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Yonatan Zunger

Yonatan Zunger Verified in Google 

Head of Infrastructure for the Google Assistant

Occupation: Engineer (Google)

Location: Mountain View, CA

Followers: 137,416

Following: 2,426

Views: 132,160,476

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Top posts in the last 50 posts

Most comments: 258

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2016-09-19 00:30:48 (258 comments; 100 reshares; 476 +1s; )Open 

The national Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed Trump. I did not think I could become any more disappointed with American police, but they have found another way.

It is clear that they see Trump as deeply representative of their priorities and likely to stand behind them no matter what. Unfortunately, this makes clear what their priorities are. Police unions have decided that their first and foremost principle is to protect individual officers from any form of accountability, up to and including for rape and murder; they apparently have also decided to include white supremacy in their formal charter.

If you combine this with other police union statements in the past few days - like the Miami union's saying that they will not provide police protection to the Dolphins football team until and unless the team forces its members to stand during the anthem - it has become painfully... more »

Most reshares: 100

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2016-09-19 00:30:48 (258 comments; 100 reshares; 476 +1s; )Open 

The national Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed Trump. I did not think I could become any more disappointed with American police, but they have found another way.

It is clear that they see Trump as deeply representative of their priorities and likely to stand behind them no matter what. Unfortunately, this makes clear what their priorities are. Police unions have decided that their first and foremost principle is to protect individual officers from any form of accountability, up to and including for rape and murder; they apparently have also decided to include white supremacy in their formal charter.

If you combine this with other police union statements in the past few days - like the Miami union's saying that they will not provide police protection to the Dolphins football team until and unless the team forces its members to stand during the anthem - it has become painfully... more »

Most plusones: 520

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2016-09-17 08:00:45 (28 comments; 46 reshares; 520 +1s; )Open 

There is nothing I can add to this.

Except possibly "Lyanna Mormont, Age Four."

Latest 50 posts

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2016-09-30 04:50:10 (65 comments; 12 reshares; 96 +1s; )Open 

In case you were wondering who really pays his salary.

It's been pretty clear for a while that he's an agent – I was guessing in the "useful idiot" category, with people like Manafort and Cage as his handlers, and his daughter as a sort of side channel (she's best friends with Putin's girlfriend), but this is a bit more overt than most things. I mean, saying "Russia didn't do it!" about MH17 is about as believable as "The iceberg was framed!" about the Titanic; it's the sort of line you only hear from official mouthpieces, that makes people raise their eyebrows and ask "Really? You're bothering with this?"

So apparently, he's just openly acting as a spokesman for the Kremlin now. Which, given the scale of his debts to them, isn't entirely surprising, but still... 

In case you were wondering who really pays his salary.

It's been pretty clear for a while that he's an agent – I was guessing in the "useful idiot" category, with people like Manafort and Cage as his handlers, and his daughter as a sort of side channel (she's best friends with Putin's girlfriend), but this is a bit more overt than most things. I mean, saying "Russia didn't do it!" about MH17 is about as believable as "The iceberg was framed!" about the Titanic; it's the sort of line you only hear from official mouthpieces, that makes people raise their eyebrows and ask "Really? You're bothering with this?"

So apparently, he's just openly acting as a spokesman for the Kremlin now. Which, given the scale of his debts to them, isn't entirely surprising, but still... ___

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2016-09-29 18:24:40 (12 comments; 6 reshares; 69 +1s; )Open 

Shameless plug below

A few months ago, +Jaym Gates asked me to write an introduction for a short fiction anthology titled "Strange California." This turned out to be a fascinating problem, because the title of the book seems so perfectly reasonable, in a way that "Strange Ohio" would not.

But why?

Trying to answer this question led down some fairly complex paths. The key step that made it possible was realizing the difference between "weird" and "strange:" that weirdness exists, and is perceptible, as a deformation of our normal reality, while strangeness suggests a reality which has its own normal, in which you are the foreigner. It's thus possible to have Weird Anywhere stories – and in fact, there are entire genres (like Southern Gothic or Weird West) defined that way. But strangeness sets a different kind of bar, andbo... more »

Shameless plug below

A few months ago, +Jaym Gates asked me to write an introduction for a short fiction anthology titled "Strange California." This turned out to be a fascinating problem, because the title of the book seems so perfectly reasonable, in a way that "Strange Ohio" would not.

But why?

Trying to answer this question led down some fairly complex paths. The key step that made it possible was realizing the difference between "weird" and "strange:" that weirdness exists, and is perceptible, as a deformation of our normal reality, while strangeness suggests a reality which has its own normal, in which you are the foreigner. It's thus possible to have Weird Anywhere stories – and in fact, there are entire genres (like Southern Gothic or Weird West) defined that way. But strangeness sets a different kind of bar, and both understanding it and examining the historical context which makes this title seem so natural for California, but so much less so for many other places which at first seem similar, required a lot more digging.

All of which is to act as a sort of introduction to the introduction, and a pointer to the book itself, which is forthcoming from Falstaff Books next June. Those of you who enjoy spec fic will probably find something you like in here, as it has some excellent authors and editors with very good taste. Also, its working cover has a bear-squid with a surfboard on the cover, and who could resist that?

(NB: The final cover art will be an original piece by +Galen Dara, and I cannot guarantee hybrid bear-squids. Although I would be fairly pleased if there were, since really, those ought to be the state symbol.)

The book is funding using Kickstarter, as they've found this is a good way to assemble pre-orders, estimate print runs, and so on in the past. So if you want to get a copy, and see what happens when my writing is less-constrained by Internet typography and I can go crazy with footnotes about Andean priests and mining actors for psychoactive drugs, you can do so at the link below.___

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2016-09-28 07:39:43 (29 comments; 19 reshares; 194 +1s; )Open 

Those of us who grew up on chemistry sets and the like often mourn that the things available for today's children have been so neutralized in the name of "safety" and "not encouraging any bad ideas" that they give virtually no opportunity at all to learn any chemistry. The chemistry sets of the 1960's and 1970's, we remember, were far more exciting.

But that is nothing compared to the manuals provided to children of the 1850's.

This page has many excerpts in it from The Young Man's Book of Amusement, an 1852 book designed to encourage young people to explore science. No baking-soda-and-vinegar volcanos here! These volcanos are made by burying 28 pounds each of iron and sulfur, and waiting 12 hours for the resulting exothermic reaction to blow its way out of the ground. But this is quite tame compared to its detailed instructions for replicating... more »

Those of us who grew up on chemistry sets and the like often mourn that the things available for today's children have been so neutralized in the name of "safety" and "not encouraging any bad ideas" that they give virtually no opportunity at all to learn any chemistry. The chemistry sets of the 1960's and 1970's, we remember, were far more exciting.

But that is nothing compared to the manuals provided to children of the 1850's.

This page has many excerpts in it from The Young Man's Book of Amusement, an 1852 book designed to encourage young people to explore science. No baking-soda-and-vinegar volcanos here! These volcanos are made by burying 28 pounds each of iron and sulfur, and waiting 12 hours for the resulting exothermic reaction to blow its way out of the ground. But this is quite tame compared to its detailed instructions for replicating Ben Franklin's nearly-lethal "key and kite" experiment, or Col. Williams' experiments on blowing things up using freezing water, or manufacturing your own fireworks, or experiments with rather fascinating titles like "Method of Receiving the Electrical Shock from a Cat."

It is fortunate that this book was published before most of what we politely call "the chemistry of energetic materials" was developed, or I'm quite certain it would have had instructions for enterprising young fellows to mimic the work of Dr. Nobel or Dr. Haber.

Clearly, I'm going to have to find a copy of this book. ___

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2016-09-28 06:39:21 (50 comments; 34 reshares; 235 +1s; )Open 

You may not know that there's a rich tradition of chemists writing, shall we say, rather bluntly about their trade. And one of the kings of it is Derek Lowe, a drug discovery chemist who writes a semi-regular blog titled "Things I Won't Work With," primarily about the research that people in other branches of chemistry do that makes him question their sanity.

While it helps to know some chemistry to follow what's going on (that e.g., most of the molecules in your body use carbon for their superstructure, because nitrogen in the superstructure tends to want to get out of said superstructure rather quickly, which is to say "with an earth-shattering kaboom"), you don't really need to:

"If you or I (’cause we’re sensible, right?) look at a well-known crater-maker like dinitropyrazolopyrazole, we’ll probably decide that it has pretty much allthe n... more »

You may not know that there's a rich tradition of chemists writing, shall we say, rather bluntly about their trade. And one of the kings of it is Derek Lowe, a drug discovery chemist who writes a semi-regular blog titled "Things I Won't Work With," primarily about the research that people in other branches of chemistry do that makes him question their sanity.

While it helps to know some chemistry to follow what's going on (that e.g., most of the molecules in your body use carbon for their superstructure, because nitrogen in the superstructure tends to want to get out of said superstructure rather quickly, which is to say "with an earth-shattering kaboom"), you don't really need to:

"If you or I (’cause we’re sensible, right?) look at a well-known crater-maker like dinitropyrazolopyrazole, we’ll probably decide that it has pretty much all the nitrogens it needs, if not more. But that latest paper builds off the question “How do we cram more nitro groups into this thing?”, and that’s something that wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask. Saying “this compounds doesn’t have enough nitro groups” is, for most chemists, like saying “You know, this lab doesn’t have enough flying glass in it” – pretty much the same observation, in the end."

I should also say that Lowe is the person who introduced me to John D. Clark's classic textbook of the history and practice of liquid rocket propellants, Ignition!, and if this sort of writing at all appeals to you (or if you were just always curious about what kinds of things can cause you to accelerate away from them at remarkable speed), then you should dig up a copy as soon as possible.

Thanks to +Amber Yust for finding and sharing this latest gem in Lowe's collection.

(Bonus: If you go to the homepage of Prof. Shreeve, lead author of the "more nitrogen!!!" paper above, you will find someone who you might mistake for a kindly librarian if you passed them on the street. This is someone who is a distinguished professor of Materials and Fluorine Chemistry, a title which alone will cause most chemists to look for some convenient large object to hide behind.

https://www.uidaho.edu/sci/chem/people/faculty/jshreeve)___

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2016-09-28 00:57:09 (25 comments; 13 reshares; 172 +1s; )Open 

Something wonderful and random: a Victorian machine designed to produce metrical and meaningful Latin hexameter verse.

Today, it would be a Twitter bot.

Via +Laura Gibbs​

Before there were general-purpose computers, there were special-purpose computers that did one thing and did it, often, surprisingly well.

Attn: steampunk authors.___Something wonderful and random: a Victorian machine designed to produce metrical and meaningful Latin hexameter verse.

Today, it would be a Twitter bot.

Via +Laura Gibbs​

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2016-09-25 19:51:54 (37 comments; 2 reshares; 96 +1s; )Open 

We have reached the ultimate evolution of the clickbait headline. Apparently its final form is a sort of phoenix-like death and rebirth, involving cockroaches.

In retrospect, that doesn't surprise me as much as I thought it would.

Via +Jennifer Ouellette​

We have reached the ultimate evolution of the clickbait headline. Apparently its final form is a sort of phoenix-like death and rebirth, involving cockroaches.

In retrospect, that doesn't surprise me as much as I thought it would.

Via +Jennifer Ouellette​___

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2016-09-22 18:39:03 (178 comments; 43 reshares; 372 +1s; )Open 

Alas, this post is more of "a few days ago, I learned... something very unpleasant." But because many people who follow this collection may know Scott Lewis, it's important that I post it here.

Scott Lewis is someone I've known for quite a few years via G+, and he was part of my circle of friends. And ever since this article appeared, accusing him of running elaborate and very nasty confidence games on people, I've been having a lot of conversations where people are saying "wait... this wasn't a one-off?" and giving a lot of details.

A lot of pieces about why various interactions with him seemed odd over the years are suddenly clicking in to place.

At this point, I have very strong reason to believe that not only are all of the allegations in this post true, but they represent a substantial underestimate of what he's been up to.... more »

Alas, this post is more of "a few days ago, I learned... something very unpleasant." But because many people who follow this collection may know Scott Lewis, it's important that I post it here.

Scott Lewis is someone I've known for quite a few years via G+, and he was part of my circle of friends. And ever since this article appeared, accusing him of running elaborate and very nasty confidence games on people, I've been having a lot of conversations where people are saying "wait... this wasn't a one-off?" and giving a lot of details.

A lot of pieces about why various interactions with him seemed odd over the years are suddenly clicking in to place.

At this point, I have very strong reason to believe that not only are all of the allegations in this post true, but they represent a substantial underestimate of what he's been up to. AFAICT, Lewis has been running long cons against people for many years, probably an average of 4-5 per year, taking an average of a few thousand dollars from each victim. And this is not one of those "he didn't know he was being manipulative" situations; it's clearly extremely deliberate and systematic, the work of an experienced con artist who then uses a nasty combination of emotional manipulation, social isolation, and blackmail to keep people from talking about it to either one another or the police.

People I know have been victims of his; other people I know have been attempted targets of his, who are now figuring out just what that weird shit going on was. He may have even recently gotten the idea of trying to target me, using how hurt he was by these allegations and how he wanted to "open some sort of dialogue" as the opening. Given that most of his stories begin with telling victim #N how badly hurt he was by victim #N-1, I'm going to file this under not fucking likely, buddy.

I don't know which, if any, of his cons are likely to be police matters; this sort of thing is notoriously hard to prosecute. But I can offer advice to those who know him: if he's spending a lot of time talking to you, reminding you of how close your relationship is to him and how much you've been helping him deal with how hard everything is in his life, watch out. This guy is not kosher.
___

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2016-09-21 01:32:09 (63 comments; 25 reshares; 258 +1s; )Open 

This article is both a great and a terrible example of writing about technical issues for the public.

The body of the article is the great part. What it's explaining is an idea called "formal verification," where you can construct a mathematical correctness proof that verifies that a piece of code does exactly what it's supposed to, and nothing else. Formal verification has been an idea for decades, but until recently it was nearly useless, because the specification for "exactly what it's supposed to do" was nothing more or less than the entire program itself, which was just as prone to subtle errors. But the past decade has brought major advances, and there are now meaningful ways to specify what a small piece of code is supposed to do in a concise fashion, and then formally verify that the code does so.

If you apply this technique to small but critical... more »

This article is both a great and a terrible example of writing about technical issues for the public.

The body of the article is the great part. What it's explaining is an idea called "formal verification," where you can construct a mathematical correctness proof that verifies that a piece of code does exactly what it's supposed to, and nothing else. Formal verification has been an idea for decades, but until recently it was nearly useless, because the specification for "exactly what it's supposed to do" was nothing more or less than the entire program itself, which was just as prone to subtle errors. But the past decade has brought major advances, and there are now meaningful ways to specify what a small piece of code is supposed to do in a concise fashion, and then formally verify that the code does so.

If you apply this technique to small but critical pieces of code, like the network protocols which underpin the Internet, or the central control logic of an armed drone, or the control code of a cardiac pacemaker, this can give you a tremendous improvement in system reliability and security, especially for systems where it really matters.

The terrible part is what was stapled onto this article by some overly-excited editor: a headline reading "Hacker-Proof Code Confirmed." To anyone who works in computer science, this headline is approximately as reassuring as "Iceberg-Proof Ships Confirmed" would have been in 1913. It is, in fact, palpable nonsense, and misrepresents what happened here.

The experiment done was a very important one: a drone was designed to be controlled by code, where its central logic was verified using these methods, and then a very skilled attacking team was given network access to the system and were free to use any number of methods to compromise it. Their failure is of great practical significance, because it means that the security of the system has indeed proved robust so far.

But the headline might lead you to believe that this system is somehow "hacker-proof," or worse yet, that this technique might make the Internet as a whole "hacker-proof."

The first rule of security is that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and a wall is only as strong as its weakest point. You can have a perfectly unpickable lock, but if someone can simply kick in the door or climb in the window, that doesn't make your system secure. Formally verified code is a component of a secure system, but it isn't a secure system in its own right.

Here are some examples of things which could nonetheless make an armed drone with this code vulnerable:

* The part of the code which isn't formally verified could be vulnerable, and someone could use it to compromise the behavior of the vehicle in some other important way -- say, to cause a gradual oil leak which makes the system seize up. This especially includes the connections between the formally verified pieces and the rest of the system.

* The hardware itself could be compromised, with backdoors in the behavior of the chips. And before you start asking whether chip designs could also be formally verified, take a look at this attack that I posted about a few months ago: https://plus.google.com/+YonatanZunger/posts/ayXVWrFpQus

In that attack, every single thing about the chip's behavior was unchanged -- unless you caused a particular wire in it to flip on and off rapidly enough, at which point for physics reasons which have nothing at all to do with the way the circuit is wired, another wire would magically flip on. You would have to model not the circuit, but the actual physics of the device, down to atomic resolution, to detect this -- and to do that, you would need to input not the physical model you started with, but the actual as-built physics of the thing.

* The signals leading into the system could be compromised. This is how chaff works to distract a heat-seeking missile, but it could be either more or less subtle than that. This could range from compromising its control channels over the radio (which means breaking some crypto), to confusing its IFF (friend/foe) detection by emitting false signals yourself, to simply hiding under a tarp where it can't see you.

* The people could be compromised. Nine times out of ten, this is the biggest vulnerability in any system, and it can range from infiltration by hostile actors, to "social engineering" that fools people into doing the wrong thing (look up "CEO email scams" for an example), to the highly effective cryptographic technique known in the field as "rubber-hose cryptanalysis."

(This technique works by finding the person who has the decryption key, and beating them with a rubber hose until they tell it to you. Surprisingly effective, and it has variants which are even more so.)

So whenever you read an article like this, read it with a careful eye. In this case, the meat of the article is quite accurate and interesting -- but the headline is meant to lead you astray. In general, if someone is promising you something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is: stop, think, and talk to people who might know when you hear that.

h/t +Don McArthur
___

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2016-09-19 00:30:48 (258 comments; 100 reshares; 476 +1s; )Open 

The national Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed Trump. I did not think I could become any more disappointed with American police, but they have found another way.

It is clear that they see Trump as deeply representative of their priorities and likely to stand behind them no matter what. Unfortunately, this makes clear what their priorities are. Police unions have decided that their first and foremost principle is to protect individual officers from any form of accountability, up to and including for rape and murder; they apparently have also decided to include white supremacy in their formal charter.

If you combine this with other police union statements in the past few days - like the Miami union's saying that they will not provide police protection to the Dolphins football team until and unless the team forces its members to stand during the anthem - it has become painfully... more »

The national Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed Trump. I did not think I could become any more disappointed with American police, but they have found another way.

It is clear that they see Trump as deeply representative of their priorities and likely to stand behind them no matter what. Unfortunately, this makes clear what their priorities are. Police unions have decided that their first and foremost principle is to protect individual officers from any form of accountability, up to and including for rape and murder; they apparently have also decided to include white supremacy in their formal charter.

If you combine this with other police union statements in the past few days - like the Miami union's saying that they will not provide police protection to the Dolphins football team until and unless the team forces its members to stand during the anthem - it has become painfully clear that police unions across the country have converged on a belief that any opposition to them, any suggestion that their power should be less than unlimited, is "anti-cop."

I have always been suspicious of the notion of public sector unions, but police unions have gone so far beyond any prospective worst case of how such a union could behave that their very existence has become unconscionable. The armed forces of a state must always be subordinate to civilian oversight - and a police union which can demand exemption from this, and threaten violence or public disorder (as Miami's just did, and as many others have) if it is not granted, is an enemy of democracy itself. ___

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2016-09-17 08:00:45 (28 comments; 46 reshares; 520 +1s; )Open 

There is nothing I can add to this.

Except possibly "Lyanna Mormont, Age Four."

There is nothing I can add to this.

Except possibly "Lyanna Mormont, Age Four."___

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2016-09-17 07:20:42 (9 comments; 4 reshares; 123 +1s; )Open 

I don't know what it is about this scene, but I loved it tremendously as a kid, and time has not taken away a bit of its shine.

I don't know what it is about this scene, but I loved it tremendously as a kid, and time has not taken away a bit of its shine.___

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2016-09-17 01:18:26 (40 comments; 23 reshares; 141 +1s; )Open 

Software updates often leave users of older hardware in the cold. Jason Scott has worked hard to remedy this, and thanks to his efforts, you can now run ProDOS 2.4 on mainline-series Apple ]['s, not just the IIgs.

This fixes most of the remaining compatibility issues across the series, and should be a welcome relief for those who have been put off by the IIgs' rather high cost ($999, or about $2,150 in current dollars) or otherwise unable to upgrade.

However, even with the system upgrade, you'll still need a IIgs to support the 320x200 and 640x200 graphics modes. Them's the hardware constraints...

Via +Emmanuel Florac

Software updates often leave users of older hardware in the cold. Jason Scott has worked hard to remedy this, and thanks to his efforts, you can now run ProDOS 2.4 on mainline-series Apple ]['s, not just the IIgs.

This fixes most of the remaining compatibility issues across the series, and should be a welcome relief for those who have been put off by the IIgs' rather high cost ($999, or about $2,150 in current dollars) or otherwise unable to upgrade.

However, even with the system upgrade, you'll still need a IIgs to support the 320x200 and 640x200 graphics modes. Them's the hardware constraints...

Via +Emmanuel Florac___

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2016-09-15 04:18:49 (55 comments; 43 reshares; 360 +1s; )Open 

Psittacosaurus lived in Asia between 123 and 100 million years ago. They grew up to two meters long and weighed up to 20kg, (about as much as a bulldog), walked on two legs, had relatively large brains for dinosaurs (comparable to modern birds), and ate some combination of plants, nuts, and seeds.

And thanks to a bit of luck, a fossil Psittacosaurus was found in spectacular condition, with skin intact enough to both show off the structure of its cloaca (that all-purpose orifice it shares with modern birds) and to recover actual pigments from its skin.

Using this and other fossils, a team at the University of Bristol have performed the most detailed reconstruction of a dinosaur ever done: from figuring out its facial musculature (which you can determine from skull thickness) to the coloration of its body. This, in turn, has allowed more discoveries: for example, from its camouflage... more »

Psittacosaurus lived in Asia between 123 and 100 million years ago. They grew up to two meters long and weighed up to 20kg, (about as much as a bulldog), walked on two legs, had relatively large brains for dinosaurs (comparable to modern birds), and ate some combination of plants, nuts, and seeds.

And thanks to a bit of luck, a fossil Psittacosaurus was found in spectacular condition, with skin intact enough to both show off the structure of its cloaca (that all-purpose orifice it shares with modern birds) and to recover actual pigments from its skin.

Using this and other fossils, a team at the University of Bristol have performed the most detailed reconstruction of a dinosaur ever done: from figuring out its facial musculature (which you can determine from skull thickness) to the coloration of its body. This, in turn, has allowed more discoveries: for example, from its camouflage pattern, we know it lived in a relatively dark environment, like under a forest canopy.

The article below is full of details and pictures: everything from what this odd creature looked like, to how it behaved, to how we figured it all out.

h/t +Stefani Banerian___

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2016-09-13 20:22:50 (39 comments; 14 reshares; 220 +1s; )Open 

I support this idea.

___I support this idea.

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2016-09-13 01:40:03 (86 comments; 88 reshares; 337 +1s; )Open 

This is a very interesting technical challenge. Pixelation blurring is a traditional way to conceal people's identities in photos, and it works well because it interferes with the mechanisms our brains use to recognize faces -- spotting the points of the eyes, nose, mouth, and so on.[1]

Like any other recognition system, natural or artificial, this is based on the system seeing a bunch of these things and learning which features differentiate one thing from another. If you were to start a recognizer by showing it faces both blurred and unblurred, and telling it which were the same, then it would learn a very different set of features to look at than our brains normally use -- say, patterns of light and dark. And it turns out that these patterns are pretty good at identifying faces, too. They aren't as good as the ones our brains use for telling each other apart, but what they are good at... more »

This is a very interesting technical challenge. Pixelation blurring is a traditional way to conceal people's identities in photos, and it works well because it interferes with the mechanisms our brains use to recognize faces -- spotting the points of the eyes, nose, mouth, and so on.[1]

Like any other recognition system, natural or artificial, this is based on the system seeing a bunch of these things and learning which features differentiate one thing from another. If you were to start a recognizer by showing it faces both blurred and unblurred, and telling it which were the same, then it would learn a very different set of features to look at than our brains normally use -- say, patterns of light and dark. And it turns out that these patterns are pretty good at identifying faces, too. They aren't as good as the ones our brains use for telling each other apart, but what they are good at is recognizing someone even when they've been blurred.

The practical upshot of this is that it's surprisingly easy to train a computer to recognize faces that have been blurred.

From a security perspective, this is very important, because we often rely on these kinds of obfuscation to conceal data -- even life-or-death data, when concealing the identities of people like confidential informants or political dissidents.

But we shouldn't focus too much on this one special case. Instead, we should look at this as a special case of a much broader phenomenon. In theory, things which look similar can be distinguished in all sorts of ways. I'll bet that the pattern of pores on the back of your hand is unique, for example. Whenever we use some kind of "blurring" -- that is, systematic information loss -- to eliminate information, the right way to analyze it is not whether people can still extract the original information, but by truly information-theoretic approaches: does enough information exist anywhere to recover that data?

For example, if you're trying to conceal identities: There are under seven billion humans on the planet, which means that in theory 33 bits of information is enough to uniquely identify anybody. In practice, a lot of information is noisy, but if you reduce an image of a person down to 64 bits, there's probably enough information there that somebody (either now or in the future) could reverse the process and figure out who it was.

This kind of validation -- of using mathematical approaches to validate that enough information has been destroyed to make something unrecoverable -- is similar to the ways in which cryptography is validated. There, you're trying to show that a certain minimum amount of computation would be needed to recover the plaintext; here, you're trying to show that no computation can recover the original.

Various practical versions of this have been coming up. Recently, a Russian company started releasing a program which took pictures of people and searched over the Internet to find other pictures of them and figure out who they are. While it was billed as helping people spot celebrities, its primary use seems to be in identifying sex workers and similar people, and then either outing or blackmailing them. Why does it work? Because it's suddenly possible to tie a picture taken today to a picture taken a decade ago, and show that it's the same person, something which wasn't easy to do a few years ago.

Today, I sometimes see news outlets cropping people's heads in an effort to anonymize them. (Especially for victims of crimes, etc.) This feels like an example of the same mistake: bodies are just as distinctive as faces, it's just that we don't normally look at them that way. But it would be almost surprising if nobody could figure out a way to identify you by a picture of your torso.

And there will always be subtleties that you didn't think of, unless you are literally attacking it from the perspective of "are there enough bits of information?" For example, if you were to completely remove a person from a picture and replace them with a region of perfect black, would the reflections off their skin on other objects in the picture be enough to figure out who they are? Certainly not to a human eye, but I wouldn't rule it out in general without some serious computation. Likewise, your camera captures a lot more information than you see -- by which I'm not talking about location metadata, but about different colors of light and pixel variation which is only in the RAW file, not in the jpg's that normally circulate.

The moral of this story isn't an easy one. It's not "ban people from recognizing things," because in general, people will. Instead, it's a combined moral about treating information destruction with the same sort of seriousness which we do cryptography, and about recognizing that just because something is secure today doesn't mean it will be secure forever.

More research needed, as they say.


[1] The human brain has an extraordinary fraction of its volume dedicated to nothing but face recognition, which is why we're generally so much better at it than computers. This system trains during our youth, which is why people tend to be significantly better at remembering and distinguishing faces similar to the ones they've seen in early childhood. (Thus the "All X look alike" effect) It's also helpful for distinguishing things that look sort of like human faces, such as dogs' faces, but we aren't nearly as good at that -- and we're downright terrible at telling jellyfish apart. Only they know the difference.___

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2016-09-11 23:22:54 (54 comments; 25 reshares; 257 +1s; )Open 

Last week, I posted a question about whether there's a meaningful region of America that stretches as a sort of "ring around Appalachia:" containing eastern Oklahoma, up through parts of Arkansas, then through Missouri, Illinois (bordering on but not including Chicago), and curving around into Indiana and Ohio. Eastern Texas, western Pennsylvania, and northern Kentucky are other areas which came up as maybe belonging.

[https://plus.google.com/+YonatanZunger/posts/Sd2TAb8aiHb for that conversation]

A great conversation followed, with the tentative conclusion being that this may be an area which is becoming a meaningful region of the country: you don't see it as very distinct on many measures of the instantaneous state of the world (like distribution of accents, rates of heart disease, or economics), but you do see it on measures of the rate of change of such variables... more »

Last week, I posted a question about whether there's a meaningful region of America that stretches as a sort of "ring around Appalachia:" containing eastern Oklahoma, up through parts of Arkansas, then through Missouri, Illinois (bordering on but not including Chicago), and curving around into Indiana and Ohio. Eastern Texas, western Pennsylvania, and northern Kentucky are other areas which came up as maybe belonging.

[https://plus.google.com/+YonatanZunger/posts/Sd2TAb8aiHb for that conversation]

A great conversation followed, with the tentative conclusion being that this may be an area which is becoming a meaningful region of the country: you don't see it as very distinct on many measures of the instantaneous state of the world (like distribution of accents, rates of heart disease, or economics), but you do see it on measures of the rate of change of such variables (like the declining life expectancy for white men and women, or nascent political affiliation).

One of the really interesting questions which came up a few times is whether this is tied to the ancestral history of the places. In particular, this area is roughly the area with a large Appalachian population, minus the heart of Appalachia proper: that is, it's the area to which a lot of people from that area moved over time. This is related to a hypothesis proposed by Colin Woodard in his book American Nations, which argued that various seed populations of Americans, which came in with very different cultures and expectations, left behind meaningful social and political differences which last to this day.

I'm personally a bit leery of Woodard's hypotheses, especially when it comes to anything west of the Mississippi. (He seems to group together a lot of culturally very different groups there, and miss a lot of similarities) But there are some good arguments that he has captured an important idea about the eastern part of the country.

On that thread, +Matt MacMahon shared a link to a fascinating article which uses a lot of data to argue for Woodard's hypothesis. It's full of maps of different things, and is arguing that these cultural lines, more than things like population density, account for modern political divisions in the country. You can read it here: http://www.unz.com/jman/rural-white-liberals/

One of the best maps from that article is one that I'm blowing up below. It was drawn by Chris Howard, and it shows the 2012 Presidential election results. Many maps of this sort suffer from a serious visual presentation problem: they make the country look overwhelmingly red, even though the majority was blue. This is because of two simple problems. First, red is perceived by the human eye as "brighter" than other colors: people shown identical areas of bright red and bright blue (or green, or anything else) will see the red area as bigger. Second, the traditional maps ignore population density: what they really show is that the majority of the land area was red, while what we really are asking is about the distribution of the people.

Howard solves this problem very elegantly by using the hue of each county (from red to blue) to show how it voted, and its saturation (from pale to bright) to show its population. The resulting map is not only easy to read, it shows up the real distribution of both people and votes much more clearly than any other map I've seen before.

Here you can see an outline of the rough area discussed in that original post. It is purplish but leans distinctly towards red, unlike the purple/blue areas further north in Iowa and Minnesota. It is adjacent to the bright blue dot in Iowa / Chicago / Wisconsin (discussed in that blog post), passes near the bright red of Appalachia, is bounded on the East by the dense blue/red patchwork which describes the South, and on the West by the sudden and sharp drop in population density as you enter the Agricultural Midwest.

The thing I like about this map is that the visually distinct areas in it seem to match well with my intuitions about the politically and socially distinct regions of the country. That's something very few maps manage to capture well, so major kudos to Howard for finding the right distribution.___

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2016-09-11 22:56:06 (58 comments; 29 reshares; 224 +1s; )Open 

From the department of "the more things change:" +Gretchen McCulloch's question was answered with a "yes," and a passage by Bokenham from 1440 getting angry at those kids these days with their "corrupcioun of Englysshe men yn þer modre-tounge."

(That's "corruption of Englishmen in their mother tongue," for those of you who have so debauched their notion of English that they can't understand the plain and ordinary speech of the mid-15th century. Seriously! What's with education these days?)

From the department of "the more things change:" +Gretchen McCulloch's question was answered with a "yes," and a passage by Bokenham from 1440 getting angry at those kids these days with their "corrupcioun of Englysshe men yn þer modre-tounge."

(That's "corruption of Englishmen in their mother tongue," for those of you who have so debauched their notion of English that they can't understand the plain and ordinary speech of the mid-15th century. Seriously! What's with education these days?)___

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2016-09-10 09:03:58 (19 comments; 2 reshares; 81 +1s; )Open 

Charles Stross: the man who needs no caption.

Charles Stross: the man who needs no caption.___

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2016-09-10 03:34:00 (112 comments; 38 reshares; 403 +1s; )Open 

On 9/11, two F-16's were scrambled to stop UA93 from hitting the White House. There were no planes on ready alert; the only aircraft which could take off quickly enough were prepped for the round of air combat training they had just finished, with no live ammunition on board.

The article below is about Maj. (then Lt.) Heather Penney, one of the two pilots. It's from five years ago, but the WP is running it again today – and it's quite worth reading. Emergencies can bring out the best in us: leading us to run towards the danger, where there may be people who need us. That day, Lt. Penney and Col. Sasseville (the head of the air wing, and the other pilot in the air) showed some of what's best in us.

On 9/11, two F-16's were scrambled to stop UA93 from hitting the White House. There were no planes on ready alert; the only aircraft which could take off quickly enough were prepped for the round of air combat training they had just finished, with no live ammunition on board.

The article below is about Maj. (then Lt.) Heather Penney, one of the two pilots. It's from five years ago, but the WP is running it again today – and it's quite worth reading. Emergencies can bring out the best in us: leading us to run towards the danger, where there may be people who need us. That day, Lt. Penney and Col. Sasseville (the head of the air wing, and the other pilot in the air) showed some of what's best in us.___

2016-09-09 23:08:15 (51 comments; 27 reshares; 172 +1s; )Open 

Warning: Read this before you click through to the article

"What is Aleppo?" Gary Johnson asked. Here, +The Atlantic answers this with a collection of pictures by photojournalists. I have deliberately not placed a title image on this post; these are very difficult images to look at, and I advise you to click through with caution.

The images you normally see in the news are not the images that news editors see. When deciding which images and which stories to run, editors have to make a series of hard decisions, balancing newsworthiness and sensationalism, the public's need to know versus the privacy of the people involved, the need to inform the public versus the risk of numbing people to horrors. As a result, there is a deliberate filter placed between the raw footage and the public, and this filter is a good thing.

But this filter cannot, and should... more »

Warning: Read this before you click through to the article

"What is Aleppo?" Gary Johnson asked. Here, +The Atlantic answers this with a collection of pictures by photojournalists. I have deliberately not placed a title image on this post; these are very difficult images to look at, and I advise you to click through with caution.

The images you normally see in the news are not the images that news editors see. When deciding which images and which stories to run, editors have to make a series of hard decisions, balancing newsworthiness and sensationalism, the public's need to know versus the privacy of the people involved, the need to inform the public versus the risk of numbing people to horrors. As a result, there is a deliberate filter placed between the raw footage and the public, and this filter is a good thing.

But this filter cannot, and should not, remain constant. It is far too easy, if the filter is left up too high, for us to forget the real nature of what we are encountering. I believe that Johnson's comment was what prompted editor Alan Taylor (and Reuters editor Corinne Perkins, who proposed the piece) to move that dial for this one piece, to give us some of the honest answer to Johnson's question.

I cannot pretend that this is the full scope of what is happening. There is far more than this, far worse than this, happening right now. But this is the reality of war: a war which mixes the modern and the ancient, chemical weapons and snipers with starvation. It is what we are faced with, and what we will face again in the future. It is important for us to know, and to remember, these consequences when we make our decisions.

So I repeat my warning and advise you to think before clicking. The images behind this link include many images of death, including of children. You will learn things if you open this, but they will not be happy things to learn.___

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2016-09-09 16:59:49 (130 comments; 54 reshares; 379 +1s; )Open 

There is a new theory making the rounds in Flat Earth circles. (Squares?) The forests you see are not real forests; the true forests are long dead, and the things which we think are mountains are actually their ruins.

There's a marvelous article here about how such a theory spreads, and its curious and somewhat mad beauty. (OK, strike "somewhat") It's a fascinating way to start your day.

h/t +Steven Flaeck

There is a new theory making the rounds in Flat Earth circles. (Squares?) The forests you see are not real forests; the true forests are long dead, and the things which we think are mountains are actually their ruins.

There's a marvelous article here about how such a theory spreads, and its curious and somewhat mad beauty. (OK, strike "somewhat") It's a fascinating way to start your day.

h/t +Steven Flaeck___

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2016-09-06 03:27:26 (88 comments; 39 reshares; 290 +1s; )Open 

This is a picture which is both beautiful and alarming. What you're seeing is a map of rainfall in Africa, ranging from the two meters per year near the equator, to the complete absence of rain in the Sahara. ("Complete absence" is serious: when visiting there several years ago, I found myself in a village where it hadn't rained in nine years. Children younger than eleven or so had no living memory of water falling out of the sky.)

There are some preliminary signs that the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMDO, a periodic shift in temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean) is approaching its turnaround point. The AMDO cycles every 25 years or so, and has been in a phase leading to increased rainfall in the Sahel – the transitional zone between the Sahara and the very wet jungles – for close to that long. When it flips back, we are likely to see a return the the droughts whichplagu... more »

This is a picture which is both beautiful and alarming. What you're seeing is a map of rainfall in Africa, ranging from the two meters per year near the equator, to the complete absence of rain in the Sahara. ("Complete absence" is serious: when visiting there several years ago, I found myself in a village where it hadn't rained in nine years. Children younger than eleven or so had no living memory of water falling out of the sky.)

There are some preliminary signs that the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMDO, a periodic shift in temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean) is approaching its turnaround point. The AMDO cycles every 25 years or so, and has been in a phase leading to increased rainfall in the Sahel – the transitional zone between the Sahara and the very wet jungles – for close to that long. When it flips back, we are likely to see a return the the droughts which plagued the region in the 1980's, with the corresponding massive famines.

This has political implications, as well. If you look at this band, you'll see that the Sahel crosses through Mali, which has been in a civil war between its north and its south since 2012 (which has included the burning of some of the great libraries of Timbuktu by Islamist forces, ימח שמם) and continues all the way to Sudan and its border with South Sudan, whose independence did nothing to stop the brutal fighting there over local resources. While Ethiopia and Eritrea are technically not part of the Sahel, the high mountain ranges make that area dry as well, and the lowlands in the area are just as vulnerable to drought.

In short, this is a band of places which has long been the site of horrible droughts, famines, and civil wars, often brought about by a lack of enough water to keep crops growing.

Water is life; its interruption can have deadly consequences. Unfortunately, this can happen for reasons both natural (like the AMDO) and artificial (like climate change), and the two add up.

Via +Mariano Javier de Leon Dominguez Romero___

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2016-09-05 22:58:03 (41 comments; 37 reshares; 227 +1s; )Open 

For those who, like me, don't know nearly as much as they want to about geology, here's a great diagram: what you would encounter if you started heading straight down through the Earth, until you came out the other end.

Geology prof created diagram:

A cross-section through the Earth___For those who, like me, don't know nearly as much as they want to about geology, here's a great diagram: what you would encounter if you started heading straight down through the Earth, until you came out the other end.

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2016-09-04 21:17:47 (170 comments; 19 reshares; 144 +1s; )Open 

A question for readers who know the US well

This question is only indirectly about the article below; it's really about the map. The area you see in blue on this map is one I've seen show up in a lot of other contexts as well. Its "cleanest" boundaries seem to start in eastern Texas, go north through Oklahoma and Arkansas, into southern Illinois (bordering on, but not quite including, Chicago), then curving through Indiana, northwestern Ohio, and southern Michigan.

It's a region which seems to appear more and more often as a coherent unit in American politics of late, in a way that many other regions which intersect it (the Industrial Midwest, the western Appalachians, etc) don't. It's been the locus of things like the major expansion of drug-related deaths, it often shows up in discussions of long-term economic problems, and it's also where... more »

A question for readers who know the US well

This question is only indirectly about the article below; it's really about the map. The area you see in blue on this map is one I've seen show up in a lot of other contexts as well. Its "cleanest" boundaries seem to start in eastern Texas, go north through Oklahoma and Arkansas, into southern Illinois (bordering on, but not quite including, Chicago), then curving through Indiana, northwestern Ohio, and southern Michigan.

It's a region which seems to appear more and more often as a coherent unit in American politics of late, in a way that many other regions which intersect it (the Industrial Midwest, the western Appalachians, etc) don't. It's been the locus of things like the major expansion of drug-related deaths, it often shows up in discussions of long-term economic problems, and it's also where you're most likely to hear about very deep racial tensions. (Or in the article linked below, it's the place where prison sentences are orders of magnitude longer than they are in the rest of the country)

Does this region have a name? Have people thought about this as an area distinct from its neighbors?

I can think of a few historical things which shape it. For one thing, it was the major destination of two major migrations in American history: it's the first trans-Appalachian region (and so was settled by many people from those mountains when they started to spread west in the early 19th century), and it's roughly the outer border of the old South, and was thus the first stopping-point for the Great Migration of black Americans which followed the Civil War.

The origins of the economic similarities aren't quite as obvious to me, with the northern part of this region being the heart of the Industrial Midwest, but there does seem to be a fairly clear continuity – and it seems distinctly different from the economies of the Agricultural Midwest north and west of it (places like Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa), or from those of the South or the Northeast which border its other side.

This probably has a very obvious answer, but for some reason it's not coming to me.___

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2016-09-04 04:07:06 (36 comments; 35 reshares; 216 +1s; )Open 

To end the night, I leave you with something more serious. Advice from an emergency room doctor on how you tell someone the worst possible news.

To end the night, I leave you with something more serious. Advice from an emergency room doctor on how you tell someone the worst possible news.___

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2016-09-04 02:34:22 (54 comments; 48 reshares; 207 +1s; )Open 

And from the economics department today, an analysis of how academia resembles a drug gang. Specifically, it's a system where a handful of insiders make all the rewards, and there's a large and steady supply of outsider hopefuls, accepting extremely low wages and bad working conditions in exchange for an increasingly long shot at the big time.

+Steven Flaeck​ was just posting earlier today about how acting and professional sports have the same kind of dynamic: when we hear about the tremendous pay that top athletes and stars get, we forget that the tremendous majority of people in these jobs are making well below minimum wage.

A related fact which it doesn't highlight is that this also creates tremendous power differentials within each field, which gives senior people essentially unlimited license to misuse junior people. Quite a few fields suffer badly from this; oneo... more »

And from the economics department today, an analysis of how academia resembles a drug gang. Specifically, it's a system where a handful of insiders make all the rewards, and there's a large and steady supply of outsider hopefuls, accepting extremely low wages and bad working conditions in exchange for an increasingly long shot at the big time.

+Steven Flaeck​ was just posting earlier today about how acting and professional sports have the same kind of dynamic: when we hear about the tremendous pay that top athletes and stars get, we forget that the tremendous majority of people in these jobs are making well below minimum wage.

A related fact which it doesn't highlight is that this also creates tremendous power differentials within each field, which gives senior people essentially unlimited license to misuse junior people. Quite a few fields suffer badly from this; one of the biggest reasons I left academia was the incredible toxicity of the environment. A good 50% of the senior faculty I knew could be described as active sadists - people who felt like one of the few perks of their job was the right and power to emotionally abuse people.

This particular article h/t +Sean Carroll​, who is thankfully one of the other 50%.___

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2016-09-03 23:11:16 (40 comments; 10 reshares; 147 +1s; )Open 

I'm with +Sean Cowen on this: the lamp is nice, but that room is awesome. All it needs is a giant area of bookcases behind the camera, and a kitchen behind the fireplace.

The Anglepoise Giant 1227 Floor Lamp In A Stunning Room!

While the lamp is quite impressive, wow - that room! That is quite beautiful and the propeller gets my blood pumping. Excellent industrial slash steampunkish decor. And the lamp's not bad either!

The Anglepoise Giant 1227 Floor Lamp is three times the size of the standard lamp--more than 6' tall. While certainly useful as a reading lamp, its dramatic proportions, adjustability and range of colors also make Giant1227 the ideal conversation piece next to--and over--a dining table.

For more than 75 years, Anglepoise has created elegant and functional table lamps that are now considered British design classics. Since the first Anglepoise was designed by George Cawardine in 1932, this iconic table light has been updated and redefined, combining classic design with unmatched performance. The Giant 1227 Floor Lamp is available with the following:

Designed by George Carwardine
Material: Aluminum and Stainless Steel Castors for easy positioning CE Listed
Made In China
Option: Finish: White, Black, Red, Yellow
Lighting: One 60 Watt 120-240 Volt E27 Medium Base Halogen Lamp (Not Included)
Dimensions: Fixture: Height 77", Diameter 18"

#floorlamp   #anglepoise   #british   #lamp   #lighting   #decor   #lightingdesign   #steampunk  

via/ bit.ly/GiantFloorLamp___I'm with +Sean Cowen on this: the lamp is nice, but that room is awesome. All it needs is a giant area of bookcases behind the camera, and a kitchen behind the fireplace.

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2016-09-03 23:01:51 (76 comments; 71 reshares; 233 +1s; )Open 

Some interesting language bits for your day

In English, it sounds strange to say "the green, great dragon" instead of "the great, green dragon." Why?

Take a look at the first picture, a note which +Don McArthur shared. This rule probably isn't entirely universal (I'm sure that, with some time, I could come up with a counterexample), but it's pretty close to it: adjectives in English, and in other languages as well, follow a particular order.

This kind of thing is an example of linguistic spectra. In this case, it's a spectrum of binding strength: some modifiers "bind" more strongly to the things they modify, affecting their nature more intrinsically, and languages systematically place them closer to the things which they modify. For example, we apparently see color as a more intrinsic attribute of a thing than size,... more »

Some interesting language bits for your day

In English, it sounds strange to say "the green, great dragon" instead of "the great, green dragon." Why?

Take a look at the first picture, a note which +Don McArthur shared. This rule probably isn't entirely universal (I'm sure that, with some time, I could come up with a counterexample), but it's pretty close to it: adjectives in English, and in other languages as well, follow a particular order.

This kind of thing is an example of linguistic spectra. In this case, it's a spectrum of binding strength: some modifiers "bind" more strongly to the things they modify, affecting their nature more intrinsically, and languages systematically place them closer to the things which they modify. For example, we apparently see color as a more intrinsic attribute of a thing than size, because size can change more easily; thus we have a great (green dragon) rather than a green (great dragon).

My favorite example of linguistic spectra comes from a phenomenon called split ergativity. Consider the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs:

Intransitive: "noun(I) verbed"
Transitive: "noun(T1) verbed noun(T2)"

Languages mark these nouns in different ways. If you speak any Germanic or Romance language, for example, you would say that I and T1 are both subjects of their sentences, and T2 is an object. These languages mark that behavior in various ways. In English, we do it mostly with word order – "Anna killed Clara" and "Clara killed Anna" have different meanings. With pronouns, we actually use different words: subjects like "I ate" or "I ate Bob," and objects like "Bob ate me." Other Indo-European languages like Latin take this farther, and explicitly mark what's called "case:" a change in the shape of a noun to indicate its role in a sentence. For example, in Latin you would say

"Anna eduit" ("Anna ate")
"Anna eduit Claram" ("Anna ate Clara" – note the "-m" indicating that Clara is a direct object)

Latin doesn't care as much about word order; "Claram eduit Anna" would still mean that Anna ate Clara, it would just be a kind of unusual way to say it. (Sort of like saying "Clara, Anna ate" in English)

What's important here is that these languages treat the subjects of transitive and intransitive sentences in the same way, and the objects of intransitive sentences differently. Do all languages do this?

No! Another way to do it is what's called ergative-absolutive. In languages like Turkish, the subjects of intransitive sentences are treated the same way as the objects of transitive sentences, and it's the subjects of transitive sentences which are different.

What's the idea here? It's because both the intransitive subjects and the transitive objects are the ones being affected by the verb, while the transitive subject is staying the same but affecting someone else. In these languages, instead of distinguishing subjects and objects (highlighting who or what performed an action), we distinguish "agents" and "patients" – highlighting who or what was changed by an action.

(In languages like these which use case markings on words to distinguish them, the agent is in what's called the "absolutive" case, and the patient "ergative," thus the name. In languages like Latin and English, subjects are "nominative" and objects are "accusative," so these are called nominative-accusative languages)


Are there any other options? Well, we're trying to group three things, so there are a few possibilities. (See the second picture...)

1. Intransitive subject, transitive subject, and transitive object are all the same.
2. Subjects are the same, objects are different. (English, German, Latin)
3. Agents are the same, patients are different. (Turkish, Tibetan, Pashto)
4. Things in transitive sentences are the same, things in intransitive sentences are different.
5. All three are different.

It turns out that options 1 and 4 don't happen, and for a simple reason: if you had no way to tell apart a transitive subject from an object, then it would never be clear just who ate whom. Option 5 does exist in a few languages, but it's not as common.

But what's interesting is that there's a sixth option, called "split ergativity," which languages like Hindi use: some verbs are nominative-accusative, and other verbs are absolutive-ergative!

This might seem incredibly confusing, at first: now you have to remember which verbs use which kind of grammar?! But it turns out that split ergative languages have a pattern to them, as well.

The rule is this: line up all the verbs in the world, and order them by how much they change the state of a thing. Maybe moving changes your state less than changing color; both of those change your state less than being born or dying.

Somewhere in the middle of this line, you will draw a border. If a verb is all about changing the state of something, it will use the absolutive-ergative rules, and grammar will distinguish the thing which was affected from the thing that wasn't; if the verb doesn't really change states much, then grammar instead distinguishes between who did it and who didn't, and you use nominative-accusative rules.

What's most fascinating to me about this is this: different split-ergative languages put the boundary in different places. But there's good evidence that all languages are using the same ordering of verbs! That is, if one language considers a verb to be "more" state-changing than another verb, chances are that all the other languages will agree as well.

So this really is another linguistic spectrum, and like the great, green dragons we started with, it also has to do with how "fundamental" we see a property as being.

The net result: the more fundamental we see a thing as being, the more tightly its modifiers bind to the thing, and the more likely we are to view a sentence that talks about it changing as really being about the thing that is being changed, rather than about the thing doing the changing.

It's one of those interesting signs of universal structures underpinning human language. ___

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2016-09-03 22:08:44 (16 comments; 13 reshares; 173 +1s; )Open 

And sharing this, just because the motion of the sidewinder is hypnotic.

Here's something you may not have noticed: different snakes move in different ways. In fact, snakes have five completely distinct methods of locomotion: lateral undulation (aka serpentine motion, or slithering), sidewinding, concertina motion, rectilinear motion, or slide-pushing. Different species of snakes can use different combinations of these on different surfaces; some snakes can do additional things, like jump or even move backwards.

You can read more about that here:

http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~brm2286/locomotn.htm
http://www.robinsonlibrary.com/science/zoology/reptiles/squamata/serpentes/locomotion.htm

Sidewinder rattlesnake.___And sharing this, just because the motion of the sidewinder is hypnotic.

Here's something you may not have noticed: different snakes move in different ways. In fact, snakes have five completely distinct methods of locomotion: lateral undulation (aka serpentine motion, or slithering), sidewinding, concertina motion, rectilinear motion, or slide-pushing. Different species of snakes can use different combinations of these on different surfaces; some snakes can do additional things, like jump or even move backwards.

You can read more about that here:

http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~brm2286/locomotn.htm
http://www.robinsonlibrary.com/science/zoology/reptiles/squamata/serpentes/locomotion.htm

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2016-09-03 21:55:21 (24 comments; 7 reshares; 115 +1s; )Open 

I've never taught elementary or secondary students; the job always scared me, to be honest, as being incredibly difficult. I did teach undergrads for many years, and I loved doing it; the hardest thing for me about moving to engineering was that I no longer had that opportunity.

Today, I try to satisfy this urge with my group of young engineers and project managers and so on, and by writing for a general audience. But I can still very much see myself going back at some point and taking on one of those jobs that scared me so much back then. (Which wouldn't be unheard of; one of the best teachers I ever had, my ninth-grade geometry teacher, had been chair of the university's math department before he decided that this was what he wanted to do.)

Articles like this, or conversations with friends of mine who are teachers, make me feel this urge even more acutely. This exercise... more »

Articles like this rekindle my weird desire to be a teacher. Not that I could afford to be a teacher. Not that I would deal with the rules and the adult dynamics very well. But teaching has to be one of the most admirable professions and deserves way more money, prestige, competition for entry, and resulting higher quality. ___I've never taught elementary or secondary students; the job always scared me, to be honest, as being incredibly difficult. I did teach undergrads for many years, and I loved doing it; the hardest thing for me about moving to engineering was that I no longer had that opportunity.

Today, I try to satisfy this urge with my group of young engineers and project managers and so on, and by writing for a general audience. But I can still very much see myself going back at some point and taking on one of those jobs that scared me so much back then. (Which wouldn't be unheard of; one of the best teachers I ever had, my ninth-grade geometry teacher, had been chair of the university's math department before he decided that this was what he wanted to do.)

Articles like this, or conversations with friends of mine who are teachers, make me feel this urge even more acutely. This exercise – such a simple thing, and such an incredibly valuable thing for teachers and students alike.

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2016-09-03 21:32:12 (44 comments; 22 reshares; 389 +1s; )Open 

Goddamit. Curse you, whoever you are, for your unpleasant precision.

Via +Rob Shinn.

LOL. ___Goddamit. Curse you, whoever you are, for your unpleasant precision.

Via +Rob Shinn.

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2016-09-03 21:30:24 (20 comments; 8 reshares; 154 +1s; )Open 

When researching history, we are often reminded to avoid the temptation to see remote places and people as too similar to our own: that could lead us to superimpose our own expectations and understandings, and miss the way that the people involved understood their own world.

But on the other hand, we should also avoid the temptation to regard these places as incomprehensibly remote, and their inhabitants as "starfish aliens." Despite tremendous differences in circumstance and world, there are many things we have in common, as well: hopes, fears, needs, desires.

It's because of this that one of my favorite areas of historical research is things which give us a snapshot of daily life. Artifacts and archaeology can do some of this, but the most powerful of all can be written texts from the past. Most written texts don't do this, because writing was (for most of history)... more »


Man perishes; his corpse turns to dust; all his relatives pass away.

But writings make him remembered in the mouth of the reader.
...

Ancient Egyptian texts are being brought together for the first time after a Cambridge academic translated the hieroglyphic writings into modern English.

Toby Wilkinson said he had decided to begin work on the anthology because there was a missing dimension in how ancient Egypt was viewed: “The life of the mind, as expressed in the written word.”

The written tradition lasted nearly 3,500 years and writing is found on almost every tomb and temple wall. Yet there had been a temptation to see it as “mere decoration”, he said, with museums often displaying papyri as artefacts rather than texts.

The public were missing out on a rich literary tradition, Wilkinson said.

“What will surprise people are the insights behind the well-known facade of ancient Egypt, behind the image that everyone has of the pharaohs, Tutankhamun’s mask and the pyramids.

Hieroglyphs were pictures but they conveyed concepts in as sophisticated a manner as Greek or Latin script, he said. Filled with metaphor and symbolism, they reveal life through the eyes of the ancient Egyptians.

Tales of shipwreck and wonder, first-hand descriptions of battles and natural disasters, songs and satires make up the anthology, titled Writings from Ancient Egypt.

In translating them, he said, he was struck by human emotions to which people could relate today.

The literary fiction includes The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, a story of triumph over adversity that Wilkinson describes as “a miniature masterpiece”. It is about a magical island ruled by a giant snake – his body “fashioned in gold, his eyebrows in real lapis lazuli” – who shares his own tragedy in encouraging a shipwrecked sailor to face his predicament.

“I was here with my brothers and my children ... we totaled 75 snakes ... Then a star fell and they were consumed in flames ... If you are brave and your heart is strong, you will embrace your children, you will kiss your wife and you will see your house,” it reads.

Letters written by a farmer called Heqanakht date from 1930BC but reflect modern concerns, from land management to grain quality. He writes to his steward:

“Be extra dutiful in cultivating. Watch out that my barley-seed is guarded.”

Turning to domestic matters, he sends greetings to his son Sneferu, his “pride and joy, a thousand times, a million times”, and urges the steward to stop the housemaid bullying his wife:

“You are the one who lets her do bad things to my wife … Enough of it!”

Other texts include the Tempest Stela. While official inscriptions generally portray an ideal view of society, this records a cataclysmic thunderstorm:

“It was dark in the west and the sky was filled with storm clouds without [end and thunder] more than the noise of a crowd … The irrigated land had been deluged, the buildings cast down, the chapels destroyed … total destruction.”

The number of people who can read hieroglyphs is small and the language is particularly rich and subtle, often in ways that cannot be easily expressed in English.

Wilkinson writes: “Take, for example, the words ‘aa’ and ‘wer’, both conventionally translated as ‘great’. The Egyptians seem to have understood a distinction – hence a god is often described as ‘aa’ but seldom as ‘wer’ – but it is beyond our grasp.”

Words of wisdom in a text called The Teaching of Ani remain as true today as in the 16th century BC:

“Man perishes; his corpse turns to dust; all his relatives pass away. But writings make him remembered in the mouth of the reader.”___When researching history, we are often reminded to avoid the temptation to see remote places and people as too similar to our own: that could lead us to superimpose our own expectations and understandings, and miss the way that the people involved understood their own world.

But on the other hand, we should also avoid the temptation to regard these places as incomprehensibly remote, and their inhabitants as "starfish aliens." Despite tremendous differences in circumstance and world, there are many things we have in common, as well: hopes, fears, needs, desires.

It's because of this that one of my favorite areas of historical research is things which give us a snapshot of daily life. Artifacts and archaeology can do some of this, but the most powerful of all can be written texts from the past. Most written texts don't do this, because writing was (for most of history) an "elite" activity: written works were commissioned by the powerful for political purposes, warnings, messages, advertising campaigns. But in situations where writing became more widespread, we occasionally capture something much richer, the writing of daily life.

In Egypt, between the invention of writing and its democratization thousands of years later, we catch a few glimpses of this in places like the "engineers' village" at Deir el-Medina, where the skilled craftsmen who worked on the nearby necropolis lived; being a largely literate population, we have their letters, their graffiti, their complaints about a neighbor's pigs running amok. In Sumer, we have a handful of similar records: my library even has an old Sumerian lullaby, preserved by chance in an ancient collection, and it makes you realize that even separated by many thousands of years, we are still the same kind of people.

As time progresses, these sources become more common; the rise of cheaper writing implements, ultimately of wood-pulp paper, of better inks, and the rise of complex civilizations which made the need for writing more widespread all collaborated to make writing – while still a largely elite activity – common enough that we can find snippets of daily life more routinely, even entire diaries through which we can enter the very personal worlds of people long dead.

Most recently, the rise of the Internet has led to something entirely new: mass writing, not merely mass reading. A consequence of this is that we're seeing, for nearly the first time, the emergence of dialects in written language. Prior to this, writing was considered sufficiently elite that it was only done in a standardized, prestige dialect, like the Modern Standard Written American English that I'm writing in now. But the "u's" and "ohai's" that you see online aren't a sign of the degradation of language; rather, they're a sign that writing has become so embedded in our daily lives that it's acquiring the same richness of variation that our spoken language is. Future historians and linguists will understand our lives far more intimately than we could ever hope to understand our predecessors', and perhaps (with the advantage of perspective) even better than we can ourselves.

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2016-09-03 21:07:36 (28 comments; 24 reshares; 302 +1s; )Open 

It is the weekend, at long last, and I am going to be sharing things just for the sheer joy of it. Consider yourselves warned.

Also, do not fear the squirrels with guns. It's the raccoons you'll have to watch out for; they're clever and can plan bank robberies.

Good answer___It is the weekend, at long last, and I am going to be sharing things just for the sheer joy of it. Consider yourselves warned.

Also, do not fear the squirrels with guns. It's the raccoons you'll have to watch out for; they're clever and can plan bank robberies.

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2016-09-03 21:05:02 (8 comments; 12 reshares; 146 +1s; )Open 

This really is more pleasing than you would expect.

(h/t also to +Lea Kissner for her share of this)

Possibly one of the most amusing things I've read this week. :-D

H/T +Rachel Palmer ___This really is more pleasing than you would expect.

(h/t also to +Lea Kissner for her share of this)

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2016-09-03 08:11:56 (52 comments; 12 reshares; 200 +1s; )Open 

I don't see why people are so surprised by this. I mean, if you're going to have a terror war, wouldn't you want someone who boils people alive on your side? That's pretty scary! I'd also want people who eat eyeballs, and maybe those little bug things that get caught under your toenails, you know the ones with the little claws that—

What? A war against terror?

Oh. Oh, that's different.

Nevermind.

</litella>

I don't see why people are so surprised by this. I mean, if you're going to have a terror war, wouldn't you want someone who boils people alive on your side? That's pretty scary! I'd also want people who eat eyeballs, and maybe those little bug things that get caught under your toenails, you know the ones with the little claws that—

What? A war against terror?

Oh. Oh, that's different.

Nevermind.

</litella>___

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2016-09-03 02:20:29 (138 comments; 20 reshares; 178 +1s; )Open 

Those of you who know how international shipping works, and just how critical it is to pretty much every other business, should be reading this headline and thinking "oh, shit."

Some large number of ships are currently at sea, being refused docking because nobody knows who will pay the tugboat captains, the dockworkers, and so on. Their cargo is at sea along with them. The perishable goods are almost certainly a loss; the nonperishable goods may be even worse, because many of them ultimately will make it to port -- too late to do most of their receivers any good. And since they will make it, their insurance won't kick in.

This bankruptcy has been in the works for a while -- the economic slowdown has hit shipping firms hard -- but if there isn't a very serious resolution within three or four days (such as someone buying the firm and guaranteeing its docking costs), the... more »

The downside of globalization:

"LOS ANGELES — The bankruptcy of the Hanjin shipping line has thrown ports and retailers around the world into confusion, with giant container ships marooned and merchants worrying whether tons of goods will reach their shelves.

The South Korean giant filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday and stopped accepting new cargo. With its assets being frozen, ships from China to Canada found themselves refused permission to offload or take aboard containers because there were no guarantees that tugboat pilots or stevedores would be paid.

"Hanjin called us and said: 'We're going bankrupt and we can't pay any bills — so don't bother asking,' " said J. Kip Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, which provides traffic control for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation's busiest port complex.

Three Hanjin container ships, ranging from about 700 feet to 1,100 feet (213 meters to 304 meters) long, were either drifting offshore or anchored away from terminals on Thursday. A fourth vessel that was supposed to leave Long Beach on Thursday morning remained anchored inside the breakwater..."___Those of you who know how international shipping works, and just how critical it is to pretty much every other business, should be reading this headline and thinking "oh, shit."

Some large number of ships are currently at sea, being refused docking because nobody knows who will pay the tugboat captains, the dockworkers, and so on. Their cargo is at sea along with them. The perishable goods are almost certainly a loss; the nonperishable goods may be even worse, because many of them ultimately will make it to port -- too late to do most of their receivers any good. And since they will make it, their insurance won't kick in.

This bankruptcy has been in the works for a while -- the economic slowdown has hit shipping firms hard -- but if there isn't a very serious resolution within three or four days (such as someone buying the firm and guaranteeing its docking costs), the results are likely to be very nasty indeed.

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2016-09-02 18:32:06 (11 comments; 11 reshares; 152 +1s; )Open 

https://twitter.com/davidmwessel/status/771661719542259712

"When I'm mistakenly put on an email chain, should I hit reply all asking to be removed? No [lots of whitespace] The New York Times's internal email system contributed to this report"

https://twitter.com/davidmwessel/status/771661719542259712

"When I'm mistakenly put on an email chain, should I hit reply all asking to be removed? No [lots of whitespace] The New York Times's internal email system contributed to this report"___

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2016-08-31 04:36:22 (94 comments; 17 reshares; 246 +1s; )Open 

I haven't been on the Google+ team for nearly a year now, but (as you may have noticed) I'm still a very active user. And so I'm very glad to see that the team is still actively at work, making things better. (Including quite a few things in the pipeline that I'm really looking forward to - and no, I can't say more)

The new UI has been in a steadily growing beta for about a year as well, and this beta has tied to a clear increase in users, especially in Collections and Communities. (All my own posts are in Collections nowadays, except the ones that are in Communities with my friends; they really work as a public / private pair) So with its increasing feature-completeness and rising usage, we're taking the first steps to making it the primary interface across the board.

Since the new interface came with a massive retooling of our server stack, and it will soon... more »

Bringing the new Google+ to more people

Last November, (http://goo.gl/Yn6mjA) we introduced a preview on web of a fully redesigned Google+ to make it easier for people to discover and connect around unique and interesting things. From a Japanese astronaut sharing his experience in the International Space Station (http://goo.gl/JZQ7wH) to food lovers sharing their passion for breadmaking (http://goo.gl/wEh0C8), people are using Google+ to explore their interests more than ever.

Since introducing the new version, twice as many Collections are followed per day and there are 1.6 million daily new Community joins. Many of you have also shared feedback and requests, and we’ve been listening (http://goo.gl/IMLvy7).

Today, we’re announcing three new updates for Google+.

First, some new features. You can now have richer conversations by adding links and photos to your comments. We’re also offering Community owners and moderators more control over who posts what with approved posting. Finally, we're launching a new notifications center on the web where you can see and manage your recent activity on Google+. These features will be available across the web, Android and iOS in the coming weeks.

Second, if you haven’t yet previewed the new Google+, over the next few days we’ll upgrade you to the experience when you sign in on the web. You’ll still be able to toggle back to classic Google+ for the time being.

Finally, businesses have told us that they’ve found Google+ to be a valuable way to help employees share ideas and expertise via Collections and Communities, and we’re looking forward to making it available to more organizations. Today, Google Apps users already using Google+ (http://goo.gl/GxGRXo) will also see the new experience (goo.gl/IJtbah) when they sign in and in the next few weeks, Google+ will become a core Google for Work service.

From the interesting (http://goo.gl/yP2QJp), to the surprising (http://goo.gl/3dk0Xs), and the delightful (goo.gl/gix7s6), we hope Google+ continues to help you discover amazing things from passionate people.___I haven't been on the Google+ team for nearly a year now, but (as you may have noticed) I'm still a very active user. And so I'm very glad to see that the team is still actively at work, making things better. (Including quite a few things in the pipeline that I'm really looking forward to - and no, I can't say more)

The new UI has been in a steadily growing beta for about a year as well, and this beta has tied to a clear increase in users, especially in Collections and Communities. (All my own posts are in Collections nowadays, except the ones that are in Communities with my friends; they really work as a public / private pair) So with its increasing feature-completeness and rising usage, we're taking the first steps to making it the primary interface across the board.

Since the new interface came with a massive retooling of our server stack, and it will soon let us set some truly horrifying code on fire, I'm happy to see this change for more reasons than one. But most of all, you should take it as a sign of life and of continued investment - and of our plans to build something lasting here.

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2016-08-30 06:35:57 (89 comments; 40 reshares; 286 +1s; )Open 

Something beautiful, via Prof. Rhodri Lewis at Oxford: a picture of Brian Walton's 1657 "Polyglot Bible," which provides a range of simultaneous translations. On this page, clockwise from the top left, you can see the original Hebrew; the Latin Vulgate; the Greek Septuagint; the Aramaic Targum Onkelos; a Chaldean (Hebrao-Samaritic) translation; a Samaritan translation; an Arabic translation; and a Syriac translation. All but the Hebrew and Latin have literal Latin translations alongside them.

Parallel translations like these are tremendously useful for scholars, as they give you senses of how the senses of words have shifted between peoples. The Bible is a particularly rich source of such shifting, as translations have often followed cultural and political norms – leading to such egregious mistranslations as "thou shalt not kill."

Something beautiful, via Prof. Rhodri Lewis at Oxford: a picture of Brian Walton's 1657 "Polyglot Bible," which provides a range of simultaneous translations. On this page, clockwise from the top left, you can see the original Hebrew; the Latin Vulgate; the Greek Septuagint; the Aramaic Targum Onkelos; a Chaldean (Hebrao-Samaritic) translation; a Samaritan translation; an Arabic translation; and a Syriac translation. All but the Hebrew and Latin have literal Latin translations alongside them.

Parallel translations like these are tremendously useful for scholars, as they give you senses of how the senses of words have shifted between peoples. The Bible is a particularly rich source of such shifting, as translations have often followed cultural and political norms – leading to such egregious mistranslations as "thou shalt not kill."___

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2016-08-30 05:36:23 (108 comments; 12 reshares; 131 +1s; )Open 

There are some pretty weird religious sects in the US, but megachurches seem to attract the weirdest of the lot. This one is particularly odd, since I can't even explain this one by selective quoting out of context; I can only think of one passage in the Bible on the subject of having a "strongman" for a king, and it doesn't say what he seems to think it says.

(For those who are curious, it's 1 Samuel, chapter 8, when the people of Israel decide they want a king: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Samuel+8&version=NIV)

But if you wanted to see a Baptist pastor who says Heck no! to the idea of a President "who embodies the teachings of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount," enjoy the article, and the other articles it links to with yet more quotes. This one is special.

...you know, I do wonder about how some of these American megachurch pastors interpret the Bible sometimes.___There are some pretty weird religious sects in the US, but megachurches seem to attract the weirdest of the lot. This one is particularly odd, since I can't even explain this one by selective quoting out of context; I can only think of one passage in the Bible on the subject of having a "strongman" for a king, and it doesn't say what he seems to think it says.

(For those who are curious, it's 1 Samuel, chapter 8, when the people of Israel decide they want a king: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Samuel+8&version=NIV)

But if you wanted to see a Baptist pastor who says Heck no! to the idea of a President "who embodies the teachings of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount," enjoy the article, and the other articles it links to with yet more quotes. This one is special.

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2016-08-28 09:29:01 (63 comments; 8 reshares; 119 +1s; )Open 

Today we've got Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Ethnography, and Spam.

The surprisingly interesting story of why the makers of Spam hired an anthropologist, & what came of it.
(Confession: One of my guilty pleasures is thinly sliced Spam, fried like bacon, with eggs.)___Today we've got Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Ethnography, and Spam.

2016-08-28 07:13:50 (64 comments; 20 reshares; 157 +1s; )Open 

Some late-night thoughts for you about why our lives in general, and the Internet in particular, feel so overwhelming at times; with everything from social anger and economic uncertainty to artificial intelligences and cognitive prosthetics.

There are clean and well-structured articles in here, but they haven't come out yet to play. Y'all get to see the early notes version.

Some late-night thoughts for you about why our lives in general, and the Internet in particular, feel so overwhelming at times; with everything from social anger and economic uncertainty to artificial intelligences and cognitive prosthetics.

There are clean and well-structured articles in here, but they haven't come out yet to play. Y'all get to see the early notes version.___

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2016-08-28 00:58:18 (71 comments; 69 reshares; 317 +1s; )Open 

The "neighborhood social network" Nextdoor started to develop a nasty racism problem a while ago: people were using it to identify and discuss "suspicious behavior" among their neighbors which was often nothing more than "being in our neighborhood while dark-skinned." This started to become the reputation of the company - and the company decided to do something about it.

This article is about how minor user interface tweaks can profoundly affect user behavior. By injecting friction at the right point, you can significantly change how people behave - and in this case, substantially reduce the problem. It's a good lesson in UX design, and even more so a good discussion of how subtle cues shape people's behavior in a system.

h/t +Amber Yust​

The "neighborhood social network" Nextdoor started to develop a nasty racism problem a while ago: people were using it to identify and discuss "suspicious behavior" among their neighbors which was often nothing more than "being in our neighborhood while dark-skinned." This started to become the reputation of the company - and the company decided to do something about it.

This article is about how minor user interface tweaks can profoundly affect user behavior. By injecting friction at the right point, you can significantly change how people behave - and in this case, substantially reduce the problem. It's a good lesson in UX design, and even more so a good discussion of how subtle cues shape people's behavior in a system.

h/t +Amber Yust​___

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2016-08-27 21:48:05 (94 comments; 36 reshares; 201 +1s; )Open 

There's a very interesting article here about "white flight." Unlike the more common stories about this, this story isn't about whites moving out of an area when a black community arrives, to some newly-gentrified area which is guaranteed to have better schools and so on than the place they're abandoning: it's about whites moving out of an area when it becomes too predominantly Asian, to a nearby community with worse schools, and often taking a direct economic hit to do so.

The way in which this reverses our usual expectations highlights a key research result which the article discusses: race, not economics, is alone a predictor of the "white flight" phenomenon.

Via +Kee Hinckley and +Valkyrie 

There's a very interesting article here about "white flight." Unlike the more common stories about this, this story isn't about whites moving out of an area when a black community arrives, to some newly-gentrified area which is guaranteed to have better schools and so on than the place they're abandoning: it's about whites moving out of an area when it becomes too predominantly Asian, to a nearby community with worse schools, and often taking a direct economic hit to do so.

The way in which this reverses our usual expectations highlights a key research result which the article discusses: race, not economics, is alone a predictor of the "white flight" phenomenon.

Via +Kee Hinckley and +Valkyrie ___

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2016-08-27 05:53:25 (28 comments; 31 reshares; 333 +1s; )Open 

Articles like this make me sad that I never quite got into superhero comics as a genre. The headline is a bit trite, trying to collapse a discussion of two contrasting characters – Superman and Icon – into a single buzzword. The article is a lot deeper, as is the contrast it describes: between two characters whose origins were almost entirely identical, aliens fallen to Earth and raised as human, except that one chanced to look black while the other looked white. But none of the development that follows is obvious; Superman's alter ego, Clark Kent, is a middle-class reporter, while Icon's Augustus Freeman is a conservative lawyer.

As issue #16 noted, this is not simply a story of race – it's a contrast of two different immigrant narratives as well.

Lots to think through in here.

h/t +Laura Gibbs 

Articles like this make me sad that I never quite got into superhero comics as a genre. The headline is a bit trite, trying to collapse a discussion of two contrasting characters – Superman and Icon – into a single buzzword. The article is a lot deeper, as is the contrast it describes: between two characters whose origins were almost entirely identical, aliens fallen to Earth and raised as human, except that one chanced to look black while the other looked white. But none of the development that follows is obvious; Superman's alter ego, Clark Kent, is a middle-class reporter, while Icon's Augustus Freeman is a conservative lawyer.

As issue #16 noted, this is not simply a story of race – it's a contrast of two different immigrant narratives as well.

Lots to think through in here.

h/t +Laura Gibbs ___

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2016-08-25 20:25:06 (26 comments; 27 reshares; 229 +1s; )Open 

First: This is a pretty cool bit of archaeology. The grenade is made of metal ceramic, and would have been filled with greek fire and thrown at people that one does not like.

Second: Welcome to the Middle East, where water disputes have been getting resolved with hand grenades for nearly a thousand years.

Via +Ben Hibben 

Monty Python and the Holy Grail had it right all along - behold ye the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch!

From the scriptures:
Then did he raise on high the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, saying, "Bless this, O Lord, that with it thou mayst blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy." And the people did rejoice and did feast upon the lambs and toads and tree-sloths and fruit-bats and orangutans and breakfast cereals ... Now did the Lord say, "First thou pullest the Holy Pin. Then thou must count to three. Three shall be the number of the counting and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither shalt thou count two, excepting that thou then proceedeth to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the number of the counting, be reached, then lobbest thou the Holy Hand Grenade in the direction of thine foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it."



http://www.timesofisrael.com/crusader-era-grenade-dug-out-of-central-israel-home/___First: This is a pretty cool bit of archaeology. The grenade is made of metal ceramic, and would have been filled with greek fire and thrown at people that one does not like.

Second: Welcome to the Middle East, where water disputes have been getting resolved with hand grenades for nearly a thousand years.

Via +Ben Hibben 

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2016-08-25 00:38:41 (58 comments; 30 reshares; 216 +1s; )Open 

I am trying to think of a more perverse idea for a local ordinance than this, but I'm coming up short. Evicting people for calling 911, for living in the same building as someone who called 911, or for living in a building to which police came in response to a 911 call seems to just give up on even pretending that the town's police are there for any public purpose. But apparently, this is what quite a few towns do.

Via +Steven Flaeck​

In cities and towns across the country, little-known local laws penalize calls to the police and can get people kicked out of their homes. And it doesn’t matter whether people called the police for help or that they were the victim of the crime. <- my country. isn't that wonderful? #priorities   #bullshit___I am trying to think of a more perverse idea for a local ordinance than this, but I'm coming up short. Evicting people for calling 911, for living in the same building as someone who called 911, or for living in a building to which police came in response to a 911 call seems to just give up on even pretending that the town's police are there for any public purpose. But apparently, this is what quite a few towns do.

Via +Steven Flaeck​

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2016-08-24 15:57:55 (90 comments; 42 reshares; 312 +1s; )Open 

If you've spent even ten minutes watching the news, reading the paper, or on the Internet, you've probably encountered the latest TERRIBLE THING THAT WILL KILL YOUR CHILDREN. (It's always in caps) Our fears about children's safety are at an all-time high, even though by nearly every measure, children's actual safety is far greater than ever.

A recent research paper sheds some interesting light on this phenomenon: "People don't only think that leaving children alone is dangerous and therefore immoral. They also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous." That is, people are making far more moral judgments about parents doing things like leaving their children unsupervised, and when people make a negative moral judgment about it, they are likely to estimate the factual danger as being much higher.

As with most moral judgments, these have a very... more »

If you've spent even ten minutes watching the news, reading the paper, or on the Internet, you've probably encountered the latest TERRIBLE THING THAT WILL KILL YOUR CHILDREN. (It's always in caps) Our fears about children's safety are at an all-time high, even though by nearly every measure, children's actual safety is far greater than ever.

A recent research paper sheds some interesting light on this phenomenon: "People don't only think that leaving children alone is dangerous and therefore immoral. They also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous." That is, people are making far more moral judgments about parents doing things like leaving their children unsupervised, and when people make a negative moral judgment about it, they are likely to estimate the factual danger as being much higher.

As with most moral judgments, these have a very performative aspect; if everyone around you is outraged by something, but you aren't, you are likely to be perceived as immoral and therefore an outsider or even a threat. And since child-rearing is still such a communal thing (e.g., parents spend such a fraction of their time interacting with other parents of their children's peers), being marked as an outsider can have tremendous effects on one's life and one's children's. So there's pressure to echo those same sentiments. This is as true whether the threat is real (traffic accidents, not wearing safety belts) or entirely imaginary (satanic abuse, vaccines causing autism). And when everyone around you is performing the same fear, it's hard to judge which fears are actually real -- thus the rise of "stranger danger" fears ever since the 1970's, despite the fact that stranger abductions remain considerably less common than lightning strikes.

Also importantly (and as the interview below deals with), these moral judgments are often class judgments. Saying that a woman is doing something evil for not being with her children at all times is really placing a judgment on doing a very specifically class-centered thing: not being a full-time housewife and mother. Quite apart from the gender issues, this is something that's simply not possible if you can't afford to have one parent at home -- and is ludicrous if you're a single parent. Punishing people for not doing this is punishing them for not following class standards, and for not belonging to the right social class.

h/t +Steven Flaeck ___

2016-08-22 21:30:14 (38 comments; 9 reshares; 111 +1s; )Open 

"A hat website which advertises by running a guy for president."

"A white nationalist media empire" (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2016/08/22/trumps-real-endgame-a-white-nationalist-media-empire/)

This, apparently, is what we have come to. Someone running for president as part of a get-rich-quick scheme.

As it turns out, we now have the answer to where Trump's campaign donations are going. And it wasn't to his campaign: after admin and fundraising costs, the Trump campaign's largest expenditure was hats. From a financial perspective, his campaign seems weirdly like a hat website which advertises by running a guy for president.

But that's only 1.8m. Where did the rest of it go? As it turns out, he isn't repaying his loans. He's just being dishonest about how many donations he's gotten.

Partisan political campaigns in the United States can set up what's called a JFC: a joint fundraising campaign. These are almost always split down the middle. But Trump's are unusual, and I suspect the reason was to make his campaign look more healthy than it actually is. That money is being split 80/20 between the RNC and the Trump campaign, but because the JFC funds are attributed to the presidential campaign until they're disbursed to the party, 100% of those funds were attributed to Trump on last month's fundraising reports.

Of the 20% which Trump keeps, the vast majority is being spent on more fundraising. Bizarrely, his main fundraising contractor is a web design firm which has previously done work for the Trump Organization, and they appear to be taking an almost 30% (!?!?!?!) commission on all fundraising done for the campaign.

So, TL;DR: Trump wasn't lying about how he's spending the money. He was lying about having it to begin with.

___"A hat website which advertises by running a guy for president."

"A white nationalist media empire" (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2016/08/22/trumps-real-endgame-a-white-nationalist-media-empire/)

This, apparently, is what we have come to. Someone running for president as part of a get-rich-quick scheme.

posted image

2016-08-22 20:52:14 (14 comments; 16 reshares; 122 +1s; )Open 

I suspect that I have a new thing to watch at night.

h/t +Robyn Miller and kudos to the +YouTube team for negotiating this. :)

It's Monday, you don't really want to be working. Instead, watch all of the classic 1980s episodes of Ray Bradbury Theater free on YouTube.___I suspect that I have a new thing to watch at night.

h/t +Robyn Miller and kudos to the +YouTube team for negotiating this. :)

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