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Yonatan Zunger has been at 2 events

HostFollowersTitleDateGuestsLinks
STEM Women on G+180,273Join us for a STEM Women HOA as we speak to Dr.  @103389452828130864950 on how men can help with the issues of gender inequality in STEM fields. Yonatan is the Chief Architect of Google+ and also has a PhD in Physics with a strong engineering background. He is a passionate advocate of gender equality in STEM, and will talk to us about what we can do to encourage women in STEM. This HOA will be hosted by Dr @108510686109338749229   and Dr @110756968351492254645  , and you can tune in on Sunday March 2nd at 12.30 PM Pacific/ 8.30PM GMT. The hangout will be available for viewing on our YouTube channel(http://www.youtube.com/stemwomen) after the event. Follow us on Twitter @stemwomen and on www.stemwomen.netSTEM Women: How Men Can Help with Dr Yonatan Zunger2014-03-02 21:30:0099  
Blogger1,552,924We’re hosting a Hangout on Air with lead Product Manager @109161242786054443993 and lead Engineer @103389452828130864950 to discuss last week’s launch of Google+ Comments for Blogger. If you’ve got questions about the launch, please leave them in the comments below so that Dan and Yonatan can answer them during the Hangout.Join the team behind Google+ Comments for Blogger for a Hangout on Air2013-04-25 20:30:001149  

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Most comments: 152

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2016-01-23 21:15:55 (152 comments; 25 reshares; 328 +1s)Open 

If they're going to come to this country, they should be expected to assimilate, shouldn't they?

Sorry, I'm still trying to get the hang of how this "immigration policy" business works.

Via +Don McArthur.

Most reshares: 278

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2016-02-11 17:52:47 (146 comments; 278 reshares; 830 +1s)Open 

We have observed gravitational waves!

This morning, the LIGO observatory announced a historic event: for the very first time in history, we have observed a pair of black holes colliding, not by light (which they don't emit), but by the waves in spacetime itself that they form. This is a tremendously big deal, so let me try to explain why.

What's a gravitational wave?

The easiest way to understand General Relativity is to imagine that the universe is a big trampoline. Imagine a star as a bowling ball, sitting in the middle of it, and a spaceship as a small marble that you're shooting along the trampoline. As the marble approaches the bowling ball, it starts to fall along the stretched surface of the trampoline, and curve towards the ball; depending on how close it passes to the ball and how fast, it might fall and hit it. 

If you looked... more »

Most plusones: 1189

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2016-01-28 07:34:41 (104 comments; 134 reshares; 1,189 +1s)Open 

Thirty years ago today, 74.130 seconds after liftoff, the Challenger fell. 

I want to write a long story about this – to tell the story of the people aboard and the people on the ground, of the crew and of the people who studied what happened, of the things that we learned and changed, of all the things we should remember about that day. But thirty years later, it still hurts too much for me to write it.

I can still see the two SRB's spinning out of control after the airframe disassembled, forming two horns coming out of an oddly round cloud, if I close my eyes. I can still remember the utter confusion and disbelief that followed, as nobody could even tell, at first, if they had actually seen what they thought they saw. I remember being so upset, that night, not being able to fully wrap my heart around it. And nightmares still sometimes wake me, of rockets falling out of ape... more »

Latest 50 posts

2016-02-13 23:03:03 (9 comments; 9 reshares; 45 +1s)Open 

After Scalia: What Next?

So many people have asked me about the potential consequences of Justice Scalia's death in the minutes since I shared the last post that I realized that OK, I probably do need to write something about this. 

The most immediate consequence is that there are only eight justices on the Supreme Court, which raises the probability of a tie on a case considerably. (Ties can also happen when one member of the Court needs to recuse him or herself, but that generally only happens with fairly new justices who may have worked on a case prior to joining the Court) When there's a tie, this has the effect of affirming whatever the lower court decided, without creating any new precedents. (I don't actually know what would happen in those few cases for which the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction, rather than hearing an appeal)

But the most... more »

After Scalia: What Next?

So many people have asked me about the potential consequences of Justice Scalia's death in the minutes since I shared the last post that I realized that OK, I probably do need to write something about this. 

The most immediate consequence is that there are only eight justices on the Supreme Court, which raises the probability of a tie on a case considerably. (Ties can also happen when one member of the Court needs to recuse him or herself, but that generally only happens with fairly new justices who may have worked on a case prior to joining the Court) When there's a tie, this has the effect of affirming whatever the lower court decided, without creating any new precedents. (I don't actually know what would happen in those few cases for which the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction, rather than hearing an appeal)

But the most significant consequence is, of course, political. Scalia was the ideological leader of the conservative wing of the Supreme Court; his absence could have significant effects on cases in the near future, including the coming major abortion case Whole Women's Health v. Cole.

It also means that the stakes for the election have gone up tremendously. Obama could easily nominate someone for the Court, but in the current political climate, the odds of anyone he nominates being confirmed by the Senate are, to put it mildly, not great. This means that we're likely to have an eight-justice court until 2017 at the earliest, for a full year. (The longest it's ever taken to appoint a justice in the past has been 125 days, for Justice Brandeis back in 1916)

It means that the next President is likely to appoint even more justices than earlier expected. Justice Ginsburg is widely seen as likely to retire within the next President's term (she's currently 82), and two other justices (Kennedy and Breyer) are in their seventies. For comparison, each of the past four presidents has appointed two justices during an eight-year term.

I anticipate a tremendous amount of political rancor in the next few weeks triggered by Scalia's death, and that "social issues" will suddenly take on a much stronger role in the 2016 election as a result. This is likely to sharply increase turnout for candidates like Clinton, Sanders, and Cruz, at the expense of less socially-ideological candidates like Trump, as bases with strong feelings about Supreme Court nominations come out in much sharper numbers. Importantly, it's likely to erase any effect of internecine tensions among Democrats during the primary season on general election turnout.

So long as we're considering tactics, I should also point out a consequence of the increased risk of court ties. Frequently, when highly constitutionally-sensitive cases come before courts, all parties are aware from the beginning that the decisions of the intermediate courts are likely to inform the Supreme Court decision, but that this is where the ultimate decision will likely be made. In the new situation, any pending cases where it was already likely that there would be a 5-4 split suddenly have to contend with the real risk that whatever the appeals court says will be the final word. That changes legal tactics tremendously, and could greatly increase the chance that various cases will either settle, or find some other way to delay themselves until there's a new Court in place. Certainly, it makes 2016 a dubious time for anyone to try to advance any "test cases" meant to establish clear precedents on important issues.

As far as who the next nominee will be? It's awfully hard to guess, and I don't know nearly enough sitting judges to make predictions. I can think of a few that I would seriously consider (Kozinski and Posner being the most obvious), but that list clearly reflects my own selection bias: a good search would go deep into the space of potential candidates, looking for people with a broader set of backgrounds. It's hard to underestimate the importance of diversity of experience on the Court: one justice who has a deep understanding of what's at stake in a particular case can have a profound impact on the quality of the decisions made.

(And as for my opinions of Justice Scalia's jurisprudence and his influence on the Court, and how future justices might differ? I'm going to leave that be for today.)___

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2016-02-13 22:29:48 (0 comments; 4 reshares; 85 +1s)Open 

The Texas governor is now confirming that Justice Scalia died unexpectedly in his sleep last night, at the age of 79.

I'm going to close off comment here since I don't think we're ready yet to have a real conversation about what this might mean, and I'd rather this not degenerate into a shouting match. But this turn of events is likely to have profound consequences, so we should all spend some time in the next few days thinking about them and their meaning.

The Texas governor is now confirming that Justice Scalia died unexpectedly in his sleep last night, at the age of 79.

I'm going to close off comment here since I don't think we're ready yet to have a real conversation about what this might mean, and I'd rather this not degenerate into a shouting match. But this turn of events is likely to have profound consequences, so we should all spend some time in the next few days thinking about them and their meaning.___

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2016-02-13 22:26:25 (13 comments; 8 reshares; 43 +1s)Open 

Dam failures are rare, and when they happen, they can be disasters of Biblical proportions. The collapse of the St. Francis Dam in California in 1928, for example, sent a 140-foot-high wave all 54 miles from the dam to the sea, taking 431 lives along with it, and is regarded as one of the greatest civil engineering disasters of American history. But this event was greatly mitigated by the fact that, at the time, the valley was relatively sparsely populated.

There are dams in the world whose situation makes them far more crucial: those which sit upriver of major cities, especially those blocking large rivers which would create waves of tremendous size. The Aswan High Dam in Egypt is perhaps the most (in)famous example: Cairo, with its population of nearly ten million people, would be directly in the line of fire of any (gods forbid!) failure.

There is a lesser-known example out there,... more »

Dam failures are rare, and when they happen, they can be disasters of Biblical proportions. The collapse of the St. Francis Dam in California in 1928, for example, sent a 140-foot-high wave all 54 miles from the dam to the sea, taking 431 lives along with it, and is regarded as one of the greatest civil engineering disasters of American history. But this event was greatly mitigated by the fact that, at the time, the valley was relatively sparsely populated.

There are dams in the world whose situation makes them far more crucial: those which sit upriver of major cities, especially those blocking large rivers which would create waves of tremendous size. The Aswan High Dam in Egypt is perhaps the most (in)famous example: Cairo, with its population of nearly ten million people, would be directly in the line of fire of any (gods forbid!) failure.

There is a lesser-known example out there, and unlike the Aswan Dam, its situation is precarious enough that engineers are losing sleep over it: the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq. It dams the Tigris, one of the great rivers of the Near East, and its failure would first send a tidal wave directly through the cities of Mosul, Tikrit, and Samarra (about 3 million people), before destroying a second dam. Baghdad, (population 7.2 million) a few days downriver, would probably be spared a direct tidal wave, but would be struck by floods which dwarf Katrina's. (This assuming that the dam failed at high water; at low water, the damage would be less, but dams are less likely to fail at low water)

And unlike Aswan High Dam, the Mosul Dam is in critically bad condition. Its construction was dubious from the beginning, sitting atop ground layers of clay and gypsum – two substances easily eaten away by water. As a result, it has required constant maintenance ever since its construction, adding grout almost nonstop. But with the nearby city of Mosul in ISIS hands, maintenance has become highly irregular, and large voids have been detected in its body. The dam engineers have considered the "most dangerous in the world" for over a decade has managed to become even more unsafe.

Disasters which reduce cities to ruin have become (alas) not uncommon in the past few years: whether it be the immense destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, or the reduction of Syria into rubble by civil war. Beyond the immediate consequences, such events can send millions of people far and wide, in search of a new home, with all of the consequences which may follow from that. It's honestly hard to conceive of what might happen if one of the largest cities in the Middle East were overnight laid to ruin, and its population scattered into an already politically-unstable desert, but I can promise that nobody other than the ravens and the vultures would benefit by it.___

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2016-02-11 17:52:47 (146 comments; 278 reshares; 830 +1s)Open 

We have observed gravitational waves!

This morning, the LIGO observatory announced a historic event: for the very first time in history, we have observed a pair of black holes colliding, not by light (which they don't emit), but by the waves in spacetime itself that they form. This is a tremendously big deal, so let me try to explain why.

What's a gravitational wave?

The easiest way to understand General Relativity is to imagine that the universe is a big trampoline. Imagine a star as a bowling ball, sitting in the middle of it, and a spaceship as a small marble that you're shooting along the trampoline. As the marble approaches the bowling ball, it starts to fall along the stretched surface of the trampoline, and curve towards the ball; depending on how close it passes to the ball and how fast, it might fall and hit it. 

If you looked... more »

We have observed gravitational waves!

This morning, the LIGO observatory announced a historic event: for the very first time in history, we have observed a pair of black holes colliding, not by light (which they don't emit), but by the waves in spacetime itself that they form. This is a tremendously big deal, so let me try to explain why.

What's a gravitational wave?

The easiest way to understand General Relativity is to imagine that the universe is a big trampoline. Imagine a star as a bowling ball, sitting in the middle of it, and a spaceship as a small marble that you're shooting along the trampoline. As the marble approaches the bowling ball, it starts to fall along the stretched surface of the trampoline, and curve towards the ball; depending on how close it passes to the ball and how fast, it might fall and hit it. 

If you looked at this from above, you wouldn't see the stretching of the trampoline; it would just look black, and like the marble was "attracted" towards the bowling ball.

This is basically how gravity works: mass (or energy) stretches out space (and time), and as objects just move in what looks like a straight path to them, they curve towards heavy things, because spacetime itself is bent. That's Einstein's theory of Relativity, first published in 1916, and (prior to today) almost every aspect of it had been verified by experiment.

Now imagine that you pick up a bowling ball and drop it, or do something else similarly violent on the trampoline. Not only is the trampoline going to be stretched, but it's going to bounce -- and if you look at it in slow-motion, you'll see ripples flowing along the surface of the trampoline, just like you would if you dropped a bowling ball into a lake. Relativity predicts ripples like that as well, and these are gravitational waves. Until today, they had only been predicted, never seen.

(The real math of relativity is a bit more complicated than that of trampolines, and for example gravitational waves stretch space and time in very distinctive patterns: if you held a T-square up and a gravitational wave hit it head-on,  you would see first one leg compress and the other stretch, then the other way round)

The challenge with seeing gravitational waves is that gravity is very weak (after all, it takes the entire mass of the Earth to hold you down!) and so you need a really large event to emit enough gravity waves to see it. Say, two black holes colliding off-center with each other.

So how do we see them?

We use a trick called laser interferometry, which is basically a fancy T-square. What you do is you take a laser beam, split it in two, and let each beam fly down the length of a large L. At the end of the leg, it hits a mirror and bounces back, and you recombine the two beams.

The trick is this: lasers (unlike other forms of light) form very neat wave patterns, where the light is just a single, perfectly regular, wave. When the two beams recombine, you therefore have two overlapping waves -- and if you've ever watched two ripples collide, you'll notice that when waves overlap, they cancel in spots and reinforce each other in spots. As a result, if the relative length of the legs of the L changes, the amount of cancellation will change -- and so, by monitoring the brightness of the re-merged light, you can see if something changed the length of one leg and not the other.

LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) consists of a pair of these, one in Livingston, Louisiana, and one in Hartford, Washington, three thousand kilometers apart. Each leg of each L is four kilometers long, and they are isolated from ambient ground motion and vibration by a truly impressive set of systems.

If a gravitational wave were to strike LIGO, it would create a very characteristic compression and expansion pattern first in one L, then the other. By comparing the difference between the two, and looking for that very distinctive pattern, you could spot gravity waves.

How sensitive is this? If you change the relative length of the legs of an L by a fraction of the wavelength of the light, you change the brightness of the merged light by a predictable amount. Since measuring the brightness of light is something we're really good at (think high-quality photo-sensors), we can spot very small fractions of a wavelength. In fact, the LIGO detector can currently spot changes of one attometer (10⁻¹⁸ of a meter), or about one-thousandth the size of an atomic nucleus. (Or one hundred-millionth the size of an atom!) It's expected that we'll be able to improve that by a factor of three in the next few years.

With a four-kilometer leg, this means that LIGO can spot changes in length of about one-quarter of a part in 10²¹. That's the resolution you need to spot events like this: despite the tremendous violence of the collision (as I'll explain in a second), it was so far away -- really, on the other end of the universe -- that it only created vibrations of about five parts in 10²¹ on Earth.

So what did LIGO see?

About 1.5 billion light years away, two black holes -- one weighing about 29 times as much as the Sun, the other 36 -- collided with  each other. As they drew closer, their gravity caused them to start to spiral inwards towards each other, so that in the final moments before the collision they started spinning around each other more and more quickly, up to a peak speed of 250 orbits per second. This started to fling gravity waves in all directions with great vigor, and when they finally collided, they formed a single black hole, 62 times the mass of the Sun. The difference -- three solar masses -- was all released in the form of pure energy.

Within those final few milliseconds, the collision was 50 times brighter than the entire rest of the universe combined. All of that energy was emitted in the form of gravitational waves: something to which we were completely blind until today.

Are we sure about that?

High-energy physics has become known for extreme paranoia about the quality of its data. The confidence level required to declare a "discovery" in this field is technically known as 5σ, translating to a confidence level of 99.99994%. That takes into account statistical anomalies and so on, but you should take much more care when dealing with big-deal discoveries; LIGO does all sorts of things for that. For example, their computers are set up to routinely inject false signals into the data, and they don't "open up the box" to reveal whether a signal was real or faked until after the entire team has finished analyzing the data. (This lets you know that your system would detect a real signal, and it has the added benefit that the people doing the data analysis never know if it's the real thing or not when they're doing the analysis -- helping to counter any unconscious tendency to bias the data towards "yes, it's really real!")

There are all sorts of other tricks like that, and generally LIGO is known for the best practices of data analysis basically anywhere. From the analysis, they found a confidence level of 5.1σ -- enough to count as a confirmed discovery of a new physical phenomenon.

(That's equal to a p-value of 3.4*10⁻⁷, for those of you from fields that use those)

So why is this important?

Well, first of all, we just observed a new physical phenomenon for the first time, and confirmed the last major part of Einstein's theory. Which is pretty cool in its own right.

But as of today, LIGO is no longer just a physics experiment: it is now an astronomical observatory. This is the first gravity-wave telescope, and it's going to let us answer questions that we could only dream about before.

Consider that the collision we saw emitted a tremendous amount of energy, brighter than everything else in the sky combined, and yet we were blind to it. How many more such collisions are happening? How does the flow of energy via gravitational wave shape the structure of galaxies, of galactic clusters, of the universe as a whole? How often do black holes collide, and how do they do it? Are there ultramassive black holes which shape the movement of entire galactic clusters, the way that supermassive ones shape the movement of galaxies, but which we can't see using ordinary light at all, because they aren't closely surrounded by stars?

Today's discovery is more than just a milestone in physics: it's the opening act of a much bigger step forward.

What's next?

LIGO is going to keep observing! We may also revisit an old plan (scrapped when the politics broke down) for another observatory called LISA, which instead of using two four-kilometer L's on the Earth, consists of a big triangle of lasers, with their vertices on three satellites orbiting the Sun. The LISA observatory (and yes, this is actually possible with modern technology) would be able to observe motions of roughly the same size as LIGO -- one attometer -- but as a fraction of a leg five million kilometers long. That gives us, shall we say, one hell of a lot better resolution. And because it doesn't have to be shielded from things like the vibrations of passing trucks, in many ways it's actually simpler than LIGO.

(The LISA Pathfinder mission, a test satellite to debug many of these things, was launched on December 3rd)

The next twenty years are likely to lead to a steady stream of discoveries from these observatories: it's the first time we've had a fundamentally new kind of telescope in quite a while. (The last major shift in this was probably Hubble, our first optical telescope in space, above all the problems of the atmosphere)

The one catch is that LIGO and LISA don't produce pretty pictures; you can think of LIGO as a gravity-wave camera that has exactly two pixels. If the wave hits Louisiana first, it came from the south; if it hits Washington first, it came from the north. (This one came from the south, incidentally; it hit Louisiana seven milliseconds before Washington) It's the shift in the pixels over time that lets us see things, but it's not going to look very visually dramatic. We'll have to wait quite some time until we can figure out how to build a gravitational wave telescope that can show us a clear image of the sky in these waves; but even before that, we'll be able to tease out the details of distant events of a scale hard to imagine.

You can read the full paper at http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.116.061102 , including all of the technical details. Many congratulations to the entire LIGO team: you've really done it. Amazing.

Incidentally, Physical Review Letters normally has a strict four-page max; the fact that they were willing to give this article sixteen pages shows just how big a deal this is.___

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2016-02-10 00:49:43 (20 comments; 20 reshares; 143 +1s)Open 

A short silent film involving Nazis, spies, and a failure to tip one's bartender. It's great fun.

YOU GUYS!___A short silent film involving Nazis, spies, and a failure to tip one's bartender. It's great fun.

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2016-02-08 02:21:09 (47 comments; 23 reshares; 185 +1s)Open 

Disney movies seem to often be based on Idiot Plots, which rely on at least one major character being an idiot. Seanan McGuire here shares how most of them would run if the average RPG group were playing the stories instead. (Hint: generally much shorter)

h/t +David Priebe​​

Disney movies seem to often be based on Idiot Plots, which rely on at least one major character being an idiot. Seanan McGuire here shares how most of them would run if the average RPG group were playing the stories instead. (Hint: generally much shorter)

h/t +David Priebe​​___

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2016-02-07 13:04:36 (78 comments; 8 reshares; 145 +1s)Open 

The UK is known for rather careful attention to public safety, whether it be the Tube's perpetual admonitions to "Mind the Gap" or the tendency of pharmacists to make sure that you are taking exactly the right medicine. But one of the least-known yet most important public safety measures can be heard every Sunday, as church bells continue to ring not just once or twice, but for a good fifteen minutes or so. This gives ample warning to the citizenry whenever the gods have returned to feed, calling on the faithful elect to attend the sacrifice while warning heathens of all stripes to flee, flee, for the gods are upon us and shall not depart until their hunger is sated. Ia! Ia!

Chalk up a point for ordinary British thoughtfulness, in not just ringing the combination dinner gong and warning bell once and hoping everyone hears it. 

The UK is known for rather careful attention to public safety, whether it be the Tube's perpetual admonitions to "Mind the Gap" or the tendency of pharmacists to make sure that you are taking exactly the right medicine. But one of the least-known yet most important public safety measures can be heard every Sunday, as church bells continue to ring not just once or twice, but for a good fifteen minutes or so. This gives ample warning to the citizenry whenever the gods have returned to feed, calling on the faithful elect to attend the sacrifice while warning heathens of all stripes to flee, flee, for the gods are upon us and shall not depart until their hunger is sated. Ia! Ia!

Chalk up a point for ordinary British thoughtfulness, in not just ringing the combination dinner gong and warning bell once and hoping everyone hears it. ___

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2016-02-03 09:20:21 (80 comments; 107 reshares; 579 +1s)Open 

+Andreas Schou reshared this, and his summary is pretty much bang on, so I'll quote him. All I can add is that Robert Smalls was, without a doubt, one of the great badasses of American history.

----

I just want to amplify what +Tshaka Armstrong  said about how awesome Robert Smalls was. Just to give you some details which fall between the big bullet points here:

* Born into slavery. 

* Started out with seriously unpleasant menial jobs. Taught himself to read. More importantly, taught himself navigational trigonometry. This is not simple to do yourself. This is especially not simple to do when you grew up speaking Gullah creole, and your first exposure to standard-dialect English was when you were ten. 

* In general, was seriously awful at being a slave. Ran away. Resold tobacco and candy to make money his master didn't have access to. Bailedout... more »

#BAMF for #BlackHistoryMonth  Now THIS is a cat I'd love to see a biopic about!

From Wikipedia: As a politician, Smalls authored state legislation providing for South Carolina to have the first free and compulsory public school system in the United States, and founded the Republican Party of South Carolina.___+Andreas Schou reshared this, and his summary is pretty much bang on, so I'll quote him. All I can add is that Robert Smalls was, without a doubt, one of the great badasses of American history.

----

I just want to amplify what +Tshaka Armstrong  said about how awesome Robert Smalls was. Just to give you some details which fall between the big bullet points here:

* Born into slavery. 

* Started out with seriously unpleasant menial jobs. Taught himself to read. More importantly, taught himself navigational trigonometry. This is not simple to do yourself. This is especially not simple to do when you grew up speaking Gullah creole, and your first exposure to standard-dialect English was when you were ten. 

* In general, was seriously awful at being a slave. Ran away. Resold tobacco and candy to make money his master didn't have access to. Bailed out of slave lockup over and over again because, despite the fact he never took to the whip, he was too competent to punish.

* Stole a Confederate ship. Sailed off with it. Gave it to the Union.

* Pushed for Congress to pay him the bounty, and was paid about $37,000 for it. Which is to say, "more money than a slave would likely see in five lifetimes." 

* Joined the US Navy. Which is notable, because the US Navy was not admitting black sailors at this point. 

* Convinced the US Army to admit black soldiers. You know. Like you do.

* Oh, did I mention that all of this happened before he turned 23? Because it all did.

* Assigned to pilot an experimental ironclad steamship in an attack on Charleston harbor. This fails. The ship sinks. Smalls is nonetheless commended for bravery.

* Reassigned to the Planter, the ship he stole less than two years ago, with some of the black crew which originally stole it. The captain of the Planter, caught in crossfire between Confederate and Union ships, attempts to surrender to the Confederates.

* Decided he's going to have none of that, because black soldiers and sailors are killed on capture. Sails the ship back to the Union lines against his captain's orders, saving the lives of his black crew. 

* Commended for bravery again. And promoted. Which makes him the first black naval captain in US history. He's actually captain of the Planter, the ship he stole less than two years ago. 

* The war ends.

* Used the money he got from stealing Confederate ships to buy the house he lived in when he was a slave. Moves in. Runs for Congress.

* Won.

* Kept running for Congress. Kept winning. Became the longest-serving black Congressman until the late 20th century. 

* Reconstruction ended. Gerrymandering, poll violence, and the like keep him from running again.

* Stayed active in politics. Attempted to return the black vote to South Carolina. Fails, but consider that this is precisely the sort of thing which would get you lynched between the years of 1876 and 1920.

* Appointed to be customs inspector. Which, again: this is a math-heavy job, and Smalls had no formal education. 

Name an important thing which a human being could have done between the Civil War and World War I, and Smalls did it. He didn't just rise up from poverty: he rose up from the most abject position an American could be consigned to, and just ... kept rising. Even after the tragedy that ended Reconstruction, he somehow managed to keep his head above water. 

He died the owner of the house in which he had been a slave, serving the country which had both rewarded and betrayed him.

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2016-01-30 22:00:00 (131 comments; 66 reshares; 264 +1s)Open 

I don't have time to write an explainer for this, so you'll just have to settle for the raw news. Short version: In the past few months, a large number of street kids, mostly refugees from Morocco, have been living near Stockholm's main train station. The police have been wanting more powers to get rid of them, but haven't gotten much. Last week, they announced that the main train station was now "unsafe" and had been "taken over" by said street children. 

Yesterday, a group of about 200 masked men stormed the station, distributing leaflets and beating anyone who "didn't look Swedish." This action was coordinated by the NMR (a local Nazi group), and a follow-up rally was held this morning in Stockholm by the SDP (a far-right party, think the Swedish version of Donald Trump). 

Police made no attempt to stop the attack. Three peoplew... more »

I don't have time to write an explainer for this, so you'll just have to settle for the raw news. Short version: In the past few months, a large number of street kids, mostly refugees from Morocco, have been living near Stockholm's main train station. The police have been wanting more powers to get rid of them, but haven't gotten much. Last week, they announced that the main train station was now "unsafe" and had been "taken over" by said street children. 

Yesterday, a group of about 200 masked men stormed the station, distributing leaflets and beating anyone who "didn't look Swedish." This action was coordinated by the NMR (a local Nazi group), and a follow-up rally was held this morning in Stockholm by the SDP (a far-right party, think the Swedish version of Donald Trump). 

Police made no attempt to stop the attack. Three people were arrested, one for punching a plainclothes cop, another for possession of brass knuckles; all have been released. The official police statement is that they "could not confirm that violent attacks took place.”

For a little context, the presence of far-right groups and their readiness for actions like these is not even remotely secret, and the police statement that the area was now unsafe and there was nothing they can do was widely read as a coded message that vigilantes were welcome. (There's a whole history of complicated interplays between Swedish police, the local and national government, and these groups, with "if you don't let us do something, I guess it'll just have to be them" being a classic negotiating tactic)

Important notes here are the extreme coordination of the group (200 people showing up on schedule, dressed in black with balaclavas, literature ready to distribute, and ready for an organized attack), and the tacit cooperation of the police.

NB that violence against immigrants, Muslims, and Jews has been on a sharp rise across all of Europe, and far-right parties have been making significant political inroads, but this is the first highly coordinated attack. Earlier attacks have primarily been by small groups (3-5 people) on individuals, and haven't shown signs of organization, uniforms, etc.

There's lots more that could (and should) be written here, to give context about just why there were so many refugees living there, the six-month ramp-up of the conflict, and the political shifts within Sweden and more broadly within Europe as a result, but I'll have to leave those for someone else to write.

Useful additional coverage: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/sweden/12131460/swedish-far-right-migrant-attack-stockholm.html

(And yes, I realize that I just linked the Daily Mail as the primary source below. Going through English-language coverage of the story, theirs was actually the most thoroughly researched and informative, and didn't have any egregious biases that I could spot. Damned if I know why their coverage was the best, but it was. Normally the Mail is mostly suitable for wrapping fish in.)___

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2016-01-30 09:21:15 (20 comments; 5 reshares; 92 +1s)Open 

To this day, this movie is the first thing I think of when I see Bill Maher.

"This is war! The battle between the sexes! Anything less than cannibalism is just beating around the bush."

Yep, that's Bill Maher.___To this day, this movie is the first thing I think of when I see Bill Maher.

"This is war! The battle between the sexes! Anything less than cannibalism is just beating around the bush."

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2016-01-30 03:22:36 (143 comments; 30 reshares; 280 +1s)Open 

This article is surprised and upset that police aren't investigated for damaging police property, namely the cameras which are supposed to be recording them. But this is inevitable, given the incentives: police get little protection from the cameras, and are placed at greater risk of complaints sticking. (Let's not say legal action, since actual prosecution for misconduct of even the most egregiously felonious sort is very rare) Police chiefs have no interest in alienating their own officers. And nobody seems to have clear authority outside of that.

But there's an alternate legal solution, part of which would require a simple change to the laws mandating the cameras in the first place, and part of which is already in the hands of judges today. It's to use the legal notion of "adverse inference."

In court cases (both civil and criminal), there's a phase of... more »

This article is surprised and upset that police aren't investigated for damaging police property, namely the cameras which are supposed to be recording them. But this is inevitable, given the incentives: police get little protection from the cameras, and are placed at greater risk of complaints sticking. (Let's not say legal action, since actual prosecution for misconduct of even the most egregiously felonious sort is very rare) Police chiefs have no interest in alienating their own officers. And nobody seems to have clear authority outside of that.

But there's an alternate legal solution, part of which would require a simple change to the laws mandating the cameras in the first place, and part of which is already in the hands of judges today. It's to use the legal notion of "adverse inference."

In court cases (both civil and criminal), there's a phase of discovery, where the sides can demand that the other side produce relevant documents and so on under court order. If you try to cheat at discovery, concealing or destroying evidence, there are a range of exciting penalties available to the judge. (And given that trying to ignore or defy a court order is one of the best ways to end up with a very unhappy judge very quickly, this is not something you want to happen.)

"Adverse inference" is the mildest of these, and it's something a judge can order when a piece of evidence is "mysteriously" unavailable: that whatever that evidence was meant to prove, it will be assumed that what the other side claimed about it was true. (So if e.g. your financial records were subpoenaed in a breach of contract case to prove that you had earned more than you claimed on a deal, and you tried to fake their nonexistence, that would count as evidence that you had earned exactly what the other side had claimed you had)

If a body or dashboard camera failed due to the actions of the police officers in question, then the resulting lack of evidence isn't and shouldn't be neutral, as far as the law is concerned. It's a deliberate attempt by a party to a case to thwart the collection of evidence, and courts should treat it as such.

The relevant change in the law would be to create a presumption that these camera failures are not accidental, so as to put the burden of proof on the officers in question instead of on whoever is up against them in court.

(For those who are legally minded: a failure to produce evidence from body or dashboard cameras due to damage to or nonoperation of the camera, or loss of evidence outside of the retention processes defined for said footage by statute, would create a rebuttable presumption of spoliation, which the judge would then have leave to remedy according to the relevant rules of procedure in that court)

I'm not certain whether this would be a good or bad idea. It's a powerful enough change to the evidence system that it's honestly dangerous, and one would have to think through the potential consequences, pro and con, very carefully. Such a law would essentially place the burden of proof on the police, whenever evidence was unavailable for a suspicious reason, that they had not deliberately sabotaged it.

If cameras actually do fail fairly regularly without sabotage, for example, this would be a terrible law. On the other hand, if it is in fact the case that "camera failure" is almost always a sign of monkey business, this would be a quick way to straighten it out. Likewise, if standard operating procedures were worsening the situation – e.g., cameras which break naturally aren't getting fixed for a long time because nobody cares, or the handling of camera evidence is sloppy and frequently loses things – then a law like this would change priorities very effectively.

And of course, for deliberate destruction of evidence to conceal felonies, I have no sympathy whatsoever. A crime committed under color of law is worse, not better, than one committed in the usual fashion.

h/t +Alex Scrivener.___

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2016-01-29 22:02:08 (96 comments; 62 reshares; 369 +1s)Open 

Question: Is there anyone out there who is really concerned with rapper B.O.B.'s Twitter rants about how the Earth is really flat? (No, seriously)

Answer: No. However, Neil Tyson's reply to B.O.B.'s diss track (seriously; rap battles of theoretical physics) is pretty epic. And ample demonstration of why he is awesome.

Question: Is there anyone out there who is really concerned with rapper B.O.B.'s Twitter rants about how the Earth is really flat? (No, seriously)

Answer: No. However, Neil Tyson's reply to B.O.B.'s diss track (seriously; rap battles of theoretical physics) is pretty epic. And ample demonstration of why he is awesome.___

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2016-01-28 07:34:41 (104 comments; 134 reshares; 1,189 +1s)Open 

Thirty years ago today, 74.130 seconds after liftoff, the Challenger fell. 

I want to write a long story about this – to tell the story of the people aboard and the people on the ground, of the crew and of the people who studied what happened, of the things that we learned and changed, of all the things we should remember about that day. But thirty years later, it still hurts too much for me to write it.

I can still see the two SRB's spinning out of control after the airframe disassembled, forming two horns coming out of an oddly round cloud, if I close my eyes. I can still remember the utter confusion and disbelief that followed, as nobody could even tell, at first, if they had actually seen what they thought they saw. I remember being so upset, that night, not being able to fully wrap my heart around it. And nightmares still sometimes wake me, of rockets falling out of ape... more »

Thirty years ago today, 74.130 seconds after liftoff, the Challenger fell. 

I want to write a long story about this – to tell the story of the people aboard and the people on the ground, of the crew and of the people who studied what happened, of the things that we learned and changed, of all the things we should remember about that day. But thirty years later, it still hurts too much for me to write it.

I can still see the two SRB's spinning out of control after the airframe disassembled, forming two horns coming out of an oddly round cloud, if I close my eyes. I can still remember the utter confusion and disbelief that followed, as nobody could even tell, at first, if they had actually seen what they thought they saw. I remember being so upset, that night, not being able to fully wrap my heart around it. And nightmares still sometimes wake me, of rockets falling out of a perfectly blue sky.

To the seven who gave their lives that day – CDR Francis R. Scobee, pilot Michael J. Smith, mission specialists Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith A. Resnik, and Ronald E. McNair, and payload specialists Gregory B. Jarvis and S. Christa McAuliffe – you are not forgotten.


Photo: STS-51L as it cleared the tower, approximately T+2.7 seconds, 16:38:02 UTC, January 28th, 1986, seventy seconds before it began to disintegrate. The fatal failure of the O-ring on the right booster had already happened. Image KSC-86PC-0081, from NASA.___

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2016-01-28 06:47:00 (80 comments; 10 reshares; 182 +1s)Open 

The headline is just what it says on the label: the NSF (which is one of the key mechanisms by which science gets funded in the US) has made a public statement on the subject of harassment, and specifically gender-related harassment, to the effect of this will not be acceptable at any place which is receiving our money.

This is in no small part in response to a recent slew of stories in which pervasive sexual harassment in astrophysics has been brought to light. Nor is that field particularly bad in this context; if anything, it's slightly above average, which is not a thing to be proud of. The NSF's statement on this is likely to have a very marked impact.

The headline is just what it says on the label: the NSF (which is one of the key mechanisms by which science gets funded in the US) has made a public statement on the subject of harassment, and specifically gender-related harassment, to the effect of this will not be acceptable at any place which is receiving our money.

This is in no small part in response to a recent slew of stories in which pervasive sexual harassment in astrophysics has been brought to light. Nor is that field particularly bad in this context; if anything, it's slightly above average, which is not a thing to be proud of. The NSF's statement on this is likely to have a very marked impact.___

2016-01-28 01:21:19 (56 comments; 10 reshares; 136 +1s)Open 

This is possibly the most pointless thing I have ever seen. It's all about a trivia question whose answer you would think is obvious: Does the ACT – the Australian Capital Territory, which is to Australia what Washington, DC is to the US – have a coastline or not?

You would think that questions like this would have fairly obvious answers, and people would be able to say "why yes, my capital does have a coast," or "no, my capital is nearly sixty miles inland." Or that at least the government of Australia would be able to say this fairly easily. But no, that is not how this works.

Madness lays ahead.

Via +Andreas Schou.

Fun project for +Anthony Baxter and I today: trying to work out, once and for all, if the ACT has a coastline.

For you non-Australians: the ACT is the Australian Capital Territory. The place where Canberra is. Think DC in the USA; there are many similarities, including the fact that states donated land to carve out a neutral HQ for the national capital. (Side note: you may see references to the FCT, or Federal Capital Territory, in some of the stuff linked below. It's the same place; it was renamed along the way.)

You'd think "does a federal subdivision have a coastline" would be an easy question to answer. You'd be so, so, so wrong. This is a pub trivia kind of question in Australia; the problem is, most people get it wrong. At best, they get it right, but for the wrong reasons. Like, maybe it does have a coastline, but not the one they think.

At least 3 Wikipedia pages cover the topic. Each of them give different answers to the question.

Regardless, this is a fascinating geopolitical quirk. So here's what we know:

Easy answer: no, it's inland

This is the answer you get when you look up 'Australian Capital Territory' in your favourite online map site, or (heaven forfend) a paper atlas. The ACT is landlocked, as any fule no (cf. http://www.cmd.act.gov.au/__data/assets/image/0004/117526/Australia_map_downsized.jpg). Obviously it doesn't have a coastline, some will say.

These people are wrong.

Pub trivia answer: yes, on Jervis Bay

Some background. When the various states federated into the Commonwealth of Australia (1901), Australia didn't have a capital per se. Melbourne acted as capital, with the promise that they'd sort a real one out later. In 1908,  the Seat of Government Act was passed, which basically said "we're going to build something in the Yass-Canberra area, the New South Wales government will give us some land once we've worked out somewhere mutually agreeable". The interesting part is the quote "The territory to be granted to or acquired by the Commonwealth for the Seat of Government shall contain an area not less than nine hundred square miles, and have access to the sea." (emphasis mine). The astute amongst you will note, from your maps, that the "district of Yass-Canberra" is nowhere near the sea. No problem, New South Wales will carve out another bit, on the sea, and pony that over too. The land they chose was at Jervis Bay (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jervis_Bay), a bay due more-or-less east of Canberra.

So, people say, this land they carved out (you can see it on a map!) is actually part of the ACT. It does have a coast!

These people are wrong.

Advanced double-bluff pub trivia answer: no, Jervis Bay isn't part of the ACT

The next (correct) argument is that the thing at Jervis Bay is not part of the ACT; it's part of the Jervis Bay Territory (JBT), a completely separate part of Australia. This is fairly startling to many Australians; we are all taught that Australia has 6 states (NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania) and 2 mainland territories (Northen Territory and the ACT). But this isn't true; there are three mainland territories. Jervis Bay Territory is, legally, exactly like the other two: an independent top-level division of Australia. Finding out there's a third territory is startling for many Australians: it would be like if the US actually had 51 states, but no-one ever bothered to mention, say, a South Rhode Island. Anyway, it's true. Legally, in Australia, JBT is just like the ACT. The difference is: it's smaller, almost no-one lives there, and lots of people have never heard of it. But that's irrelevant.

Really quite advanced pub trivia answer: the Jervis Bay Territory is PART of the ACT, so yes

This is wrong, as stated above. But people believe it, because of one key fact: the JBT doesn't have a government. Because almost no-one lives there, giving it a government is kind of wasteful. So the ACT administers it. That is, the laws of the ACT apply; commit a crime there, you're tried in the ACT courts. Live there, you vote for the ACT government. But the law is clear; it's as if it's part of the ACT, but it's not. This is an administrative convenience.

Exhausted and confused person answer: so it's no then?

Ahahaha. No.

Epic map nerd smart arse answer: yes, but not the one you're thinking of.

Ahh. Here's where we get really tricky. All that stuff above? You know where I said the "pub trivia answer" people who said "yes" were wrong? Well, they're very possibly right. But for the wrong reasons. There's a completely separate parcel of land, also on Jervis Bay, which may well be part of the ACT.

Look at Bing Maps (no, really): http://binged.it/1nngW39. The Jervis Bay Territory (NOT part of the ACT, as established above) is the thing outlined in green. But that's irrelevant to us. Look north-east of there. See the land at the north headland of Jervis Bay? That's the Beecroft Peninsula. This is in fact the bit of land that may be part of the ACT.

Cadastral surveying nerd answer: a-ha! That's not part of Commonwealth land; Beecroft peninsula is merely leased to to Commonwealth by NSW! So no!

Oh-ho, cadastral surveying nerd, hold up. I'm not talking about all of Beecroft peninsula. In the majority, you're right. But there's one part where I'm not sure you are. See http://i.imgur.com/giylEo1.jpg - I'm not saying A or B are part of the ACT. All I'm talking about is C: the land given to the ACT under the Seat of Government Acts of 1908 and 1922.

That land is part of the Jervis Bay Territory too! So no!

No, it's not. This is actually really quite clear. The Jervis Bay Territory Acceptance Act 1915 (https://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2004C00038; hereafter JBTA) makes it clear what's part of the JBT. See "The Schedule". Following the descriptions is complicated, but this describes the parcel of land on the south headland. It mentions nothing about the North one. 

If your argument is based around the JBTA: nope, it's not in there.

If you argument is that a subsequent piece of legislation post-JBTA has changed it: [citation needed], as I'm not aware of any.

THE LAW

So, let's look at the law. There are a few relevant parts here, beyond the ones we've already discussed.

There's the Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1909 (https://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2004C00608). This was actually two acts: this one, and a corresponding one from the NSW Government, the Seat Of Government Surrender Act 1909. That is, NSW passed an act surrendering the land; the Commonwealth passed one accepting it. Each was conditional on the other; both were passed and both came into effect. This does cover the north headland; for example, "Eastern Division, Land District of Nowra, County of St. Vincent, Parish of Beecroft, area five hundred and thirty‑one acres. The Crown lands within the following boundaries: Commencing on the High Water Mark of Jervis Bay at Longnose Point, and bounded thence on the east by that High Water Mark and the right bank of Duck Creek generally northerly to the road leading to Point Perpendicular Light House, thence by that road, generally westerly and north‑westerly to the High Water Mark of Jervis Bay at a wharf, and thence generally on the west and south by that High Water Mark southerly and easterly to the point of commencement. Plan Misc. 1393 Sy." (Yes, it's ALL like this. Gripping). I chose this example deliberately: the lighthouse is recognisably on the north headland, so you know that's where they're talking about. If you follow up on the others, they all seem to be on the north too (with one exception, but let's not go there).

There's the Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1922 (https://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2004C00609; again, there's a corresponding NSW act). This complicates things, but then again… it doesn't. It does because it defines a whole new set of land parcels; it doesn't, because it's the same set. This exists only because _"certain errors and misdescriptions exist in the descriptions of lands set forth in [SoGA 1909]". That is, it's covering the same stuff, but more precisely. Nothing (really) to see here.

There's the Jervis Bay Territory Acceptance Act 1915; the one I cited above. I've already said this is irrelevant; what complicates it a tiny bit is that the corresponding NSW state act was called Seat of Government Surrender Act 1915. Ignore that, it's nothing to do with the Seat of Government. It's totally seperate. They just, like… copied and pasted the name of the 1909 state act, or something. Ignore it.

There's the Australian Capital Territory (Self‑Government) Act 1988 (https://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2014C00617): this is the act that gave the ACT the right to make its own laws. This should be useful, but… it's not. Its entire definition of the actual boundaries of the ACT is "Territory: (a)  when used in a geographical sense, means the Australian Capital Territory". That's really helpful, you bastards.

As far as I can tell, that's all the legislation that's relevant. 

So, my answer: as far as I can tell, it's unambiguously part of the ACT. It was ceded in 1909 (and clarified in 1922). These acts, as far as I can tell, are the best source we have for defining the boundary of the ACT. If there are other sources, I don't know them.

To address some likely objections:

"The Jervis Bay Territory Act says…" I'll stop you right there. Irrelevant; these acts don't cover the north headland. Ignore JBT, it's a red herring.

"This map says…" Maps don't actually define boundaries. This is an obscure point of geopolitics: it's obvious that many maps don't bother to get it right. Even government maps: we know some of them get it wrong, because many of them disagree. They can't all be right. So which ones are?

"The boundaries have changed since the 1909 Act" [citation needed]. Where? Give me a source dammit.

"NSW ceded the land, and the Commonwealth accepted it. But they didn't make it part of the ACT; it's now just regular Crown [commonwealth-owned] land" Great, good argument. But where is it defined which bits are part of the ACT? Again, [citation needed]. If not the act, find me a source.

In conclusion: damn, I need a stiff drink.

No, wait.

In conclusion: I'm pretty sure it is part of the ACT. But it's deeply murky, and not only do the three goverments seem to disagree on the exact state of this land, but individual sources from the same government do.

Geopolitics is fun!___This is possibly the most pointless thing I have ever seen. It's all about a trivia question whose answer you would think is obvious: Does the ACT – the Australian Capital Territory, which is to Australia what Washington, DC is to the US – have a coastline or not?

You would think that questions like this would have fairly obvious answers, and people would be able to say "why yes, my capital does have a coast," or "no, my capital is nearly sixty miles inland." Or that at least the government of Australia would be able to say this fairly easily. But no, that is not how this works.

Madness lays ahead.

Via +Andreas Schou.

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2016-01-27 06:52:29 (96 comments; 50 reshares; 335 +1s)Open 

Benjamin Franklin offered the wisest advice for how to keep a conspiracy secret: three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead. In a recent paper, David Grimes has worked out the mathematics of secret conspiracies: how things like actuarial tables and conspirators' propensity towards mutual murder affects the odds of a conspiracy remaining secret over time.

The answer, as you may guess, is that complicated conspiracies don't really work. If your nefarious plan requires recruiting every single scientist in the world (or all but a handful, since you've already recruited all the media organizations and they will discredit anyone who escapes you), or requires a steady staff of thousands of people to maintain your alien spacecraft research lab, it's probably going to come out sooner rather than later.

But there's great fun to be had along the way.

Benjamin Franklin offered the wisest advice for how to keep a conspiracy secret: three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead. In a recent paper, David Grimes has worked out the mathematics of secret conspiracies: how things like actuarial tables and conspirators' propensity towards mutual murder affects the odds of a conspiracy remaining secret over time.

The answer, as you may guess, is that complicated conspiracies don't really work. If your nefarious plan requires recruiting every single scientist in the world (or all but a handful, since you've already recruited all the media organizations and they will discredit anyone who escapes you), or requires a steady staff of thousands of people to maintain your alien spacecraft research lab, it's probably going to come out sooner rather than later.

But there's great fun to be had along the way.___

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2016-01-26 19:39:23 (18 comments; 15 reshares; 105 +1s)Open 

Nim is a simple children's game. You start with some collection of items (in this case, marbles); each player can, on their turn, take one, two, or three of them, and whoever takes the last item wins. It's a lot like playing tic-tac-toe, in that once you realize how it works, it quickly becomes pointless: the second player can always win if the number of items is a multiple of four, and the first player can always win otherwise.*

In fact, it's such a simple game, that in the 1960's, people sold a board game which was literally a plastic computer that could automatically beat you. It's a wonderfully simple and clever device, with only a handful of moving parts.

This video is great fun: it not only shows off the device, but gives some excellent tips as to how to use this to relieve suckers of their money. 

For those who find this simple... more »

Behold: Dr NIM. The 1960s mechanical plastic computer that can beat you at a game of Nim.___Nim is a simple children's game. You start with some collection of items (in this case, marbles); each player can, on their turn, take one, two, or three of them, and whoever takes the last item wins. It's a lot like playing tic-tac-toe, in that once you realize how it works, it quickly becomes pointless: the second player can always win if the number of items is a multiple of four, and the first player can always win otherwise.*

In fact, it's such a simple game, that in the 1960's, people sold a board game which was literally a plastic computer that could automatically beat you. It's a wonderfully simple and clever device, with only a handful of moving parts.

This video is great fun: it not only shows off the device, but gives some excellent tips as to how to use this to relieve suckers of their money. 

For those who find this simple "one-pile" Nim game too simple, there are many variations on it, with multiple piles of items, different rules for what you can take, and so on. (You can see a sample at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nim) All of these are winnable using similar tricks, based on counting the size of each pile in binary, and taking items to make the bit patterns come out right.

Via +Alok Tiwari.

* The strategy is that on your turn, you want to leave behind a multiple of four. If you started out with a multiple of four, then the first player can't do that (they can only take 1, 2, or 3 items), which means that the second player can: you just take four minus however many the first player took. If you didn't start out with a multiple of four, the first player takes stones to reduce it to a multiple of four, and then the second player is stuck with that situation. Since zero is a multiple of four, whoever is reducing things to multiples of four is going to ultimately reduce it down to zero, and win.

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2016-01-25 23:34:05 (11 comments; 52 reshares; 436 +1s)Open 

With your complimentary rimshot here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eXj97stbG8

___With your complimentary rimshot here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eXj97stbG8

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2016-01-24 21:54:43 (26 comments; 52 reshares; 431 +1s)Open 

We often think of comics as falling into two categories: superhero comics (either of the simplistic, one-dimensional variety or of the dark, brooding, and weirdly misogynist variety) and, for those who look for it, experimental small-press stuff. We often think of things like strong female protagonists as modern responses, still on the fringe, to the mainstream history of the medium. But that's not the whole story.

The Comics Code Authority was a de facto legal censorship regime instituted in 1954. Technically, it was self-censorship by the industry, coupled with a refusal of distributors to sell anything not approved by the CCA. In practice, Congress made it clear that any failure to maintain such standards - written mostly by right-wing groups - would result in an immediate shutdown of the entire industry. This threat, combined with the comics industry's lack of money to fight with,... more »

We often think of comics as falling into two categories: superhero comics (either of the simplistic, one-dimensional variety or of the dark, brooding, and weirdly misogynist variety) and, for those who look for it, experimental small-press stuff. We often think of things like strong female protagonists as modern responses, still on the fringe, to the mainstream history of the medium. But that's not the whole story.

The Comics Code Authority was a de facto legal censorship regime instituted in 1954. Technically, it was self-censorship by the industry, coupled with a refusal of distributors to sell anything not approved by the CCA. In practice, Congress made it clear that any failure to maintain such standards - written mostly by right-wing groups - would result in an immediate shutdown of the entire industry. This threat, combined with the comics industry's lack of money to fight with, let Congress establish one of the most egregious prior restraints on speech of the twentieth century, with a fig-leaf of legality.

This enforcement scheme fell apart in the early 1990s, and the post-Code era quickly became famous for "darkness," for much more sex and violence. But it turns out that the post-Code era is very little like the pre-Code era: that era had a dizzying variety of artists, ideas, and political leanings, and is probably very far from what you would expect. Here, +Saladin Ahmed​ gives a review of what that world was like - and what the real Golden Age of comics was like, before everything was brutally sanitized to conform to Birch Society ideals. ___

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2016-01-23 21:45:27 (19 comments; 33 reshares; 125 +1s)Open 

Boulet is a French cartoonist, maker of some really wonderful work. And here is something especially wonderful: a 24-hour comic, in English, about the little old lady who got involved with the gods. Enjoy.

h/t +David Priebe.

Boulet is a French cartoonist, maker of some really wonderful work. And here is something especially wonderful: a 24-hour comic, in English, about the little old lady who got involved with the gods. Enjoy.

h/t +David Priebe.___

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2016-01-23 21:15:55 (152 comments; 25 reshares; 328 +1s)Open 

If they're going to come to this country, they should be expected to assimilate, shouldn't they?

Sorry, I'm still trying to get the hang of how this "immigration policy" business works.

Via +Don McArthur.

If they're going to come to this country, they should be expected to assimilate, shouldn't they?

Sorry, I'm still trying to get the hang of how this "immigration policy" business works.

Via +Don McArthur.___

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2016-01-22 18:22:27 (30 comments; 34 reshares; 120 +1s)Open 

A very interesting analysis of the structure of Chinese politics, via +Andreas Schou.

The unique characteristic of the Chinese system is its willingness to execute massive amounts of its own leaders.  In fact, the CPC's willingness to appease the grievances of the masses with the blood of its own elites is the ultimate source of its strength, it's very foundation.  Despite its troubles, it has proven to be a remarkably durable institution.  

The Party, in effect, has managed to internalize and institutionalize revolutionary Terror.  Once upon a time, Mao Zedong rose to power on the back of his ability to rouse a nation of peasants into murdering their landlords and expropriating their property.  Decades later, he roused their children into violent revolt against the government he created.  Now Xi Jinping, a child of one of Mao's high officials, himself imprisoned in that tumult of the Cultural Revolution, is instituting a new round of purges. 

This is the characteristic pattern of the Party's response to social tension.  When the masses are restless, it offers up a fresh crop of sacrificial victims from its own ranks.  Revolt from outside becomes unnecessary.  We have a sort of weird closed loop; the Party's officials become lax and corrupt, the masses grow angry, and that anger is appeased with a brutal culling.  The very anger of the masses is internalized as a support for the regime.

Thus the Party has institutionalized revolt; it overthrows itself, attacks itself.  The paradox is that this secures its position all the more firmly.

Compare this with the Soviets. Perhaps the fall of the Soviet Union became inevitable once the generation of leaders following Stalin tried to reform it.  But Stalinism was not reformable.  The very cruelty of the system was its foundation.  Because it was not a normal state but a revolutionary state, it was born in purges and terror, and could not stop without changing its very nature.  

If a new Stalin had emerged in the mid-50's to institute a new round of purges, the Soviet Union would probably still exist today.  Instead it tried convert itself into a normal state, drifted about in a desultory manner for a few decades and collapsed.  It's notable how its fall required no war.  The old regime put up scarcely any fight.  It simply gave up.

Xi Jinping, a Maoist of the old school, a man who has been on both sides of Revolutionary violence, and a student of history, of the fall of the Soviets, is not liable to make the same mistake.  It is nto clear to me that Xi desires to be the new Mao, but he desires to preserve the the Party, and this is what the situation calls for.  His personal predilections are irrelevant. It seems to me that the purges will only continue and intensify.  ___A very interesting analysis of the structure of Chinese politics, via +Andreas Schou.

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2016-01-22 17:34:01 (39 comments; 49 reshares; 294 +1s)Open 

There is some preliminary evidence that Australian black kites and brown falcons have learned to use fire for hunting, dropping burning twigs into dry areas to start fires that scare prey animals out of the underbrush.

Tool use: it's not just for humans, anymore.

Via +Steven Flaeck 

Welcome to Australia, where apparently birds use fire to hunt for food.___There is some preliminary evidence that Australian black kites and brown falcons have learned to use fire for hunting, dropping burning twigs into dry areas to start fires that scare prey animals out of the underbrush.

Tool use: it's not just for humans, anymore.

Via +Steven Flaeck 

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2016-01-19 19:25:19 (20 comments; 30 reshares; 306 +1s)Open 

Maybe we should do this all the time.

I got a giggle out of this one:  :`D___Maybe we should do this all the time.

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2016-01-19 18:33:59 (18 comments; 8 reshares; 131 +1s)Open 

This satellite logo has been widely lampooned, and the newly-released approval documents suggest some kind of story involving an "octopus harness" as the origin. However, I've heard from some people that this entire story is a post-facto justification: what actually happened is that the octopus grabbing the planet was picked as a logo because they got a firm "no" to the logo they actually wanted, which was Cthulhu. 

Which is to say: the people building these system have a sense of humor too, and they realize exactly how absurdly ominous this logo is. And they somehow got the NRO to approve it.

I think that makes this a pretty damned awesome logo. I need to get my hands on one of these patches...

The logo was widely lampooned as emblematic of the intelligence community's tone-deafness to public sentiment. Incidentally, an octopus enveloping the planet also so happens to be the logo of SPECTRE, the international criminal syndicate that James Bond is always thwarting. So there's that.

Privacy and security researcher Runa Sandvik wanted to know who approved this and why, so she filed a FOIA with the NRO for the development materials that went into the logo. A few months later, the NRO delivered.___This satellite logo has been widely lampooned, and the newly-released approval documents suggest some kind of story involving an "octopus harness" as the origin. However, I've heard from some people that this entire story is a post-facto justification: what actually happened is that the octopus grabbing the planet was picked as a logo because they got a firm "no" to the logo they actually wanted, which was Cthulhu. 

Which is to say: the people building these system have a sense of humor too, and they realize exactly how absurdly ominous this logo is. And they somehow got the NRO to approve it.

I think that makes this a pretty damned awesome logo. I need to get my hands on one of these patches...

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2016-01-19 02:15:07 (102 comments; 38 reshares; 274 +1s)Open 

This is a fairly interesting analysis of precisely what happened in Flint, and how the entire city ended up being poisoned. A key takeaway is that while the governor is ultimately responsible for it (as that's where the buck stops), the actual malfeasance seems to have happened elsewhere: first in Flint's water department, which accepted responsibility for treating its own water despite knowing that they didn't have the ability to do this, and second at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which forged test results (with the assistance of the Flint water department) to indicate that everything was fine.

Infrastructure is key to our lives, and malfeasance in its creation or maintenance can easily cost lives by the thousands. This is why professional codes of ethics among engineers are even more important than they are among doctors: the number of lives which hangs in the... more »

This is a fairly interesting analysis of precisely what happened in Flint, and how the entire city ended up being poisoned. A key takeaway is that while the governor is ultimately responsible for it (as that's where the buck stops), the actual malfeasance seems to have happened elsewhere: first in Flint's water department, which accepted responsibility for treating its own water despite knowing that they didn't have the ability to do this, and second at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which forged test results (with the assistance of the Flint water department) to indicate that everything was fine.

Infrastructure is key to our lives, and malfeasance in its creation or maintenance can easily cost lives by the thousands. This is why professional codes of ethics among engineers are even more important than they are among doctors: the number of lives which hangs in the balance of a bridge, or a water supply, may be more than any doctor will treat in their life. The NSPE's Code of Ethics is a good example of such codes, and if you read through it, you can see several gross ethical violations which had to have been committed for this to happen. (http://www.nspe.org/resources/ethics/code-ethics) 

It's not clear to me that this summary contains the whole story, or that deeper culpability doesn't in fact extend well beyond those two offices. The DEQ's conduct, in particular, suggests that investigation is needed of behavior all the way to the top, and to the people who appointed those top leaders: does major fraud often happen outside of a culture which encourages it?

It's clear, however, that a criminal investigation of all concerned is warranted. Ethical violations which lead to injury or loss of life are not ordinary accidents in the field: they represent recklessness at best. Falsification of test results indicating an emergency in progress, leading to the continuation of the injuries, goes beyond recklessness into the realm of willful conduct. There are words in our law for people who willfully cause injury or death, and they aren't kind ones.

Via +Irreverent Monk.___

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2016-01-18 20:23:53 (21 comments; 90 reshares; 157 +1s)Open 

Continuing the theme of musical interludes for your day, here's a mashup of 57 distinct pieces by 33 different composers, from the Baroque to the modern day. And it works weirdly well.

Continuing the theme of musical interludes for your day, here's a mashup of 57 distinct pieces by 33 different composers, from the Baroque to the modern day. And it works weirdly well.___

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2016-01-18 18:26:27 (14 comments; 6 reshares; 98 +1s)Open 

The story of one of Nashville's signature foods is also the story of how the city developed. It's a story of politics, segregation, money, adultery, and chicken.

Food, folklore, race, and urban space. The story of Nashville's hot chicken.

Via +Cara Evangelista​___The story of one of Nashville's signature foods is also the story of how the city developed. It's a story of politics, segregation, money, adultery, and chicken.

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2016-01-18 05:46:43 (149 comments; 19 reshares; 237 +1s)Open 

With the 2016 election rolling around, I'm seeing more shares from sites like this which aim to check your beliefs against those of candidates, and help you find out who matches you best. Unfortunately, I'm increasingly convinced that these sites are intrinsically broken.

The biggest problem is that, by nature, they can only compare opinions on the subjects which candidates have talked about – and that shifts the conversation over to their terms. So the site asks me if I feel that all welfare recipients should be tested for drugs, or if Muslims should be banned from entering the country, because candidates have asked those questions.

The failure shows up in the results. This site, for example, told me that I side 96% with Sanders, 95% with Clinton, and 31% with Trump. This might be a reasonably accurate measure of how much I side with them on the particular questions asked;b... more »

With the 2016 election rolling around, I'm seeing more shares from sites like this which aim to check your beliefs against those of candidates, and help you find out who matches you best. Unfortunately, I'm increasingly convinced that these sites are intrinsically broken.

The biggest problem is that, by nature, they can only compare opinions on the subjects which candidates have talked about – and that shifts the conversation over to their terms. So the site asks me if I feel that all welfare recipients should be tested for drugs, or if Muslims should be banned from entering the country, because candidates have asked those questions.

The failure shows up in the results. This site, for example, told me that I side 96% with Sanders, 95% with Clinton, and 31% with Trump. This might be a reasonably accurate measure of how much I side with them on the particular questions asked; but in each of the cases, it misses what's most important to me. With Sanders, it doesn't capture my concern that he's prone to a lack of nuance, that he's good on issues that he's thought about in depth but produces fairly unthoughtful answers when he's faced with other subjects – like foreign policy. With Clinton, it doesn't capture my profound concerns about her perspective on the rule of law, the power of the intelligence complex, or my sense that she has only weak understanding of the issues facing anyone from generations younger than her own. And with Trump, it doesn't capture my awareness of the Niemöller Effect, or the fact that I wouldn't piss on the man if he were on fire.

A second, related, failure is that it frames one's relationship with candidates in terms of stances on the issues. This intrinsically slants the method towards Democrats (who tend to pick candidates based on issue positions) rather than Republicans (who tend to pick candidates based on personality) – and I don't think it's a coincidence that the overwhelming majority of shares of this site I see are from the left. And before you think that I'm arguing that the left is doing something wiser than the right, consider how this interacts with the previous problem: issue positions are, by their nature, limited to what the candidate has chosen to talk about. Personality may well prove more predictive of a candidate's future decision-making methods, and may prove a better way of predicting one's future satisfaction with the candidate. (The fact that this may be radically different than one's satisfaction with the policies, or one's economic interest in the policies, is interesting and nontrivial. Millions of people in this country routinely vote against their economic interests; people aren't stupid. If they're doing that, this is a sign that the presumed economic interests represent only a subset of their overall interests.)

But it's issues like this that make me think that trying to understand candidates or platforms based on issues is an intrinsically flawed endeavor. It's vulnerable to selective information availability (we only know what the candidates have said) and is an imperfect predictor of future behavior (elected officials have to deal with many things nobody could predict). 

As a result, I see these sites more as a way for people to generate little banners showing how wonderful the candidate they already preferred is, than as an actual tool to help people develop their political understanding. I'm not confident that people are actually using this completely blind, and using the results to shape their choices.___

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2016-01-18 01:54:12 (56 comments; 15 reshares; 143 +1s)Open 

There's a thoughtful article over here about the apocalypses unique to video games: the ways the world ends when the servers are shut off for the last time, and what this can teach us about the end of the world in general.

I've never been on a server at the time a service went offline. I've always been disengaged long before the end. But I find this kind of interesting to think about.

A homemade apocalypse...___There's a thoughtful article over here about the apocalypses unique to video games: the ways the world ends when the servers are shut off for the last time, and what this can teach us about the end of the world in general.

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2016-01-17 18:00:14 (21 comments; 62 reshares; 535 +1s)Open 

Scavengers are a key part of any ecosystem: they're the reason that, when something dies, its nutrients don't remain permanently locked up in a corpse, but instead continue to be available to other life forms. And because they need to not just find food but get it away from their competitors, scavengers tend to have the most creative food strategies. These range from the way bacteria will poison meat with toxins to which they are immune (which is why meat spoils), to the cognitive sophistication with which raccoons or corvids will trick other animals to find and steal food, to the furious defenses of hyenas or honey badgers.

The bearded vulture has an even more unusual solution: they have evolved the ability to eat bone, getting their nutrition primarily from the marrow within. Bone not only keeps well, it's also inedible to most predators and scavengers - which means that they can... more »

Scavengers are a key part of any ecosystem: they're the reason that, when something dies, its nutrients don't remain permanently locked up in a corpse, but instead continue to be available to other life forms. And because they need to not just find food but get it away from their competitors, scavengers tend to have the most creative food strategies. These range from the way bacteria will poison meat with toxins to which they are immune (which is why meat spoils), to the cognitive sophistication with which raccoons or corvids will trick other animals to find and steal food, to the furious defenses of hyenas or honey badgers.

The bearded vulture has an even more unusual solution: they have evolved the ability to eat bone, getting their nutrition primarily from the marrow within. Bone not only keeps well, it's also inedible to most predators and scavengers - which means that they can simply wait for everyone else to clear out, and have the meal all to themselves.

Beyond the rather fascinating biology required to do this (their stomach acids are far more powerful than our own, for example) they're also beautiful birds: majestic soarers over high mountaintops on three continents. ___

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2016-01-14 15:33:23 (83 comments; 44 reshares; 239 +1s)Open 

When Owen asked C-3PO if he spoke the binary language of moisture vaporators, the proper answer for him to give (in binary) would have been "with neither too many hands nor too few," that being the idiom for speaking politely and properly. Moisture vaporators use their hands as communication ports, each finger transmitting or receiving a single channel, and touch hands to one another in order to speak; if you were to speak with more hands than the listener had available, they would miss part of what you were saying, and (especially if that were crucial metadata) they would not be able to understand you. Conversely, if you spoke with fewer hands than they listened with, your transmissions would be slow, stilted, taking far too much time. Speaking with the appropriate number of hands is a key aspect of their culture.

But as with many societies, etiquette conceals notions of class: the... more »

When Owen asked C-3PO if he spoke the binary language of moisture vaporators, the proper answer for him to give (in binary) would have been "with neither too many hands nor too few," that being the idiom for speaking politely and properly. Moisture vaporators use their hands as communication ports, each finger transmitting or receiving a single channel, and touch hands to one another in order to speak; if you were to speak with more hands than the listener had available, they would miss part of what you were saying, and (especially if that were crucial metadata) they would not be able to understand you. Conversely, if you spoke with fewer hands than they listened with, your transmissions would be slow, stilted, taking far too much time. Speaking with the appropriate number of hands is a key aspect of their culture.

But as with many societies, etiquette conceals notions of class: the number of hands a moisture vaporator has is largely determined by wealth and their role. As a result, a common worker with only two or three hands will always seem slow-witted and foolish when trying to speak to a five-handed member of their bourgeoisie, and that burgher would in turn feel profoundly uncomfortable in "seven-handed society." 

An eighth hand, by law and by custom, is permitted only to their Emperor, and in fact "the eighth hand" is both a symbol of and metaphor for Imperial power.

However, in the far-less-populated outer reaches of the galaxy, hands maintain their noncommunicative functional use, and these customs are absent. It has been reported that among the small ice moons, where "down" is a matter of opinion, that it is not uncommon for a vaporator to have ten or even twelve hands, radiating in all directions from their central core. These terrestrial customs are entirely unfamiliar there, conversation normally being had with however many hands someone has free at the moment. But it makes one wonder what would happen if emissaries of vaporator "society" were to ever encounter these prospectors: would they mistake the great frequency of many arms for a sign that somewhere there is tremendous wealth hidden? Would they try to plunder asteroid belts in search of a hidden City of Water?

This is the real role of a protocol droid: to communicate to all sides the subtle nuances of each other's cultures, before oil is spilled.

(Below: Moisture vaporators in conference. The small number of arms on the ones on the left indicate that they are common workers, while the ones on the right are likely supervisors. Photo via http://www.propstore.com/blog/star-wars-prequel-trilogy-on-location-in-tunisia/)___

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2016-01-11 21:49:46 (25 comments; 67 reshares; 526 +1s)Open 

At first, I was watching the video and it looked like a clever assembly of fine gears out of paper, so that things moved when you turned the gears. Then he attached a balloon to it, so that instead of combustion driving the pistons, there was simply air pressure flowing through a manifold. And the engine ran -- fast.

It's a tiny V8 engine made out of paper, that actually works. It's beautiful.

Engineer Builds a Functional Miniature V8 Engine Using Only Paper

http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2016/01/paper-v8-engine/___At first, I was watching the video and it looked like a clever assembly of fine gears out of paper, so that things moved when you turned the gears. Then he attached a balloon to it, so that instead of combustion driving the pistons, there was simply air pressure flowing through a manifold. And the engine ran -- fast.

It's a tiny V8 engine made out of paper, that actually works. It's beautiful.

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2016-01-08 19:43:03 (65 comments; 22 reshares; 220 +1s)Open 

A frequent source of American suspicion of European privacy laws is that they may be used as a way to cover up malfeasance or criminality. Volkswagen seems to have decided to push this to the limit, refusing to turn over e-mails between its executives about its emissions fraud, citing their right to privacy. Volkswagen has been claiming that the fraud was perpetrated entirely by junior engineers; American and German investigators both suspect that this was authorized all the way to the top.

German investigators haven't been stymied in this way, simply being able to raid the offices and seize the e-mails. However, there are widespread suspicions that the German investigation is systematically less aggressive than the American one (for example, deciding to exclude VW's then-chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, from being a target of the investigation) as VW is one of the country's... more »

A frequent source of American suspicion of European privacy laws is that they may be used as a way to cover up malfeasance or criminality. Volkswagen seems to have decided to push this to the limit, refusing to turn over e-mails between its executives about its emissions fraud, citing their right to privacy. Volkswagen has been claiming that the fraud was perpetrated entirely by junior engineers; American and German investigators both suspect that this was authorized all the way to the top.

German investigators haven't been stymied in this way, simply being able to raid the offices and seize the e-mails. However, there are widespread suspicions that the German investigation is systematically less aggressive than the American one (for example, deciding to exclude VW's then-chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, from being a target of the investigation) as VW is one of the country's largest employers.

What's going to happen next will be a sequence of negotiations, as Volkswagen tries to minimize the risks of any of its e-mails becoming known to either criminal investigators or the public; it will presumably try to come up with a deal in which only limited information gets released to the US, and that in a way where US investigators are ultimately limited in the ways that they can verify the completeness of the record.

If it isn't clear, I have essentially zero trust at this point that VW's executives aren't attempting to cover up significant criminal behavior on their own part. The risk that VW runs is that the law may come to that conclusion as well: the Department of Justice's counter-negotiation is the penalties for failing to disclose information in response to a discovery order, aka rule 37(b)(2) of the FRCP, includes assuming that the things not produced are maximally incriminating. 

In general, I'm interested to see if this gets escalated any further, and if so, what effect it will have on relations between the US and EU around privacy law in general.___

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2016-01-08 18:27:32 (40 comments; 35 reshares; 359 +1s)Open 

A few months ago, everyone was so excited that it was October 21st, 2015, and wondering where their hoverboards were.

Well, today it's January 8th, 2016. Where are my replicants?!


[Amusing side note: A few months ago, the Android team was hosting the company all-hands and talking about the new lineup of devices. I showed up to the meeting wearing a Tyrell Corp. "Nexus 6" shirt. Nobody noticed.]

A few months ago, everyone was so excited that it was October 21st, 2015, and wondering where their hoverboards were.

Well, today it's January 8th, 2016. Where are my replicants?!


[Amusing side note: A few months ago, the Android team was hosting the company all-hands and talking about the new lineup of devices. I showed up to the meeting wearing a Tyrell Corp. "Nexus 6" shirt. Nobody noticed.]___

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2016-01-08 16:56:23 (36 comments; 60 reshares; 486 +1s)Open 

Some math results have unexpected uses. A group of researchers has found new classes of ways to slice up a circle into identically-shaped pieces. While an obvious application of this is showing off at parties by cutting up the pizza in unusual ways, these tilings have practical value as well: for example, if you're trying to divide up working area on a silicon wafer. These new cuts allow identical shapes but different positions, so eg some pieces have none of the disc's edge, some have lots of edge, and so on. That's useful when you want to get many different kinds of use out of a single template.

Also for pizza.

Via +Jennifer Ouellette​

Some math results have unexpected uses. A group of researchers has found new classes of ways to slice up a circle into identically-shaped pieces. While an obvious application of this is showing off at parties by cutting up the pizza in unusual ways, these tilings have practical value as well: for example, if you're trying to divide up working area on a silicon wafer. These new cuts allow identical shapes but different positions, so eg some pieces have none of the disc's edge, some have lots of edge, and so on. That's useful when you want to get many different kinds of use out of a single template.

Also for pizza.

Via +Jennifer Ouellette​___

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2016-01-08 16:31:25 (38 comments; 12 reshares; 174 +1s)Open 

Cracked runs surprisingly interesting articles. Their frequent subject of having people write notes from their jobs which you probably wouldn't have thought about if you never worked them tends to be really interesting.

Or in this case, unspeakably disgusting, because this time it's a surgical technician sharing some interesting experiences from the OR. So while I definitely learned some interesting things from reading this, mostly I learned that I don't want to be a surgical technician.

You almost certainly don't want to read any farther. 

7 Awful Things I Learned About Surgery By Helping Surgeons - http://goo.gl/JH1ZZG

And just forget about going to the bathroom, which is about the hardest thing ever to forget.___Cracked runs surprisingly interesting articles. Their frequent subject of having people write notes from their jobs which you probably wouldn't have thought about if you never worked them tends to be really interesting.

Or in this case, unspeakably disgusting, because this time it's a surgical technician sharing some interesting experiences from the OR. So while I definitely learned some interesting things from reading this, mostly I learned that I don't want to be a surgical technician.

You almost certainly don't want to read any farther. 

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2016-01-07 22:32:23 (54 comments; 75 reshares; 417 +1s)Open 

A useful new feature of G+ launched today. It's particularly handy for finding your own comments on other people's posts, but also for things like people you've blocked, things you've +1'ed, and other things which were previously hard to locate.

NB that you can delete things from this interface, and that deletes the actual thing (the post, the comment, etc), so do it with care. (It'll prompt you to confirm before actually deleting anything, don't worry)

You can access this through the settings menu, or directly at plus.google.com/apps/activities .

Google+ Activity Log
Google+ now features a list of all your actions including posts, comments, +1s, votes, blocks, and much more. You can access your Activity Log on Android, iOS, and the Web from the Settings menu.

Filter the list to find recent comments or other actions you've made (I personally find this very useful when I want to re-find conversations I've participated in) or easily remove any action you've taken on Google+ using the X on each list item.

As usual, you can tell us what you think about this new feature using the Send Feedback menu item. Thanks~___A useful new feature of G+ launched today. It's particularly handy for finding your own comments on other people's posts, but also for things like people you've blocked, things you've +1'ed, and other things which were previously hard to locate.

NB that you can delete things from this interface, and that deletes the actual thing (the post, the comment, etc), so do it with care. (It'll prompt you to confirm before actually deleting anything, don't worry)

You can access this through the settings menu, or directly at plus.google.com/apps/activities .

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2016-01-07 17:21:16 (54 comments; 17 reshares; 259 +1s)Open 

OK, this one was actually worth sharing. :-)

The Donner-Reed Party
Got lost in the Sierra Nevadas during the winter

Still managed to find snacks

Bwahahaha (for those not from America, the survivors turned to cannibalism to survive)___OK, this one was actually worth sharing. :-)

2016-01-07 14:03:40 (124 comments; 6 reshares; 91 +1s)Open 

A question for people in the political Left

It's common, in the Left, for people to talk seriously about their own identities and lived experiences, and use those as a point of reference when they enter into political debate. Race, gender, national origin, social class, and sexual orientation are the most obvious of these, although there are many more.

However, even though I know many Jews on the political Left, I've gotten the sense that people are reluctant to mention this as part of their identity – that it would be viewed as somehow unacceptable, or not an identity one should talk about.

I don't have clear data on this, just a hunch gathered from staring at lots of conversation threads. Have other people seen the same? Do people feel a pressure around this? Does it depend on where you live? (e.g., the US, Europe, or elsewhere?)

(For ther... more »

A question for people in the political Left

It's common, in the Left, for people to talk seriously about their own identities and lived experiences, and use those as a point of reference when they enter into political debate. Race, gender, national origin, social class, and sexual orientation are the most obvious of these, although there are many more.

However, even though I know many Jews on the political Left, I've gotten the sense that people are reluctant to mention this as part of their identity – that it would be viewed as somehow unacceptable, or not an identity one should talk about.

I don't have clear data on this, just a hunch gathered from staring at lots of conversation threads. Have other people seen the same? Do people feel a pressure around this? Does it depend on where you live? (e.g., the US, Europe, or elsewhere?)

(For the record, in case it isn't clear: I am a Jew myself, without apology or pretense)___

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2016-01-07 13:28:06 (65 comments; 23 reshares; 161 +1s)Open 

The case of Dwight and Steven Hammonds has been largely overshadowed by the ruckus created by a few nuts taking over a bird sanctuary, but it shouldn't. The more I learn about the Hammonds case, the more it seems that they have, in fact, been the victims of gross injustice – a type of injustice which has become all too common today, through the system of "mandatory minimums." This article gives a good summary of that, and why the Hammonds case really should be attracting the attention of left and right alike to something that direly needs to be fixed.

(This isn't to say that the Hammonds are wholly innocent, but the original punishment set by the judge, when he decided that the mandatory minimum would be a gross miscarriage of justice, seems far more in line with what they did.)

I've long thought that mandatory minimums should be unconstitutional, as anin... more »

whatever your political affiliation, this is worth a read.  Not interested in moderating a debate over it, just putting out there for people to read. ___The case of Dwight and Steven Hammonds has been largely overshadowed by the ruckus created by a few nuts taking over a bird sanctuary, but it shouldn't. The more I learn about the Hammonds case, the more it seems that they have, in fact, been the victims of gross injustice – a type of injustice which has become all too common today, through the system of "mandatory minimums." This article gives a good summary of that, and why the Hammonds case really should be attracting the attention of left and right alike to something that direly needs to be fixed.

(This isn't to say that the Hammonds are wholly innocent, but the original punishment set by the judge, when he decided that the mandatory minimum would be a gross miscarriage of justice, seems far more in line with what they did.)

I've long thought that mandatory minimums should be unconstitutional, as an infringement by the legislature on the courts' Article III power to determine sentences, which is a traditional part of the judicial power. It essentially imposes a sentence by legislative fiat in addition to whatever sentence the court might impose; in this sense, it could also be considered a type of bill of attainder, imposing further penalties on the category of people who have been convicted by a court of a particular offense. And beyond the constitutional issue, they're just plain bad policy, and frequently just plain unjust – profitable though they may be to the prison industry.

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2016-01-06 18:41:28 (69 comments; 51 reshares; 225 +1s)Open 

This map from the New York Times (http://nyti.ms/1mzQnYH for all the details and citations) shows the distribution of different sects of Islam across the Middle East. Sunnis are shown in red, Shi'ites in blue, Wahabbis in green; light shading represents less populated areas, and white areas have no Muslim population to speak of. (In almost all cases, this means "pretty much nobody, period")

This doesn't capture a few other important things, like ethnic boundaries (e.g., Kurds, Persians, and Arabs), the density of populations which aren't one of these major groups (both non-Muslims like Jews and Christians, and smaller sects like the Druze or Alawites), or tribal boundaries. People's self-identification in this area tends to be the intersection of all of these, and groups might use a commonality along any of these axes as a reason to ally with one another – or ad... more »

This map from the New York Times (http://nyti.ms/1mzQnYH for all the details and citations) shows the distribution of different sects of Islam across the Middle East. Sunnis are shown in red, Shi'ites in blue, Wahabbis in green; light shading represents less populated areas, and white areas have no Muslim population to speak of. (In almost all cases, this means "pretty much nobody, period")

This doesn't capture a few other important things, like ethnic boundaries (e.g., Kurds, Persians, and Arabs), the density of populations which aren't one of these major groups (both non-Muslims like Jews and Christians, and smaller sects like the Druze or Alawites), or tribal boundaries. People's self-identification in this area tends to be the intersection of all of these, and groups might use a commonality along any of these axes as a reason to ally with one another – or a difference along any of them as a reason to fight.

Like with people, most of the governments in this region are firmly associated with a particular sect, ethnicity, tribe, and so on, which means that the machinery of the state is effectively aligned with them. People's support for governments (whether by ballot or by bullet) tends to clump along these lines as well.

Unfortunately, there is no real tradition of protecting your opponents here: if a particular tribe comes to power, then that tribe's enemies can expect to be repressed, expropriated, exiled, or simply killed. Conversely, if a tribe is involved in (or simply protected by) a government, and that government falls, one can expect all of the tribe's enemies to take advantage of their newly-weakened condition to attack. This is the basic reason why democracy rarely works here: accepting electoral defeat isn't a good idea if the consequences are likely fatal. It's also why every government, no matter how brutal, has good-faith supporters: they know that if the government falls, they will be killed. (Syria is an excellent example of this situation, where various religious minorities were under the protection of the al-Assads)

A few governments, such as Lebanon, have formal power-sharing between groups, rather than a single-group government. This has not worked out particularly well, historically. In Lebanon, the Shi'ite part of the government has basically branched off and formed its own government, with its own army, foreign policy, and so on (Hezbollah); watching what happens when one government decides to start a war with one's neighbors, and the other disagrees, is fascinating. (That's a euphemism for "oh, shit") 

You might imagine what "natural" country boundaries look like, by adding in the remaining religious groups and combining this with ethnic boundaries (the other large-scale boundaries) and drawing dividing lines. But as you can imagine, the existing governments have rather strong objections to people redrawing their boundaries, especially people they don't like. Having a population you don't like under your control can be an advantage compared to having them as autonomous, and possibly well-armed, neighbors.___

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2016-01-06 17:30:57 (21 comments; 24 reshares; 203 +1s)Open 

The +Google Science Fair is an annual, international science fair – and the projects that get submitted never cease to astound me. Here's Stephen Colbert interviewing this year's winner, Olivia Hallisey, who developed a fast, cheap test for Ebola which requires no refrigeration or special skills to use.

17-year-old Olivia Hallisey, +Google Science Fair winner, invented a new way to test for Ebola.

Published on Jan 5, 2016___The +Google Science Fair is an annual, international science fair – and the projects that get submitted never cease to astound me. Here's Stephen Colbert interviewing this year's winner, Olivia Hallisey, who developed a fast, cheap test for Ebola which requires no refrigeration or special skills to use.

2016-01-06 10:44:16 (33 comments; 2 reshares; 26 +1s)Open 

Question for GIS and Android programmers:

I'm toying around with an idea for an app which would require me to render the Earth, with various colorings and things overlaid on it, in a particular projection. (Azimuthal equidistant with a fixed rotation applied) Does anyone know if there is a common way to do such things, e.g. standard libraries available? (Including, rather importantly, data for land/ocean boundaries) 

Question for GIS and Android programmers:

I'm toying around with an idea for an app which would require me to render the Earth, with various colorings and things overlaid on it, in a particular projection. (Azimuthal equidistant with a fixed rotation applied) Does anyone know if there is a common way to do such things, e.g. standard libraries available? (Including, rather importantly, data for land/ocean boundaries) ___

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2016-01-05 07:43:30 (20 comments; 16 reshares; 182 +1s)Open 

I don't normally post what you might call "Silicon Valley inside baseball," but there's a rather interesting article here summarizing advice for product managers. Most of it isn't particularly 2015-specific, except insofar as in the past year a lot of it has become more obvious than before.

One key thing it touches on is the eternal debate on whether product managers need to be able to code. I'm a bit of an outlier (especially at Google) in that I don't actually think it's important at all. PM's need to understand engineering, but they do not need to be engineers: it's a key distinction. The skills of writing code at a level equivalent to a more junior engineer don't (IME) give PM's enough of a deeper insight into what real engineering constraints and possibilities are like to make a difference; those skills are something which can be (and often... more »

I don't normally post what you might call "Silicon Valley inside baseball," but there's a rather interesting article here summarizing advice for product managers. Most of it isn't particularly 2015-specific, except insofar as in the past year a lot of it has become more obvious than before.

One key thing it touches on is the eternal debate on whether product managers need to be able to code. I'm a bit of an outlier (especially at Google) in that I don't actually think it's important at all. PM's need to understand engineering, but they do not need to be engineers: it's a key distinction. The skills of writing code at a level equivalent to a more junior engineer don't (IME) give PM's enough of a deeper insight into what real engineering constraints and possibilities are like to make a difference; those skills are something which can be (and often are) built independently.

Conversely, it's no less important for engineers to understand product management in the same depth. They need to understand the product way of thinking, be able to ask the right questions, and interpret the answers meaningfully. This is often forgotten, but makes the difference between an engineer being a cog in a system and being an active contributor to the entire project.

It's especially in these product aspects of the job that team diversity becomes critically important: the more kinds of different people you have on your team, the more likely you are to spot a product possibility that's either a really good or really bad idea.

h/t +Louis Gray.___

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2016-01-05 06:42:25 (17 comments; 65 reshares; 432 +1s)Open 

William H. Gosset's name is little-known, even in the two fields he influenced most: statistics and beer brewing. But in his years as a research scientist at Guinness, he developed some of the basic ideas of modern statistics: for example, how many samples of hops do you have to test to be confident that the entire batch has the kinds of resins in it that you want?

This was important because Guinness was one of the first companies to try to scale food production (or in this case, beer production) to truly industrial quantities, where each individual sample couldn't be realistically tested. What Gosset was basically inventing was modern quality control.

And unlike most industrial quality control problems, here the result of a job well done could be drunk to celebrate that success.

Via +Chris Jones.

William H. Gosset's name is little-known, even in the two fields he influenced most: statistics and beer brewing. But in his years as a research scientist at Guinness, he developed some of the basic ideas of modern statistics: for example, how many samples of hops do you have to test to be confident that the entire batch has the kinds of resins in it that you want?

This was important because Guinness was one of the first companies to try to scale food production (or in this case, beer production) to truly industrial quantities, where each individual sample couldn't be realistically tested. What Gosset was basically inventing was modern quality control.

And unlike most industrial quality control problems, here the result of a job well done could be drunk to celebrate that success.

Via +Chris Jones.___

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2016-01-04 13:55:45 (15 comments; 54 reshares; 225 +1s)Open 

Here's a clear and simple illustration of how mechanical watches work. (And nicely, there's nothing spoken in the video: all the explanations are on-screen, so you can watch it quietly)

___Here's a clear and simple illustration of how mechanical watches work. (And nicely, there's nothing spoken in the video: all the explanations are on-screen, so you can watch it quietly)

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2016-01-03 13:47:18 (94 comments; 53 reshares; 305 +1s)Open 

Alex Kozinski is a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. A few months ago, he wrote an article in the Georgetown Law Journal's Annual Review of Criminal Procedure discussing failures in our system of criminal law which reduce much of what the courts do, in his words, to "guesswork." More importantly, he gives a detailed list of suggestions for how to remedy the problems.

Unlike many discussions in the past year, this article isn't about police: it's primarily about prosecutors, juries, and judges, things which are often treated as "black boxes" not only by the press but by the legal system itself. So it's an opening into a number of issues that you may not be familiar with.

The article itself is deep and incisive, and highlights Kozinski as one of the finest legal minds we see on the bench today. If I were President, it alone would move him to... more »

Alex Kozinski is a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. A few months ago, he wrote an article in the Georgetown Law Journal's Annual Review of Criminal Procedure discussing failures in our system of criminal law which reduce much of what the courts do, in his words, to "guesswork." More importantly, he gives a detailed list of suggestions for how to remedy the problems.

Unlike many discussions in the past year, this article isn't about police: it's primarily about prosecutors, juries, and judges, things which are often treated as "black boxes" not only by the press but by the legal system itself. So it's an opening into a number of issues that you may not be familiar with.

The article itself is deep and incisive, and highlights Kozinski as one of the finest legal minds we see on the bench today. If I were President, it alone would move him to the top of my short list for people to nominate to the Supreme Court: this ability to think outside of the fixed patterns of "it's how we do it because it's how we've always done it" is precisely the sort of thing that makes for a great Justice.

Article here: http://georgetownlawjournal.org/files/2015/06/Kozinski_Preface.pdf

h/t to +Sai for the link.

(Incidentally, Kozinski was appointed to the 9th Circuit by Reagan in 1985, and served as Chief Judge of that circuit from 2007 until the end of 2014)___

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