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Yonatan Zunger

Yonatan Zunger Verified in Google 

Distinguished Engineer on Privacy at Google

Occupation: Engineer (Google)

Location: Mountain View, CA

Followers: 138,535

Views: 154,222,163

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Most comments: 231

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2016-12-11 21:42:48 (231 comments; 40 reshares; 408 +1s; )Open 

This is so far into "what the fuck?" space that I have no idea what to even make of it. Cadillac was prepping a TV ad spot which would feature people from "all walks of life in America" who would be "standing together as a union."

The casting call which they sent out included a role for "alt-right (neo-Nazi)" principals, male or female, ages 20-40, of any ethnicity. It specified that they wanted "real alt-right thinkers!," not simply actors.

When people spotted this and started sharing the casting call on social media, the agency responded by removing the "(neo-Nazi)" part, but leaving the rest of the casting call as-is. This then got the attention of Cadillac, which promptly disavowed the ad in a Facebook post, and the casting agency now says that the person who wrote the listing has been sacked.

I won't try... more »

Most reshares: 174

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2017-01-02 14:02:37 (151 comments; 174 reshares; 568 +1s; )Open 

Tolerance is not a moral precept: It is a peace treaty.

We are brought up to believe that tolerating people is a basic moral good. But this simple approach fails, and can easily be used against us by people who say "Why won't you tolerate my intolerance?" This can happen in everything from our personal lives to the political arena. But it comes from a misunderstanding of what tolerance is.

The way to understand tolerance isn't as a moral absolute: it's as a peace treaty. The difference is that a peace treaty only applies when both sides abide by it.

This is an essay I've had brewing for some time.

Most plusones: 895

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2016-12-13 20:11:38 (155 comments; 19 reshares; 895 +1s; )Open 

An Update on Yonatan

I’m very excited to announce that as of today, I’m going to be working on user privacy at Google as my full-time job. This is “privacy” very broadly constructed, including all the aspects of what make our users safe, from protection of their personal information to defending against abuses by all kinds of actors – whether accidental or malicious. I’m joining a truly wonderful team of some of the most experienced and committed people in the world, with everything from lawyers, to cryptographers, to (former) journalists, to senior executives working together towards a common goal.

This is a challenging time for the world: rapid technological, economic, and political change have left people uncertain, often with (justified) fear for their future. The simple threat models of the 1990’s, with dangers like government censorship or identity theft,have been rep... more »

Latest 50 posts

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2017-01-17 22:56:13 (37 comments; 8 reshares; 126 +1s; )Open 

I'm disappointed to see this. A few days ago, I described the platform as one I could endorse without reservation -- but with the edits made to it, and with the attempt to make these edits without telling anyone, I can no longer offer that level of confidence.

Sex workers' rights are human rights; sex workers' rights are labor rights. These rights are crucially important because sex workers are, by both legal and extralegal means, excluded from many of the critical protections which our society offers, down to the level of the protection of one's physical safety that the law is supposed to provide. The sex workers' rights movement, a movement both of and for sex workers, is an important representative force, and the previous platform's support for them was notable and highly commendable. The strange linguistic mush with which it was replaced -- from "we stand in... more »

Four days ago, the Women's March platform took the web by storm for being one of the most progressive and intersectional we've ever seen (https://plus.google.com/+AVFlox/posts/XdAiMgRGL1J). At the time, the document read: "We believe that all workers – including domestic and farm workers -- must have the right to organize and fight for a living minimum wage, and that unions and other labor associations are critical to a healthy and thriving economy for all. Undocumented and migrant workers must be included in our labor protections, and we stand in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements."

In the past 12 hours, that language has been modified repeatedly, without any acknowledgment of the changes. These are the changes that +Kitty Stryker has identified:

"We believe that all workers -- including domestic and farm workers -- must have the right to organize and fight for a living minimum wage, and that unions and other labor associations are critical to a healthy and thriving economy for all. Undocumented and migrant workers must be included in our labor protections, and

1.) "we stand in solidarity with those exploited for sex and labor."

2.) "we stand in solidarity with sex workers' rights movements."

3.) "we stand in solidarity with the sex workers' rights movement. We recognize that exploitation for sex and labor in all forms is a violation of human rights."

This is confusing and disappointing. I look forward to seeing more transparency from organizers about this.
___I'm disappointed to see this. A few days ago, I described the platform as one I could endorse without reservation -- but with the edits made to it, and with the attempt to make these edits without telling anyone, I can no longer offer that level of confidence.

Sex workers' rights are human rights; sex workers' rights are labor rights. These rights are crucially important because sex workers are, by both legal and extralegal means, excluded from many of the critical protections which our society offers, down to the level of the protection of one's physical safety that the law is supposed to provide. The sex workers' rights movement, a movement both of and for sex workers, is an important representative force, and the previous platform's support for them was notable and highly commendable. The strange linguistic mush with which it was replaced -- from "we stand in solidarity with sex workers' rights movements" to "we stand in solidarity with all those exploited for sex and labor" -- seems to open the door to joining up with the anti-trafficking movement, a movement notably not composed of sex workers, but instead claiming to "help" them.

And like many claims of help that don't seem to involve the group being "helped," this movement has been helping itself at the expense of others -- from handing people over to the police, to taking away people's livelihoods, all the way out to kidnapping people and putting them to work in sweatshops. There is a political movement afoot to make the "war on trafficking" the new "war on drugs," and it should be viewed with equal suspicion.

I am very concerned that the Women's March decided to make these changes, and even more so that they did so without explanation or notice. This went from a clear and forthright policy statement to one that makes me immediately wonder who they're making deals with.

2017-01-17 19:08:54 (29 comments; 33 reshares; 140 +1s; )Open 

This site is one of the coolest things I've encountered on the Internet in a while. Basically, it channel-surfs through YouTube videos uploaded in the past week which have zero views, showing just a few seconds of each before flipping to the next.

You would think this would be terrible, but instead it's really soothing. It feels like channel-surfing over the world itself, just seeing a few moments of people's lives at a time. In the past few moments I've encountered Hindu chants, someone mortaring bricks, a conversation with a hockey player in some unidentified Slavic language, a band tuning up, a class singing a song in some Southeast Asian language I couldn't identify, and an elephant eating some grass.

h/t +Lauren Weinstein

This site is one of the coolest things I've encountered on the Internet in a while. Basically, it channel-surfs through YouTube videos uploaded in the past week which have zero views, showing just a few seconds of each before flipping to the next.

You would think this would be terrible, but instead it's really soothing. It feels like channel-surfing over the world itself, just seeing a few moments of people's lives at a time. In the past few moments I've encountered Hindu chants, someone mortaring bricks, a conversation with a hockey player in some unidentified Slavic language, a band tuning up, a class singing a song in some Southeast Asian language I couldn't identify, and an elephant eating some grass.

h/t +Lauren Weinstein___

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2017-01-15 05:13:52 (24 comments; 2 reshares; 58 +1s; )Open 

Random interesting discovery: the FSB page that lists its various directors over the years goes seamlessly through all its various reorganizations and renamings, all the way back to "Iron" Felix Dzherzhinsky running the Cheka.

It also lists both Yagoda and Yezhov, despite their both having, um, vanished from the formal records for a while.

I find this straightforwardness oddly pleasing. Terrifying, perhaps, but oddly pleasing.

Random interesting discovery: the FSB page that lists its various directors over the years goes seamlessly through all its various reorganizations and renamings, all the way back to "Iron" Felix Dzherzhinsky running the Cheka.

It also lists both Yagoda and Yezhov, despite their both having, um, vanished from the formal records for a while.

I find this straightforwardness oddly pleasing. Terrifying, perhaps, but oddly pleasing.___

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2017-01-14 02:09:27 (69 comments; 30 reshares; 131 +1s; )Open 

"Genre Soup," or, "[Editor], when you said the author of the series you just bought was a model, I didn't think you meant a Markov model."

h/t +Jaym Gates and KC Cole.

"Genre Soup," or, "[Editor], when you said the author of the series you just bought was a model, I didn't think you meant a Markov model."

h/t +Jaym Gates and KC Cole.___

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2017-01-14 01:56:08 (69 comments; 23 reshares; 194 +1s; )Open 

In the past week, the US has gotten its first introduction in a while to the Russian notion of "kompromat" – compromising material quietly acquired (or sometimes manufactured) and used for blackmail or for more overtly political purposes.

Since there's every reason to believe we'll be seeing a lot more of this in the years to come, Julia Ioffe has written a helpful introduction to its nuances, and to one of its great masters, Vladimir Putin.

Not Putin as the unquestioned leader of Russia: Putin's reputation for skillful use of kompromat goes back to his previous job, as head of the FSB.* In fact, it was Putin's masterful use of the technique against a Prosecutor General in early 1999 which helped cement his rise to the presidency.



* The FSB was the domestic branch of the national police, split off from the KGB by Gorbachev at the endof... more »

In the past week, the US has gotten its first introduction in a while to the Russian notion of "kompromat" – compromising material quietly acquired (or sometimes manufactured) and used for blackmail or for more overtly political purposes.

Since there's every reason to believe we'll be seeing a lot more of this in the years to come, Julia Ioffe has written a helpful introduction to its nuances, and to one of its great masters, Vladimir Putin.

Not Putin as the unquestioned leader of Russia: Putin's reputation for skillful use of kompromat goes back to his previous job, as head of the FSB.* In fact, it was Putin's masterful use of the technique against a Prosecutor General in early 1999 which helped cement his rise to the presidency.



* The FSB was the domestic branch of the national police, split off from the KGB by Gorbachev at the end of 1991. Putin, who had been a KGB officer since 1975, was its head from 1998 to 1999, when he became Prime Minister. It remained the largest Russian intelligence agency until last September, when the SVR (the old foreign directorate) was folded back into it, and the combined organization renamed the MGB. This re-merger is still in progress and is expected to take several more months.___

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2017-01-13 16:33:52 (129 comments; 9 reshares; 155 +1s; )Open 

Having read this policy statement, I will make the rare statement that I can sign on to it without reservation. It's a clear statement of a number of ideas which I believe are morally crucial, things which I must support as a matter of conscience.

(If you read this platform and note that there are many things it doesn't say - for example, that several of its points about the rights of women are important and pressing when applied to more than just women - I certainly agree. But this document is meant to center its focus there; there are plenty of things I believe which aren't on it, and I would be rather alarmed if someone managed to write a platform that contained literally every statement I believe in.)

The Women’s March on Washington has released its official policy platform, a far-reaching four-page statement that takes clear stances on reproductive rights, immigration reform, and worker’s issues, including those of sex workers. 🙌🙌🙌

Organizers have laid out an unapologetically radical, progressive vision for justice in America, placing the march in the context of other past and ongoing movements for equality.

The platform supports increased accountability for perpetrators of police brutality and racial profiling, demanding the demilitarization of American law enforcement and an end to mass incarceration. It calls for comprehensive antidiscrimination protections, health care, and gender-affirming identity documents for LGBTQ people. It calls unions “critical to a healthy and thriving economy” and aligns the march with movements for the rights of sex workers, farmworkers, and domestic workers.

With regard to sex workers, the platform states: "We believe that all workers – including domestic and farm workers - must have the right to organize and fight for a living minimum wage, and that unions and other labor associations are critical to a healthy and thriving economy for all. Undocumented and migrant workers must be included in our
labor protections, and we stand in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements."___Having read this policy statement, I will make the rare statement that I can sign on to it without reservation. It's a clear statement of a number of ideas which I believe are morally crucial, things which I must support as a matter of conscience.

(If you read this platform and note that there are many things it doesn't say - for example, that several of its points about the rights of women are important and pressing when applied to more than just women - I certainly agree. But this document is meant to center its focus there; there are plenty of things I believe which aren't on it, and I would be rather alarmed if someone managed to write a platform that contained literally every statement I believe in.)

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2017-01-09 21:40:28 (58 comments; 24 reshares; 323 +1s; )Open 

I think this needs to take its place in the Annals of Congressional Trolling.

I love that he's been sitting on this for 8 years. Some serious dedication to the art of long-form trolling.

https://twitter.com/SenSchumer/status/818544880658108416___I think this needs to take its place in the Annals of Congressional Trolling.

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2017-01-07 06:01:26 (58 comments; 33 reshares; 291 +1s; )Open 

Today at CES, we present the solution for when it's not just your mind the government is controlling from its satellites: Tinfoil boxers.

Note that the change in capacitance when these deform could lead to some interesting ways for an attacker to remotely monitor your... um... state.

The Internet of Things: Where even your underwear has security holes.

Today at CES, we present the solution for when it's not just your mind the government is controlling from its satellites: Tinfoil boxers.

Note that the change in capacitance when these deform could lead to some interesting ways for an attacker to remotely monitor your... um... state.

The Internet of Things: Where even your underwear has security holes.___

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2017-01-04 23:16:35 (63 comments; 31 reshares; 293 +1s; )Open 

Warning: The article linked below gets fairly disgusting. It's about an unusual way that Gila woodpeckers in the Sonora Desert have found to get liquids.

In my experience, if you want to encounter really disturbing behavior within the animal kingdom, birds are where you go for it. As the article says:

"The woodpecker’s anatomy, of course, is built for drilling neat little holes into things and then drawing out what’s inside with their long, tentacle-like tongues. So it makes perfect sense that they could easily learn to exploit another food source using essentially the same strategy."

In this case, the food source is "predatory lobotomies."

Enjoy. Or something.

h/t +Jennifer Ouellette, who you should blame for my sharing this with you.

Warning: The article linked below gets fairly disgusting. It's about an unusual way that Gila woodpeckers in the Sonora Desert have found to get liquids.

In my experience, if you want to encounter really disturbing behavior within the animal kingdom, birds are where you go for it. As the article says:

"The woodpecker’s anatomy, of course, is built for drilling neat little holes into things and then drawing out what’s inside with their long, tentacle-like tongues. So it makes perfect sense that they could easily learn to exploit another food source using essentially the same strategy."

In this case, the food source is "predatory lobotomies."

Enjoy. Or something.

h/t +Jennifer Ouellette, who you should blame for my sharing this with you.___

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2017-01-04 19:25:04 (90 comments; 16 reshares; 133 +1s; )Open 

Uteruses: How do they work?

Apparently, nobody in the Old Republic was capable of adequately answering this question. In fact, Sarah Jeong makes a good argument that the inexplicable lack of qualified OB/GYNs in this galaxy was a major contributing factor to the collapse of the Old Republic and the Jedi order.

Given that they nonetheless had medical droids and bacta tanks, and prosthetics nearly indistinguishable from the original limbs, the only explanation I can think of is that uteruses are powered by Magic Beans which are somehow impervious to medical technology. 

Uteruses: How do they work?

Apparently, nobody in the Old Republic was capable of adequately answering this question. In fact, Sarah Jeong makes a good argument that the inexplicable lack of qualified OB/GYNs in this galaxy was a major contributing factor to the collapse of the Old Republic and the Jedi order.

Given that they nonetheless had medical droids and bacta tanks, and prosthetics nearly indistinguishable from the original limbs, the only explanation I can think of is that uteruses are powered by Magic Beans which are somehow impervious to medical technology. ___

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2017-01-02 14:02:37 (151 comments; 174 reshares; 568 +1s; )Open 

Tolerance is not a moral precept: It is a peace treaty.

We are brought up to believe that tolerating people is a basic moral good. But this simple approach fails, and can easily be used against us by people who say "Why won't you tolerate my intolerance?" This can happen in everything from our personal lives to the political arena. But it comes from a misunderstanding of what tolerance is.

The way to understand tolerance isn't as a moral absolute: it's as a peace treaty. The difference is that a peace treaty only applies when both sides abide by it.

This is an essay I've had brewing for some time.

Tolerance is not a moral precept: It is a peace treaty.

We are brought up to believe that tolerating people is a basic moral good. But this simple approach fails, and can easily be used against us by people who say "Why won't you tolerate my intolerance?" This can happen in everything from our personal lives to the political arena. But it comes from a misunderstanding of what tolerance is.

The way to understand tolerance isn't as a moral absolute: it's as a peace treaty. The difference is that a peace treaty only applies when both sides abide by it.

This is an essay I've had brewing for some time.___

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2017-01-02 11:13:18 (114 comments; 23 reshares; 236 +1s; )Open 

A thought about this: the essay correctly identifies dignity as a basic human need, but it glosses over the question of whether work is a method of providing dignity, or the method of providing dignity. While it is clearly true that "work is essential to many people's sense of self-worth and dignity," it is an open question of what other things could also provide those.

A failure of UBI (as of many social programs) is that it does not attempt to address the problem of people's need for self-image and dignity – a need which I believe (Masłow to the contrary) is a more fundamental need, in many cases, than even physical survival.

However, a failure of many rebuttals to UBI is that they assume that, since work is a source of dignity for many people, it is the only possible source. I do not believe that the facts bear this out – and I very much hope it is not truein gen... more »

A thought about this: the essay correctly identifies dignity as a basic human need, but it glosses over the question of whether work is a method of providing dignity, or the method of providing dignity. While it is clearly true that "work is essential to many people's sense of self-worth and dignity," it is an open question of what other things could also provide those.

A failure of UBI (as of many social programs) is that it does not attempt to address the problem of people's need for self-image and dignity – a need which I believe (Masłow to the contrary) is a more fundamental need, in many cases, than even physical survival.

However, a failure of many rebuttals to UBI is that they assume that, since work is a source of dignity for many people, it is the only possible source. I do not believe that the facts bear this out – and I very much hope it is not true in general, because a simple consequence of the rise in productivity (value produced per hour of work) and the limited marginal value of supply (no matter how rich you are, there are only so many sandwiches you can eat) is that we are entering a world where there isn't enough work to go around.

Because this is happening, it is very important that we think about alternate ways to provide all of the things which work currently does – not just wages, but purpose and self-image. Wages are, in a way, the easier of the questions, because jobs are vanishing not because there isn't enough wealth, but because goods and services have become so cheap that nobody can make money making them.

A serious attempt at addressing people's need for purpose, and for dignity, is something which I think we have been ignoring for far too long, and at our peril.

h/t +Chris Jones___

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2017-01-02 06:11:14 (33 comments; 13 reshares; 214 +1s; )Open 

I'm just seeing this and imagining what it would smell like. I'm imagining a base of cedar and balsam, with a tiny amount of oud for depth, and a fairly complex mix of higher notes, rounded off, of course, with the agonized scream of a billion voices.

(The original image by Mr. Black, here: http://thisismisterblack.tumblr.com/post/152940785625/govtarkini-recognised-your-foul-stench-when-i)

A happy 2017 to everyone, from Tarkin.___I'm just seeing this and imagining what it would smell like. I'm imagining a base of cedar and balsam, with a tiny amount of oud for depth, and a fairly complex mix of higher notes, rounded off, of course, with the agonized scream of a billion voices.

(The original image by Mr. Black, here: http://thisismisterblack.tumblr.com/post/152940785625/govtarkini-recognised-your-foul-stench-when-i)

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2017-01-01 09:02:30 (121 comments; 23 reshares; 383 +1s; )Open 

Some laws we should pass in 2017:

The past few months seem to have highlighted some really obvious laws which ought to exist, but apparently don't. These all seem to me to be in the category of "how the hell isn't this a law already?"; they're just basic procedural stuff to avoid obvious malfeasance.

Combining these (with, of course, a lot more attention to legislative drafting than I'm giving them right here) into a single bill seems like something which an enterprising coalition of Congresspeople might consider as a good use of their time this coming year.

(1) Make the tax records of all Federal elected or appointed officials at level SES-IV or higher, or equivalents in other branches of government, or candidates or nominees for the same, public records as matter of law.

This should include the previous five years for SES-III and... more »

Some laws we should pass in 2017:

The past few months seem to have highlighted some really obvious laws which ought to exist, but apparently don't. These all seem to me to be in the category of "how the hell isn't this a law already?"; they're just basic procedural stuff to avoid obvious malfeasance.

Combining these (with, of course, a lot more attention to legislative drafting than I'm giving them right here) into a single bill seems like something which an enterprising coalition of Congresspeople might consider as a good use of their time this coming year.

(1) Make the tax records of all Federal elected or appointed officials at level SES-IV or higher, or equivalents in other branches of government, or candidates or nominees for the same, public records as matter of law.

This should include the previous five years for SES-III and SES-IV positions, and ten years for all other positions.

It should also include the tax records of any limited or S corporation in which the named official or their spouse owns or owned an interest in excess of 50%.

Prior to release, personal identifying information (residential addresses, telephone numbers, and tax identification numbers) shall be redacted.

(2) Make explicit the conflict of interest rules that are currently fairly ad hoc when applied to elected officials, specifically enjoining any official at these senior levels from being the beneficial owner of any asset (etc) over which they have the ability to exert influence, either while they have this influence, or for a period of time after they have this influence equal to the lesser of the time for which they held this office or five years, unless said asset is managed through a conforming blind trust.

If an asset is held in violation of this, then all appreciation of said asset shall be forfeited as a fine; if said appreciation is negative, then said depreciation may not be considered a capital loss for tax purposes. If said violation is done knowingly, however, the entirety of the asset shall be forfeited instead.

(3) In any case where there exists an ex officio conflict of interest between a prosecutor and a criminal case – that is, when any prosecutor from the office would have such a conflict because (e.g.) the defendant in this case has executive authority over the prosecutor, or is a law enforcement officer in an organization with which this prosecutor's office must routinely cooperate – a special prosecutor should automatically be appointed, with their authority and budget being provided by law.
___

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2017-01-01 06:16:43 (44 comments; 4 reshares; 365 +1s; )Open 

חג שמח, and a happy new year. May we fill it with the light of our love, the light of our courage, and the light of setting some shit on fire.

חג שמח, and a happy new year. May we fill it with the light of our love, the light of our courage, and the light of setting some shit on fire.___

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2016-12-31 04:38:28 (84 comments; 43 reshares; 314 +1s; )Open 

As a follow-up to my previous post, here's a distilled version of the "No, that isn't bad English" spiel that I seem to give on a regular basis. All about language, and dialect, and what the purpose of an English class actually is.

As a follow-up to my previous post, here's a distilled version of the "No, that isn't bad English" spiel that I seem to give on a regular basis. All about language, and dialect, and what the purpose of an English class actually is.___

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2016-12-31 03:25:28 (110 comments; 33 reshares; 260 +1s; )Open 

From the department of "unexpected, yet real, consequences."

Self-driving cars promise tremendous changes in many aspects of our lives, because our lives -- from the physical layout of cities to the budgets of individuals to the requirements for jobs -- are so heavily structured around the idea of car ownership.

And driver error plays another important role in our society: as the major source of transplant organs.

h/t +Ben Hibben

___From the department of "unexpected, yet real, consequences."

Self-driving cars promise tremendous changes in many aspects of our lives, because our lives -- from the physical layout of cities to the budgets of individuals to the requirements for jobs -- are so heavily structured around the idea of car ownership.

And driver error plays another important role in our society: as the major source of transplant organs.

h/t +Ben Hibben

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2016-12-31 02:07:19 (77 comments; 25 reshares; 293 +1s; )Open 

The "Traveling Salesman Problem" is an important problem in computer science and in logistics. Given a set of places you have to visit, it asks, what is the most efficient route which covers them?

It turns out that this problem is a very difficult one to solve: there are no efficient exact algorithms, and even approximations are computationally very intensive. Unfortunately, it's also a very important problem – as evidenced by the work put into the research below, in which a team of four mathematicians spent two years working out the most efficient possible pub crawl which visits Every. Single. Pub. in the UK.

If you're wondering, there are 24,727 pubs along the route, and you will end up walking, crawling, or being pushed in a wheelbarrow for a total of 45,495,239 meters, about 10% more than the circumference of the Earth. But the path is a closed loop, so youwi... more »

This could prove ... useful.___The "Traveling Salesman Problem" is an important problem in computer science and in logistics. Given a set of places you have to visit, it asks, what is the most efficient route which covers them?

It turns out that this problem is a very difficult one to solve: there are no efficient exact algorithms, and even approximations are computationally very intensive. Unfortunately, it's also a very important problem – as evidenced by the work put into the research below, in which a team of four mathematicians spent two years working out the most efficient possible pub crawl which visits Every. Single. Pub. in the UK.

If you're wondering, there are 24,727 pubs along the route, and you will end up walking, crawling, or being pushed in a wheelbarrow for a total of 45,495,239 meters, about 10% more than the circumference of the Earth. But the path is a closed loop, so you will end up at home again. Or possibly in the hospital with alcohol poisoning.

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2016-12-31 02:01:06 (101 comments; 19 reshares; 273 +1s; )Open 

When someone tells you that something is "bad English," what they're telling you is either "this doesn't perform the English of the social class I like," or "someone once told me a rule that you shouldn't do this, and they looked important, so they must be right."

These rules are made up. There is no Official Council of the English Language, and even if there were, screw those guys. Make your language expressive and communicative; the rest is bollocks.

h/t +Sarah Rios

I've talked about how I feel about "Don't use [thing] ever" as a writing tip before, so instead of rambling on about that for the umpteenth time, have this.___When someone tells you that something is "bad English," what they're telling you is either "this doesn't perform the English of the social class I like," or "someone once told me a rule that you shouldn't do this, and they looked important, so they must be right."

These rules are made up. There is no Official Council of the English Language, and even if there were, screw those guys. Make your language expressive and communicative; the rest is bollocks.

h/t +Sarah Rios

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2016-12-29 06:09:43 (28 comments; 34 reshares; 323 +1s; )Open 

There is a threat looming over Iraq which could leave hundreds of thousands dead and millions homeless. It's not ISIS; it's the Mosul Dam.

Located 25 miles upstream of Iraq's second-largest city, the Mosul Dam provides critical electricity to the country's north. It was built in 1981 by order of Saddam Hussein, both for electricity and to reduce the flow of the Tigris to southern Iraq, where regular flooding was hampering the Iraqi army's war with Iran. As with any dictatorship, disagreement was not a path to a long and healthy life – and that included engineers warning that this dam was a bad idea.

The particular problem with this dam is with the soil it rests on: as engineers warned, there is nowhere along the entire Tigris suitable for building a dam. The dam, as built, holds 2.7 cubic miles of water behind a wall that sits on top of limestone and gypsum– ... more »

There is a threat looming over Iraq which could leave hundreds of thousands dead and millions homeless. It's not ISIS; it's the Mosul Dam.

Located 25 miles upstream of Iraq's second-largest city, the Mosul Dam provides critical electricity to the country's north. It was built in 1981 by order of Saddam Hussein, both for electricity and to reduce the flow of the Tigris to southern Iraq, where regular flooding was hampering the Iraqi army's war with Iran. As with any dictatorship, disagreement was not a path to a long and healthy life – and that included engineers warning that this dam was a bad idea.

The particular problem with this dam is with the soil it rests on: as engineers warned, there is nowhere along the entire Tigris suitable for building a dam. The dam, as built, holds 2.7 cubic miles of water behind a wall that sits on top of limestone and gypsum – materials known for dissolving in water.

The dam has therefore been maintained since its inception by the tireless (and fearless) work of its crews, who are continually running around, trying to find newly-formed underground voids, and pumping them full of cement as quickly as they form. In theory, a thousand years from now the entire riverbed will have been replaced with cement by this process, and the dam will become stable.

But practice is far less kind than theory. Mosul fell to ISIS in 2014, and in the course of the war, the grouting work stopped. It's been restarted, and crews continue at work, but the dam is more unsteady than ever. The US Army Corps of Engineers probably has the best picture of this, because they installed sensors throughout the dam during the first Gulf War; the Iraqi government probably has the worst picture of this, because their official position has been that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the dam, everything is 100% safe, and any rumors to the contrary are American psyops.

When I last wrote about this subject, Mosul had just fallen, and concerns about the dam were rife; two years later, as coalition forces are battling ISIS to retake the city, the concerns appear to have been well-founded, but the heroism of the dam's crew has so far averted a cataclysm. (A very literal cataclysm, in this case)

Dexter Filkins' article provides much more depth on the subject, showing the state of affairs and what the future might hold.___

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2016-12-27 01:35:50 (69 comments; 90 reshares; 598 +1s; )Open 

And in the continuing march of the Angel of Death, I am sad to report that Vera Rubin died today at the age of 88. Rubin was most famous as the discoverer of dark matter: the invisible and still-mysterious substance which makes up 85% of the mass of the universe.

Dark matter had been hypothesized back in the 1930's, but it wasn't until the 1970's that it was finally observed. Rubin was studying distant galaxies when she noticed that the rotation speed of their outer edges didn't jibe with the speed they should have based on the amount of visible matter.

You can tell how fast something is moving relative to you using the Doppler effect: the same thing that makes a siren sound higher-pitched as it moves towards you and lower-pitched as it moves away. It works because sound looks like a sine wave of rising and dropping pressure, and pitch corresponds to the time between... more »

And in the continuing march of the Angel of Death, I am sad to report that Vera Rubin died today at the age of 88. Rubin was most famous as the discoverer of dark matter: the invisible and still-mysterious substance which makes up 85% of the mass of the universe.

Dark matter had been hypothesized back in the 1930's, but it wasn't until the 1970's that it was finally observed. Rubin was studying distant galaxies when she noticed that the rotation speed of their outer edges didn't jibe with the speed they should have based on the amount of visible matter.

You can tell how fast something is moving relative to you using the Doppler effect: the same thing that makes a siren sound higher-pitched as it moves towards you and lower-pitched as it moves away. It works because sound looks like a sine wave of rising and dropping pressure, and pitch corresponds to the time between successive peaks. When the source is moving towards you, the first peak emitted by the siren is already moving towards you at the speed of sound, but the second peak will get there sooner than expected, because it had the benefit of moving towards you at the siren's speed for one more period and then being sent off at the speed of sound. This means that if you know the original pitch of the siren, you can even figure out how fast it's moving based on the pitch you hear.

The same trick works with light, only now instead of pitch, it's color that depends on the time between peaks; things appear bluer when they approach, and redder when they recede. Since starlight contains a lot of easily measured standard lights in it - colors like those that Hydrogen and Helium emit when heated, and which have a very distinct pattern when viewed through a prism - we can measure the speed of distant stars and galaxies. And by comparing the speed of the left and right edges of a galaxy, you can tell how fast it's spinning.

But we've known how to calculate the orbits of stars since Kepler, and from the amount of light a galaxy emits, we can make a pretty good guess at how heavy it is. From that, you would conclude that the stars at the outside of a galaxy should be moving more slowly than the ones at its center, in a nicely predictable way.

But that's not what Rubin saw! Instead, she discovered that the stars at the outside were moving at the same speed as the ones at the center - something only possible if there was some extra, invisible mass pulling them.

What Rubin discovered was that there is an invisible halo of "dark matter" surrounding each galaxy, nearly ten times as massive as the galaxy itself. It's "dark" in the plainly literal sense: unlike stars, it's not actively on fire and glowing.

In the decades since, dark matter has become a core area of study in astrophysics. Using the same techniques and ever-more-sophisticated telescopes, including dedicated satellite observatories, we've mapped the presence and motion of dark matter in greater detail, and discovered that it's far more mysterious than we first suspected. For example, we know it's not made up of ordinary atomic or molecular stuff, because its dynamics is all wrong; neither is it made up of massive neutrinos or any other kind of matter we understand.

(There's also dark energy, an even more widespread and invisible field, discovered a few decades later. Unlike dark matter, which attracts things by gravity, dark energy seems to provide a universe-spanning, diffuse, but very distinctly measurable repulsive force. It's even less understood than dark matter; most scientists suspect that if we understood these things well, we'd know a lot more about the nature of the universe)

Rubin therefore sits in the pantheon of the great astronomers of the 20th century. Alas, her death means she will not get the Nobel Prize that many have been arguing she deserves for a very long time: the prize cannot (by the terms of its founding grant) be awarded posthumously. But she remains one of the most important researchers in the field, and her work will continue to have a profound impact on our understanding of Nature for generations to come.___

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2016-12-27 00:36:02 (15 comments; 13 reshares; 111 +1s; )Open 

And for your continued holiday pleasure, I present you +John Scalzi​'s capsule reviews of the ten least successful holiday specials of all time. 

And for your continued holiday pleasure, I present you +John Scalzi​'s capsule reviews of the ten least successful holiday specials of all time. ___

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2016-12-26 06:47:16 (78 comments; 42 reshares; 363 +1s; )Open 

"Every string of numbers eventually occurs in π"... or does it?

There's a popular bit of math lore that every possible string of numbers occurs somewhere in the decimal expansion of π — 3.14159265358.... But nobody actually knows if this is true.

This is part of a broader bit of strange math called "normal numbers." Normal numbers are ones whose digit expansion contain every sequence of digits with equal likelihood: that is, a number is normal in base 10 if not only does a randomly selected digit have an equal probability of being any of 0 through 9, but a randomly selected string of two digits have an equal probability of being any of 00 through 99, and so on. A number is simply called "normal" if it is normal in every base.¹

What's strange about normal numbers is that they're everywhere, but we can't find them. Backin 1... more »

"Every string of numbers eventually occurs in π"... or does it?

There's a popular bit of math lore that every possible string of numbers occurs somewhere in the decimal expansion of π — 3.14159265358.... But nobody actually knows if this is true.

This is part of a broader bit of strange math called "normal numbers." Normal numbers are ones whose digit expansion contain every sequence of digits with equal likelihood: that is, a number is normal in base 10 if not only does a randomly selected digit have an equal probability of being any of 0 through 9, but a randomly selected string of two digits have an equal probability of being any of 00 through 99, and so on. A number is simply called "normal" if it is normal in every base.¹

What's strange about normal numbers is that they're everywhere, but we can't find them. Back in 1909, Émile Borel came up with the idea of normal numbers, and proved that nearly every number is normal – that is, if you were to pick a real number at random, the probability that you picked a non-normal number is exactly zero.

That's "nearly every" number, because it turns out you can fit a lot of numbers into "nearly." For example, the probability that a randomly selected real number will be a whole number or a fraction is also zero: it turns out there are a lot more irrational numbers (numbers like √2 or π) which can't be written as fractions than ones which are.

We also know that normal numbers have all sorts of interesting properties. For instance, if you try to apply data compression to a normal number, it never works. (Technically: if you apply any lossless compression algorithm to the first N digits of a normal number, as N increases the compression ratio will always end up ≥ 1) Likewise, you can't build a system that reads N digits and guesses the N+1st digit reliably. (Technically: if you build a system that, after reading N digits, places bets on what the N+1st digit will be, and is allowed to keep doing this indefinitely, it will ultimately always lose money) Phrased another way, the successive digits of a normal number form a perfect uniform-random-number generator.

(The incompressibility is what makes me love normal numbers: there's no good way to summarize them, you can't express what that number is more briefly than by actually writing it out.)

But despite all of this, nobody has ever found a normal number!

There are strong suspicions that all sorts of numbers are normal: π, e, √2. It's even conjectured that every irrational algebraic number (every number that can show up as the solution to a polynomial equation with integer coefficients) is normal.

People have also found numbers which are known to be normal in some base; for example, in base ten, the number

0.123456789101112131415.....

(just concatenating each integer) is easily seen to be normal in that base. But nobody knows if it's normal in other bases as well.

A related odd thing: a number is abnormal if it isn't normal in any base. While these numbers are far rarer than normal numbers, they're much easier to find. Not only is every rational number abnormal (since its digit expansion must ultimately repeat), but people have found plenty of examples of irrational abnormal numbers.

It's a curious thing, where we can prove that a property is held by the overwhelming majority of all numbers, and yet it's nearly impossible to come up with an example!


¹ We normally write numbers in base ten, with digits zero through nine, but that's only because we have ten fingers. Computers usually work in base two (binary), with digits zero and one; the first few counting numbers are therefore 0, 1, 10, 11, 100, 101, 110, and now instead of a one's place, ten's place, hundred's (10*10) place, thousand's place (10*10*10) and so on, we have a one's place, two's place, four's place (2*2), eight's place (2*2*2), and so on. In computer science we often use base 16 ("hexadecimal," or "hex" for short) as well, and write the possible digits 0123456789ABCDEF. We often use "0x" as a marker that a number is in hex, so 0x4F = 4 in the 16's place and F (15) in the 1's place = 4*16 + 15 = 79 in decimal.

You can use any whole number greater than one as a base; in base b, you have a one's place, a b's place, a b*b's place, and so on, each of which has possible digits from 0 to b-1.

Or as Tom Lehrer put it, "Base eight is just like base ten, really... if you're missing two fingers."

Image credit: Jonas Maaløe Jespersen (https://www.flickr.com/photos/maaloe/212785172)___

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2016-12-26 00:26:03 (63 comments; 22 reshares; 373 +1s; )Open 

Here's a great bit of mathematics inspired by the practical problem of moving furniture.

Let's say you have a hallway with some right-angle turns in it. What is the shape of the largest (in terms of area) sofa which you could move down this hallway?

It turns out this problem is still unsolved! There are two versions of it: the one-sided moving sofa (which only has to make a left turn), or the ambidextrous moving sofa, which has to make both left and right turns.

What you see in the GIF below is the best known solution to the ambidextrous moving sofa, recently discovered by Dan Romik. It has an area of about 1.64 square units (where a "unit" is the width of the hallway), and you can get its precise shape details at the linked article.

For the one-sided moving sofa, we can do better: the best known shape is the Gerver Sofa (see animation at... more »

Romik's ambidextrous sofa

The ambidextrous moving sofa problem is to find the planar shape with the biggest maximal area that can slide through right-angled turns both to the right and to the left in a hallway of width 1.  

Earlier this year Dan Romik, a mathematician at the University of California Davis, found the best known solution to this problem!   He created this animated gif of it, too.  His shape is bounded by 18 curves, each of which is either part of a circle, or part of a curve described by a polynomial equation of degree 6.   

Nobody has proved his solution is optimal.   But it's locally optimal: you can't make slight changes in his shape that increase the area and get a shape that still fits down the hallway!  

For more, including the precise area of this shape, try my blog article on Visual Insight:

http://blogs.ams.org/visualinsight/2016/12/15/romiks-ambidextrous-sofa/

I hope you're all having a great holiday!

Each year I try to think of things I can stop doing... so I can do more new stuff.   In 2017, I will try to take a year-long break from posting articles on Visual Insight.  I've been doing two a month for quite a while, I've done 81 of them, and I'm running out of enthusiasm.  Also, right now, a lot of my energy is going into the Azimuth Backup Project.  So, maybe I will save up ideas and restart Visual Insight in 2018.  But perhaps I'll end with a bang on January 1st, 2017.

#geometry  ___Here's a great bit of mathematics inspired by the practical problem of moving furniture.

Let's say you have a hallway with some right-angle turns in it. What is the shape of the largest (in terms of area) sofa which you could move down this hallway?

It turns out this problem is still unsolved! There are two versions of it: the one-sided moving sofa (which only has to make a left turn), or the ambidextrous moving sofa, which has to make both left and right turns.

What you see in the GIF below is the best known solution to the ambidextrous moving sofa, recently discovered by Dan Romik. It has an area of about 1.64 square units (where a "unit" is the width of the hallway), and you can get its precise shape details at the linked article.

For the one-sided moving sofa, we can do better: the best known shape is the Gerver Sofa (see animation at http://blogs.ams.org/visualinsight/2015/01/15/hammersley-sofa), which has an area of about 2.22 square units.

It's been mathematically proven that no one-sided moving sofa can be bigger than 2√2 ≈ 2.82 square units, and with the aid of computers it's been shown that to eight significant digits, Gerver's sofa is actually the best possible one-sided sofa.

As you can see in the animation of Gerver's sofa, there's pretty good reason to believe it's close perfect – at almost all the moments of its motion, at least three points of the sofa are touching the wall. That's not true of Romik's ambidextrous sofa, which (as you can see below) spends a bit more time with only two points touching – so it may be possible to fit a larger sofa yet!

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2016-12-25 07:13:57 (67 comments; 15 reshares; 190 +1s; )Open 

This. Fucking. Year.

The Alexandrov Ensemble is one of the world's greatest choirs. I grew up with their music, I still listen to it all the time when I'm stressed. Their arrangements are the ones I know by heart and sing to myself absentmindedly.

Today, en route to singing a Christmas concert for Russian troops in Syria, a plane with 68 members of the choir aboard went down over the Black Sea. There are not believed to be any survivors.

This. Fucking. Year.

The Alexandrov Ensemble is one of the world's greatest choirs. I grew up with their music, I still listen to it all the time when I'm stressed. Their arrangements are the ones I know by heart and sing to myself absentmindedly.

Today, en route to singing a Christmas concert for Russian troops in Syria, a plane with 68 members of the choir aboard went down over the Black Sea. There are not believed to be any survivors.___

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2016-12-24 06:05:32 (70 comments; 5 reshares; 116 +1s; )Open 

It is coming.

It is coming.___

2016-12-23 08:50:03 (71 comments; 13 reshares; 200 +1s; )Open 

If you've ever met a ship's chief engineer, or any other engineer who's maintained a life-critical system for however long, you will recognize what engineers' religion looks like. It involves a deep understanding of the things that keep everyone alive, and a horror at anyone who would violate those – from adding an incorrectly-designed component which could damage other systems, to compromising things like the system's monitoring or emergency controls (I feel a shudder just typing those words).

There are also certain superstitions which are nearly universal among engineers: Never speak of success, except in the past tense; never trust anything that looks like it's working correctly.

It turns out that this sort of thing isn't limited to any one kind of engineering. The people who maintain the systems of democracy, apparently, sometimes have the same kindof... more »

+Yonatan Zunger: […] because you believe in [social/political/legal] systems, and the ability of systems, when well-designed, to generate good results.
me: ugh, partisans. hate, hate, hate when people fuck with the system for partisan gain
+Yonatan Zunger: exactly. People are messing with your infrastructure and PEOPLE DO NOT MESS WITH YOUR GODDAMNED INFRASTRUCTURE, THIS STUFF IS DELICATE:
me: gerrymandeirng is a sin. amen.
+Yonatan Zunger: do you understand just how deep a religion of systems it takes to say something like "gerrymandering is a sin" as a spontaneous utterance?  ☺
me: … no? this seems self-evident […]

So apparently I'm religious after all, albeit with major self-awareness lacunae? (Maybe I should get that as a church creed…)___If you've ever met a ship's chief engineer, or any other engineer who's maintained a life-critical system for however long, you will recognize what engineers' religion looks like. It involves a deep understanding of the things that keep everyone alive, and a horror at anyone who would violate those – from adding an incorrectly-designed component which could damage other systems, to compromising things like the system's monitoring or emergency controls (I feel a shudder just typing those words).

There are also certain superstitions which are nearly universal among engineers: Never speak of success, except in the past tense; never trust anything that looks like it's working correctly.

It turns out that this sort of thing isn't limited to any one kind of engineering. The people who maintain the systems of democracy, apparently, sometimes have the same kind of attitude.

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2016-12-23 06:49:11 (35 comments; 25 reshares; 326 +1s; )Open 

Obituary of a hero. May we all learn from her and live up to her example.

Read this account of a stone-cold Dutch badass on the side of all that's good and right.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/marion-pritchard-dutch-rescuer-of-jewish-children-during-the-holocaust-dies-at-96/2016/12/20/d5ca50e0-c61b-11e6-bf4b-2c064d32a4bf_story.html?utm_term=.c1d74c4a8a6b___Obituary of a hero. May we all learn from her and live up to her example.

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2016-12-23 01:19:36 (29 comments; 56 reshares; 471 +1s; )Open 

Some more good news: an experimental Ebola vaccine is currently showing 100% effectiveness. It hasn't been approved yet, but they're preemptively building up a stock of 300,000 units in case of outbreak.

Real effectiveness presumably won't be 100%, of course, because nothing is ever 100% effective, but that still makes a huge difference.

Science: It works, bitches.

Some more good news: an experimental Ebola vaccine is currently showing 100% effectiveness. It hasn't been approved yet, but they're preemptively building up a stock of 300,000 units in case of outbreak.

Real effectiveness presumably won't be 100%, of course, because nothing is ever 100% effective, but that still makes a huge difference.

Science: It works, bitches.___

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2016-12-23 01:08:18 (10 comments; 11 reshares; 216 +1s; )Open 

Just a wonderful, happy story: how on Christmas Eve, 1968, Apollo 8 became the first human mission to the Moon. Its crew of three took the ship into Lunar orbit, and among other things snapped one of the most famous photographs in space history: Earthrise.

“Please be advised there is a Santa Claus!” - Jim Lovell. "[chrisbpetty:] Sometimes it can be easy to get so immersed in the detail of spaceflight, the documentation, the politics and the technical minutiae, that we lose sight of the very real emotional connection that our achievements can have.

Occasionally when things come together just right, for a brief moment we can all pull together and feel a collective human wonder at events we see unfolding. I suspect many of us have our own ‘special mission’, indeed one of the great pleasures of meeting fellow space enthusiasts is to swap stories of these pivotal moments, the wonder they gave us and the lasting glow that keeps us wanting to learn more. Increasingly these may be missions we only learn about decades after their completion – we come new to these experiences, yet they can affect us just as they affected the generation that witnessed them first-hand.

For me there will always be a special place in my heart for Apollo 8."___Just a wonderful, happy story: how on Christmas Eve, 1968, Apollo 8 became the first human mission to the Moon. Its crew of three took the ship into Lunar orbit, and among other things snapped one of the most famous photographs in space history: Earthrise.

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2016-12-23 00:06:55 (121 comments; 37 reshares; 315 +1s; )Open 

A local school district cancelled their annual production of A Christmas Carol, citing a lack of time and resources. But FOX and Brietbart ran stories blaming a local Jewish family instead, and that family has had to flee the county for their own safety. "There’s no way we’re going to take a chance after the pizza incident," they told reporters.

Neither site published their address, but commenters were already calling for that address to be found and published; as we've seen in previous incident, it doesn't take long for that to happen, once people are calling for it (and 4chan seems always happy to help).

Why am I sharing this story, rather than any number of other stories? Because perhaps the way that this story fits traditional molds of violence will help you see the danger. This sort of threat has been used as a weapon against people by the far right for years– f... more »

A local school district cancelled their annual production of A Christmas Carol, citing a lack of time and resources. But FOX and Brietbart ran stories blaming a local Jewish family instead, and that family has had to flee the county for their own safety. "There’s no way we’re going to take a chance after the pizza incident," they told reporters.

Neither site published their address, but commenters were already calling for that address to be found and published; as we've seen in previous incident, it doesn't take long for that to happen, once people are calling for it (and 4chan seems always happy to help).

Why am I sharing this story, rather than any number of other stories? Because perhaps the way that this story fits traditional molds of violence will help you see the danger. This sort of threat has been used as a weapon against people by the far right for years – from GamerGate (from which several people are still living in hiding) to Muslim communities which are receiving constant, credible threats. It's the same as what forced Salman Rushdie into hiding.

The rise of fascism in the US has given tremendous political cover to these people: behavior which would once have been criminal is now acceptable, the "really passionate" behavior (in Trump's description) of people whose fears about their futures we are supposed to see as legitimate.

There is nothing legitimate here; there is no possible fear about one's economic future, about one's loss of standing in the community, which justifies this.

Edited to add: There have been contradictory reports in the press about the veracity of the story. There's a good resume of all of them at http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/what-s-the-story . The upshot appears to be that the originally story is essentially correct, and the ADL rebuttal is correct as well, and the apparent contradiction goes away when you dig in to the actual quotes.___

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2016-12-22 01:01:30 (12 comments; 28 reshares; 260 +1s; )Open 

This is absolutely fantastic.

h/t +Isaac Kuo​

The cartoon artist tries to make lots of drawings of himself and his cat. In the style of other cartoonists___This is absolutely fantastic.

h/t +Isaac Kuo​

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2016-12-21 11:01:48 (31 comments; 11 reshares; 144 +1s; )Open 

I just realized that on the old French Revolutionary Calendar, the 2016 US election happened on the 18th Brumaire, CCXXIV.

You cannot make this shit up.

"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
— Karl Marx, _The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoléon_ 

I just realized that on the old French Revolutionary Calendar, the 2016 US election happened on the 18th Brumaire, CCXXIV.

You cannot make this shit up.

"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
— Karl Marx, _The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoléon_ ___

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2016-12-21 03:36:48 (49 comments; 41 reshares; 251 +1s; )Open 

This article is an excellent summary of something very important: addiction and dependence are not the same thing, and dependence isn't necessarily a bad thing at all.

"Dependence" means that you experience physical symptoms when you stop taking a drug. This can happen even if the drug is highly beneficial to you; it means that your body has adapted to the substance. "Addiction" means that you can't stop taking the drugs, even if they make your life worse.

This is a crucial distinction, because both laws and treatments get these mixed up, often with dangerous consequences. All opioids, for example, lead to dependence: if you've been taking them for a while, when you stop taking them you get some extremely nasty physical symptoms ("withdrawal"). But that's also true if those opioids are simply letting you live a normal life, which is a very... more »

This article is an excellent summary of something very important: addiction and dependence are not the same thing, and dependence isn't necessarily a bad thing at all.

"Dependence" means that you experience physical symptoms when you stop taking a drug. This can happen even if the drug is highly beneficial to you; it means that your body has adapted to the substance. "Addiction" means that you can't stop taking the drugs, even if they make your life worse.

This is a crucial distinction, because both laws and treatments get these mixed up, often with dangerous consequences. All opioids, for example, lead to dependence: if you've been taking them for a while, when you stop taking them you get some extremely nasty physical symptoms ("withdrawal"). But that's also true if those opioids are simply letting you live a normal life, which is a very common situation for people with the conditions that opioids are meant to treat – like serious chronic pain. If doctors (or lawyers!) mix up "dependence" with "addiction," though, they're likely to say that the fact that you experience those symptoms mean that something is seriously wrong with you, and thus cut off your supply abruptly – which is precisely the worst thing to do.

In fact, physical dependence because your body has adapted to the drug and physical dependence because your body has a serious problem without the drug are largely part of the same spectrum. Someone using opioids is dependent on them in the same way that a diabetic is dependent on insulin – and neither should stop using it without a good reason.

To quote the article:

"Physical dependence occurs very frequently with repeated opioid exposure, but dissipates promptly after a few days of opioid tapering and discontinuation," explains Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Addiction occurs only in those vulnerable and is a slow process that, once it has occurred, can take months and even years to overcome and requires persistent treatment."

In other words, if pain medications are making your life genuinely better and improving your ability to love and work, what you are experiencing if you have withdrawal symptoms is dependence, not addiction. People with diabtes, for instance, are dependent on—but not addicted to— insulin; people on certain antidepressants are dependent on them, but, again, not addicted.

This confusion has its history in the medical literature itself, which had trouble getting the ideas straight over the years. The "war on drugs" has just been an excuse to make this confusion even worse.___

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2016-12-21 02:56:42 (136 comments; 28 reshares; 248 +1s; )Open 

Bill O'Reilly had an opinion piece today about how race and gender relate to American politics, which I have to say was fairly accurate in most of its points, and is worth reading, because when the opponent of an idea can fairly and accurately characterize it, it's often a very clear distillation. One of his closing lines summarizes it well:

"Summing up, the left wants power taken away from the white establishment and they want a profound change in the way America is run."

I don't think I could argue with that statement. The Left argues that there are many profound problems in the way that America is run today, and (as O'Reilly says), a lot of that is because America is being run by and for the benefit of a particular group within it. That's not what America stands for, and it's something which should change.

The part of this op-ed where I... more »

Bill O'Reilly had an opinion piece today about how race and gender relate to American politics, which I have to say was fairly accurate in most of its points, and is worth reading, because when the opponent of an idea can fairly and accurately characterize it, it's often a very clear distillation. One of his closing lines summarizes it well:

"Summing up, the left wants power taken away from the white establishment and they want a profound change in the way America is run."

I don't think I could argue with that statement. The Left argues that there are many profound problems in the way that America is run today, and (as O'Reilly says), a lot of that is because America is being run by and for the benefit of a particular group within it. That's not what America stands for, and it's something which should change.

The part of this op-ed where I disagree with O'Reilly is his interpretation of how that ties to the Electoral College, and arguments for a popular vote. O'Reilly argues that a move to a popular vote would marginalize white, working-class voters, and move political power entirely to the cities. While it's true that this would move political power more to the cities, that's simply because that's where most Americans live; white Americans, black Americans, all sorts of Americans.

He believes that a move to a popular vote would gut the power of the Right, but I think that he's missed an important step in how the voting system affects politics. In today's presidential elections, the unit of voting is the state, and you talk about "winning a state;" once you or your opponent has a comfortable lead in a state, that state is effectively off the table and can be ignored for the rest of the election. A consequence of this is that any state with a sharp net political leaning – be it California or Utah – will have its issues almost completely ignored in an election, even if it has very large minorities who disagree. (e.g., the 5.2 million registered Republicans in California)

But a deeper consequence is that parties shape their ideologies to this. The Republican Party has shaped itself as a party of rural and exurban areas, as opposed to cities; this works well in an EC system. In a popular vote, those 5.2 million Californians suddenly become a potent force, and being able to convert people living in cities suddenly becomes a workable strategy, even if you can't win the city as a whole. This would give the Republican party a tremendous incentive to try to appeal to people in cities, and the Democratic party an incentive to try to appeal to people in the countryside. That is, it would give a structural incentive to reduce the rural/urban polarization which has been so significant in American politics.

There's one other interesting advantage of moving to a popular vote for the Presidency: since Senate seats are still done by state (some states having their seats at-large, others dividing themselves geographically), and House seats by (gerrymandered) districts, this would add another layer of geographic diversity to the way we elect our national officials. It would mean that you would have some politicians very tied to local needs, some to state-level needs, and some to broader national needs – which I suspect is a recipe for greater stability.

If this were a disadvantage to Republicans, it would be so for one election only, and that only if their strategists failed to pay attention. In fact, I suspect that this may be more favorable to Republicans in the long term, since it might make strategies like appealing to Latino voters actually feasible, by removing the party's dependency on nativism for its current "base."

All of which is to say, I don't by any means suspect that a move to a popular vote would be advantageous to the Democrats in the long term; I suspect that from a purely partisan perspective, it might be a loss for them. But despite my own political alignment (which is, by recent American standards, with the Left), I still think this is a good idea for the country, because I think that the rural/urban split has led to profoundly toxic politics, and if we are to have any meaningful chance of addressing the issues which affect either region, we need a realignment which no longer makes that division a primary salient of the country.___

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2016-12-21 02:35:42 (45 comments; 17 reshares; 205 +1s; )Open 

A short thread by Eve Ewing. The last line of it is one that will stick with me: "Maybe instead of calling people like me scholar-activists, we should call people who are silent in the face of injustice scholar-nihilists."

As mentioned elsethread: a scholar-activist is simply a scholar who cares about, and works toward, making the world a better place. Here, freed of the tyranny of 140 characters, I'll add: the repair of the world is a moral obligation on each and every one of us. We may do so in small places or in large ones, but we may not set that task aside.

#TikkunOlam

A short thread by Eve Ewing. The last line of it is one that will stick with me: "Maybe instead of calling people like me scholar-activists, we should call people who are silent in the face of injustice scholar-nihilists."

As mentioned elsethread: a scholar-activist is simply a scholar who cares about, and works toward, making the world a better place. Here, freed of the tyranny of 140 characters, I'll add: the repair of the world is a moral obligation on each and every one of us. We may do so in small places or in large ones, but we may not set that task aside.

#TikkunOlam___

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2016-12-21 01:55:54 (108 comments; 92 reshares; 453 +1s; )Open 

The deep sea contains a lot of weird-ass stuff. And Roman Fedortsov, a deep-sea fisherman from Murmansk, has been posting pictures of some of that stuff on Twitter.

Below, an article with some of his more interesting pics... and you can follow him on Twitter as @rfedortsov to get a regular dose of WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?

The deep sea contains a lot of weird-ass stuff. And Roman Fedortsov, a deep-sea fisherman from Murmansk, has been posting pictures of some of that stuff on Twitter.

Below, an article with some of his more interesting pics... and you can follow him on Twitter as @rfedortsov to get a regular dose of WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?___

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2016-12-21 01:30:39 (37 comments; 18 reshares; 180 +1s; )Open 

Whenever you encounter a news story involving an urgent need to rescue people held in sexual slavery, you should view it with extreme suspicion. These have been the bread-and-butter of con games, fake journalism, and political expediency for centuries. 99 times out of 100, upon investigation the so-called slaves weren't slaves at all: instead, the story was either entirely made up (e.g. Pizzagate) or the people in question were perfectly ordinary sex workers, and their "rescue" was really nothing more than a police raid. These raids tend to end up with the "rescued victims" either imprisoned or actually enslaved – as many of these so-called rescue organizations moved them to "safer conditions" inside a sweatshop.

More importantly, these provide cover for politicians to engage in their own measures, like a "war on trafficking." Like the war on drugs,yo... more »

Whenever you encounter a news story involving an urgent need to rescue people held in sexual slavery, you should view it with extreme suspicion. These have been the bread-and-butter of con games, fake journalism, and political expediency for centuries. 99 times out of 100, upon investigation the so-called slaves weren't slaves at all: instead, the story was either entirely made up (e.g. Pizzagate) or the people in question were perfectly ordinary sex workers, and their "rescue" was really nothing more than a police raid. These raids tend to end up with the "rescued victims" either imprisoned or actually enslaved – as many of these so-called rescue organizations moved them to "safer conditions" inside a sweatshop.

More importantly, these provide cover for politicians to engage in their own measures, like a "war on trafficking." Like the war on drugs, you should sniff carefully when you hear politicians declaring a war on some abstract concept. In this case, the major outcome is to further criminalize and isolate sex workers – e.g., with "brothelkeeping" laws being used to legally require landlords to evict anyone suspected of sex work or face criminal charges themselves.

If a story sounds too salacious to be true, especially if it involves helpless sex slaves needing to be rescued by fine, upstanding members of society (seriously, does nobody realize this is a plot out of a 1930's pulp novel?), it almost certainly is.

Here's a great article by Melissa Gira Grant, digging in to the history of these, and how Pizzagate is just the latest in a long line of bullshit.

h/t +A.V. Flox___

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2016-12-20 00:06:37 (130 comments; 76 reshares; 339 +1s; )Open 

This is a very thought-provoking article about the history of the social circumstances that brought about Trumpism – and how Hunter S. Thompson understood and explained them with profound clarity 50 years ago.

The book that captured this wasn't Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail; it was Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, the book which first made his name and reputation.

Thompson was, I think, one of the greatest journalists of our era: a man with a profound ability to cut through bullshit and get to the heart of the matter. What he found at the center of American culture ultimately broke his heart, and that cost him his life; but today, I think we need him more than ever.

h/t +Peter Schmidt and +Aoife Caragh.

This is a very thought-provoking article about the history of the social circumstances that brought about Trumpism – and how Hunter S. Thompson understood and explained them with profound clarity 50 years ago.

The book that captured this wasn't Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail; it was Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, the book which first made his name and reputation.

Thompson was, I think, one of the greatest journalists of our era: a man with a profound ability to cut through bullshit and get to the heart of the matter. What he found at the center of American culture ultimately broke his heart, and that cost him his life; but today, I think we need him more than ever.

h/t +Peter Schmidt and +Aoife Caragh.___

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2016-12-19 21:14:18 (53 comments; 80 reshares; 333 +1s; )Open 

This is an article you'll want to bookmark.

Abuse can be an extremely serious thing, and it can happen in families, in relationships, at work, or nearly anywhere else. If a friend comes to you and tells you that they've been abused, they've just put a tremendous amount of trust in you – and you probably have no idea what you're supposed to do. Are you supposed to find confirming evidence? Accept what they say, and then plan to murder their abuser? Call someone? Do something?

There are people who specialize in dealing with this, and thanks to some very together people recently having to deal with a bad case of it, there's now this document, which is a short intro to the basic things you need to know when someone tells you something like this. It talks about what you can usefully do, what you shouldn't do, what your responsibilities are and are not – inshort,... more »

This is an article you'll want to bookmark.

Abuse can be an extremely serious thing, and it can happen in families, in relationships, at work, or nearly anywhere else. If a friend comes to you and tells you that they've been abused, they've just put a tremendous amount of trust in you – and you probably have no idea what you're supposed to do. Are you supposed to find confirming evidence? Accept what they say, and then plan to murder their abuser? Call someone? Do something?

There are people who specialize in dealing with this, and thanks to some very together people recently having to deal with a bad case of it, there's now this document, which is a short intro to the basic things you need to know when someone tells you something like this. It talks about what you can usefully do, what you shouldn't do, what your responsibilities are and are not – in short, all the basics you need to manage this type of situation, with links to more resources if you need them.

Also, an important note: Abuse, and interpersonal violence (as it's called among experts) doesn't have to involve physical violence. In fact, a lot of the most serious abuse doesn't involve that at all. Don't assume that because there aren't any broken bones, what you're encountering isn't real and serious abuse.

h/t and many thanks to +A.V. Flox for writing this excellent piece.___

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2016-12-19 09:27:16 (47 comments; 24 reshares; 294 +1s; )Open 

Nothing I can add to this, as the requisite addition has already been made.

I hate to lead people to facebook, but this is worth it.___Nothing I can add to this, as the requisite addition has already been made.

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2016-12-18 19:09:02 (122 comments; 85 reshares; 414 +1s; )Open 

What's unusual about this story isn't that an American oil executive is also chairman of the board of a second, joint US-Russian, oil company, nor that this company is incorporated in the Bahamas. What's unusual is that we are learning about companies which the nominee for US Secretary of State manages via leaks, rather than via disclosures.

If we are to have anything resembling an honest government, officials capable of influencing policy must not be in a position to benefit from it - which means that businessmen taking political office must divest all related holdings into a blind trust prior to taking office. Anything less than this is public corruption, plain and simple. And if nominees are being less than completely forthright about their assets, especially ones like these which are built-in conflicts of interest, then they cannot be trusted to do their jobs.

What's unusual about this story isn't that an American oil executive is also chairman of the board of a second, joint US-Russian, oil company, nor that this company is incorporated in the Bahamas. What's unusual is that we are learning about companies which the nominee for US Secretary of State manages via leaks, rather than via disclosures.

If we are to have anything resembling an honest government, officials capable of influencing policy must not be in a position to benefit from it - which means that businessmen taking political office must divest all related holdings into a blind trust prior to taking office. Anything less than this is public corruption, plain and simple. And if nominees are being less than completely forthright about their assets, especially ones like these which are built-in conflicts of interest, then they cannot be trusted to do their jobs.___

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2016-12-17 22:17:34 (28 comments; 15 reshares; 148 +1s; )Open 

In the fight of Pole versus Pole, the penguins' kamikaze attacks prove lethally effective, transforming the Santas' protected corridor into a killing field trapped in the middle of a pincer. Once that ended, the penguins made good use of their small size to cram into the fray tightly, able to face each Santa in the narrow confines of the pass with two penguins, and to bring new penguins to the front line as fast as they dropped.

Of course, in a battle like this, the only real winners are the skua.

North Pole versus South Pole___In the fight of Pole versus Pole, the penguins' kamikaze attacks prove lethally effective, transforming the Santas' protected corridor into a killing field trapped in the middle of a pincer. Once that ended, the penguins made good use of their small size to cram into the fray tightly, able to face each Santa in the narrow confines of the pass with two penguins, and to bring new penguins to the front line as fast as they dropped.

Of course, in a battle like this, the only real winners are the skua.

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2016-12-16 07:23:52 (56 comments; 41 reshares; 233 +1s; )Open 

There's a great article in here about the revolution in artificial intelligence over the past few years, seen through the lens of one of its recent major accomplishments: the tremendous advance in language translation which was released by the Google Translate team just a few weeks ago. The article gives the history, the people, and the ideas, all in a remarkably well-written package: if you're at all interested in the subject, I recommend you read it.

An inside look at the Google Brain team

For the past few months, we've had NY Times Magazine reporter +Gideon Lewis-Kraus visit the Google Brain team several times and hang out with us for a few days at a time, with an eye towards writing an article about how our research team operates and what we're working on. We gave him pretty open access to our building, the people in the team, many of our meetings, etc., and over the course of several visits, he decided to focus his story on the origins of the Brain team, and on our in-progress collaboration with the Google Translate team to replace the old phrase-based translation system with a neural machine translation system (essentially part of the article is a behind-the-scenes look at how the scientific work in https://arxiv.org/abs/1609.08144 and https://arxiv.org/abs/1611.04558 came about).

This long article is the result of his visits and synthesis of what he learned. Gideon, I think the article turned out really well!


___There's a great article in here about the revolution in artificial intelligence over the past few years, seen through the lens of one of its recent major accomplishments: the tremendous advance in language translation which was released by the Google Translate team just a few weeks ago. The article gives the history, the people, and the ideas, all in a remarkably well-written package: if you're at all interested in the subject, I recommend you read it.

2016-12-14 18:54:48 (29 comments; 6 reshares; 156 +1s; )Open 

And +Steven Flaeck wins the Internet for today.

Thanks to CRISPR, secure biometrics may be possible, as we now have key rotation.___And +Steven Flaeck wins the Internet for today.

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2016-12-13 20:11:38 (155 comments; 19 reshares; 895 +1s; )Open 

An Update on Yonatan

I’m very excited to announce that as of today, I’m going to be working on user privacy at Google as my full-time job. This is “privacy” very broadly constructed, including all the aspects of what make our users safe, from protection of their personal information to defending against abuses by all kinds of actors – whether accidental or malicious. I’m joining a truly wonderful team of some of the most experienced and committed people in the world, with everything from lawyers, to cryptographers, to (former) journalists, to senior executives working together towards a common goal.

This is a challenging time for the world: rapid technological, economic, and political change have left people uncertain, often with (justified) fear for their future. The simple threat models of the 1990’s, with dangers like government censorship or identity theft,have been rep... more »

An Update on Yonatan

I’m very excited to announce that as of today, I’m going to be working on user privacy at Google as my full-time job. This is “privacy” very broadly constructed, including all the aspects of what make our users safe, from protection of their personal information to defending against abuses by all kinds of actors – whether accidental or malicious. I’m joining a truly wonderful team of some of the most experienced and committed people in the world, with everything from lawyers, to cryptographers, to (former) journalists, to senior executives working together towards a common goal.

This is a challenging time for the world: rapid technological, economic, and political change have left people uncertain, often with (justified) fear for their future. The simple threat models of the 1990’s, with dangers like government censorship or identity theft, have been replaced with far more complex ones, from distributed censorship via Internet harassment to people having their social ties used to deny them employment. We owe it to the public to be thoughtful and proactive about these problems, to dedicate our time and our energy to understanding and solving them.

These are also some of the greatest and most worthwhile challenges facing the engineering community: we are faced here with systems which involve people as their basic components, with all the complexity that implies, where even understanding the system’s failure modes – the root causes, for example, which cause people to be or to feel unsafe – is highly nontrivial. Beyond that, the application of engineering techniques, designing monitoring and feedback into subtle systems, becomes tremendously powerful. If you want a problem space which will stretch you to your absolute intellectual limits, and which will have tremendous impact on the world, this is where you want to be. (And yes, we are hiring!)

I can’t imagine anywhere I’d rather be than on the front lines of this, or anyone I’d enjoy doing this work with more than this team.___

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2016-12-11 21:42:48 (231 comments; 40 reshares; 408 +1s; )Open 

This is so far into "what the fuck?" space that I have no idea what to even make of it. Cadillac was prepping a TV ad spot which would feature people from "all walks of life in America" who would be "standing together as a union."

The casting call which they sent out included a role for "alt-right (neo-Nazi)" principals, male or female, ages 20-40, of any ethnicity. It specified that they wanted "real alt-right thinkers!," not simply actors.

When people spotted this and started sharing the casting call on social media, the agency responded by removing the "(neo-Nazi)" part, but leaving the rest of the casting call as-is. This then got the attention of Cadillac, which promptly disavowed the ad in a Facebook post, and the casting agency now says that the person who wrote the listing has been sacked.

I won't try... more »

This is so far into "what the fuck?" space that I have no idea what to even make of it. Cadillac was prepping a TV ad spot which would feature people from "all walks of life in America" who would be "standing together as a union."

The casting call which they sent out included a role for "alt-right (neo-Nazi)" principals, male or female, ages 20-40, of any ethnicity. It specified that they wanted "real alt-right thinkers!," not simply actors.

When people spotted this and started sharing the casting call on social media, the agency responded by removing the "(neo-Nazi)" part, but leaving the rest of the casting call as-is. This then got the attention of Cadillac, which promptly disavowed the ad in a Facebook post, and the casting agency now says that the person who wrote the listing has been sacked.

I won't try to guess who was actually responsible for this.

But I will file this under people feeling that Nazis are increasingly part of the legitimate spectrum of the American experience, the sort of people you would want to represent in a "rainbow of America." And if that part doesn't scare the hell out of you, nothing will.___

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2016-12-11 05:25:10 (114 comments; 90 reshares; 736 +1s; )Open 

No visual trickery here; it's a robot which can take a triple pendulum, swing it until it goes vertical, and then balance it upside-down. It's a demonstration of how good mechanical controls have gotten, and I have to say, a pretty damned impressive one.

h/t +Aaron Wood

Triple Pendulum Control

A few years ago Dr. Tobias Glück from Technische Universität Wien, found that along with his mathematical insights, computers and numerical methods were now fast enough to swing-up and balance a pendulum, on a pendulum, on pendulum on a sliding rail under computer control.

IEEE CSS Video Clip Contest 2014 Submission

Triple Pendulum on a Cart (YT ~1 min.): https://goo.gl/XkKxHL


The presented work deals with the swing-up of the triple pendulum on a cart. The swing-up maneuver is accomplished within a two-degrees-of-freedom control scheme consisting of a nonlinear feedforward controller and an optimal feedback controller. Based on a precise mathematical model, the feedforward controller was obtained by solving a nonlinear two-point boundary value problem with free parameters. A time-variant Riccati Controller was developed in order to stabilize the system along the nominal trajectory and an Extended Kalman Filter was used to estimate the non-measurable states. The overall control strategy for the swing-up maneuver was successfully implemented and tested on an experimental test bench. Up to the authors’ knowledge, this is the first contribution so far providing numerical and experimental results of the swing-up maneuver for a triple pendulum on a cart.

Paper (open pdf): https://goo.gl/oT1cQY

Tobias Glück: https://goo.gl/RZtSte


Here is an easy to follow and graphic explanation of Kalman filters due to Tim Babb, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is Lighting Optimization Lead for Pixar Animation Studios.

Related Post: https://goo.gl/5X2ZpV

Image: https://goo.gl/nt6jPW___No visual trickery here; it's a robot which can take a triple pendulum, swing it until it goes vertical, and then balance it upside-down. It's a demonstration of how good mechanical controls have gotten, and I have to say, a pretty damned impressive one.

h/t +Aaron Wood

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2016-12-10 22:39:13 (45 comments; 8 reshares; 191 +1s; )Open 

Now that I have one of their globes sitting right next to me, I can confirm that +Bellerby Globemakers​' globes are even more amazing in person than they are in pictures. 

Now that I have one of their globes sitting right next to me, I can confirm that +Bellerby Globemakers​' globes are even more amazing in person than they are in pictures. ___

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