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Top posts in the last 50 posts

Most comments: 243

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2017-04-10 10:26:34 (243 comments; 13 reshares; 119 +1s; )Open 

You may have wondered about the phrase "chosen people." We certainly don't seem to have been chosen for anything nice and relaxing, like a day at the spa or an all-expenses-paid vacation to Iceland. You might be forgiven for wondering if being chosen is, all told, such a great thing anyway.

This is because it's rarely explained to us what we were chosen for. So today, on erev Pesach, let's take a few minutes to discuss it.

Most reshares: 114

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2017-03-18 21:39:15 (177 comments; 114 reshares; 368 +1s; )Open 

This is an extremely thoughtful article about the underlying political dynamics which shape the debates over health care in the US, and it's helping me understand many things going on in our country today; as the author says, "When it seems like people are voting against their interests, I have probably failed to understand their interests."

His key point is this: "[T]he bulk of needy white voters are not interested in the public safety net. They want to restore their access to an older safety net, one much more generous, dignified, and stable than the public system – the one most well-employed voters still enjoy."

That is, the US has had a social safety net for a very long time, a very generous one, publicly funded through various tax subsidies, and giving people a sense of having earned those things as well, through individual work. But unlike mostc... more »

Most plusones: 567

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2017-03-12 20:06:18 (182 comments; 62 reshares; 567 +1s; )Open 

Dystopia America 

Latest 50 posts

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2017-04-25 01:55:24 (73 comments; 32 reshares; 170 +1s; )Open 

This is a good explanation of why the Juceiro press is so expensive - they basically built an Apple-quality shell over a precision high-power machine tool and used it to squeeze fruit. Which is acquired through a complicated supply chain in special packages, that being the only thing you can load into it.

This article, with a teardown of the device, provides a nice combination of "wow, how beautifully built!" with "what the hell were you thinking?!" Since the result was a ludicrously expensive machine that solves a problem no-one has. 

This is a good explanation of why the Juceiro press is so expensive - they basically built an Apple-quality shell over a precision high-power machine tool and used it to squeeze fruit. Which is acquired through a complicated supply chain in special packages, that being the only thing you can load into it.

This article, with a teardown of the device, provides a nice combination of "wow, how beautifully built!" with "what the hell were you thinking?!" Since the result was a ludicrously expensive machine that solves a problem no-one has. ___

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2017-04-24 16:33:17 (18 comments; 47 reshares; 502 +1s; )Open 

Via +Alex Scrivener.

___Via +Alex Scrivener.

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2017-04-21 23:24:02 (38 comments; 34 reshares; 255 +1s; )Open 

This is a video of people rolling a bunch of tires off a ski jump, to see how far they'll fly. It's done with the combination of complete seriousness and excited insanity that defines Japanese television. And it does not disappoint.

For those of you interested in the physics, there are three main differences between the tires. The first has to do with what happens when a tire tries to roll down a hill: it picks up energy from descending, and that energy needs to be split between making the tire rotate (pulling all the mass of the tire in a circle around its center) and making the tire move forward. The more the mass is bunched towards the center of the tire, rather than its rim, the less energy it takes to make it rotate, and so the more energy is available for forward motion – and thus for being fired off the ski jump at speed.

The second has to do with how that rolling andm... more »

This is a video of people rolling a bunch of tires off a ski jump, to see how far they'll fly. It's done with the combination of complete seriousness and excited insanity that defines Japanese television. And it does not disappoint.

For those of you interested in the physics, there are three main differences between the tires. The first has to do with what happens when a tire tries to roll down a hill: it picks up energy from descending, and that energy needs to be split between making the tire rotate (pulling all the mass of the tire in a circle around its center) and making the tire move forward. The more the mass is bunched towards the center of the tire, rather than its rim, the less energy it takes to make it rotate, and so the more energy is available for forward motion – and thus for being fired off the ski jump at speed.

The second has to do with how that rolling and moving are related. Obviously, the faster the tire is going forward, the faster it has to turn. In fact, if the tire is rolling without slipping, these two speeds are exactly related to each other. However, if the tire starts to slip, it can move forward without turning. Less friction means a tire has more speed for hurtling down the ski jump!

Of course, that's exactly the opposite of what you want when you attach a tire to a car, since a car moves because the engine turns the wheel, and you want that turning to convert directly into moving the car forward, not into making the tires spin. This is why high-performance tires (like the F1 tire in the video) are wide, entirely flat, and somewhat sticky: maximum friction. That's a terrible mixture for ordinary road tires, since if the road is even slightly wet, there's nowhere for the water to go except "lifting the tire directly off the road," aka "hydroplaning," aka "having a really bad day." Also, sticky tires wear out very fast, since they literally leave bits of themselves all over the road. Road tires instead have treads designed to channel things like water, snow, and debris out of the way.

As far as the third thing influencing the speed of the tires... well, you'll see what it is when they get to the last tire.

Via +Melissa Newt Hutchinson___

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2017-04-21 06:03:41 (46 comments; 12 reshares; 214 +1s; )Open 

"[Former resident] Ross Hancock has the same worry, and sold his four-bedroom house in Coral Gables three years ago. He described South Florida’s real estate market as “pessimists selling to optimists,” and said he wanted to cash out while the latter still outnumbered the former."

This market isn't "pessimists selling to optimists;" it's "people who can do the math selling to people who either refuse to believe that things can get worse in the world, or people who genuinely don't know better and are willing to invest their life savings anyways." I suspect that some clever fellows will make a great deal of money shorting coastal real estate in various ways. I wonder if anyone's selling CDO's nowadays...

"[Former resident] Ross Hancock has the same worry, and sold his four-bedroom house in Coral Gables three years ago. He described South Florida’s real estate market as “pessimists selling to optimists,” and said he wanted to cash out while the latter still outnumbered the former."

This market isn't "pessimists selling to optimists;" it's "people who can do the math selling to people who either refuse to believe that things can get worse in the world, or people who genuinely don't know better and are willing to invest their life savings anyways." I suspect that some clever fellows will make a great deal of money shorting coastal real estate in various ways. I wonder if anyone's selling CDO's nowadays...___

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2017-04-21 01:00:46 (55 comments; 49 reshares; 294 +1s; )Open 

The Google Page That Google Haters Don’t Want You to Know About

https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/04/20/the-google-page-that-google-haters-dont-want-you-to-know-about

There’s a page at Google that dedicated Google Haters don’t like to talk about. In fact, they’d prefer that you didn’t even know that it exists, because it seriously undermines the foundation of their hateful anti-Google fantasies.

A core principle of Google hatred is the set of false memes concerning Google and user data collection. This is frequently encapsulated in a fanciful “You are the product!” slogan, despite the fact that (unlike the dominant ISPs and many other large firms) Google never sells user data to third parties.

But the haters hate the idea that data is collected at all, despite the fact that such data is crucial for Google services to function at the qualitylevels that w... more »

The Google Page That Google Haters Don’t Want You to Know About

https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/04/20/the-google-page-that-google-haters-dont-want-you-to-know-about

There’s a page at Google that dedicated Google Haters don’t like to talk about. In fact, they’d prefer that you didn’t even know that it exists, because it seriously undermines the foundation of their hateful anti-Google fantasies.

A core principle of Google hatred is the set of false memes concerning Google and user data collection. This is frequently encapsulated in a fanciful “You are the product!” slogan, despite the fact that (unlike the dominant ISPs and many other large firms) Google never sells user data to third parties.

But the haters hate the idea that data is collected at all, despite the fact that such data is crucial for Google services to function at the quality levels that we have come to expect from Google.

I was thinking about this again today when I started hearing from users reacting to Google’s announcement of multiple user support for Google Home, who were expressing concerns about collection of more individualized voice data (without which — I would note — you couldn’t differentiate between different users).

We can stipulate that Google collects a lot of data to make all of this stuff work. But here’s the kicker that the haters don’t want you to think about — Google also gives you enormous control over that data, to a staggering degree that most Google users don’t fully realize.

The Golden Ticket gateway to this goodness is at:

google.com/myactivity

There’s a lot to explore there — be sure to click on both the three vertical dots near the upper top and on the three horizontal bars near the upper left to see the full range of options available.

This page is a portal to an incredible resource. Not only does it give you the opportunity to see in detail the data that Google has associated with you across the universe of Google products, but also the ability to delete that data (selectively or in its totality), and to determine how much of your data will be collected going forward for the various Google services.

On top of that, there are links over to other data related systems that you can control, such as Takeout for downloading your data from Google, comprehensive ad preferences settings (which you can use to adjust or even fully disable ad personalization), and an array of other goodies, all supported by excellent help pages — a lot of thought and work went into this.

I’m a pragmatist by nature. I worry about organizations that don’t give us control over the data they collect about us — like the government, like those giant ISPs and lots of other firms. And typically, these kinds of entities collect this data even though they don’t actually need it to provide the kinds of services that we want. All too often, they just do it because they can.

On the other hand, I have no problems with Google collecting the kinds of data that provide their advanced services, so long as I can choose when that data is collected, and I can inspect and delete it on demand.

The google.com/myactivity portal provides those abilities and a lot more.

This does imply taking some responsibility for managing your own data. Google gives you the tools to do so — you have nobody but yourself to blame if you refuse to avail yourself of those excellent tools.

Or to put it another way, if you want to use and benefit from 21st century technological magic, you really do need to be willing to learn at least a little bit about how to use the shiny wand that the wizard handed over to you.

Abracadabra!

– Lauren –___

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2017-04-17 22:27:52 (20 comments; 5 reshares; 153 +1s; )Open 

When we have moved from #NotTheOnion and #NotGodwin to #NotScarfolk, we are in serious trouble.

The Guardian vs. Scarfolk (part 2).
Scarfolk coming true one day at a time.
'Flopsy Bunny Scenario'.
https://scarfolk.blogspot.com/search?q=nuclear___When we have moved from #NotTheOnion and #NotGodwin to #NotScarfolk, we are in serious trouble.

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2017-04-16 11:51:55 (48 comments; 71 reshares; 552 +1s; )Open 

The headline is just what it says on the label. Trump is arguing in court that, because he won the election, he is automatically immune to any legal action arising from what he did during the campaign.

It's hard to imagine any notion more dangerous to democracy than this - that the President should be above the law. 

The headline is just what it says on the label. Trump is arguing in court that, because he won the election, he is automatically immune to any legal action arising from what he did during the campaign.

It's hard to imagine any notion more dangerous to democracy than this - that the President should be above the law. ___

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2017-04-15 14:26:32 (47 comments; 17 reshares; 129 +1s; )Open 

Today I'm going to get out my crystal ball and talk a bit about some potentially good news in the economy: a shift in telecommuting which suggests it may have a much deeper effect on the world in the next decade or two, which for once will not entirely serve to screw the workers.

It's rare enough to be able to make a prognostication like that with a straight face that I thought this was worth sharing.

(This is a more in-depth version of an earlier post: https://plus.google.com/+YonatanZunger/posts/QZDyxcbEDjF . There are some great comments and discussion there, if you want to see how the conversation began!)

Today I'm going to get out my crystal ball and talk a bit about some potentially good news in the economy: a shift in telecommuting which suggests it may have a much deeper effect on the world in the next decade or two, which for once will not entirely serve to screw the workers.

It's rare enough to be able to make a prognostication like that with a straight face that I thought this was worth sharing.

(This is a more in-depth version of an earlier post: https://plus.google.com/+YonatanZunger/posts/QZDyxcbEDjF . There are some great comments and discussion there, if you want to see how the conversation began!)___

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2017-04-15 12:07:05 (29 comments; 23 reshares; 199 +1s; )Open 

(Note: This post got expanded into a deeper Medium article. Comments here closed and rerouted to a new G+ post sharing that, as well: https://plus.google.com/+YonatanZunger/posts/2DTTKGbZKrV)

There's been a sharp rise in the fraction of non-self-employed people who work from home since 2012 – specifically among programmers and software engineers.

For once, this is a split between professions which likely isn't tied to class issues or economics: it's that the thing making this telecommuting possible has been a sharp rise in tools like Slack and Hangouts which make working remotely actually feasible, and not a serious effective penalty for the person who's far away. Engineers are getting these tools first because they're developing them and testing them out on themselves, but their sudden rise in adoption is a sign that they're reaching the point whereot... more »

(Note: This post got expanded into a deeper Medium article. Comments here closed and rerouted to a new G+ post sharing that, as well: https://plus.google.com/+YonatanZunger/posts/2DTTKGbZKrV)

There's been a sharp rise in the fraction of non-self-employed people who work from home since 2012 – specifically among programmers and software engineers.

For once, this is a split between professions which likely isn't tied to class issues or economics: it's that the thing making this telecommuting possible has been a sharp rise in tools like Slack and Hangouts which make working remotely actually feasible, and not a serious effective penalty for the person who's far away. Engineers are getting these tools first because they're developing them and testing them out on themselves, but their sudden rise in adoption is a sign that they're reaching the point where other people can start to use them.

My own experience matches this well. Back in 2012, I remember people trying to work remotely was a complete nightmare; they were always cut off from the main stream of what was going on in the team, because so much happened in meetings and discussions, and the most they could hope to do was catch up afterwards. Today, almost all discussion happens on a combination of online tools, and virtually every meeting I'm in happens over a VC bridge anyway, because it involves people around the world. A huge difference is that the VC bridges of 2012 barely worked – they would stutter, stop, you would miss half of what was said, and you generally couldn't participate in the conversation. Not so today!

I tested this out myself about a year ago, when I spent a month or so working remotely, in the same time zone as my team but many hours' drive away. The result turned out to be transparent; I was in just as many meetings, and they were just as effective, as before. Over the rest of that year, I was working closely with teams in California, Massachusetts, New York, London, and Zurich; we all adjusted our working hours a bit so we could have a few hours each day where we could meet, and I definitely spent some amount of time on aircraft, but it worked out in a way that I just couldn't compare to trying to work with teams in Kraków and Tel Aviv six or seven years earlier.

I think we're finally passing the threshold where telecommuting is going to become possible for a much wider swath of work – basically, jobs which don't require access to a particular physical plant. There are still a few key technologies missing (e.g., there's no "virtual whiteboard" that doesn't suck yet), but I suspect these will be fixed soon.

Different industries will likely adopt these at different rates, but I suspect that ten years from now (if the world still exists) this will start to become common among the highest- and lowest-end jobs, and it will then fill in to become common across the spectrum within 15 years or so. (High- and low- because of different industry pressures: at the high end, as a perk to get the best people, and at the low end, because companies want to avoid running a physical plant and spending money on that. So those companies will gravitate to it first. Businesses with a deep mythology of the "personal" will probably resist longest, to their own detriment.)

This is going to have some interesting economic consequences.

(1) Jobs will start to separate into location-dependent and location-independent ones. Location-independent (LI) jobs will end up with very different economics, because you won't have a local crash because the factory closed; people will be working in a much wider range of areas. That can be a huge plus for communities that were previously dependent on location-dependent jobs which vanished. OTOH, location-independent jobs will literally have workers from all over the world; there's no analogue to getting "a factory in your town."

(2) That will have all sorts of impacts on local economies, because LI jobs won't bring a huge amount of jobs to any one place, so much as a few jobs to a lot of places. Cities used to thinking about the big companies in town won't have that anymore. (OTOH, cities which hate having a powerful big company in town will no longer have that as much)

(3) It also will have complicated effects on labor. It's less clear how workers will organize when distributed. It will mean that traditional organization techniques won't work, but new ones (the union Slack channel?) will.

(4) New skill sets will be required to work effectively in a distributed office, likely ones tied to personal organization and these kinds of social interaction. They won't be hard to learn, and gen Z is likely to be quite native to them, but there will definitely be groups of people who have trouble finding LI employment because of this.

(5) Many presently location-dependent (LD) jobs will cease to be so. Retail is the obvious one, having had trouble for years. It's unlikely to vanish altogether, and especially things like groceries are likely to stay LD for a long time to come. Businesses where depth of stock is crucial (like books) are obvious first things to get hit; businesses where logistics would be a huge PITA (like groceries) or where detailed pre-purchase testing of a physical item are key (like clothes) will be slower. OTOH, clothes have been moving to a more LI model in recent years thanks to improvements in shipping logistics, so who knows?

(6) Some jobs may ultimately factor into multiple jobs. For example, schools really do two separate things: teaching and physical child care. Home schooling co-ops are already decoupling those two, and there's no reason to suspect this couldn't happen more broadly. That might lead to LI teaching and LD child care being two different jobs.

(7) LD job economics are going to get weirdly complicated in ways I can't quite guess, mostly because the set of LD jobs is going to change a lot. Things involving physical people (medicine, child care, etc) will obviously stay LD. Operation of physical plants (manufacturing, datacenters, agriculture, etc) will also stay LD, but it's not clear how many jobs there will be in these fields; they could easily turn more specialized over time. It seems likely that the bulk of jobs that stay persistently LD will not be plant-operation jobs but people-interacting jobs, which means that LD job economies will mostly be tied to local population densities and economies. If local economies become predominantly LI-powered, that will likely make them more stable over time (less dependence on a single industry) which means that LD jobs will be tied more and more to local population density, which is also stable.

Overall, this could be a good thing for reducing economic shocks.

Note that this suggests really a threefold partition, of LI jobs, LD plant-operation jobs, and LD people-interacting jobs.

(8) This could ultimately (on the scale of a generation) have big effects on where people live. If moving to the place where you can find an LD job is no longer the most important thing, will people stay closer to their families? In more distributed areas? This could have profound cultural implications as well, since the shift to isolated nuclear families following the great migrations of the 1930's (in search of LD jobs...) might be largely reversed.___

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2017-04-14 14:25:01 (0 comments; 73 reshares; 488 +1s; )Open 

This is a good explanation of just why Spicer's Hitler comparison was so bad. It's that it took him three tries of explaining himself before he stopped saying al-Assad's victims were different because they were "innocent." It's that press secretaries don't generally come up with rationales for military action on their own, which means he was repeating things someone more senior was saying. It's because you can excuse lines like this as mistakes if they happen once, but anti-Semitic "slips" come out of this regime every month or two, and against Muslims, or immigrants, or trans people, they're not even passed off as slips; they're just overt.

It's because Trump and his people have been preaching hate and violence from the moment the campaign started (and for many of them, like Trump himself, and Bannon, and Miller, long before) and the Jews... more »

This is a good explanation of just why Spicer's Hitler comparison was so bad. It's that it took him three tries of explaining himself before he stopped saying al-Assad's victims were different because they were "innocent." It's that press secretaries don't generally come up with rationales for military action on their own, which means he was repeating things someone more senior was saying. It's because you can excuse lines like this as mistakes if they happen once, but anti-Semitic "slips" come out of this regime every month or two, and against Muslims, or immigrants, or trans people, they're not even passed off as slips; they're just overt.

It's because Trump and his people have been preaching hate and violence from the moment the campaign started (and for many of them, like Trump himself, and Bannon, and Miller, long before) and the Jews know better than anyone else what it means when someone does that, and what it means when large crowds cheer them on.

That's why reconciliation in this country is increasingly unlikely. No matter what someone's reasons for supporting Trump, no matter what their "economic concerns" or their feeling of being ignored, or left behind, or simply scorned by the country, or their dislike for Clinton, it was not possible to be unaware of what Trump was preaching. And that means that no matter what else it may have been, a vote for Trump was a statement of being ultimately okay with that, as a means or a side effect if not an end.


___

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2017-04-12 10:39:24 (202 comments; 35 reshares; 151 +1s; )Open 

This is an essay I've wanted to write for a while. It's an attempt to answer the question of just what we mean by "good" and "evil," without relying on hand-waving intuitions or outside decrees. It's part of a set of ideas that I've been working through gradually over the past few decades¹, of which several other recent essays of mine (like "Tolerance is not a moral precept²") are also a part.

This does not attempt to be the be-all and end-all of morality. Rather, it's a definition and set of caveats which I've found extremely useful as a framework, both for my own moral decisions, and for discussing moral questions with others. It deliberately moves questions of morality away from abstract questions ("is killing wrong?") towards concrete ones, and in so doing, helps pull us away from distractions which often make these discussionsf... more »

This is an essay I've wanted to write for a while. It's an attempt to answer the question of just what we mean by "good" and "evil," without relying on hand-waving intuitions or outside decrees. It's part of a set of ideas that I've been working through gradually over the past few decades¹, of which several other recent essays of mine (like "Tolerance is not a moral precept²") are also a part.

This does not attempt to be the be-all and end-all of morality. Rather, it's a definition and set of caveats which I've found extremely useful as a framework, both for my own moral decisions, and for discussing moral questions with others. It deliberately moves questions of morality away from abstract questions ("is killing wrong?") towards concrete ones, and in so doing, helps pull us away from distractions which often make these discussions fall apart.

For those who read my recent essay "A Chosen People³" and asked just what I meant by ideas like the predictability of the laws of nature and the existence of free will being exactly the things which allow morality to exist, this includes my answer to that, as well.

¹ Damn. I'm getting old. That statement is literally true.
² https://extranewsfeed.com/tolerance-is-not-a-moral-precept-1af7007d6376 ³ https://extranewsfeed.com/a-chosen-people-3c4a1366b867___

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2017-04-12 05:28:46 (19 comments; 18 reshares; 178 +1s; )Open 

Well, this is getting interesting. It looks like Carter Page -- Trump's foreign policy adviser during the campaign, and known for his deep Russian connections -- was not simply under investigation, but that the FBI had gotten a FISA warrant to tap his phones and the like:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/fbi-obtained-fisa-warrant-to-monitor-former-trump-adviser-carter-page/2017/04/11/620192ea-1e0e-11e7-ad74-3a742a6e93a7_story.html?utm_term=.52109fe2ee3c

Even though FISA warrants are really weird from a legal perspective (a story for another time), the bar for getting one isn't simple. The warrants need to be signed off by the FISC court, typically a three-judge panel, and +Anne-Marie Clark explains what you need to show to get that warrant.

As she says, there's no way to make that look good.

What the US Government must have shown in order to obtain that FISA warrant on Carter Page as agent of a foreign power

No way to spin this as not damaging to Trump.___Well, this is getting interesting. It looks like Carter Page -- Trump's foreign policy adviser during the campaign, and known for his deep Russian connections -- was not simply under investigation, but that the FBI had gotten a FISA warrant to tap his phones and the like:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/fbi-obtained-fisa-warrant-to-monitor-former-trump-adviser-carter-page/2017/04/11/620192ea-1e0e-11e7-ad74-3a742a6e93a7_story.html?utm_term=.52109fe2ee3c

Even though FISA warrants are really weird from a legal perspective (a story for another time), the bar for getting one isn't simple. The warrants need to be signed off by the FISC court, typically a three-judge panel, and +Anne-Marie Clark explains what you need to show to get that warrant.

As she says, there's no way to make that look good.

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2017-04-12 05:00:53 (63 comments; 20 reshares; 177 +1s; )Open 

For those wondering about the legality of United's new "beat and drag" options for those who refuse to "voluntarily" give up their seat, there's a good legal analysis here. I can't vouch for its accuracy - I know pretty much nothing about this kind of law - but it definitely seems like a colorable argument that an airline's ability to "deny boarding" does not apply retroactively to people who have already boarded.

The law seems to recognize two important thresholds: once a specific "confirmed, reserved space" (i.e. a seat) has been assigned to you and that assignment given to you, at which point the "boarding denial" rules of 14 CFR 250.9 (https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/250.9) kick in and the compensation they have to give you for denial of boarding goes up, and once you've actually boarded (precise legal bound seems... more »

For those wondering about the legality of United's new "beat and drag" options for those who refuse to "voluntarily" give up their seat, there's a good legal analysis here. I can't vouch for its accuracy - I know pretty much nothing about this kind of law - but it definitely seems like a colorable argument that an airline's ability to "deny boarding" does not apply retroactively to people who have already boarded.

The law seems to recognize two important thresholds: once a specific "confirmed, reserved space" (i.e. a seat) has been assigned to you and that assignment given to you, at which point the "boarding denial" rules of 14 CFR 250.9 (https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/250.9) kick in and the compensation they have to give you for denial of boarding goes up, and once you've actually boarded (precise legal bound seems unclear, whether it's when they scan your card or you're on the aircraft itself) we're now looking at the specific company's contract of carriage, and its "refusal of transport" provisions - which are far more limited. Although I'd expect United and other airlines to revise their COCs to give them much broader discretion after this... ___

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2017-04-10 10:26:34 (243 comments; 13 reshares; 119 +1s; )Open 

You may have wondered about the phrase "chosen people." We certainly don't seem to have been chosen for anything nice and relaxing, like a day at the spa or an all-expenses-paid vacation to Iceland. You might be forgiven for wondering if being chosen is, all told, such a great thing anyway.

This is because it's rarely explained to us what we were chosen for. So today, on erev Pesach, let's take a few minutes to discuss it.

You may have wondered about the phrase "chosen people." We certainly don't seem to have been chosen for anything nice and relaxing, like a day at the spa or an all-expenses-paid vacation to Iceland. You might be forgiven for wondering if being chosen is, all told, such a great thing anyway.

This is because it's rarely explained to us what we were chosen for. So today, on erev Pesach, let's take a few minutes to discuss it.___

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2017-04-10 08:11:28 (157 comments; 86 reshares; 312 +1s; )Open 

(Warning: This is one of those posts which is profoundly disturbing, and keeps getting worse the more you think about it. If you or anyone close to you has ever had a disability, be particularly warned.)

The headline of this story has something disturbing about it. What, exactly, does it mean for Barbie's friend to have been "discontinued," and why does that sound so much like a euphemism?

The answer is no more pleasant. Becky, Barbie's wheelchair-using friend, was introduced in 1997 and was quickly a success. It probably won't surprise you that there were a lot of kids who wanted to see themselves represented in this world, nor kids who simply liked her in her own right.

There was just one problem.

Her wheelchair didn't fit in Barbie's Dream House.

It couldn't get through the doors, or up the stairs, or fit in the... more »

(Warning: This is one of those posts which is profoundly disturbing, and keeps getting worse the more you think about it. If you or anyone close to you has ever had a disability, be particularly warned.)

The headline of this story has something disturbing about it. What, exactly, does it mean for Barbie's friend to have been "discontinued," and why does that sound so much like a euphemism?

The answer is no more pleasant. Becky, Barbie's wheelchair-using friend, was introduced in 1997 and was quickly a success. It probably won't surprise you that there were a lot of kids who wanted to see themselves represented in this world, nor kids who simply liked her in her own right.

There was just one problem.

Her wheelchair didn't fit in Barbie's Dream House.

It couldn't get through the doors, or up the stairs, or fit in the elevator.

And since Becky didn't fit in Barbie's world, and they didn't want to adapt the world to her, she was "discontinued."

If you want a more perfect fucking metaphor for the way people with disabilities get treated, you couldn't make one up. "This person doesn't fit in our lives anymore; I guess we'll just be done with them."

A nice little thought to keep in your mind the next time you narrowly avoid a car accident.

h/t Peter Clines.


You would think the fact that there are so many ways to acquire disabilities would be the perfect Veil of Ignorance to encourage people to think about this. But, no. ___

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2017-04-09 04:19:05 (54 comments; 47 reshares; 468 +1s; )Open 

Via +Jennifer Freeman​ and there's nothing I can add here.

Thanks drumpf___Via +Jennifer Freeman​ and there's nothing I can add here.

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2017-04-09 04:15:56 (85 comments; 5 reshares; 108 +1s; )Open 

Our pistol makes it much easier to accurately shoot in the dark at sounds you hear while half-asleep!

That's a feature, right?

Via +Steven Flaeck​

Apparently only an expert can aim a revolver in the dark. Which is why you should buy an automatic. For when you are shooting at things you can't see.

circa 1909___Our pistol makes it much easier to accurately shoot in the dark at sounds you hear while half-asleep!

That's a feature, right?

Via +Steven Flaeck​

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2017-04-07 13:50:40 (21 comments; 44 reshares; 241 +1s; )Open 

Because the world is steadily going mad, you need some raccoons playing with bubbles.

h/t +A.V. Flox​

Because the world is steadily going mad, you need some raccoons playing with bubbles.

h/t +A.V. Flox​___

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2017-04-06 20:47:38 (119 comments; 77 reshares; 394 +1s; )Open 

The USCIS has been trying to compel Twitter to reveal the owners of accounts critical of the President, and keep those demands a secret. This is the regime we're dealing with: one which actively tries to unmask dissidents. It is safe to assume that the purpose is not to send them Christmas cards.


There's an old bit of wisdom from the Soviet era: 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.

In such an environment, there are only two options for dissidence: to remain as hidden as possible, or to be so visible that the cost of acting against you is higher. Both are only partial defenses; secrecy is ultimately breached, and visibility only protects you so much. (This does not only apply to dissidence, of course; it applies to anything which might make you an enemy of the... more »

The USCIS has been trying to compel Twitter to reveal the owners of accounts critical of the President, and keep those demands a secret. This is the regime we're dealing with: one which actively tries to unmask dissidents. It is safe to assume that the purpose is not to send them Christmas cards.


There's an old bit of wisdom from the Soviet era: 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.

In such an environment, there are only two options for dissidence: to remain as hidden as possible, or to be so visible that the cost of acting against you is higher. Both are only partial defenses; secrecy is ultimately breached, and visibility only protects you so much. (This does not only apply to dissidence, of course; it applies to anything which might make you an enemy of the regime, from disagreeing too loudly to being too popular. Turkey and Russia provide excellent recent examples of the penalties for that under autocracies.)

The regimes prefer, of course, that you pick a third option: always submit, no matter what the cost or indignity, and never be popular or otherwise powerful except in proportion to your connection to the regime.

I don't think much of that third option. ___

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2017-04-06 17:27:58 (41 comments; 92 reshares; 343 +1s; )Open 

Normally, DNA is transcribed to RNA, and the RNA is used to make proteins. This is how DNA does pretty much everything it does, and it changes at the speed that DNA changes - slowly, over generations. Faster adaptation is handled by the system that reads out the DNA: only activating certain genes if the temperature is above some limit, or if some other chemical is present, which may have been generated in turn by the same process elsewhere in the body or in the past. Thus the body can communicate with itself.

There's another, lesser-understood mechanism, called RNA editing: mechanisms alter the RNA after it's read out from the DNA, before it's used to make proteins. Most species barely do this, and it's not clear if it's used for anything meaningful at all; in humans and mice, it mostly edits RNA which is later thrown out.

But not so among the coleoids. Recent... more »

Normally, DNA is transcribed to RNA, and the RNA is used to make proteins. This is how DNA does pretty much everything it does, and it changes at the speed that DNA changes - slowly, over generations. Faster adaptation is handled by the system that reads out the DNA: only activating certain genes if the temperature is above some limit, or if some other chemical is present, which may have been generated in turn by the same process elsewhere in the body or in the past. Thus the body can communicate with itself.

There's another, lesser-understood mechanism, called RNA editing: mechanisms alter the RNA after it's read out from the DNA, before it's used to make proteins. Most species barely do this, and it's not clear if it's used for anything meaningful at all; in humans and mice, it mostly edits RNA which is later thrown out.

But not so among the coleoids. Recent research has shown that the intelligent cephalopods - the octopus, the squid, and their ilk - use this type of editing extensively, and in very active areas of RNA. In fact, their DNA structure seems to have gradually evolved to optimize for this, leaving large stretches of DNA unchanged over time so that RNA optimizing software can work against a known, fixed background.

It's far from clear why this is happening, or if it's connected to the coleoids' intelligence. But the RNA editing system could be just as flexible a mechanism for changing protein expression as DNA changes, but able to evolve far more rapidly.

There seem to be at least three major, distinct intelligence groups on Earth: the mammals (who developed large, hard-shelled brains, very likely to optimize for social behavior), the corvids (who have much smaller brains with completely different wiring which nonetheless seem to give them cognitive sophistication on a par with the most complex mammals), and the coleoids (with their quasi-autonomous arms and squishable brains that seem so suited to thriving unarmored in the sea, and developing great cognitive complexity despite living only a few years). These represent three independent evolutions of intelligence, extremely different in all the details but surprisingly similar in many outcomes. And especially in the case of the coleoids, they seem to represent a much wider group of anatomical and biological adaptations, to create truly alien intelligences.

I think we've been ignoring the significance of this for a while. There are literally multiple alien intelligences here with us on this planet, which have evolved quite separately but to similar ends. This may say something about the prevalence of the "cognitive generalist" adaptation as a whole in a wide range of ecosystems - and suggest that if planets are as widespread as we're seeing, and life is not an astronomically rare development (as astronomical prevalence of amino acids and the like suggests), then the universe may both be a lot weirder than we thought, and a lot more studyable simply by examining the range of phenomena we encounter here. ___

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2017-04-02 00:42:08 (124 comments; 67 reshares; 542 +1s; )Open 

This line gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. That feeling you get when something hits the mark way too well.

(ETA: To highlight a point that +David Cameron Staples made in depth in a comment, the key word of both of these lines is "just." It's the use of the algorithm, or the orders, as an excuse to deny responsibility for one's own actions.)

This line gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. That feeling you get when something hits the mark way too well.

(ETA: To highlight a point that +David Cameron Staples made in depth in a comment, the key word of both of these lines is "just." It's the use of the algorithm, or the orders, as an excuse to deny responsibility for one's own actions.)___

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2017-03-29 05:23:42 (91 comments; 11 reshares; 232 +1s; )Open 

Well, that's painfully on point.

A little too close for comfort___Well, that's painfully on point.

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2017-03-26 23:49:29 (76 comments; 21 reshares; 176 +1s; )Open 

Update: Abramson is dumping info again as we speak. This time about the provenance of the Steele Dossier. 

Update: Abramson is dumping info again as we speak. This time about the provenance of the Steele Dossier. ___

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2017-03-26 23:27:53 (85 comments; 72 reshares; 218 +1s; )Open 

The dynamics of disinformation, propaganda, "fake news," and conspiracy theories can be studied by watching how they spread. This is a summary of a scientific study (by one of its authors, who links the full paper) into this, and it's chock-full of fascinating results. They focused on responses to mass shootings in particular, as these are a favorite target of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy stories, it turns out, spread with a very different pattern than other types of story - and botnets, quasi-replication of stories between sites, and similar patterns of signal manipulation are key to them. This (as well as other interesting commonalities between the sites which propagate these) suggests that there is something systematic and intentional behind these theories: they aren't emerging organically, they're being curated. 

The dynamics of disinformation, propaganda, "fake news," and conspiracy theories can be studied by watching how they spread. This is a summary of a scientific study (by one of its authors, who links the full paper) into this, and it's chock-full of fascinating results. They focused on responses to mass shootings in particular, as these are a favorite target of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy stories, it turns out, spread with a very different pattern than other types of story - and botnets, quasi-replication of stories between sites, and similar patterns of signal manipulation are key to them. This (as well as other interesting commonalities between the sites which propagate these) suggests that there is something systematic and intentional behind these theories: they aren't emerging organically, they're being curated. ___

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2017-03-26 07:03:32 (36 comments; 19 reshares; 213 +1s; )Open 

The Soviets were famous for covering up anything that reflected poorly on them – and nowhere more so than in secret military programs, such as the nuclear one. As a newly-declassified report shows, the entire city of Ust-Kamenogorsk was effectively used as a radiation effects testing site throughout the 1950's; downwind of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, it was steadily a target of severe fallout, including one incident in 1956 which killed 638 people from acute radiation poisoning. (For comparison, the Chernobyl disaster killed 126) The area remains so heavily contaminated that it profoundly affects people's daily lives to this day.

An event nastier than Chernobyl, covered up by the Soviets in 1950s Kazakhstan.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4346408/Russia-covered-nuclear-disaster-worse-Chernobyl.html?ito=social-twitter_mailonline___The Soviets were famous for covering up anything that reflected poorly on them – and nowhere more so than in secret military programs, such as the nuclear one. As a newly-declassified report shows, the entire city of Ust-Kamenogorsk was effectively used as a radiation effects testing site throughout the 1950's; downwind of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, it was steadily a target of severe fallout, including one incident in 1956 which killed 638 people from acute radiation poisoning. (For comparison, the Chernobyl disaster killed 126) The area remains so heavily contaminated that it profoundly affects people's daily lives to this day.

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2017-03-26 04:01:46 (73 comments; 76 reshares; 297 +1s; )Open 

There have been so many news stories about the Russia investigations in the past week – from Comey's testimony to Flynn's possibly turning state's evidence – that I sat down and tried to pull everything into one place. Here you go.

There have been so many news stories about the Russia investigations in the past week – from Comey's testimony to Flynn's possibly turning state's evidence – that I sat down and tried to pull everything into one place. Here you go.___

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2017-03-25 21:40:08 (157 comments; 111 reshares; 345 +1s; )Open 

Note: If you're reading this, see also the more detailed piece I just put up at Medium: https://medium.com/@yonatanzunger/from-russia-with-oil-4d027411bcc5#.dnd8rxt3m

In the continuing saga of "News stories that I would never have believed if you told me they were going to happen when I was a kid," there are multiple reports at this point that the FBI has gotten (former National Security Adviser) Michael Flynn to flip and turn state's evidence. (Flynn, through a spokesperson, has declined to comment)

If so, this is a very big deal – Flynn was reportedly in the room for quite a few of the more interesting meetings which Abramson was providing details about yesterday.

Even more crazily, there was this story from the WSJ yesterday, in which it appears that while serving as an advisor to Trump's campaign, Flynn was in a meeting with top Turkishgo... more »

Note: If you're reading this, see also the more detailed piece I just put up at Medium: https://medium.com/@yonatanzunger/from-russia-with-oil-4d027411bcc5#.dnd8rxt3m

In the continuing saga of "News stories that I would never have believed if you told me they were going to happen when I was a kid," there are multiple reports at this point that the FBI has gotten (former National Security Adviser) Michael Flynn to flip and turn state's evidence. (Flynn, through a spokesperson, has declined to comment)

If so, this is a very big deal – Flynn was reportedly in the room for quite a few of the more interesting meetings which Abramson was providing details about yesterday.

Even more crazily, there was this story from the WSJ yesterday, in which it appears that while serving as an advisor to Trump's campaign, Flynn was in a meeting with top Turkish government ministers, where the subject was a plot to kidnap Turkish cleric Fetullah Gülen, who now lives in Pennsylvania, and spirit him out of the country to hand him over to Turkish president Erdogan, who views him as his chief political foe. (Erdogan has blamed Gülen for the attempted coup against him last year, although the evidence for this is scanty to say the least; tens of thousands have been arrested there on claims they are linked to him)

https://www.wsj.com/articles/ex-cia-director-mike-flynn-and-turkish-officials-discussed-removal-of-erdogan-foe-from-u-s-1490380426

This was admitted by the former director of the CIA, who was also at the meeting and says he thought the entire idea was batshit crazy. Flynn has denied this through a spokesman, but he has recently admitted that he was working for the Turkish government at the time (!) and has retroactively filed his status as a foreign agent, indicating a salary of over $500k for his work. He is also under separate investigation by the Army as to whether he received illegal payments from the Russian government in 2015. (https://nyti.ms/2kEdksZ)

So just to make this news story clear: a retired three-star general, while simultaneously working on a Presidential campaign and as a well-paid agent of the Turkish government, was in meetings with senior Turkish officials about (completely illegally) kidnapping Turkish-Americans seen as enemies of the regime. He was also meeting with the Russian ambassador and (very possibly illegally) negotiating to lift sanctions on Russia if Trump was elected, and is currently under investigation as to whether he was a paid (but illegally undeclared) Russian agent at the time as well. (The payments are not in question; the question is whether, as they were made via RT, which is not officially a government agency, they make him a Russian agent or not.) He definitely lied to investigators about said meetings, which was caught on wiretaps (presumably of the Russian ambassador), and the revelation of that led to his resignation as National Security Advisor after only 24 days.

On top of all this, he may have been present at the "Mayflower Meetings" between Trump and senior Russian figures, with several senior Trump aides (including Sessions, Kushner, and Manafort) present as well, at which deals involving large sums of money (e.g. 0.5% of Rosneft), illegal campaign assistance (e.g. leaking DNC documents hacked by the FSB, SVR, and GRU), and changing US policy around Russian oil interests were all being discussed.

Absolutely confirmed out of this is Flynn's work as a Turkish agent (he's admitted this and filed the forms), his covert meetings with the Russian ambassador (wiretap evidence, his resignation), and his receipt of payments from the Russian government. Highly likely is the Turkish kidnapping meeting (testimony of Woolsey). Arguable in court is that the Russian payments make him an unregistered Russian agent as well as a Turkish one. Reported but not yet confirmed are the contents of the Mayflower Meetings and that Flynn has turned state's evidence. If the latter is true, then the former may soon be explained in great detail to investigators.

Just let this sink in for a moment. We already know for sure that a retired three-star Army general, who served for three weeks as National Security Advisor before being forced to resign, was a paid agent of at least one, and probably two, other governments, engaging in negotiations which range from the "somewhat illegal" (hacking, campaign collusion) to the "holy shit illegal" (kidnapping). And the fact that it's even a possibility that he flip can only mean that the investigators have even bigger fish in their sights.

There aren't many bigger fish than the National Security Advisor.

This is just getting surreal.

(ETA: I just posted a long thread on Twitter with more of this, including lots of links to the underlying news stories and sources. https://twitter.com/yonatanzunger/status/845754881256255488 )___

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2017-03-25 02:14:25 (19 comments; 32 reshares; 146 +1s; )Open 

And now something just for fun: The second movement of Beethoven's Symphony no. 7, transformed into a Rumba.

And now something just for fun: The second movement of Beethoven's Symphony no. 7, transformed into a Rumba.___

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2017-03-24 19:46:02 (107 comments; 71 reshares; 307 +1s; )Open 

A quick post because I don't have time to write a full piece right now: Seth Abramson has done a very serious job of connecting the dots, and a picture of direct Russian influence and/or control over key aspects of the Trump campaign and its policies is starting to emerge. In particular, we're starting to get names, dates, places, and subjects of meetings.

For those of you old enough to remember, this is reminding me a lot of what happened with Iran-Contra around the middle of 1987, when the big chunks of information started to come out. Suddenly it was going from conjectures to concrete timelines, graphs of people and who knew what and when. But unlike Iran-Contra, here the top-level principal – in this case, Donald Trump – was clearly directly in the room from the get-go.

I'd expect this to start to develop very seriously in news articles in the next few days.Quest... more »

A quick post because I don't have time to write a full piece right now: Seth Abramson has done a very serious job of connecting the dots, and a picture of direct Russian influence and/or control over key aspects of the Trump campaign and its policies is starting to emerge. In particular, we're starting to get names, dates, places, and subjects of meetings.

For those of you old enough to remember, this is reminding me a lot of what happened with Iran-Contra around the middle of 1987, when the big chunks of information started to come out. Suddenly it was going from conjectures to concrete timelines, graphs of people and who knew what and when. But unlike Iran-Contra, here the top-level principal – in this case, Donald Trump – was clearly directly in the room from the get-go.

I'd expect this to start to develop very seriously in news articles in the next few days. Questions of Congressional investigation, FBI investigation, and so on will obviously be highly politicized, and the Congressional situation in the near future will depend heavily on the aftermath of the AHCA vote later today. However, this may soon reach the scales where even reluctant members of Congress feel forced to act. I've never seen anything like this – not Iran-Contra, and not Watergate. We're heading into uncharted territory.___

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2017-03-24 05:21:59 (34 comments; 18 reshares; 183 +1s; )Open 

On the emotional costs of fame, and of dealing with the public.

+A.V. Flox shared this over on another network to remain nameless, and wrote a perfect intro for it, which I quote with her permission:

This is increasingly relevant to anyone who shares their life online. When I first started blogging, I wasn't read by many people, but I remember at some point calculating how much time I spent responding to people versus creating: four hours per every single creative hour. But as this piece notes, only some of these correspondences were free of expectation and even fewer were reciprocal in that I received the same amount of emotional labor that I put in.

We're not taught to cope with this, especially when the person reaching out is in an urgent situation. It took me a really long time to recognize that I don't have the capacity to be there for everyone, all the... more »

On the emotional costs of fame, and of dealing with the public.

+A.V. Flox shared this over on another network to remain nameless, and wrote a perfect intro for it, which I quote with her permission:

This is increasingly relevant to anyone who shares their life online. When I first started blogging, I wasn't read by many people, but I remember at some point calculating how much time I spent responding to people versus creating: four hours per every single creative hour. But as this piece notes, only some of these correspondences were free of expectation and even fewer were reciprocal in that I received the same amount of emotional labor that I put in.

We're not taught to cope with this, especially when the person reaching out is in an urgent situation. It took me a really long time to recognize that I don't have the capacity to be there for everyone, all the time. I would like to be and I still hold some shame around that, but it was a crucial step in refocusing my energy on developing reciprocal relationships that help replenish my own emotional resources.

I didn't know how to draw a boundary or hold it, so I stopped writing much about myself. I miss writing about what I'm living and I miss hearing from people for whom this writing resonates. Every once in a while, I'll receive a message asking me why I don't do this kind of writing anymore but rather than miss it more, I'll remember the weight and ask myself if I've learned to draw that boundary.

The truth is that I don't know. What I do know is that I don't have the stamina to really find out.___

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2017-03-23 15:13:25 (63 comments; 34 reshares; 220 +1s; )Open 

Good summary of the past day's news in US politics, complete with short (but accurate) backgrounders on each major story. 

Good summary of the past day's news in US politics, complete with short (but accurate) backgrounders on each major story. ___

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2017-03-21 06:28:09 (39 comments; 10 reshares; 222 +1s; )Open 

We can learn a lot from a skeleton: diet, work, daily life, and even what a man's face looked like, seven hundred years ago. 

We can learn a lot from a skeleton: diet, work, daily life, and even what a man's face looked like, seven hundred years ago. ___

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2017-03-19 20:57:28 (28 comments; 52 reshares; 266 +1s; )Open 

A great map of the relationships between languages in Europe. It uses the amount of shared lexicon as a measure of mutual comprehensibility, and thus "closeness." Some of this closeness comes from linguistic relatedness - you won't be surprised that Macedonian and Bulgarian are virtually identical - while some comes from geographic proximity and shared history, as when Basque and Spanish have a significant shared lexicon despite being linguistically completely unrelated.


Interconnectivity & Language

This linguistic map paints an alternative map of Europe, displaying the language families that populate the continent, and the lexical distance between the languages. The closer that distance, the more words they have in common. The further the distance, the harder the mutual comprehension.

The map shows the language families that cover the continent: large, familiar ones like Germanic, Italic-Romance and Slavic; smaller ones like Celtic, Baltic and Uralic; outliers like Semitic and Turkic; and isolates – orphan languages, without a family: Albanian and Greek.

Obviously, lexical distance is smallest within each language family, and the individual languages are arranged to reflect their relative distance to each other.

Take the Slavics: Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin are a Siamese quartet of languages, with Slovenian, another of former Yugoslavia's languages, extremely close. Slovakian is halfway between Czech and Croatian. Macedonian is almost indistinguishable from Bulgarian. Belarusian is pretty near to Ukrainian. Russia standa a bit apart, is closest to Bulgarian, but quite far from Polish.

Italian is the vibrant centre of the Italic-Romance family, as close to Portuguese as it is to French. Spanish is a bit further. Romania is an outlier, in lexical as well as geographic distance. Catalan is the missing link between Italian and Spanish.

The map also shows a number of fascinating minor Romance languages: Galician, Sardinian, Walloon, Occitan, Friulian, Picard, Franco-Provencal, Aromanian, Asturian and Romansh.

Latin, mentioned in the legend but not on the map, although no longer a living language, is an important point of reference, as it is the progenitor of all the Romance languages.

Lots of coldness in the Germanic family. The bigger members English and German, each keep to themselves. Dutch leans towards the German side, Frisian to the English side. Up north, the smaller Nordic languages cluster in close proximity; Danish, Swedish, Norwegian (both the Bokmal and Nynorsk versions).

And look at the tiny Icelandic, Faroer and Luxembourgish languages.

The Celtic family portrait is a grim picture: small language dots, separated by a lot of mutual incomprehension: the distance is quite far between Breton and Welsh, a bit closer between Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and further still between the first and second pair.


more, and additional charts & images at link...





___A great map of the relationships between languages in Europe. It uses the amount of shared lexicon as a measure of mutual comprehensibility, and thus "closeness." Some of this closeness comes from linguistic relatedness - you won't be surprised that Macedonian and Bulgarian are virtually identical - while some comes from geographic proximity and shared history, as when Basque and Spanish have a significant shared lexicon despite being linguistically completely unrelated.

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2017-03-19 04:05:47 (57 comments; 55 reshares; 405 +1s; )Open 

A clever little device: An "assassin's teapot," containing two chambers which can hold different liquids. Depending on where you put your fingers as you pour (to cover different holes, and thus create a vacuum which would hold one liquid or the other in place) you can cause either to come out. The perfect tool with which to serve yourself and your enemy.

Unless, of course, you don't get that seal perfectly right. But to cope with such cases, it's always wise to have been building up an immunity to the iocaine powder ahead of time anyway.

A clever little device: An "assassin's teapot," containing two chambers which can hold different liquids. Depending on where you put your fingers as you pour (to cover different holes, and thus create a vacuum which would hold one liquid or the other in place) you can cause either to come out. The perfect tool with which to serve yourself and your enemy.

Unless, of course, you don't get that seal perfectly right. But to cope with such cases, it's always wise to have been building up an immunity to the iocaine powder ahead of time anyway.___

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2017-03-18 23:51:43 (39 comments; 36 reshares; 290 +1s; )Open 

I know that, if you release a bowling ball and a feather from the same height in a vacuum, they will hit the ground simultaneously. That their difference under normal conditions comes entirely from the air resistance which a feather experiences. And that people have understood this for centuries.

I know that everything about spacecraft propulsion and routing depends on this fact, and that this has been verified over and over again by the fact that we can, for example, land on the Moon or Mars.

But still, watching it be done from a height of several stories in the world's biggest vacuum chamber, it's still kind of amazing that it works. And apparently the people doing the test, experienced scientists and engineers all, find it kind of amazing too.

h/t +Rick Mann

I know that, if you release a bowling ball and a feather from the same height in a vacuum, they will hit the ground simultaneously. That their difference under normal conditions comes entirely from the air resistance which a feather experiences. And that people have understood this for centuries.

I know that everything about spacecraft propulsion and routing depends on this fact, and that this has been verified over and over again by the fact that we can, for example, land on the Moon or Mars.

But still, watching it be done from a height of several stories in the world's biggest vacuum chamber, it's still kind of amazing that it works. And apparently the people doing the test, experienced scientists and engineers all, find it kind of amazing too.

h/t +Rick Mann___

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2017-03-18 21:39:15 (177 comments; 114 reshares; 368 +1s; )Open 

This is an extremely thoughtful article about the underlying political dynamics which shape the debates over health care in the US, and it's helping me understand many things going on in our country today; as the author says, "When it seems like people are voting against their interests, I have probably failed to understand their interests."

His key point is this: "[T]he bulk of needy white voters are not interested in the public safety net. They want to restore their access to an older safety net, one much more generous, dignified, and stable than the public system – the one most well-employed voters still enjoy."

That is, the US has had a social safety net for a very long time, a very generous one, publicly funded through various tax subsidies, and giving people a sense of having earned those things as well, through individual work. But unlike mostc... more »

This is an extremely thoughtful article about the underlying political dynamics which shape the debates over health care in the US, and it's helping me understand many things going on in our country today; as the author says, "When it seems like people are voting against their interests, I have probably failed to understand their interests."

His key point is this: "[T]he bulk of needy white voters are not interested in the public safety net. They want to restore their access to an older safety net, one much more generous, dignified, and stable than the public system – the one most well-employed voters still enjoy."

That is, the US has had a social safety net for a very long time, a very generous one, publicly funded through various tax subsidies, and giving people a sense of having earned those things as well, through individual work. But unlike most countries' safety nets, the American net was never intended to cover everybody – a fact which is ultimately tied to the fact that America never viewed itself as a single polity, but rather as a collection of racial polities whose natural relationship was hierarchical. That is, what we had in the US was "white socialism" – and this is what many people want back, although they don't realize exactly what it was.

Very worth reading and thinking about.
___

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2017-03-18 20:50:18 (51 comments; 37 reshares; 236 +1s; )Open 

At first I thought this was just an amusing infographic, but it's actually the header to a fascinating essay, which in turn is an excerpt from a book, all of which contains quite a few more such graphics, and more importantly, a discussion of the cultural boundaries within Europe and how they got there.

I have to say that Tsvetkov's map of "The World According to the Ancient Greeks" seems quite on point, up to and including its description of which domesticated animals they consider each of their neighbors to prefer fornicating with.

h/t +Lucas Appelmann

At first I thought this was just an amusing infographic, but it's actually the header to a fascinating essay, which in turn is an excerpt from a book, all of which contains quite a few more such graphics, and more importantly, a discussion of the cultural boundaries within Europe and how they got there.

I have to say that Tsvetkov's map of "The World According to the Ancient Greeks" seems quite on point, up to and including its description of which domesticated animals they consider each of their neighbors to prefer fornicating with.

h/t +Lucas Appelmann___

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2017-03-17 18:59:51 (26 comments; 8 reshares; 149 +1s; )Open 

Subtleties in data analysis: "Special K" being a common nickname for ketamine may have slightly skewed its popularity in searches.

Via +Lucas Appelmann​

#GeoawesomeMapOfTheDay The most googled cereal in each state via https://goo.gl/LEInd1___Subtleties in data analysis: "Special K" being a common nickname for ketamine may have slightly skewed its popularity in searches.

Via +Lucas Appelmann​

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2017-03-17 16:16:56 (39 comments; 51 reshares; 196 +1s; )Open 

This is a slightly amusing, but interesting, bit of data analysis. Bernhardsson searched for articles of the form "Why our team moved from [programming language] to [other programming language]," to get a picture of trends. He ended up with the big matrix shown below.

Now, if you view the frequency of these articles as indicating the probability with which people actually move from one to the other, you end up with a big matrix of transition probabilities. And if you have a matrix of transition probabilities, you can compute the equilibrium distribution: in this case, what programming languages people end up using after a long time. (That assumes that the probability distributions stay fixed for long enough to reach equilibrium, but interestingly, it doesn't depend on what distribution of languages you started out with.)

In case you're wondering, the present future of... more »

This is a slightly amusing, but interesting, bit of data analysis. Bernhardsson searched for articles of the form "Why our team moved from [programming language] to [other programming language]," to get a picture of trends. He ended up with the big matrix shown below.

Now, if you view the frequency of these articles as indicating the probability with which people actually move from one to the other, you end up with a big matrix of transition probabilities. And if you have a matrix of transition probabilities, you can compute the equilibrium distribution: in this case, what programming languages people end up using after a long time. (That assumes that the probability distributions stay fixed for long enough to reach equilibrium, but interestingly, it doesn't depend on what distribution of languages you started out with.)

In case you're wondering, the present future of programming languages is: 16.4% Go, 14.3% C, 13.2% Java, 11.5% C++, and 9.5% Python. This actually doesn't entirely surprise me: C and C++ continue to be the backbones of infrastructure and embedded systems; Java and Python remain the "generic default languages," and every other language people use for development tends to bounce back and forth between that and those standards; and people seem to be transitioning to Go a lot more than they transition away from it.

Of course, this assumes that the sort of things which people generate articles about is actually indicative of real life, which probably grossly overrepresents certain kinds of team.___

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2017-03-17 15:56:22 (12 comments; 3 reshares; 173 +1s; )Open 

Our infrastructure is not maintained by Lin-Manuel Miranda :-)


Our infrastructure is not maintained by Lin-Manuel Miranda :-)
___

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2017-03-12 22:46:25 (218 comments; 43 reshares; 257 +1s; )Open 

There are a few parasites which are known to affect the higher functions of the mind - rabies making dogs vicious, parasitic wasps which commandeer orb spiders, flatworms which make ants commit a strange sort of suicide atop blades of grass, where they can be eaten by sheep. And, of course, there's toxoplasma gondii, whose primary habitat is in the intestines of cats, and which can be responsible for "crazy cat lady syndrome."

But while we usually think of this as being a rare, acute condition affecting only a few people, it turns out that infection rates may be far higher than we imagined - 10-20% of Americans, and over 50% of Europeans - and that even these low-level infections may have subtle but significant effects on our personalities.

We may well be, in short, under the effect of mind-controlling parasites right now. And things as fundamental as our introversion... more »

There are a few parasites which are known to affect the higher functions of the mind - rabies making dogs vicious, parasitic wasps which commandeer orb spiders, flatworms which make ants commit a strange sort of suicide atop blades of grass, where they can be eaten by sheep. And, of course, there's toxoplasma gondii, whose primary habitat is in the intestines of cats, and which can be responsible for "crazy cat lady syndrome."

But while we usually think of this as being a rare, acute condition affecting only a few people, it turns out that infection rates may be far higher than we imagined - 10-20% of Americans, and over 50% of Europeans - and that even these low-level infections may have subtle but significant effects on our personalities.

We may well be, in short, under the effect of mind-controlling parasites right now. And things as fundamental as our introversion or extroversion, or as seemingly arbitrary as our fashion sense, may be affected.

Via +A.V. Flox​___

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2017-03-12 20:06:18 (182 comments; 62 reshares; 567 +1s; )Open 

Trying to explain the American health care system to people from other countries is a bit difficult.

Via +Valdis Klētnieks

Dystopia America ___Trying to explain the American health care system to people from other countries is a bit difficult.

Via +Valdis Klētnieks

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2017-03-12 19:42:44 (104 comments; 25 reshares; 243 +1s; )Open 

Last week, the Fourth Circuit ruled that a North Carolina police officer who let his dog severely maul a man that he knew to be innocent could not be held accountable for his actions. This is just the latest development in a long chain of them, where the old notion of "qualified immunity" – that public officials can't be sued for their official actions unless they deliberately broke the law – has been slowly twisted into carte blanche for murder and mayhem.

The result is not a pleasant one. 

Last week, the Fourth Circuit ruled that a North Carolina police officer who let his dog severely maul a man that he knew to be innocent could not be held accountable for his actions. This is just the latest development in a long chain of them, where the old notion of "qualified immunity" – that public officials can't be sued for their official actions unless they deliberately broke the law – has been slowly twisted into carte blanche for murder and mayhem.

The result is not a pleasant one. ___

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2017-03-08 20:06:55 (53 comments; 22 reshares; 255 +1s; )Open 

Last night, by an interesting coincidence, the Statue of Liberty experienced a power outage. I suspect no coincidence: She was participating in today's general strike by women from a wide range of paid and unpaid labor, in honor of International Women's Day.

If you want to support the strike, one very useful thing you can do today: Backfill for the women in your life, both at home and at work. Not just for the paid labor, and for the unpaid labor like house and child care, but for the emotional labor as well. Manage the tasks on your own, don't ask women for emotional support or reassurance today.

Honestly, sharing that labor is a pretty good idea the rest of the days, too. Slagging it off on others all the time makes you kind of a jerk.

Last night, by an interesting coincidence, the Statue of Liberty experienced a power outage. I suspect no coincidence: She was participating in today's general strike by women from a wide range of paid and unpaid labor, in honor of International Women's Day.

If you want to support the strike, one very useful thing you can do today: Backfill for the women in your life, both at home and at work. Not just for the paid labor, and for the unpaid labor like house and child care, but for the emotional labor as well. Manage the tasks on your own, don't ask women for emotional support or reassurance today.

Honestly, sharing that labor is a pretty good idea the rest of the days, too. Slagging it off on others all the time makes you kind of a jerk.___

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2017-03-08 17:57:01 (180 comments; 43 reshares; 309 +1s; )Open 

This is not a joke. This is the honest-to-Cthulhu name of the "health care" law the Republicans want to replace the ACA with.

"The World's Greatest Healthcare Plan of 2017."

I mean, maybe it is a joke, and having come to the conclusion that they can't actually think of a law better than the ACA -- it having been a tough compromise as it was, and largely been stolen from Republican ideas in the first place -- the best they can do is offer a law that's strictly worse across the board, as an opening move to trying to negotiate to put in actual fixes to the ACA.

(Which, I'll note, every single major government program in history has required. The odds of getting a complicated thing perfectly right on the first shot are zero; but the ACA hasn't been able to get any of the obvious patches, because ever since it was passed, Congressional... more »

This is not a joke. This is the honest-to-Cthulhu name of the "health care" law the Republicans want to replace the ACA with.

"The World's Greatest Healthcare Plan of 2017."

I mean, maybe it is a joke, and having come to the conclusion that they can't actually think of a law better than the ACA -- it having been a tough compromise as it was, and largely been stolen from Republican ideas in the first place -- the best they can do is offer a law that's strictly worse across the board, as an opening move to trying to negotiate to put in actual fixes to the ACA.

(Which, I'll note, every single major government program in history has required. The odds of getting a complicated thing perfectly right on the first shot are zero; but the ACA hasn't been able to get any of the obvious patches, because ever since it was passed, Congressional Republicans refused to consider any patches other than repeal. They had banked so heavily on opposing it that the only viable political option was for it to fail, and so they tried to make it do so. When it stubbornly refused to -- when a lot of Americans started getting access to health care for the first time, and people were no longer having nightmares about their spouses dying of cancer because they were forced to change health plans and it was now suddenly a non-covered "pre-existing condition" -- they were stuck with the fact that they actually had to make it work, or they would have some seriously pissed-off constituents. But they've been promising to destroy it for so long that they seriously don't know what to do.

And apparently, having run out of other ideas, they've turned to simply trolling the public with the World's Greatest Healthcare Plan of 2017.)

Full text of the bill: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1275/text

My earlier notes on what you need to know to understand health bills: https://healthcareinamerica.us/how-to-ask-good-questions-about-health-reform-725887002c03#.nt9rj8g8s___

2017-03-06 21:36:17 (75 comments; 22 reshares; 315 +1s; )Open 

This is, I believe, a pretty solid analysis of Trump's problem with everything from releasing taxes to a Russia investigation. It's not that there's necessarily a giant body buried -- it's that there might be an awful lot of smaller bodies. An awful lot.

So, okay.

Let's say that you're Trump. You've spent your entire career in the vaguely mobbed-up world of New York real estate developers, and after being forcibly ejected from that by a series of bankruptcies, you enter the even more mobbed-up world of international financing for hotels intended for Saudi princelings and Russian oligarchs in countries with a lot of natural-resource wealth.

No one will lend you money through normal channels because, again, whenever anyone lends you money you piss it all away on gold toilets and giant shit-fights with subcontractors, so you have to rely on things like Bayrock Associates, headquarted in Trump tower, which is basically just a weird giant money pipeline from Kazakhstan to New York. And in the midst of all of this, you decide that you're just going to stop paying taxes, not pay your contractors, and basically act like a sexual-harassing parody of a 1970s boss.

It's not that Trump can't stand up to an investigation of his Russia ties, although that will produce an embarrassment of minor revelations immediately -- Felix Sater, for instance, who's a minor Russian mafioso who provided financing for Trump projects in the 1990s. It's that Trump can't stand up to literally any investigation whatsoever. Turn over literally any rock in Trump's life, and you'll find a weird squirming nest of maggots underneath it.

There might be not much to the Russia story: the worst of it might be that Roger Stone was scheduling document dumps with Wikileaks. (He has already said that he was doing this.) But if you start pulling on any loose thread in that sweater, the entire thing is going to come unraveled and a giant pile of borderline criminality is going to come spilling out.

I would be surprised if even Trump has a strict accounting of where all the bodies he's buried in his career are. Which means that he has to prevent an investigation of Russia ties whether or not he's guilty.___This is, I believe, a pretty solid analysis of Trump's problem with everything from releasing taxes to a Russia investigation. It's not that there's necessarily a giant body buried -- it's that there might be an awful lot of smaller bodies. An awful lot.

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