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Shared Circles including Yonatan Zunger

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The Google+ Collections of Yonatan Zunger

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Top posts in the last 50 posts

Most comments: 323

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2016-11-12 08:04:53 (323 comments; 29 reshares; 286 +1s; )Open 

I suspect that, had I been a fly on the wall in Putin's office at the Kremlin last Wednesday morning (Moscow time), I would have learned a wide variety of fascinating obscenities.

There would have been a moment of elation – of hushed bozhe mois as they realized that they had just achieved the absurd masturbatory fantasy of every KGB recruit, of installing their agent as President of the United States.

But as the article below argues, this probably shifted fairly quickly to an even quieter oh, shit, because while the Kremlin certainly didn't want a President Clinton, at least she counts as a sane adversary; a President Trump risks unleashing forces well beyond their ability to control, and this is something that they have been well aware of for the past several months, ever since the incident with Trump attacking the Khan family at the DNC. Their "useful idiot" hasa ... more »

Most reshares: 200

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2016-11-26 00:06:45 (95 comments; 200 reshares; 533 +1s; )Open 

This video has been making the rounds on social media, and at first I ignored it because I figured it would just be a piece of propaganda meant to preach to the choir. I was wrong: this is actually an extremely intelligent and informative short film about despotism. (And despite being an American film from 1946, made in the immediate aftermath of WWII, it doesn't give the US any sort of free ride at all – as you'll notice from some of the examples shown silently in the background)

The film begins by reminding you that the forms of democracy alone don't tell you anything; you need to look deeper. The two key indicators it points at are whether respect and power are equally shared across the community, or whether they are concentrated, with only certain people being thought worthy of those. Those two, in turn, are powered by two leading indicators: whether the distribution ofec... more »

Most plusones: 813

2016-11-09 18:20:42 (1 comments; 136 reshares; 813 +1s; )Open 

I don't have time to write much today, but I want to remind you all of this:

Right and wrong have not changed since yesterday. An "accommodation" which goes in the face of that is not an accommodation, it is collusion in a moral wrong which does not gain any innocence by the defense of "I had to" or "those were the orders."

We will all be sorely tried in the months and years which are to come; we will see our fellow citizens and neighbors harmed and harassed, fired and fired upon. To stand up for them will not be easy, nor will it come without a price. We will pay the price, because the price of refusing is measured in lives and in souls.

But I will also tell you this: we will survive. We will, now and always, use every tool at our disposal, to fight and to shelter, to speak and to listen, to think and to act. This country is not, and has... more »

Latest 50 posts

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2016-12-05 22:39:06 (45 comments; 22 reshares; 277 +1s; )Open 

Because this collection is so often full of bad news, I wanted to offer an story about society working well: a (Muslim-owned) restaurant in London which is offering free meals to the homeless and elderly on Christmas day, so that "no one eats alone." They've been asking people to spread the word, and I'm happy to help do so.

h/t +Cindy Brown

Because this collection is so often full of bad news, I wanted to offer an story about society working well: a (Muslim-owned) restaurant in London which is offering free meals to the homeless and elderly on Christmas day, so that "no one eats alone." They've been asking people to spread the word, and I'm happy to help do so.

h/t +Cindy Brown___

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2016-12-05 21:16:11 (31 comments; 3 reshares; 133 +1s; )Open 

I am seriously looking forward to seeing this. Both because I'm curious to see how the Russian take on superhero action movies differs from the American one, and because it's got a bear with a Gatling gun, and really, how can you go wrong with that?¹ ²

¹ Don't answer that.
² Also, this clearly needs a crossover with Guardians of the Galaxy, because if you're going to have a bear with a Gatling gun, you very clearly need a pair-up with a criminally-minded raccoon with an RPG. Letting those two loose in the former Soviet Union is almost a no-brainer.

I need to see the Russian superhero movie with the shirtless bear-man firing a Gatling gun, ok?

___I am seriously looking forward to seeing this. Both because I'm curious to see how the Russian take on superhero action movies differs from the American one, and because it's got a bear with a Gatling gun, and really, how can you go wrong with that?¹ ²

¹ Don't answer that.
² Also, this clearly needs a crossover with Guardians of the Galaxy, because if you're going to have a bear with a Gatling gun, you very clearly need a pair-up with a criminally-minded raccoon with an RPG. Letting those two loose in the former Soviet Union is almost a no-brainer.

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2016-12-05 19:08:19 (30 comments; 26 reshares; 170 +1s; )Open 

Something new from the user safety team at Google: a tool that lets people have a friend keep an eye on them when they want someone around.

___Something new from the user safety team at Google: a tool that lets people have a friend keep an eye on them when they want someone around.

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2016-12-04 11:14:55 (60 comments; 28 reshares; 370 +1s; )Open 

A few weeks ago, I posted (goo.gl/mE052w) about one of the stranger legacies of the Cold War – a never-launched (for obvious reasons) American plan involving an Atomic Zeppelin fleet, which would patrol over the world's oceans 24/7, carrying Minuteman ICBM's on board.

Now, this plan was raised as part of a fairly transparent ploy by various groups at the Department of Defense to claim that they had "thought through all options" and could therefore justify the M-X Missile program.

So I have no idea what the excuse is behind this thing, a description of a plan for nuclear-powered Zeppelins to be fielded by the Soviet Union. I'm suspecting that this appeared in Tekhnika Molodezhi for much the same reason that bizarre designs show up in Popular Mechanics: that is, as an "imagine this neat future!" gimmick rather than serious engineering.

ButI&... more »

A few weeks ago, I posted (goo.gl/mE052w) about one of the stranger legacies of the Cold War – a never-launched (for obvious reasons) American plan involving an Atomic Zeppelin fleet, which would patrol over the world's oceans 24/7, carrying Minuteman ICBM's on board.

Now, this plan was raised as part of a fairly transparent ploy by various groups at the Department of Defense to claim that they had "thought through all options" and could therefore justify the M-X Missile program.

So I have no idea what the excuse is behind this thing, a description of a plan for nuclear-powered Zeppelins to be fielded by the Soviet Union. I'm suspecting that this appeared in Tekhnika Molodezhi for much the same reason that bizarre designs show up in Popular Mechanics: that is, as an "imagine this neat future!" gimmick rather than serious engineering.

But I'm oddly pleased to discover that both sides of the Cold War had people that looked at nuclear reactions, looked at Zeppelins, and immediately thought these are two great tastes that taste great together.

This really strange bit of lore brought to you by @PulpLibrarian over on Twitter.

Edited: And thanks to +Denny Gursky for finding a link to the complete article (in Russian): http://zhurnalko.net/=nauka-i-tehnika/tehnika-molodezhi/1971-08--num35___

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2016-12-01 21:47:02 (84 comments; 136 reshares; 546 +1s; )Open 

Something often neglected in discussions of Galileo and his trial for heresy is that the dispute wasn't about whether the Earth revolves around the Sun; it was about who had the right to say that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

From the Vatican's perspective, statements about the nature of reality are effectively policy statements, and so may only be made by the organ of policy -- namely, them. Galileo's science argued that anyone could perform experiments and learn things about the factual nature of reality, and communicate these ideas to others, and that this knowledge was not limited or controllable by the Church.

There's an important logic to the Vatican's argument here. Statements of factual reality, while they aren't policy statements in their own right, tend to have very profound policy implications. If I tell you that the roof is on fire, then you are... more »

Something often neglected in discussions of Galileo and his trial for heresy is that the dispute wasn't about whether the Earth revolves around the Sun; it was about who had the right to say that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

From the Vatican's perspective, statements about the nature of reality are effectively policy statements, and so may only be made by the organ of policy -- namely, them. Galileo's science argued that anyone could perform experiments and learn things about the factual nature of reality, and communicate these ideas to others, and that this knowledge was not limited or controllable by the Church.

There's an important logic to the Vatican's argument here. Statements of factual reality, while they aren't policy statements in their own right, tend to have very profound policy implications. If I tell you that the roof is on fire, then you are likely to place a very high priority on things like leaving the building and calling the fire department.¹ If I tell you that the Earth is not at the center of the universe, this might lend weight to arguments that the experience of the Crucifixion isn't unique and at the center of the universe (the heresy that Giordano Bruno was burned for), and thus that the Church isn't the natural and unique center of political authority.

That is, organs of political power are right to think of scientific statements as having policy implications -- and organs of policy tend to be very jealous of that prerogative, and not appreciate anyone else trying to make policy without them.

Science is particularly dangerous, in this regard, because it provides testable statements about the nature of reality which are in effect available to anybody, and because those statements are sometimes surprises. A surprising change in facts which can't be negotiated away is profoundly dangerous to institutions of power, because those changes might compromise anything from a delicately negotiated balance of power to the significance of the organization itself. Encouraging science is something only done by the most confident of governments and institutions: the ones who believe that, no matter what the nature of reality may be, they will be able to face up to it.

Leaders who are more concerned with their personal survival than the fate of the country as a whole will often not see it this way: public perception, and the resulting political leverage it creates, is ultimately far more important to the exercise of power, even though it is far less important than knowledge of the facts to the protection of the nation.

A good modern example of this dichotomy can be seen in the different ways that the Department of Defense and Congress discuss climate change. To the DoD, this is a practical threat, requiring planning and advance preparation, and thus detailed knowledge whenever possible. To Congress, this is a political threat, requiring changes in policy which may compromise important bargains with people who would lose out from those changes, and thus requiring careful control of public perception independent of the underlying reality.

¹ Or alternatively, that we don't need no water; let the motherfucker burn.___

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2016-12-01 16:56:11 (238 comments; 156 reshares; 585 +1s; )Open 

Lately, I've heard a lot of people talking about the "fake news" problem and about the need for better fact-checking. I suspect that this entire conversation may be looking at the wrong problem -- a conversation which would make perfect sense in a different time and place, but not here.

During the 2016 election, we heard a lot of brazen, blatant lies. These typically were fact-checked by the media; the result would be stories like "Data: Immigrants don't actually cause hemorrhoids," which nobody who wasn't already perfectly aware of that fact would read. Instead, these would just give more publicity to the original quote, and people who were enthused by it would be just as excited to see it again.

The fact is that fact-checking simply didn't make a difference -- it's not that people thought that these statements were true, but that they... more »

Lately, I've heard a lot of people talking about the "fake news" problem and about the need for better fact-checking. I suspect that this entire conversation may be looking at the wrong problem -- a conversation which would make perfect sense in a different time and place, but not here.

During the 2016 election, we heard a lot of brazen, blatant lies. These typically were fact-checked by the media; the result would be stories like "Data: Immigrants don't actually cause hemorrhoids," which nobody who wasn't already perfectly aware of that fact would read. Instead, these would just give more publicity to the original quote, and people who were enthused by it would be just as excited to see it again.

The fact is that fact-checking simply didn't make a difference -- it's not that people thought that these statements were true, but that they didn't care if they were true. In Gingrich's formulation, they speak to a "deeper truth" which is more important than simple facts.

This is far from an original idea; the discussion below is about Hannah Arendt's discussion of it back in 1951. This "deeper truth" that Gingrich likes to talk about is "what must be true in order for something else to be true" -- in this case, that a sufficiently strong leader could "Make America great again" by sheer force of will, by pushing out all of those dirty immigrants, Muslims, and so on. Or in other cases, that all this talk about people's lives mattering or people having a right to use public restrooms -- talk which suggests that maybe you're going to have to make some real changes for other people's sake -- doesn't really matter, and you're actually OK and can be proud of how your life has been.

That is, the truth of these statements doesn't matter in their own right; it's that these are statements which, if you believe them, let you do something. It's the wish to do something, or to believe that doing those things will make your life better, that's really at issue here.

I think that whenever someone raises the idea of more fact-checking, we should take a serious look at whether that actually addresses the underlying problem at all. My very strong sense is that we've misidentified the question, following the traditional instincts of journalism in a democracy ("and the truth shall make you free") at a time when those instincts are simply dead wrong.

h/t +J Stone for the link.
___

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2016-11-29 18:18:12 (42 comments; 33 reshares; 321 +1s; )Open 

Something neat: A LEGO device which makes braided (not twisted!) rope, using moving shuttles.

Via +Kimberly Chapman 

We love a good LEGO build as much as anyone, but Technics takes it to the next level in terms of creating working mechanisms. And nobody takes Technics as far as [Nico71], as evidenced by his super-fast Technics rope braiding machine. The last time we saw…___Something neat: A LEGO device which makes braided (not twisted!) rope, using moving shuttles.

Via +Kimberly Chapman 

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2016-11-27 08:27:39 (37 comments; 3 reshares; 170 +1s; )Open 

"I'm sorry, M. Magritte. The computer does not agree with your assessment."

(Footnote: I once hatched up a plan with my roommate to make boxer shorts which said on the front, "ceci n'est pas une pipe." Alas, we never got around to it.

I'm not sure if the joke would be better on men's or women's underwear, honestly.)

"I'm sorry, M. Magritte. The computer does not agree with your assessment."

(Footnote: I once hatched up a plan with my roommate to make boxer shorts which said on the front, "ceci n'est pas une pipe." Alas, we never got around to it.

I'm not sure if the joke would be better on men's or women's underwear, honestly.)___

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2016-11-26 00:06:45 (95 comments; 200 reshares; 533 +1s; )Open 

This video has been making the rounds on social media, and at first I ignored it because I figured it would just be a piece of propaganda meant to preach to the choir. I was wrong: this is actually an extremely intelligent and informative short film about despotism. (And despite being an American film from 1946, made in the immediate aftermath of WWII, it doesn't give the US any sort of free ride at all – as you'll notice from some of the examples shown silently in the background)

The film begins by reminding you that the forms of democracy alone don't tell you anything; you need to look deeper. The two key indicators it points at are whether respect and power are equally shared across the community, or whether they are concentrated, with only certain people being thought worthy of those. Those two, in turn, are powered by two leading indicators: whether the distribution ofec... more »

This video has been making the rounds on social media, and at first I ignored it because I figured it would just be a piece of propaganda meant to preach to the choir. I was wrong: this is actually an extremely intelligent and informative short film about despotism. (And despite being an American film from 1946, made in the immediate aftermath of WWII, it doesn't give the US any sort of free ride at all – as you'll notice from some of the examples shown silently in the background)

The film begins by reminding you that the forms of democracy alone don't tell you anything; you need to look deeper. The two key indicators it points at are whether respect and power are equally shared across the community, or whether they are concentrated, with only certain people being thought worthy of those. Those two, in turn, are powered by two leading indicators: whether the distribution of economic power and information is shared or isolated. It points at things like farm foreclosures or towns entirely dependent on a single industry, for example, as factors which make a community more susceptible to despotism.

There are some things I would modernize here; for example, it's become clear that the model of centralized versus distributed control of information (which was key in the 20th century) doesn't fully account for some kinds of vulnerability that can show up even when communication is notionally even. (This is tied to the "fake news" problem which everyone is discussing right now, though I think that term misses a great deal of the mark; correctly understanding the nature of the broader problem we are seeing today, which also includes things like filter bubbles and "distributed censorship," is probably one of the most urgent tasks before us in the computing and communications world today)

There's a great deal more in here, and it's quite well-explained; I recommend watching it, and showing it to your kids as well.___

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2016-11-24 06:46:41 (56 comments; 31 reshares; 263 +1s; )Open 

I just got introduced to this recent short series produced by Norwegian broadcaster NRK to introduce kids to puberty. It's eight short videos about the changes you can expect in your body and in your life – done with the straightforwardness and humor you would expect from Norwegian broadcasting. (And fortunately for me, it's subtitled in English!)

It's very good; even grownups like me learn things from it. (I learned about vellus hair, the thin down we have all over our bodies, and how it's different from terminal hair)

As the videos warn, it's normal for some parents to feel embarrassed, so you may want some children to help you. Also, if you live somewhere like the US, it may be considered naughty, so you may want to cover your eyes or not watch it around other people who apparently haven't gone all the way through puberty themselves.

Thanks to+J... more »

I just got introduced to this recent short series produced by Norwegian broadcaster NRK to introduce kids to puberty. It's eight short videos about the changes you can expect in your body and in your life – done with the straightforwardness and humor you would expect from Norwegian broadcasting. (And fortunately for me, it's subtitled in English!)

It's very good; even grownups like me learn things from it. (I learned about vellus hair, the thin down we have all over our bodies, and how it's different from terminal hair)

As the videos warn, it's normal for some parents to feel embarrassed, so you may want some children to help you. Also, if you live somewhere like the US, it may be considered naughty, so you may want to cover your eyes or not watch it around other people who apparently haven't gone all the way through puberty themselves.

Thanks to +Juliette Wade for finding this!___

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2016-11-24 04:41:07 (29 comments; 29 reshares; 210 +1s; )Open 

It has come to my attention that people are woefully uninformed about certain episodes in the Thanksgiving narrative. For example, almost no one mentions the part where Squanto threatens to release a bioweapon buried under Plymouth Rock that will bring about the apocalypse.

The version of the Thanksgiving story that Americans are taught in school tends to be a weird sort of nonsense. We're told that there's something to feel good about here, and that everyone got together for a big celebratory meal, but even children can often figure out that something is a bit weird about this story, given that most of the protagonists were murdered shortly afterward.

There is, of course, the slightly improved version of the story you'll find in Addams Family Values (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJE3KDxTbWI), where young Wednesday and her campmates try to educate their families. But I... more »

It has come to my attention that people are woefully uninformed about certain episodes in the Thanksgiving narrative. For example, almost no one mentions the part where Squanto threatens to release a bioweapon buried under Plymouth Rock that will bring about the apocalypse.

The version of the Thanksgiving story that Americans are taught in school tends to be a weird sort of nonsense. We're told that there's something to feel good about here, and that everyone got together for a big celebratory meal, but even children can often figure out that something is a bit weird about this story, given that most of the protagonists were murdered shortly afterward.

There is, of course, the slightly improved version of the story you'll find in Addams Family Values (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJE3KDxTbWI), where young Wednesday and her campmates try to educate their families. But I don't know if any of it really measures up to the piece Scott Alexander wrote a few years ago, telling the whole story and setting it in its proper genre: science fiction.

This doesn't require changing the story at all; in fact, the most straight-up retelling possible, which this is, makes it quite clear that we are dealing with an alien invasion, supervirus bioweapons, and political intrigue in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, all seen through the eyes of an ordinary American man who gets dragged right through the center of it.

As you gather around the table this year, I encourage you to read this story together, and realize that you are very likely either the descendant or beneficiaries of an alien invasion.___

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2016-11-23 20:16:48 (202 comments; 66 reshares; 453 +1s; )Open 

A new serious issue has come up in the past few days. A group of computer scientists have been looking at election results, and there are some fairly worrying signals that electronic voting machines may have been compromised in key states, altering vote totals enough to swing the entire election.

The evidence comes from comparing results from neighboring counties which use electronic vote machines, versus ones which use paper ballots. What they found was that in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, Clinton received 7% fewer votes in electronic voting counties than in paper voting ones. It's possible that this is genuine, of course, but it's a pretty sharp and striking pattern – and it's the exact pattern you would expect if a foreign power were deliberately compromising swing states.

That's the sort of thing which would sound like a paranoid fantasy most years,bu... more »

A new serious issue has come up in the past few days. A group of computer scientists have been looking at election results, and there are some fairly worrying signals that electronic voting machines may have been compromised in key states, altering vote totals enough to swing the entire election.

The evidence comes from comparing results from neighboring counties which use electronic vote machines, versus ones which use paper ballots. What they found was that in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, Clinton received 7% fewer votes in electronic voting counties than in paper voting ones. It's possible that this is genuine, of course, but it's a pretty sharp and striking pattern – and it's the exact pattern you would expect if a foreign power were deliberately compromising swing states.

That's the sort of thing which would sound like a paranoid fantasy most years, but given that the NSA (and quite a few other agencies) have been quite explicit that Russia has been doing exactly this sort of thing, e.g. compromising DNC computers to get damaging information which they could leak to the press, it's not so crazy that it shouldn't be checked, and now, before the election results are finalized.

(More details about exactly what may have happened are given in this post by Prof. J. Alex Halderman, one of the researchers who spotted the irregularity: https://medium.com/@jhalderm/want-to-know-if-the-election-was-hacked-look-at-the-ballots-c61a6113b0ba#.rx12oef2c)

In Michigan, Wisconsin, and parts of Pennsylvania, we're in luck: the electronic ballot machines also produce paper printouts, and checking this is simply a matter of comparing the two results. (Oddly enough, checking this sort of thing isn't standard practice) In the rest of Pennsylvania, there is no paper trail, so what would be required is a thorough forensic investigation of the voting computers – something not simple to do, since malware created by state actors is generally fairly good at cleaning up after itself.

Given the tremendous significance of this election to the world, I think it's urgent and imperative that we do verify the ballots. An election is only free and fair if the public believes it to be so; we've already seen how much harm a trail of suspicion of fraud or cheating can do.___

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2016-11-23 09:42:09 (122 comments; 180 reshares; 486 +1s; )Open 

The news about Nazis in DC may have hidden some of the most important stories brewing about the new administration. This one may prove to have some of the most serious consequences. Trump wants to eliminate NASA's Earth Science division, one of the foremost institutions in the world studying the state of our planet. This team has key responsibilities in lofting the satellites which give us a view of what's happening around us – as well as being one of the world's best groups of climate modeling.

Eliminating the division would both disband one of the best such teams in the world, and eliminate nearly $2B of funding from the subject, costing hundreds (or more) of jobs across the field, and likely most affecting the careers of young researchers – with huge consequences for the field's future, just as it is becoming ever-more critical. (Remember that the Arab Spring wastrigg... more »

The news about Nazis in DC may have hidden some of the most important stories brewing about the new administration. This one may prove to have some of the most serious consequences. Trump wants to eliminate NASA's Earth Science division, one of the foremost institutions in the world studying the state of our planet. This team has key responsibilities in lofting the satellites which give us a view of what's happening around us – as well as being one of the world's best groups of climate modeling.

Eliminating the division would both disband one of the best such teams in the world, and eliminate nearly $2B of funding from the subject, costing hundreds (or more) of jobs across the field, and likely most affecting the careers of young researchers – with huge consequences for the field's future, just as it is becoming ever-more critical. (Remember that the Arab Spring was triggered by droughts in Asia and the Middle East, and the current massive surge in temperatures in the Arctic – it's currently 36°F above normal! – are going to have tremendous consequences. There's a reason the DoD considers this a top strategic priority.)

More chillingly still, the justification for this is that he calls their work "politicized science" – which is to say, "science which is politically inconvenient for him." We've seen a similar game in which Congress has banned any medical or epidemiological research on guns, because of the NRA's (probably justified) fear that the results of even the most trivial research would harm their political goals.* (Pro tip: if you know that anyone seriously looking at a question will come up with answers that hurt your goals, this may mean your goals are shady.)

There's actually a name for this sort of thing: Lysenkoism, named after Soviet agriculture director Trofim Lysenko. Lysenko considered genetics to be politically unfavorable to Communism, because if traits are inherent, then they can't be improved by the government, and that would make all sorts of parts of the Five-Year Plan obviously infeasible. With Stalin's enthusiastic support, all funding for research which disagreed with this was cut. (And this being Stalin, researchers who disagreed were shipped to Siberia) It was replaced by a rather bizarre official theory in which, for example, rye could be turned into wheat, and exposing wheat seeds to high humidity and low temperature would "teach" them and their descendants to grow in the winter.

The thing about science is that it's about asking questions and noting what's happening in the world around you. You don't get to make theories up and just say that the world is so; all you can do is describe what's actually observed, and try to figure out if you can predict what will happen next. That is, science is descriptive, it's not normative.

And that means that science is about things that keep happening, whether you believe in them or not. Unlike saying "I don't believe in fairies!," you can say "this wheat will grow in Siberia!" as often as you like, and the wheat still isn't going to grow there. That's the problem with Lysenkoism: it's based on pretending that nature works some way, and threatening anyone who dares to disagree with you, but nature doesn't really care. It will keep doing what it was doing before, and all that happens is that you've decided to be officially blind to it.

You do this with how crops work, and you end up with unexpected famines. You do this with how climate works, and you end up with unexpected droughts, floods, spreads of new diseases, and all sorts of fun and exciting things, because it turns out that the weather is still pretty important in our lives and you do not fuck with the laws of physics.

I say this with confidence: I was a physicist myself, am currently an engineer, and so if anyone is qualified to make a snappy answer to "Ye cannae change the laws of physics, Jim!" it's probably me. But sorry: if your politics would be harmed by people being aware of reality, then all that means is that (a) your politics are apparently based on lying to people, and (b) at some point or another you are going to get a rude introduction to reality, which will not be good for either your politics or your constituents-slash-victims.

* Before anyone uses this as an excuse to go on a rant: I'm not anti-gun at all, and rather enjoy shooting. But there's a huge space between the Second Amendment and the sort of lunacy that the NRA has gotten infatuated with, where any restriction on a person's right to own a GBU-31 JDAM is tantamount to treason. And things like legally barring doctors from asking people if they have a gun in the house – even though, for example, that's a serious risk factor of death if anyone in the house is suffering from serious depression or similar illnesses – is just sacrificing human lives on the altar of their own political expediency. Seriously, fuck those guys.___

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2016-11-22 22:47:50 (45 comments; 14 reshares; 150 +1s; )Open 

Apparently, the idea of remaking one's political image with a reality show is spreading. And how do you one-up something like "The Apprentice?" With "The Team," a reality show where sixteen young Russians are vying to become henchmen to Ramzan A. Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed warlord of Chechnya.

This story does not get any more normal as you read through it.

Apparently, the idea of remaking one's political image with a reality show is spreading. And how do you one-up something like "The Apprentice?" With "The Team," a reality show where sixteen young Russians are vying to become henchmen to Ramzan A. Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed warlord of Chechnya.

This story does not get any more normal as you read through it.___

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2016-11-22 18:21:18 (89 comments; 18 reshares; 200 +1s; )Open 

Just over a year ago, Donald Trump was promising to deport eleven million people during his first two years in office. Shaun King asked a very fair question about the practicalities of that, and I answered in a G+ post which some of you may have read.

Today, Trump is president-elect, and while the numbers change on a regular basis, he's still promising mass deportations. So it's worth revisiting that old article and remembering just what the logistics are that he wants us to sign up for.

(Original post: https://plus.google.com/+YonatanZunger/posts/jj1hDhk9Cuh)

Just over a year ago, Donald Trump was promising to deport eleven million people during his first two years in office. Shaun King asked a very fair question about the practicalities of that, and I answered in a G+ post which some of you may have read.

Today, Trump is president-elect, and while the numbers change on a regular basis, he's still promising mass deportations. So it's worth revisiting that old article and remembering just what the logistics are that he wants us to sign up for.

(Original post: https://plus.google.com/+YonatanZunger/posts/jj1hDhk9Cuh)___

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2016-11-21 21:52:42 (37 comments; 30 reshares; 296 +1s; )Open 

Another useful application of AI: lip-reading. One system, working on very "clean" videos (well-lit, face-forward, fixed vocabulary) could read at 93.4% accuracy, versus 52.3% for trained lip-readers; another, working on the much harder dataset of videos from the BBC, could read 46.8%, versus humans' 12.4%. (That second one was done in collaboration between a team at Oxford and a team at Alphabet's DeepMind)

This is something potentially incredibly useful (retrieving lost audio, automatic captioning, accessibility technologies if it's built in to wearable or mobile devices), although it has threat models as well: if a CCTV can see you, it could potentially hear you as well.

h/t +Lauren Weinstein

Lip-reading is notoriously difficult, depending as much on context and knowledge of language as it does on visual clues. But researchers are showing that machine learning can be used to discern speech from silent video clips more effectively than professional lip-readers can.___Another useful application of AI: lip-reading. One system, working on very "clean" videos (well-lit, face-forward, fixed vocabulary) could read at 93.4% accuracy, versus 52.3% for trained lip-readers; another, working on the much harder dataset of videos from the BBC, could read 46.8%, versus humans' 12.4%. (That second one was done in collaboration between a team at Oxford and a team at Alphabet's DeepMind)

This is something potentially incredibly useful (retrieving lost audio, automatic captioning, accessibility technologies if it's built in to wearable or mobile devices), although it has threat models as well: if a CCTV can see you, it could potentially hear you as well.

h/t +Lauren Weinstein

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2016-11-21 19:36:48 (126 comments; 23 reshares; 209 +1s; )Open 

This is a challenging article. It contrasts three possible positions on physician-assisted suicide:

1. Physician-assisted suicide should be illegal for everyone.
2. Physician-assisted suicide should be legal for only the terminally ill.
3. Physician-assisted suicide should be legal for all competent adults.

The argument is not for or against assisted suicide, but that the second of these positions makes little to no sense, with the boundaries of "terminally ill" and the reasons why we might wish to restrict such a right to the terminally ill being so fuzzy as to end up with moral spaghetti almost immediately.

I think there's a compelling point, here: if we're going to have a discussion about a right to die, then the discussion should be broad and ask about limits which make sense.

I don't know that I have an answer to the question,... more »

This is a challenging article. It contrasts three possible positions on physician-assisted suicide:

1. Physician-assisted suicide should be illegal for everyone.
2. Physician-assisted suicide should be legal for only the terminally ill.
3. Physician-assisted suicide should be legal for all competent adults.

The argument is not for or against assisted suicide, but that the second of these positions makes little to no sense, with the boundaries of "terminally ill" and the reasons why we might wish to restrict such a right to the terminally ill being so fuzzy as to end up with moral spaghetti almost immediately.

I think there's a compelling point, here: if we're going to have a discussion about a right to die, then the discussion should be broad and ask about limits which make sense.

I don't know that I have an answer to the question, but I think that expressed this way, it's a far more meaningful question to discuss.___

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2016-11-21 00:18:31 (18 comments; 46 reshares; 288 +1s; )Open 

Here's a video of things falling down in a good way. Something to cheer up your weekend.

Here's a video of things falling down in a good way. Something to cheer up your weekend.___

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2016-11-20 23:41:42 (29 comments; 35 reshares; 268 +1s; )Open 

A "how it's made" video from British Pathé from 1955: how globes are made. This is the high-speed "factory" making of globes, a partially manual and partially automated process; the gores (the slices of map) are machine-printed, but the globes themselves still need to be assembled by hand. The workers at this factory cranked out 60,000 globes each year, with each globe taking 15 hours from beginning to end (including drying and curing time).

(You can contrast this with a place like +Bellerby Globemakers, which watercolors each globe!)

A "how it's made" video from British Pathé from 1955: how globes are made. This is the high-speed "factory" making of globes, a partially manual and partially automated process; the gores (the slices of map) are machine-printed, but the globes themselves still need to be assembled by hand. The workers at this factory cranked out 60,000 globes each year, with each globe taking 15 hours from beginning to end (including drying and curing time).

(You can contrast this with a place like +Bellerby Globemakers, which watercolors each globe!)___

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2016-11-20 21:39:36 (90 comments; 63 reshares; 275 +1s; )Open 

There's an old Soviet joke: "Don't think. If you think, don't speak. If you speak, don't write. If you write, don't sign. If you sign, don't be surprised." While it may encode some good advice for keeping out of Siberia, the realities of living in an autocracy are somewhat more subtle. The most important rules aren't about not attracting the notice of the secret police – they're about how to keep track of your sense of reality, when you are subject to a continuous and concerted effort to redefine it.

I was reminded of this just a few days ago by my Peruvian mother-in-law, who described how Fujimori would engage in elaborate public shuffles of his cabinet, making "who's in and who's out" the center of all media attention, whenever he was up to something particularly nefarious behind the scenes. The media is hungry; if you feed it, itwi... more »

There's an old Soviet joke: "Don't think. If you think, don't speak. If you speak, don't write. If you write, don't sign. If you sign, don't be surprised." While it may encode some good advice for keeping out of Siberia, the realities of living in an autocracy are somewhat more subtle. The most important rules aren't about not attracting the notice of the secret police – they're about how to keep track of your sense of reality, when you are subject to a continuous and concerted effort to redefine it.

I was reminded of this just a few days ago by my Peruvian mother-in-law, who described how Fujimori would engage in elaborate public shuffles of his cabinet, making "who's in and who's out" the center of all media attention, whenever he was up to something particularly nefarious behind the scenes. The media is hungry; if you feed it, it will eat.

Behind here is an essay by Masha Gessen, who grew up in Russia under Brezhnev, about what you need in order to survive. She gives six slightly different rules: "1. Believe the autocrat; 2. Do not be taken in by small signs of normality; 3. Institutions will not save you; 4. Be outraged; 5. Don’t make compromises; 6. Remember the future."

There's a great deal of subtlety behind each of these, especially the first three. The art of surviving in an autocracy, whether it be the USSR or a tinpot banana republic, is the art of recognizing when you are being told the simple, unvarnished truth, and when you are being treated to a spectacular song-and-dance designed to distract you from what's really going on.

What's particularly important here, and why you should read Gessen's essay, is that the instincts you have developed for understanding democracies will lead you exactly astray when trying to understand autocracies – the instincts to search for a rationalization when you hear something extreme, or to treat "small signs of normality" like stock market stability or a "normal" news story like a cabinet reshuffle as a sign that things really are normal, for example. In a democracy, this habits are frequently correct; to an autocrat, this tendency of people to assume that everything is normal is a basic part of operations.

There are many good books on the theory of propaganda, but Gessen's essay is perhaps one of the most concise and useful introductions. You will likely find it very useful when understanding anything you see or hear from a dictatorship anywhere in the world.___

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2016-11-20 07:17:46 (57 comments; 44 reshares; 274 +1s; )Open 

This will be very interesting to musicians and possibly incomprehensible to everyone else. Adam Neely is discussing how musicians trained on classical versus jazz or rock perceive rhythm differently. I find it fascinating since I always thought that jazz/rock musicians just had a completely supernatural ability to parse complex rhythms, and I simply have none of the requisite musicianship skills.

But Neely is showing something much more subtle: all the types of music are just as aware of rhythm, but jazz/rock music (and really, all types of music derived from West African drum music) requires a very strong awareness of phase locking (i.e., that everyone not only be at a shared tempo, but in the same phase), because the instruments have a much sharper attack and you'll really hear phase errors. On the other hand, classical instruments have a much softer attack, which means phase locking... more »

This will be very interesting to musicians and possibly incomprehensible to everyone else. Adam Neely is discussing how musicians trained on classical versus jazz or rock perceive rhythm differently. I find it fascinating since I always thought that jazz/rock musicians just had a completely supernatural ability to parse complex rhythms, and I simply have none of the requisite musicianship skills.

But Neely is showing something much more subtle: all the types of music are just as aware of rhythm, but jazz/rock music (and really, all types of music derived from West African drum music) requires a very strong awareness of phase locking (i.e., that everyone not only be at a shared tempo, but in the same phase), because the instruments have a much sharper attack and you'll really hear phase errors. On the other hand, classical instruments have a much softer attack, which means phase locking doesn't matter as much, but instead highly non-metronomic rhythms are common and a core part of the music.

Which is totally true: when I'm playing the piano, if you put a metronome next to me it would instantly get ludicrously out of sync. Even within a single measure, it's common for the tempo to shift as part of the emphasis and phrasing. But contrarily, if you play a rhythm next to me, I can't automatically sync into it the way all my more modern musician friends do.

Neely provides a lot more explanation and detail, and a bunch of examples that really highlight it. These are two completely different schools of music, and it's the influence of drums – specifically, West African drumming – that makes the difference.___

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2016-11-19 10:12:36 (72 comments; 27 reshares; 263 +1s; )Open 

When we think of critical military systems, we think of fighter jets, drones, and encrypted communication systems. But one of the most important military tools of the past decade is considerably more straightforward: the concrete barrier.

When we think of critical military systems, we think of fighter jets, drones, and encrypted communication systems. But one of the most important military tools of the past decade is considerably more straightforward: the concrete barrier.___

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2016-11-19 09:25:01 (76 comments; 45 reshares; 302 +1s; )Open 

Today I learned that researchers at Jiao Tong University in Shanghai are applying machine learning to phrenology. I don't quite know how to say this with a straight face, but if your first response is to say that this sounds like applying ML to astrology but with more potentially sinister political motives, then you're probably thinking much the same thing as me.

Technical response follows, but the short version is that Chinese universities have become particularly infamous for encouraging faculty to publish absolutely anything, even pure nonsense, and this paper is entirely in keeping with that. If you reward quantity independent of quality, you get artificial intelligence crossed with phrenology for your pains.

The research paper, which is linked from the article below, is clean, elegantly written and illustrated, and a real showcase of how to combine p-fishing and... more »

Today I learned that researchers at Jiao Tong University in Shanghai are applying machine learning to phrenology. I don't quite know how to say this with a straight face, but if your first response is to say that this sounds like applying ML to astrology but with more potentially sinister political motives, then you're probably thinking much the same thing as me.

Technical response follows, but the short version is that Chinese universities have become particularly infamous for encouraging faculty to publish absolutely anything, even pure nonsense, and this paper is entirely in keeping with that. If you reward quantity independent of quality, you get artificial intelligence crossed with phrenology for your pains.

The research paper, which is linked from the article below, is clean, elegantly written and illustrated, and a real showcase of how to combine p-fishing and inappropriate statistical tests to make utter nonsense look at first believable. What they have actually done is take a sample of 1,856 facial photos of Chinese men, about half of random people and half of criminals of various types (as specified by the local police, details not really clear), and built a pile of ML models until they found one which could reliably separate the two sets. Of course, each model has rather a lot of degrees of freedom (and the paper is mysteriously silent on just how many), which means they would have needed orders of magnitude more photos - at least hundreds of thousands, possibly millions depending on those numbers - to actually measure anything. It turns out that if you keep looking for "a combination of any number of facial features which describes all the people in set A but not set B," and you have more combinations of facial features than people, you can always find it.

They then "check" for overfitting by doing things like randomly relabeling the pictures and seeing that their model can no longer predict anything (of course it can't; their model was trained to identify the original sets it was told about), or feeding it pictures of Chinese women or Caucasian men and seeing that it can't predict anything. (No kidding; the sets of distinguishing facial features in those groups are different)

Contrary to the Intercept article, this paper isn't a failure of ML ethics; it's a failure of ordinary academic ethics, dressed up as machine learning. The paper is bullshit, plain and simple.___

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2016-11-17 03:28:04 (33 comments; 4 reshares; 153 +1s; )Open 

"Hey, boss. Check out this new packaging design for our body wash."

"... Aren't people likely to mix this up with wood glue?"

"Who would do that? They're kept in totally different areas of the house."

"I guess you're right. That should be fine."

"Thanks! By the way, what do you think about calling it 'Get it on!'?"

"... Aren't people likely to mix this up with lube?"

"Who would do that? This one smells like sandalwood, cedar, and ginger, which is nothing like lube."

"OK, I'm convinced; nothing will go wrong with this. Ship it!"

Now see, the label says "bodywash," but the bottle shape, product color, and even that little red tip cap say "wood glue," so don't mine me I'm just mindfully suspicious here

http://amzn.to/2f6hJVu___"Hey, boss. Check out this new packaging design for our body wash."

"... Aren't people likely to mix this up with wood glue?"

"Who would do that? They're kept in totally different areas of the house."

"I guess you're right. That should be fine."

"Thanks! By the way, what do you think about calling it 'Get it on!'?"

"... Aren't people likely to mix this up with lube?"

"Who would do that? This one smells like sandalwood, cedar, and ginger, which is nothing like lube."

"OK, I'm convinced; nothing will go wrong with this. Ship it!"

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2016-11-17 03:12:47 (34 comments; 26 reshares; 277 +1s; )Open 

If you're having a long week (and who among us isn't?), perhaps what you need is a newly-discovered poem written in 1918 by A. A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh.

Oh, it's about tanks, and the crews who drive them.*

Alright, I admit this is a pretty weird thing to find. But it was a recent discovery in a museum archive in England, created as part of a fundraiser for the Tank Corps POW fund held just four days before the Armistice which ended WWI. You can read more about it here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/25/lost-aa-milne-poem-hailing-wwi-invention-of-the-tank-is-discover/

h/t @pptsapper on Twitter.

* I am now imagining the Battle of the Hundred Acre Wood and this is just getting disturbing. But I can visualize the resulting cartoon, a sort of cross between the 1966 Disney animation and Thomas Pynchon, way too easily. Stay in your... more »

If you're having a long week (and who among us isn't?), perhaps what you need is a newly-discovered poem written in 1918 by A. A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh.

Oh, it's about tanks, and the crews who drive them.*

Alright, I admit this is a pretty weird thing to find. But it was a recent discovery in a museum archive in England, created as part of a fundraiser for the Tank Corps POW fund held just four days before the Armistice which ended WWI. You can read more about it here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/25/lost-aa-milne-poem-hailing-wwi-invention-of-the-tank-is-discover/

h/t @pptsapper on Twitter.

* I am now imagining the Battle of the Hundred Acre Wood and this is just getting disturbing. But I can visualize the resulting cartoon, a sort of cross between the 1966 Disney animation and Thomas Pynchon, way too easily. Stay in your trench, Rabbit! You won't be able to protect your garden if a stray bit of shrapnel gets you!___

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2016-11-16 23:21:24 (23 comments; 77 reshares; 374 +1s; )Open 

You often hear about artificial intelligence, but unless you work in the field, you might not know what it looks like. Google has put together a site showing off a bunch of fun AI experiments that you can play with -- doing things like recognizing pictures or writing songs with you.

While this is definitely educational, it's primarily about having some fun and getting to play with the newest technologies.

h/t +Lauren Weinstein

It's time to get hands-on with A.I. Explore #aiexperiments and play with pictures, drawings, music, code, and more → http://g.co/aiexperiments___You often hear about artificial intelligence, but unless you work in the field, you might not know what it looks like. Google has put together a site showing off a bunch of fun AI experiments that you can play with -- doing things like recognizing pictures or writing songs with you.

While this is definitely educational, it's primarily about having some fun and getting to play with the newest technologies.

h/t +Lauren Weinstein

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2016-11-15 22:21:19 (59 comments; 39 reshares; 349 +1s; )Open 

A launch that I'm quite excited about: The +Google Translate team has been pioneering the use of deep neural networks for a while, and internally has been running experiments on networks which can understand whole sentences at a time. Back in September, they announced research results (https://research.googleblog.com/2016/09/a-neural-network-for-machine.html) showing huge improvements from the technique – with English → Spanish and French → English in particular now showing results comparable to human translators!

As of today, this new system has been launched for translations between English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Turkish. No new software installs are required; we've just upgraded the brains behind Translate.

This will also be available through the Google Cloud Platform, as part of the Cloud Translation API!

A launch that I'm quite excited about: The +Google Translate team has been pioneering the use of deep neural networks for a while, and internally has been running experiments on networks which can understand whole sentences at a time. Back in September, they announced research results (https://research.googleblog.com/2016/09/a-neural-network-for-machine.html) showing huge improvements from the technique – with English → Spanish and French → English in particular now showing results comparable to human translators!

As of today, this new system has been launched for translations between English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Turkish. No new software installs are required; we've just upgraded the brains behind Translate.

This will also be available through the Google Cloud Platform, as part of the Cloud Translation API!___

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2016-11-15 18:47:48 (50 comments; 56 reshares; 353 +1s; )Open 

Something new and awesome coming from the +Google Photos team starting later today – a tool to quickly (and at quality!) scan your physical photos, so you can have digital copies of them.

Something new and awesome coming from the +Google Photos team starting later today – a tool to quickly (and at quality!) scan your physical photos, so you can have digital copies of them.___

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2016-11-14 20:56:20 (138 comments; 53 reshares; 431 +1s; )Open 

Several years ago, I was having dinner with a friend prone to conspiracy theories. She started explaining to me how this coalition of shadowy figures running oil and arms companies were secretly bankrolling the entire war in Iraq when I had to stop her with the bad news -- what she was describing wasn't a secret. You could read about all the things she was talking about on the front page of any newspaper, with the principals' names right there in black and white.

You would really think that we long ago passed the Poe Threshold, beyond which satire and reality are indistinguishable.* Conspiracy theories require a number of rather odd assumptions: that a lot of people are capable of working in secret to achieve some kind of end without this leaking (highly unlikely, if you've ever seen people try to keep secrets or do things in large organizations), that this end is somehow different... more »

Several years ago, I was having dinner with a friend prone to conspiracy theories. She started explaining to me how this coalition of shadowy figures running oil and arms companies were secretly bankrolling the entire war in Iraq when I had to stop her with the bad news -- what she was describing wasn't a secret. You could read about all the things she was talking about on the front page of any newspaper, with the principals' names right there in black and white.

You would really think that we long ago passed the Poe Threshold, beyond which satire and reality are indistinguishable.* Conspiracy theories require a number of rather odd assumptions: that a lot of people are capable of working in secret to achieve some kind of end without this leaking (highly unlikely, if you've ever seen people try to keep secrets or do things in large organizations), that this end is somehow different from what the public sees (increasingly unlikely, because to be any more nefarious than what you see people advertising on their own websites you'd have to be sacrificing babies to bring about the return of the Old Gods) (and even that's pushing it), and that this conspiracy is somehow hyper-competent and secretly controls all things (incredibly unlikely, if you've ever seen how governments, companies, and so on actually run).

The sad truth is this: if there really were a secret conspiracy, it would be being run by complete idiots. The really nefarious stuff isn't done in secret; it's being done by people who boast loudly about it on social media.

(cf also "Real Names," as in "... are supposed to cause people to behave better." It turns out that the world's real assholes are quite proud of their assholism)

* That's named for Poe's Law, named for Nathan Poe, not Edgar Allen Poe.

h/t +Eli Fennell and +Xenophrenia.___

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2016-11-13 20:05:38 (198 comments; 48 reshares; 290 +1s; )Open 

This is an incredibly thorough and sophisticated analysis of the possible realignments in American politics over the next few years. I can't give any good short summary of it, since it's so full of content; but it discusses how parties in the US tend towards a major realignment every 36 years, how the different factions in each party in the past few years have been relating, and what the options are for everyone who isn't Donald Trump.

h/t +A.V. Flox

This is an incredibly thorough and sophisticated analysis of the possible realignments in American politics over the next few years. I can't give any good short summary of it, since it's so full of content; but it discusses how parties in the US tend towards a major realignment every 36 years, how the different factions in each party in the past few years have been relating, and what the options are for everyone who isn't Donald Trump.

h/t +A.V. Flox___

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2016-11-13 00:27:23 (191 comments; 33 reshares; 272 +1s; )Open 

Eight Open Problems (And a Call for More)

Once a year, I try to do an exercise of scanning through major problems in the world and identifying important ones, to make sure that what I’m doing aligns with real priorities. This year, I came up with a short list on the eve of the election, and the results seem to remain meaningful even afterwards.

Below is that list, and the article linked is a discussion of what each of those eight bullet points mean. The list isn't in any ranked order, and it was chosen based on importance rather than urgency, so you shouldn't take it as a "do this now;" but I think it's a good basis for some discussion.

Let me throw this question open to the wider group, as well: What are the most important problems facing the world today? Can we concretely identify the things that have to be dealt with? Are there things whicht... more »

Eight Open Problems (And a Call for More)

Once a year, I try to do an exercise of scanning through major problems in the world and identifying important ones, to make sure that what I’m doing aligns with real priorities. This year, I came up with a short list on the eve of the election, and the results seem to remain meaningful even afterwards.

Below is that list, and the article linked is a discussion of what each of those eight bullet points mean. The list isn't in any ranked order, and it was chosen based on importance rather than urgency, so you shouldn't take it as a "do this now;" but I think it's a good basis for some discussion.

Let me throw this question open to the wider group, as well: What are the most important problems facing the world today? Can we concretely identify the things that have to be dealt with? Are there things which the list below doesn't capture?___

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2016-11-12 23:21:50 (10 comments; 23 reshares; 202 +1s; )Open 

Something beautiful and soothing: Time-lapse films of crystal formation. Lead is particularly beautiful.

A little calm for your day

#BrainBreak #YayChemistry #ScienceEveryday___Something beautiful and soothing: Time-lapse films of crystal formation. Lead is particularly beautiful.

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2016-11-12 08:04:53 (323 comments; 29 reshares; 286 +1s; )Open 

I suspect that, had I been a fly on the wall in Putin's office at the Kremlin last Wednesday morning (Moscow time), I would have learned a wide variety of fascinating obscenities.

There would have been a moment of elation – of hushed bozhe mois as they realized that they had just achieved the absurd masturbatory fantasy of every KGB recruit, of installing their agent as President of the United States.

But as the article below argues, this probably shifted fairly quickly to an even quieter oh, shit, because while the Kremlin certainly didn't want a President Clinton, at least she counts as a sane adversary; a President Trump risks unleashing forces well beyond their ability to control, and this is something that they have been well aware of for the past several months, ever since the incident with Trump attacking the Khan family at the DNC. Their "useful idiot" hasa ... more »

I suspect that, had I been a fly on the wall in Putin's office at the Kremlin last Wednesday morning (Moscow time), I would have learned a wide variety of fascinating obscenities.

There would have been a moment of elation – of hushed bozhe mois as they realized that they had just achieved the absurd masturbatory fantasy of every KGB recruit, of installing their agent as President of the United States.

But as the article below argues, this probably shifted fairly quickly to an even quieter oh, shit, because while the Kremlin certainly didn't want a President Clinton, at least she counts as a sane adversary; a President Trump risks unleashing forces well beyond their ability to control, and this is something that they have been well aware of for the past several months, ever since the incident with Trump attacking the Khan family at the DNC. Their "useful idiot" has a bit too much emphasis on the "idiot" part.

I doubt that anyone said the word "Barbarossa" out loud. But the more history-minded of Putin's advisers may have been thinking it: the last time we made an "alliance" like this, it did not end well.

There's a reasonable claim which has been made that Vladimir Vladimirovich excels at political tactics, but at the strategic level is prone to large bets, many of which backfire.

The article below isn't arguing that Putin actually determined the course of the election; statistics make it quite clear that it was Americans who did this, fair and square, because a majority of people either actively wanted it or were willing to be silent fellow-travelers. Putin doesn't have that kind of leverage, Sanders doesn't, and to be honest neither Clinton nor Trump have it; the forces which Trump harnessed for his purposes, from populist resentment to white supremacism, have deep roots in American culture, and were making strong inroads long before either candidate declared an interest. But Putin definitely encouraged it, and quite openly took steps to aid it – steps which he may be beginning to regret.

An enemy that you can trust may be better than a friend you can't.___

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2016-11-11 02:29:41 (49 comments; 32 reshares; 277 +1s; )Open 

I am almost beyond the capacity for tears right now. 

I am almost beyond the capacity for tears right now. ___

2016-11-09 18:20:42 (1 comments; 136 reshares; 813 +1s; )Open 

I don't have time to write much today, but I want to remind you all of this:

Right and wrong have not changed since yesterday. An "accommodation" which goes in the face of that is not an accommodation, it is collusion in a moral wrong which does not gain any innocence by the defense of "I had to" or "those were the orders."

We will all be sorely tried in the months and years which are to come; we will see our fellow citizens and neighbors harmed and harassed, fired and fired upon. To stand up for them will not be easy, nor will it come without a price. We will pay the price, because the price of refusing is measured in lives and in souls.

But I will also tell you this: we will survive. We will, now and always, use every tool at our disposal, to fight and to shelter, to speak and to listen, to think and to act. This country is not, and has... more »

I don't have time to write much today, but I want to remind you all of this:

Right and wrong have not changed since yesterday. An "accommodation" which goes in the face of that is not an accommodation, it is collusion in a moral wrong which does not gain any innocence by the defense of "I had to" or "those were the orders."

We will all be sorely tried in the months and years which are to come; we will see our fellow citizens and neighbors harmed and harassed, fired and fired upon. To stand up for them will not be easy, nor will it come without a price. We will pay the price, because the price of refusing is measured in lives and in souls.

But I will also tell you this: we will survive. We will, now and always, use every tool at our disposal, to fight and to shelter, to speak and to listen, to think and to act. This country is not, and has never been, the Promised Land; there was never a promise, only what we chose to build out of it. That choice is undiminished today.

I want you to remember, today, the words of Tarfon: "it is not yours to finish the task, but neither are you free to set it aside." We do not stop, we shall not stop, and we shall never surrender our morals.___

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2016-11-08 23:44:57 (33 comments; 14 reshares; 198 +1s; )Open 

I'm just sad that I found this only seconds too late to try out "Robert'); DROP TABLE Supporters; --"

I'm just sad that I found this only seconds too late to try out "Robert'); DROP TABLE Supporters; --"___

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2016-11-08 17:01:15 (111 comments; 10 reshares; 325 +1s; )Open 

It's time. If you're eligible to vote, and you haven't done so already, get out to the polls today.

Bonus: Soon, we will be done with election discussions!

It's time. If you're eligible to vote, and you haven't done so already, get out to the polls today.

Bonus: Soon, we will be done with election discussions!___

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2016-11-07 17:10:30 (76 comments; 32 reshares; 233 +1s; )Open 

Why you should vote No on Prop. 60

I haven't taken a position on many issues in this year's election, but there's one that's bad enough that it merits more detail – I'm talking about California's Proposition 60, a shakedown racket masquerading as a public health initiative. +A.V. Flox's article, linked below, has all sorts of details, interviews, and links explaining why you shouldn't touch this with a ten-foot pole, and I want to amplify this as much as possible: this is one of the worst laws I've ever seen on the ballot.

I mean, it takes some real effort to create a "worker safety" measure whose most vocal opponents are the workers it claims to protect, which is also a measure to create a whole new cottage industry of nuisance lawsuits against small businesses and individuals, which is also set up to target minority groups moreth... more »

Why you should vote No on Prop. 60

I haven't taken a position on many issues in this year's election, but there's one that's bad enough that it merits more detail – I'm talking about California's Proposition 60, a shakedown racket masquerading as a public health initiative. +A.V. Flox's article, linked below, has all sorts of details, interviews, and links explaining why you shouldn't touch this with a ten-foot pole, and I want to amplify this as much as possible: this is one of the worst laws I've ever seen on the ballot.

I mean, it takes some real effort to create a "worker safety" measure whose most vocal opponents are the workers it claims to protect, which is also a measure to create a whole new cottage industry of nuisance lawsuits against small businesses and individuals, which is also set up to target minority groups more than anyone else. That's sort of a trifecta of going against liberal, conservative, and progressive principles that isn't too easy to achieve.

It's also a really good reason to vote against it.

Here's my own little FAQ, to help you navigate.

Q: What does the law say?
A: That anyone who shoots porn in California needs to use condoms. And that if you see any porn that violates this, you (personally) have the right to sue the makers, and get 25% of the take.

Q: But aren't condoms a good thing?
A: When you have sex, you're using a condom for 15 minutes or less. (That number is, shall we say, extremely generous) Porn shoots last for eight hours. Rubber isn't designed for that; the lubricants and the material degrade, causing chafing and various injuries that open up blood vessels and increase the risk of disease transmission. Then they fail, because condoms weren't designed to be used that way. Condoms actually increase the risk of disease transmission if you use them for such a length.

Q: So how do porn performers keep safe? Does everyone have horrible diseases?
A: No! There's a very thorough testing protocol which the industry has worked out over decades, which has done a great job of protecting everyone. There hasn't been a case of on-set transmission of HIV in over a decade. The industry is very serious about this, for obvious reasons.

Q: What happens if someone fails a test? Don't they fake passing?
A: No, because the protocol wasn't designed by idiots. You need a passing certificate that's fresher than the contagion period for STI's from one of the recognized databases to be allowed to shoot.

Q: But don't the studios use the lack of laws to bully performers into doing things they don't want?
A: Thanks in no small part to the Internet, there hasn't been a "the studios" and "the performers" in decades. Most producers are performers. It's a fairly close-knit industry, believe it or not.

Q: How do you know that?
A: I know lots of people in it. They're pretty nice people.

Q: So what do the people in the industry think?
A: Everyone in the industry, producers, performers, and distributors alike, has come out fervently against it, speaking, campaigning, and so on. You can find lots of links in the article below. Or if you have any favorite performers or studios, seek them out on Twitter: you'll probably see their avatar is a "No on 60" badge.

Q: If it's that bad, then why would anyone want it?
A: Part I has to do with that "25% cut" mentioned above: it's a shakedown racket. Part II has to do with a complicated history of a certain charity (the AIDS Healthcare Foundation) descending into a really bizarre mass of corruption over the past decade or so. If it helps give you a sense of what's going on, the AHF's other major issue this year is preventing investment in AIDS prophylaxis and vaccines.

Q: Wait, what?
A: The AHF decided a few decades ago that condoms prevent AIDS, and therefore condoms are the only thing which prevents AIDS, and anything else which might prevent AIDS would therefore encourage people not to use condoms, and so would actually cause AIDS. So they're furious about things like the recent development of Truvada, the first in a family of drugs shown (and FDA-approved) to prevent transmission of HIV. They're actively fighting LA county's efforts to make this drug widely available.

Q: Wait, what?
A: Don't ask. This group has gotten really bizarre. I'm hoping that its leader is just in it for the money at this point, because if he actually believes what he says that's scarier.

Q: Tell me about the money.
A: It's pretty simple. Under this law, if you see porn that was made in California and doesn't use condoms, you can personally sue the creators for violating the law. In fact, everyone in the state is allowed to sue them. 75% goes to various named organizations, and 25% goes into your pocket.

Q: So everyone would just stop making this kind of porn, right?
A: No, everyone would move to Nevada and make it there, which would uproot a lot of people and move a multi-billion dollar industry to another state. But that's not the worst problem.

Q: What is?
A: The law is, shall we say, very wide in its definitions. For example, say you and your spouse made a sex tape—

Q: I would never do that!
A: Bear with me. Lots of people do. Private ones.

Q: Private ones! I'm not distributing those!
A: What happens if your phone gets hacked?

Q: What? That's not distributing porn!
A: No, but under this law, you made porn. And you didn't use a condom, because you were at home with your spouse.

Q: So? Nobody would prosecute me for that!
A: Who said anything about prosecute? Someone will sue you for that.

Q: No court would allow it!
A: They would under this law. This law explicitly gives them the right to do that.

Q: Gives who?
A: Everyone in the state of California has the right to sue you for a few thousand dollars. And will be paid for doing so.

Q: But people don't know how to do that...
A: Wanna take some bets on how long until you see billboards on 101 saying "Seen porn without a condom? Call 1-800-SUE-PORN and find out how you could be taking home $1,000 tomorrow!"

Q: That's a horrible idea! Don't I have a legal defense?
A: Sure! Get ready to raise it in court. Against everyone who sues you. Know any good lawyers?

Q: OK, I get the point about private suits. What about porn studios, though?
A: They don't have any more money than you do. Porn is not, to be honest, a very lucrative business.

Q: OK, so will they all have to move?
A: Well, that's the tricky part. Big studios like Vivid can just pack up and move to Vegas. But up in the Bay Area, you have a lot of people who are parts of "marginalized groups" – people of color, trans people, people supporting families, and so on – who also have this as their primary source of income. They can't afford to just pack up and move to another state. And neither can all the individuals using cam shows and so on to feed their kids.

Q: They're dirty, nasty people anyway, and I don't want them in my state!
A: They're also just trying to feed their kids, pay the rent, and do the same things you're trying to do. You would literally be passing a law that lets anyone sue them and take money out of their kids' mouths.

Q: That's horribly depressing.
A: This is a terrible law. Don't vote for it.___

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2016-11-07 03:21:17 (46 comments; 25 reshares; 207 +1s; )Open 

A very well-thought-out argument that the eternal argument that "the election wasn't about the issues" is simply wrong this time - that the real issues, the ones which matter to people's daily lives, have been viciously exposed by the last year of campaigning.

A very well-thought-out argument that the eternal argument that "the election wasn't about the issues" is simply wrong this time - that the real issues, the ones which matter to people's daily lives, have been viciously exposed by the last year of campaigning.___

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2016-11-05 05:50:24 (75 comments; 12 reshares; 351 +1s; )Open 

It's been a long week, and with so many of us watching the news with a windward eye and awaiting an Apocalypse, I thought we could all use a video of a nervous rescue dog being reunited with her puppies.

h/t to my wife, who knows what this season needs.

It's been a long week, and with so many of us watching the news with a windward eye and awaiting an Apocalypse, I thought we could all use a video of a nervous rescue dog being reunited with her puppies.

h/t to my wife, who knows what this season needs.___

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2016-11-04 23:32:08 (28 comments; 10 reshares; 187 +1s; )Open 

The Foxfire project was started by an English teacher looking for a way to inspire his students -- they decided they wanted to start a magazine to document and preserve the culture of their native Appalachia. Fifty years later, the project is going strong, having also published 21 books, built a museum, created a wide-reaching archive of other media, and have also worked to keep many of the skills and traditions alive.

h/t +Valkyrie for a combination of some interesting history and a valuable project.

It's still going. I'm impressed and even pleased that this remains "living" knowledge rather than being relegated to mere book knowledge. With some subjects, there is no alternative to practical experience. ___The Foxfire project was started by an English teacher looking for a way to inspire his students -- they decided they wanted to start a magazine to document and preserve the culture of their native Appalachia. Fifty years later, the project is going strong, having also published 21 books, built a museum, created a wide-reaching archive of other media, and have also worked to keep many of the skills and traditions alive.

h/t +Valkyrie for a combination of some interesting history and a valuable project.

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2016-11-04 19:59:37 (44 comments; 27 reshares; 397 +1s; )Open 

While I know they like to end seasons on a cliffhanger, I'm really hoping that (a) the writers haven't decided that this is a great time to make a "darker, edgier" next season, because they've really done that enough, and (b) it doesn't simply get abruptly cancelled.

h/t +Xenophrenia

___While I know they like to end seasons on a cliffhanger, I'm really hoping that (a) the writers haven't decided that this is a great time to make a "darker, edgier" next season, because they've really done that enough, and (b) it doesn't simply get abruptly cancelled.

h/t +Xenophrenia

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2016-11-04 19:53:13 (56 comments; 30 reshares; 257 +1s; )Open 

If you are (like me) an afficionado of ties, and you have somehow not heard of Fink & Mao's famous book The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie, then you are sorely missing out. The book combines a mathematical classification of all possible* tie knots with a sartorial history, well-illustrated. I keep a copy in my closet, to help pick the ideal knot for the day.

(For those wondering, I tend to favor a half-Windsor for most ties, a four-in-hand for woven ties, a Nicky for ties which are slightly shorter, and sometimes a slightly more eccentric Cavendish knot if the tie looks too damned serious and needs to be off at an angle a bit. All of which I know about and understand thanks to this)

* More specifically, they classified ties with fewer than N moves (so that a tie of ordinary length could do it), and restricted themselves to ties which pass through the final end of the knot once. (Knots... more »

Tie Knots

During their time at Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory, Anglo-American Physicist Thomas Fink and his colleague Yong Mao learnt how to tie ties.

Seeking a marriage of science and beauty, Thomas M. A. Fink and Yong Mao, research fellows at Cambridge University, have applied the rigors of mathematics to that most basic of fashion statements, the necktie knot. In the process they have come up with six new ways of tying a tie.

Dr. Fink, who in his more serious moments investigates protein folding, and Dr. Mao, who specializes in colloids and polymers, felt that the world might be ready for a new knot or two. Of the four in common use, the four-in-hand (so named because it was used by drivers of four-in-hand carriages) dates from the 19th century, while the Windsor and the half-Windsor, were popularized in the 1930's by the Duke of Windsor. Only the Pratt knot, publicized about a decade ago, has a more recent history, and some dismiss it as simply a reverse Windsor.

More here (article): https://goo.gl/TKEHYR

Of the 85 possible tie knots that can be tied with a tie of conventional length, the following are of particular interest. The first number is the number of the knot, as catalogued in the Summary of Knots in The 85 Ways and at the bottom of this page. Some of the knots have close cousins with which they are often confused (not including mirror images). These typically involve the transposition of one or more L-R pairs. They are indicated by prefixing the name of their relation with 'co-', as in co-Windsor.

More here (blog): https://goo.gl/ahS7N7

The discovery of all possible ways to tie a tie depends on a mathematical formulation of the act of tying a tie. In their papers (which are technical) and book (which is for a lay audience, apart from an appendix), the authors show that necktie knots are equivalent to persistent random walks on a triangular lattice, with some constraints on how the walks begin and end. Thus enumerating tie knots of n moves is equivalent to enumerating walks of n steps. Imposing the conditions of symmetry and balance reduces the 85 knots to 13 aesthetic ones.

The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie (Wikip): https://goo.gl/Pr3y4Y

The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie (Library): https://goo.gl/vz8SCm

Designing tie knots by random walks (Nature pdf): https://goo.gl/IFXr0z

Tie knots, random walks and topology (Nature pdf): https://goo.gl/pnHcZW

Image: https://goo.gl/HBxrJe___If you are (like me) an afficionado of ties, and you have somehow not heard of Fink & Mao's famous book The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie, then you are sorely missing out. The book combines a mathematical classification of all possible* tie knots with a sartorial history, well-illustrated. I keep a copy in my closet, to help pick the ideal knot for the day.

(For those wondering, I tend to favor a half-Windsor for most ties, a four-in-hand for woven ties, a Nicky for ties which are slightly shorter, and sometimes a slightly more eccentric Cavendish knot if the tie looks too damned serious and needs to be off at an angle a bit. All of which I know about and understand thanks to this)

* More specifically, they classified ties with fewer than N moves (so that a tie of ordinary length could do it), and restricted themselves to ties which pass through the final end of the knot once. (Knots which don't satisfy this are known as "complex" knots, like the Eldredge, Trinity, or Ediety, and can be very interesting but are, shall we say, a very vivid sartorial choice) They then calculated properties of symmetry, balance, and so on, enumerated all possible knots, and showed that there are only 13 possible knots (plus three variants) which work -- each of which has an interesting history.

cf here for some complex knots: http://hubpages.com/style/the-best-unusual-tie-knots-and-how-to-tie-them

h/t +Valdis Klētnieks

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2016-11-03 16:50:16 (97 comments; 147 reshares; 726 +1s; )Open 

Today, a simple illustration of physics. You might wonder why so much liquid splashes backwards; you can see what's happening most clearly with the water bottle (second from the bottom). The bullet strikes the liquid and starts transferring energy to it. (That energy transfer is why a bullet damages things) This, in turn, pushes a wave forward, moving faster than the bullet until it strikes the front wall and begins to break it. That breakage will be amplified by the bullet's impact a moment later, but before that, the wave has started to bounce back -- until shortly afterwards, it strikes the back wall, already damaged by the bullet hole, and blows it open.

All of this works because the bullet is travelling slower than the speed of sound in the liquid. (The speed of sound in liquid is much higher than it is in air) If the bullet were travelling much faster, around 3,400mph, then you... more »

Today, a simple illustration of physics. You might wonder why so much liquid splashes backwards; you can see what's happening most clearly with the water bottle (second from the bottom). The bullet strikes the liquid and starts transferring energy to it. (That energy transfer is why a bullet damages things) This, in turn, pushes a wave forward, moving faster than the bullet until it strikes the front wall and begins to break it. That breakage will be amplified by the bullet's impact a moment later, but before that, the wave has started to bounce back -- until shortly afterwards, it strikes the back wall, already damaged by the bullet hole, and blows it open.

All of this works because the bullet is travelling slower than the speed of sound in the liquid. (The speed of sound in liquid is much higher than it is in air) If the bullet were travelling much faster, around 3,400mph, then you would see a different reaction: the bullet would strike the front wall before the wave did, and by the time the wave hit it there would be much less for it to bounce against. Almost all of the splatter would fly forward, in that case.

If the bullet were travelling faster still, at around 11,000mph, it would be going faster than the speed of sound in glass, and things would change even more: the bullet would make it out of the glass before the shock waves from the impact had a chance to spread, and it would punch a fairly clean hole through it rather than shattering it. Of course, the impact of the water wave (if it were a filled bottle target) would then shatter the glass anyway.

I know this thanks to Prof. Bob Laughlin, a slightly mad physicist (and Nobel laureate) for whom I TA'd for many years. He asked a version of this question on the qualifying exam for the PhD, asking students to design a new "Star Wars"-type defense system called Brilliant Potroast. The idea (an improvement, no doubt, over the real "brilliant pebbles" design) was that we would attach rocket engines to a bunch of pot roasts, put them in orbit, and then fire them at incoming ICBM's; students were tasked with doing all the calculations for this, from calculating fuel needs to describing what would happen when a pot roast struck a nuclear missile.

The correct answer turned out to depend on the angle and position of impact, because (given orbital speeds and so on) the relative speed of the pot roast and the missile could fall anywhere above or below the speeds of sound in pot roast, structural Aluminum, and Plutonium. In almost all the cases, though, the effect would look sort of like a "water balloon:" the pot roast would punch a hole almost straight through the missile, and splatter outwards as it flew like a water balloon hitting, well, an ICBM.

Hopefully, this would damage critical components of the missile, and/or make it aerodynamically unstable once it reentered the atmosphere. Alternatively, you could design the flying meatsacks to deliberately hit the missile at an angle so that it would always be below the speed of sound in structural metals, and cause much more shattering along the length of the missile.

As a footnote: When Prof. Laughlin won the Nobel, the department held a party for him. A bunch of students got together and got him a very large pot roast as a gift.

h/t +Steven Flaeck and +İsmet D. İstanbul for the wonderful image.


[Edit for those who want to know more: Here's a reply to +Isaac Kuo from the comments, discussing the other pictures below.]

In the milk glass, as you say, the significant step is shattering: the bullet strikes the glass (far) below the speed of sound in glass, and so cracks spread and the glass is fully shattered long before the bullet strikes the other wall. As it shatters, the weight of the milk dropping downward (no longer restrained by the wall) pushes it outward in all directions, and the bullet simply flies out through the mess, which is why the milk glass is most symmetric.

The egg is doing something similar with the shell, but the material is lighter and doesn't fall as much, and the shell has a sticky inner layer that probably gives it a bit more cohesion. On top of that, the curve causes shock waves to bounce every which way. So the kinetic energy of the bullet is probably getting much more dispersed in the egg body, and is blowing it out symmetrically as well.

OTOH, the apple has the least of this effect, its skin barely counting as a hard surface. There's still a bit of reflection (off the apple/air boundary), but far more of the energy is coming from the "direct" wave of the bullet, which is why the right side blows out far more than the left side.

The ketchup bottle seems similar to the milk glass.

The watermelon has its cracks spread far more slowly, but it still has a meaningful surface, so it's more like the water bottle, with a fairly even front/back splash.

So the summary is:

* If there's no surface to crack (apple): Most of the blast goes forward, a little goes back.
* If there's a surface but it doesn't entirely explode from the bullet impact (watermelon, water bottle): You get a much more symmetric front/back explosion.
* If there's a surface which cracks fast in the plane of the bullet's motion (milk glass, ketchup bottle): You get an explosion that's nearly symmetric in that horizontal plane.
* If there's a surface that cracks fast in all directions (egg): You get a more spherically symmetric explosion.

For those keeping track, a human chest cavity is more like an apple, while the skull is closer to a watermelon in this regard. Many crime shows on TV tend to neglect this fact, with people shooting other people in the head and not getting sprayed with bits.___

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2016-11-02 20:28:17 (112 comments; 84 reshares; 489 +1s; )Open 

Something unexpected but very pleasing: the pipeline which Bismarck voted was too dangerous to route near them* was going to instead be routed near the communities (and through the graveyards) of a nearby Native American community. And after months of protests, accompanied by frequently-shocking violence by both the police and hired "security forces," the President has announced that he's asked the Army Corps of Engineers to work out an alternate route, and that he will be personally monitoring the development of the situation.

Decoding this for those who aren't used to large organizations: when the boss adds "and I want regular updates until it's done" to "fix this," that translates as "your ass is on the line until and unless this is fixed." This is a very strong operational move by a President who understands how operational moves work -- and... more »

Something unexpected but very pleasing: the pipeline which Bismarck voted was too dangerous to route near them* was going to instead be routed near the communities (and through the graveyards) of a nearby Native American community. And after months of protests, accompanied by frequently-shocking violence by both the police and hired "security forces," the President has announced that he's asked the Army Corps of Engineers to work out an alternate route, and that he will be personally monitoring the development of the situation.

Decoding this for those who aren't used to large organizations: when the boss adds "and I want regular updates until it's done" to "fix this," that translates as "your ass is on the line until and unless this is fixed." This is a very strong operational move by a President who understands how operational moves work -- and thus a very positive signal indeed.

#NoDAPL indeed!

* Because these pipelines have a history of leaking often, and seriously contaminating local water supplies when they do.

h/t +Cindy Brown___

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2016-10-31 19:46:47 (69 comments; 24 reshares; 205 +1s; )Open 

This flowchart is not, alas, a joke; it's a summary of medieval criminal procedure. It doesn't mention that if you're convicted, all your worldly goods are seized, and most of them go to the people who convicted you... not that this would create an incentive for corruption or anything.

What's disturbing is that this is actually better than a lot of medieval European criminal procedure.

Any relationship to modern legal procedures is, of course, completely coincidental.

If you want to learn more, I suggest this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3jt5ibfRzw

So You’ve Been Accused of Witchcraft...

How to avoid the ultimate punishment with this guide from the 1486 witch-hunting manual Malleus Maleficarum (available online)___This flowchart is not, alas, a joke; it's a summary of medieval criminal procedure. It doesn't mention that if you're convicted, all your worldly goods are seized, and most of them go to the people who convicted you... not that this would create an incentive for corruption or anything.

What's disturbing is that this is actually better than a lot of medieval European criminal procedure.

Any relationship to modern legal procedures is, of course, completely coincidental.

If you want to learn more, I suggest this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3jt5ibfRzw

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2016-10-30 00:25:53 (105 comments; 21 reshares; 282 +1s; )Open 

I started out trying to write about a new study that traces the genetics of the Norwegian brown rat, that omnipresent world traveler. But that quickly turned into a meditation on those creatures we too often disdain – the ones who have made a home for themselves in a human world.

I started out trying to write about a new study that traces the genetics of the Norwegian brown rat, that omnipresent world traveler. But that quickly turned into a meditation on those creatures we too often disdain – the ones who have made a home for themselves in a human world.___

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2016-10-29 22:43:46 (52 comments; 27 reshares; 231 +1s; )Open 

A thought-provoking article about the new advances coming from Microsoft, Google, and Apple, and what they say about the future of computing. I won't take on the question of "does this mean [X] is in trouble?" which Forbes does, but the article does capture one important thing: Google's Assistant (which, disclaimer, I work on) and its new hardware line, and Microsoft's new Surface Studio, feel like fundamentally compelling products that have a chance to change the way we think about computers. All of them are a significant step towards the computer "disappearing;" something we no longer think of as "I'm working on the computer" but just "I'm doing something."

h/t +Lauren Weinstein

A thought-provoking article about the new advances coming from Microsoft, Google, and Apple, and what they say about the future of computing. I won't take on the question of "does this mean [X] is in trouble?" which Forbes does, but the article does capture one important thing: Google's Assistant (which, disclaimer, I work on) and its new hardware line, and Microsoft's new Surface Studio, feel like fundamentally compelling products that have a chance to change the way we think about computers. All of them are a significant step towards the computer "disappearing;" something we no longer think of as "I'm working on the computer" but just "I'm doing something."

h/t +Lauren Weinstein___

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2016-10-28 20:46:14 (237 comments; 46 reshares; 309 +1s; )Open 

Some helpful political Q&A from one of our foremost news sites.

Some helpful political Q&A from one of our foremost news sites.___

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