 reshares; 288 +1s; )Open 

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special counsel appointed to head the Trump / Russia investigation on the justice department side: Robert Mueller, former director of the FBI.

Special counsel is the modern version of a special prosecutor, created after Congress let the original special prosecutor law lapse in 1999. It's far less independent than the old kind - it's still subject to the Attorney-General - but has some real independence. Combined with the (bipartisan) decision of both the House and Senate committees to start to do serious investigations this week, with Comey being asked to testify next week before both as well as produce all his records, this signifies a sea change in the political situation: there are suddenly three serious investigations going on in parallel, with leading Republicans backing both Congressional ones.

If you're interested in the differences... more »

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special counsel appointed to head the Trump / Russia investigation on the justice department side: Robert Mueller, former director of the FBI.

Special counsel is the modern version of a special prosecutor, created after Congress let the original special prosecutor law lapse in 1999. It's far less independent than the old kind - it's still subject to the Attorney-General - but has some real independence. Combined with the (bipartisan) decision of both the House and Senate committees to start to do serious investigations this week, with Comey being asked to testify next week before both as well as produce all his records, this signifies a sea change in the political situation: there are suddenly three serious investigations going on in parallel, with leading Republicans backing both Congressional ones.

If you're interested in the differences between a special prosecutor and a special counsel, and how the Congressional investigations work, this is a good intro: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/5/10/15609794/independent-russia-trump-investigation-special-prosecutor

Interesting times. ___

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2017-05-16 01:49:53 (207 comments; 32 reshares; 359 +1s; )Open 

Today, we have some political news which is made slightly better by Unicode. Let me explain how.

During his meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak earlier this week, Trump apparently revealed code-word intelligence to them.¹ In particular, he revealed intel with enough details for Russia to work out our sources and methods - the most sensitive possible level.

Except it wasn't our sources and methods. It was someone else's.

The Washington Post (who originally broke the story) is withholding sensitive details, for reasons obvious to everyone except Trump, but reading between the lines, it probably came via "Five Eyes" (our intel sharing agreement with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK²) or a similar program. Which is to say, we just blew someone else's intel sources and methods, which we had access to only under treaty.

Which, I suspect,t... more »

Today, we have some political news which is made slightly better by Unicode. Let me explain how.

During his meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak earlier this week, Trump apparently revealed code-word intelligence to them.¹ In particular, he revealed intel with enough details for Russia to work out our sources and methods - the most sensitive possible level.

Except it wasn't our sources and methods. It was someone else's.

The Washington Post (who originally broke the story) is withholding sensitive details, for reasons obvious to everyone except Trump, but reading between the lines, it probably came via "Five Eyes" (our intel sharing agreement with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK²) or a similar program. Which is to say, we just blew someone else's intel sources and methods, which we had access to only under treaty.

Which, I suspect, they will not be happy about. And retaliate for, e.g. by cutting off our access. Since we have a leak.³

Now, this probably isn't illegal; the President does have the right to declassify things, after all. (Although it may violate the treaty) But what does this have to do with Unicode, you say?

Well, it turns out that Russian - specifically, the medieval Russian used in certain religious manuscripts - has a special variant of 'о' used only in the phrase "серафими многоочитїи," "many-eyed seraphim," in some 15th-century texts. It's called "multiocular O:" ꙮ Unicode added it back in 2008, just in case you needed to type an O with seven eyes in it.

So I am glad to report that there's already a symbol for when your Five Eyes turn out to have some extra (Russian) eyes in them. We might call it "Путин многоꙮчитї."

Unicode: Being prepared for every possible linguistic eventuality across a wide range of platforms. As it is written: 🇷🇺ꙮ + 🍊👺= 🇦🇺🇨🇦🇬🇧🇳🇿😤😤😤😤


¹ This was broken by a story in the Washington Post earlier today, and independently confirmed by both Reuters and BuzzFeed. National Security Advisor McMaster and Secretary of State Tillerson both publicly appeared to give Suspiciously Specific Denials of things which were not alleged by these articles, while saying nothing about what was actually alleged. The article linked below, from Lawfare, gives an excellent summary of what happened, along with plenty of context and links.

WP story: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-revealed-highly-classified-information-to-russian-foreign-minister-and-ambassador/2017/05/15/530c172a-3960-11e7-9e48-c4f199710b69_story.html

BuzzFeed story, with the additional info that this apparently required an emergency briefing of the Senate Intelligence Committee: https://www.buzzfeed.com/jimdalrympleii/trump-highly-classified-information-russians

Reuters story, with more details about exactly what was leaked: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-russia-idUSKCN18B2MX

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Eyes

³ I was wondering why we kept getting those FVEY queries about "MOOSE and SQUIRREL."

h/t to +Andreas Schou for pointing me at the story.___

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2017-05-15 07:22:04 (138 comments; 46 reshares; 238 +1s; )Open 

There's an important debate about the extent to which hate speech should be proscribed or limited — by laws and by platforms' policies. In this essay (partly transcribed, I admit, from a Twitter rant), I talk about why the balance which maximizes the openness of the marketplace of ideas – the underlying reason why we have freedom of speech as an idea – is one which includes meaningful prohibitions against hate and harassment.

The main reason this is the needed is a "market failure" of this type of market: absent regulation, hate and harassment let people impose costs on others for speaking, and crucially, those costs and their effects are not equally distributed across people or ideas: they favor the speech of the powerful over that of the weak. And the usual mechanisms within the market, of "the remedy for speech being more speech," are unable to prevent thisfor mul... more »

There's an important debate about the extent to which hate speech should be proscribed or limited — by laws and by platforms' policies. In this essay (partly transcribed, I admit, from a Twitter rant), I talk about why the balance which maximizes the openness of the marketplace of ideas – the underlying reason why we have freedom of speech as an idea – is one which includes meaningful prohibitions against hate and harassment.

The main reason this is the needed is a "market failure" of this type of market: absent regulation, hate and harassment let people impose costs on others for speaking, and crucially, those costs and their effects are not equally distributed across people or ideas: they favor the speech of the powerful over that of the weak. And the usual mechanisms within the market, of "the remedy for speech being more speech," are unable to prevent this for multiple reasons.

That isn't to say that the choice of prohibitions is easy; it's an incredibly complex problem, and the risk of the state having the power to suppress speech isn't diluted by the fact that there's also a risk of people being able to suppress each other's speech. I touch on some of the basics of that equilibrium, and hopefully one day I'll be able to write a full essay on that subject.___

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2017-05-12 14:20:40 (27 comments; 37 reshares; 288 +1s; )Open 

Not politics: An essay by a paramedic, turned professional writer, about his work. One very much worth reading.

Not politics: An essay by a paramedic, turned professional writer, about his work. One very much worth reading.___

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2017-05-10 10:59:20 (25 comments; 23 reshares; 487 +1s; )Open 

I'm extremely busy today and don't have time to write anything at length about Comey's firing, except that yes, this is something extremely serious. At this point, three top people who have been investigating Trump – Bharara, Yates, and now Comey – have been fired. The two other investigations of Trump's ties to Russia, by the House and Senate, have been so thoroughly compromised by Trump that they're almost open about their intent to ensure that no investigation takes place.

This is the sort of thing that happens in South American dictatorships. It is not consistent with democracy.

When I wrote a warning about a coup a few months ago, this is the sort of thing I was concerned with: not tanks rolling down the street, but the replacement of the rule of law with the personal fiat of the President, backed by the prompt elimination of anyone who gets in the way.It... more »

I'm extremely busy today and don't have time to write anything at length about Comey's firing, except that yes, this is something extremely serious. At this point, three top people who have been investigating Trump – Bharara, Yates, and now Comey – have been fired. The two other investigations of Trump's ties to Russia, by the House and Senate, have been so thoroughly compromised by Trump that they're almost open about their intent to ensure that no investigation takes place.

This is the sort of thing that happens in South American dictatorships. It is not consistent with democracy.

When I wrote a warning about a coup a few months ago, this is the sort of thing I was concerned with: not tanks rolling down the street, but the replacement of the rule of law with the personal fiat of the President, backed by the prompt elimination of anyone who gets in the way. It's how you replace a democracy with an autocracy.

Here Leah McElrath gives an excellent Twitter thread with some deeper discussion. Her concerns mirror my own.___

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