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Yonatan Zunger has been at 2 events

HostFollowersTitleDateGuestsLinks
STEM Women on G+172,788Join 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 21:30:0097  
Blogger1,439,602We’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 20:30:001141  

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Top posts in the last 50 posts

Most comments: 486

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2015-08-31 02:58:04 (486 comments, 59 reshares, 426 +1s)Open 

Those watching the Republican nomination race have probably noticed the significant success Donald Trump has had with essentially a European far-right platform: anti-immigrant rhetoric with a strong wink towards options of violence both by his followers (e.g. the men who beat a Latino man into the hospital, which he described as his followers being "very passionate" people who "want this country to be great again") and by him officially, if he's elected. (e.g. by forcibly deporting eleven million people; the means of finding them TBD)

So now we enter the second act of this particular black comedy, in which candidates who are having trouble in the polls try to steal Trump's voters by outdoing him. Alas, neither Scott Walker nor Chris Christie have anything resembling the sort of charisma required to lead a white supremacist movement, but you've got to give them... more »

Most reshares: 240

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2015-08-25 21:04:20 (133 comments, 240 reshares, 597 +1s)Open 

This image by wavegrower [1] has been circulating, together with the question: "Will these jellyfish ever make it back to their original place?" +Kimberly Chapman pointed out the obvious "yes, because it's an animated GIF and those loop." But here's something you might not expect: even if it weren't an animated GIF, even if these jellyfish were being moved around by a program using random numbers, I could guarantee that they always repeat.

(Or to be a bit more careful, if you watch it long enough, you'll always see a repetition. It might not be the very first position that repeats [2])

Why? Let's imagine a simpler case for a moment, involving a 2x2 grid of jellyfish, each of a different color so we can tell them apart. There are 24 possible ways we could arrange the jellyfish: if you start with an empty grid, there are four places to put the red... more »

Most plusones: 597

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2015-08-25 21:04:20 (133 comments, 240 reshares, 597 +1s)Open 

This image by wavegrower [1] has been circulating, together with the question: "Will these jellyfish ever make it back to their original place?" +Kimberly Chapman pointed out the obvious "yes, because it's an animated GIF and those loop." But here's something you might not expect: even if it weren't an animated GIF, even if these jellyfish were being moved around by a program using random numbers, I could guarantee that they always repeat.

(Or to be a bit more careful, if you watch it long enough, you'll always see a repetition. It might not be the very first position that repeats [2])

Why? Let's imagine a simpler case for a moment, involving a 2x2 grid of jellyfish, each of a different color so we can tell them apart. There are 24 possible ways we could arrange the jellyfish: if you start with an empty grid, there are four places to put the red... more »

Latest 50 posts

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2015-09-04 16:19:13 (4 comments, 4 reshares, 22 +1s)Open 

Liverpool has a tremendous network of underground tunnels, built two centuries ago by a tobacco merchant for reasons unknown. Over the past few years, they've been excavated for the first time, revealing a host of artifacts, and mostly, really stunning tunnels.

So the next time you're planning a meeting of your secret society, consider Liverpool! 

Liverpool has a tremendous network of underground tunnels, built two centuries ago by a tobacco merchant for reasons unknown. Over the past few years, they've been excavated for the first time, revealing a host of artifacts, and mostly, really stunning tunnels.

So the next time you're planning a meeting of your secret society, consider Liverpool! ___

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2015-09-04 06:20:02 (43 comments, 38 reshares, 213 +1s)Open 

I grew up in Colorado, which is very much a part of the American West. We learned about all of the famous heroes, villains, and characters of that time not through fiction and westerns, but as part of our history lessons. And yet, with all those stories about Wild Bill Hickok, and Baby Doe Tabor, and Al Swearengen and the whole rest of our somewhat disreputable predecessors, I somehow never heard the story of Bass Reeves: the man behind the tales of the Lone Ranger.

My education was clearly deficient.

Americans love the story of The Lone Ranger. Riding his white horse, hunting outlaws with his Native American guide and sidekick. Never firing his gun except when absolutely necessary, and never missing when he did.

Did you know almost all those stories are actually true? That there really was a Lone Ranger? Who traveled through Indian Territory finding outlaws and bringing them to justice on a white stallion? With his trusted guide?

His name was Bass Reeves. He successfully captured over 3,000 outlaws. He was a master of disguise, choosing carefully when to surprise and subdue the outlaws he was hunting. He was barred from competitive shooting, because no one else had a chance. Yet he only shot when there was absolutely no other way.

So why is it today is the first time I've ever heard of Bass Reeves?

Because the real Lone Ranger was black. And a former slave.

#WhitewashedHistory___I grew up in Colorado, which is very much a part of the American West. We learned about all of the famous heroes, villains, and characters of that time not through fiction and westerns, but as part of our history lessons. And yet, with all those stories about Wild Bill Hickok, and Baby Doe Tabor, and Al Swearengen and the whole rest of our somewhat disreputable predecessors, I somehow never heard the story of Bass Reeves: the man behind the tales of the Lone Ranger.

My education was clearly deficient.

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2015-09-03 04:02:52 (106 comments, 38 reshares, 205 +1s)Open 

After a Texas police officer was murdered a few days ago, the sheriff of that town – and soon after him, a chorus of other people from law enforcement – came out to blame this murder on the existence of the Black Lives Matter movement. By advocating for police reform, he argues, and by bringing murders (and lesser criminality) by police officers to the fore, they have devalued police lives and put police officers everywhere in jeopardy.

If something sounds specious to you about this argument, there's a reason. And rather than write an essay explaining it, I'm going to hand you over to Brittney Cooper, who has written an excellent and extremely readable explanation of not just this, but of the broader pattern it belongs to.

And in case you're wondering: There is no evidence whatsoever that this murder had anything to do with Black Lives Matter.

After a Texas police officer was murdered a few days ago, the sheriff of that town – and soon after him, a chorus of other people from law enforcement – came out to blame this murder on the existence of the Black Lives Matter movement. By advocating for police reform, he argues, and by bringing murders (and lesser criminality) by police officers to the fore, they have devalued police lives and put police officers everywhere in jeopardy.

If something sounds specious to you about this argument, there's a reason. And rather than write an essay explaining it, I'm going to hand you over to Brittney Cooper, who has written an excellent and extremely readable explanation of not just this, but of the broader pattern it belongs to.

And in case you're wondering: There is no evidence whatsoever that this murder had anything to do with Black Lives Matter.___

2015-09-03 01:38:23 (32 comments, 16 reshares, 216 +1s)Open 

There used to be a saying in tech: every program grows in complexity until it can send e-mail.*

* Except Microsoft Exchange.

"Gentlemen, our submarine-helicopter is only unpopular with two groups of people: those who don't understand why their helicopter is underwater, and those who don't understand why their submarine has this huge rotor on top. Our competitor's popular product has wheels, so we're thinking we should just bolt some on."

"Sir, our competitor's product is a sports car."

"I don't understand. Can't our helicopter-submarine be a sports car too?"___There used to be a saying in tech: every program grows in complexity until it can send e-mail.*

* Except Microsoft Exchange.

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2015-09-02 21:53:02 (70 comments, 20 reshares, 191 +1s)Open 

The backpack has been a standard method of carrying things for decades. At some point a few decades ago, backpack makers started making packs specialized for "city" uses, focusing on students and the like as customers. And to be honest, they did a so-so job of it; I stuck with the mountaineering packs that I grew up with until only a few years ago, when my carrying needs had changed significantly. Now, seeing slowing sales, they're rethinking what people's needs are, and trying to build systems from scratch.

What's interesting is who they are using as their research markets: the three heaviest users they could find. Mountaineers, students, and the homeless in San Francisco. 

This makes excellent sense: people who live out of their backpacks, for which their backpacks are life-and-death important, will have developed the best strategies for using them, have the... more »

The backpack has been a standard method of carrying things for decades. At some point a few decades ago, backpack makers started making packs specialized for "city" uses, focusing on students and the like as customers. And to be honest, they did a so-so job of it; I stuck with the mountaineering packs that I grew up with until only a few years ago, when my carrying needs had changed significantly. Now, seeing slowing sales, they're rethinking what people's needs are, and trying to build systems from scratch.

What's interesting is who they are using as their research markets: the three heaviest users they could find. Mountaineers, students, and the homeless in San Francisco. 

This makes excellent sense: people who live out of their backpacks, for which their backpacks are life-and-death important, will have developed the best strategies for using them, have the clearest needs, and so on. And in parallel to that, there's something else important here: it starts from looking at the homeless as people with complex tastes, rather than as a lumpen mass.

For the first time in quite a while, I'm interested to see what next-gen backpacks will look like. Someone may actually come up with something novel and useful.___

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2015-09-02 20:34:34 (96 comments, 39 reshares, 311 +1s)Open 

Someone has calculated this, and posted it on imgur.

I am not sure why you might need to know this, but it may be useful when designing a more aerodynamic cow.

Someone has calculated this, and posted it on imgur.

I am not sure why you might need to know this, but it may be useful when designing a more aerodynamic cow.___

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2015-09-02 03:31:33 (52 comments, 5 reshares, 102 +1s)Open 

I was familiar with some of these, but some of these radioactive home products surprised me. I find the Radium Condoms (perhaps for those who couldn't find their own genitals in the dark with both hands?) particularly amusing. Those and the Radium Suppositories.

(For those who are wondering: yes, these products were exactly as bad an idea as they sound.)

For healthy, glowing skin.

"Tho-Radia made a whole product line of perfumes, creams, facial powders, lipsticks and other beauty products that contained thorium-cloride and radium."

via http://io9.com/seriously-scary-radioactive-consumer-products-from-the-498044380?commerce_insets_disclosure=off&utm_expid=66866090-48.Ej9760cOTJCPS_Bq4mjoww.1___I was familiar with some of these, but some of these radioactive home products surprised me. I find the Radium Condoms (perhaps for those who couldn't find their own genitals in the dark with both hands?) particularly amusing. Those and the Radium Suppositories.

(For those who are wondering: yes, these products were exactly as bad an idea as they sound.)

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2015-09-02 02:06:32 (183 comments, 170 reshares, 523 +1s)Open 

Today marks an alarming record: for the first time in recorded history, there are three Category 4 hurricanes simultaneously moving across the Pacific Ocean. From left to right, these have been named Kilo, Ignacio, and Jimena; Ignacio is currently headed towards the Big Island of Hawaii, while the path of the other two isn't yet clear enough to know if any islands are in danger.

You can read more about it here: http://www.sciencealert.com/three-category-4-hurricanes-have-just-hit-in-pacific-ocean-at-the-same-time

h/t +Mike Clancy.

Today marks an alarming record: for the first time in recorded history, there are three Category 4 hurricanes simultaneously moving across the Pacific Ocean. From left to right, these have been named Kilo, Ignacio, and Jimena; Ignacio is currently headed towards the Big Island of Hawaii, while the path of the other two isn't yet clear enough to know if any islands are in danger.

You can read more about it here: http://www.sciencealert.com/three-category-4-hurricanes-have-just-hit-in-pacific-ocean-at-the-same-time

h/t +Mike Clancy.___

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2015-09-01 20:27:02 (85 comments, 23 reshares, 130 +1s)Open 

This result somewhat surprised me, because I wouldn't have thought it was robust enough to work. Apparently, there are some consumers whose tastes predictably match things that will fail terribly in the market. They look like early adopters in most regards, but their tastes are 180° different from the general public – and so by studying their preferences, you can know what not to launch.

I'm not really sure what the deeper meaning of this is. Is this a sign that tastes really fall into major buckets, and that these products which are flopping could actually be successful niche products? Or to take another extreme, are these people somehow actively in search of failures?

Either way, there's an interesting phenomenon here. If you've ever wondered why your favorite restaurants keep closing, or your favorite brands keep going out of business, maybe this is why.
... more »

This result somewhat surprised me, because I wouldn't have thought it was robust enough to work. Apparently, there are some consumers whose tastes predictably match things that will fail terribly in the market. They look like early adopters in most regards, but their tastes are 180° different from the general public – and so by studying their preferences, you can know what not to launch.

I'm not really sure what the deeper meaning of this is. Is this a sign that tastes really fall into major buckets, and that these products which are flopping could actually be successful niche products? Or to take another extreme, are these people somehow actively in search of failures?

Either way, there's an interesting phenomenon here. If you've ever wondered why your favorite restaurants keep closing, or your favorite brands keep going out of business, maybe this is why.

Via +Allen Knutson.___

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2015-08-31 19:59:09 (22 comments, 14 reshares, 188 +1s)Open 

For all those of you who have been asking: we (finally!) have a fresh iOS binary for Google+, complete with full Collections support.

Whew. :-)

Introducing Google+ Collections on iOS

Google+ users on Android and the web are using Collections to connect with others around shared interests ranging from Homebrewing https://goo.gl/llrjAO, Climbing Junkie Photos https://goo.gl/Jeaaqr to Magical, Mystical Mountains https://goo.gl/OCM4mm and Marine Life https://goo.gl/4ISRZz. Today, we’re excited to announce Collections on iOS.

Create a Collection about something you’re interested in; make as many as you’d like;  and don’t worry about over sharing since people can follow just the Collections they like. 

Google+ users who have already created Collections asked us for the ability to customize who can see their Collections and if they could add taglines to describe them. We recently announced these features on Android and the web; today they are also available on iOS. To better explore the wide range of Collections https://goo.gl/437uWV already created, we announced last week that you can search for Collections on Google+ on Android as well. 

Thanks to everyone for these ideas. Please keep the feedback coming - we’re listening. Have questions about Collections?  Check out our Help Center http://goo.gl/zyIVMH or join this community for Help, Tips & Tricks: http://goo.gl/meRk8j.

To get Collections in your Google+ iOS app, download it here: https://goo.gl/0aYo0Y.

We can’t wait to see what Collections you create!___For all those of you who have been asking: we (finally!) have a fresh iOS binary for Google+, complete with full Collections support.

Whew. :-)

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2015-08-31 07:36:17 (57 comments, 17 reshares, 222 +1s)Open 

So on the one hand, when the weather is really hot, setting up portable outdoor showers for people to cool off is a pretty good idea.

On the other hand, having a bunch of showers be the first thing people see when they arrive at Auschwitz may not quite convey the intended message.

(Via +Haaretz.com)

So on the one hand, when the weather is really hot, setting up portable outdoor showers for people to cool off is a pretty good idea.

On the other hand, having a bunch of showers be the first thing people see when they arrive at Auschwitz may not quite convey the intended message.

(Via +Haaretz.com)___

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2015-08-31 05:27:56 (136 comments, 7 reshares, 76 +1s)Open 

I disagree with Ben Carson on quite a number of issues. (Given that he headlines the "issues" page on his own website with his dedication to opposing abortion, keeping Guantánamo open, and establishing a flat tax, this probably won't surprise anyone) So I find it interesting to read an op-ed he wrote and think that his positions on the issues he talks about aren't at all crazy.

The interesting aspect of that is mostly that I find it interesting, which is in turn a sign of the depth of polarization in this country. It's almost shocking to me to read anything said by a Republican candidate during high primary season, when each candidate is racing to out-crazy the others with more dramatic and less coded appeals to groups that bring new meaning to the word "base," which instead seems to have come out of the halls of rational discussion.

(NB "not... more »

I disagree with Ben Carson on quite a number of issues. (Given that he headlines the "issues" page on his own website with his dedication to opposing abortion, keeping Guantánamo open, and establishing a flat tax, this probably won't surprise anyone) So I find it interesting to read an op-ed he wrote and think that his positions on the issues he talks about aren't at all crazy.

The interesting aspect of that is mostly that I find it interesting, which is in turn a sign of the depth of polarization in this country. It's almost shocking to me to read anything said by a Republican candidate during high primary season, when each candidate is racing to out-crazy the others with more dramatic and less coded appeals to groups that bring new meaning to the word "base," which instead seems to have come out of the halls of rational discussion.

(NB "not crazy" doesn't mean I agree with what he says here; just that I could imagine a meaningful conversation starting from it)

It's perhaps unsurprising that this comes from Carson; to be a black man and a Republican candidate clearly requires a different political orientation, especially during a political season where our country's original sin has once again come to the fore. Carson could conceivably try to rouse the religious base in a season dominated by that, but in the year we find ourselves in, it's not likely that he'll find a good way to rouse closeted white supremacists or their fellow-travelers to his cause.

So while I still can't imagine voting for Carson, I would like to thank him for injecting a small bit of sanity into this election season - possibly the last such bit we'll see for the next year and a half. ___

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2015-08-31 02:58:04 (486 comments, 59 reshares, 426 +1s)Open 

Those watching the Republican nomination race have probably noticed the significant success Donald Trump has had with essentially a European far-right platform: anti-immigrant rhetoric with a strong wink towards options of violence both by his followers (e.g. the men who beat a Latino man into the hospital, which he described as his followers being "very passionate" people who "want this country to be great again") and by him officially, if he's elected. (e.g. by forcibly deporting eleven million people; the means of finding them TBD)

So now we enter the second act of this particular black comedy, in which candidates who are having trouble in the polls try to steal Trump's voters by outdoing him. Alas, neither Scott Walker nor Chris Christie have anything resembling the sort of charisma required to lead a white supremacist movement, but you've got to give them... more »

Those watching the Republican nomination race have probably noticed the significant success Donald Trump has had with essentially a European far-right platform: anti-immigrant rhetoric with a strong wink towards options of violence both by his followers (e.g. the men who beat a Latino man into the hospital, which he described as his followers being "very passionate" people who "want this country to be great again") and by him officially, if he's elected. (e.g. by forcibly deporting eleven million people; the means of finding them TBD)

So now we enter the second act of this particular black comedy, in which candidates who are having trouble in the polls try to steal Trump's voters by outdoing him. Alas, neither Scott Walker nor Chris Christie have anything resembling the sort of charisma required to lead a white supremacist movement, but you've got to give them points for batshit insane. In the past two days:

Christie wants to bring in Fred Smith of FedEx to work for ICE, and create a system that lets us track immigrants like packages, and find and deport them instantly when we want to. It's not quite clear what method he would prefer for affixing a computer-readable, nonremovable tag to people; some of the better suggestions I've heard so far involve implanting RFID chips in people's arms or necks, requiring that they wear some special identifying clothing, or simply tattooing their ID number on them somewhere. Trust us, nothing could go wrong with this.

(NB that Fred Smith has made no indication that he wants anything to do with Christie's ideas; he is not to blame for this)

Walker, on the other hand, appears to have become enamored of Trump's idea of building a wall sealing us off from Mexico, and wants to take it a step further: he'll not only build that, but notes the "legitimate concerns" which warrant us seriously investigating building a wall with Canada.

No, he does not appear to be joking.

I'm not sure whether he's terrified of an unexpected reprise of the War of 1812, or if there's a fear that Canadians might stream south of the border and... be really polite to people?

But yes, we have finally reached that point in American history where electoral politics and South Park are no longer clearly distinguishable. So alright, everybody – Blame Canada!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOR38552MJA___

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2015-08-30 03:56:59 (120 comments, 90 reshares, 332 +1s)Open 

Ken Roth of +Human Rights Watch shared this extraordinarily detailed map of who currently controls what chunks of land in Syria and Iraq, as of this week.

When reading this map, pay close attention to the white cross-hatching that covers most ISIS and Iraqi territory: that indicates "sparsely populated area," i.e. open desert which is exceptionally difficult to cross individually, much less in force, and so claims of "control" over these areas are more theoretical than practical.

Also note the maps of ethnic and linguistic groups on the left; while tribal affiliation (the basic axis of alliance in this region) is more complicated than that, these lines indicate the coarsest first-order boundaries. The relative homogeneity of Iraq (having separate Sunni and Shi'ite areas) is an aftereffect of the Iraq War, and of the ethnic cleansing and mass violence which... more »

Ken Roth of +Human Rights Watch shared this extraordinarily detailed map of who currently controls what chunks of land in Syria and Iraq, as of this week.

When reading this map, pay close attention to the white cross-hatching that covers most ISIS and Iraqi territory: that indicates "sparsely populated area," i.e. open desert which is exceptionally difficult to cross individually, much less in force, and so claims of "control" over these areas are more theoretical than practical.

Also note the maps of ethnic and linguistic groups on the left; while tribal affiliation (the basic axis of alliance in this region) is more complicated than that, these lines indicate the coarsest first-order boundaries. The relative homogeneity of Iraq (having separate Sunni and Shi'ite areas) is an aftereffect of the Iraq War, and of the ethnic cleansing and mass violence which followed: prior to the war, Iraq was highly intermixed. When you hear commentators ascribe the end of this violence to the 2007 "Surge," be aware that there's a certain amount of hubris involved in that: the violence happened to stop right around the time that there were almost no remaining areas where Sunnis and Shi'ites lived together anymore, everyone having fled or been killed.

You can contrast this with Lebanon and some of the immediately adjacent parts of Syria, which remain ethnically highly mixed. This is part of what made the Syrian civil war so explosive: the existence of a stable government was what assured the safety of minority groups (since stable governments tend to frown on mass slaughter), and so everyone in those groups was highly aware that if the government fell, they would become targets of genocide, thus giving all of those groups an extremely strong incentive to fight for al-Assad. 

And in fact, the Syrian map is now significantly less mixed than the Lebanese map, even in the far southwest of the country which borders on it. A few years ago, you would have seen an extremely significant Druze population, especially near the Israeli border. (There is a significant Druze population in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, and they frequently move across the borders; that's in fact one of the biggest sources of on-the-ground communication between the three countries. The Druze in Israel are a particularly interesting case, as they're significantly more integrated into Israeli society than the Arabs, and feelings remain generally warm on all sides there.) The replacement of that population with Sunni dominance, and likewise the end of cross-border ties between Syrian Druze and everyone else, is a consequence of the rebels taking over that area.

Of course, you shouldn't take the broad swathes of Sunnis and Shi'ites to indicate profound unity among them; that's where tribal structures start to come into play. While "hey, we're both Sunnis, let's go beat up those Shi'ites" may be a perfectly reasonable overture in a negotiation between tribes, it's no more than an overture; it's not uncommon for the response to be "screw you, Tikriti" (or any other geographical, tribal, or familial distinction which happens to be more salient to the people in that particular area) Only the Kurds have something resembling a broad alliance among themselves, born of a very different history.

If you've noticed a pattern here, it's probably that alliances are fairly complicated, and people tend to make alliances with other tribes primarily for protection against third tribes, or to beat up some third tribe. This tends to clash harshly with the profound cultural need of Americans for there to be a clear "good guy" to root for and a "bad guy" to root against. Bashar al-Assad is a bloodthirsty, violent dictator, who is also the guarantor of the safety of all the ethnoreligious minorities of Syria against genocide. The Shi'ites of Iraq were profoundly oppressed for years by the Sunnis; until they got into power, at which point they started killing people left and right.

Some outsiders respond to this by picking one group or another to paint as their "good guys" of choice, whether it be the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Kurds, or the Syrian rebels who aren't allied with ISIS. Unfortunately, this tends to run hard against the rocks of reality fairly quickly, so it only works well in the long term for those willing to stay far away from practicalities and simply produce speeches or Internet memes about the goodness of their preferred side and how horribly they're being treated. Things get far worse when outsiders try to go in and get involved more directly, whether it be by joining protest organizations or by invading with large armies: the lesson in "wait, these guys aren't particularly good at all!" tends to take a while to learn, and a lot of bodies pile up in the meantime.

But nor is this an indication that outsiders should simply stay out; isolationism doesn't work for either the Middle East or for the rest of the world. Even the suggestion that the West's only interests in the Middle East are tied to oil is flawed; if you look at a map, you'll spot that the Middle East also contains critical seaports and routes, and borders all along the soft underbelly of Asia, up until it links to China. Try as you might, if you're going to be involved in the politics of the world, the Middle East will be as important today as it was 1,000 years ago, when it was a major trade axis for the planet.

What's the solution, then? You have to learn to deal with complexity: to understand that nobody is going to wear a convenient white or black hat, that loyalties are complex and shifting, and that the simple transplant of Western ideas like "democracy" doesn't work when the thousands of years of cultural underpinnings for those are completely different; you need to translate the purpose of ideas, not their particular implementations, if you want them to have local resonance.

Welcome to the Middle East: amateur hour is now over. ___

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2015-08-28 21:09:30 (51 comments, 8 reshares, 145 +1s)Open 

I want you to read this and remember two things: First, science is everywhere and there are surprisingly interesting things to discover in the most unlikely of places. Second, there is someone whose job was to go around South Africa searching hippopotamus' asses for leeches, and you should keep that in mind if you're considering going to grad school.

And now, you should just read this article, because there is really nothing I could add that would add further to the joy of this.

h/t +Valdis Kletnieks.

If you are a leech, there is one good spot on a hippo to find a meal, and it is not in the front. ___I want you to read this and remember two things: First, science is everywhere and there are surprisingly interesting things to discover in the most unlikely of places. Second, there is someone whose job was to go around South Africa searching hippopotamus' asses for leeches, and you should keep that in mind if you're considering going to grad school.

And now, you should just read this article, because there is really nothing I could add that would add further to the joy of this.

h/t +Valdis Kletnieks.

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2015-08-28 19:30:11 (155 comments, 106 reshares, 342 +1s)Open 

Much like the changing physical design of the phone affected its use for calling people, the changing design of the pen has affected handwriting. You may not realize this, but it's significantly harder on the hands to write with a ballpoint pen than with a fountain pen.

I was personally very aware of this when I was a physicist, since most of the work I had to do was writing and working through page after page of equations, which to this day isn't easy to do on a computer. So it was pens and notebooks all the time, and I became extremely particular about which ones I used: a pen which either had too high a resistance or which dried too slowly, or paper that didn't absorb the ink well, and my work would actively suffer.

(Quite seriously: if your hands hurt too soon, you can't write for hours on end. If the ink smudges as you write -- especially if, like me, you're... more »

Much like the changing physical design of the phone affected its use for calling people, the changing design of the pen has affected handwriting. You may not realize this, but it's significantly harder on the hands to write with a ballpoint pen than with a fountain pen.

I was personally very aware of this when I was a physicist, since most of the work I had to do was writing and working through page after page of equations, which to this day isn't easy to do on a computer. So it was pens and notebooks all the time, and I became extremely particular about which ones I used: a pen which either had too high a resistance or which dried too slowly, or paper that didn't absorb the ink well, and my work would actively suffer.

(Quite seriously: if your hands hurt too soon, you can't write for hours on end. If the ink smudges as you write -- especially if, like me, you're left-handed -- everything is a lost cause. If the paper doesn't absorb the ink and dry enough for you to flip pages in the notebook, you're lost. Any of these things take time, energy, and concentration, and you simply can't vanish into the flow of the science.)

This article isn't about doing science, but about how the ballpoint pen changed handwriting -- but it's through the exact same process. The various methods of cursive weren't popular primarily for their aesthetics; they were practical methods of writing quickly and legibly. As anyone who remembers having to do this in school can attest, that's always been kind of strange, because with modern pens, Palmer-method cursive is much slower and harder: people tend to develop their own semi-script handwriting for when they actually need to write day-to-day. (Except for handwriting enthusiasts who are doing it for fun)

So when you see the lack of handwriting, instead of crying "O tempora! O mores!," realize that what you're seeing isn't simply a move to computers: it's the evolution of the pen itself.

Via +Patricia Elizabeth ___

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2015-08-28 04:38:41 (91 comments, 53 reshares, 281 +1s)Open 

Whenever I post a "How It's Made" video, I always think of the two things that nobody in their right mind would ever want to see made: laws and sausages. And since I post often enough about the legal system, I thought it would only be appropriate to share the other half of the equation with you, namely this brief (and disturbingly chipper) tour through a hot dog factory.

On the one hand, yes, this is kind of disgusting, because the human mind doesn't really have a natural transformation in it between "meat that was obviously some kind of animal not long ago" and "purée." (Or rather, it does have a natural transformation for such things, but again that's not one that we normally want to see during our food preparation) The process of grinding meat, mixing it with spices, then grinding it two more times until it's essentially liquid, is visually a... more »

Whenever I post a "How It's Made" video, I always think of the two things that nobody in their right mind would ever want to see made: laws and sausages. And since I post often enough about the legal system, I thought it would only be appropriate to share the other half of the equation with you, namely this brief (and disturbingly chipper) tour through a hot dog factory.

On the one hand, yes, this is kind of disgusting, because the human mind doesn't really have a natural transformation in it between "meat that was obviously some kind of animal not long ago" and "purée." (Or rather, it does have a natural transformation for such things, but again that's not one that we normally want to see during our food preparation) The process of grinding meat, mixing it with spices, then grinding it two more times until it's essentially liquid, is visually a little disturbing.

But apart from that rather odd visual of "puréed meat" – and quite unlike what you would think if you watched laws being made – there's nothing actually disturbing going on here: it's a high-speed factory process because they're churning out lots of meat, but the basic process and recipe they're using isn't anything you would find shocking if you did it in your own kitchen.

You just probably wouldn't make 300,000 of them every hour.___

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2015-08-27 23:41:28 (17 comments, 36 reshares, 185 +1s)Open 

The period of a pendulum is proportional to the square root of its length. This means that if you have an array of pendula of different lengths, they all start to move a bit out of sync with one another. And if you watch it from the right angle, the results are hypnotic. Go check it out.

Pendulum balls (well, not quite, two strings for each) exhibit wonderful motion.___The period of a pendulum is proportional to the square root of its length. This means that if you have an array of pendula of different lengths, they all start to move a bit out of sync with one another. And if you watch it from the right angle, the results are hypnotic. Go check it out.

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2015-08-27 22:42:05 (44 comments, 133 reshares, 592 +1s)Open 

This looks not only extremely fun, but like it could be a prototype of an extremely useful tool for visualizing and physically manipulating various kinds of information.

Also, for combining with LEGOs and having them climb the mountain or reshape the geography with their mining expeditions.

via +Tim Hunt 

Augmented Reality Sandbox at UC Davis
http://idav.ucdavis.edu/~okreylos/ResDev/SARndbox/___This looks not only extremely fun, but like it could be a prototype of an extremely useful tool for visualizing and physically manipulating various kinds of information.

Also, for combining with LEGOs and having them climb the mountain or reshape the geography with their mining expeditions.

via +Tim Hunt 

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2015-08-27 20:09:11 (56 comments, 45 reshares, 141 +1s)Open 

The "broken windows" theory of crime prevention – that by cracking down on the visible symptoms of poverty and neglect, like broken windows or loitering, community norms would shift and other crime would decrease – has been popular for over 30 years. It comes chock-full of advantages, like requiring police departments to do things that are straightforward to achieve and measure, [1] but it has the basic problem that it doesn't seem to work.

New research is shedding deeper light on the underlying social processes which do work, however, and that's why this is a "Today I Learned" article instead of a "Politics, Society, and the Law" article. This team did a large-scale data analysis of Boston between 2011 and 2012, and found that the events (from arrest, 911, and 311 records) fell into a few natural categories: private neglect, like rats in buildings orpar... more »

The "broken windows" theory of crime prevention – that by cracking down on the visible symptoms of poverty and neglect, like broken windows or loitering, community norms would shift and other crime would decrease – has been popular for over 30 years. It comes chock-full of advantages, like requiring police departments to do things that are straightforward to achieve and measure, [1] but it has the basic problem that it doesn't seem to work.

New research is shedding deeper light on the underlying social processes which do work, however, and that's why this is a "Today I Learned" article instead of a "Politics, Society, and the Law" article. This team did a large-scale data analysis of Boston between 2011 and 2012, and found that the events (from arrest, 911, and 311 records) fell into a few natural categories: private neglect, like rats in buildings or parking on lawns; public denigration, like graffiti and broken windows; private conflict, like domestic and landlord-tenant disputes; public disorder, like reports of panhandlers and drunks; and public violence. They broke public violence down further into "basic" violence, violence involving guns, and homicides.

They compared how these different kinds of issue cropped up over space and time. While it wasn't possible to test if one thing caused another, it was possible to do what's called "cross-time correlation:" does having a lot of public denigration in a place, for example, correlate with having more public disorder or violence there later?

The answers were quite interesting. Unsurprisingly, the strongest correlations are between private conflict and public disorder and violence. Those, in turn, tend to feed back on themselves, sometimes escalating to guns, which are (by far) the main predictor of homicides. Perhaps more surprisingly, public denigration – the classic "broken windows" – showed no predictive power at all.

If we think about how conflicts tend to escalate, this makes a certain sense; if nobody had ever told you about "broken windows" theories, you would say that most fights (and murders) are between people who know each other, most fights start small and grow larger, fights between people can last a long time and spread to include other people, happen in private and in public, and so on, and probably more fights have their first origins in private than in public, but not by much.

The statements above probably seem pretty obvious, which is what made the broken windows idea seem so radical: it was upending all of this, suggesting that maybe the reason people thought it was OK to get into ever-escalating fights was the sense of decay around them, and if we just made everything look nicer, people would stop doing that.

It was a radical, but not crazy, idea; people do react to their surroundings and take cues from it. But the data increasingly seems to suggest that it's interesting, but wrong.

If this particular study has captured the real mechanisms – and as it's a study of just one city over one time window, it's far too small to give us real certainty of that – then it suggests that a more effective role for police would be to act as moderators of disputes, helping resolve and stop fights before they escalate. That's obviously a much harder job than ticketing panhandlers.

Of course, that answer may itself suffer from the blinders of asking "what can the police do?," when it's not obvious that the police are even the right mechanism. If there's one reliable pattern in sociological studies, it's that people don't become drug dealers, armed robbers, or junkies because they're stupid, inherently evil, or have some kind of cross-generational proclivity to do it; they do these things as fairly rational choices given an extremely limited set of options. [2]

That means that even murder is a symptom, rather than a cause, and actually fixing these problems will require answering deeper questions, like "why are people resolving their disputes by murder, rather than (say) talking it out, suing each other, or just moving away from each other?" In general, what we discover is that those alternatives aren't useful options to the people involved for various reasons which aren't always obvious to outsiders – and it's understanding that sort of thing which is the key to actually fixing things.


[1] And perhaps more importantly, it provides neat political narratives, as well as a good rationalization for policies that the public may want but not wish to admit to, such as forcibly removing the homeless or policing racial groups. The sad fact is that the politics of criminal law almost invariably boil down to something sordid.

[2] Even, perhaps especially, taking drugs. The key result is the famous "Rat Park" experiment (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_Park), which found the flaw in all those experiments that showed that rats will instantly become addicted to cocaine or heroin and take it until they die: the cages were confusing the experiment. When rats had an option of doing normal rat things or taking drugs, they had very little interest in drugs; they became addicted when it was a choice of that or being locked in a featureless white cage without drugs for months on end. This result has since been generalized beyond rats, but the key idea is there.___

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2015-08-27 18:03:57 (59 comments, 10 reshares, 92 +1s)Open 

A random bit of history: The rise and fall of the "singles bar" as a cultural institution. For a brief decade or two, these were one of the primary engines of fornication in the US, with 25% of all couples having met at one. 

Then the general creepiness of the late 1970's set in, followed shortly by cocaine, the AIDS epidemic, and rampant urges to emulate savings & loan executives, which led to their decline in favor of more savory environments such as coffee shops and the Internet.

Wait, I think something may have gone wrong there.

Wait, T.G.I. Fridays was the first singles bar?!

Before 1965, your average couple met each other via setups from friends or family, they had been high school or college sweethearts, maybe even co-workers or fellow churchgoers. But they almost certainly hadn’t met in a bar. Stillman wanted to change that and, in doing so, would inadvertently change dating in the latter part of the 20th century.

Stillman was a regular at a bullet-riddled, 1st Avenue saloon called Good Tavern. He’d hit the dive after work for an occasional beer and, annoyed there were never any women around, one day suggested to the owner that he might want to clean the place up and start serving the kind of food and drink that would attract a female crowd. The owner didn’t like that idea, but did like Stillman’s offer to buy the bar for $10,000. Even if he didn’t realize it at the time, Stillman’s idea to make a bar friendly to women was revolutionary.___A random bit of history: The rise and fall of the "singles bar" as a cultural institution. For a brief decade or two, these were one of the primary engines of fornication in the US, with 25% of all couples having met at one. 

Then the general creepiness of the late 1970's set in, followed shortly by cocaine, the AIDS epidemic, and rampant urges to emulate savings & loan executives, which led to their decline in favor of more savory environments such as coffee shops and the Internet.

Wait, I think something may have gone wrong there.

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2015-08-26 17:28:16 (26 comments, 120 reshares, 384 +1s)Open 

I love to give simple explanations of complex ideas, and I love finding good explanations by other people, too. Here, physicist Brian Skinner has written a very simple explanation of the core ideas of quantum field theory. QFT is the thing that combines special relativity with quantum mechanics, and is the basis of particle physics, the Standard Model, and almost all of our best understandings of how the universe works -- so it's rather impressive that he managed to explain its core ideas using mattresses.

I love to give simple explanations of complex ideas, and I love finding good explanations by other people, too. Here, physicist Brian Skinner has written a very simple explanation of the core ideas of quantum field theory. QFT is the thing that combines special relativity with quantum mechanics, and is the basis of particle physics, the Standard Model, and almost all of our best understandings of how the universe works -- so it's rather impressive that he managed to explain its core ideas using mattresses.___

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2015-08-25 21:04:20 (133 comments, 240 reshares, 597 +1s)Open 

This image by wavegrower [1] has been circulating, together with the question: "Will these jellyfish ever make it back to their original place?" +Kimberly Chapman pointed out the obvious "yes, because it's an animated GIF and those loop." But here's something you might not expect: even if it weren't an animated GIF, even if these jellyfish were being moved around by a program using random numbers, I could guarantee that they always repeat.

(Or to be a bit more careful, if you watch it long enough, you'll always see a repetition. It might not be the very first position that repeats [2])

Why? Let's imagine a simpler case for a moment, involving a 2x2 grid of jellyfish, each of a different color so we can tell them apart. There are 24 possible ways we could arrange the jellyfish: if you start with an empty grid, there are four places to put the red... more »

This image by wavegrower [1] has been circulating, together with the question: "Will these jellyfish ever make it back to their original place?" +Kimberly Chapman pointed out the obvious "yes, because it's an animated GIF and those loop." But here's something you might not expect: even if it weren't an animated GIF, even if these jellyfish were being moved around by a program using random numbers, I could guarantee that they always repeat.

(Or to be a bit more careful, if you watch it long enough, you'll always see a repetition. It might not be the very first position that repeats [2])

Why? Let's imagine a simpler case for a moment, involving a 2x2 grid of jellyfish, each of a different color so we can tell them apart. There are 24 possible ways we could arrange the jellyfish: if you start with an empty grid, there are four places to put the red jellyfish; for each of those places, there are three remaining possible places to put the blue one; for each of those, there are two remaining possible places to put the green one; and once you've chosen those three, there's only one place the yellow one could go. So there are 4*3*2*1=24 possible jellyfish patterns. (Written 4!, "4 factorial")

Each time the jellyfish move, we move from one of these 24 configurations into another. As it happens, the motions below are very limited -- each jellyfish has to move onto a dot next door -- but that turns out not to matter, because even if the jellyfish could teleport, they'd still have to repeat.

Why? Imagine that we look at the first 25 moves. The jellyfish will end up in 25 configurations, but there are only 24 different configurations total, which means that at least one configuration had to happen twice!

This is called the pigeonhole principle: if you have N+1 pigeons in N pigeonholes, at least one hole has to contain two pigeons. (In this case, you have 25 configurations in 24 distinct slots)

If the rule going from one configuration to the next is deterministic -- that is, if the next move depends only on where the jellyfish are right now -- then you know that once a single repetitive loop happens, that loop will continue to repeat forever, because you're back at the first stage of the loop and will then have to go on to the second one, etc.

If the rule isn't deterministic -- say, if each time the jellyfish move randomly -- then a single repetition doesn't guarantee infinite repetition, but you still know that at least one pattern will appear at least twice in any sample of 25 patterns.

The same thing is true for this bigger grid; you just need to wait a bit longer. The 16x16 grid below has 256 jellyfish, so you need to wait for 256!+1 steps -- that's 256*255*...*3*2*1 + 1 steps, or about 8*10^506 steps [3] -- but no matter what, the jellyfish are absolutely guaranteed to repeat.

What's even more interesting is that this may apply to more than just jellyfish. One set of rules that we know are deterministic are the laws of physics. [4] Now, an interesting open question in physics is: is there a minimum granularity of spacetime, so that we can think of the entire universe as being on some kind of extremely fine grid? (When I say "extremely fine," I mean a grid size of the Planck length, about 1.6*10^-35 meters. For comparison, that's as much smaller than a proton as a proton is smaller than the San Francisco Bay Area.)

There are some reasons to believe that this may actually be true (although the geometry is a lot more complicated than a simple grid, and in fact "geometry" isn't even the right word for it; the whole expansion of the universe, from the big bang on, is part of it). If it is, then there's something interesting: we could imagine the entire universe as a gigantic grid, and the current state of the universe is given by deterministic laws about what's on that grid, then we know that the state of the universe itself must ultimately repeat.

Of course, "ultimately" is a pretty long time horizon: if you think the number below is big, that's what we got with only 256 jellyfish. The total number of "jellyfish" needed to describe the universe is going to be something like 10^245, and so the number of moves it would take would be unimaginably huge.

But if this repetition is real, then it has some very interesting consequences. For example, it's one way to explain why we happen to observe physical constants in our universe that are consistent with the existence of human life. [5] If those "constants" are actually controlled by the state of the universe, and the universe ultimately steps through all possible states, then it isn't surprising that we'll look out the window and see the constants that we could survive in; when the universe was in all of those other possible states, we weren't around to see it.

If, on the other hand, the universe has infinitely many states in it, then no recurrence need ever happen; it can keep changing indefinitely, and the entire argument above falls apart. This is one of the very few times that "finite but very big" and "infinite" are meaningfully different in physics.

This sort of analysis is called an "anthropic" analysis, and while it seems unsatisfying in some ways -- it doesn't explain the values of the constants, after all, or tell us what other constants might allow us to exist, it just tells us why they happen to be that right now -- it's a real possibility that this is what's actually going on. The entire debate over this, whether these recurrences (they're called Poincaré Recurrences, after the French mathematician who first described the math above) occur in nature and whether Anthropy is an explanation for the world, is a major open question in fundamental physics today.

So whether the jellyfish are moving in an animated GIF or powering the basic laws of physics, remember this: Finite patterns must always repeat; infinite patterns don't have to.

And now, you may return to staring at the GIF to your heart's content.

[1] Circulating uncredited, mind you. Wavegrower's work can be found at wavegrower.tumblr.com, and is full of great math images like these. Those who like such things can also find some great ones at beesandbombs.tumblr.com. Thanks to +Don Yang for finding the original!

[2] Actually, for this picture we can prove that every state repeats, but the math gets a lot more serious. You can check out this post if you want to know more:
https://plus.google.com/+YonatanZunger/posts/h7aaNSANgVq
Among the things proved in that discussion was that if you have a system with finitely many states, and the rule that maps one state onto the next state is reversible -- that is, you can always tell from any state what the previous state must have been -- then every state is periodic and will repeat infinitely many times.

[3] If you want to be precise about it, it's 857,817,775,342,842,654,119,082,271,681,232,625,157,781,520,279,485,619,859,655,650,377,269,452,553,147,589,377,440,291,360,451,408,450,375,885,342,336,584,306,157,196,834,693,696,475,322,289,288,497,426,025,679,637,332,563,368,786,442,675,207,626,794,560,187,968,867,971,521,143,307,702,077,526,646,451,464,709,187,326,100,832,876,325,702,818,980,773,671,781,454,170,250,523,018,608,495,319,068,138,257,481,070,252,817,559,459,476,987,034,665,712,738,139,286,205,234,756,808,218,860,701,203,611,083,152,093,501,947,437,109,101,726,968,262,861,606,263,662,435,022,840,944,191,408,424,615,936,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,001 steps.

[4] You may have heard something about "quantum randomness," but this isn't actually randomness; the actual evolution of wave functions is completely, 100%, deterministic, even in quantum mechanics.

[5] The Standard Model of particle physics is controlled by about 20 basic constants, like the mass of the electron and the strength of gravity. Our world is weirdly sensitive to some of them: if the down quark were 10% heavier, say, then stars would never form, and neither would nearly any other kind of matter. What controls these 20 values? Good question. We don't know yet.___

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2015-08-25 17:24:16 (113 comments, 15 reshares, 115 +1s)Open 

The Middle East is one of the world's great factories of religions, and so it shouldn't surprise you that it has far more than the few that have gone big. It has a rich tapestry of religious minorities.

These minorities make a great deal of ME politics more subtle: they're particularly concentrated in places like Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Egypt, and in each of these places, local governments are de facto guarantors of the safety of these groups, on the theory that mass murder is bad for public order. When governments fall, though, this means that these minority groups are often seen as identified with the old regime -- and in fact, they have a strong incentive to side with the existing regime, because they know that the transition almost certainly means genocide.

That's why religious minorities sided closely with Bashar al-Assad (himself an Alawite) in the Syrian... more »

+Andreas Schou​ has often brought up the odd interweaving of these minority religions on the world's stage. Here's a slide show to add images to his words.___The Middle East is one of the world's great factories of religions, and so it shouldn't surprise you that it has far more than the few that have gone big. It has a rich tapestry of religious minorities.

These minorities make a great deal of ME politics more subtle: they're particularly concentrated in places like Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Egypt, and in each of these places, local governments are de facto guarantors of the safety of these groups, on the theory that mass murder is bad for public order. When governments fall, though, this means that these minority groups are often seen as identified with the old regime -- and in fact, they have a strong incentive to side with the existing regime, because they know that the transition almost certainly means genocide.

That's why religious minorities sided closely with Bashar al-Assad (himself an Alawite) in the Syrian civil war, for example, and why that war was never a black-and-white matter.

But this photo series isn't about bloodshed: it's about daily life, and shows snapshots of these groups at worship and in their daily lives.

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2015-08-24 17:03:56 (55 comments, 37 reshares, 149 +1s)Open 

This is probably one of the greatest "how it works" films ever. On July 2, 1978, the New York Times printed its last edition using its old -- hot-type, lead-casting -- Linotype machines, and switched to the new computer-based systems. As they did this final run, they filmed the whole process, talked with people working on the systems, and showed all the details of how the printing process worked; and then a few months later, they did the same with the new system, to show how they stack up against one another.

The result is by turns fascinating and touching, as people who have worked these machines for decades say farewell to their clanking, mechanical friends.

(I came up in newspapers during the very end of that early digital era, where we would typeset electronically and layout partially by hand, and end up with "camera-ready art" for those electronic Linos which... more »

This is probably one of the greatest "how it works" films ever. On July 2, 1978, the New York Times printed its last edition using its old -- hot-type, lead-casting -- Linotype machines, and switched to the new computer-based systems. As they did this final run, they filmed the whole process, talked with people working on the systems, and showed all the details of how the printing process worked; and then a few months later, they did the same with the new system, to show how they stack up against one another.

The result is by turns fascinating and touching, as people who have worked these machines for decades say farewell to their clanking, mechanical friends.

(I came up in newspapers during the very end of that early digital era, where we would typeset electronically and layout partially by hand, and end up with "camera-ready art" for those electronic Linos which could produce presses. By the time I was in charge of laying out my own paper, the whole layout process was done on computers, and it felt like magic. "Cut" and "Paste" are so much easier when they don't literally involve cutting and pasting. But this will always leave me with a warm feeling for these old machines, and a slight sadness that I never had a chance to work in lead)

h/t +Woozle Hypertwin for the link.___

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2015-08-23 20:29:14 (106 comments, 22 reshares, 187 +1s)Open 

If anyone has heard about the entire "Sad / Rabid Puppies" fiasco and was curious about the details of what the hell just happened, Wired has a great article summing it up. It all has to do with the Hugo Awards, one of the major awards in science fiction.

For a bit more context: the two major awards in SF are the Hugos, which are awarded by fans in general, and the Nebulas, awarded by the members of SFFWA, the major professional association of spec fic writers. The Hugos have a Byzantine voting system which is quite subject to gaming, especially in the nomination phase, and so (shock of all shocks) it was gamed for explicitly political reasons.

One interesting fact I found last night which the Wired article missed: if you look at the full ballot, you'll see that in all of the categories except for Dramatic Presentation*, the Sad/Rabid Puppy candidates not only lost, but... more »

If anyone has heard about the entire "Sad / Rabid Puppies" fiasco and was curious about the details of what the hell just happened, Wired has a great article summing it up. It all has to do with the Hugo Awards, one of the major awards in science fiction.

For a bit more context: the two major awards in SF are the Hugos, which are awarded by fans in general, and the Nebulas, awarded by the members of SFFWA, the major professional association of spec fic writers. The Hugos have a Byzantine voting system which is quite subject to gaming, especially in the nomination phase, and so (shock of all shocks) it was gamed for explicitly political reasons.

One interesting fact I found last night which the Wired article missed: if you look at the full ballot, you'll see that in all of the categories except for Dramatic Presentation*, the Sad/Rabid Puppy candidates not only lost, but every single one of them rank-ordered behind "No Award."

This wasn't simply a defeat for this attempt; it was a resounding, loud response from the community that the entire behavior was not welcome. 

And I'm very happy to hear that. The writing that the puppies were upset about hasn't been winning awards left and right because it's "diverse;" it's been winning awards because it's good. The influx of women, people of color, people of various genders and sexual orientations and so on, has meant a tremendous amount of new blood in the field, and it shouldn't be surprising that with lots of new writers, you get lots of new quality.

And beyond that, there is no field more likely to benefit from this particular kind of change than SFF: after all, in a field which spends so much of its time thinking and writing about the experiences of change, of foreignness, of meeting the Other and of being the Other, is it any particular surprise that outsiders of various sorts are going to bring a huge raft of fresh perspectives? 

So. The most fucked-up Hugo Awards in their 68-year history happened last night, and the consequences were pretty good.

* This has always been a very unusual category in the Hugos, since it's the only set of Hugos given by the SF community to people outside the community. They follow a completely different pattern, and are basically a vote on "best TV episode / best movie of the year," and are generally not taken very seriously.

h/t +Steven Flaeck for the link.___

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2015-08-23 00:49:47 (237 comments, 124 reshares, 498 +1s)Open 

This article interests me most for what it misses. 

The body of this article -- which is well-written and worth reading, if you care about the subject -- is about how it's suddenly become evident that Trump's loudly touted and not particularly covert brand of racism, isolationism, and xenophobia isn't just harmless and funny, after two of his followers beat a homeless man into the hospital for being Latino and then praised Trump's speeches while they were being arrested. 

But the interesting thing they miss is hidden in plain sight, right in the headline. For Trump to have stopped being funny, he had to have been funny in the first place. And that joke only ever worked for people with a certain kind of privilege.

Donald Trump has never been subtle about his views. While his hair and his general egomania may be clownish, he was always showing these thingso... more »

This article interests me most for what it misses. 

The body of this article -- which is well-written and worth reading, if you care about the subject -- is about how it's suddenly become evident that Trump's loudly touted and not particularly covert brand of racism, isolationism, and xenophobia isn't just harmless and funny, after two of his followers beat a homeless man into the hospital for being Latino and then praised Trump's speeches while they were being arrested. 

But the interesting thing they miss is hidden in plain sight, right in the headline. For Trump to have stopped being funny, he had to have been funny in the first place. And that joke only ever worked for people with a certain kind of privilege.

Donald Trump has never been subtle about his views. While his hair and his general egomania may be clownish, he was always showing these things off while preaching about how we need to crack down on Latinos, Blacks, immigrants, the Chinese, whoever he's on about on any particular day. He was doing this while calling for mass deportations of tens of millions of people, closing borders, engaging in ludicrously heavy-handed "negotiations" with other countries, and so on. And this has been working: Trump's popularity is because there are people who wonder, "well, why not?" and there is someone out there advocating solutions which sound (a) simple, (b) brutal, and (c) based on beating up people whom they don't see as part of their own society, from whom they can simply "take back" their power. (Although, as these other groups never actually had any such power, what's really meant here is "take")

It is only possible to see that as a joke if you have never had a reason to fear ethnic violence. But the US has just as long and bloody a history of ethnic violence as it has a history. Nothing Trump is suggesting is new; you could have heard it 150 years ago from the Know-Nothing Party, or 100 years ago from the more political branches of the Klan, or 50 years ago from the John Birch Society, each with their own variants.

Nor is it a coincidence that Trump is having these successes in the midst of Black Lives Matter, or in the aftermath of GamerGate; there are powerful movements afoot in our society where groups that were previously excluded are demanding their fair share of the floor, and powerful counter-movements of people who suddenly feel that the one thing they had of their own -- complete dominance of some spaces -- is suddenly being taken away. Trump is a natural mouthpiece for these groups, and he's quite good at it.

(There's some question about whether Trump came out openly in support of GamerGate a few weeks ago, or whether this was just a rogue autoresponder that he let stand, but I would by no means be surprised if he were to say something about it at some point; the complaints of GamerGate align surprisingly well with his rhetoric)

And anyone who watches these issues knows that there is profound violence immediately on deck in all of them. GamerGate was awash in death threats, and a few actual attempts. Black Lives Matter was born in the wake of shootings, and the rate of violence by whites (and especially police) against black youth in this country has hardly decreased. 

You can see another version of this in the part of the Republican press which is highly anti-Trump, not least because Trump is completely disconnected from the party's main political organs. Consider this article by Ben Domenech from The Federalist, which is quite far to the right but unconnected with Trump: http://thefederalist.com/2015/08/21/are-republicans-for-freedom-or-white-identity-politics/ The essential meat of the article is that the party has underestimated Trump's appeal, and in order to curb his lunatic candidacy, the Republican Party should find a better way to express his ideas and so pull his followers back into the mainstream.

And what are these ideas? "White identity politics." Note that the article does not fear that these become part of the Republican platform; it fears that they will become such a large part that they overwhelm the rest of the platform, and so these need to be addressed in a careful way. But there's nothing wrong with pulling them in, Domenech says: "'Identity politics for white people' is not the same thing as 'racism,' nor are the people who advocate for it necessarily racist."

Pro tip: "identity politics based on racial categories" is actually the dictionary definition of racism, and "identity politics for white people" is the prototype example of the category. Domenech's article isn't about rejecting Trump's racism: it's about finding more socially acceptable ways to express it, so that it can be folded into the party mainstream without taking it over.

For those wondering about Trump from the outside, I can give a simple explanation of his politics: Trump is a classical European far-right party leader. This is why he seems a bit exotic by recent American standards: especially since the 1980's, the American far right has been dominated by the "theological" far right, a very distinctly American political movement which focuses on making the country explicitly into a Fundamentalist Christian country. Trump, although he speaks to a similar (and overlapping) group of people, isn't talking about religion at all; instead, you'll find his politics very similar to that of European far-right politicians, of the sort who like to put "National" in their party names.

On the European spectrum, Trump falls somewhat to the right of Jean-Marie le Pen, perhaps a shade left of the Golden Dawn, and somewhat more populist than Jobbik. If we were running in a parliamentary, rather than presidential, system, he would currently be at the head of a far-right party that was polling in the high teens, and press coverage would be worried about how many seats he would get and whether he would be able to force a coalition to join him. In the US system, he's instead at the head of a far-right wing of a party, and the question is whether he will be able to force the party to adopt his policies wholesale to avoid electoral defeat next year.

So that's the secret thing which this headline hides: Trump was only ever funny if you had never had a reason to be aware of, or to fear, ethnic or sexual violence tacitly supported by the state. 

If you've ever had to be aware of that before, Trump was never a joke.

h/t to +Lauren Weinstein for pointing out the Federalist article.___

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2015-08-22 20:41:55 (23 comments, 83 reshares, 428 +1s)Open 

Error page design win.

Good show, +Financial Times web page developers. ft.com/404

"Moral Hazard: Showing you this page would only encourage you to want more pages."

"Speculative bubble: The page never actually existed and was fundamentally impossible, but everyone bought into it in a frenzy and it's all now ending in tears."___Error page design win.

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2015-08-22 04:10:33 (50 comments, 28 reshares, 177 +1s)Open 

And now, I would like you to contemplate your navel.

Or rather, the lint which accumulates inside your navel, especially if you're male, of middle age, and somewhat hairy. Apparently, some scientists have been studying this, and trying to answer key questions: What is it made of? How does it get there? What does your belly button's microbiome look like?

Thankfully, +Jason Goldman has taken the time to find out the state of the art in research on this, and lead us on a tour of its composition (primarily, but not entirely, microfibers from our shirts), its method of formation (the best hypothesis is that the scales on our hairs act as barbed hooks, which form a sort of one-way ratchet pulling the universe into our navels), and its ecosystem. (Containing 2,368 distinct species catalogued so far, although eight predominate)

Yes: With Science, you can really study... more »

And now, I would like you to contemplate your navel.

Or rather, the lint which accumulates inside your navel, especially if you're male, of middle age, and somewhat hairy. Apparently, some scientists have been studying this, and trying to answer key questions: What is it made of? How does it get there? What does your belly button's microbiome look like?

Thankfully, +Jason Goldman has taken the time to find out the state of the art in research on this, and lead us on a tour of its composition (primarily, but not entirely, microfibers from our shirts), its method of formation (the best hypothesis is that the scales on our hairs act as barbed hooks, which form a sort of one-way ratchet pulling the universe into our navels), and its ecosystem. (Containing 2,368 distinct species catalogued so far, although eight predominate)

Yes: With Science, you can really study anything.___

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2015-08-21 20:00:33 (37 comments, 34 reshares, 216 +1s)Open 

In retrospect, it's obvious that you should be able to 3D print in glass. It's a liquid when heated, can be poured fairly precisely, and solidifies nicely. 

The GIF below gives you a bit of a hint of what it looks like, but if you click through there's an entire video of watching this device in action, and seeing the things it makes. It's strangely hypnotic.

Now I'm just waiting to see future versions which can also blow the glass, not just deposit it...

via +Adam Liss and +Betsy McCall 

In retrospect, it's obvious that you should be able to 3D print in glass. It's a liquid when heated, can be poured fairly precisely, and solidifies nicely. 

The GIF below gives you a bit of a hint of what it looks like, but if you click through there's an entire video of watching this device in action, and seeing the things it makes. It's strangely hypnotic.

Now I'm just waiting to see future versions which can also blow the glass, not just deposit it...

via +Adam Liss and +Betsy McCall ___

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2015-08-21 19:53:51 (140 comments, 26 reshares, 235 +1s)Open 

While I have never heard anyone (Ozzie or otherwise) use this phrase, I think that's a bug rather than a feature. This is an excellent addition to the English language.

While I can verify the truthfulness of the Australian epic level of national trolling (💜 +Paul Snedden​), the phrase "well I'm not here to fuck spiders" is pretty brilliant.

#ViaMK___While I have never heard anyone (Ozzie or otherwise) use this phrase, I think that's a bug rather than a feature. This is an excellent addition to the English language.

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2015-08-21 01:13:21 (107 comments, 35 reshares, 235 +1s)Open 

The first rule of Right to be Forgotten Club is that you do not talk about Right to be Forgotten Club.

The second rule of Right to be Forgotten Club is that you do not talk about anyone who is talking about Right to be Forgotten Club.

The third rule of Right to be Forgotten Club is that all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others [REDACTED].


(Sorry, I won't be able to comment on this post much; for rather obvious reasons I can't discuss this, and will simply point those who are interested in such matters at the news article.)

Google has now been ordered by the Information Commissioner's Office, which is responsible for enforcing data privacy laws in the UK, to remove links to news stories about the stories that were previously removed from search results under "Right to Be Forgotten" rulings. In other words, the ICO is attempting to subvert the Streisand Effect.___The first rule of Right to be Forgotten Club is that you do not talk about Right to be Forgotten Club.

The second rule of Right to be Forgotten Club is that you do not talk about anyone who is talking about Right to be Forgotten Club.

The third rule of Right to be Forgotten Club is that all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others [REDACTED].


(Sorry, I won't be able to comment on this post much; for rather obvious reasons I can't discuss this, and will simply point those who are interested in such matters at the news article.)

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2015-08-20 22:37:13 (26 comments, 117 reshares, 341 +1s)Open 

This is something that feels like it should have been obvious, but wasn't. Purdue University has an average class size of 31. But when you survey students about their class sizes, you find that they see an average size of 56. How is this possible?

It's not a perception bias: it's something much simpler. Say you have two classes with ten people, and one class with 100 people. The average class size is 40. But if you're surveying students, then you'll encounter more students who are in the big class than in the small class, because there are more students in the big class than the small class. In fact, you'll find that 5/6 of the students are in the big class, and so the average experience of a student is a class size of 85.

This is called the "inspection paradox," and it boils down to this: "How common is X" and "how commonly do people... more »

This is something that feels like it should have been obvious, but wasn't. Purdue University has an average class size of 31. But when you survey students about their class sizes, you find that they see an average size of 56. How is this possible?

It's not a perception bias: it's something much simpler. Say you have two classes with ten people, and one class with 100 people. The average class size is 40. But if you're surveying students, then you'll encounter more students who are in the big class than in the small class, because there are more students in the big class than the small class. In fact, you'll find that 5/6 of the students are in the big class, and so the average experience of a student is a class size of 85.

This is called the "inspection paradox," and it boils down to this: "How common is X" and "how commonly do people experience X" are not the same thing. In particular, if something happens when a lot of people are trying to do the same thing -- say, a crowded class -- then the average person will experience that much more often than average!

There are plenty of examples of this: how often do you have to wait a long time to get a cab, or how often is the train crowded? If one train a day is jam-packed and the rest are empty, you'd say that most trains are pretty good. But most people will never experience the empty train; by definition, most people are on the full train.

For those who want some simple math to explain it: say everyone gets broken into two groups, a big group with B people and a small group with S people. Your chance of being in the big group is B/B+S; your chance of being in the small group, S/B+S. If you sample people and find out the average number of people which people report seeing in their groups, you'll therefore find that it's (B^2+S^2) / (B+S). If B is much bigger than S, this is approximately equal to B-S, or just B: everyone experiences the big group, not the small group.

The article below shows all sorts of examples of this, from running speed to Facebook friends to prison sentences. Variations of this are everywhere, and they can profoundly affect our perception of the world. Be aware!

h/t +Richard Elwes.___

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2015-08-20 20:55:57 (41 comments, 41 reshares, 185 +1s)Open 

"Sex offenders are far more likely to re-offend than any other kind of offender."

This sentence, and ones like it, are repeated so often to have become a cultural truism, something that we never examine, but use instead as the basis for our decisions -- to create sex offender registries, to approve indefinite "administrative detention," to mark anyone convicted of a sex-related offense -- whether it's urinating in an alleyway* or molesting a child -- as a danger to society.

What's interesting is that it's almost certainly not true. The statistic rose to tremendous prominence after being used in a 2002 Supreme Court case, but as new research shows, that number was copied from a filing that copied it from an book that copied it from an article in Psychology Today, where it was given as a wholly unbacked assertion by someone in the business of running... more »

"Sex offenders are far more likely to re-offend than any other kind of offender."

This sentence, and ones like it, are repeated so often to have become a cultural truism, something that we never examine, but use instead as the basis for our decisions -- to create sex offender registries, to approve indefinite "administrative detention," to mark anyone convicted of a sex-related offense -- whether it's urinating in an alleyway* or molesting a child -- as a danger to society.

What's interesting is that it's almost certainly not true. The statistic rose to tremendous prominence after being used in a 2002 Supreme Court case, but as new research shows, that number was copied from a filing that copied it from an book that copied it from an article in Psychology Today, where it was given as a wholly unbacked assertion by someone in the business of running treatment programs.

In fact, the most recent serious study of the subject shows the reverse: sex offenders, on the whole, are less likely to re-offend than other kinds of offender. Even among "high-risk" offenders, the recidivism rate is low, and diminishes over time: out of 8,000 cases studied, there were zero examples of anyone who had gone 16 years or longer without committing a sex crime then committing one after that.

All of which shouldn't really be surprising; they suggest that sex crimes are not, ultimately, fundamentally different from other kinds of crimes in what they require of their perpetrators. (They do differ in the complexities of prosecuting them, and in the ways society justifies and/or condemns them)

But this raises the question: Does it make any sense at all for us to have a completely separate legal system for those convicted of these crimes, without any of the baseline norms (like "you should have some meaningful way to contest being held in prison for life") that we expect elsewhere? 

* Not kidding, here: it's indecent exposure, and in many states will land you on a sex offender registry for a decade or longer. As will things like being a 19-year-old dating a 17-year-old. The consequences of being on such a registry include not being able to live essentially anywhere but in small areas outside of town, being excluded from most jobs, and having to notify your neighbors in person of your existence and your status.

h/t +Jennifer Freeman for the article.___

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2015-08-20 18:38:10 (9 comments, 11 reshares, 121 +1s)Open 

On the subject of "How it's made:" most Panama hats which you encounter are factory-made in large bulk; they're actually cheap copies of the real thing. Real Panama hats are strikingly different, finely woven and soft things. The process for making them is entirely manual -- not even using looms, which don't work well for these shapes, but literally weaving the straw using one's fingers -- and it takes about three months to make one.

Here's a peek into the world of these hats, the villages they come from, and what they're like.

"""
Panama hats are not made in Panama — and they never were. They are made in Ecuador and always have been.
[...]
"In Japan, an artisan who could weave like Simon would be regarded as a living treasure," he says. "In Ecuador, he's a peasant. There's something wrong with that."
"""___On the subject of "How it's made:" most Panama hats which you encounter are factory-made in large bulk; they're actually cheap copies of the real thing. Real Panama hats are strikingly different, finely woven and soft things. The process for making them is entirely manual -- not even using looms, which don't work well for these shapes, but literally weaving the straw using one's fingers -- and it takes about three months to make one.

Here's a peek into the world of these hats, the villages they come from, and what they're like.

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2015-08-20 17:13:07 (80 comments, 19 reshares, 226 +1s)Open 

It's interesting, how some things become so common that we never think about them. If you asked me what the most common crop was in the US, I would have guessed that it's either corn or wheat. 

But no. There's one other crop that gets three times the acreage of corn, with all the effort, water, and fertilizer that this implies -- and it's a crop that nobody has any particular use for. It's lawn grass, something so ubiquitous that we tend to forget that growing it actually is a weird kind of agriculture, just a particularly pointless kind.

How did this happen? Part of it seems to come from technology, and the marvel of the alien landscapes it created. (Alien landscapes, you say? Why, yes -- before they became commonplace)

It's interesting, how some things become so common that we never think about them. If you asked me what the most common crop was in the US, I would have guessed that it's either corn or wheat. 

But no. There's one other crop that gets three times the acreage of corn, with all the effort, water, and fertilizer that this implies -- and it's a crop that nobody has any particular use for. It's lawn grass, something so ubiquitous that we tend to forget that growing it actually is a weird kind of agriculture, just a particularly pointless kind.

How did this happen? Part of it seems to come from technology, and the marvel of the alien landscapes it created. (Alien landscapes, you say? Why, yes -- before they became commonplace)___

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2015-08-19 05:54:12 (86 comments, 140 reshares, 436 +1s)Open 

Google published a paper today about the evolution of our networking infrastructure over the past decade. I've gotten to be quite intimate with these systems, thanks to spending much of that time working on our search and storage infrastructure, and the differences are profound, to say the least.

The article quotes +Amin Vahdat as describing what life was like in the earlier era: "there were painful tradeoffs with careful data locality and placement of servers connected to the same top of rack switch versus correlated failures caused by a single switch failure." I cannot begin to describe the pain in the ass that this was: our high-capacity search stack (the part I was responsible for) was by far the most aggressive user of the network, and each cluster's deployment had to be carefully planned on a per-rack basis, to manage our use of bandwidth within and across racks, and to... more »

Google published a paper today about the evolution of our networking infrastructure over the past decade. I've gotten to be quite intimate with these systems, thanks to spending much of that time working on our search and storage infrastructure, and the differences are profound, to say the least.

The article quotes +Amin Vahdat as describing what life was like in the earlier era: "there were painful tradeoffs with careful data locality and placement of servers connected to the same top of rack switch versus correlated failures caused by a single switch failure." I cannot begin to describe the pain in the ass that this was: our high-capacity search stack (the part I was responsible for) was by far the most aggressive user of the network, and each cluster's deployment had to be carefully planned on a per-rack basis, to manage our use of bandwidth within and across racks, and to optimize for survivability in case a single rack switch failed.

To give you a sense of the PITA: (this will make sense only to computer scientists) I wrote our standard implementation of simulated annealing... because I needed it for the software that would figure out which tasks to put on which machines.

And even with those amazing systems, we could knock clusters over in a moment. To do a full restart of a search cluster (reading the index from in-datacenter storage from scratch) in less than 48 hours required shutting down all other jobs in the datacenter, because it would use up all of the internal bandwidth. 

If you ever wondered why search over giant corpora is a hard business...

Cross-datacenter networking remains a hard problem, even with these advances, because while long-haul bandwidth has grown tremendously over the years, storage capacity has grown even faster. This is why a good mental analogue for the design of planet-scale storage systems is freight logistics: even with 747's crossing the globe, warehouses are still much bigger. 

I obviously can't tell all the stories, but these papers are a remarkable chance to see what the cutting edge of networking infrastructure actually looks like. Those who are interested in such matters, enjoy!___

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2015-08-18 18:11:33 (19 comments, 27 reshares, 145 +1s)Open 

These are visually awesome – and below are a bunch of high-res images which you can print out and make posters out of. (And for those who, like me, need to stay away from any current patents like the plague, these all have the virtue of being expired and so safe to look at!)

See also this pinboard of patent drawings: https://www.pinterest.com/teachingaway/patent-drawings/

Old patents are beautiful. And they make gorgeous free art for the office. http://www.howacarworks.com/blog/iconic-patent-posters___These are visually awesome – and below are a bunch of high-res images which you can print out and make posters out of. (And for those who, like me, need to stay away from any current patents like the plague, these all have the virtue of being expired and so safe to look at!)

See also this pinboard of patent drawings: https://www.pinterest.com/teachingaway/patent-drawings/

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2015-08-18 17:31:25 (81 comments, 16 reshares, 154 +1s)Open 

This is something that sort of mystifies me about the talk about Carly Fiorina as a candidate. It's always considered a bad sign when a candidate couldn't win their "home district" -- and in her home district of Silicon Valley, I would put long odds against her in either a primary or a general election. The problem is that she does have a well-known record, and it's not a good one. I don't think I've ever heard anyone, investors or employees, say anything particularly nice about her tenure as CEO of HP; she's famous in the Valley mostly for destroying the company's culture, and among investors for presiding over the massive decline of the company's fortunes. 

This is not a record you want to run on.

This is something that sort of mystifies me about the talk about Carly Fiorina as a candidate. It's always considered a bad sign when a candidate couldn't win their "home district" -- and in her home district of Silicon Valley, I would put long odds against her in either a primary or a general election. The problem is that she does have a well-known record, and it's not a good one. I don't think I've ever heard anyone, investors or employees, say anything particularly nice about her tenure as CEO of HP; she's famous in the Valley mostly for destroying the company's culture, and among investors for presiding over the massive decline of the company's fortunes. 

This is not a record you want to run on.___

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2015-08-18 16:15:29 (46 comments, 21 reshares, 192 +1s)Open 

The formation of Aluminum Bromide isn't a particularly complicated chemical reaction, or a particularly important one, as far as I know. But it does look awfully neat.

Pro tip: Don't breathe that smoke.

Reaction between Bromine and Aluminum

When a piece of aluminum foil is dropped into a test tube containing liquid bromine (Br) a powerful exothermic reaction begins. The aluminum in the test tube actually melts because of the heat and can be seen flying outwards as white-hot drops. The cloud of orange-red gas is vaporized bromine. The reaction eventually forms aluminum bromide (AlBr3).

Source: https://youtu.be/ZpQkgM0msj4

#ScienceGIF   #Science   #GIF   #Chemistry   #Reaction   #ChemicalReaction   #RXN   #Bromine   #Aluminum   #AluminumBromide   #Exothermic  ___The formation of Aluminum Bromide isn't a particularly complicated chemical reaction, or a particularly important one, as far as I know. But it does look awfully neat.

Pro tip: Don't breathe that smoke.

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2015-08-18 06:01:49 (18 comments, 19 reshares, 201 +1s)Open 

Today is the birthday of Gene Kranz, one of the great forces which shaped NASA's Mission Control – and, through that, shaped the culture of engineering as a whole. Many people dream of being astronauts; but I suspect that, among those who end up being engineers, there's a disproportionate number who also watched and listened to those disciplined, preternaturally calm-sounding voices at Mission Control, and secretly wished to be one of them. And more engineering and operations facilities than I can easily count have, in ways large and small, copied the things they saw there, in part because they worked well, and in part because it's a way to carry that special childhood dream around with you, every day.

Gene Kranz, Flight Director, and his Dictum: read it and remember.

h/t +Michael Interbartolo.

Happy Birthday Gene Kranz!

The phrase “Tough and Competent” was created by NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz and became the rallying cry of NASA and the Mission Control crew after the Apollo 1 disaster. 

“Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it. We were too gung ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work. Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we. The simulators were not working, Mission Control was behind in virtually every area, and the flight and test procedures changed daily. Nothing we did had any shelf life. Not one of us stood up and said, ‘Dammit, stop!’ I don’t know what Thompson’s committee will find as the cause, but I know what I find. We are the cause! We were not ready! We did not do our job. We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day, when in our hearts we knew it would take a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting that the Cape would slip before we did. From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: 'Tough’ and 'Competent.’ Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for. Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect. When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write 'Tough and Competent’ on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.” - The Kranz Dictum 

Gene Kranz served as Flight Director for a number of NASA milestones, including Apollo 11, the “successful failure” of Apollo 13, and the repair of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994. Please be sure to checkout another great video from our friend Mike Dawson and his Assignment Universe project.

Watch “Gene Kranz - Mission Control: Tough & Competent” here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5536WCe_Z_w

*Celebrate Gene Kranz's birthday by advocating for an increase in NASA's budget: http://www.penny4nasa.org/take-action/

#NASA #GeneKranz #Space #Science #Penny4NASA  ___Today is the birthday of Gene Kranz, one of the great forces which shaped NASA's Mission Control – and, through that, shaped the culture of engineering as a whole. Many people dream of being astronauts; but I suspect that, among those who end up being engineers, there's a disproportionate number who also watched and listened to those disciplined, preternaturally calm-sounding voices at Mission Control, and secretly wished to be one of them. And more engineering and operations facilities than I can easily count have, in ways large and small, copied the things they saw there, in part because they worked well, and in part because it's a way to carry that special childhood dream around with you, every day.

Gene Kranz, Flight Director, and his Dictum: read it and remember.

h/t +Michael Interbartolo.

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2015-08-18 03:51:24 (30 comments, 21 reshares, 158 +1s)Open 

We normally think of our "selves" as being defined, most of all, by our continuity of memory. But this new research suggests that when we perceive other people undergoing cognitive changes (in this case, as a result of various degenerative diseases), we perceive them as becoming "different people" not when their memory fades, but when their moral traits – that is, their ways of choosing right and wrong – change.

Far beyond its significance for studying degenerative diseases, this is interesting for what it says about how we recognize one another as people. Apparently, our patterns and methods of decision-making make us "us" to other people, more than anything else.

Via +Angyl.

Moral Traits, Not Memory, Considered Core Component of Our Identity

We may view our memory as being essential to who we are, but new findings suggest that others consider our moral traits to be the core component of our identity. Data collected from family members of patients suffering from neurodegenerative disease showed that it was changes in moral behavior, not memory loss, that caused loved ones to say that the patient wasn't "the same person" anymore.

The research is in Psychological Science. (full access paywall)

#alzheimers   #memory   #morality   #psychology  ___We normally think of our "selves" as being defined, most of all, by our continuity of memory. But this new research suggests that when we perceive other people undergoing cognitive changes (in this case, as a result of various degenerative diseases), we perceive them as becoming "different people" not when their memory fades, but when their moral traits – that is, their ways of choosing right and wrong – change.

Far beyond its significance for studying degenerative diseases, this is interesting for what it says about how we recognize one another as people. Apparently, our patterns and methods of decision-making make us "us" to other people, more than anything else.

Via +Angyl.

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2015-08-17 23:35:13 (43 comments, 9 reshares, 146 +1s)Open 

The role of the jester is to say openly the things that other people find too uncomfortable to mention. So I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised at +The Onion cutting quite this close to the bone.

Via +John Hardy didn't vote for Abbott.

Once again, The Onion is not that far from the truth.

#feelthebern  ___The role of the jester is to say openly the things that other people find too uncomfortable to mention. So I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised at +The Onion cutting quite this close to the bone.

Via +John Hardy didn't vote for Abbott.

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2015-08-17 23:23:55 (34 comments, 39 reshares, 251 +1s)Open 

A "normal" octopus hunt works with the octopus suddenly leaping on its prey with all eight arms, grabbing it and pulling it in towards its beak. But the Pacific striped octopus is a clever bastard, and here you can watch the lesser-known "over there!" strategy, in which it reaches out with one tentacle, taps the shrimp on one shoulder, and... well. The shrimp's instinct to leap away from the tap does not, we shall say, serve it well.

I have no idea why it's hunting this way, but it's quite pleasing to watch.

h/t +Pierce Arner for this lovely clip.

A "normal" octopus hunt works with the octopus suddenly leaping on its prey with all eight arms, grabbing it and pulling it in towards its beak. But the Pacific striped octopus is a clever bastard, and here you can watch the lesser-known "over there!" strategy, in which it reaches out with one tentacle, taps the shrimp on one shoulder, and... well. The shrimp's instinct to leap away from the tap does not, we shall say, serve it well.

I have no idea why it's hunting this way, but it's quite pleasing to watch.

h/t +Pierce Arner for this lovely clip.___

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2015-08-17 17:50:14 (30 comments, 52 reshares, 328 +1s)Open 

Interspecies friendships do occasionally happen in the wild. And sometimes, they get caught on film.

http://www.boredpanda.com/bear-friend-wolf-lassi-rautiainen/___Interspecies friendships do occasionally happen in the wild. And sometimes, they get caught on film.

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2015-08-17 07:37:39 (27 comments, 17 reshares, 131 +1s)Open 

This is a fascinating and rather visual piece of math. If you take a unit square (that is, a square whose side has length 1), then it has a perimeter of 4 units. If you put two unit squares side-by-side (touching on an edge), the area is 2, and the perimeter is 6, so the ratio of perimeter to area is only 3. The question is: is there any way to lay out squares so that the ratio of the perimeter to the area is more than 4?

The answer turns out to be yes, and the picture below shows an example. But it's also true that there's a maximum possible ratio you could get: it's just not clear what that ratio is. It's known that you can never get as high as 5.551; it's possible that the maximum is lower than this. And the answer isn't known for other shapes, either.

But you can easily imagine how this might have practical applications: there are many physical situations... more »

Keleti's Perimeter to Area Conjecture

It is clear that dividing the perimeter of a square of side 1 by its area results in a ratio of 4. Doing the same for two adjacent unit squares that share an edge results in a smaller ratio, in this case 3. So what can be said about this ratio in the case of an arbitrary union of (possibly overlapping) unit squares in the plane? Keleti's Perimeter to Area Conjecture was that this ratio never exceeds 4, although this is now known to be false. The picture shows a counterexample to the conjecture in which the ratio is approximately 4.28.

A problem related to this one appeared as Problem 6 on the famous Hungarian Schweitzer Competition in 1998. That problem asked for a proof that the perimeter-to-area ratio of a union of unit squares in the plane has an upper bound. Impressively, several Hungarian undergraduates were able to prove this for the competition. In the same year, Tamás Keleti published his Perimeter to Area Conjecture that the bound was exactly 4. This is now known to be incorrect; the best known bound is about 5.551 and was found by Keleti's student Zoltán Gyenes in his 2005 Master's thesis.

I found out about this problem from the paper Bounded – yes, but 4? (http://arxiv.org/abs/1507.08536) by Paul D. Humke, Cameron Marcott, Bjorn Mellem and Cole Stiegler. This paper was posted recently but is dated November 2013, and it does not mention progress on the problem that has been made since then. The 2014 paper Unions of regular polygons with large perimeter-to-area ratio (http://arxiv.org/abs/1402.5452) by Viktor Kiss and Zoltán Vidnyánszky proves that Keleti's conjecture is false. The picture here comes from Kiss and Vidnyánszky's paper.

The counterexample in the picture uses 25 unit squares, but Kiss and Vidnyánszky use a systematic method to construct (in Theorem 2.4) a counterexample using only five unit squares, and use an ad hoc method to construct (in Section 3) a counterexample using only four squares. They also (in Theorem 2.8) show that the analogue of Keleti's conjecture for equilateral triangles is false, by exhibiting a counterexample involving four triangles. The authors conjecture that similar constructions can be made for other regular polygons; more specifically, that their systematic method can be used to produce an analogous configuration of n+1 regular n-gons that has a greater perimeter-to-area ratio than a single regular n-gon. 

Kiss and Vidnyánszky pose a number of other interesting questions in their closing section. For example, is n the minimal possible number of n-gons in a counterexample? And does something analogous happen in three dimensions, with regular polyhedra?

Although Keleti's conjecture is false, it is known to be true under certain additional hypotheses. In his Master's thesis and in a 2011 paper, Gyenes proved that the conjecture holds (a) if the squares have a common centre, or (b) if all the squares have sides parallel to the x or y axes, or (c) if only two squares are involved.

Relevant links

Gyenes' Masters thesis: http://www.cs.elte.hu/~dom/z.pdf

A mathoverflow discussion of Keleti's Perimeter to Area Conjecture from 2010 (http://mathoverflow.net/questions/15188/) includes some interesting commentary on the problem from various people, including +Timothy Gowers.

The picture contains an oblique reference to Betteridge's law of headlines (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betteridge's_law_of_headlines) which states that Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word “no”. This principle also applies to the title of the paper by Humke et al. 

#mathematics #sciencesunday #spnetwork arXiv:1507.08536___This is a fascinating and rather visual piece of math. If you take a unit square (that is, a square whose side has length 1), then it has a perimeter of 4 units. If you put two unit squares side-by-side (touching on an edge), the area is 2, and the perimeter is 6, so the ratio of perimeter to area is only 3. The question is: is there any way to lay out squares so that the ratio of the perimeter to the area is more than 4?

The answer turns out to be yes, and the picture below shows an example. But it's also true that there's a maximum possible ratio you could get: it's just not clear what that ratio is. It's known that you can never get as high as 5.551; it's possible that the maximum is lower than this. And the answer isn't known for other shapes, either.

But you can easily imagine how this might have practical applications: there are many physical situations that depend on both the area and perimeter of a surface, or the surface are and volume of an object; for example, the amount of heat energy in your body is proportional to your volume, but the rate at which you can evaporate heat by sweating is proportional to your surface area, so the rate at which you can cool yourself is proportional to the ratio of your surface area to your volume. Or for a more sinister example, in a piece of Uranium-235, the rate at which neutrons are produced is proportional to the mass (and so the volume), and the rate at which they escape is proportional to the surface area – so if the surface area per volume ever gets too low, you'll end up with enough neutrons inside the Uranium to create a critical mass. (Preventing the Uranium from even instantaneously ending up in a shape like this is one of the most important keys to nuclear reactor safety) Formulae like these control the range of areas that's even possible, which in turn can determine what safety factors you need.

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2015-08-15 19:26:57 (88 comments, 98 reshares, 524 +1s)Open 

Pufferfish are incredibly poisonous, and in their inflated state look like spiky beachballs. What you may not know is that in their deflated state, they look pretty cool as well: strangely boxy, and not very much like what you think of as a "fish" at all. You can learn more about them at 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetraodontidae

h/t +Irreverent Monk.

Puffer fish___Pufferfish are incredibly poisonous, and in their inflated state look like spiky beachballs. What you may not know is that in their deflated state, they look pretty cool as well: strangely boxy, and not very much like what you think of as a "fish" at all. You can learn more about them at 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetraodontidae

h/t +Irreverent Monk.

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2015-08-15 19:23:27 (28 comments, 12 reshares, 149 +1s)Open 

This cave has served as a water source for centuries; graffiti on it records things like the Emperor coming to pray for rain. Stalagmites, in the meantime, record the exact same story in their mineral deposits, and those allow us to predict future droughts there.

___This cave has served as a water source for centuries; graffiti on it records things like the Emperor coming to pray for rain. Stalagmites, in the meantime, record the exact same story in their mineral deposits, and those allow us to predict future droughts there.

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