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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: 136,990

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Most comments: 430

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2016-08-13 23:08:53 (430 comments; 38 reshares; 243 +1s; )Open 

Artificial Intelligence, Talmud, and Sharia: a post which will be of interest to a fairly specific set of geeks.

My threads often turn into lengthy discussions of how Jewish law intersects with various things. Kashrut and cannibalism seem to come up as a pair weirdly often, which may say something about my readers. But now I'm pondering a question about AI and the Islamic prohibition on statues.

Question: Is work on the strong AI problem – making a human-like intelligence – forbidden or encouraged under various religious laws?

In Islam, the dominant question seems to come from the rules about making images. These may seem to be irrelevant, since the word "statue" appears only twice in the Qur'an:

021.051-052: “And We verily gave Abraham of old his proper course, and We were aware of him, When he said to his father and hisfolk: W... more »

Most reshares: 163

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2016-08-02 01:33:09 (64 comments; 163 reshares; 504 +1s; )Open 

Faraday cages are one of the most basic tools in electrical anything. They're based on the principle that if you place a hollow, conductive container inside an electromagnetic field, then no matter what that field is on the outside, the container shields it: inside the container, the field is zero. These also work in reverse: if you put a field source inside a conductive container, the container will prevent that field from getting out.

This is pretty useful if you want to do something that could produce dangerous fields, like use microwaves to heat food. By wrapping it in a Faraday cage, you make sure that the resulting fields don't also heat everything in their vicinity.

Now, most Faraday cages aren't solid, conductive containers; it's been known for a long time that a wire mesh works just as well. Except it turns out that it doesn't.

Faraday invented... more »

Most plusones: 504

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2016-08-02 01:33:09 (64 comments; 163 reshares; 504 +1s; )Open 

Faraday cages are one of the most basic tools in electrical anything. They're based on the principle that if you place a hollow, conductive container inside an electromagnetic field, then no matter what that field is on the outside, the container shields it: inside the container, the field is zero. These also work in reverse: if you put a field source inside a conductive container, the container will prevent that field from getting out.

This is pretty useful if you want to do something that could produce dangerous fields, like use microwaves to heat food. By wrapping it in a Faraday cage, you make sure that the resulting fields don't also heat everything in their vicinity.

Now, most Faraday cages aren't solid, conductive containers; it's been known for a long time that a wire mesh works just as well. Except it turns out that it doesn't.

Faraday invented... more »

Latest 50 posts

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2016-08-27 05:53:25 (20 comments; 14 reshares; 147 +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 (27 comments; 25 reshares; 194 +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 (54 comments; 28 reshares; 207 +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 (88 comments; 41 reshares; 276 +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; 8 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.

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2016-08-22 20:52:14 (14 comments; 16 reshares; 121 +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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2016-08-22 06:52:08 (32 comments; 5 reshares; 111 +1s; )Open 

Today on Twitter: as night comes for us all, the conversation gets steadily weirder.

I mean, I spent last night dreaming I was a Red Army colonel from the Civil War reminiscing with his old buddy Stalin while waiting to be executed as an enemy of the state, so really, this is about what you'd expect the rest of the day to go like.

Today on Twitter: as night comes for us all, the conversation gets steadily weirder.

I mean, I spent last night dreaming I was a Red Army colonel from the Civil War reminiscing with his old buddy Stalin while waiting to be executed as an enemy of the state, so really, this is about what you'd expect the rest of the day to go like.___

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2016-08-20 03:16:46 (19 comments; 7 reshares; 109 +1s; )Open 

This just introduced me to the work of Eleanor Davis. It's full of really fantastic, powerful stuff. Now I need to get ahold of some of her books.

http://doing-fine.com/?cat=12

The Emotion Room by Eleanor Davis

Is this what it's like?___This just introduced me to the work of Eleanor Davis. It's full of really fantastic, powerful stuff. Now I need to get ahold of some of her books.

http://doing-fine.com/?cat=12

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2016-08-19 21:15:08 (35 comments; 40 reshares; 315 +1s; )Open 

The chips in your computer or phone are made up of a large number of very small transistors. This makes them fast, but hard to visualize. So someone built a computer out of a lot of large transistors, with LEDs so you can see it think. The result is tremendous fun, and lets you do one of the most important things any computer can do: play Tetris.

As it turns out, old technology scales pretty well.___The chips in your computer or phone are made up of a large number of very small transistors. This makes them fast, but hard to visualize. So someone built a computer out of a lot of large transistors, with LEDs so you can see it think. The result is tremendous fun, and lets you do one of the most important things any computer can do: play Tetris.

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2016-08-18 18:01:18 (18 comments; 19 reshares; 191 +1s; )Open 

Some amazing photography -- closeups of microchips.

Chip pr0n. Might be NSFW, depending how strict a definition of "pr0n" your HR people have...___Some amazing photography -- closeups of microchips.

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2016-08-18 17:01:58 (121 comments; 86 reshares; 353 +1s; )Open 

There are three companies in the country which run almost all of its private prisons: GEO, CCA, and MTC. This is a plot of the stock prices of the two public ones (GEO and CCA) today, after the Department of Justice announced that the Federal government was done with private prisons: the Deputy AG has directed the department to "substantially reduce" or decline to renew expiring contracts with all of them. [1]

It would be hard to find a set of companies that I would be happier to see fail. If you had to come up with an outrageous example of "perverse incentives," private prisons would top the list: these companies' contracts with states and localities specify minimum numbers of people that these governments must imprison, at which point they are handed over to these companies for use as "free" labor. [2]

One of the key motivating factors for this... more »

There are three companies in the country which run almost all of its private prisons: GEO, CCA, and MTC. This is a plot of the stock prices of the two public ones (GEO and CCA) today, after the Department of Justice announced that the Federal government was done with private prisons: the Deputy AG has directed the department to "substantially reduce" or decline to renew expiring contracts with all of them. [1]

It would be hard to find a set of companies that I would be happier to see fail. If you had to come up with an outrageous example of "perverse incentives," private prisons would top the list: these companies' contracts with states and localities specify minimum numbers of people that these governments must imprison, at which point they are handed over to these companies for use as "free" labor. [2]

One of the key motivating factors for this change was good journalism in action: an investigative reporter went undercover as a guard in a private prisons, and the resulting article is incredibly worth reading. If you haven't, check it out: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/06/cca-private-prisons-corrections-corporation-inmates-investigation-bauer


[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/the-department-of-justice-is-ending-the-use-of-private-prisons-2016-8

[2] Many people don't notice the loophole in the 13th Amendment: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." It took about seven years after the Civil War for people to realize the full economic value of this loophole, that you could arrest people on any charge and then use them as slave labor. Elaborate systems of kickbacks to judges and arrest quotas showed up almost immediately, and have been immensely profitable ever since)___

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2016-08-18 05:02:41 (54 comments; 47 reshares; 188 +1s; )Open 

One of the strange things about discussing police violence in the US is that we simply don't know how much of it there is. Despite what you might expect, police in most states are under no obligation to record and report if a person dies in their custody, or even if they kill someone in the line of duty. Back in 2000, Congress passed a law intended to fix this, but as we'll see in a moment, it hasn't quite worked.

Right now, there are only two national sources of data about this. One is the Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) maintained by the FBI, which is a list of homicides by police that have been ruled justified by either local law enforcement or the local FBI. (NB: "homicide" is not the same thing as "murder;" it means the death of a person because of the actions of another, which can include everything from accidents to self-defense to lying in wait with an... more »

One of the strange things about discussing police violence in the US is that we simply don't know how much of it there is. Despite what you might expect, police in most states are under no obligation to record and report if a person dies in their custody, or even if they kill someone in the line of duty. Back in 2000, Congress passed a law intended to fix this, but as we'll see in a moment, it hasn't quite worked.

Right now, there are only two national sources of data about this. One is the Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) maintained by the FBI, which is a list of homicides by police that have been ruled justified by either local law enforcement or the local FBI. (NB: "homicide" is not the same thing as "murder;" it means the death of a person because of the actions of another, which can include everything from accidents to self-defense to lying in wait with an axe)

The other is the Arrest-Related Deaths (ARD) list maintained by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) at the Department of Justice, created because of this 2000 law. It lists all "persons who died either during the process of arrest or while in the custody of state or local law enforcement personnel." This includes deaths which aren't homicides as well, such as suicides, drug overdoses, or accidents – but since one frequently asks whether a suicide was a suicide or "the worst case of suicide I ever saw, six gunshots to the back of the head," it's not a bad idea to log all of them. (Really, simply logging these things ought to be mandatory)

Unfortunately, ARD data is collected via voluntary compliance of state and local law enforcement – and quite a few states and localities have openly refused to provide any data, while other localities' data has proven to be so full of holes (e.g. by simple comparison to media reports) that it can only be described as a blatant lie. This failure was so severe that in 2014, the BJS suspended the entire ARD program pending a massive review. [1]

Congress is discussing passing a new law which would make reporting mandatory, not optional – but given the current state of Congress, passage is far from certain, and the states' treatment of ARD suggests that without some serious enforcement, deceit would be widespread. You would think that "keep track of everyone who died in the course of your job" would be a pretty reasonable thing to ask of most people, but apparently not.

So given two data sources which are full of massive omissions, you might think that we're SOL in figuring out just what the scale of deaths really is. But it turns out that this is not the only situation in which we face such a problem – and there are ways of dealing with it.

The article below was written by a statistician, a member of a team which analyzes mass deaths around the world: Kosovo, Colombia, Syria, and the like. In each of these cases, there are lists of the dead compiled by various sources, and each of them is tremendously full of holes for various reasons. But when you have multiple flawed lists, you can use statistics to estimate how big the original set might have been.

The article explains how this works in very clear language, but let me give you a taste. Imagine that N total people died, but you don't know N. Instead, you just have two lists, one of A people and one of B people. Now, if there were no correlation between these lists, you would expect that the probability for anyone to be on the B list is B/N. That means that the probability for someone on the A list to be on the B list as well is also B/N, so you expect there to be AB/N people on both lists. But since you know A, B, and the number of people on both lists, you can work out a first guess about N.

The trickier bits come from ways to take into account that the two lists often are correlated; for example, a death with more media attention is far more likely to be reported in both the ARD and SHR than one that goes below the radar. But this is exactly what statisticians have gotten good at for the past twenty-five years, and we can look at how lists like these from around the world do or don't correlate to get a range of how these two lists might relate.

When all is said and done, it's possible to pull out a number: somewhere between 1,250 and 1,500. That's the team's best estimate of the total number of people killed every year in police custody or during arrest in the US. Note that this doesn't try to split up justified versus unjustified deaths, which wouldn't be something you can do from statistics; it just gives us a scale of what's going on.

For comparison, in 2015 there were a total of 16,121 homicides of any sort in the US, [2] so police-involved deaths would account for about 8% of all deaths. But before you get too relaxed, remember that the overwhelming majority – about three quarters, by best estimates – of homicides are committed by people who know each other. (This makes sense; if you sit and make your better-dead list, it's going to contain people you know, not total strangers. People have more reasons to kill people they know.)

This means that roughly one third of all Americans killed by strangers are killed by police. That's an extraordinary number. And while I'll reiterate that this makes no attempt to separate the justified from the unjustified deaths, it does give us a sense of scale, and why the reports of police violence sometimes seem overwhelming.

The next step for such an analysis would be to note that police-related deaths aren't uniformly distributed in the population. We could use similar techniques to estimate what fraction of stranger killings are done by police by race. Without access to the full data [3], I can tell you that the fraction is going to be much higher if you're black, and somewhat lower if you're white. Mental illness is another very strong predictor, although I don't know if we have enough data to estimate the precise effect.

(This reminds me of another interesting article I read, although I can't find the citation right now: while the rate of rape of women is much higher than that of men, the rate of rape by strangers is actually close to equal. The difference for men is almost entirely accounted for by prisons, where (depending on the prison) rape is considered almost a standard part of punishment. A good general rule is that stranger crimes and acquaintance crimes tend to be very different beasts. This makes it somewhat surprising that our laws don't treat the two more differently.)

So if you're ever wondering why some people see death by police as a major risk, this is why. It turns out that, if you're going to be murdered by a stranger, the odds are pretty good that it's going to be a cop.

[1] For more, see http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=82
[2] See http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/homicide.htm . CDC statistics about death are really interesting.
[3] I can't give you a back-of-the-envelope answer, because the most naive calculation – using that most statistics of the form "black people are X times more likely than white people to encounter [negative event] with the police" seem to come up with X's around 3 – would tell you that all of them are, which is clearly false. So real statistics work is required, preferably done by real statisticians.___

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2016-08-16 16:00:14 (54 comments; 107 reshares; 433 +1s; )Open 

A great illustration of how humans are made. (Not to scale, for obvious reasons)

totally digging this for a squillion reasons...
Eleanor Lutz' story about the creation process is pretty neat too 😄
http://tabletopwhale.com/2014/12/16/how-to-build-a-human.html
#scienceinfographic ___A great illustration of how humans are made. (Not to scale, for obvious reasons)

2016-08-16 03:51:50 (61 comments; 1 reshares; 176 +1s; )Open 

It suddenly occurred to me that if there were some chemical element (maybe a heavy metal) which were fairly rare, had a psychoactive effect (maybe by holding open an ion channel), and accumulated in long-term human tissues (maybe by being fat-soluble, or by being chemically similar to something the body stores away like Calcium), then long-term addicts would be at risk for having their bodies mined for raw material.

I swear there was a reasonable train of thought which led to this.

OK, maybe not reasonable, but there was a train of thought that was not nearly as disturbing before it ended up there.

This probably means I should run some tabletop RPG's to get these ideas out in a safer way.

It suddenly occurred to me that if there were some chemical element (maybe a heavy metal) which were fairly rare, had a psychoactive effect (maybe by holding open an ion channel), and accumulated in long-term human tissues (maybe by being fat-soluble, or by being chemically similar to something the body stores away like Calcium), then long-term addicts would be at risk for having their bodies mined for raw material.

I swear there was a reasonable train of thought which led to this.

OK, maybe not reasonable, but there was a train of thought that was not nearly as disturbing before it ended up there.

This probably means I should run some tabletop RPG's to get these ideas out in a safer way.___

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2016-08-15 03:32:19 (53 comments; 58 reshares; 292 +1s; )Open 

Popcorn time begins!

The NYT has a story today revealing how a ledger, seized when Ukraine's "pro-Russia" President Yanukovich was removed in a 2014 revolution, includes $12.7M in cash for one of Yanukovich's trusted advisers, Paul Manafort. It goes into the rather fascinatingly twisty web of shell companies, Russian oligarchs, mafiosi, and fairly overtly corrupt and criminal deals which Manafort appears to have specialized in facilitating.

Not that this is a huge surprise; before Yanukovich, Manafort did much the same for Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. He's essentially a career specialist in assisting corrupt regimes – not corrupt in the "does campaign finance law create a conflict of interest?" sort of way, but corrupt in the "get this suitcase full of cash on the next plane to the Cayman Islands and no questions" way.
... more »

Popcorn time begins!

The NYT has a story today revealing how a ledger, seized when Ukraine's "pro-Russia" President Yanukovich was removed in a 2014 revolution, includes $12.7M in cash for one of Yanukovich's trusted advisers, Paul Manafort. It goes into the rather fascinatingly twisty web of shell companies, Russian oligarchs, mafiosi, and fairly overtly corrupt and criminal deals which Manafort appears to have specialized in facilitating.

Not that this is a huge surprise; before Yanukovich, Manafort did much the same for Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. He's essentially a career specialist in assisting corrupt regimes – not corrupt in the "does campaign finance law create a conflict of interest?" sort of way, but corrupt in the "get this suitcase full of cash on the next plane to the Cayman Islands and no questions" way.

Manafort's closest business partner in his Yanukovich-era operations appears to have been Oleg Deripaska, a noted Russian oligarch and close ally of Putin's.

But the popcorn time is likely to really step up this week. Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump's former campaign manager – until he was dismissed, moved over to CNN to become a talking head, but seems to have still kept at least some amount of role as a Trump advisor – was one of the first to retweet this NYT article. Which is interesting, as Manafort was his replacement and is currently Trump's top "aide."

Adam Weinstein, senior editor at Fusion, responded to the NYT article with something even more interesting: "Speaking as someone who has a story coming this week: This is just the beginning for Manafort. It gets worse."

Several people have speculated that the really interesting story is going to involve Deripaska, and just how felonious all of these activities really are.

And while some have speculated that this may cost Manafort his job either with Trump or with the SVR, I think both are unlikely, at least in the near term. On the one side, Trump probably knows Manafort pretty well, having no small number of Russian deals (which Manafort likely brokered) in his own past; I can't imagine any of this surprising him. On the other side, Manafort is presumably a stringer rather than an actual officer of the SVR – both because his work tends towards the very "unofficial," and because I can't imagine any intelligence professional wanting to run Trump as an agent. He may be very useful to Putin, but he's not the sort of person that you could run in a traditional way; he's far too unpredictable, and frankly stupid, to be any good at that.

Instead, you would want an experienced grey-ops handler, run in turn by someone close to you, that you can trust, and who knows both grey and black ops well, but entirely off the books of a large bureaucracy that you can only partially trust. Know anyone like that?

(Ah, how standards have fallen! Back in the day the First Directorate would never have let an operation run like this; his handler would have been an experienced officer with no particularly interesting-sounding background, and nobody would have noticed him. "This agent is an idiot and dangerous to the cause" would have been recognized and overruled; his value clearly outweighs the danger.)

Anyway. The short version is that it looks like Trump's lead Russian handler may have just gotten blown in a rather embarrassing fashion, and there are a bunch of more interesting news stories to follow.

Get out the popcorn, folks! This one promises to be interesting.___

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2016-08-14 07:05:46 (55 comments; 12 reshares; 150 +1s; )Open 

I'm sharing this article, not for its discussion of orgies, but for its exceptionally good explanation of the idea of consent. In particular, for this one key sentence: “Consent is always conditional on participants’ ability to revoke their consent.”

This is probably the most succinct definition of one of the core ideas of consent – whether it be to sex or when signing a contract – that I've ever seen. The same sentence applies equally well when you're asking whether an economic transaction is coercive (something important in understanding many kinds of market failure): the transaction is freely participated in if either party could refuse to do so.

It seems simple, but it's rather useful.

Also, the rest of this article is a very good discussion of consent, both in general and in this rather specific case.

"Who am I to explain consent to you? I’m very square, married, living in the suburbs with my hardworking husband, and an irritating cat. But about once a month, roughly 60 people show up to our house for an all-night orgy." That's how this piece begins, and it's pretty good.___I'm sharing this article, not for its discussion of orgies, but for its exceptionally good explanation of the idea of consent. In particular, for this one key sentence: “Consent is always conditional on participants’ ability to revoke their consent.”

This is probably the most succinct definition of one of the core ideas of consent – whether it be to sex or when signing a contract – that I've ever seen. The same sentence applies equally well when you're asking whether an economic transaction is coercive (something important in understanding many kinds of market failure): the transaction is freely participated in if either party could refuse to do so.

It seems simple, but it's rather useful.

Also, the rest of this article is a very good discussion of consent, both in general and in this rather specific case.

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2016-08-13 23:08:53 (430 comments; 38 reshares; 243 +1s; )Open 

Artificial Intelligence, Talmud, and Sharia: a post which will be of interest to a fairly specific set of geeks.

My threads often turn into lengthy discussions of how Jewish law intersects with various things. Kashrut and cannibalism seem to come up as a pair weirdly often, which may say something about my readers. But now I'm pondering a question about AI and the Islamic prohibition on statues.

Question: Is work on the strong AI problem – making a human-like intelligence – forbidden or encouraged under various religious laws?

In Islam, the dominant question seems to come from the rules about making images. These may seem to be irrelevant, since the word "statue" appears only twice in the Qur'an:

021.051-052: “And We verily gave Abraham of old his proper course, and We were aware of him, When he said to his father and hisfolk: W... more »

Artificial Intelligence, Talmud, and Sharia: a post which will be of interest to a fairly specific set of geeks.

My threads often turn into lengthy discussions of how Jewish law intersects with various things. Kashrut and cannibalism seem to come up as a pair weirdly often, which may say something about my readers. But now I'm pondering a question about AI and the Islamic prohibition on statues.

Question: Is work on the strong AI problem – making a human-like intelligence – forbidden or encouraged under various religious laws?

In Islam, the dominant question seems to come from the rules about making images. These may seem to be irrelevant, since the word "statue" appears only twice in the Qur'an:

021.051-052: “And We verily gave Abraham of old his proper course, and We were aware of him, When he said to his father and his folk: What are these statues to which ye pay devotion?"

034.013: “[The jinn] made for [Solomon] what he willed: synagogues and statues, basins like wells and boilers built into the ground. Give thanks, O House of David! Few of My bondmen are thankful!"

The contrast between these two – that statues are bad in one context, but sanctioned by both God and a prophet in another – is usually resolved by saying that the key difference is in whether one intends to worship them, with that being the thing which is forbidden. (Others say: because the law changed between the time of Abraham and Solomon. But then why would it change back afterwards? See http://quransmessage.com/articles/are%20statues%20and%20images%20unlawful%20FM3.htm for a good overview)

However, there are many hadith which are more strongly against statuary in all its forms, in a sense "making a fence around the Qur'an." (If you don't mind mixing your religious metaphors) The most commonly-referenced hadith on the subject is from al-Bukhari, who quotes al-Nawawi as quoting Sayid ibn al-Hasan:

"I was with ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) when a man came to him and said, O ibn Abbas, I am a man who lives by what his hands make, and I make these images. Ibn Abbas said: I will only tell you what I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) say. I heard him say: “Whoever makes an image, Allah will punish him until he breathes life into it, and he will never be able to do that.” The man became very upset and his face turned pale, so [Ibn Abbas] said to him, Woe to you! If you insist on making images, then make images of these trees and everything that does not have a soul." (Emphasis mine)

This ties into the question of AI fairly naturally. If you can breathe life into something, does that make it more or less haram? If it is only a semblance of life, one would suspect that it is more so, because false life would only encourage people to worship it. And if we could not tell false life from real life, we would be all the more tempted to treat it as real, and with that same respect. In the words of al-Araaf 7:11, "And surely, We created you (your father Adam) and then gave you shape (the noble shape of a human being); then We told the angels, ‘Prostrate yourselves to Adam.'"

So based on this, I suspect that Islamic law would regard research into strong AI as being haram.

However, contrast Jewish approaches to the same question. Judaism wrestles with the question of artificial life in its later literature, such as stories of golems. Here, particularly holy rabbis are given the power (by God) to create something with a semblance of life by inscribing certain words upon clay. The choice of clay is a deliberate parallel to the creation of Adam, but what is notable about golems is their inability to speak. That is, they lack the same faculty which allows their own creation; they are sterile, unable to reproduce further. The ability of speech is also tied to the idea of three layers of the soul: the nefesh (the "animal soul," giving basic animation), the ru'ach (the mind), and the neshamah (the divine soul, giving contact with God): the rabbis are only given the power to create things with a nefesh, not things with a neshamah.

The Jewish suggestion would be that no creature could create a thing with a neshamah, that being exclusively the divine province, but would also note that a creature could create a shell into which God places a neshamah – that being precisely what we do when having children. So there is nothing which fundamentally bars the possibility of research in AI and robotics leading even to a fully living creature. And just as Islam would suggest that people might misinterpret a partially living creature as living, Judaism would urge us to "place a fence around the Torah" by doing so as well: that to mistreat an artificial intelligence which is alive is such a sin that it is always better to err on the side of not doing so.

Its answer to the question posed naturally by the hadith – whether this semblance of life would cause people to err by worshiping it – would be that if you are worshiping anything but God, you are doing it wrong, and that is a sin in its own right.

This is a line of interpretation which I suspect wouldn't come up as naturally in most discussions of Sharia, simply because the rather vocal opinions of hadith would easily dominate the conversation, but I think is very consistent with Islam: in particular, it follows Qur'anic answer very closely. You may make any beautiful thing that you like, but you shouldn't worship it.

So if I would summarize my best estimate of the two answers:

In Judaism, it is permitted to make things with the semblance of life, and this semblance may be arbitrarily good, but true life will only be possible if God grants the thing created a complete soul, which is entirely subject to divine discretion. One should not worship anything of which it is possible to make an image in the first place. If one has made something of whose life one is uncertain, one would sin greatly by mistreating it, and so one should err on the side of assuming it is a person.

In Islam, hadith would say that one would sin at least as greatly by treating it as a person ("prostrating oneself before it," as the angels did to Adam), and since the risk of both this and of the opposite sin are so great, one should refrain from making anything with the semblance of life at all.

As will probably surprise nobody, I incline towards the Jewish (and Qur'anic) view of this, and would hold that treating something as human and prostrating oneself before it are not the same thing at all.

While this is applicable to artificial intelligence, its applicability to broader questions of "who is a person" are quite interesting to me as well. This is part of why science fiction can be so interesting.___

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2016-08-13 03:52:54 (84 comments; 10 reshares; 213 +1s; )Open 

Your thought for the day.

Via +Irreverent Monk.

Our secret identity is known only only a few

Seriously, though - is this really how mysterious we are?___Your thought for the day.

Via +Irreverent Monk.

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2016-08-12 04:46:31 (36 comments; 16 reshares; 158 +1s; )Open 

On this day in history: 32 years ago today, on August 11th, 1984, President Reagan was preparing for his weekly radio address and having some fun with the sound check. The line was not actually broadcast (as legend had it), but did get leaked — which led to the Soviet Far East Army going onto high alert for 30 minutes.

"My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."

Ah, for those innocent days of yore, where our biggest fear, if it came to pass, would all be over in about half an hour.

On this day in history: 32 years ago today, on August 11th, 1984, President Reagan was preparing for his weekly radio address and having some fun with the sound check. The line was not actually broadcast (as legend had it), but did get leaked — which led to the Soviet Far East Army going onto high alert for 30 minutes.

"My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."

Ah, for those innocent days of yore, where our biggest fear, if it came to pass, would all be over in about half an hour.___

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2016-08-10 01:23:42 (272 comments; 101 reshares; 501 +1s; )Open 

"Stochastic terrorism" is a concept in the theory of war. It refers to putting out open calls for terrorism, and trying to incite specific acts of terror, without knowing who (if anyone) will take you up on it. It's one of the principal tactics of ISIS outside its home regions: this is why we hear of "ISIS-inspired" terrorists, who had no particular funding, backing, or material support from the organization, but who were simply acting on a call to arms put out by the terror group to go out and kill infidels. (Or other Muslims, or whoever else ISIS feels like killing that day)

It's not a legal concept, and in fact our laws have no good mechanism to handle it. "Vague threats" are deliberately not threats, under the law; you can't be imprisoned for saying "I'm gonna kill that son-of-a-bitch," or for "Someone oughta do something,"... more »

"Stochastic terrorism" is a concept in the theory of war. It refers to putting out open calls for terrorism, and trying to incite specific acts of terror, without knowing who (if anyone) will take you up on it. It's one of the principal tactics of ISIS outside its home regions: this is why we hear of "ISIS-inspired" terrorists, who had no particular funding, backing, or material support from the organization, but who were simply acting on a call to arms put out by the terror group to go out and kill infidels. (Or other Muslims, or whoever else ISIS feels like killing that day)

It's not a legal concept, and in fact our laws have no good mechanism to handle it. "Vague threats" are deliberately not threats, under the law; you can't be imprisoned for saying "I'm gonna kill that son-of-a-bitch," or for "Someone oughta do something," unless one can show that in the context it was said, that's something that would cause someone to fear for their life. (It's actually even more complicated than that, but that would be a whole long article in its own right. +Ken Popehat wrote a short summary relevant to today's news here: https://popehat.com/2016/08/09/lawsplainer-no-donald-trumps-second-amendment-comment-isnt-criminal/)

In general, this sort of narrow law is wise; we don't want people being rounded up and imprisoned for anything that sounds vaguely angry. However, it creates an opening for groups like ISIS to actively try to radicalize people around the world.

In the specific case of ISIS, of course, there's a workable solution, one which involves the liberal application of high explosives. However, not all terror threats so conveniently live in places where we feel free to engage in open warfare.

All of this brings us to today's news. Remember that just a few days ago, Trump "suggested" that the election was rigged, and that if he loses it, people should reject its legitimacy. Today, he took that a step further, "suggesting" that, if elected, Clinton should be murdered. That is to say, Trump has rather pointedly rejected the most fundamental principle of democracy: that elections should be the mechanism which decides who is in office.

(People often say that elections are the basis of democracy, but that's not quite true. Syria has had elections for decades, in which you could vote for anyone you wanted, so long as it was Hafez (or later Bashar) al-Assad. The crucial thing which defines a democracy is that after an election, the losers step down. The preconditions for people to feel safe doing this are complex, and have a lot to do with why democracy is working better in some places than others)

Beyond the obvious problems of an American Presidential candidate openly preaching against democracy is the issue we just discussed: this was not merely a thinly veiled call to overthrow a potential US President, but a textbook example of stochastic terrorism.

As this article put it:

Stochastic terrorism, as described by a blogger who summarized the concept several years back, means using language and other forms of communication "to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable."

Let's break that down in the context of what Trump said. Predicting any one particular individual following his call to use violence against Clinton or her judges is statistically impossible. But we can predict that there could be a presently unknown lone wolf who hears his call and takes action in the future.

Stated differently: Trump puts out the dog-whistle knowing that some dog will hear it, even though he doesn't know which dog.

h/t +Lev Osherovich.___

2016-08-08 19:26:10 (57 comments; 22 reshares; 166 +1s; )Open 

This is a very interesting thought on the nature and cause of burnout. I'm not sure what I think about it yet, but it definitely seems worth examining.

No. Burnout is caused when you repeatedly make large amounts of sacrifice and or effort into high-risk problems that fail. It's the result of a negative prediction error in the nucleus accumbens. You effectively condition your brain to associate work with failure.

This is a really interesting insight, and worth keeping in mind.___This is a very interesting thought on the nature and cause of burnout. I'm not sure what I think about it yet, but it definitely seems worth examining.

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2016-08-08 16:05:09 (98 comments; 35 reshares; 204 +1s; )Open 

This article is part of my continued attempt to think through the changes in our modern economy. It was prompted by this plot from a 2014 article, showing how the prices of different things had changed over the previous decade: some things (like TV's and computers) getting much cheaper, other things (child care, education) getting much more expensive.

The key thing that got me started on this was noticing that the things which got cheaper all had in common that new technologies created better economies of scale for them, while the things which got more expensive all had in common that they didn't. This leads to some thinking about exactly what happens when a technology suddenly shifts the price of a good: when a "Magic Box" appears on the market that can make something virtually for free.

The answer appears to be a combination of three effects: one which makes... more »

This article is part of my continued attempt to think through the changes in our modern economy. It was prompted by this plot from a 2014 article, showing how the prices of different things had changed over the previous decade: some things (like TV's and computers) getting much cheaper, other things (child care, education) getting much more expensive.

The key thing that got me started on this was noticing that the things which got cheaper all had in common that new technologies created better economies of scale for them, while the things which got more expensive all had in common that they didn't. This leads to some thinking about exactly what happens when a technology suddenly shifts the price of a good: when a "Magic Box" appears on the market that can make something virtually for free.

The answer appears to be a combination of three effects: one which makes everybody richer (because the good is itself cheaper; those with the most need benefit most from this stage), and two smaller "zero-sum" shifts: a shift of money away from people whose jobs were based on making the good that's now cheap, and a shift of money towards industries which weren't affected, essentially because more money is available to buy their goods and so they see price inflation. (Importantly, the second effect touches both workers and companies, but the third effect in many circumstances doesn't directly affect workers – see the article for why)

This is all still relatively preliminary thinking, but I think there are some directions in here which could prove useful for understanding what's going on in our economy and why.___

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2016-08-08 01:31:05 (233 comments; 53 reshares; 314 +1s; )Open 

Some things I need to say which will probably be fairly unpopular:

(1) Pauline Hanson is an excellent example of why I think multiparty democracy is a terrible idea. Increasing the political power of people at the fringes might help you get your particular favorite idea represented – but it also lets other people do that. Generally, it moves political power away from the center and towards the edges. And so you end up with people like this having the effective deciding vote in legislatures, able to block any bill if they don't get their way.

(2) In related news, Jill Stein is now talking about how wonderful Julian Assange is. If you haven't been following what Assange and his cronies have been up to lately, he's been (a) openly waging a campaign against Clinton, saying he's doing this specifically to harm her and he doesn't care what else happens, (b) doingma... more »

Some things I need to say which will probably be fairly unpopular:

(1) Pauline Hanson is an excellent example of why I think multiparty democracy is a terrible idea. Increasing the political power of people at the fringes might help you get your particular favorite idea represented – but it also lets other people do that. Generally, it moves political power away from the center and towards the edges. And so you end up with people like this having the effective deciding vote in legislatures, able to block any bill if they don't get their way.

(2) In related news, Jill Stein is now talking about how wonderful Julian Assange is. If you haven't been following what Assange and his cronies have been up to lately, he's been (a) openly waging a campaign against Clinton, saying he's doing this specifically to harm her and he doesn't care what else happens, (b) doing massive data dumps without bothering to redact sensitive personal information about people who are in no way implicated in wrongdoing (e.g., people's SSN's and home addresses), and (c) going off on thoroughly anti-Semitic rants in public. In case you haven't noticed it, Julian Assange is grade-A scum who happens to have been involved in some decent things in the past – but, AFAICT, anything good he's done has been by chance, not design.

Stein's self-affiliation with him only serves to lower her even further in my eyes. (Her policy statements did a great deal to do so before this, ranging from her love affair with anti-vaxxers to her lengthy screed against the rights of sex workers)

(3) For those who think that third parties serve an important role in the process while living in a two-party system, I have to say: I completely and utterly disagree.

Third parties would play an important role if the purpose of elections were for people to express their political opinions, and for the country to come to some kind of conclusion as to how its government should operate at a basic level. But that's not what elections do. That's the purpose of the public square, of public discussion and debate. Elections have a very specific and concrete purpose: to choose who takes various elective offices. That's all they do.

A vote for a third party is simply a fancy way to abstain; it doesn't actually increase the chances that the third party will get funding in the future, or that their ideas will be more listened to, because these parties are the fringe of the fringe: they are so interested in the "purity of their ideals" that they won't even enter into the process of actual dealmaking, coalition-building, and so on. Their ideas will never have an effect, because they have given up on talking to the main bulk of the country and are instead spending their time either preaching to the choir or trying to convert the handful of people who are so far on the edge of their own parties that they're about to abstain anyway.

And to be brutally honest: abstention from important elections on matters of principle is irresponsible.

Elections do come down to small numbers of votes. Bush v. Gore came down to roughly 600 votes' difference. Local elections, even statewide elections, can come down to even less. And when you not only abstain, but encourage others to do so, you stand the risk of actually influencing the election – but rarely in the way you want. Because if you encourage people who are leaning mostly your way to cast a protest vote, you're telling people who would vote for a candidate that mostly agrees with you to stay home. Whether you're on the left or the right, what that does is cast half a vote for the other side.

Do not tell me that both of the candidates are the same. To say that at this point goes beyond the level of "deliberately obtuse." You know they aren't.

Do not tell me that neither of the candidates is speaking about the things you care about. There may be the one thing you care about more than anything else, but whoever is President, and whoever controls Congress, is going to be making decisions about a lot of things, including things you care about a great deal. You do not get to choose from all the people in the world, or from all the positions in the world, but you do get to choose between two options, and they aren't the same. They will not appoint the same people to the courts, they will not start the same wars, they will not do the same things to the economy.

(4) If you are seriously so isolated that you think you would do equally well, or badly, under either of them, then think about what would happen to the rest of the people in the country. They wouldn't.

(5) If you seriously don't care and just want to watch the world burn, then I stand corrected: please, go vote for a third party. Or stay home. Or emigrate. Those of us who have to live here don't welcome you.___

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2016-08-07 03:48:36 (26 comments; 20 reshares; 188 +1s; )Open 

Yeah, this is pretty much exactly right.

The agony and ecstasy of sharing a bed with someone: ___Yeah, this is pretty much exactly right.

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2016-08-06 23:45:36 (39 comments; 82 reshares; 440 +1s; )Open 

Rocket plumes are pretty hard to film, because they're not only very bright, but different parts of the image have different brightnesses, so filming at a single exposure doesn't work very well. Fortunately, NASA has been developing a camera specifically for this kind of thing: basically a slow-motion video camera with built-in HDR, so it can film simultaneously at several exposures and combine the result.

And the result is pretty great to watch. It's fun as a video, of course, but extremely important as a way to see the flow of superheated gases leaving the nozzle: critical to improving everything from safety, to power, to fuel efficiency. 

Rocket plumes are pretty hard to film, because they're not only very bright, but different parts of the image have different brightnesses, so filming at a single exposure doesn't work very well. Fortunately, NASA has been developing a camera specifically for this kind of thing: basically a slow-motion video camera with built-in HDR, so it can film simultaneously at several exposures and combine the result.

And the result is pretty great to watch. It's fun as a video, of course, but extremely important as a way to see the flow of superheated gases leaving the nozzle: critical to improving everything from safety, to power, to fuel efficiency. ___

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2016-08-06 07:06:45 (59 comments; 8 reshares; 153 +1s; )Open 

The thread on the OP, it is excellent.

/sadly crumples up draft, weeping
#RIPCaptainDicklogic  

https://twitter.com/negaversace/status/761573873531949056___The thread on the OP, it is excellent.

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2016-08-05 19:34:16 (43 comments; 20 reshares; 220 +1s; )Open 

A second case in as many days of archaeology verifying an old story: in this case, of the Baglers poisoning the water supply of King Sverre Sigurdsson's castle by tossing one of the bodies of Sverre's men into the well and covering it with rocks, during the 1197 siege chronicled in Sverre's Saga.

Excavation found the well, and the body exactly where it was supposed to be.

Archaeologists working in Trondheim in Norway are amazed by the discovery of a human skeleton in the bottom of an abandoned castle well. The skeleton provides evidence that confirms dramatic historical events mentioned in the Sagas.

The location and contents of the well are mentioned in Sverre’s Saga, a chronicle of one of the kings of Norway, and one of very few historical manuscripts describing events in the Norwegian Viking age and medieval period.

Scholars have questioned the chronicle’s trustworthiness as a historical document. But now, at least one part of the saga seems to hold truth – down to the tiniest detail.

“This is truly astonishing. As far as I know there is no known example of the discovery of an individual historically connected with an act of war as far back as the year 1197. And the fact that this actually corroborates an event described in Sverre’s saga is simply amazing“, says lead archaeologist at the site, Anna Petersén.___A second case in as many days of archaeology verifying an old story: in this case, of the Baglers poisoning the water supply of King Sverre Sigurdsson's castle by tossing one of the bodies of Sverre's men into the well and covering it with rocks, during the 1197 siege chronicled in Sverre's Saga.

Excavation found the well, and the body exactly where it was supposed to be.

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2016-08-05 18:59:41 (133 comments; 14 reshares; 127 +1s; )Open 

Ah, France. Land of food, fine wines, and of town mayors ordering a halal supermarket to start selling alcohol and pork or else be shut down. Because, you see, of French republican principles: a halal shop "prioriti[zes] a certain group within society rather than catering to all categories."

Store owner Soulemane Yalcin's pointing out that the reason he's running a halal supermarket is because this is what local customers overwhelmingly want does not, apparently, affect these core principles. The mayor's chief of staff, Jérôme Besnard, had this to add:

"'We want a social mix. We don’t want any area that is only Muslim or any area where there are no Muslims,' Mr Besnard said, adding that the town’s reaction would have been the same had a kosher shop opened on that spot."

That, at least, I can believe; however, perhaps Mr. Besnardwould... more »

Ah, France. Land of food, fine wines, and of town mayors ordering a halal supermarket to start selling alcohol and pork or else be shut down. Because, you see, of French republican principles: a halal shop "prioriti[zes] a certain group within society rather than catering to all categories."

Store owner Soulemane Yalcin's pointing out that the reason he's running a halal supermarket is because this is what local customers overwhelmingly want does not, apparently, affect these core principles. The mayor's chief of staff, Jérôme Besnard, had this to add:

"'We want a social mix. We don’t want any area that is only Muslim or any area where there are no Muslims,' Mr Besnard said, adding that the town’s reaction would have been the same had a kosher shop opened on that spot."

That, at least, I can believe; however, perhaps Mr. Besnard would do well not to boast so openly about the fact.___

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2016-08-05 05:13:12 (7 comments; 14 reshares; 226 +1s; )Open 

Something to file under "great ideas:" letting doctors in remote areas request supplies using cell phone networks, and have robust fixed-wing drones airdrop blood, vaccines, and medicine by parachute shortly after.

Now this is drone technology I can totally approve of. I hope they can start using it in other nations where it is urgently needed, like Zimbabwe. ___Something to file under "great ideas:" letting doctors in remote areas request supplies using cell phone networks, and have robust fixed-wing drones airdrop blood, vaccines, and medicine by parachute shortly after.

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2016-08-05 04:41:14 (9 comments; 47 reshares; 294 +1s; )Open 

Flood narratives are common around the world. In China's, a tremendous flood 4,000 years ago brought the land to chaos, and it was only the multi-decade dredging operation run by the (legendary) Emperor Yu which brought things back under control. Yu founded the Xia Dynasty, the very first of all recorded Imperial dynasties, and with it marks the beginning of Chinese history.

Fascinatingly, a combination of geological and archeological evidence seems to have provided solid evidence for this story, once thought to be somewhere between vague history and legend. (Much like the fall of Troy) Around 1920BCE, a major earthquake apparently triggered a landslide which blocked the Yellow River - causing a lake nearly 200 meters deep to form over the next six to nine months. At which point the large pile of rubble holding said lake in place gave way.

The evidence was assembled quite... more »

Flood narratives are common around the world. In China's, a tremendous flood 4,000 years ago brought the land to chaos, and it was only the multi-decade dredging operation run by the (legendary) Emperor Yu which brought things back under control. Yu founded the Xia Dynasty, the very first of all recorded Imperial dynasties, and with it marks the beginning of Chinese history.

Fascinatingly, a combination of geological and archeological evidence seems to have provided solid evidence for this story, once thought to be somewhere between vague history and legend. (Much like the fall of Troy) Around 1920BCE, a major earthquake apparently triggered a landslide which blocked the Yellow River - causing a lake nearly 200 meters deep to form over the next six to nine months. At which point the large pile of rubble holding said lake in place gave way.

The evidence was assembled quite interestingly: from geological strata giving evidence of the earthquake and flood, to the archeological remains of a town 25km downriver of the lake, where a combination of burials and sedimentation layers give us the chronology of what followed, and carbon dating a rather precise time. The resulting flood is of the right scale, place, and time to match the story of Yu's rise.

It's always fascinating to me when ancient stories prove to have a historical basis - it suggests that the past, even the very far past, is not always wholly forgotten, but that lore can preserve meaningful information even across millennia. ___

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2016-08-05 03:39:28 (83 comments; 55 reshares; 303 +1s; )Open 

Today in the death of irony: Oliver North accuses Obama of deceit for sending money to Iran.

Boy, it's a good thing he didn't send them weapons or anyth-- what?

(Footnote to would-be commenters: if you just want to vent about how eeevil Obama is and you don't actually know why Oliver North saying such a thing is pretty rich, you probably don't actually want to comment on this thread. Trust me on this one.) 

Today in the death of irony: Oliver North accuses Obama of deceit for sending money to Iran.

Boy, it's a good thing he didn't send them weapons or anyth-- what?

(Footnote to would-be commenters: if you just want to vent about how eeevil Obama is and you don't actually know why Oliver North saying such a thing is pretty rich, you probably don't actually want to comment on this thread. Trust me on this one.) ___

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2016-08-04 16:53:50 (158 comments; 20 reshares; 120 +1s; )Open 

This is a very interesting article, and one which I think hits on an incredibly important point. The source of the pay gap between men and women is rarely explicit and obvious; it emerges from other factors. By looking at which jobs have higher or lower gender wage gaps, we start to see one of the biggest issues: jobs with inflexible hours tend to also have the highest wage gaps.

Lots to think about in here.

I'm really liking this article. Let's quote a few paragraphs:

{...] the workforce disadvantages women in subtler ways — ways that ultimately show up in their paycheck but don’t always begin there. The highest-paying jobs disproportionately reward those who can work the longest, least flexible hours.

Quite true that. I once sat in Hobee's (a local restaurant chain) and overheard a man trying to recruit a woman to work. "What would it take to get your total commitment?" he asked. It chilled me, honestly.

These types of job penalize workers who have caregiving responsibilities outside the workplace. Those workers tend to be women.

This language wins for me very strongly. First, it's quite true that caregivers tend to be women. But they are not exclusively women. My father was a caregiver (He and my mother have long since passed away, but not until recently did I realize how serious her bipolar was, and how much he did to care for her.) I am a caregiver. It has cost me significantly. The language here of "tends to be" does not exclude me or Dad in the way more black-and-white language ("these workers are women") does.___This is a very interesting article, and one which I think hits on an incredibly important point. The source of the pay gap between men and women is rarely explicit and obvious; it emerges from other factors. By looking at which jobs have higher or lower gender wage gaps, we start to see one of the biggest issues: jobs with inflexible hours tend to also have the highest wage gaps.

Lots to think about in here.

2016-08-04 03:36:08 (240 comments; 95 reshares; 453 +1s; )Open 

Missouri's public defender system is a wreck. It's a wreck for a very simple reason: the state, and in particular the governor's office, has worked hard to defund it for years, leaving it unable to hire lawyers to fill jobs even as caseloads balloon. This is true despite legal actions against the state by the Department of Justice, finding that poor black children (in particular) are being denied due process by the lack of legal representation. (If you know anything about Missouri's history, you will know that this outcome is not a coincidence)

This situation has left Michael Barrett, the director of the state's public defender system, with fewer and fewer options to keep the office open. In fact, he's down to one crucial state law that he's always (for good reason) hesitated to use.

All of this is background. What comes next is something I cannot possibly... more »

Missouri's public defender system is a wreck. It's a wreck for a very simple reason: the state, and in particular the governor's office, has worked hard to defund it for years, leaving it unable to hire lawyers to fill jobs even as caseloads balloon. This is true despite legal actions against the state by the Department of Justice, finding that poor black children (in particular) are being denied due process by the lack of legal representation. (If you know anything about Missouri's history, you will know that this outcome is not a coincidence)

This situation has left Michael Barrett, the director of the state's public defender system, with fewer and fewer options to keep the office open. In fact, he's down to one crucial state law that he's always (for good reason) hesitated to use.

All of this is background. What comes next is something I cannot possibly summarize without spoiling the ending. So instead, I suggest that you read Barrett's short letter to Governor Nixon. Read it through the end. Trust me.

I am seriously looking forward to watching how this case plays out. /popcorn

h/t +Andreas Schou___

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2016-08-03 23:07:13 (25 comments; 27 reshares; 205 +1s; )Open 

Here is something random and beautiful: It turns out that the number you get from chaining 317 1's together is prime. So is the number with 1,031 1's. And a number theorist named James Maynard just proved that for any digit you pick, there are infinitely many primes which don't contain that digit.

(In fact, this works in any sufficiently large base: in base b, you can apparently pick up to b^(23/80) digits and make infinitely many primes that contain none of those. For b=10, that comes out to 1.94, or being able to avoid any one digit.)

Is this useful? I'm not really sure. But it's beautiful, and it's a further hint to the subtle patterns that underlie prime numbers, which we to this day don't understand very well.

Primes with no sevens

This is a prime number whose decimal digits are all ones.  It has 317 ones.  It's not the world record.  The number with 1031 ones is also known to be prime! 

Even larger guys like this are suspected  to be prime.  Are there infinitely many?   Mathematicians believe so, but they can't prove it.

Why do they believe it?   The main reason is that they have an estimate of the "probability" that a number with some number of digits is prime. We can use this to guess the answer to this puzzle.

Of course the whole idea of "probability" is a bit weird here.  A number is either prime or not: the math gods do not flip coins to decide which numbers are prime! 

Nonetheless, treating primes as if  they were random turns out to be useful.   Mathematicians have made many guesses using this idea, and then proved these guesses are right, using a lot of extra work.

Of course it's subtle.  If I wrote down a number with 317 twos in its decimal expansion, you'd instantly know it's not prime - because it would be even.

In the European Congress of Mathematics, a number theorist named James Maynard just announced something cool.  There are infinitely many prime numbers with no sevens in their decimal expansion!

And his proof works equally well for any other number: there infinitely many primes without 0 as a digit, or 1, or 2, or 3, or 4, or 5, and so on.

This is big news, but not because mathematicians really care about primes with no sevens in them.  It's because proving something like this requires a deep and delicate understanding of "the music of primes" - the way prime numbers are connected to wave patterns.  For more on that, here's something easy to read:

https://plus.maths.org/content/missing-7s

Thanks to +Luis Guzman for pointing out this article, and thanks to +David Roberts for finding James Maynard's paper on this subject, which is here:

• James Maynard, Primes with restricted digits, http://arxiv.org/abs/1604.01041.

He shows that if your base b is sufficiently large, you can find infinitely many primes that are lacking a chosen set of digits, where this set can contain up to b^(23/80) of the digits.  Unfortunately I don't see  how large b must be - he may not have worked this out.  If b = 10 counts as sufficiently large, then since 10^(23/80) is about 1.94, this result would let you avoid any one digit in base 10, but not two.  In any event, he does prove, separately, that you can find infinitely many primes that avoid any one digit in base 10.

  It uses cool techniques, like "decorrelating Diophantine conditions which dictate when the Fourier transform of the primes is large from digital conditions which dictate when the Fourier transform of numbers with restricted digits is large".  It also uses ideas from Markov process theory - that is, the theory of random processes - as well as hard-core number theory concepts.

#bigness   #spnetwork arXiv:1604.01041 #numberTheory #primes  ___Here is something random and beautiful: It turns out that the number you get from chaining 317 1's together is prime. So is the number with 1,031 1's. And a number theorist named James Maynard just proved that for any digit you pick, there are infinitely many primes which don't contain that digit.

(In fact, this works in any sufficiently large base: in base b, you can apparently pick up to b^(23/80) digits and make infinitely many primes that contain none of those. For b=10, that comes out to 1.94, or being able to avoid any one digit.)

Is this useful? I'm not really sure. But it's beautiful, and it's a further hint to the subtle patterns that underlie prime numbers, which we to this day don't understand very well.

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2016-08-02 01:33:09 (64 comments; 163 reshares; 504 +1s; )Open 

Faraday cages are one of the most basic tools in electrical anything. They're based on the principle that if you place a hollow, conductive container inside an electromagnetic field, then no matter what that field is on the outside, the container shields it: inside the container, the field is zero. These also work in reverse: if you put a field source inside a conductive container, the container will prevent that field from getting out.

This is pretty useful if you want to do something that could produce dangerous fields, like use microwaves to heat food. By wrapping it in a Faraday cage, you make sure that the resulting fields don't also heat everything in their vicinity.

Now, most Faraday cages aren't solid, conductive containers; it's been known for a long time that a wire mesh works just as well. Except it turns out that it doesn't.

Faraday invented... more »

Faraday cages are one of the most basic tools in electrical anything. They're based on the principle that if you place a hollow, conductive container inside an electromagnetic field, then no matter what that field is on the outside, the container shields it: inside the container, the field is zero. These also work in reverse: if you put a field source inside a conductive container, the container will prevent that field from getting out.

This is pretty useful if you want to do something that could produce dangerous fields, like use microwaves to heat food. By wrapping it in a Faraday cage, you make sure that the resulting fields don't also heat everything in their vicinity.

Now, most Faraday cages aren't solid, conductive containers; it's been known for a long time that a wire mesh works just as well. Except it turns out that it doesn't.

Faraday invented the cage in 1836. From then until roughly the 1940's, the correct functioning of mesh cages has been a combination of lore and practical engineering: if you really care that your cage works (like in a microwave oven), you build it and measure what happens. The theory of them was worked out by Feynman in the 1940's – except it turns out that Feynman simply did it wrong. (In particular, he looked at wire meshes with constant charge on them, not constant voltage; the math was right, it simply solved the wrong problem)

According to Feynman's solution, what matters for a working Faraday cage is the proximity of the wires. Roughly, the depth into the cage at which it provides the needed field suppression drops exponentially as the wires move closer together. It turns out this isn't right: fields decay only linearly with wire spacing. What really matters is the thickness of the wires: the suppression does scale exponentially with that.

In practice, this explains a lot of open mysteries, like why your cell phone works inside an elevator, but not inside an underground parking garage. Elevators, under the old theory, should have been pretty good Faraday cages; how do the radio signals, which are just EM fields, get out? It turns out they aren't very good Faraday cages at all. Likewise, garages don't tend to have deliberate EM shielding on them, but they do have lots of rebar, and windows which are often grated. Put those together and the new theory tells you that you have a great Faraday cage.

Also in practice, this team now has a good method for calculating how Faraday cages will actually work ahead of time. It's not rocket science; it's simply solving the differential equations of electrodynamics for a cage. You can see some of the results in pictures below, where the density of lines indicates the field strength. (In all of those pictures, an EM source is to the right of the cage)

The moral of this story: if everyone assumes that there's a good theory for something, but nobody can actually find it worked out in detail, there's a good chance that there actually isn't one.

Via +rone ___

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2016-07-31 20:24:19 (23 comments; 27 reshares; 228 +1s; )Open 

Color-blindness is very common: there are about 13 million people with it in the United States alone, and generally it affects roughly one in twelve men. [1] Because of this, it's important that visual designs be usable by the color-blind. Fortunately, there's been a great deal of excellent research on the subject, and this paper is a wonderful summary of best practices.

One of the things I like the most is "shifted spectra:" by using slightly different color combinations in spectral maps, you can end up with an image that's both easy to read and visually striking for all types of color vision. The image below is an example: while greed-red spectra all look kind of yellowish to people with deuteranopia (one of the most common kinds of color-blindness [2]), green-purple spectra are crisply visible to both.

There's far more to it than this, of course, and this... more »

Color-blindness is very common: there are about 13 million people with it in the United States alone, and generally it affects roughly one in twelve men. [1] Because of this, it's important that visual designs be usable by the color-blind. Fortunately, there's been a great deal of excellent research on the subject, and this paper is a wonderful summary of best practices.

One of the things I like the most is "shifted spectra:" by using slightly different color combinations in spectral maps, you can end up with an image that's both easy to read and visually striking for all types of color vision. The image below is an example: while greed-red spectra all look kind of yellowish to people with deuteranopia (one of the most common kinds of color-blindness [2]), green-purple spectra are crisply visible to both.

There's far more to it than this, of course, and this paper is a wonderful place to learn about all the things that can be used to distinguish images. That includes everything from software tools that let you see how your images would look to different kinds of eyes, to principles of how to draw and label lines. Quite generally, this is stuff which leads to good design.

http://colororacle.org/resources/2007_JennyKelso_ColorDesign_lores.pdf

[1] It's much rarer in women, affecting roughly one in 200.
[2] Protanopia, deuteranopia, and tritanopia refer to a lack of L (red), M (green), and S (blue) cones, respectively; protanomaly (etc.) refer to weakness, but not a lack, of those kinds of cones. Deuteranomaly is the most common type of color blindness, affecting roughly 5% of men.___

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2016-07-31 05:27:35 (99 comments; 33 reshares; 364 +1s; )Open 

The politics of the matter aside, I think this would be excellent for the country for a number of reasons.

First, Obama has always been known for a profoundly thoughtful and deliberative style. This is unusual among Presidents (of any party), but is ideal for Supreme Court justices.

Second, he has a profound familiarity with the law, not just from a theoretical perspective (teaching Constitutional Law at Chicago for 12 years) but more importantly in its day-to-day practice.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Court desperately needs some non-judicial blood on it. Justice O'Connor, who was on the bench from 1981 to 2006, was the last justice to not have come directly from being a sitting federal judge. (She was a state judge, and before that a state senator and an assistant AG) Having a homogenous bench can create a profound myopia; people who have seen the law from... more »

The politics of the matter aside, I think this would be excellent for the country for a number of reasons.

First, Obama has always been known for a profoundly thoughtful and deliberative style. This is unusual among Presidents (of any party), but is ideal for Supreme Court justices.

Second, he has a profound familiarity with the law, not just from a theoretical perspective (teaching Constitutional Law at Chicago for 12 years) but more importantly in its day-to-day practice.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Court desperately needs some non-judicial blood on it. Justice O'Connor, who was on the bench from 1981 to 2006, was the last justice to not have come directly from being a sitting federal judge. (She was a state judge, and before that a state senator and an assistant AG) Having a homogenous bench can create a profound myopia; people who have seen the law from a wide variety of angles will approach questions from more angles, and broad thinking makes good case law.

A former president would bring a truly extraordinary background to the job, especially when so many cases involving issues of national security, the executive branch, or the balance of powers are at stake. Far from making him biased, I suspect this would bring tremendous nuance to the conversation, with deliberations now having a profound awareness of the consequences of each decision.

The last time we had a former president on the Court was when President Taft became Chief Justice in 1921. His nine years on the bench are still remembered for the way in which he restructured the federal judiciary, making it more organized and efficient (and finally getting the Supreme Court its own building); he is still remembered as one of the greatest Chief Justices, and his bust stands in the hall of the Court. Obama, I suspect, would outdo this legacy.

There are obvious political obstacles to such a nomination, but in a day where every conceivable nomination has infinite political obstacles, this starts to fall into the category of "why not?" I certainly couldn't think of anyone more qualified for the job. (And I know some pretty exceptional jurists)

h/t +Shava Nerad.___

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2016-07-31 04:40:19 (56 comments; 36 reshares; 330 +1s; )Open 

Holy shit. Seriously, holy shit. As you watch him coming down through the last 5,000' or so it starts to become very visually clear that he is plummeting towards the ground from nearly five miles up. And he stuck the landing, flawlessly.

O.O

Dude. #readlater

"...In a stunt called, "Heaven Sent," the 42-year-old daredevil leaped 25,000 feet to Earth –- setting the world record for the highest jump. To accomplish this feat, Aikins had to direct his body in free fall using only the air currents around him to land safely on the 100-square-foot net (about a third the size of a football field) laid out to catch him..."

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/07/30/488083554/luke-aikins-becomes-first-person-to-jump-from-a-plane-without-a-parachute___Holy shit. Seriously, holy shit. As you watch him coming down through the last 5,000' or so it starts to become very visually clear that he is plummeting towards the ground from nearly five miles up. And he stuck the landing, flawlessly.

O.O

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2016-07-30 22:32:26 (60 comments; 125 reshares; 401 +1s; )Open 

This is a new technology that I can only describe as "unbelievably cool." The idea is simple, if you've ever held a glass up to sunlight: when light passes through a curved, transparent surface, it gets bent and forms patterns when it lands. What this company has done is worked out an algorithm that lets them delicately shape pieces of glass so that the resulting pattern forms any image you want.

The result feels like magic: you're holding what looks like normal glass in your hand, but as the light shines through it, it projects an image.

There's nothing actually magical at all, of course; the challenges are all in some algorithmics to compute the right surface shape, and in the practicalities of shaping glass so precisely. But as the video evidences, the results are beautiful. I can't wait to see this hit the market.

h/t +Autumn Ginkgo... more »

This is a new technology that I can only describe as "unbelievably cool." The idea is simple, if you've ever held a glass up to sunlight: when light passes through a curved, transparent surface, it gets bent and forms patterns when it lands. What this company has done is worked out an algorithm that lets them delicately shape pieces of glass so that the resulting pattern forms any image you want.

The result feels like magic: you're holding what looks like normal glass in your hand, but as the light shines through it, it projects an image.

There's nothing actually magical at all, of course; the challenges are all in some algorithmics to compute the right surface shape, and in the practicalities of shaping glass so precisely. But as the video evidences, the results are beautiful. I can't wait to see this hit the market.

h/t +Autumn Ginkgo Leaves™___

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2016-07-29 19:15:19 (76 comments; 143 reshares; 452 +1s; )Open 

For decades, desalination was seen as a pipe dream: so costly in terms of energy that it could never be useful. Reverse-osmosis was hailed as a possible change, but the problem of "biofouling" -- basically, bacterial growth in the filters requiring constant chemical cleaning -- made it impractical. But a few years ago, this problem started to get cracked, and now Israel is doing something previously unthinkable: running a net surplus of water.

To give you some context for this: In 1948, Israel was more than half parched, nearly-uninhabitable desert. The steady northward spread of the desert had been greatly accelerated by Ottoman deforestation, and the whole ecosystem verged on collapse. David Ben Gurion, the first president, made it his crusade to make the country green: "There will be bears in the Negev (desert)!," he would famously say. This meant everything from aggressive... more »

For decades, desalination was seen as a pipe dream: so costly in terms of energy that it could never be useful. Reverse-osmosis was hailed as a possible change, but the problem of "biofouling" -- basically, bacterial growth in the filters requiring constant chemical cleaning -- made it impractical. But a few years ago, this problem started to get cracked, and now Israel is doing something previously unthinkable: running a net surplus of water.

To give you some context for this: In 1948, Israel was more than half parched, nearly-uninhabitable desert. The steady northward spread of the desert had been greatly accelerated by Ottoman deforestation, and the whole ecosystem verged on collapse. David Ben Gurion, the first president, made it his crusade to make the country green: "There will be bears in the Negev (desert)!," he would famously say. This meant everything from aggressive water conservation across the country, to research in water technologies, to a steady program of reclaiming the desert, with schoolchildren routinely going out in large groups to plant trees.

Today, I can barely recognize the country of my childhood; as you go south of Jerusalem, miles and miles which I remember as barren deserts are now lush forests and farms.

But this was almost lost in the past decade, as powerful droughts -- the same droughts which triggered the Arab Spring -- have ravaged the Middle East. The Kinneret (also known as the Sea of Galilee) saw its water level drop terrifyingly, year after year, close to the threshold where osmotic pressure would fill it with salt and destroy it as a freshwater lake. The Dead Sea was shrinking into a giant mud puddle, and we talked about it meeting the same fate as the Aral Sea, now just a memory.

The rise of modern desalination has changed this calculus completely. Because it doesn't rely on boiling or similar processes, it's energy-cheap. It's maintainable, and while it requires capital outlays in the way that building any large plant does, it doesn't require astronomical or unusual ones. This makes it a technology ready for use across the world.

There is one further potential benefit to this: Peace. Water is a crucial resource in the Middle East (and elsewhere!), far more scarce than oil. It's needed not just for humans, but most of all for crop irrigation, as droughts destroying farmland have been one of the biggest problems facing the region. The potential for desalination to change this creates a tremendous opportunity for cooperation -- and there are nascent signs that this is, indeed, happening.

At an even higher level, relieving the political pressures created by lack of water, and thus lack of working farms, could have far more profound effects on the region as a whole. Even before the recent droughts, things like the steady desertification of Egypt's once-lush Nile Valley (a long-term consequence of the Aswan Dam and the stopping of the regular flooding of the Nile) were pushing people by the million into overcrowded cities unable to support them. Having farming work again doesn't just mean food, it also means work, and it means a systematic reduction in desperation.

Desalination looks to be one of the most important technologies of the 21st century: it's hard to overstate how much it could reshape our world.

Via +paul beard ___

2016-07-29 04:52:10 (35 comments; 22 reshares; 178 +1s; )Open 

Watching the conventions over the past two weeks has made me very thoughtful. The contrast I was seeing between the two visions for the country was extremely sharp – and the unexpected unity that I saw in the past few days, between groups that you don't normally expect to see next to each other, made me think even more.

There is a meaningful way for people as different as Bernie Sanders, Tim Kaine, Michael Bloomberg, and Joe Biden to work together. And there's a very compelling vision in that.

More on my thoughts below the link.

Watching the conventions over the past two weeks has made me very thoughtful. The contrast I was seeing between the two visions for the country was extremely sharp – and the unexpected unity that I saw in the past few days, between groups that you don't normally expect to see next to each other, made me think even more.

There is a meaningful way for people as different as Bernie Sanders, Tim Kaine, Michael Bloomberg, and Joe Biden to work together. And there's a very compelling vision in that.

More on my thoughts below the link.___

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2016-07-29 00:31:16 (57 comments; 27 reshares; 206 +1s; )Open 

This is the Wartime Broadcasting Service. This country has been attacked with nuclear weapons. Communications have been severely disrupted, and the number of casualties and the extent of the damage are not yet known.

Part of good nuclear preparedness for a country is thinking about how to tell the public that the world has come to an end. The BBC spent some time preparing for this in the early 1970's, and wrote out a full script -- to be read on-air by Peter Donaldson -- in case the worst should happen. If Nixon's speech prepared in case Apollo 11 failed is known as the "best speech never given," you might consider this to be the "speech we are happiest was never given."

I don't really know what to tell you about this, except that it's hard to tell reality from +Scarfolk Council some days. If you go over to @NuclearAnthro on Twitter, he'ss... more »

This is the Wartime Broadcasting Service. This country has been attacked with nuclear weapons. Communications have been severely disrupted, and the number of casualties and the extent of the damage are not yet known.

Part of good nuclear preparedness for a country is thinking about how to tell the public that the world has come to an end. The BBC spent some time preparing for this in the early 1970's, and wrote out a full script -- to be read on-air by Peter Donaldson -- in case the worst should happen. If Nixon's speech prepared in case Apollo 11 failed is known as the "best speech never given," you might consider this to be the "speech we are happiest was never given."

I don't really know what to tell you about this, except that it's hard to tell reality from +Scarfolk Council some days. If you go over to @NuclearAnthro on Twitter, he's sharing all sorts of other stuff of that sort, and you'll really get a sense of how insane the world can get.

If this is all too depressing, you can read Nixon's planned speech here instead. It's sad, but very beautiful. (With one slight correction: IIRC, the burial service to have followed this was almost like the one for burial at sea, but it would "commend their bodies to the utmost deep")

http://www.space.com/26604-apollo-11-failure-nixon-speech.html___

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2016-07-28 05:11:17 (55 comments; 46 reshares; 249 +1s; )Open 

A rather thoughtful analysis of something that's been happening in the US lately. The speeches at the DNC have been on themes of family values, patriotism, and American exceptionalism – traditionally Republican themes, but now (with that party's candidate having rejected all of these fairly soundly) up for grabs. The result is something rather interesting, and could have deep effects on politics down the line. This may be a key moment in the realignment of American political parties.

Worth the read, and a ponder.

A rather thoughtful analysis of something that's been happening in the US lately. The speeches at the DNC have been on themes of family values, patriotism, and American exceptionalism – traditionally Republican themes, but now (with that party's candidate having rejected all of these fairly soundly) up for grabs. The result is something rather interesting, and could have deep effects on politics down the line. This may be a key moment in the realignment of American political parties.

Worth the read, and a ponder.___

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2016-07-28 04:53:30 (17 comments; 20 reshares; 175 +1s; )Open 

A fascinating new study on trolling behavior. I'm going to have to read it in depth and think about it. In the meantime, I think +Eli Fennell's comments summarize it pretty well.

Think Trolls Act Better Using Their 'Real Name'? Think Again.

There is a theory of internet trolls that goes as follows: they behave worse because they don't have to use their real names. Force them to do that, and they'll behave better.

Google+ tried the theory, but eventually gave up. Facebook still promotes the theory, much to the chagrin of many people booted for having unusual names that someone thought didn't sound 'real'.

Are they right? A team of researchers from the University of Zurich's Institute of Sociology decided to find out.

They gave participants in their research a simple choice: use your real name, or use a pseudonym. From this data they were able to analyze over 500K comments.

So, were the Real Name users better behaved? In a word: no. In two words: dream on.

Users who chose to use their Real Names were more likely to engage in online 'mass attacks' than pseudonymous users, helping put to bed the idea that Real Name Policies can 'fix' trolling.

Interestingly, and relevantly, Google+'s +Yonatan Zunger​, in explaining their decision to drop the policy, noted that they had similarly failed to find evidence of the policy's effectiveness, noting that if anything such policies tend to exacerbate preexisting power dynamics, as those most vulnerable and marginalized are least able to express themselves freely, while those most privileged are able to behave as they choose.

Trolling is a serious problem on the internet, threatening the power of social networks and other online communities and forums to bring groups and individuals together harmoniously and productively. It is therefore tempting to try to find a simple solution to this complex problem.

If there is one, Real Name Policies aren't it.

#SocialMedia #Trolls___A fascinating new study on trolling behavior. I'm going to have to read it in depth and think about it. In the meantime, I think +Eli Fennell's comments summarize it pretty well.

2016-07-28 03:15:38 (110 comments; 13 reshares; 196 +1s; )Open 

Observation while listening to the President's speech at the Democratic Convention: the message tonight was resolutely optimistic. He talked about all the things that the US has overcome, how we got through wars and recessions and so on. Contrasting this with Trump's speech last week, you can really see what's happening in this election. Clinton is running as the candidate of people whose lives and stability have generally recovered since the crash; Trump is running as the candidate of people whose lives haven't.

What surprised me most about tonight's speech in this regard was how little awareness it seemed to show that this division was real. 

Observation while listening to the President's speech at the Democratic Convention: the message tonight was resolutely optimistic. He talked about all the things that the US has overcome, how we got through wars and recessions and so on. Contrasting this with Trump's speech last week, you can really see what's happening in this election. Clinton is running as the candidate of people whose lives and stability have generally recovered since the crash; Trump is running as the candidate of people whose lives haven't.

What surprised me most about tonight's speech in this regard was how little awareness it seemed to show that this division was real. ___

2016-07-26 21:21:22 (23 comments; 4 reshares; 84 +1s; )Open 

Some interesting thoughts from +Steven Flaeck​ on election fraud.

We know a lot about election fraud thanks to history, defectors, and observation.

Here's the thing about election fraud: it's either obvious or ineffective. "Obvious" is a weasel term, I guess, so let me give an example of obvious.

The US occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 and ran a tinpot military dictatorship there. It didn't prop one up, it ran one. The Navy wrote their constitution and the Marines ran the government. No, I mean literally, not that stupid left-wing metaphors-are-real way. As an explicit policy of the US, its military commanders were also the filling the civilian roles in Haitian government.

There were, however, elections for a variety of not really in charge institutions. Here's how those worked. To vote, you'd pick up a slip of paper with the name of the candidate you wanted and put it in the ballot box. Those slips were passed out by the Marines and there was only one candidate to vote for. If that sounds like how Duvalier did his elections, congrats, you're drawing connections. It's also how Hussein did his. And so on. One candidate, ballots passed out by the military.

When I say "election fraud is either obvious or ineffective" I mean "election fraud is either Marines passing out ballots with only one name on it or ineffective". That's the sense of "obvious" I use.[1]

The other effective methods for election fraud are all like that. Changing the tally is pretty obvious because it requires an architecture of secrecy. That's why people's wariness at electronic voting makes a lot of sense to me, it can potentially provide that architecture of secrecy. Large scale ballot-stuffing requires lots and lots of ballots and teams upon teams or, again, an architecture of secrecy that lets you dump the fakes in at a single bottleneck you control, like a counting room. You know all that stuff about people standing around to observe the counting? That's why they're there, preventing that architecture of secrecy needed to let the counters make the results, if you know what I mean. But accomplishing that requires sudden black-box choke points where, mysteriously, accountability entirely disappears and observation is completely forbidden.

Less[2] tweedy methods like having people vote multiple times require large organizations acting in public. These are obvious and everyone knows they're happening; they require the buy-in of other organizations, like police. They advertise for fraudsters. Seriously: it's a job you get hired for, explicitly, or a bounty is paid.[3] If you lived in a place where it happens, you'd know who was involved because they'd tell you. Usually they'd tell you right before basically kidnapping you to use a multi-voter, changing you clothes constantly and carting you from polling place to polling place.[4] They succeed because no individual vote is obviously fraudulent even if the operation as a whole is.

I'm being a bit disingenuous here. The "ineffective" methods are mostly the same ones, mechanically, just done on a smaller scale. Some intimidation at a few places. A couple miscounts, here and there. A few hundred or thousand duplicate votes. These are less obvious because they aren't large and they're not Marines passing out ballots. But that means their effect size is naturally smaller. And, in smaller elections, there's less space to hide them. The proportion of fraud matters both to effectiveness and secrecy. A higher proportion of fraud is more effective and more obvious. A lower proportion, less effective but also less obvious. So anything not obvious[5] is only effective if an election is really close. The election needs to be decided by a few thousand votes, at most, with millions cast.

If fraud is obvious or ineffective, why bother? First: people aren't always that bright, never attribute to Machiavellian genius what can best be explained by Machiavellian incompetence.[6]

Second, though, elections serve a lot of important purposes. One is that they have an reifiable legitimacy: the winner of an election has the support of most people and, ipso facto, most of the manpower which could be used to take the position by force. Before we think anything else about democracy, think about how winning an election is a really good sign that you could, gauntlets down and roses picked, most plausibly win the game of Bigger Army Diplomacy. The more people accept the idea that elections determine political outcomes, the more likely that the winner could assemble a bigger army; many of the loser's supporters will accept the loss and the winner's supporters will be incensed. When I said "if Trump isn't the nominee, there will be riots and there should be", I meant it and now you know what I meant.[7]

They also fulfill a perfectly reasonable idea of "public will".[8] Take a tally of all the opinions, and the most commonly held is the "aggregate" opinion. This has flaws, but it also makes intuitive sense. In fact, it makes so much intuitive sense that many ideas which people propose to improve elections take this idea of public will as their starting point. They just see how different ways of measuring can have different results. Many though just rely on our improved understanding of statistics to create systems which can be accurately described as "measure twice, cut once". This idea is so reasonable that proposals offered by way of disagreement are, in many ways, mostly about improving accuracy.[9]

They also have a weirder role. They're obvious. The outcome of an election, fraudulent or legit, is obvious. There's a winner. People tend to know if they'd care who it was. This has excellent implications for succession if you think about the number of wars fought over uncertain lines of succession in monarchies. I can bring it up and you know about it. That's actually huge. I spent two paragraphs making the meaning of "obvious" obvious. Being obvious is a big deal.

So is winning the argument. Winning the argument with friends, family, coworkers, and others, society wide, every day. That's the bedrock of politics, in the end, even in authoritarian states. How you win arguments isn't obvious. In fact, "winning the argument" needs scare quotes to properly contain it. I'm "winning the argument" about policing right now. I'm not talking to many people about policing. A combination of cellphone video, stagnant policy landscape, and a large head of pressure built by people like Radley Balko have pushed a lot of the abuses I've harped on for years into the public's attention. Opinions are changing. I'm "winning the argument" without even arguing myself. A lot of that winning is happening in the more classic way of debaitng with people; I'm just not doing the debating myself. Those classic cases are winning their particular argument, but "winning the argument", as a concept, is something all these factors do together.

When you come up against someone who supports an authoritarian regime, they can give you the result of the obviously rigged election and be a little bit disingenuous. "There were Marines passing out ballots!" "As is their patriotic duty, comrade." And on and on. This won't be an argument over facts. The facts are obvious. Your interlocutor knows them, is possibly proud of them. If facts enter, it will be forcing you to recount them and explain how election fraud works. I've written a whole article about that at this point. You're probably going to give up well in advance.

You know what just happened? The regime is winning the argument even though they really shouldn't because the fraud is obvious.[10]

What frustrates me about charges of election fraud in the United States is this issue here. When people argue that election fraud is occuring, they don't use "obvious" the right way. There aren't Marines passing out ballots. They personally never looekd into a part-time job disguising carting novelists from polling-place to polling-place. They're not referring to how all the ballots were collected into a shadowy warehouse guarded by a street gange and owned by mayor. If there's fraud involved, it's the ineffective kind. The sort which works only when the election is decided by a few thousand votes, at most, with millions cast. And that's just not the kind of election they're talking about! Most recently, it's about elections decided by millions of votes with millions cast. Just before this most recent outburst of fraud accusations, it was conservatives insisting that "fake voters" were swinging elections. Likewise, it seem unlikely that such an operation wouldn't be obvious in that Marines passing out ballots way.[11] That's just not how election fraud works.

And I mean that: it doesn't work that way. People do try it but it doesn't work. You can't swing big elections by tweaking the margins a little.

The problem, fundamentally, isn't known to me. I've got suspicions, sure. The big one is how passionate people slip into epistemic closure and the way epistemic closure lets metaphorical language become literal.[12] But knock it off. I'm tired of seeing this proposed by the loser every time. This year, it's Sanders supporters. In 2012, it was Republicans. It was Republicans in 2008, too. In 2000 Marines were passing out ballots. I mean, the Supreme Court decided the election in an actual court case.[13]

Loose talk about election fraud is very damaging. While those who make the accusation see the damage it does to their opponent, they usually don't see the wider consequences. Take a different topic. Americans grossly misperceive the amount of crime and whether crime is increasing.[14] Anxiety about safety distorts perception.[15] Likewise, building up anxieties about election fraud can distort people's perception of it. They see it everywhere and it feels obvious even though they can't point to any Marines. That's very bad. People start becoming suspicious of elections themselves; not just particular elections, the whole democratic framework becomes suspect. As Hannah Arendt points out, the bedrock of authoritarianism is the collapse of political trust into a kind of conspiratorial cynicism. That's really super bad. That's how you get Marines passing out ballots.

I don't consider this an idealistic case. Remember my merits of elections above: Bigger Army Diplomacy, obviousness, winnding the argument, public will. Only one would qualify as "idealistic". The rest are wholly cynical and very literally Machiavellian.[16] They're very good reasons to protect the mechanism from fraud. They're also very good reasons to protect its legitimacy from loose accusations. The system itself isn't perfect, there are lots of problems in it, from low voter engagement to long lines, to the inability to reduce long lines if turnout is unexpectedly high. But these things aren't fraud. Election fraud is either obvious[5] or ineffective. It's not the former this year.



[1] Don't use it any other way. Had all of you made a commitment to "obvious" being obvious, I'd never have had to write two paragraphs about Haitian history and American assholery to explain what "obvious" means. Or don't. Maybe you want two paragraphs. Jerk.

[2] Read: more.

[3] It's an interesting thing, if you look it up.

[4] This is, in fact, how Edgar Allen Poe died.

[5] Remember: obvious means "Marines passing out ballots", that's our paradigmatic case.

[6] We had this phrase, "Dunning-Krueger Machiavellians", to describe people who think they're carrying out a secret and insanely clever plot which is, in fact, transparently obvious[5] and dumb.

[7] Side concerns about voter engagement and so on should be thought about carefully before raised; start with whether disengaged voters even have a candidate to fight for. I'm not saying you're wrong, just don't try my patience with cute bullshit.

[8] Reasonable, not right. There're lots of arguments about what the public will is or how you might measure it. I'll bet that the idea "what the majority says" is on the list from every brainstorming session on the topic, though. And I'll also bet that it's pretty rare for it to just get struck down immediatel along with the idea that maybe the public will is sandwiches. It's a brainstorming session, we just write down everything, even if it's a sly attempt to suggest we break for lunch

[9] Or "fidelity", really. Like converting between waves and digital signals. How do you make a stairstep pattern a wave? A wave a stairstep? How close is "close enough" or, considering our main topic, what methods really are "good enough for government work"?

[10] Remember: obvious means Marines passing out ballots, that's our paradigmatic case and very likely the immediate one as well.

[11] More precisely, in that "I and everyone I know have worked as a 'fake voter' before, or at least applied" way.

[12] Seriously, I've noticed ths a lot. Metaphors are used as linguistic shorthand. Someone "flies like an eagle" so I don't need to write a whole passage about strength and beauty. It's like an acronym: "Bob is an E.A.G.L.E.". But there's a tendency for feedback loops to forget that the metaphor is shorthand, to go from "Bob is an E.A.G.L.E." to "Bob is an EAGLE" to "watch out, I hear that Bob soars through the air and attacks people with his talons, according to Trusted News Source, he's attacked several people this year, bearing them aloft to his grim perch where they shall soon join the macabre assemblage of bones below".

[13] Not that it mattered, if the Constitution were followed, the House would have voted because neither Bush nor Gore would have a majority of Electors. The Republicans controlled the House, so there's no prize for guessing how it would go. The court case itself and the decision can be (metaphorically) litigated until the end of time, but the easiest answer was that Florida's election was too close and, so, neither infinite recounts nor arbitrarily stoppig them really yielded the correct result. What makes that answer easy is Republican control of the House: both stopping the recounts and declaring the Florida balloting null had the same result in practice, it's just that the latter has more constitutional legitimacy and less "the counters decide the election".

[14] Notice how the graphs align, too. That seems like a 9/11 effect. The perception of crime seems to be related to anxiety about safety, not crime. Septemeber 11 wasn't about street crime, but it did a lot of damage to people's sense of safety. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/04/17/despite-lower-crime-rates-support-for-gun-rights-increases/ft_15-04-01_guns_crimerate/

[15] Anyone who remembers an anxiety attack can testify to this. It has an immediacy there which can be easy to miss in daily life.

[16] Though famous for The Prince, Machiavelli was most interested in republicanism with that kind of idealistic pragmatism which characterized the Renaissance. He would not have seen these as "cynical". We've lost the sense of "natural" he would have used to explain this. I sometimes talk about "post-cynicism", this is what I'm talking about.



[coda] The 2000 election demonstrated a major failing of the Electoral College: it increases the probability that an election will be decided by a few thousand votes out of millions cast. The election in Florida hinged on a very few votes. Because Florida represents so many Electoral College points, those few votes really did determine the election. That's an excellent reason to rid ourselves of the Electoral College system.___Some interesting thoughts from +Steven Flaeck​ on election fraud.

2016-07-26 19:30:33 (79 comments; 27 reshares; 173 +1s; )Open 

Ferrett has a nice way of saying things rather bluntly. Yeah, I'm pretty much with him on all of this.

___Ferrett has a nice way of saying things rather bluntly. Yeah, I'm pretty much with him on all of this.

posted image

2016-07-26 04:38:00 (17 comments; 67 reshares; 314 +1s; )Open 

And here's something just pleasing: +Chris Hadfield talking about various bits of daily life in space, from sleeping and going to the bathroom to the games one plays. There are still wonderful things in this world. (And out of it)

Via +Paul Hosking.

And here's something just pleasing: +Chris Hadfield talking about various bits of daily life in space, from sleeping and going to the bathroom to the games one plays. There are still wonderful things in this world. (And out of it)

Via +Paul Hosking.___

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