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Yonatan Zunger has been at 2 events

HostFollowersTitleDateGuestsLinks
STEM Women on G+166,794Join us for a STEM Women HOA as we speak to Dr.  @103389452828130864950 on how men can help with the issues of gender inequality in STEM fields. Yonatan is the Chief Architect of Google+ and also has a PhD in Physics with a strong engineering background. He is a passionate advocate of gender equality in STEM, and will talk to us about what we can do to encourage women in STEM. This HOA will be hosted by Dr @108510686109338749229   and Dr @110756968351492254645  , and you can tune in on Sunday March 2nd at 12.30 PM Pacific/ 8.30PM GMT. The hangout will be available for viewing on our YouTube channel(http://www.youtube.com/stemwomen) after the event. Follow us on Twitter @stemwomen and on www.stemwomen.netSTEM Women: How Men Can Help with Dr Yonatan Zunger2014-03-02 21:30:0096  
Blogger1,399,139We’re hosting a Hangout on Air with lead Product Manager @109161242786054443993 and lead Engineer @103389452828130864950 to discuss last week’s launch of Google+ Comments for Blogger. If you’ve got questions about the launch, please leave them in the comments below so that Dan and Yonatan can answer them during the Hangout.Join the team behind Google+ Comments for Blogger for a Hangout on Air2013-04-25 20:30:001086  

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Most comments: 320

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2015-06-28 19:16:32 (320 comments, 154 reshares, 1266 +1s)Open 

I just thought I would mark today with a post I made four years ago, welcoming everyone on board just a few minutes after we flipped the switch and launched Google+. 

Over the course of the week that followed, I decided to try something a bit crazy and not really "traditional Google:" I spent lots of time running around the service, talking to everyone I encountered, and welcoming them aboard. What I found was that there were tremendous numbers of people out there who wanted to talk: not just about the service, but about all the things they cared about in their lives, from their pets to geopolitics. And the results changed my life.

It's been an amazing four years here: I've seen the project grow from a crazy idea to a giant, thriving community, spread around the world.  I've had so many conversations on so many subjects, and learned so much in the process, thatI... more »

Most reshares: 223

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2015-06-18 21:04:17 (311 comments, 223 reshares, 593 +1s)Open 

The perpetrator of yesterday's terrorist strike was captured a few hours ago, and the bodies of the dead have not yet been buried, and already I'm seeing a refrain pop up in news coverage and in people's comments: How do we understand this killer? What made him turn out this way? Was he mentally ill, was he on drugs, was he abused, was he influenced by someone in his life? Were his motivations about politics, religion, personal relationships, psychological? We can't form opinions about why he did this yet; we shouldn't assume that, just because [insert thing here], it was about race.

You might mistake this, at first, for a genuine interest in understanding the motivations that would turn a young man into a terrorist and a mass murderer. But when other kinds of terrorists -- say, Muslims from Afghanistan -- commit atrocities, the very same people who are asking these questions... more »

Most plusones: 1266

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2015-06-28 19:16:32 (320 comments, 154 reshares, 1266 +1s)Open 

I just thought I would mark today with a post I made four years ago, welcoming everyone on board just a few minutes after we flipped the switch and launched Google+. 

Over the course of the week that followed, I decided to try something a bit crazy and not really "traditional Google:" I spent lots of time running around the service, talking to everyone I encountered, and welcoming them aboard. What I found was that there were tremendous numbers of people out there who wanted to talk: not just about the service, but about all the things they cared about in their lives, from their pets to geopolitics. And the results changed my life.

It's been an amazing four years here: I've seen the project grow from a crazy idea to a giant, thriving community, spread around the world.  I've had so many conversations on so many subjects, and learned so much in the process, thatI... more »

Latest 50 posts

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2015-07-07 08:51:53 (2 comments, 4 reshares, 30 +1s)Open 

Here's an excellent short explanation of chaos. The core idea in chaotic systems is that they aren't random, but they are extremely dependent on initial conditions. To understand this, imagine some experiments with balls:

If you have two adjacent balls at the bottom of a bowl, they'll fall and end up next to each other, no matter where they started. This is called a stable attractor.

If you instead put the balls near the ridge of a mountain, then all the balls on one side will end up next to each other, and all the balls on the other side will end up next to each other, and those two groups of balls will end up far apart. Here, we say that there are two stable attractors – one on either side of the ridge – and the ridge is a boundary between their attraction basins.

If you balanced a ball on the very tip of a perfectly sharp cone, you'd have what'scal... more »

Chaos made simple

This shows a lot of tiny particles moving around.   If you were one of these particles, it would be hard to predict where you'd go.  See why?  It's because each time you approach the crossing, it's hard to tell whether you'll go into the left loop or the right one. 

You can predict which way you'll go: it's not random.  But to predict it, you need to know your position quite accurately.  And each time you go around, it gets worse.  You'd need to know your position extremely accurately to predict which way you go - left or right - after a dozen round trips. 

This effect is called deterministic chaos.  Deterministic chaos happens when something is so sensitive to small changes in conditions that its motion is very hard to predict in practice, even though it's not actually random.

This particular example of deterministic chaos is one of the first and most famous.  It's the Lorenz attractor, invented by Edward Lorenz as a very simplified model of the weather in 1963.

The equations for the Lorentz attractor are not very complicated if you know calculus.  They say how the x, y and z coordinates of a point change with time:

dx/dt = 10(x-y)
dy/dt = x(28-z) - y
dz/dt = xy - 8z/3

You are not supposed to be able to look at these equations and say "Ah yes!  I see why these give chaos!"   Don't worry: if you get nothing out of these equations, it doesn't mean you're "not a math person"  - just as not being able to easily paint the Mona Lisa doesn't mean you're "not an art person".  Lorenz had to solve them using a computer to discover chaos.  I personally have no intuition as to why they work... though I could get such intuition if I spent a week reading about it.

The weird numbers here are adjustable, but these choices are the ones Lorenz originally used.  I don't know what choices David Szakaly used in his animation.  Can you find out?

If you imagine a tiny drop of water flowing around as shown in this picture, each time it goes around it will get stretched in one direction.  It will get squashed in another direction, and be neither squashed nor stretched in a third direction. 

The stretching is what causes the unpredictability: small changes in the initial position will get amplified.  I believe the squashing is what keeps the two loops in this picture quite flat.  Particles moving around these loops are strongly attracted to move along a flat 'conveyor belt'.  That's why it's called the Lorentz attractor.

With the particular equations I wrote down, the drop will get stretched in one direction by a factor of about 2.47... but squashed in another direction by a factor of about 2 million!    At least that's what this physicist at the University of Wisconsin says:

J. C. Sprott, Lyapunov exponent and dimension of the Lorenz attractor
http://sprott.physics.wisc.edu/chaos/lorenzle.htm

He has software for calculating these numbers - or more precisely their logarithms, which are called Lyapunov exponents.  He gets 0.906, 0, and -14.572 for the Lyapunov exponents.

For more nice animations of the Lorentz attractor, see:

http://visualizingmath.tumblr.com/post/121710431091/a-sample-solution-in-the-lorenz-attractor-when

David Szakaly has a blog called dvdp full of astounding images:

http://dvdp.tumblr.com/

and presumably this one of the Lorenz attractor is buried in there somewhere, though I'm feeling too lazy to do an image search and find it.___Here's an excellent short explanation of chaos. The core idea in chaotic systems is that they aren't random, but they are extremely dependent on initial conditions. To understand this, imagine some experiments with balls:

If you have two adjacent balls at the bottom of a bowl, they'll fall and end up next to each other, no matter where they started. This is called a stable attractor.

If you instead put the balls near the ridge of a mountain, then all the balls on one side will end up next to each other, and all the balls on the other side will end up next to each other, and those two groups of balls will end up far apart. Here, we say that there are two stable attractors – one on either side of the ridge – and the ridge is a boundary between their attraction basins.

If you balanced a ball on the very tip of a perfectly sharp cone, you'd have what's called an unstable attractor. If the ball is exactly balanced, it will stay there forever; but if it's off by even an infinitesimal amount, it will roll off in that particular direction.

A chaotic attractor is a situation where if you pick any two starting points for balls, no matter how close, after a while they will end up arbitrarily far apart. Points moving along the Lorenz curve below do that; you need to be precise about initial location to know which cycle the point will take next, but you need to be an order of magnitude more precise to know which cycle it will take after that; and another order of magnitude to know the third one; and so on, and so forth. 

Many important systems in nature are chaotic; turbulent flows of gases, for example, or detailed weather patterns. But just as with the Lorenz attractor, even though there's immense chaos in the small details, when you zoom out enough, you see stable shapes: in this case, two rings. In the case of our atmosphere, that's why predicting the weather more than a day in advance is very hard, but predicting the climate – that is, overall patterns in the weather – is relatively easy over much longer intervals. 

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2015-07-07 02:38:49 (85 comments, 10 reshares, 102 +1s)Open 

I had been under the impression that the University of Toronto was an actual, well, university. It appears that I may have been mistaken. 

On the other hand, there aren't many universities where you can learn about how quantum mechanics explains homeopathy, so I suppose they are producing some sort of public service. As someone who actually knows something about both quantum mechanics and biology, I would be quite fascinated to know that.

(For those who are in the dark as to what's actually going on here: it appears that Beth Landau-Halpern, the teacher of this "class," is married to the dean of the Scarborough campus. I do not know if she is at all related to the two physicists whose name she shares – the great Lev Landau, or Berkeley string theorist Marty Halpern – but if either knew, I suspect that one would be turning in his grave, and the other would bedesi... more »

Dafuq.___I had been under the impression that the University of Toronto was an actual, well, university. It appears that I may have been mistaken. 

On the other hand, there aren't many universities where you can learn about how quantum mechanics explains homeopathy, so I suppose they are producing some sort of public service. As someone who actually knows something about both quantum mechanics and biology, I would be quite fascinated to know that.

(For those who are in the dark as to what's actually going on here: it appears that Beth Landau-Halpern, the teacher of this "class," is married to the dean of the Scarborough campus. I do not know if she is at all related to the two physicists whose name she shares – the great Lev Landau, or Berkeley string theorist Marty Halpern – but if either knew, I suspect that one would be turning in his grave, and the other would be designing magnets and coils to generate electric power out of any planned future spinning in his grave.)

ETA: It looks like UofT decided that this probably wasn't a good idea after all, and starting this summer she will no longer be teaching there.

h/t +God Emperor Lionel Lauer 

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2015-07-06 22:56:30 (20 comments, 18 reshares, 130 +1s)Open 

Beware of gifts bearing Greeks.

(Also: is it wrong that I've always wanted a story to have a character named Donna Ferentes, just so someone could fear both her and the Greeks?)

___Beware of gifts bearing Greeks.

(Also: is it wrong that I've always wanted a story to have a character named Donna Ferentes, just so someone could fear both her and the Greeks?)

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2015-07-06 21:36:49 (12 comments, 15 reshares, 182 +1s)Open 

I always wondered what they did in their natural habitats; now I know.

I'm really tempted to build ornithopter drones with surveillance camera bodies.

Also, the art here is cool. You should click through and see the rest of it.

Artist Installs Flocks of Surveillance Cameras and Satellite Dishes in Outdoor Settings

http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2015/07/surveillance-installations-jakub-geltner/___I always wondered what they did in their natural habitats; now I know.

I'm really tempted to build ornithopter drones with surveillance camera bodies.

Also, the art here is cool. You should click through and see the rest of it.

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2015-07-06 20:18:01 (15 comments, 3 reshares, 54 +1s)Open 

I'm not really sure if "total value of residential property per county" is a useful metric of anything. We already know that houses are more expensive in some places than others, and this isn't even value of residential property per person or per residence; this map also tells us "more people live in counties with big cities than in counties without them," which isn't exactly the greatest insight of all time.

However, this image does show us that, scaled by residential property value, the United States looks a bit like China, or maybe a kidney. So it's kind of cool for that.

h/t +Autumn Ginkgo Leaves™ 

Animated GIF showing a map of the US re-scaled by total residential property value for each county.___I'm not really sure if "total value of residential property per county" is a useful metric of anything. We already know that houses are more expensive in some places than others, and this isn't even value of residential property per person or per residence; this map also tells us "more people live in counties with big cities than in counties without them," which isn't exactly the greatest insight of all time.

However, this image does show us that, scaled by residential property value, the United States looks a bit like China, or maybe a kidney. So it's kind of cool for that.

h/t +Autumn Ginkgo Leaves™ 

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2015-07-06 18:45:05 (77 comments, 45 reshares, 229 +1s)Open 

Most combustion reactions are what are called "redox reactions:" a reducer (aka a fuel, something which has too many electrons and wants to get rid of some) meets an oxidizer (something which wants electrons badly). Electrons move from one to the other, energy is liberated, and the resulting products are ejected at potentially high speed.

Many reactions won't go off on their own: you need to inject some energy, an activation energy, for them to start. This is why gasoline doesn't explode into flame when it's touched to air; instead, it has to be vaporized (liquid gasoline isn't actually flammable at all; only gasoline vapor), that vapor thoroughly mixed with oxygen, and a spark applied.

Other reactions ignite on contact. These are called hypergolic reactions, and they tend to be kind of spectacular.

For example, boiling potassium chlorate (KClO3, a... more »

Reaction of sugar with potassium chlorate

Potassium chlorate (KClO3) is an extremely strong oxidizer and violently reacts upon contact with a fuel source (sugar). When the gummy bear is dropped into the beaker, it immediately reacts with the potassium chlorate and ignites. The heat generated is a great demonstration of the energy stored within carbohydrates like sugar. 

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME

Source: https://youtu.be/JOHdZsQXw7I

#ScienceGIF   #Science   #GIF   #Chemistry   #Sugar   #GiantGummyBear   #GummyBear   #PotassiumChloride   #Reaction   #Explosion   #Fire  ___Most combustion reactions are what are called "redox reactions:" a reducer (aka a fuel, something which has too many electrons and wants to get rid of some) meets an oxidizer (something which wants electrons badly). Electrons move from one to the other, energy is liberated, and the resulting products are ejected at potentially high speed.

Many reactions won't go off on their own: you need to inject some energy, an activation energy, for them to start. This is why gasoline doesn't explode into flame when it's touched to air; instead, it has to be vaporized (liquid gasoline isn't actually flammable at all; only gasoline vapor), that vapor thoroughly mixed with oxygen, and a spark applied.

Other reactions ignite on contact. These are called hypergolic reactions, and they tend to be kind of spectacular.

For example, boiling potassium chlorate (KClO3, a strong oxidizer) is hypergolic with sugar. 

Such as gummy bears.

Watch the video. It's worth it.

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2015-07-05 22:50:20 (191 comments, 74 reshares, 370 +1s)Open 

Since 2009, Colorado has had the single most effective anti-abortion program in the country. In its first four years (for which we now have full data), it reduced abortions by 42%, and teen pregnancies by 40%. And there is nothing particularly startling about the success, because it was done by the most obvious means possible: give contraception to women who want it but can't get access to it, namely teenagers and people who can't afford it. 

"Startlingly," this turns out to work quite well, quite inexpensively, and make basically everyone happy. ("Startlingly" is in quotes because I suspect that if I asked someone who knew nothing about American politics, "what would you do to decrease the rate of unwanted pregnancies?," they would probably guess pretty much exactly what Colorado did, and be not at all startled that it worked) 

(This is nota... more »

Since 2009, Colorado has had the single most effective anti-abortion program in the country. In its first four years (for which we now have full data), it reduced abortions by 42%, and teen pregnancies by 40%. And there is nothing particularly startling about the success, because it was done by the most obvious means possible: give contraception to women who want it but can't get access to it, namely teenagers and people who can't afford it. 

"Startlingly," this turns out to work quite well, quite inexpensively, and make basically everyone happy. ("Startlingly" is in quotes because I suspect that if I asked someone who knew nothing about American politics, "what would you do to decrease the rate of unwanted pregnancies?," they would probably guess pretty much exactly what Colorado did, and be not at all startled that it worked) 

(This is not actually a horribly new story, there are just some more numbers out. We've known that this has been working well for quite some time.)___

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2015-07-03 21:46:08 (30 comments, 19 reshares, 170 +1s)Open 

It's that time of year again: the time when a young pinniped's fancy turns to thoughts of lounging around on the beach. And what better way to celebrate high summer in the Arctic than with WalrusCam, a continuous live stream from Round Island, Alaska, where you can hear the soothing sounds of the waves crashing on the shore as thousands of tons of blubber, muscle, and tusk photosynthesize and lumber about?

And by thousands, I mean thousands; there can be as many as 14,000 walruses, each weighing a good two tons, on this island at a time. It's kind of fascinating.

Alas, the video link on the page below seems to have expired; you can see the current WalrusCam at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XizvosHgHQ .

h/t +California Academy of Sciences 

It's that time of year again: the time when a young pinniped's fancy turns to thoughts of lounging around on the beach. And what better way to celebrate high summer in the Arctic than with WalrusCam, a continuous live stream from Round Island, Alaska, where you can hear the soothing sounds of the waves crashing on the shore as thousands of tons of blubber, muscle, and tusk photosynthesize and lumber about?

And by thousands, I mean thousands; there can be as many as 14,000 walruses, each weighing a good two tons, on this island at a time. It's kind of fascinating.

Alas, the video link on the page below seems to have expired; you can see the current WalrusCam at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XizvosHgHQ .

h/t +California Academy of Sciences ___

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2015-07-03 08:18:53 (25 comments, 14 reshares, 118 +1s)Open 

I have no idea what one could possibly add to this. Except delivery by swallow.

Setting the standard for marketing overkill: 

http://trotify.com/

Seriously, I've seen car ads that were pathetic by comparison. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oC4rWA3pTg4___I have no idea what one could possibly add to this. Except delivery by swallow.

posted image

2015-07-03 06:40:06 (66 comments, 7 reshares, 180 +1s)Open 

A brief note to those lacking sense: The Queen's Guard are not animatronic Disney exhibits. They are soldiers on guard duty. This might be indicated to you by the large, loaded rifle with bayonet fixed which is normally found resting on their shoulder.

Think of them as brightly colored and unusually heavily armed Secret Service agents.

What a fucking idiot.

Why would you even think it was ok to disrespect someone on duty in uniform like that, no matter the place?___A brief note to those lacking sense: The Queen's Guard are not animatronic Disney exhibits. They are soldiers on guard duty. This might be indicated to you by the large, loaded rifle with bayonet fixed which is normally found resting on their shoulder.

Think of them as brightly colored and unusually heavily armed Secret Service agents.

posted image

2015-07-03 01:08:41 (49 comments, 158 reshares, 440 +1s)Open 

A fantastic invention: Jie Bao (of Tsinghua University) and Moungi Bawendi (of MIT) have invented an optical spectrometer small and cheap enough to attach to a cell phone, which can nonetheless perform comparably well to serious professional equipment.

Spectrometers are amazingly useful devices: they simply break light up through a prism, and report on how bright the light is in each frequency. That lets you recognize chemicals (each molecule has a distinctive color "fingerprint"), measure temperature (when you heat an object, it glows with a spectrum that's a simple function of temperature), and even measure the speed of objects. (If you know something's color when it's still, its colors in motion are shifted by the Doppler effect, just like an approaching siren's pitch goes up and a receding one goes down. The fingerprints of chemical colors give you an excellent... more »

A fantastic invention: Jie Bao (of Tsinghua University) and Moungi Bawendi (of MIT) have invented an optical spectrometer small and cheap enough to attach to a cell phone, which can nonetheless perform comparably well to serious professional equipment.

Spectrometers are amazingly useful devices: they simply break light up through a prism, and report on how bright the light is in each frequency. That lets you recognize chemicals (each molecule has a distinctive color "fingerprint"), measure temperature (when you heat an object, it glows with a spectrum that's a simple function of temperature), and even measure the speed of objects. (If you know something's color when it's still, its colors in motion are shifted by the Doppler effect, just like an approaching siren's pitch goes up and a receding one goes down. The fingerprints of chemical colors give you an excellent reference point for that)

Bao and Bawendi's device is completely different from traditional spectrometers: Rather than using a prism and precision optics, they use an array of 195 carefully chosen inks and a CCD light sensor. The result is rugged and cheap – a few dollars, instead of a few hundred or thousand.

This is a tool that could revolutionize all sorts of devices; the authors give an example of a tool that could identify skin cancer just by pointing at it. (Cancers contain specific chemicals which produce specific optical fingerprints, after all!)

And more to the point, it's neat.

Dear Drs. Bao and Bawendi: TAKE MY MONEY!

Via +California Academy of Sciences.___

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2015-07-03 00:51:38 (75 comments, 50 reshares, 163 +1s)Open 

I find these reports both interesting and uninteresting. On the one hand, they're trying to capture an important quantity: How happy are people? They do this by directly surveying people (targeting 1,000 people per country per year) in what's called the "Gallup World Poll," which asks people about a range of aspects of their lives. This chart is based on just one question from the poll: "it asks respondents to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0. They are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale." The colored segments of the bars are the attempts of the team to use regression to figure out how different factors contribute to happiness; the big gray area is the part that wasn't explained by any of these factors.

So that's the good part, and it's also good that the... more »

I find these reports both interesting and uninteresting. On the one hand, they're trying to capture an important quantity: How happy are people? They do this by directly surveying people (targeting 1,000 people per country per year) in what's called the "Gallup World Poll," which asks people about a range of aspects of their lives. This chart is based on just one question from the poll: "it asks respondents to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0. They are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale." The colored segments of the bars are the attempts of the team to use regression to figure out how different factors contribute to happiness; the big gray area is the part that wasn't explained by any of these factors.

So that's the good part, and it's also good that the study is done by people who actually know how to do statistics correctly. (You can follow the link for detailed FAQs)

But there are two issues here: one about the question asked, and the other about statistics.

The problem with the question is that it's all about comparing people's perceived happiness to their imagined minimum and maximum. That's really not a measure of their overall happiness; it's a measure of how optimistic they feel about their world versus their realm of possibilities. As several researchers have noted, it's likely more useful to measure unhappiness; that turns out to both be easier to measure, and tell you more about people's day-to-day happiness.

The reason is tied to the fact that "money can't buy you happiness, but poverty can buy you a whole lot of misery." When people's wealth increases, happiness increases sharply – up to a point, at which it basically stops. That's because most of those happiness increases come from the elimination of things like worrying about food, shelter, medicine, and so on. In practice, a good measure of happiness is something like "mean time between bad events." Quantifying that is tricky, but is more likely to give a much better measure. The data below is largely not, I think, a real measure of happiness.

(An excellent article about measuring unhappiness is https://theconversation.com/measures-of-happiness-tell-us-less-than-economics-of-unhappiness-42817 . Thanks to +Peter Scully for that find!)

There's also a statistical thing which, I suspect, hides a tremendous amount of information. For each country, the happiness scores are combined into a mean.

Why is a mean a problem? Of all the methods of averaging, mean is one of the most susceptible to outliers. There's an old joke about two guys sitting in a bar in Seattle, grousing about how broke they are, when Bill Gates walks into the room. One of them thinks hard for a few moments, then, wide-eyed, jumps up and yells "A round of drinks on me!" As the patrons cheer, his friend asks him, "What? I thought you said you were broke!" "Yeah, but I just did the math – on average, everyone in this bar is a millionaire!"

In particular, a country with a small number of extremely happy people and lots of unhappy people and a country with a large number of kind of happy people would look the same on this measure.

Not only do means hide variation in general, they could be specifically important for happiness measurements: people's response to everyone around them being unhappy is very different from their response to a few people being very happy and everyone else being miserable.

So while this study is interesting, what I'd really like to see is a further breakdown of the numbers. For example, we could divide each country into four quartiles, and ask how happy the least, middle two, and top quartiles of the country are. (I picked four quartiles because the more you break it down, the more data you need, so I doubt there's enough data to go further) Then you could show a plot of the countries of the world, ranked by one number – maybe the happiness of the top quartile, or the bottom quartile, or the median happiness – and plot all four numbers on one graph. (Say, through splitting up bars with colors)

That sort of graph would tell you a lot more. Wide spacing between top and bottom is very different from narrow spacing. And it may reveal other statistical correlations of the sort that the graph below tends to show: For example, is the mean happiness of a country correlated to the size of the difference between top and bottom? Is there a link between "homogeneity of happiness" (or homogeneity of any other metric) and overall happiness?

There's a lot to learn here. I'm actually quite interested in the measurement of overall happiness; we tend to focus a lot on financial metrics like GDP or health metrics like life expectancy, but we have to be careful of the metric effect: Whatever you measure is what you end up optimizing for. Money and life expectancy contribute to the underlying goal of a better world, but they aren't themselves equal to that goal. By having the right things to measure, we can better allocate resources and solve problems.

You can read the full results at http://worldhappiness.report/ed/2015/ , and poll methodology at http://www.gallup.com/poll/105226/world-poll-methodology.aspx .

h/t +Ward Plunet.___

2015-07-02 22:57:19 (83 comments, 36 reshares, 151 +1s)Open 

Despite this article's title, it's about more than just women of color in technology: it's about recruiting and retaining people from underrepresented groups across the board. And that's something extremely important to the success of any technology company.

Why? There are three major reasons.

(1) Diverse groups avoid stupid product mistakes. This is in literally every sense of the word "diverse:" if you have people from different groups in your team, they'll notice – and you'll prioritize – problems that you never would have spotted otherwise. If your system doesn't work for the deaf and someone on your team is deaf, or if it requires hitting tiny affordances all the time and you have someone with a motion disability, you're never going to ship it that way, and that means more users. If your system has a price structure, or abra... more »

Despite this article's title, it's about more than just women of color in technology: it's about recruiting and retaining people from underrepresented groups across the board. And that's something extremely important to the success of any technology company.

Why? There are three major reasons.

(1) Diverse groups avoid stupid product mistakes. This is in literally every sense of the word "diverse:" if you have people from different groups in your team, they'll notice – and you'll prioritize – problems that you never would have spotted otherwise. If your system doesn't work for the deaf and someone on your team is deaf, or if it requires hitting tiny affordances all the time and you have someone with a motion disability, you're never going to ship it that way, and that means more users. If your system has a price structure, or a branding, or a visual style that would never appeal to users outside of Silicon Valley, you'll catch that if people on your team are from a very different world. If women experience a different kind of abuse on your system than men do, then you'll build entirely different protections into your system if there are women in the room when you're making the design decisions.

The key point is that these are just examples: nobody can predict what an extra set of eyeballs, especially different eyeballs, will catch. The one thing that's reliable is that each set of eyeballs – not just working grunt jobs, but in the core decision-making process – means you don't make a mistake that shuts out a bunch of potential customers.

(2) Diversity interrupts groupthink. It's really easy for a room full of similar people to start to talk in similar ways. Not only do you not make the right decisions, you don't even realize there are decisions that you're implicitly making. More different eyes prevent that.

(3) You get to hire the best people. People who haven't been in this game very long think "Recruit minorities? You mean lower the bar!" People who have played this for a while hear that and think "Sucker."

The thing about structural racism/sexism/etc. is that a lot of people from the various underrepresented groups don't have the "traditional signifiers" of being good. They won't have gone to the top-tier schools, or they won't have any contacts, or their job history will be so-so. What you quickly learn in engineering, though, is that these signifiers are simply signals that you use when trying to find good people – and overall, as signals, they kind of suck. Terribly.

I've lost count of how many people I've interviewed who came from top-tier schools and had a glowing résumé and couldn't think an independent thought or design a system on their own to save their lives. Top-tier schools don't provide a systematically better education in CS; often, CS departments are so mathematically inclined that students that don't actively go the extra mile come out with a degree in theory and no ability to code. They used to claim that they were "filtering out the best of the best," but in practice, they do a lot of that filtering starting from "people with enough contacts to get in." 

Job histories are sometimes useful, sometimes not, especially in an era where so many people end up unable to find a job for months or years at a stretch anyway. 

References are great, but they're only a positive signal: the lack of references tells you nothing.

And the important thing is, that unless you're a tiny company hiring a temp, or hiring a senior specialist, you shouldn't be hiring for experience: you should be hiring for brains. You can teach CS; you can't teach smart.

What this means is that among these "underrepresented groups," there are a bunch of smart people out there who, lacking these traditional signifiers, aren't getting the right job offers. And that means smart people that you can hire. Lots of them. All you have to do is hire them and treat them with respect.

(As a side note: I attended GHC, the biggest annual conference for women in CS last year, for recruiting purposes. The quality of people looking for jobs there was insane compared to any other CS event.)


But.... if you want to hire and retain these people, you have to make an active effort. This open letter has a bunch of specific suggestions in it which I personally think are all individually excellent: I endorse these ideas wholeheartedly.

(NB: It also makes several statements about how various companies do things. I have it on good authority that several of these statements are incorrect, but I have no personal knowledge either way and so am neither affirming nor negating that part. My endorsement of this letter is about all of the courses of action it favors, which I think are excellent ideas; on the rest, I have no opinion)

I will add: In my groups, people of all genders, races, and backgrounds are not only welcome but actively desired. This is the case now and will continue to be the case in every team I run in the future.

Thanks to +Erica Joy for pointing me at this great letter.

[DISCLAIMER: I am writing this post in my personal capacity and am not speaking on behalf of Google. I make no assertions as to the truth or falsity of any of the claims of fact made within the letter, nor of any conclusions of law. Those of you who have been in the field for a while know why I have to state this, too]___

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2015-07-01 23:28:27 (29 comments, 45 reshares, 365 +1s)Open 

Our history is full of silent heroes: people who did something to change the world, without great fanfare. Nicholas Winton's story only came to light in 1988, when his wife found an old scrapbook of his in the attic and pressed him about it. (Not that he had been idle in the years before that; he had been knighted five years earlier for his work for refugees around the world)

The world lost one of its great men today. But thanks to him, it has nearly a thousand more.

Our history is full of silent heroes: people who did something to change the world, without great fanfare. Nicholas Winton's story only came to light in 1988, when his wife found an old scrapbook of his in the attic and pressed him about it. (Not that he had been idle in the years before that; he had been knighted five years earlier for his work for refugees around the world)

The world lost one of its great men today. But thanks to him, it has nearly a thousand more.___

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2015-07-01 22:27:02 (47 comments, 16 reshares, 179 +1s)Open 

This story has got to be the best use of tungsten carbide ever. 

(However, I must offer a correction to the story: Nobody would ever mistake that for Uranium. That would very clearly be mistaken for spheres of Plutonium, which for numerous reasons are even more alarming.)

It reminds me a bit of some things I did to mess with my students, back when I was a physicist. Once, I was teaching the advanced freshman lab, and since we were soon going to be doing radiation experiments, I started drilling them on radiation safety a few weeks in advance, because you have to know this stuff when you're a physicist. The core point of that training was all "the stuff we're working with here is all quite safe, so long as you don't do anything radically stupid."

Now, on the day of the first lab, I showed up in the room pushing our biggest source on a cart -- a big blue... more »

This story has got to be the best use of tungsten carbide ever. 

(However, I must offer a correction to the story: Nobody would ever mistake that for Uranium. That would very clearly be mistaken for spheres of Plutonium, which for numerous reasons are even more alarming.)

It reminds me a bit of some things I did to mess with my students, back when I was a physicist. Once, I was teaching the advanced freshman lab, and since we were soon going to be doing radiation experiments, I started drilling them on radiation safety a few weeks in advance, because you have to know this stuff when you're a physicist. The core point of that training was all "the stuff we're working with here is all quite safe, so long as you don't do anything radically stupid."

Now, on the day of the first lab, I showed up in the room pushing our biggest source on a cart -- a big blue barrel full of paraffin shielding around a neutron source.

And, as it happened, I knew someone who owned an NBC suit -- the full-body rubber bunny-suit-with-visor sort of thing. An NBC suit I could borrow.

So I walk into a roomful of freshmen, casually wheeling in the source and talking to them, while wearing a full-body radiation suit.

"Um... you said this stuff was safe, right?"
"Oh, yeah, certainly."
"So why are you wearing that?"
"Oh, this? Just for safety's sake, you know."
"No... I mean, why are you wearing that?"
"Ah. Well you see, there's one of me, and there are twenty of you. And there's one bunny suit."

Just to make it worse, I was getting ready to do this to another class, and just as I had finally gotten in to that damned suit, the fire alarm went off.

I decided to take the time to remove the suit before evacuating the building, on the theory that a fire alarm in the physics building followed by someone leaving quickly while wearing an NBC suit was likely to alarm people a little bit.

h/t to +Amber Yust for finding the lovely story linked...___

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2015-06-30 21:13:47 (122 comments, 18 reshares, 265 +1s)Open 

Bree Newsome asks a great question, and +Andreas Schou gives an excellent answer. We should absolutely tackle white supremacy with great seriousness; we should not tackle it the way we tackled Islamic extremism, because that was a terrible idea and pretty much the worst possible way to go about it.

No. It's not. 

The way the United States went after Islamic extremism was a moral and practical disaster: the government lashed out almost at random, imprisoning Muslims virtually at random, attacking countries with no connection to the problem at hand, and instituting mass surveillance programs that produced virtually no results. The orgy of misplaced state violence which occurred in the aftermath of 9/11 was a powerful statement against Islamic extremism -- but the state does not exist to make statements. 

Wars shouldn't happen simply to communicate that yes, we're taking this seriously. Arrests shouldn't happen simply to demonstrate a heightened level of suspicion. When states delegate the right to use violence on their behalf, those people to whom we've delegated have a responsibility to do what's effective, and what causes the least collateral damage, not what is most satisfying to those aggrieved by the state's failure to act.

I do not trust the laws which would empower the police to pursue white supremacists with omnipresent surveillance and indiscriminate violence. I do not trust the police implementing those laws to use them to the benefit of black Americans. I do not understand why anyone else would, other than -- perhaps -- as a metaphorical howl of despair that the official outlets of state violence can't be trusted to deploy that violence reasonably. ___Bree Newsome asks a great question, and +Andreas Schou gives an excellent answer. We should absolutely tackle white supremacy with great seriousness; we should not tackle it the way we tackled Islamic extremism, because that was a terrible idea and pretty much the worst possible way to go about it.

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2015-06-30 18:37:50 (259 comments, 34 reshares, 424 +1s)Open 

In excellent news of the day, California SB277 has just been signed into law: all non-medical exemptions for school vaccination requirements are now gone. California has several hubs of people who have been refusing critical vaccinations based largely on rumors that They're Bad For You, and has had serious outbreaks of diseases like measles and pertussis as a result. 

No more. The personal and religious exemptions (basically, the "I don't wanna" exemptions) have been eliminated.

I'm incredibly happy to see the state legislature move so quickly on an issue that put thousands of lives across the state at risk. 

In excellent news of the day, California SB277 has just been signed into law: all non-medical exemptions for school vaccination requirements are now gone. California has several hubs of people who have been refusing critical vaccinations based largely on rumors that They're Bad For You, and has had serious outbreaks of diseases like measles and pertussis as a result. 

No more. The personal and religious exemptions (basically, the "I don't wanna" exemptions) have been eliminated.

I'm incredibly happy to see the state legislature move so quickly on an issue that put thousands of lives across the state at risk. ___

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2015-06-30 04:36:34 (65 comments, 6 reshares, 126 +1s)Open 

Successful experiment tonight:

1 1/2 oz. Bulleit rye
1 oz. Dram pine syrup
6 shakes Dram "Hair of the Dog" bitters
2 oz. soda

Shake all ingredients but soda thoroughly with ice, strain and add soda.

It should have been in a shorter glass, used a better rye, and it could definitely use a maraschino cherry (a real one, not the fluorescent variety) as a garnish, but this definitely works.

Successful experiment tonight:

1 1/2 oz. Bulleit rye
1 oz. Dram pine syrup
6 shakes Dram "Hair of the Dog" bitters
2 oz. soda

Shake all ingredients but soda thoroughly with ice, strain and add soda.

It should have been in a shorter glass, used a better rye, and it could definitely use a maraschino cherry (a real one, not the fluorescent variety) as a garnish, but this definitely works.___

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2015-06-30 00:41:03 (139 comments, 83 reshares, 336 +1s)Open 

This story is finally starting to hit the major press: in the past week, six black churches have burned down. Three of them are being investigated as arson, and the other three are still being examined by fire investigators -- but are highly likely to be arson as well.

I try to put this into my own world and imagine: if six synagogues had been torched the week after a major anti-Semitic terrorist attack, I would be thinking about nothing else. It would be front page, above the fold, in every newspaper in the country. Why, then, is this only now receiving proper coverage?

If you ask why these churches are so important -- why these aren't just ordinary arsons, or arsons against churches first and black churches second -- you can go back to what President Obama said in his eulogy for Clementa Pinckney a few days ago (which people are starting to refer to as "the 'grace'... more »

This story is finally starting to hit the major press: in the past week, six black churches have burned down. Three of them are being investigated as arson, and the other three are still being examined by fire investigators -- but are highly likely to be arson as well.

I try to put this into my own world and imagine: if six synagogues had been torched the week after a major anti-Semitic terrorist attack, I would be thinking about nothing else. It would be front page, above the fold, in every newspaper in the country. Why, then, is this only now receiving proper coverage?

If you ask why these churches are so important -- why these aren't just ordinary arsons, or arsons against churches first and black churches second -- you can go back to what President Obama said in his eulogy for Clementa Pinckney a few days ago (which people are starting to refer to as "the 'grace' speech"):

The church is and always has been the center of African American life; a place to call our own in a too-often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.

Over the course of centuries, black churches served as hush harbors, where slaves could worship in safety, praise houses, where their free descendants could gather and shout “Hallelujah.” Rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad, bunkers for the foot soldiers of the civil-rights movement.

They have been and continue to be community centers, where we organize for jobs and justice, places of scholarship and network, places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm's way and told that they are beautiful and smart and taught that they matter.

That’s what happens in church. That’s what the black church means — our beating heart, the place where our dignity as a people is inviolate.

"The place where our dignity as a people is inviolate:" one of the best distillations of an idea I have heard. A phrase likely to enter the English lexicon. These churches are not simply houses of worship to a god you or I may not share; they are the centers of their communities, and more, they are and have been the refuges and safe harbors of their communities since the days of slavery.

I am glad to see that the news is finally covering this, but why has it taken so long? And how long will it take to stop those responsible, and bring the ones who have already burned buildings to justice?

#WhoIsBurningBlackChurches  ?___

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2015-06-29 21:20:53 (128 comments, 19 reshares, 193 +1s)Open 

Some excellent words from Bree Newsome on what she did, the story behind it, and why. 

"I removed the flag not only in defiance of those who enslaved my ancestors in the southern United States, but also in defiance of the oppression that continues against black people globally in 2015, including the ongoing ethnic cleansing in the Dominican Republic. I did it in solidarity with the South African students who toppled a statue of the white supremacist, colonialist Cecil Rhodes. I did it for all the fierce black women on the front lines of the movement and for all the little black girls who are watching us. I did it because I am free."  #takeitdown #keepitdown #blacklivesmatter  ___Some excellent words from Bree Newsome on what she did, the story behind it, and why. 

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2015-06-28 19:16:32 (320 comments, 154 reshares, 1266 +1s)Open 

I just thought I would mark today with a post I made four years ago, welcoming everyone on board just a few minutes after we flipped the switch and launched Google+. 

Over the course of the week that followed, I decided to try something a bit crazy and not really "traditional Google:" I spent lots of time running around the service, talking to everyone I encountered, and welcoming them aboard. What I found was that there were tremendous numbers of people out there who wanted to talk: not just about the service, but about all the things they cared about in their lives, from their pets to geopolitics. And the results changed my life.

It's been an amazing four years here: I've seen the project grow from a crazy idea to a giant, thriving community, spread around the world.  I've had so many conversations on so many subjects, and learned so much in the process, thatI... more »

I just thought I would mark today with a post I made four years ago, welcoming everyone on board just a few minutes after we flipped the switch and launched Google+. 

Over the course of the week that followed, I decided to try something a bit crazy and not really "traditional Google:" I spent lots of time running around the service, talking to everyone I encountered, and welcoming them aboard. What I found was that there were tremendous numbers of people out there who wanted to talk: not just about the service, but about all the things they cared about in their lives, from their pets to geopolitics. And the results changed my life.

It's been an amazing four years here: I've seen the project grow from a crazy idea to a giant, thriving community, spread around the world.  I've had so many conversations on so many subjects, and learned so much in the process, that I can't even count. I've learned to write much more effectively, and what it is to have a real conversation about incredibly sensitive subjects where people nonetheless treat each other with respect and seriousness. I've made an amazing group of friends here, people I love and trust and talk to every day. And I even met the love of my life, my brilliant and beloved wife, through the service.

So looking back on four years of what we've built here, I can say: this is going really well. I'm exceptionally glad to have met all of you, and to have had some part in building this community we share, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the next four years take us!___

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2015-06-28 03:35:16 (64 comments, 41 reshares, 483 +1s)Open 

For those who didn't hear about this, CNN had an anxious and hand-wringing discussion about an ISIS flag waving at a Pride march. Except that it wasn't an ISIS flag. It was an ISIS flag with the Arabic text replaced with a bunch of sex toys. I can promise you that there are no letters in Arabic that look at all like butt plugs. 

For this to have made it on air, it had to have gone through producers, researchers, and anchors, some of whom are also journalists themselves. And none of them appear to either pay enough attention to their work, or have enough familiarity with the world, to stop and say "Wait a moment, I'm pretty sure that isn't Arabic. In fact, I'm pretty sure I had something a lot like that in one of my orifices recently."

/smh

You can read more, and watch the CNN clip,... more »

You gotta have a great sensayuma to live in America:___For those who didn't hear about this, CNN had an anxious and hand-wringing discussion about an ISIS flag waving at a Pride march. Except that it wasn't an ISIS flag. It was an ISIS flag with the Arabic text replaced with a bunch of sex toys. I can promise you that there are no letters in Arabic that look at all like butt plugs. 

For this to have made it on air, it had to have gone through producers, researchers, and anchors, some of whom are also journalists themselves. And none of them appear to either pay enough attention to their work, or have enough familiarity with the world, to stop and say "Wait a moment, I'm pretty sure that isn't Arabic. In fact, I'm pretty sure I had something a lot like that in one of my orifices recently."

/smh

You can read more, and watch the CNN clip, here: http://www.businessinsider.com/cnn-spots-isis-flag-at-gay-pride-parade-2015-6

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2015-06-27 00:57:40 (30 comments, 16 reshares, 167 +1s)Open 

I don't normally post straight-up news bulletins, but today has been a day of so many events and changes that you may have missed some of the key things that happened.

If you're in the US, the two biggest stories were the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, and the President's powerful eulogy for Clementa Pickney. 

The other story likely to be very important was a sharp drop in the Chinese stock markets: 7.4% for the Shanghai Composite, 7.9% for the Shenzhen Composite. We've known for a while that these markets are likely to be in a bubble, but a one-day drop like this could well mean that the bubbles have popped. The consequences of this are likely to be very significant, as this could easily plunge China into a recession just as it's trying to figure out how to balance between an increasing urban/rural economic divide. (For comparison, the 1987... more »

I don't normally post straight-up news bulletins, but today has been a day of so many events and changes that you may have missed some of the key things that happened.

If you're in the US, the two biggest stories were the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, and the President's powerful eulogy for Clementa Pickney. 

The other story likely to be very important was a sharp drop in the Chinese stock markets: 7.4% for the Shanghai Composite, 7.9% for the Shenzhen Composite. We've known for a while that these markets are likely to be in a bubble, but a one-day drop like this could well mean that the bubbles have popped. The consequences of this are likely to be very significant, as this could easily plunge China into a recession just as it's trying to figure out how to balance between an increasing urban/rural economic divide. (For comparison, the 1987 "Black Monday" crash which precipitated a serious economic crisis in the US was a one-day, 22% drop)

Beyond this, ISIS' call for terror strikes during the month of Ramadan appears to be being heeded: an attack on a mosque in Kuwait killed 27, an attack at a seaside resort in Tunisia killed 39, and in France, a man decapitated his employer and then set off a bomb. 

Rather depressingly, today's death toll of 67 dead only makes this the bloodiest day of terror attacks since January of 2014, when Boko Haram massacred 85 people in Kawuri. (There have been higher-death-toll attacks since, but they were spread out over several days; you can thank Boko Haram for those, as well)

(Stories:
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/06/26/world/middleeast/ap-ml-kuwait.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/27/world/africa/gunmen-attack-hotel-in-sousse-tunisia.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/27/world/europe/french-factory-lyon-attack-isis.html)

So it's been quite a significant day around the world.___

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2015-06-27 00:39:50 (54 comments, 13 reshares, 193 +1s)Open 

As +Lauren Weinstein says, dealing with these things is incredibly difficult. Trying to figure out where to draw the line, what's a critical part of the news or the public discourse and what's simply evil for evil's sake, is one of the most challenging problems we face, both as an organization and as a society.

I'm proud of the team that worked on this for having figured out a good balance. (And am thankful not to have had to work on this particular project myself)

I'm incredibly proud of Google for this stance. Through my close work with them in the recent past, I have some insights into how complicated (and in many cases, emotionally exhausting) it is to figure out how to best draw the lines in such areas. To call it difficult would be a vast understatement, but the folks at Google who work on this are incredibly dedicated to doing the right thing.___As +Lauren Weinstein says, dealing with these things is incredibly difficult. Trying to figure out where to draw the line, what's a critical part of the news or the public discourse and what's simply evil for evil's sake, is one of the most challenging problems we face, both as an organization and as a society.

I'm proud of the team that worked on this for having figured out a good balance. (And am thankful not to have had to work on this particular project myself)

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2015-06-26 23:44:16 (98 comments, 12 reshares, 115 +1s)Open 

Ta-Nehisi Coates' upcoming book on race relations in the United States is likely -- if all the advance reviews, or his reputation as one of the great journalists of our day -- to be one of the most important books on the subject. I know of nobody who has both thought about it so deeply and who can speak about it so well. And the publisher has just moved the release date up, from September to July 14th!

I know what I'm reading as soon as I can get my hands on it. If you at all care about America, you should grab it, too.

Here's a blurb by Toni Morrison (yes, that Toni Morrison): “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’ journey, is visceral, eloquent and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes ofblack... more »

Ta-Nehisi Coates' upcoming book on race relations in the United States is likely -- if all the advance reviews, or his reputation as one of the great journalists of our day -- to be one of the most important books on the subject. I know of nobody who has both thought about it so deeply and who can speak about it so well. And the publisher has just moved the release date up, from September to July 14th!

I know what I'm reading as soon as I can get my hands on it. If you at all care about America, you should grab it, too.

Here's a blurb by Toni Morrison (yes, that Toni Morrison): “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’ journey, is visceral, eloquent and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory. This is required reading.”___

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2015-06-26 21:44:44 (36 comments, 35 reshares, 173 +1s)Open 

Today is not only a day of joy, but a day of mourning. President Obama delivered a eulogy for Clementa Pickney, murdered nine days ago today. And if you have the time -- he spoke for a full 40 minutes -- I encourage you to listen. This is one of those speeches that a written transcript doesn't really capture, because it's not a politician's speech.

In fact, I'd probably better give a warning here. Those of you who hate the President, per se, will not enjoy watching this; I'd simply skip it. Those of you who are unfamiliar with the language of the church may find it unusual or hard to understand, because it's very much not a political speech; it's a eulogy delivered by a man for his coreligionists, fitted deeply into the language of his religion. (Although for those who wonder about the significance and the importance of the church in African-American society, he... more »

Today is not only a day of joy, but a day of mourning. President Obama delivered a eulogy for Clementa Pickney, murdered nine days ago today. And if you have the time -- he spoke for a full 40 minutes -- I encourage you to listen. This is one of those speeches that a written transcript doesn't really capture, because it's not a politician's speech.

In fact, I'd probably better give a warning here. Those of you who hate the President, per se, will not enjoy watching this; I'd simply skip it. Those of you who are unfamiliar with the language of the church may find it unusual or hard to understand, because it's very much not a political speech; it's a eulogy delivered by a man for his coreligionists, fitted deeply into the language of his religion. (Although for those who wonder about the significance and the importance of the church in African-American society, he explains it quite beautifully at 1:33:33) 

Those of you who want, however, to hear an extraordinary, heart-shaking speech, one full of all the things we have needed to say and we have needed to hear our leaders say for so long, should sit down and watch. You won't regret it.

He speaks about the man, he speaks about the church, he speaks about our society, and the meaning of this killing and of the society which allowed and created it. And what he has to say is wise and worth listening to.

For all that I have had my issues with him -- some very serious indeed -- on this matter, the President has stood up and made us proud.

(Edited to add: I just watched it a second time, and it's even better. The sermon he preaches, starting at around 1:37:00, is a joy to behold, and it's everything I never thought I would hear an American President say out loud in my lifetime.)___

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2015-06-26 20:52:06 (34 comments, 25 reshares, 355 +1s)Open 

With Liberty and Justice for all -- and for one another.

With Liberty and Justice for all -- and for one another.___

2015-06-26 17:27:05 (40 comments, 19 reshares, 184 +1s)Open 

I've only just started to read today's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, and I'm in a hurry so forgive a slightly more technical post than usual. There's actually a lot of meat here, beyond the simple fact of the decision. A few things I've noticed so far:

(1) The decision is based on the fundamentality of the right to marry, and the issue of levels of scrutiny was not addressed. So no broader impact on anti-discrimination laws via setting intermediate scrutiny for sexual orientation. Not really surprising.

(2) The decision leaned heavily on Loving, Lawrence and Griswold. The latter is important: that's the underlying precedent that a lot of the fights about Roe v. Wade are actually about, and having another major case take it (and its arguments about "personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal... more »

I've only just started to read today's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, and I'm in a hurry so forgive a slightly more technical post than usual. There's actually a lot of meat here, beyond the simple fact of the decision. A few things I've noticed so far:

(1) The decision is based on the fundamentality of the right to marry, and the issue of levels of scrutiny was not addressed. So no broader impact on anti-discrimination laws via setting intermediate scrutiny for sexual orientation. Not really surprising.

(2) The decision leaned heavily on Loving, Lawrence and Griswold. The latter is important: that's the underlying precedent that a lot of the fights about Roe v. Wade are actually about, and having another major case take it (and its arguments about "personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal identity and beliefs") as a precedent does a lot to strengthen it.

(3) The listed "third basis" was that the right to marry safeguards children. The phrasing here is important and is likely to have a strong effect on future cases involving rights to have children, adopt, etc. 

(4) The fourth basis talks about the "constellation of benefits" which marriage provides under the law. Together with the third, this is an extremely strong precedent for any future cases around this. It wouldn't at all surprise me to see sexual orientation become an intermediate-scrutiny suspect category within the next ten years.

(5) The decision made it clear that it takes effect immediately, not at some point in the future. The Court's general lack of patience with further legal manoeuvering was made pretty clear; as far as they're concerned, it's decided, it's done, do it now.

(6) I read the 5-4 as an interesting sign: Roberts is very concerned with the reputation of the Court (having been appointed Chief Justice in the aftermath of Bush v. Gore) and gets the creeping heebie-jeebies at the notion of a close split in a socially controversial case. I was anticipating 6-3, with him writing the opinion, simply because once it was clear which way it would go he would find a way to convince himself to join the majority just to avoid that. The fact that he didn't, if I'm reading the tea leaves correctly, tells me that he feels in his gut that this one isn't a long-term controversy, but really is largely settled as far as the country is concerned.

So with my apologies for the lack of time to write a proper article analyzing this, I'd say that it's time to celebrate a significant milestone -- but not too much. There are still many critical issues in this part of the law, and we can't consider the problem "solved" by any means.___

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2015-06-26 07:11:33 (24 comments, 61 reshares, 316 +1s)Open 

Nota bene.

___Nota bene.

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2015-06-26 00:08:52 (253 comments, 76 reshares, 383 +1s)Open 

This sort of thing makes me feel more positively towards Uber than pretty much anything else does.

I think that what the taxi business as a whole has been doing for years has been wrong -- and now that it's falling apart, it's dumping the burden of that on the individual drivers, and telling the drivers that they can only protect themselves through violence, because the industry sure as hell isn't going to help them.

Taxis in most cities are artificial monopolies. Drivers have to pay in to get access to that -- the 240,000€ sum in Paris is actually not even close to the worst. (In New York, taxi medallions can easily run $1.3M) Individual drivers can't afford that, obviously, so they have to either rent medallions or take giant loans in order to buy their own. The profit went to the people owning the medallions.

This was a workable business for individuald... more »

This sort of thing makes me feel more positively towards Uber than pretty much anything else does.

I think that what the taxi business as a whole has been doing for years has been wrong -- and now that it's falling apart, it's dumping the burden of that on the individual drivers, and telling the drivers that they can only protect themselves through violence, because the industry sure as hell isn't going to help them.

Taxis in most cities are artificial monopolies. Drivers have to pay in to get access to that -- the 240,000€ sum in Paris is actually not even close to the worst. (In New York, taxi medallions can easily run $1.3M) Individual drivers can't afford that, obviously, so they have to either rent medallions or take giant loans in order to buy their own. The profit went to the people owning the medallions.

This was a workable business for individual drivers for exactly as long as the monopoly was in place. And the business worked out just the way monopolies always did; taxi service is terrible. I expect that, when I get into a taxi in most places, at best the experience will be somewhat unpleasant; at worst, the driver may get lost, or attempt to cheat or rob me. If I try to call and order a taxi, that translates to "in 30 minutes, a taxi may or may not show up." Every bad thing I've ever heard said of Uber drivers has been no less (and no more) true of taxi drivers.

Uber has been basically breaking this monopoly. And from the perspective of everyone but the taxi industry, that's great; people get a (much) better service (much) cheaper. 

For the taxi industry, it's a catastrophe, but a catastrophe of its own making: it's imploding because it's taken comfort in being a regulated monopoly for so long that it forgot how to compete. So it's going to collapse, and most of the jobs in it are going to disappear because the businesses are going to disappear.

However, unlike most monopolies, the taxi industry has done a very thorough job of pushing the risk onto its lowest-level employees, by treating them as not just contractors, but contractors who had to own a special zero-value item. (At least Uber drivers only have to own a car; if Uber folded tomorrow, they'd still have a car.) The taxi companies own shockingly little of the risk; they may go out of business, but it's the individual drivers who often have huge loans that won't magically disappear if the value of a medallion plummets.

And the taxi industry isn't making any attempt to help. I haven't seen a single taxi company anywhere attempt to compete with Uber on service. Nor to think through protections for its employees. Instead, it's telling its drivers that if they want to have any financial future at all, it's their responsibility to stop Uber.

And so what happens? Violence in the streets. Petty thuggery, because the industry wants to offload even the risk of fighting its foes onto its workers. 

So I have exactly zero sympathy for the taxi industry. I have somewhat more sympathy for the drivers affected, but that's ultimately limited by the fact that none of what I described above was ever secret; the drivers got into this game knowing what it was. And it's even more limited when the taxi drivers' response seems to involve not just trying to shut down a city, but taking competing drivers hostage, or assaulting drivers and passengers alike.___

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2015-06-25 04:38:03 (51 comments, 45 reshares, 249 +1s)Open 

Fifteen ways to die, and their frequency by age. Quite an interesting graph to dive deep into. Note that this is shown as a percentage of people who died at that age, not people who are alive at that age (or people overall), so you see neither the distribution of death as a function of age, nor the distribution of ages in this image.

Via +Aleatha Parker-Wood and the Angel of Death and Actuarial Science. (One of the lesser-known, but quite important, heavenly operatives)

Most common ways to die, by age, in the United States: https://plot.ly/~Dreamshot/440/most-common-ways-to-die-by-age-in-the-us/___Fifteen ways to die, and their frequency by age. Quite an interesting graph to dive deep into. Note that this is shown as a percentage of people who died at that age, not people who are alive at that age (or people overall), so you see neither the distribution of death as a function of age, nor the distribution of ages in this image.

Via +Aleatha Parker-Wood and the Angel of Death and Actuarial Science. (One of the lesser-known, but quite important, heavenly operatives)

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2015-06-25 01:48:08 (11 comments, 14 reshares, 280 +1s)Open 

Just a great picture that deserved to be shared.

Reminds me a bit of walking up to boats anchored on the Yukon River in winter. Not a drop of free-flowing surface water for a hundred miles in any direction; just boats, well-maintained but so oddly far from any shore.

Running Ghost by Caras Ionut: https://goo.gl/YjoDxa___Just a great picture that deserved to be shared.

Reminds me a bit of walking up to boats anchored on the Yukon River in winter. Not a drop of free-flowing surface water for a hundred miles in any direction; just boats, well-maintained but so oddly far from any shore.

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2015-06-23 19:46:32 (12 comments, 36 reshares, 251 +1s)Open 

This region of forest in Basque country has been harvested for charcoal for many years, not by clearcutting, but by systematic pruning. This has caused the trees to grow with very long, spidery branches, even as the forest itself remains intact – and the resulting setting is haunting. Oskar Zapirain's photos are well worth the look.

This region of forest in Basque country has been harvested for charcoal for many years, not by clearcutting, but by systematic pruning. This has caused the trees to grow with very long, spidery branches, even as the forest itself remains intact – and the resulting setting is haunting. Oskar Zapirain's photos are well worth the look.___

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2015-06-22 22:08:49 (129 comments, 16 reshares, 175 +1s)Open 

This is a short article that explains an important point: Putin has made himself so central to the functioning of Russia that it's hard to guess what would happen without him. This is a good strategy if you want to keep yourself in power, and a bad strategy if you care a lot about what happens once you're no longer in power, but good or bad, it's very definitely Putin's strategy. And these photos of him riding horses, wrestling bears, etc., serve a critical role in that.

Of course, they do more than that. One important idea in Russian politics (something I learned from Mark Steinberg's excellent lecture series) is the two ideals of the Czar: the "grozny" (terrifying) Czar, strong and powerful, and the "tishayshi" (meek) Czar, gentle and loving. These two archetypes are powerfully rooted in Russian society, and different czars have balanced them in different... more »

This is a short article that explains an important point: Putin has made himself so central to the functioning of Russia that it's hard to guess what would happen without him. This is a good strategy if you want to keep yourself in power, and a bad strategy if you care a lot about what happens once you're no longer in power, but good or bad, it's very definitely Putin's strategy. And these photos of him riding horses, wrestling bears, etc., serve a critical role in that.

Of course, they do more than that. One important idea in Russian politics (something I learned from Mark Steinberg's excellent lecture series) is the two ideals of the Czar: the "grozny" (terrifying) Czar, strong and powerful, and the "tishayshi" (meek) Czar, gentle and loving. These two archetypes are powerfully rooted in Russian society, and different czars have balanced them in different ways. (And no less so after they stopped calling themselves "czar") Gorbachev, for example, exemplified many of the "tishayshi" ideals, something powerfully needed at a time when the complete lack of care of the regime for its citizens had become painfully apparent. Putin, on the other hand, is attempting to peg the Grozny-Meter. Displays of his personal prowess very much fit into this: the Czar is strong, Russia is strong, Russia will be strong.

So when you see pictures of Putin wrestling Angela Merkel, or engaging in similar acts of machismo, understand that these aren't simply strange: they're a critical part of political theater, establishing the character of Putin -- and public trust in the institution of his rule -- just as much as speeches full of code words reaffirming political loyalties are part of American and European political theater.

h/t +Gregor J. Rothfuss ___

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2015-06-22 21:51:44 (46 comments, 33 reshares, 965 +1s)Open 

Things to add to your pre-flight checklist: Check for and remove any unexpected cats in the airframe.

This today. Only this.___Things to add to your pre-flight checklist: Check for and remove any unexpected cats in the airframe.

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2015-06-22 20:37:16 (11 comments, 17 reshares, 155 +1s)Open 

Moons over Saturn: this is what we see from Earth, on a lucky night when three moons were close to one another. They are illuminated by reflected light from Saturn. 

Standing on the surface one of these moons, or on Saturn itself (if it had a surface) would be quite a bit more dramatic, with the rings arcing up through the sky as well.

h/t +rone.

A single crescent moon is a familiar sight in Earth's sky, but with Saturn's many moons, you can see three or more. Shown here are Saturn's moons Titan, Mimas and Rhea. Details: http://go.nasa.gov/1GiJZrG

#NASABeyond___Moons over Saturn: this is what we see from Earth, on a lucky night when three moons were close to one another. They are illuminated by reflected light from Saturn. 

Standing on the surface one of these moons, or on Saturn itself (if it had a surface) would be quite a bit more dramatic, with the rings arcing up through the sky as well.

h/t +rone.

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2015-06-22 19:24:05 (28 comments, 24 reshares, 100 +1s)Open 

Sometimes, reality seems to have come straight out of the movies -- the "Fiasco" genre of movies, to be specific. This is the most amazing attempted heist: hyper-complex bombs, helicopters, holdups, and casinos. And it went wrong in all the ways you would expect a complex plan to fail.

h/t +Chris Colohan 

Wow, I've been inside Harveys multiple times and never knew this fascinating bit of history: an extortion plot with a complicated bomb in 1980.

http://www.damninteresting.com/the-zero-armed-bandit/

h/t to +Daniel Erat.___Sometimes, reality seems to have come straight out of the movies -- the "Fiasco" genre of movies, to be specific. This is the most amazing attempted heist: hyper-complex bombs, helicopters, holdups, and casinos. And it went wrong in all the ways you would expect a complex plan to fail.

h/t +Chris Colohan 

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2015-06-22 03:42:43 (9 comments, 21 reshares, 93 +1s)Open 

This is a fun category of logic puzzles. In a normal game of Boggle, dice with letters on them are randomly laid out in a grid, and you have to find as many words as possible in the resulting layout; words are formed by connecting letters horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, and no word can re-use any letter. A Boggle logic puzzle is that in reverse: Given a list of words, can you figure out what the board was?

To be a proper such puzzle, you have to be given enough words for there to be a unique solution (up to rotation and mirroring the board). I just tried out the "simple" puzzle +Richard Green gives below (with the words ACT, APE, ATE, COP, END, and OLD) and figured it out in a few minutes -- I suspect that there are some techniques you could work out to get fairly good at them.

I'm rather surprised that these aren't more popular; they're quite fun. 

The mathematics of Boggle logic puzzles

This picture shows a logic puzzle based on the popular word game Boggle. The object of the game is to place the fourteen letters shown at the bottom into the grid in such a way that the grid spells out each of the ten words in the list on the right. The words must be constructed from the letters of sequentially adjacent squares, where adjacent refers to squares that are horizontal, vertical or diagonal neighbours, and where squares may not be reused.

It turns out that Boggle logic puzzles have mathematically interesting aspects; for example, they are related to the subgraph isomorphism problem, which is an example of an NP-complete problem. The recent paper 10 Questions about Boggle Logic Puzzles by Jonathan Needleman (http://arxiv.org/abs/1506.04173) gives a survey of what is known and proposes a number (ten!) of related problems.

The paper starts with what seems like an easy challenge: construct a filling of a 3 by 3 Boggle grid that contains each of the words ACT, APE, ATE, COP, END and OLD. It is clear that the nine letters in the grid must be ACDELNOPT, but the puzzle is a lot harder than I thought it would be, and this is partly because there are only six words in the list.

If B is a Boggle grid that has been filled in with letters, Needleman defines the set W(B) to be the set of all words in the board B that are at least two letters long. Here, the term words refers to strings of letters that may or may not be valid English words. The paper also makes the simplifying assumption that each letter appearing in the grid should appear only once, like in the grid in the picture, although the paper also discusses how this second assumption may be removed.

Two boards B and B' are said to be equivalent if they produce the same list of words. It can be shown that if two boards are equivalent, it must be the case that they differ from each other only by mirror reflection or by rotation by a multiple of a right angle. [Precise statement for mathematicians: the group of automorphisms of the adjacency graph of the Boggle grid is dihedral of order 8.]

The formal definition of a Boggle logic puzzle is as a list of words P satisfying two conditions: (1) P is a subset of W(B) for some board B, and (2) if P is a subset of W(B') for some other board B', then B and B' are equivalent. For example, the assertion that “ACT, APE, ATE, COP, END, OLD” is a Boggle logic puzzle for n=3 is the claim that (1) there exists a 3x3 Boggle board that spells out all of these six words and (2) up to symmetry, there is no other Boggle board with this property. The puzzle in the picture has two letters already filled in. As well as making the puzzle easier, this also provides enough information to break the symmetry of the solution and give a unique answer.

Two of the main themes studied in the paper are minimal solutions and maximal non-solutions of Boggle logic puzzles. Theorem 3.1 says something about the minimal solutions of a 3x3 grid. What it proves is that a puzzle consisting only of three-letter words, on a board with no repeated letters, must contain at least six words. Recall the “ACT, APE, ATE, COP, END, OLD” puzzle from earlier, which contains six three-letter words and no repeated letters. The theorem then says that any list of only five three-letter words cannot possibly lead to a unique solution. One of the open questions in the paper concerns 3x3 grids with no repeated letters whose puzzles contain only two-letter words. It can be proved that one would need at least 11 two-letter words to achieve a unique solution, but it is not known if this bound is sharp, because the smallest known example of such a puzzle contains 12 two-letter words.

The maximal non-solutions arise from lists of words that lead to a puzzle that is as inefficiently long as possible. To see what this means, suppose that you have played a game of Boggle and produced a long list of words. Is it possible to reconstruct the board (up to symmetry) using only the words you have written down? How long does your list of words have to be before this is inevitable? Even on a 3x3 grid, the number turns out to be surprisingly large: one needs 137 distinct three-letter words (out of a possible total of 160) to guarantee that the puzzle can be reconstructed uniquely. For four-letter words, the number is 377 words (out of a possible total of 496).

Relevant links

The game Boggle was designed by Allan Turoff. It was originally manufactured by Parker Brothers, and is now manufactured by Hasbro. More information on the game is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boggle

Image source: http://www.aspenhouse21.com/gc/boggle_east.jpg

Details of the subgraph isomorphism problem: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subgraph_isomorphism_problem

Boggle logic puzzles are reminiscent of the game Sudoku. In 2012, Gary McGuire, Bastian Tugemann and Gilles Civario proved that the smallest possible number of clues on a standard Sudoku board that can lead to a unique solution is 17. +Richard Elwes has included this result in a recent blog post about his personal top 10 mathematical achievements of the last 5ish years. You can find this post at http://goo.gl/Nl7IwX. (I've abbreviated the URL because it is rather long.)

#mathematics #scienceeveryday #spnetwork arXiv:1506.04173___This is a fun category of logic puzzles. In a normal game of Boggle, dice with letters on them are randomly laid out in a grid, and you have to find as many words as possible in the resulting layout; words are formed by connecting letters horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, and no word can re-use any letter. A Boggle logic puzzle is that in reverse: Given a list of words, can you figure out what the board was?

To be a proper such puzzle, you have to be given enough words for there to be a unique solution (up to rotation and mirroring the board). I just tried out the "simple" puzzle +Richard Green gives below (with the words ACT, APE, ATE, COP, END, and OLD) and figured it out in a few minutes -- I suspect that there are some techniques you could work out to get fairly good at them.

I'm rather surprised that these aren't more popular; they're quite fun. 

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2015-06-21 02:31:46 (129 comments, 56 reshares, 317 +1s)Open 

The sound you hear is of every person who has ever worked in anything remotely tied to security hitting their head on their desk in unison.

Defense in depth, encryption, access controls, and so on work a lot better if you don't then give root access to every random contractor who works on the system. Including the ones operating out of the goddamned PRC.

/facepalm

Oh, for fuck's sake.  I can't tell if the problem is clue deficiency syndrome or  just rampant long-term mental constipation (aka failing to give a shit for a long time).

I can't see how the meeting where the decision was made didn't erupt in tons of "You want to do WHAT?? That's nuts!".___The sound you hear is of every person who has ever worked in anything remotely tied to security hitting their head on their desk in unison.

Defense in depth, encryption, access controls, and so on work a lot better if you don't then give root access to every random contractor who works on the system. Including the ones operating out of the goddamned PRC.

/facepalm

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2015-06-20 05:06:56 (26 comments, 58 reshares, 141 +1s)Open 

This video goes out to all those working in science.

First of all, if you aren't familiar with +acapellascience, Tim Blais is one of the best things on the Internet: he makes songs about science, but pretty serious science. (I can't even explain Bohemian Gravity properly without explaining half of string theory) 

But this song is different, because it isn't about science -- it's about the process of doing science, and specifically, about the moral choices we have to make as scientists. 

One of the things you grow up with as a scientist is the moment your particular field first knew evil. The phrasing sounds a bit dramatic, but it's actually something people in each profession use and learn. Chemistry, for example, was one of the first to know this, with the invention of dynamite. It revolutionized mining and construction – and also warfare. Itsinv... more »

This video goes out to all those working in science.

First of all, if you aren't familiar with +acapellascience, Tim Blais is one of the best things on the Internet: he makes songs about science, but pretty serious science. (I can't even explain Bohemian Gravity properly without explaining half of string theory) 

But this song is different, because it isn't about science -- it's about the process of doing science, and specifically, about the moral choices we have to make as scientists. 

One of the things you grow up with as a scientist is the moment your particular field first knew evil. The phrasing sounds a bit dramatic, but it's actually something people in each profession use and learn. Chemistry, for example, was one of the first to know this, with the invention of dynamite. It revolutionized mining and construction – and also warfare. Its inventor's guilt over the consequences of his work were such that he gave his fortune at death to the furtherance of the peaceful uses of science; the Nobel Prize is funded by his estate.

Chemistry encountered it a second time during World War I, with the invention of modern chemical weapons. Fritz Haber was one of the great chemists of the early twentieth century; his process for making ammonia is the reason we have synthetic fertilizers today. The number of lives that it's saved from starvation is hard to guess. But during the war, he turned his talents to darker and darker purposes, not only developing the science but personally supervising its weaponization and deployment. The story of his descent, his wife's suicide, and his ultimate exile and death is the stuff that tragedy is made of.

Physics had its contact with death a few years later. It's no exaggeration to say that every physicist alive today works in the shadow of the Manhattan Project; not only did it shape the way that large-scale physics is done (the idea of the "large-scale lab," for example, came out of that), but from the day of Trinity on, no physicist could ever work without being aware that their work has the ability to be turned to dark ends.

Biology is starting to have its contact with darkness; the bio-weapons of the Cold War frightened everyone profoundly, but they were never used (thank all the gods), and so the scars from those don't run as deep. But the scars left behind by eugenics (which was part of medicine's contact with evil; but medicine has seen much more of it than anyone, perhaps) have started to resurface today, and you can't talk about genetics without realizing in your bones the uses to which it could be put if misused.

Does this mean that science is wrong? No, of course not. These sciences have saved and improved lives in so many ways that it's hard to count: chemistry and biology have given us food security, physics energy, computation, and flight, chemistry materials, biology medicine, and the list could continue forever.

But scientists live their lives in awareness of the ways in which their work could be misused. And in this song, Blais takes that on directly: 

You gotta choose, yourself how to use it
The knowledge you hold and
Don't ever let a letter go
You only get one shot to stop
And one chance to know
Responsibility comes once you're a science guy, yo!

So this song is for all my friends in science, and in all the other fields whose works can save the world or destroy it. Think every day about the ethics and the morals of the choices you make: will the things you do be misused? Can you use your science to make the world a better place?

And know when you're making those calls, that you're not alone, and you've got a rapping string theorist to sing along with you. Because the Internet.


Extra references:
Bohemian Gravity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rjbtsX7twc
Fritz Haber's life: https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Fritz_Haber
If you want to know about the Manhattan Project, or in general if you care about history, science, or good writing, do yourself a favor and read The Making of the Atomic Bomb, by Richard Rhodes: https://books.google.com/books/about/Making_of_the_Atomic_Bomb.html?id=aSgFMMNQ6G4C . It's one of the most engrossing history books you'll ever read.___

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2015-06-20 02:19:03 (18 comments, 18 reshares, 227 +1s)Open 

Something fascinating: this blue panther chameleon was having trouble hatching out of its egg. (For reasons unknown; the wrong intensity of sunlight is suspected) A human helped it out by snipping the egg away with scissors. Upon being cut out, it didn't realize immediately that it had hatched, and so we get this rather unusual photo of a chameleon still wrapped up as though it's in its egg. Soon afterwards, the chameleon figured it out, and is now happily eating insects.

___Something fascinating: this blue panther chameleon was having trouble hatching out of its egg. (For reasons unknown; the wrong intensity of sunlight is suspected) A human helped it out by snipping the egg away with scissors. Upon being cut out, it didn't realize immediately that it had hatched, and so we get this rather unusual photo of a chameleon still wrapped up as though it's in its egg. Soon afterwards, the chameleon figured it out, and is now happily eating insects.

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2015-06-19 22:12:44 (89 comments, 53 reshares, 305 +1s)Open 

I think that some profoundly stupid ideas need to be cleared up, here. ABC interviewed Joey Meek, roommate of Charleston terrorist Dylann Roof. Meek gives us this line:

“He never said the n-word, he never made racial slurs, he never targeted a specific black person. He never did any of that so it was just pretty much a shock.”

Meek also said "He wanted segregation... he wanted something big, like Trayvon Martin. He wanted something to spark up the race war again... He said that he thought that blacks, the blacks in general as a race, was bringing down the white race.”

Just as a hint for the wise: Being a racist doesn't mean "saying the n-word," making racial slurs, or targeting a specific person. There seems to be something in the water lately that makes it possible for people to get up and explain how they aren't racist -- apparently becausethey n... more »

I think that some profoundly stupid ideas need to be cleared up, here. ABC interviewed Joey Meek, roommate of Charleston terrorist Dylann Roof. Meek gives us this line:

“He never said the n-word, he never made racial slurs, he never targeted a specific black person. He never did any of that so it was just pretty much a shock.”

Meek also said "He wanted segregation... he wanted something big, like Trayvon Martin. He wanted something to spark up the race war again... He said that he thought that blacks, the blacks in general as a race, was bringing down the white race.”

Just as a hint for the wise: Being a racist doesn't mean "saying the n-word," making racial slurs, or targeting a specific person. There seems to be something in the water lately that makes it possible for people to get up and explain how they aren't racist -- apparently because they never use that one word -- even while they're in favor of segregation, or think that the two races just ought to keep away from each other, or wouldn't want someone like that in their community.

But it's also not a particularly hard guess, even from these few moments of listening to Meek, that he didn't see anything particularly wrong with what his roommate was saying. Most people generally don't refer to "the race war" in casual conversation; it's not a phrase that exactly trips off the tongue if you aren't using it pretty often.

Meek also says that Roof wasn't a member of any hate groups. (Something which I'll believe after seeing a police investigation) But he (and per the report, other of Roof's friends as well) also says that Roof had been planning the attack for over six months -- a fact which he didn't bother to mention to anyone until now.

If you're planning a terrorist attack with the knowledge of your friends for six months, and they have a pretty good idea of what you're up to and why, you know what we call that sort of thing?

Well, apart from an ad hoc terrorist organization, someone may want to explain the idea of "accessory before the fact" (SC code of laws, 16-1-40) to Meek and his buddies. Hopefully the FBI will act on that fairly strongly: for all that this is an ad hoc and kind of bumbling-sounding group, it's also a group of like-minded individuals that have carried out at least one multi-fatality terrorist attack. The odds are good that they know more, and about more, and the offer of getting a mere multi-year vacation at federal expense (as opposed to what they're potentially up against under SC's accomplice statute, which would be the chair) may be a good way to get that information out of them -- and get them off the streets for good.

(Incidentally, for those who listen to the video and ask themselves how seriously one could really take a terrorist organization whose members are obviously idiots: seriously enough for them to murder nine people. Contrary to what you may expect, most terrorist organizations actually are run by idiots, just like most crimes are actually committed by idiots. It turns out that people with brains and something useful to do with their lives rarely spend their time trying to murder people as a political statement. The brilliant, cunning master terrorist, or the murderer who sets up an incredibly sophisticated chain of clues, makes for great television but isn't actually the usual case.)___

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2015-06-19 21:46:38 (129 comments, 54 reshares, 402 +1s)Open 

We're taking some important steps today to stamp out the problem of revenge porn. My kudos to the entire team who's been working on this!

We're taking some important steps today to stamp out the problem of revenge porn. My kudos to the entire team who's been working on this!___

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2015-06-19 04:43:56 (35 comments, 13 reshares, 135 +1s)Open 

Things I didn't know: The posters were used to see if theaters would be interested in screening the movies.

Many of the more famous titles of the era–such as Invasion of the Saucer-Men and Terror from the Year 5000–were only titles when the posters were designed. Those titles were then given to graphic artists, who would make up the most sensational illustrations they could imagine. Their poster layouts were sent to theater owners. If enough owners booked the film, the movie got made. In the words of master sci-fi poster artist Albert Kallis, “advertising always came first.”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathonkeats/2015/06/16/edward-sommers-amazing-colossal-collection-of-vintage-sci-fi-movie-posters-goes-up-for-auction/___Things I didn't know: The posters were used to see if theaters would be interested in screening the movies.

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2015-06-18 21:04:17 (311 comments, 223 reshares, 593 +1s)Open 

The perpetrator of yesterday's terrorist strike was captured a few hours ago, and the bodies of the dead have not yet been buried, and already I'm seeing a refrain pop up in news coverage and in people's comments: How do we understand this killer? What made him turn out this way? Was he mentally ill, was he on drugs, was he abused, was he influenced by someone in his life? Were his motivations about politics, religion, personal relationships, psychological? We can't form opinions about why he did this yet; we shouldn't assume that, just because [insert thing here], it was about race.

You might mistake this, at first, for a genuine interest in understanding the motivations that would turn a young man into a terrorist and a mass murderer. But when other kinds of terrorists -- say, Muslims from Afghanistan -- commit atrocities, the very same people who are asking these questions... more »

The perpetrator of yesterday's terrorist strike was captured a few hours ago, and the bodies of the dead have not yet been buried, and already I'm seeing a refrain pop up in news coverage and in people's comments: How do we understand this killer? What made him turn out this way? Was he mentally ill, was he on drugs, was he abused, was he influenced by someone in his life? Were his motivations about politics, religion, personal relationships, psychological? We can't form opinions about why he did this yet; we shouldn't assume that, just because [insert thing here], it was about race.

You might mistake this, at first, for a genuine interest in understanding the motivations that would turn a young man into a terrorist and a mass murderer. But when other kinds of terrorists -- say, Muslims from Afghanistan -- commit atrocities, the very same people who are asking these questions are asking completely different ones: Why are Muslims so violent? What is it in Islam that makes them so prone to hating America, hating Christianity, hating Freedom?

I think that there are two, very important, things going on here. The more basic one is that, when terrorists are from a group you've never met, it's far easier to ascribe their behavior to the whole group; if it's from a group you know, and you know that the average member of that group isn't malicious or bloodthirsty, then people start asking individual questions. 

But the more important one is that the group that this terrorist belonged to was not merely familiar: it's the same group to which most of the people asking the questions belong. Not merely the same broad group -- "Muslims" and "Christians" are groups of over a billion people each, groups far too broad to have any deep commonalities -- but a far narrower group, a group with a common culture. And there's a reason that people don't want to ask "What is it about this group that caused it:" because in this case, there's a real answer.

The picture you see below is of the Confederate flag which the state of South Carolina flies on the grounds of its state house, and has ever since 1962. (That's 1962, not 1862: it was put there in response to the Civil Rights movement, not to the Civil War) Today, all of the state flags in that state are at half mast; only the Confederate flag is flying at full mast.

The state government itself is making explicit its opinion on the matter: while there may be formal mourning for the dead, this is a day when the flag of white supremacy can fly high. When even the government, in its formal and official behavior, condones this, can we really be surprised that terrorists are encouraged? (Terrorists, plural, as this is far from an isolated incident; even setting aside the official and quasi-official acts of governments, the history of terror attacks and even pogroms in this country is utterly terrifying)

Chauncey DeVega asked some excellent questions in his article at Salon (http://goo.gl/3AZWy7); among them,

1. What is radicalizing white men to commit such acts of domestic terrorism and mass shootings? Are Fox News and the right-wing media encouraging violence?

6. When will white leadership step up and stop white right-wing domestic terrorism?

7. Is White American culture pathological? Why is White America so violent?

8. Are there appropriate role models for white men and boys? Could better role models and mentoring help to prevent white men and boys from committing mass shootings and being seduced by right-wing domestic terrorism?

The callout of Fox News in particular is not accidental: they host more hate-filled preachers and advocates of violence, both circuitous and explicit, than Al Jazeera. 

There is a culture which has advocated, permitted, protected, and enshrined terrorists in this country since its founding. Its members and advocates are not apologetic in their actions; they only complain that they might be "called racist," when clearly they aren't, calling someone racist is just a way to shut down their perfectly reasonable conversation and insult them, don't you know?

No: This is bullshit, plain and simple. It is a culture which believes that black and white Americans are not part of the same polity, that they must be kept apart, and that the blacks must be and remain subservient. That robbing or murdering them is permissible, that quiet manipulations of the law to make sure that "the wrong people" don't show up in "our neighborhoods," or take "our money," or otherwise overstep their bounds, are not merely permissible, but the things that we do in order to keep society going. That black faces and bodies are inherently threatening, and so both police and private citizens have good reason to be scared when they see them, so that killing them -- whether they're young men who weren't docile enough at a traffic stop or young children playing in the park -- is at most a tragic, but understandable, mistake.

I have seen this kind of politics before. I watch a terrorist attack on a black church in Charleston, and it gives me the same fear that I get when I see a terrorist attack against a synagogue: the people who come after one group will come after you next.

This rift -- this seeing our country as being built of two distinct polities, with the success of one having nothing to do with the success of the other or of the whole -- is the poison which has been eating at the core of American society for centuries. It is the origin of our most bizarre laws, from weapons laws to drug policies to housing policy, and to all of the things which upon rational examination appear simply perverse. How many of the laws which seem to make no sense make perfect sense if you look at them on the assumption that their real purpose is to enforce racial boundaries? I do not believe that people are stupid: I do not believe that lawmakers pass laws that go against their stated purpose because they can't figure that out. I believe that they pass laws, and that people encourage and demand laws, because consciously or subconsciously, they know what kind of world they will create.

We tend to reserve the word "white supremacy" for only the most extreme organizations, the ones who are far enough out there that even the fiercest "mainstream" advocates of racism can claim no ties to them. But that, ultimately, is bullshit as well. This is what it is, this is the culture which creates, and encourages, and coddles terrorists. And until we have excised this from our country, it will poison us every day.

First and foremost, what we need to do is discuss it. If there's one thing I've seen, it's that discussing race in my posts is the most inflammatory thing I could possibly do: people become upset when I mention it, say I'm "making things about race" or trying to falsely imply that they're racists or something like that. 

When there's something you're afraid to discuss, when there's something that upsets you when it merely comes onto the table: That's the thing you need to talk about. That's the thing that has to come out there, in the open.

We've entered a weird phase in American history where overt statements of racism are forbidden, so instead people go to Byzantine lengths to pretend that that isn't what it is. But that just lets the worm gnaw deeper. Sunshine is what lets us move forward.

And the flag below? So long as people can claim with a straight face that this is "just about heritage," that it isn't somehow a blatant symbol of racism, we know that there is bullshit afloat in our midst.

The flag itself needs to come down; not with ceremony, it simply needs to be taken down, burned, and consigned to the garbage bin.___

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2015-06-18 05:01:01 (78 comments, 13 reshares, 103 +1s)Open 

For some reason, this is still running below the fold in most major news outlets, so I wanted to make sure to amplify it here. The attacker is still at large, and while there have not yet been any claims of responsibility released, initial indications are that this was a terrorist strike, which targeted a Christian church in Charleston.

Further reports are starting to confirm the list of the dead, including State Sen. Pinckney, who was also pastor of the church. An earlier report that the gunman had been caught does not appear to be correct: the person was determined not to have been the killer.

Update: It appears that the killer has been successfully captured. 

h/t to +blanche nonken for finding more in-depth coverage via the local news.

For some reason, this is still running below the fold in most major news outlets, so I wanted to make sure to amplify it here. The attacker is still at large, and while there have not yet been any claims of responsibility released, initial indications are that this was a terrorist strike, which targeted a Christian church in Charleston.

Further reports are starting to confirm the list of the dead, including State Sen. Pinckney, who was also pastor of the church. An earlier report that the gunman had been caught does not appear to be correct: the person was determined not to have been the killer.

Update: It appears that the killer has been successfully captured. 

h/t to +blanche nonken for finding more in-depth coverage via the local news.___

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2015-06-18 04:20:19 (41 comments, 52 reshares, 244 +1s)Open 

How Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

Last week, +Andreas Schou shared a Clickhole exposé of life at Google. (https://plus.google.com/+AndreasSchou/posts/Lezbe9x4rY3) On the comments, I mentioned that one of the technologies Andreas had mentioned -- "The human Google doodle? The Hell of Eyes and Phantoms? The firework-launching self-driving car? The scientist with the head of a falcon? Our market-leading dog-hallucination technology? The same chicken sandwich, three times a week?" -- was real, and challenged the readers to guess which.

Today, I am glad to be able to publicly discuss our market-leading dog-hallucination technology. The images you see below are a product of digital apophenia, and may well mimic the way in which the human brain produces hallucinations. We start with an image, which we feed into our image-recognition software. But we turn its sensitivityu... more »

All of these images were computer generated!

For the last few weeks, Googlers have been obsessed with an internal visualization tool that Alexander Mordvintsev in our Zurich office created to help us visually understand some of the things happening inside our deep neural networks for computer vision.  The tool essentially starts with an image, runs the model forwards and backwards, and then makes adjustments to the starting image in weird and magnificent ways.  

In the same way that when you are staring at clouds, and you can convince yourself that some part of the cloud looks like a head, maybe with some ears, and then your mind starts to reinforce that opinion, by seeing even more parts that fit that story ("wow, now I even see arms and a leg!"), the optimization process works in a similar manner, reinforcing what it thinks it is seeing.  Since the model is very deep, we can tap into it at various levels and get all kinds of remarkable effects.

Alexander, +Christopher Olah, and Mike Tyka wrote up a very nice blog post describing how this works:

http://googleresearch.blogspot.com/2015/06/inceptionism-going-deeper-into-neural.html

There's also a bigger album of more of these pictures linked from the blog post:

https://goo.gl/photos/fFcivHZ2CDhqCkZdA

I just picked a few of my favorites here.___How Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

Last week, +Andreas Schou shared a Clickhole exposé of life at Google. (https://plus.google.com/+AndreasSchou/posts/Lezbe9x4rY3) On the comments, I mentioned that one of the technologies Andreas had mentioned -- "The human Google doodle? The Hell of Eyes and Phantoms? The firework-launching self-driving car? The scientist with the head of a falcon? Our market-leading dog-hallucination technology? The same chicken sandwich, three times a week?" -- was real, and challenged the readers to guess which.

Today, I am glad to be able to publicly discuss our market-leading dog-hallucination technology. The images you see below are a product of digital apophenia, and may well mimic the way in which the human brain produces hallucinations. We start with an image, which we feed into our image-recognition software. But we turn its sensitivity up to "high," so that anything that's even potentially an observed image gets marked.

The next step in image recognition works a lot like it does in the brain: the software simply repeats itself, but changing its perception of the image to highlight more clearly the things which it had spotted as "actual things" a moment ago. That clarification makes it easier to spot those actual things, and the identification process is repeated.

If you do this with normal perception thresholds, that's how you recognize objects in pictures.

If you do this with abnormal perception thresholds, very small things -- shapes in clouds, wisps of shadows, slight unevenness in the color of the sky -- get recognized as objects (often faces, as both our minds and our computers are designed to be especially good at identifying faces), and that causes our perception to highlight their "face-ishness."

And the result is what you see below: Technology to take any image, stare at it, and start to hallucinate dogs. And fish, and eyes, and buildings, and all sorts of things.

Google: Where neural networks trip balls.

If you want to understand more about the process -- and, for example, the different things that happen when we tie the highlighting process to very "high-level" neurons that detect things like animals, versus "low-level" ones that detect things like edges -- take a look at the attached blog post. It's a very readable introduction.

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2015-06-17 22:04:14 (16 comments, 16 reshares, 121 +1s)Open 

Today we talked about how our in-datacenter networks have been running for the past decade. The blog post here is brief, but if you missed the conference talk, we'll have a full paper coming out in August.

There is some very serious secret sauce in here.

Today at the Open Network Summit we showed how we've been running our datacenter networks for the past decade.  (For full details you'll have to wait for a paper we'll publish at SIGCOMM 2015 in August.)  

Great networking has long been a key ingredient in having a great cloud platform, and of course you get to use these same networks on +Google Cloud Platform. ___Today we talked about how our in-datacenter networks have been running for the past decade. The blog post here is brief, but if you missed the conference talk, we'll have a full paper coming out in August.

There is some very serious secret sauce in here.

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2015-06-17 03:06:06 (166 comments, 95 reshares, 335 +1s)Open 

Ever since seeing this article a few days ago, it's been bugging me. We know that self-driving cars will have to solve real-life "trolley problems:" those favorite hypotheticals of Philosophy 101 classes wherein you have to make a choice between saving, say, one person's life or five, or saving five people's lives by pushing another person off a bridge, or things like that. And ethicists (and even more so, the media) have spent a lot of time talking about how impossible it will be to ever trust computers with such decisions, and why, therefore, autonomous machines are frightening.

What bugs me about this is that we make these kinds of decisions all the time. There are plenty of concrete, real-world cases that actually happen: do you swerve into a tree rather than hit a pedestrian? (That's greatly increasing the risk to your life -- and your passengers' -- to save... more »

Ever since seeing this article a few days ago, it's been bugging me. We know that self-driving cars will have to solve real-life "trolley problems:" those favorite hypotheticals of Philosophy 101 classes wherein you have to make a choice between saving, say, one person's life or five, or saving five people's lives by pushing another person off a bridge, or things like that. And ethicists (and even more so, the media) have spent a lot of time talking about how impossible it will be to ever trust computers with such decisions, and why, therefore, autonomous machines are frightening.

What bugs me about this is that we make these kinds of decisions all the time. There are plenty of concrete, real-world cases that actually happen: do you swerve into a tree rather than hit a pedestrian? (That's greatly increasing the risk to your life -- and your passengers' -- to save another person)

I think that part of the reason that we're so nervous about computerizing these ethical decisions is not so much that they're hard, as that doing this would require us to be very explicit about how we want these decisions made -- and people tend to talk around that very explicit decision, because when they do, it tends to reveal that their actual preferences aren't the same as the ones they want their neighbors to think they have.

For example: I suspect that most people, if driving alone in a vehicle, will go to fairly significant lengths to avoid hitting a pedestrian, including putting themselves at risk by hitting a tree or running into a ditch. I suspect that if the pedestrian is pushing a stroller with a baby, they'll feel even more strongly this way. But as soon as you have passengers in the car, things change: what if it's your spouse? Your children? What if you don't particularly like your spouse?

Or we can phrase it in the way that the headline below does: "Will your self-driving car be programmed to kill you if it means saving more strangers?" This phrasing is deliberately chosen to trigger a revulsion, and if I phrase it instead the way I did above -- in terms of running into a tree to avoid a pedestrian -- your answer might be different. The phrasing in the headline, on the other hand, seems to tap into a fear of loss of autonomy, which I often hear around other parts of discussions of the future of cars. Here's a place where a decision which you normally make -- based on secret factors which only you, in your heart, know, and which nobody else will ever know for sure -- is instead going to be made by someone else, and not necessarily to your advantage. We all suspect that it would sometimes make that decision in a way that, if we were making it secret (and with the plausible deniability that comes from it being hard to operate a car during an emergency), we might make quite differently.

Oddly, if you think about how we would feel about such decisions being made by a human taxi driver, people's reactions seem different, even though there's the same loss of autonomy, and now instead of a rule you can understand, you're subject to the driver's secret decisions. 

I suspect that the truth is this:

Most people would go to more lengths than they expect to save a life that they in some way cared about.

Most people would go to more lengths than they are willing to admit to save their own life: their actual balance, in the clinch, between protecting themselves and protecting others isn't the one they say it is. And most people secretly suspect that this is true, which is why the notion of the car "being programmed to kill you" in order to save other people's lives -- taking away that last chance to change your mind -- is frightening.

Most people's calculus about the lives in question is actually fairly complex, and may vary from day to day. But people's immediate conscious thoughts -- who they're happy with, who they're mad at -- may not accurately reflect what they would end up doing.

And so what's frightening about this isn't that the decision would be made by a third party, but that even if we ourselves individually made the decision, setting the knobs and dials of our car's Ethics-O-Meter every morning, we would be forcing ourselves to explicitly state what we really wanted to happen, and commit ourselves, staking our own lives and those of others on it. The opportunity to have a private calculus of life and death would go away.

As a side note, for cars this is less actually relevant, because there are actually very few cases in which you would have to choose between hitting a pedestrian and crashing into a tree which didn't come from driver inattention or other unsafe driving behaviors leading to loss of vehicle control -- precisely the sorts of things which self-driving cars don't have. So these mortal cases would be vanishingly rarer than they are in our daily lives, which is precisely where the advantage of self-driving cars comes from.

For robotic weapons such as armed drones, of course, these questions happen all the time. But in that case, we have a simple ethical answer as well: if you program a drone to kill everyone matching a certain pattern in a certain area, and it does so, then the moral fault lies with the person who launched it; the device may be more complex (and trigger our subconscious identification of it as being a "sort-of animate entity," as our minds tend to do), but ultimately it's no more a moral or ethical decision agent than a spear that we've thrown at someone, once it's left our hand and is on its mortal flight.

With the cars, the choice of the programming of ethics is the point at which these decisions are made. This programming may be erroneous, or it may fail in circumstances beyond those which were originally foreseen (and what planning for life and death doesn't?), but ultimately, ethical programming is just like any other kind of programming: you tell it you want X, and it will deliver X for you. If X was not what you really wanted, that's because you were dishonest with the computer.

The real challenge is this: if we agree on a standard ethical programming for cars, we have to agree and deal with the fact that we don't all want the same thing. If we each program our own car's ethical bounds, then we each have that individual responsibility. And in either case, these cars give us the practical requirement to be completely explicit and precise about what we do, and don't, want to happen when faced with a real-life trolley problem.___

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2015-06-17 00:04:19 (21 comments, 4 reshares, 97 +1s)Open 

"So I take the flagon with the dragon with the pellet with the poison and the vessel with the pestle with the brew that is true. And I give the vessel to who?"
"No, you give the vessel with the pestle to What! And the flagon with the dragon goes to Who."
"I don't know."
"He's on third, we're not poisoning him."

Some days really feel like this. 

(Incidentally, for those who are confused by some of this, in the previous scene -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJ9f2rnjB84 -- the titular jester's armor got magnetized. And there was much confusion, because really, jesters shouldn't be fighting in armor.)

"So I take the flagon with the dragon with the pellet with the poison and the vessel with the pestle with the brew that is true. And I give the vessel to who?"
"No, you give the vessel with the pestle to What! And the flagon with the dragon goes to Who."
"I don't know."
"He's on third, we're not poisoning him."

Some days really feel like this. 

(Incidentally, for those who are confused by some of this, in the previous scene -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJ9f2rnjB84 -- the titular jester's armor got magnetized. And there was much confusion, because really, jesters shouldn't be fighting in armor.)___

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